Sunday, July 05, 2015

Another Year, Another Hurdle

It's been a while since I've written a blog post! With all these forms of social media at our disposal I feel like it's too easy to neglect the most time consuming one. But a big meaty blog post really can't be replaced with a filtered photo, 15 second video or 140 characters. Especially when the year has been as strange as mine!

Where to begin? Ironically, the most relevant time is pretty much right where I left off 10 months ago. The decision to race Stockholm last year was a pivotal moment for me, though I didn't know it at the time.

A few days before the race I caught a cold and ended up racing whilst under the weather. Because of this and the cold temperature of the water in the harbour I didn't do the course recce, or even warm up before the race. The only time I hit the water was the 750m in the race. My cold didn't seem to affect me too much and I ended up in a 3 way sprint for 2nd, 3rd and 4th. I ended up fourth with a complete flop of a sprint. I needed a good result in Stockholm to boost my chances of making it onto the World Series overall podium. Mission accomplished! Or so I thought. Unbeknownst to me, the grand final in my home country and nearly the entire next season had just been compromised.

 Edmonton was a disaster. I was throwing up in the days before the race and during the race itself.  In the coming weeks I felt stomach sick,  emotional and just off. I raced a little race in Las Vegas and felt so awful that even though I qualified, I almost didn't come back for finals! I felt toxic and it was as if I was trying to race with a foreign body.  I've never felt more pain in a race in my life but I couldn't really describe it.

After a few more weeks of not feeling right, good friend and mentor, Emma Snowsill suggested I get tested for parasites. Sure enough, I indeed had a parasite! I thought this explained everything and once I took the medication I felt great. For a little while. Then slowly my symptoms returned. But not bad enough to really panic and my retests were coming back negative. So I soldiered on.

I flew to Australia to begin training for the 2015 season feeling pretty out of shape! I felt puffy and tired and had a really hard time with any effort in the pool. My legs would go almost numb with lactic. I just chalked it up to being out of shape. A few weeks later I got really stomach sick and my belly looked like I was pregnant! I thought for sure the parasite had returned but test results said it hadn't. The doctor over there thought we had enough reason to go on antibiotics anyway. After that I felt good for a few more weeks.

It's funny what you adapt to. Looking back I was dealing with things that were definitely not normal but I was just brushing them off.  It wasn't until it was time to race that it became more obvious that something was really wrong. Whenever I went really hard for an extended period (which i don't often do in my training protocol) I had this feeling like my blood was "toxic sludge."  I got teased a lot for this term but that's exactly what it felt like! I'd had this painful toxic feeling in my limbs, my legs would go numb and then about 10 minutes later I'd have system shut down. When it happened in Abu Dhabi I thought I was just because I had accidentally consumed eggs that were scrambled in my noodles the night before the race. I'm allergic to eggs so this made sense to me. I came home and was feeling fit and ready for Auckland. When it happened again in Auckland I knew something bigger had to be going on.
Sometimes you gotta embrace the rainstorm!

I came home and packed my bags for a "couple days" in LA at Red Bull North American HQ where they were going to facilitate some doctors appointments to really get to the bottom of it. 9 weeks later after seeing an infectious disease specialist, a gastroenterologist, an internist, a biochemist and physiologists we got a diagnosis!

During my time there my symptoms were worsening. At maximal efforts my hands and feet would go bright white from constriction. There was so little blood in my extremities that they could hardly even get a drop of blood out of my finger for a lactate test! My oxygen saturation in my muscles would dip low and I would sweat so much that it looked like I was under a shower, even just spinning at 100 watts or jogging 6 minute km's.  It got to the point where my hands and feet would be completely numb for the entire session. Even 3-4 hour rides or just laying in bed at night.  Despite all this,  my tests kept coming back negative for everything we tested for.

Until we tested for the waste products left behind by bacteria. The doctors were pretty sure it was bacterial but they just couldn't catch it in my gut. Some bacteria are super sensitive to O2 and die instantly when exposed to the air. From my scope they could tell something was going on by the inflammation and something irregular in the lining of my gut that looked like a bacterial infection called Whipple's disease. It turns out it wasn't Whipple's but another bacterial infection. I had levels of waste products left behind by this bacteria that were 8x higher than the 95th percentile! So that explained a lot! In all likelihood I contracted both the parasite and the bacterial infection in Stockholm where before the race it poured rain and all the city runoff went straight into our swim course. Quite a few of us became really ill the day after the race. Both the parasite and bacteria I had are commonly contracted by sewage. Lovely. 

It turns out this infection was affecting my peripheral nervous system which is why my symptoms were all over the map. This one is also known for leaving behind a lot of waste/toxins.  So "Toxic sludge" in my blood was actually semi accurate!! I went on a heavy/extended course of antibiotics and was feeling amazing! I never realized how bad a I felt until I felt good again. Unfortunately we are still figuring out the proper dosage and I've taken a step back from where I was and I'm back on antibiotics. But it's still a relief to know what it is that is going on!

Lab rat!
I have to thank Red Bull for taking me in once again and saving the day! And the staff members who let me stay in their houses! Per and Dan, the physiologists at Red Bull who put so much work into getting this sorted and facilitating everything.  Dr. Lang and Dr. Tally who put theirs heads together to solve this. My coach Shaun Stephens for the hours of phone calls and support from Europe.

 I had so much fun in California and met so many great people and new friends. Not only that, but I realized the training there is really great and will be back for more at some point soon!

Very excited to get back to my forest!
I'm really happy to be home now though and enjoying summer here and training on familiar grounds. Next up is Hamburg WTS next weekend! I'm not carrying many expectations but it will be great to get back into racing!!

Thanks everyone for all the support and apologies for such poor communication! I wanted to make sure I had a diagnosis before I formally updated everyone. Who knew it would take 10 months before I figured out what was wrong!

I recently heard from the ITU that they have changed the swim venue in Stockholm to protect our athletes which is great news!

I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer and getting outside! Here's a few photo's from my time in Cali :) 

Ride or Die! My girlfriends Jill and Courtney came down to visit me! This is what they gave us for a rental car..



Cali Sunsets :)

Loved the canyon running in Malibu and Santa Monica


I got to meet many amazing athletes in the Red Bull HQ training centre

The only way to get around in LA ;)


So many beauties at this company. So much love!!

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Spanish Summer Part Dos

So a little bit has happened since my last post! This season has flown by. Each one seems to go quicker and quicker!

In July I had my first games experience in Glasgow! It was a bit of a whirlwind and almost feels like it didn’t happen! We stayed in the athletes village which was a really cool experience and though a bit tiring, I wouldn't trade it this time around!


As for the race, well most people that follow this blog already would know the end result! That was a really tough race and I’m really happy with my performance. That podium ceremony is something I will never forget. Its been so long since the race I’m not sure I could give a good race report honestly! Basically I got a bit caught up in the swim, had to chase pretty hard on the bike and then tried to relax and recover later in the ride. Then it was all down to the run! I didn’t feel amazing all day so it was a real mental game. I stuck in as long as I could and wound up willing myself down the blue carpet in 2nd place! I’d say it’s one of the races I’m most proud of in my whole career because it was on a day when I wasn’t feeling great but wanted it so badly it happened :) What an experience it was! 



After Glasgow I headed back to my base in Girona, Spain for a few more weeks of training before the final 2 races. I have to thank Emma Moffatt for continuing to be my training buddy despite calling her ITU season after Glasgow. I really appreciated that and also Emma Snowsill who joined me on many sessions and was always there for moral support, good chats, advice, wisdom and feeding me the best raw cakes and coffee! Those few weeks flew by and before I knew it, it was almost time to pack up and leave Girona for the year!

I was lucky enough to have a visit from my crazy busy coach, Shaun Stephens on his way from Monaco to the south of Spain for the Vuelta. It was really great to catch up in person after almost 5 years!! Crazy to think the person I talk to almost daily over the computer is someone I hadn’t seen in 5 years!

Unfortunately just before leaving I caught a cold and was not feeling so hot. I spent the 4 or 5 days leading into Stockholm desperately trying every homeopathic remedy in the book to regain strength and health in a very short amount of time! I was literally eating raw ginger like it was a carrot stick!

On race day I figured I had no reason not to try and just see what happens! The goal was always Edmonton so I wasn’t going to do anything silly but if I felt alright of course I would give it a shot! The weather conditions weren’t ideal for racing whilst sick though! Sub 14 degree water (i know they said 15 but none of us believed that! ;) air temps in the teens as well and then rain and wind thrown in there too! I chose not to do the swim familiarization the day before the race and I didn’t do a swim warm up so when I dove in it was the first time I’d experienced the water! I didn’t seem to matter though because I had a great start! I came out of the water in 9th place I believe but with numb hands I struggled to get my helmet on. I made the front group though and noticed quite early on the we had a small-ish lead group with a bit of a gap to the rest of the field. Luckily a few of us were motivated and we got organized pretty quickly. We continued to stretch our lead out to about a minute I believe over the 20km cobbled, hilly, wet and technical bike course. I was still totally numb when we got off our bikes and have no idea how I got my shoes on! Transition was on a big hill so that was a shock to the system when we started running. Only a few strides in we were barreling down a steep, wet cobbled hill and with numb legs I was unable to get to the very front with the 2 US girls Sarah and Lindsay. I think Andrea and I were in the same boat and just found our legs and pace a little later on. I made it around the 2 lap run course feeling fairly relaxed and controlled but when it was time to sprint up that big hill deciding 2nd, 3rd and 4th positions, I had nothing to respond with a settled for 4th. It was really a surprise to me based on the condition with which I was going into the race so although my initial goal was a podium, I was very happy to walk away with a solid 4th place and a boost in the rankings of the World Series. All in all Stockholm was a success!

Or so I thought!! Upon landing in Calgary from a very smooth trip I started to feel a little funny. I thought it was likely the travel and perhaps hunger. So after the drive to Edmonton I got myself a burrito and blueberry juice. BAD idea knowing now what was to come. I felt really nauseous and went to sleep early from the jet lag. Next thing I knew I was running to the bathroom. Every hour on the hour I was getting rid of that burrito and what seemed like everything I'd ever eaten in my entire life! hahaha Worst night ever! I spent the next day in the fetal position with a fever and wicked head and body aches. Guess it’s wasn’t food poisoning!  The next 24hrs were about waiting it out. Fortunately I slept from noon until 7:30am the next day! Then the worst was over. After not eating for 40hrs I was pretty weak. I spent the next few days trying to fuel up and recover while still staying a little bit sharp for the race. At this point I still had that head cold from Stockholm so conditions were less than ideal but I was confident I could still have a performance similar to Stockholm.

Boy was I wrong! I had an upset stomach the night before the race and woke up in a sweat, both out of the ordinary for me but I brushed it off and got ready to race!

 I had probably the best swim start of my life with just Carol, Lucy and myself out front. After getting the outside around the buoys I lost a few positions and finished the first lap in 4th. Though I was in great position, it felt horrible. The 2nd lap got worse. My stroke rate was slow, my whole body felt flushed with lactic. It was not how I normally feel in the swim. I exited the swim in 9th I believe and lost more positions in the run to T1.  I got on my bike and made it into the small-ish front group. This was ideal, but the fact that I couldn’t move from the back of the pack was not. I was just so weak and rushing with lactic. My stomach was really upset and I was beginning to heave involuntarily. I got dropped from the first pack after the hill. Whilst riding solo I threw up off the side of my bike. I sat up and rode along, not really thinking about anything as far as I can remember. Just heaving hahaha. I was caught by the 2nd pack and unable to help out whatsoever so I assumed position at the back. When we went through transition and everyone got out of the saddle I could feel I was getting dropped again and asked myself the question “Do you really want to go out for another 11km?” The answer was a clear no. It was not happening for me today. I pulled off the road beside our mechanic and leaned over to be sick again but that part was over thankfully. I continued dry heaving for the next hour or so and sat in the support of my family and team staff.

A few U23 boys got sick the night before and during the race as well so it seems I may have picked up ANOTHER flu. That says something about the state of my immune system after a season packed full of global travel and racing! It was so upsetting to me that this year, I had done everything right. I was fit, healthy and in the mental and physical shape for a really good performance. Having that taken away by something out of my control like a flu bug was just hard to accept. I really thought I could still race decently. And seeing the way the race played out made it even harder. But I was quickly reminded of all the positives this year so I didn’t stay upset for long! I swallowed that pill and accepted my ranking of 9th overall in the series. I was going into Edmonton hoping for a podium but when I remember back to last year, making my goal top 10 in the series which I thought would be really hard and best case scenario, I have to be happy with the fact that I achieved that without the grand final! One of these days I will finish a grand final!!!

After that I stuck around a few days and went to the ITU Hall of Fame gala where I got to see people like Mark Allen, Simon Lessing, Greg Welch, Emma Carney, Karen Smyers and Les McDonald get inducted into the ITU’s hall of fame. These were my idols growing up and getting to meet them and chat with them was a really great experience. I also got to cheer on the rest of the races and even organized a girls brunch with a bunch of the elite women so they could experience a Canadian breakfast! All in all, even though the week didn’t start so well it ended alright! 
That's Mark Allen! 

  
Girls and the lucky guy at the gala ;)

Post race brunch with some ITU fwiends! 


It got even better when my bud Ellen and I went on a little road trip to Banff! It was my first time experiencing the rockies that I have memory and it did not disappoint! Our country is a beautiful place and it’s so great to have time to explore my own back yard!

Now I’m back in Victoria for a few days before going to Vegas for the GP Super Sprint! I’m hoping to be feeling better by then and have some fun and a good crack! Right now I STILL have that head cold but my flu is fully over and done with so things are looking up!

Full season wrap up to come…But this is a pretty decent sized post, if you’ve made it this far I’m amazed!!

Thanks everyone for the support this year! It’s been really amazing to hear from so many people, old friends, new friends, family, coaches, and strangers alike! This has been an awesome year and I am so grateful to be back on the circuit!




Wednesday, July 16, 2014

It's Worth It

Almost a year I wrote a post called Making It Through The Break

"I started imagining my career as waves crashing to shore. In order to get out into the open, or even better, surf your way in, first you must duck through a series a waves coming hard at you. Some you manage to duck under, others crash into you and push you back to shore, tumbling almost all the way in leaving you a little bruised and battered. So you start again, and again. Eventually, if you get far enough the waves become easier to pass and you are free to swim in the calm waters. The ride back in, rocketing to shore on top of the wave is the reward for your efforts. Those few seconds of elation make it all worth it. This is sport. Every fracture, torn ligament, concussion etc I've ever had is just a wave that knocked me."

I finally caught a wave! It took a few years (and they call surfers patient! ;)
But let me tell you, it's worth every tear, minute, dollar, appointment, scan...everything I put into the last 5 years. It's SO worth it!  It was only one performance, I realize this but that feeling of expressing your potential, even just once is just the greatest one there is! Especially when you thought you may never get the opportunity again!

I returned home from Yokohama this spring a little broken down from too much travel and a nasty virus. I took a holiday when I got home and ironically, went surfing! haha

After that little refresher I was good and ready for a good block of training. And a good block is what I got! I swam with Coach Carolyn at the national centre in Victoria and ran with local speedster Marilyn Arsenault and her coach and sports centre physiologist Trent Stellingwerff. The support I have at home is amazing! I was at the sport centre frequently making good use of the lab, nutritionist, doctors, massage and everything they have to offer!

I gained a lot at home. Fitness, time with friends and family, a little surfing trip, and a little relaxing time in Whistler. It was a really great month!

From Victoria I left for Europe with a stop over at round 5 of the World Series in Chicago. I was feeling fit and excited and ready to race. It turned out the be quite hot and humid on race day which didn't really play into my favor this time around. I can be hit or miss in the heat but the humidity really got to me that weekend. I had a really rough swim, right from the get go. I think I was like 50th after the first lap of the swim! I don't remember how or when really but I put my head down and managed to get into the breakaway group at the front on the bike. We came off the bike with a 1:00 gap I believe. I started the run with Helen and Juri Ide at the front and was feeling great. After about 3km I started to get really hot though. Cold shivers were running down my back and they were only handing out hot water at the aid stations! I had flashbacks of Des Moines World Cup in 2007, the Olympic qualifier where I fainted 400m from the line due to heat. I decided to respect the conditions and backed off. I started to fade quite a bit on the last lap and ended up in a sprint finish with friend and training partner, Emma Moffatt. We ended up in a photo finish for 6th and 7th haha. I got 7th of course!

After Chicago we headed over to our new European base in Girona, Spain. Emma, Ashleigh Gentle and I arrived to join Jan and Emma Frodeno. We have a great little setup with our massage therapist Roger Leeson and his wife who is a physio does our Pilates classes. We are more than set over here! We are all loving Spanish summer and training here.
One day we'll ride down these ;)
                                        I've swam in some pretty spectacular pools this year!
Muchas cafe con leches (soy ;)
 
Rooftop Pilates
 
                                                         Spain is okay I guess...


Next up was round 6 of the World Series in Hamburg, Germany. A sprint distance race with something like 47 of the top 50 world ranked girls. 10 days out of the Commonwealth Games it was a perfect little test of the legs!

I was feeling really good in training and in the days leading into the race but I wasn't thinking too much about it. I never get nervous for races and this was no exception. I just love soaking up the atmosphere!

I had a good start and got a little hung up at the buoys but didn't lose a ton of ground and exited the swim 10 seconds back of the leaders. The bike went by really quick. I did a fair portion of the work but preferred to stay at the front through all the corners, especially with such a big group! T2 went smoothly and I was out onto the run in the top few. I felt so good running. Well, more like I felt nothing running! I knew my legs were turning but I couldn't really feel it. It was the best! I've only had that feeling in a race once or twice before. It makes racing quite enjoyable! :) Emma Jackson and I ended up in a battle to the finish, changing positions back and forth a few times before she eventually nabbed me about 10m before the line. I finished elated! My cheeks were cramping from smiling so much! I've always wanted to be on the podium in Hamburg so I could pour the beer!

What an experience! Congratulations to Gwen and Emma for 1st and 2nd, class athletes they are!

 I have to thank Red Bull for supporting me without question over the past 3 years. All the trips to specialists in the US for my feet and stomach, setting me up with my coach, spoiling me when I needed it most. These guys really saved my career! Libby Burrell and Triathlon Canada for welcoming me back in after a rough few years both physically and politically, Roger and Kristi Leeson,  my chiropractor Jamie Grimes at Synergy Clinic, Oakley, Aquaman, and Funkita for outfitting me and of course my friends and family for their unwavering support and adding so much to my life outside of triathlon!

Up next is my first major games! The triathlon at Commonwealth Games in Glasgow is 8 days away! Can't wait! Thanks everyone for all the kind messages this week. I've read and appreciated every single one and apologies if I haven't yet responded!

                                                         Ruthless ;) Sorry Emma!





                         300,000 spectators out watching the race. Hamburg is a race like none other!





                                                                  Deafening cheers!










Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Grateful for a New Hand

I know how that sounds. My physical hands are just fine thank you. I'm talking poker here. 

"Don't show your cards"

How many times have I heard this one throughout my career. I've never been the best at following this advice as I'm a pretty transparent person by nature but that's beside the point.

Today I thought of a new poker reference pertaining to sport. If you fold, you are soon dealt a new hand. Another chance to turn the game around. Particularly this year, we are dealt a new hand every 3 weeks it seems! In Auckland, I was dealt a poor hand, but 3 weeks later, another chance arose. This time was a little better!

I'm sure there were lots of you wondering what was going on in Auckland when I was dropped from not one but TWO bike packs on a course that was seemingly designed for my strengths. At the time, I was also wondering the same thing! Right from the get go, it was just not my body. I had absolutely nothing to give and my quads were cramping deep inside. Helen Jenkins told me she actually heard me let out a tiny whimper on one of the hills haha! Involuntary whimpering during a race generally does not point in the direction of success.
After the initial flicker of "where can i get off this course?" I kept my thoughts positive though:

"Maybe my legs are just taking a while to warm up" - They didn't warm up.

"Maybe the packs will come together"- They did, after I was dropped from the 2nd one.

"Maybe I will feel good on the run"- I didn't.

I narrowly avoided full body spasm and crossed the line. Then the full body spasm began. Not my favorite moment in life.

Turns out I had contracted some sort of virus and was unaware until I really pushed my body. There were a number of people I knew with the same thing, which as terrible as it sounds was comforting (it's not cancer!). The following 2 weeks were rough. I tried some easy training and couldn't cope. For a while I couldn't get out of bed.
Just when I was beginning to get concerned and reconsidered making a 30 hour trip to South Africa, the strangest thing happened. I showed up to pilates class and before we even started, I broke into a crazy cold sweat. Like pouring.. how embarrassing! After that, things were starting to move on a more favorable trajectory. Good enough to keep my plans of boarding the 747 alive. Barely.

Once the seemingly never ending journey to Cape Town was complete, I was greeted by the super smiley Vicky Van Der Merwe. She would be my gracious host for a few days in Stellenbosch. What a stunning little town! In all of it's yuppie/hipster/Boulder-esque glory it's a really fantastic place to train, not to mention eat. I could go on forever. I will be back!

Cape Town was equally stunning. We all stayed in a large flat together, team Canada united! This was the first time since Beijing '08 house I believe. It was really nice, we've got a good team these days!

The lead up to the race was fairly smooth. The only drama was the water temperature. The rules state that the swim will be cancelled in anything under 12C. The water temperature on race morning was 11.1C. Uh oh. Luckily, after input from medical staff and coaches we were granted 1 lap of the swim. But once I felt the water, even that felt too long! haha

I was happy and relaxed pre race. Being ranked next to Vix Holland is always a good time. The start was delayed about 20 minutes and they were playing some serious Euro dance tunes. There were some moves busted whilst waiting to walk onto the pontoon. Aileen Reid has got some gangster moves. And after watching Anna Maria Mazzetti groovin, I've decided I want to party with her in Edmonton.

But back to the racing. Apologies, it was a long delay lined up out there!

I had pretty much the worst start imaginable. Me and cold water have never amounted to anything remotely close to fast, ever, so I should not be surprised.
The good thing about being essentially last while everyone is still swimming in one big horizontal line is that you can move around! I moved to the outside, then noticed that the pack wasn't aiming tight for the first buoy. So I moved back across to the inside. I got the inside line and didn't get touched! This never happens. But it did, again and again until we were on the straight away back into transition. I exited and realized I was in the front pack!

We got on our bikes and pushed the pace immediately to string things out. And this time, it worked! 11 of us had a 25' gap which grew to 2:13 by the end of the bike. Everyone in our group was working hard. It was ideal!
I still had numb feet from the water and executed probably the most rookie T2 of the day. It is a 27 seconds I would like to forget. That didn't set me up well for a good position on the run, especially because it was super windy and I had no one to run behind!  I felt heavy and slow but pushed on. I was running in 5th for most of the race until Gwen blew past me and eventually Anne Haug got me right in the finishing chute! I was disappointed with my run and had a difficult time accepting all the congratulatory messages wholeheartedly because though it's my best result of the year, I didn't feel I expressed what I'm capable of right now. But that being said, if you told me 2 weeks ago that I would place 7th in a WTS I would have just laughed at you from the fort in my bed.

So, a blog of mixed events and emotions but happy to have come out the other side after a rough few weeks! I'm back in Noosa training for 2 weeks now leading into Yokohama. JR ,the swim coach here is way too excited to put the hurt on me in the pool.... going to be a good 2 weeks of much needed training!

 Oh and also, it seems people have been misled from the commentary during the race. The Commonwealth Games team has not been officially announced yet. I also got a top 8 last year so this one wasn't anything of significance regardless! But it is nice to make the standard in a more typical ITU format as compared to Kitzbuhel!


Here are some photos from South Africa:



                                             Riding hard into the wind
                                           African sunrises never disappoint
                                                     Stellenbosch :)

Cape Town

                                            In good company :)
                                          Finish chutes are the best 

                                                       Like this proverb!
                                            Captured Sarah capturing the view!