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Nostalgia In The Water…

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There was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide, just arms and legs violently slapping and punching into my head, my legs, my torso.

OMG, what am I doing?

Bedlam and panic ruled for 10 minutes that felt like an eternally long sleepless night before the dawn calmly re-established itself.

A thousand wetsuit-encased bodies thrashed and maneuvered like spawning salmon rushing upstream in claustrophobia for the first few hundred metres… Men, Women, Canadians, Americans, Germans, Japanese, Australians, Brits and so on, all attempting to move forward, immersed in the chilly dark waters of Okanagan Lake.

Raising my head above the roughly churning water, I gasped desperately for air, moving my arms in an unfamiliar breaststroke motion.

Attempting to efficiently freestyle swim wasn’t a possibility without adding to the chaos and physical harm of others.

Momentarily, I distracted myself from the hysteria by trying to guess how many of the swimmers around me were peeing into their wetsuits at that moment. Take a deep breath…

BANG. Oh Shit!

An arm crossed in front of my face and dislodged my goggles, water flooded in and my sightlines suddenly blurred as I coughed up a mouthful of unwanted water from my lungs. Please let me out of here before I drown!

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You’ll have to excuse me this morning but I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. Funny, isn’t it?

I’m at a time and age where significant events of my past occupy a significant part of my present moments, sweet fragrant flowers blooming over and over again for me to enjoy and savour.

Nostalgic?

Yup, I’m feeling nostalgic over suffering an anxiety attack for the first 10 minutes of an IRONMAN triathlon race that I swam, biked and ran in 26 years ago this weekend. I’ve spoken to many triathletes since that day and my experience of panic was and is a common one.

26.YEARS.AGO.

August 26, 1990.

I had plenty of dark hair, few wrinkles at 33 years of age, and well-defined quad and shoulder muscles.

Although I loved participating in most sports, I was never a great Olympic-style athlete, but here I was razor thin and fit beyond my own imaginings.

I was an ordinary everyday Joe doing something that at the moment felt unimaginable and extraordinary.

My now-grown kids were so little and dependent, wearing tiny cute T-shirts that said stuff like: “Iron BabyandIron Tyke“… Maureen should have been wearing an Iron Widow” shirt given the hours and hours I spent out on the roads training for a full year ahead of time.

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My youngest Emma gets ‘psyched”…

In so many ways it seems like yesterday and yet I can see a whole generation of people have been birthed, grown up and been schooled, married, started jobs and families all inside that very time frame. And all those years somehow happened in the span of an Okanagan minute.

If anything should send me to the cliff’s edge of a panic attack, that knowledge alone should do it.

Nostalgia is a wonderful, happiness-inducing, but nonetheless bittersweet part of our humanness.

All of our sentimental, happy, heart-lifting moments are harmoniously stirred in a Mix Master with strains of melancholy sadness for times when others we loved – relatives, friends, pets – still inhaled the delicious wonder of the morning air and were a special part of our daily lives.

Inside our heads we hear long-gone voices and laughter, we smell a familiar perfume or cologne, we remember a kitschy expression used only by a grandparent or an aunt we loved.

Time and nostalgia are like ice cubes melting in our glass where we try to catch the best of the potential that exists inside.

Yet slowly and inevitably the energy dissipates until the last vestige of ice disappears and for a time we still enjoy the stimulating chill that fortified us but can never again be re-captured totally.

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Touching the sandy lake bottom 3.8 k. and an hour and 18 minutes later, a brief sense of relief set in. The pressure and worry of the crowded swim portion was burned away in the early morning sunrise.

Strangely now – comically really – the only real pressure I felt settling my chilly bum onto my bike seat for a 180 k. ride through the sultry Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys was the need to hit the finish line ahead of Sister Madonna Buder from Spokane, Washington.

I’m not an uber-competitive person.

I compete to improve myself, not to better others… but I wasn’t going to allow Ms. Buder, aka the Iron Nun – 86 years-old now and still participating in triathlons, but a mere 60 in 1990 – break the finish line banner before me.

My sexist/ageist/secularist ego couldn’t handle that small measure of faux disgrace.

………………..

I’ve learned other life lessons along the way, but the ones that I’d look back and tell my twenty-something self now are: It’s not what you say, it’s what you do; don’t pay attention to how old you are, only focus on how old you feel; and be patient — one of my worst enemies is patience, I’m still trying to fine-tune it so that I’m able to stop and smell the roses.”

Madonna Buder

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………………..

It was time now to settle into a rhythm on the bike ride that would last for over 5 hours, followed by a run of a similar time.

The hours passed by like minutes.

There were so many distractions along the way, from tossing used-up water/Gatorade bottles into hockey nets at the numerous Aid Stations, to interacting with other athletes along the route, to watching for salty urine spray coming from the rear bike tires of those who refused to stop at the side of the road and pee. What the…

Making the transition from the cycling motion of the bike to the running motion was like handing me a 50 lb. medicine ball and asking me to go for a light jog.

A quick massage (and the… ummm… surprise of the massage volunteer slipping her hand beneath my shorts to rub my weary gluteus muscles back into running form!) helped the transition go slightly less difficult.

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But honestly – truly? – the highlight of the 5 hour marathon run along the shimmering afternoon waters of Skaha Lake was that amazing … sensational… joyful… moment when I closed in on, then passed, the Iron Nun and felt the elation of knowing that my young male ego would survive the long day intact.

The hours passed, I chatted with a panoply of painfully downtrodden as well as cheery runners, one foot ahead of the other plodding at a terribly slow but consistent pace. Amazingly supportive family and friends boosted my spirits throughout the long day.

Finally, I saw the sign at the side of the road: “1 Kilometre to finish line“.

That final kilometre coming into downtown Penticton, as the sun hugged the western horizon over the West Bench was where I lost any sensation of fatigue or pain and ran as if supernaturally possessed.

I had pushed my body for well over 13 hours but the endorphins flooded in, the euphoria pushed me at a pace I didn’t believe possible.

And then… then… the sight of the FINISH banner floating in the twilight haze in the near distance.

Spotlights blazed brightly, rhythmic music saturated the space around me, a huge cheering crowd and the familiar British-accented voice of announcer Steve King in the cozy, thick evening air beckoned me closer and closer to the welcoming light as if I were entering a rapturous near-death experience.

Ironman 1990

………………..

I’m always happy when I feel nostalgic.

Nostalgia means we’ve lived and loved and felt something deeply, memorably.

We should seek out and create the experiences in our lives that lead us both forward and backwards to nostalgia.

Then, when the endorphins fade from those special times, we can sit back with a big bag of popcorn and enjoy our own life movie.

To be laden with nostalgia is a gift, a wondrous Santa bag filled with joy and warmth that supports and sustains us in good times and bad.

It’s a gift we give ourselves even if we have to outrun a nun to get there.

 

 

8 Ways to be an IRONMAN in YOUR Life!

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I was in the throws of a full out anxiety attack.

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The Time: August 26, 1990  7 a.m.

The Place: Okanagan Lakefront, Penticton, B.C.

The Event:  IRONMAN CANADA Triathlon race

Course: 3.9 km. SWIM, 180 km. BIKE, 42.2 km. RUN

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In the midst of 960 other nervous competitors, the starting cannon exploded. It’s acrid smoke filled the air just as the first sun rays burst above the eastern hillside over the lake- an homage to the Iron Sun Gods.

The first 10 minutes of the swim were noisy, confused, tumultuous, and like a battlefield, bordering on terrifying. Powerful arms and legs and bodies thrashing on all sides…some bashing me in the head, knocking my goggles askew. I’m hyperventilating – hyperventilating as I try to put my head in the water and make the swimming motions I practiced for 12 months leading up to this day. My chest is gripping me in a vice and I can’t breathe.

OK Larry .  take . a . slow . breath . Swim a breast stroke…Good, now take another breath. Another stroke. Ignore the agitated arms flailing around you.”

13 hours and 19 minutes later. It was over and I had finished an IRONMAN Triathlon. I was bone-tired, but blissfully drained.

Ironman Canada Triathlon 1990

Anxiety followed 13 hours later by euphoria…

FAST FORWARD 11 years

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The Time: August 24, 2001  7 a.m.

The Place: Okanagan Lakefront, Penticton, B.C. 

The Event:  IRONMAN CANADA Triathlon race

This time, 2500 others are surrounding me in the waters of Okanagan Lake. This time, I’m relaxed (more or less…who can be totally relaxed with 150 miles of distance still to cover!) and maneuver through the first 5 to 10 minutes of thrashing unruffled.

My swim time improves by 11 minutes compared to 11 years earlier…hmmm…one minute faster per year. It stupidly occurs to me that I could WIN the swim part of this in 15 years if I keep this up!!

Six hours later I drop out of the event after the 112 mile bike segment and prior to the marathon run with excruciating and unexplained foot pain. The last 15 miles I cycle using the spinning power from one leg only, the other foot attached but hanging loose in the pedal. If you’re thinking that I dropped out because of the “urine spray” from jerky cyclists ahead of me who don’t want to take a 30 second break to get off their bike and visit the Porta-Potti, you’d be wrong…but I was “PISSED“!

My Ironman has ended prematurely. I’m frustrated and angry – with myself and my flawed body. A year’s worth of training has been squandered. I’m a failure and a loser, I tell myself. I’ll pause a moment here if you want to say it too!

One success and one failure, right?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

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Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” 

Oliver Wendell Holmes

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Holmes was referring to the mind in his assertion, but I honestly think that it applies to all areas of your life: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.

Reflecting back, each of these Ironman races taught me something about myself (like 8 LARRY’isms). Here are the lessons I learned from the joy of finishing one Ironman race, and the heartache of not finishing another. They aren’t just for IRONMEN…they apply to both you and me in other areas of our lives:

  1. First and most important of all. Have the largest and most thorough bowel movement possible. Nothing will ruin a physical or mental exercise more than cramps and/or bloating. LESSON: The bowels must run efficiently before anything else does.
  2. The first Ironman race was exhilarating and exciting. I was terrified heading into the start, not knowing if I had it in me to swim, bike and run for 12+ hours. I had never done an entire Ironman-length distance in my training sessions. It takes courage and focus to attempt things that scare us.  LESSON: I discovered that day that the combination of good preparation (training with focus) and adrenalin would carry me the full distance. The positive ends justified the positive means.
  3. The second Ironman was exciting but lacked the full FEAR FACTOR that was part of the first time out. I knew I could cover the full distance, now could I improve on my time from 11 years earlier? As it turned out, I couldn’t…well, I might have except I dropped out after finishing the swim and bike portions of the race. Each of my swim and bike times were better than those from 11 years earlier. Even in failure, we discover things about ourselves that we can build on. LESSON: Goals for improvement are an important motivational tool.
  4. Gratitude for the health and physical attributes I have. I’m so fortunate not to be saddled with any genetic or acquired illnesses such as arthritis or maybe SYPHILIS (!) that might hold me back. A lot of health is directly related to the care we take of ourselves. I’m not a true believer in luck, but sometimes I just feel lucky to have good health. LESSON: Health isn’t something to be taken for granted. Appreciate it.
  5. Don’t limit myself with internal thoughts about what I can and cannot do. Ironman is not something that only “Jocks” can do. I’m definitely not a jock. I wasn’t a high school sports guy. I wasn’t on the football or track teams. I joined Band and Chess Club…oh yeah, I was on the badminton team too! I don’t think this makes me jock material.  LESSON: The knowledge that anyone in reasonable physical health can take this on and DO IT! 
  6. Doing an Ironman race is more of a mental toughness exercise than a physical one. Training day after day for a year for anywhere from 45 minutes to 7 hours requires a strong desire and ability to push onwards, even when you would rather be on a couch with a bowl of potato chips. I can’t count the number of dark mornings where I dreaded the alarm clock sounding, signifying it was time to get up to go swim some laps or run 8 miles. LESSON: Developing mental strength is as important or even more important than physical strength.
  7. There is a Catholic nun from Spokane, Washington named Sister Madonna Buder. She’s 82 years old this year. Starting at the age of 55, she’s entered 45 Ironman triathlons in Canada and Hawaii, the most recent one here in Penticton last year at the age of 81. She is amazing. Just to show you how “non-competitive” I am, both in 1990 and in 2001, my main aim in the Ironman was to finish the race before the IRON NUN! Actually, my real goal was to just finish the races, but there was always an underlying thought in my head that NO Senior Citizen Catholic Nun was going to finish ahead of THIS heathen. I don’t want to step on others to achieve my goals, but I CAN use them to help push myself just a little bit harder. LESSON: There’s such a thing as a healthy dose of competitiveness. 
  8. There are people who support me whenever I am trying to achieve something important in my life. Don’t forget their sacrifices too!  My family and friends keep things afloat while I pursue my dreams and ambitions. When I’m feeling totally bummed, they prop up my spirits. In my second Ironman, my 80+ year old neighbour Elza stood patiently at the finish line with a bouquet of flowers waiting to congratulate me for crossing the line. It was a hot day. Still, she stood in the hot afternoon sun and into the dark of the evening, waiting. I didn’t show, of course…I dropped out after the bike and returned home to wallow in my self-pity, not knowing that Elza held the vigil.  LESSON: Remember to thank the ones who make your dreams and goals possible and support you through the terrific and the terrible. For the Elza in your life…say THANK YOU!
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Sister Madonna Buder wins in the 75+ age category of Ironman Canada…her smile is just a bit strained because she knows I beat her!

 

Related:  3,000 people will jump into Okanagan Lake at 7 am this Sunday for the 30th Anniversary running of Ironman Canada.

May they achieve their dreams…