Fun wins.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a very informal poll on Facebook:

This is but a sample of the answers that were heavily weighted in favour of happy = success.

I’ll admit, I was sceptical. Doesn’t anger fuel you? When you are in a bad mood, don’t you just want to smash things? And by things, one could argue that smashing oneself on the race course totally counts.

With that in mind, I thought back to the last few races I’d done and while I was motivated to do well and put my heart into it, there was a certain joy in the execution that was lacking. I *always* dreaded the 4am or earlier morning alarm, and I just felt like I was going through the motions and ticking the boxes:

eat ✅ swim ✅ bike ✅ run ✅ go home ✅

For Coeur d’Alene 70.3, I really didn’t have anything to prove or high expectations. I’d secured my spot for World’s in April; my training was sporadic since spending a month in Baku. So I updated my goals for the race to a) take risks and b) really, truly have fun.

Making these goals easier to achieve can be attributed to loading up the Shaggin’ Waggon ™️ with a few of my favourite people and heading south to some great weather and a fun little town. Not to mention the great house, complete with lovely housemates.

I was so relaxed all weekend that not only did I forget to collect a timing chip at athlete check-in, I also forgot my cycling shoes race morning. I almost panicked but pulled it together, sprinted back to the house and made it back to transition before anyone really noticed I’d gone missing.

I squeeeeeeeezed into my wetsuit, all the while making terrible jokes with the girls and wandered down to the start. Those fasties headed to the front of the pack, while I happily dropped back and hung out where I belong (rather than near the front, which is where I’d been starting the past few races, and really had no business doing so).

Well, what do you know… I not only enjoyed the swim, I swam in a straight-ish line, didn’t barf and I got out in respectable (for me) time.

Well hello there.

And then I totally killed it in transition.

The bike ride? It felt oddly effortless. It gives me tremendous pleasure to pass men on super bikes. True story.

Happy, happy, joy, joy.

And then I killed it in the next transition, too.

The run was through the ‘hoods of CDA, and I got to run most of it with Jordan (very famous race announcer and Oh Canada singer). There was chatting, high fives, smiles, we built this city on rock and roll, bagpipes, Christmas carols and finish chute that was pretty much perfection.

Jazz hands

All day, I had a smile plastered on my face.

Here’s proof, courtesy of the awesome team at BCC Live (minute 5 to see just how nerdy I can get).

So you know what? Fun wins. Race happy.

Just the facts:

Swim 38:18 35/138

T1 2:54 #winning

Bike 2:49 13/138 Bye boys!

T2: 1:59 #winning

Run 1:48 12/138

#allthefun

Now, I hang up the TT bike for a few weeks and play in the dirt.

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But what if.

Last night was a fairly low point in my young parenting career.

It had been a long few days of go-go-go. I haven’t been sleeping much, so by the time the bickering had reached an all-time high on the drive home, my patience, not to mention nerves, were shot.

I slammed the car onto the side of the road and unleashed. I was done and they could walk home, as far as I was concerned.

No, I didn’t make them walk 34kms home. I’m not a total monster.

We drove home in silence.

Me, seething and full of regret, knowing I’d overreacted but too stubborn and angry to apologize.

Them, well, who knows what they were thinking.

As I lay in bed that night, all I could think was “but, what if that outburst is all they will remember of the day?”

When I can’t sleep, the but, what ifs bounce around my brain like pinballs.

I want to let all 3 kids have all the freedom I feel they can handle.

But, what if all they remember is me not being by their side, somehow missing out?

I’m finding that one of the hardest parts of single parenting is not having that partner to bounce all your thoughts regarding these humans you are responsible for off of 24/7. On your own, the littlest things can take up an abnormal about of brain space.

There’s no question that I feel like we’re a team, me and the kids. A unit. When I’m away from them, I don’t feel whole.

But, what if that’s too much pressure for them?

The eldest is (was? he seems to have tapered off) on a “health kick”. He claims to be on a diet; he does a mini-workout that he saw on YouTube and has been biking every day.

I ask him why and what prompted him. His response is that he “wants a six pack and to be a faster runner and biker.”

A big part of me is proud of him for making healthy choices.

But, what if this is because of a negative example I’m setting? That time I teasingly poked his little belly? All those times we joke about my “jelly bum”… How many times have I told him that I love him just the way he is?

I want them to have the summer of their dreams. To have the freedom to make their own choices, to make mistakes, to skin their knees, build forts, embrace boredom, ride their bikes, live on popsicles.

But, what if it’s not enough?

I don’t believe in helicopter parenting. I want them to make smart choices and be accountable for their actions.

But, what if they aren’t? What if, by giving them these inches, they are taking yards?

But, what if, you never know, it all turns out ok?

Home stretch

In approximately 56 hours, I’ll be flying home. Home sweet home. I can’t wait.

It’s feeling a little like the last few kilometres of a race: I am so ready to be done, and I can’t really remember too much about the start.

At home, one of my favourite things to do with the kids is to play “apples and oranges” over dinner. Or highlights and lowlights. We try to do this daily, when we remember. It’s applicable to my time here, I think.

So, herewith, are my apples and oranges from my time in Baku. In no particular order, some small, some big. I won’t assign a high or low, I’ll let you infer.

**

The weather. One day it’s humid, hot and sundress weather. The next I’m in 3 layers + a down jacket.

And the wind. Oh lord, the wind.

**

Our soviet-era dwelling, complete with faint smell of sewage and a stairwell that can only be compared so something from the set of “Lost”.

**

The constant, never ending, for no apparent reason, fucking honking.

**

Runs through narrow backstreets, dodging cars and stares, laundry, stray cats, random holes in the sidewalks, aiming to get lost, zigzagging my way through the old architecture mixed with new construction.

**

Re-connecting with some wonderful people. Meeting new ones who will remain friends. This month would have been vastly different without them.

**

Working through a language barrier that, at times, felt insurmountable. Never in my life have I used more hand gestures, scribbles and Google translate to muddle through both my day to day and my job.

My unique brand of Canadian humour didn’t always fly here.

**

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m kind of sick of walking. I rarely get in vehicles here, walking just seems less complicated.

**

I want: fresh vegetables. Fruit that isn’t mealy. A giant salad. A grocery store I can make sense of. My regular, happy little comfy staples. I’m kind of done with rice cakes.

**

Why does construction have to go on all night here?

**

I’m quite surprised I haven’t taken up smoking. Or spitting on streets, for that matter.

**

Oh, to be in my bed, my glorious bed. In which I do not feel springs.

**

I miss nature. And green space that isn’t man-made. That I’m allowed to walk on.

**

Pantyhose. Nylons. Tights. Whatever you want to call them, it’s a wardrobe staple here, no matter the footwear. For that reason alone, I could never live here.

**

Constant noise. The quietest place I’ve found has been underwater.

**

I’m amazed that I’ve only witnessed 1 car accident. The drivers here are terrifying, and those are the good ones. I look back and can’t believe I considered bringing a bike #nochance

**

It’s been an experience here, no question. But it’s time for this homesick Canadian return to her people, and plan the next adventure. Maybe somewhere I speak the language.

A manicure in Baku: 20 simple steps.

  1. Decide you want a manicure, because your nails bear witness to your anxiety in this place.
  2. On your way home from the gym, walk into a place that, while there is no signage whatsoever, you know to be a nail bar because your friend figured this out.
  3. Realize after much gesturing, a few words, that you can’t just walk in and need to phone in for an appointment. Niet way that will happen.
  4. Google “nail salon near BulBul”; a search which proves fruitless due to your lack of Russian and poor sense of direction.
  5. Ask your local coordinator to find you a place to go. Feel badly for having her do such a menial task.
  6. She books an appointment, you conquer side streets to find your way there (10 minutes late).
  7. Upon arrival, heavily made up women glare at you, shoo you in the direction of “manikur”.
  8. Meet manicurist. She doesn’t speak a word of English; my Russian is lacking.
  9. Try to explain that I want “short nails”. Blank stares, gestures, an English speaking person brought in to help.
  10. “Ah, you are the Canadian, yes?”
  11. Short nails, I am told, are ugly.
  12. I win the battle for short nails.
  13. My delightful Russian manicurists aggressively files down my nails, “tsskking”, all the while.
  14. I pick a colour.
  15. There is more “tsskking”. A very firm, “Niet.”
  16. Manicurist gets up, rummages around in a drawers, produces 3 colours to choose from, paints them on my nail. None of them resemble what I chose IN THE SLIGHTEST.
  17. I go with the least offensive. “Da,” is the response.
  18. Manicure ends, manicurist gets on the phone, hands me a scrap of paper with “17” on it,  gives me the hand gesture to shoo.
  19. Turn in paper, pay 17 manats (roughly $15).
  20. Leave, with nails that are short and bright pink.

Close enough, da?

Baku Half Marathon “race” report

Alternative titles:

“The race where my inner Race Director died a little”

“Baku Julie Miller Invitational”

“#AzerbaiZFG”

I should explain, first.

I’m in Baku, Azerbaijan (a former Soviet republic north of Iran) as a part of Baku 2017, a small multi-sport games for this region.

I’m here for a month.

It’s going to be a long month.

Anyway.

Before coming, I found out online that there was a half marathon happening while I was here and quickly figured out that some colleagues were also planning to run. Excellent, I thought.

Try as I might, I couldn’t find previous results online, or much information in general. No matter, it will work out. Right?

Online registration involved putting in my passport number.

No, thanks. In person sounds good.

This registration process may be why I can’t find results from 2016:

“Supposedly”, there were 12, 000 entries. That’s a lot of handwriting.

I was handed them my $30 (or so), they handed me a sticker, instructions in Azeri and sent me on my way.

Instructions include:

  • No plastic bags
  • No luggage
  • No pets
  • No folding chairs or tables

Also: buses will follow the runners en route should they wish to stop and take transport to the finish line.

Huh.

See those buses?

We meet and walk to the start line, which happens to be barely organized chaos and a sea of people. Almost no one speaks English.

We are dressed as runners (shorts, tees, runners. Pretty standard stuff). Wouldn’t you know, this put us in the minority, surrounded as we were by jeans, leather jackets and completely inappropriate running footwear all ’round.

We head towards the start arch, with a vague sense of which direction we should be facing.

Pretty soon, we’re in a crush of people — personal space, be dammed – and the police are gesturing us to move backwards more. There’s nowhere to go, we can only laugh and try not to touch people inappropriately.

With 5 minutes to go (by my watch), suddenly it appears that we are off and the jeans and leather jacket brigade are off and flying. We’re talking full, zigzag, sprint to… where exactly?

Since there were no course markings, no barricades, and, the best yet, no timing mats or timing chips, it would appear that so long as you made it across the line at the stadium, doesn’t matter how you get there, CONGRATULATIONS!

I saw the first person pull the pin at 1.98km in.

There was a roughly 5km out and back section. I was pretty lonely out there, just trucking along and minding my own business. From what I could see, there were maybe 35 people ahead of me, total. I couldn’t spot any women (I tried).

The men in this group didn’t appreciate me passing. I’d run by, they’d surge. I’d run by again (having maintained pace), they’d surge again and then eventually give up. Over and over. So that was… interesting.

As we rejoined the course at the start of the out and back, suddenly the pack got way larger once again. With men in cargo pants and Keds. Who weren’t sweating.

What?! Where did you guys come from?

Oh. Right.

I suppose that out and back maybe wasn’t mandatory?

And on and on it went. I’d come upon people running in dress shoes, casual outfits, from seemingly nowhere. Or, you know, subways.

I crossed the line and was given a little card that said “12”. I assume this means I was the 12th woman. No matter that I only ever laid eyes on 2 women ahead of me. Cool, cool.

I signed my name on a piece of paper, was handed a water bottle and shooed away. Literally.

I wandered around the finish area looking for food and more water, and got to cheer on Marco and Kara as they crossed the line together. We searched in vain for bathrooms, walked another 2kms or so for Marco’s gear. Listened to yammering in Azeri. Could have purchased a carpet, chose not to.

As you do, in race expos.

In the end, we got medals.

Actually, scratch that. We have to go get our medal between May 5-9, passports in hand.

Naturally.

Mysteries of Baku – Volume 1

It’s windy here.

I’m not talking easy-breezy. I’m talking old-man-hold-on-to-the-building windy. Unpleasant, hurt your ears windy.

Easy breezy

If I’d done my research before coming, I’d have known that Baku is also known as the “City of Wind”.

Anyway.

One of the first things I noticed here was the abundance of little old ladies, sweeping. Sweep, sweep, sweep. With no real sense of purpose. Just sweep, sweep, sweep.

Most peculiar, is that they seem to sweep on the windiest of days. It appears really they are just swirling stuff around. The other day, when it was so windy that I literally had to lean into the gale to walk, they were everywhere.

The last 2 days have been calm. The little old ladies with their brooms? Nowhere to be found.

Mystery.

Bits ‘n pieces from Baku

I’ve been in Azerbaijan for 3 days now and I’m slowly getting my bearings. My type-A side stood down on this trip, so I did very little research before arriving, and therefore I had pretty much no idea what to expect.

Actually, scratch that. I googled whether or not there was Starbucks. It’s kind of like having a security blanket to latch onto. Except that they open at 9am. Yeesh.

Anyway.

So far, Baku has managed to both delight and confound. I suppose that’s to be expected when you take a girl living in a mountain town, population 3000 and send her halfway across the world.

I mean, you can’t cross some of the streets: you have to take an escalator and go under them. Jaywalking? Not a “thing” here. Gold teeth? Totally a “thing”. Short girls with really short blond hair? Not a “thing”. Smoking? Still a “thing”.

Today, jet lag loosened its grip a little bit and I went exploring the best way I know how: by running. I woke up feeling a little bit homesick, and it seems that getting out helps a little.

The waterfront is lovely, and as I passed by walkers, runners and any number of security guards, my head swivelled around I made a mental list of things I wanted to figure out how to get to: that weird tower over there, those shiny buildings up there. It’s fun to plan adventures.

All in all, so far, so good.

I only got yelled at by a security guard once.

 

On my team and in my corner.

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. I suppose life is alway a little windy, but the last 30 days have vanished in a flash. Mixing training, work, racing away from home, jumping straight into a fairly big event, hiding/denying a cold and trying to find some quality time with my people  has led me to a big giant exhale…

… sitting on an airport floor, waiting to board an oversold flight to Baku, Azerbaijan.

This is totally one of those “it seemed like a great idea at the time” situations. I didn’t give much thought to the quick turnaround this adventure would require, but hey, here we are.

I kissed the kiddos goodbye as they left for school, and reminded them that I’d see them in 4 weeks or so. I was surprised and a little relieved that it was without a sense of dread and trepidation. There were no tears, no drama.

Don’t get me wrong: I miss them already with an ache that is physical. It’s hard to explain. I know from experience that it will fade a little but then come back with a vengeance just before I get home to them.

It was easier this time because, ironically, we feel like a little team and my little teammates totally have my back. When I’m in the thick of it, distracted by deadlines, obligations and work stuff, it makes me realize what a bunch of independent little humans we have raised, and how grateful I am for it. They don’t put up a fuss, it seems they know that they need to cut me some slack just when I need it most.

They get it. This is the life they know, and while it certainly isn’t perfect, it works for all of us.

The next few weeks will be filled with ridiculous text messages from Will, FaceTime homework sessions, rambling calls with Anja, breathless messages from Rory telling of his latest feat followed by I Love Yous and I Miss Yous and I’ll see You Soons.

This my team, they are totally in my corner, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Oceanside 70.3: Perception vs. Perspective

As I crossed the line on Saturday at Oceanside 70.3, I dissolved into a puddle of tears. I immediately saw Jen and blurted “I’m so disappointed”.

Good lord. I felt like such a loser for crying at a finish line of an amateur event I had paid for the privilege of doing. I couldn’t even pinpoint why I was so bummed. I just was.

It took a couple of minutes to pull myself together, thankful for sunglasses to hide the evidence and the chance to meet new people and talk about something else for a bit.

Here’s how I perceived the day, “in real time”.

Swim: By the time I *finally* hit the water in the rolling start, I was shivering uncontrollably and so thankful that the water felt warmer than the air. Until the turnaround, I was a satisfied fish. And then.

*crack*

I caught an ankle squarely in the chin, bit my toungue hard enough that I could taste blood and inhaled a bunch of delicious, murky salt water. Then I barfed. So that was neat! Sorry to those fine folks behind me.

Eventually, staggered out of the water and jogged through what has to be the world’s biggest transition, fumbled around and rode away.

Bike: There was a tank crossing! I mean, Camp Pendleton and all. They take their armoury seriously, I suppose. I was pretty grumpy for a long time. I couldn’t find a rhythm, I couldn’t focus, and I was trying to stay within the zones that Liz assigned to me. I kept waiting for that sleepy, drained feeling I usually get. It wouldn’t come. Was I going too slowly? Bah. I couldn’t tell. I felt strong but I maybe I was tricking myself? Let’s just get this over with already.

Run: This was the dialogue in my brain:

Kilometers 1-15: TICK/TICK/TICK KEEP MY LITTLE FEET GOING TICK/TICK/TICK EAT SOMETHING THAT COKE WASN’T FLAT *BURP*

Kilometers 15.1-19.1: UUUUUUUNNNNNHHHHH NO NO NO NO MORE.

Kilometers 19.1-21.1: Don’tcrydon’tcrydon’tcry if you cry you can’t breathe I think I’m making a really ugly face don’tcrydon’tcry dammit I think this course is long.

And then it was over.

Fast forward an hour or so. I didn’t know how (numbers-wise) the day had gone. I was still feeling pretty ambivalent about it and then I texted Liz… lo and behold, welcome the objective perspective.

She gave me her view on the event, “as seen from her bike”, as she virtually watched my race from the discomfort of her bike trainer. Her view was far more positive than mine and hearing that pulled me out of my funk. Maybe I didn’t need to quit this silly sport after all.

The reality is that I did indeed have a shit swim, but I put together a good bike and a solid run. I actually raced, like we’d talked about me doing. I didn’t give up, stuck to the plan. I have something to build on. Battled my own demons all day. I may not have won against them, but I held my own. It took me a few hours to realize that.

I still haven’t looked at the results, but I know that I ended up 7th, clawing my way back through the field after the swim. And while my goal had been top 5, I ended up with what I wanted: a spot to the World Championships.

By sheer force of waiting around.

Next up? Tightening my race director hat and getting back to it for Coeur d’Alene 70.3.

Oh. And a little month long jaunt to Azerbaijan.

I’ll wait while you look it up.

 

Making the most of it.

I don’t particularly like swimming.

I was reminded of this fact when the alarm went off at 5:10am today. I groaned, cursed my sport of choice and went to the pool.

(Nevertheless, she persisted. Ha!)

Of the 3 sports that make up the rather odd one that is triathlon, swimming is, in my opinion, just the vehicle that gets me to the other two.

My dad will tell you all about how I used to scratch the shit out of my mom during toddler swim time. To this day, I still can’t open my eyes under water, making for some interesting swim meets in the lake as a kid (goggles? Who the hell wore goggles?!) The only reason I learned to properly swim in was to start triathlon.

(And also to feed my addiction to cute bikinis.)

Why yes, I have been dead last out of the water. This is proof.

Anyway. All this to say that getting into the pool always feels a little like a chore, the workouts always a little daunting.

Except! Except…

The boys joined the Whistler Swim Club about 8 weeks ago. I had made a deal: they had to try it for one session. They were wary of my expectations (were there races? What if it’s super hard? What if we’re slow?! Like you!)

I told them I wasn’t expecting mini-Michael Phelps’. I was merely hoping for them to learn how not to drown.

And here we are, 2 months later. No only do they know how to “not drown”, Will can sort of butterfly (I cannot), Rory like to swim backstroke because “I can breathe during that one, and they say things like “I had to go on the red top”.

I mean, c’mon. That’s cute, right?

As for me, I time workouts to happen during their practices and I struggle through my swim sessions a little less, mostly because I find it fun to spy on my kids underwater, and to share an even playing field. They do their thing in their lane, I do my thing in mine.

And Will can already beat me in a kick race.