Monday 28 October 2013

Running Is My Mistress

   So it's with some mixed and guilty feelings that I write this. You see I began this "transitional" journey from skill based sports like skateboarding and snowboarding to endurance sports just over a year ago. It was through the gateway drug of triathlon that I entered this world. Originally triathlon caught my eye at the 2012 Olympic Games. I was a dinosaur (and broken one at that), in skateboarding and was looking for new life to breath back into my athletics when it became clear to me. I had dabbled in short distance running for a long time, swam in middle school and had been a mountain biker for over 10 years. The triad of these three sports, plus the ability to race directly against your own age group made triathlon a very appealing option. I put a lot of time, effort and much of myself into triathlon training over the last year. I even began this blog as a way to document my progress. I only actually raced 2 triathlons this season, being sidelined from a third with quadriceps tendinitis. I had limited success, completing the first one mid-pack and placing 2nd in the short distance event at the 2013 Canadian Cross Triathlon Championship Series event at Kelso.

Here's where it gets difficult...

   After putting so much of myself into triathlon, all the stress of learning open water swimming and the hours in the bike saddle, I learned something about myself. I discovered where my heart lay. It was with Running all along. I had slowly been realizing it all season, but didn't want to admit it, not even to myself. It just seemed like I would've been admitting wasting all that time with Swimming and Cycling. 

   It began like any other dirty, little secret relationship I suppose. I began seeing Running more often through the week. I found myself thinking of Running more and more and how it made me feel. I didn't dare tell Swimming and Cycling though. It wasn't really any of their business what I was doing when I was with them. I mean we all started this relationship at the same time and had made only a seasonal commitment to each other. Yet I couldn't stop feeling guilty. I was now skipping dates with Swimming to hang out with Running. I was now "using" Cycling for a mere ride to and from work, but caring little about sharing my free time with it. I think Cycling was feeling "used" too. I mean we weren't taking those long rides in the country together like we used to. Now I was disappearing for hours into the woods with Running. It was feeling a lot like a season of "The Bachelor" and I was whittling my way down to my final choice. "Running will you accept this rose?" I asked. I didn't really have to ask though, because I already knew the answer. Yes. Running and I had built a special bond together this year. We had topped the podium numerous times in our very first year together and it was because of Running that I made it to the podium at least once in triathlon. Running was there for me when I just needed to escape the stress of daily life or when I was looking for a good time. Running would spend hours with me, but never seem to mind if I just needed a "quickie". Running helped my find what I was really made of as an athlete and in many ways a person.

   So as I said before, it's with mixed emotions that I say, "Sorry Swimming and Cycling, it's not you, it's me. I mean we can still be friends and hang out, but I just don't want to be serious with triathlon right now. I mean we had fun, right? But you can't confuse a good time with something deep and meaningful like I have with Running. I'm Sorry. Maybe we can still hangout sometime on the weekends..."

   The moral of this story you ask? (I'll just pretend like you asked or cared for that matter) Life is a journey and you never know where it's going to take you. You may have things all mapped out, but sometimes you need to throw the map away and simply go by "feel". Sometimes it's just more fun that way and sometimes, if you're lucky, it can lead you you where you really want to go.

Monday 7 October 2013

Summer Season Ends With A Fizzle

   It has been a while now since I made a blog post. I wanted to wait until the end of my summer race season to recap my results and give some insight as to how it all unfolded. I truly felt like I would just slip into running and triathlon seamlessly and have only amazing tales of success to share. It was an interesting summer with its ups and downs, but in the end I learned a lot about these sports, but more importantly about myself. Now where to begin...

I promised back in a February post that I would keep track of my stats and share them for comparison sake. Here is the summary 6 months later.

Body Stats Running
Feb Aug Feb Aug
Height: 6' 6' 1000m (1km) 4:03 3:40
Weight: 150lbs 145lbs 3km 12:33 12:05
Body Fat %: 5 3 5km 21:52 20:35
Resting Heart Rate: 45         41
10km 52:52 43:46
Max Heart Rate: 181 181 21.1km 2:11:06 1:48:06
VO2MAX: unknown unknown 30km - 2:59:37
Furthest Distance: 26km 30km
Cycling Swimming
Feb Aug Feb Aug
Trainer Road 25m Pool Open Water
Average km Pace 31km/h 100m 1:55
10km 25:58 750m
20km - 38:17 1000m -
30km 1:26:50 Furthest Distance: 2100m 3000m
40km -
Furthest Distance: 56km 162km

   Well I still haven't mad a sub-twenty on a 5km yet, but I'm getting close and chipping away consistently. My cycling distance has surpassed all my expectations by completing a 100 miler with my fiance (now wife) Christine and daily 15km time trails back and forth to work. The 2100m in the pool was a total workout distance, but the 1675m open water swim was one consistent swim and my longest to date. I did make the 30km Around the Bay distance, but the race left me broken and unable to run for sometime after so I have not made a comparable distance since. I have however discovered a love for trail running and after Run for the Grapes half marathon, I will be leaving long distance road running behind. I'm skipping right over the classic 42.2km marathon distance to set my sights on completing a 50km trail run next season. I have some ideas already for next year which will be very different from this season. It will consist of very few races, but ones that I can focus on more completely instead of dividing my attention and training between too many smaller events.

   Here now is one of the few times I will use my blog to lay down a rant. During a BBQ at a friends house this summer a super hi-tech scale was presented as a challenge to all the athletes. As it was a group of amazing cyclists so I assumed I would blend right in with their results. I was pretty surprised to find out I was among the elite results. Now I have received a lot of feedback this summer concerning my weight and how I look like I'm "wasting away". I posted on bone breadth testing a few months ago. This is where you determine your skeletal size and by that your ideal weight. I have a small skeletal size for my height and therefore am very slender naturally. Here's where I may piss some people off, but I feel it needs to be said. If I where to tell someone they look like they were gaining weight or "plumping up nicely" they would be horrified and offended, but for some reason people think it's not insulting to tell someone they are "way too thin", "skinny" or "wasting away". Well here's the truth Ruth. The results from that day on the scale showed at 145lbs I'm 60lbs of muscle and tissue, 60lbs of water, 5lbs in body fat and 20lbs in skeletal weight. That's a perfect 50/50 split of water to muscle and tissue. Very elite results. The sad truth which few are willing to believe or admit to is that if everyone was this fit we would ALL look leaner than you think. The average person has become generally unfit and a little over-weight so that is now sadly viewed as the "norm". We all fall into the 3 categories of body types, (endomorphs, mesomorphs and ectormorphs) so we would all have different body shapes, but would all be very lean at athlete body fat percentages. Ectomorphs are tall and thin so we tend to look more "skinny" naturally. I have no extras on my body, it's just muscle or water. Think what you will about how I've leaned out due to my ability to run, swim and cycle distances most non-athletes can only dread, but this is what an endurance athlete looks like.

   On to the real meat of this post, race results and my take on the summer season. I had 5 races booked for summer. Three were triathlons and two were running races. Let's take a look at them one by one.

Moon In June 10km
Bib# 1026 Ryan Brown Hamilton   21st overall
M35-39: 5/26   Pace: 4:24   Time: 43:46

   This was one of the running races I was looking forward to all season. It's an evening race starting at sunset in downtown Burlington. As my only 10km distance I wanted to set a good time and the goal was sub-45 minutes. That's 4:30min/km pace. I felt absolutely amazing that night with Chris there to cheer me on. It's a double 5km loop and as I came by city hall I saw the clock time at 21:23 so I knew I was on pace to make it. I spent the second loop chasing down a strong female runner and she knew it as well. I finally caught and passed her at the 8km mark and with the fear she might try and overtake me I ran as hard as I could, never looking back. It's an indescribable feeling to accomplish a goal you have been striving for. I was on cloud nine for the rest of the night and the after party atmosphere in the streets was amazing. 

Guelph Lake 1 - Sprint Triathlon 750m/20km/5km
Bib# 654 Ryan Brown Hamilton   197 overall   M35-39: 39/65
Swim: 18:51 Bike: 38:17 Run 21:35
T1: 3:02 T2: 1:50 Total Time: 1:23:31

   This was the race that I had really started training for in August 2012. My first triathlon. I was ready, or so I thought. The one component I was lacking confidence in like most triathletes was the swim. I didn't have enough open water practice under my race belt and it was about to show. I had figured out the transition area, racked my bike, wriggled into my wetsuit and lined up on the beach. The gun went off for my wave and it was a sprint down to the water. I knew almost immediately that I was in trouble. I was struggling to keep pace and was right in the middle of the pack. By the turnaround buoy in the middle of the lake I was in full panic mode. I had to roll on my back for a while to catch my breath. I came out of the water exhausted and nauseous, a feeling that would stay with me for the first 10km of the bike as well. The last half of the bike leg was where I began to feel like I was back in the race and began to pass other competitors. During the run I really came into my own, making up approximately 50 placings and passing one person after another. My running is my strongest aspect so I knew this is where I would have to make a move. I came across the line strong and had finished my first triathlon. It's amazing how much you can learn about a sport and yourself in an hour and a half. I knew where my weaknesses were and what I needed to do to work on them.

Mine Over Matter - Off Road Sprint Triathlon 500m/8km/5km
Bib# 269 Ryan Brown Hamilton 3 overall M30-39: 2/11
Swim: 10:31 Bike: 33:01 Run 23:39
T1: 2:45 T2: 1:39 Total Time: 1:11:32

   My second triathlon appeared a little by surprise. Last years event was in August and when I signed up I thought the date was the same, so I was more than surprised when I began receiving emails of the upcoming event. Luckily I had the day off work, but was having an anxiety attack during the entire morning as I felt I was unprepared. I arrived at Kelso Conservation area in Milton early enough to see the mud covered finishers from the mornings long distance tri event. This was an "off-road" tri and I knew the mountain biking and trail running conditions were going to be tough as it had rained all night. At least the sun was shining now. It was a small field of around 35 of us for the short distance and well all chatted on the beach while we waited for the start. It was only a 500m swim so I knew I could make this distance. The gun went off and it was on. I actually raced the swim portion this time coming out of the water 5th, but once again sick to my stomach from the effort. I lost too much time in transition trying to get my shirt on over a wet body, but staggered out to mount my bike. Same old story here too, nearly vomiting as I climbed the massive start hill on my 35lbs non-race setup mountain bike. The only thing that saved the bike portion for me was skill. Many of the racers actually had to dismount and carry their bikes over obstacles like logs and rocks. I have a strong BMX background and was passing people by bunny hopping over logs and hammering it through the rock sections. It paid off because I came into the run transition in a much better place. I had been having issues with my cranks arms coming loose and what I didn't know until after the race is that I lost a crank arm bolt and had just made it back before the arm fell off. Pure luck. Now I was feeling good and it was on for the trail run. I love trail running and especially the hills. On the first hill I began passing people like they were going backwards. The last half is a flat section around the quarry where you can see other racers ahead of you. I saw one and I was slowly gaining on him. With around 1.5km to go I was close enough to see the age they write on your calf in black marker. 38, dammit my age group. I was close to max effort, but decided to go for broke. I'd sprint the rest of the way and if I passed out then so be it. The guy I passed was someone I befriended at the start of the race and had explained to that I felt I was best at the trail run. He must have accepted this fact because as I came up on him he simply gave me a high five and said "what took you so long?". I came across the line fourth, with one female ahead of me. Funny how the race that began with total anxiety was my best finish yet!

Beamsville Bench 5km
Bib# 23 Ryan Brown Hamilton   11 overall
M35-39: 3/14   Pace: 4:08   Time: 20:35

   I had planned on making this, my last 5km of the season my sub-20 race. The day before at work a co-worker considering doing the race as well asked why I would pick such a difficult course to try for a sub-20 minute result. What?? I asked sheepishly... "Well it's full of hills" he explained. Shit. In a way it was a relief because I knew I wasn't going to make it while running hills so I resolved myself to just doing my best. The next morning we arrived at the winery where the race was taking place. For the first time I had the confidence to lineup at the front with the elite runners. The plan was to make a break away right at the start and settle in to a good pace to avoid the typical bunch ups. This is exactly what I did, falling into line with the top ten runners. I held my place, passing one person and getting passed once. An uphill sprint to the finish line and I was close, but no cigar. I missed the sub-20 medals by 35 seconds. Well there's always next year. I did however medal in 3rd place in my age group so all was not lost. Plus I did have an amazing time and made a personal best.

Niagara - Sprint Triathlon 750m/25km/7km

   Where to even begin with this one. This is the fizzle at the end of the summer. Since the anxiety filled swim in Guelph Lake I had been obsessing over open water swimming. Early morning swims 3 days a week in Lake Ontario. It was during this time that I made my 45 minute 1.6km swim. I was ready for the swim this time. I had also been pushing my cycling to new heights, well distances. I completed 150km and 162km (100 mile) rides in July. A second attempt at the 100 mile distance is where things began to fall apart. Christine and I ended up at Lake Erie around the 90km mark when I began to notice my left quadriceps getting sore. "No big deal" I thought, "it'll pass". I was very wrong. the pain only got worse and worse. By the time we reached the outskirts of Hamilton I was peddling one legged. I managed to get home and ice my leg, but the damage was done. It turns out what I thought was an unrelated groin pain was really the cause. Swelling had cause the nerve to my main quadriceps muscle to shut off leaving the normally "helper" muscles to do all the work. This cause them to become over-worked and fail. This was one week before the race. I was not listening to my body and had gotten a little over-confident about my strength. That Wednesday I tried to bike with Chris on our new built fixed gear bikes and this time my leg began to fail at 30km. I was fucked for the race. Well at work that Friday the same co-worker who was so knowledgeable about the Beamsville race suggested I switch my tri to a relay and get someone to do the bike portion. Brilliant! I knew just the person for the job, my fiancée Chris. We were both excited about the thought of doing a triathlon as a team and so it was decided. The day before the tri I had slightly over booked myself, (as usual). I had promised some buddies I would come out for a skate at the Waterdown bowl. Good morning session and my leg seemed ok. Off to work for the afternoon and then to the climbing gym in Burlington with some friends for an hour or two of indoor rock climbing. Good idea the night before a triathlon right? Ahem. It was a late night and by the time Chris and I got home and pack everything for the race it was after midnight. Exhausted we fell asleep, only to be woken up a couple hours later as Chris was near comatose with a blood glucose level under 2. She was unable to communicate and marinating in cold sweat. After an hour we got her sugars to level out, but I had made the call and she wasn't racing in the morning. Now the onus was back on me where it should have been and I had decided not to race. I have never backed out of a race before because of being unsure of myself. "Could my leg make it?" This question would have me up the rest of the night and eventually have me wandering the streets at 4am beating myself up about what I could have done differently over the last week to have prevented this. I shouldn't have gone for that long bike ride or maybe if I had not ridden all week and just rested... Maybe not gone climbing and gotten to bed early... It was all too late and the next day all we could do was mope around the house. Chris was destroyed from the nights low blood sugar and I was destroyed with athletic guilt. It was the end of my summer races and I feel like I let what should have been the coup de grâce to my season slip through my fingers.

   I really did learn a great deal this summer. Being my first race season I did expect to make mistakes and have both failures and successes. That's exactly how it played out. I'm sure no matter how long you race, just like in any sport you are always learning and dealing with ups and downs. Really it's just like life itself. For me there is now the fall races to work for. Run for the Grapes Half Marathon was in September (but that's another story), Halloween 7km in October and the Casablanca Classic 3km in November. Then a winter of hard training to do it all over again next year, only a little wiser and stronger this time.

Monday 17 June 2013

The Story of My First Triathlon

   It feels like forever since I have written a blog post. There are a few reasons for my absence. First were a couple of incidents a little while ago that made it painfully obvious to me what I should have already realized, when you put your life out on the internet it is for everyone to see. Everyone and anyone. They also may not like what you have to say and have the equal right to give you their opinion. I suppose I naively thought that every response would always be what I wanted to hear. I have my big boy pants on now and am prepared for all responses and comments. I also found that I was becoming a slave to what I had started. I felt this need to "blog" even if I didn't really have anything good to share. This all began as a way to track my weekly progress as an athlete in transition from one sport to another. Now that I really think about it, it's also my transition into a different person as I step into this new lifestyle. I found my life was becoming too "training" focused because of my need to have a good report card at the end of the week. So at this point I have taken two steps back and one forward to begin to blog again. This time I'll write when I have something I want to say or in this case a great achievement to talk about.

On to the story...

   Saturday June 15, 2013 was the culmination of 10 months of hard work. My first triathlon, a sprint distance of 750m swim, 20km bike race and 5km run. It began in August 2012 after a month of depressing over poor skateboard contest results left me in limbo as to my athletic life. I NEED to be progressing in a sport to feel satisfied and I had stopped true and meaningful progression in skating. That's when I was suddenly struck by inspiration while watching the triathlon in the summer Olympics. Actually all of the athletes and events inspired me, but it was the older athletes and especially the story of cross-country skier turned cyclist Tara Whitten. The thought that after a successful career in skateboarding I could take a left turn in life and begin again at 38 in another sport had never occurred to me. I also had never thought of the longevity of endurance sports or known about age grouping which puts you into direct competition against people of your own age.

   I began feeling the anxiety of the race around mid-week. My new job and schedule had me juggling training for the last couple weeks. I had pushed aside pool time for running to prepare for the Moon in June 10km race the previous Saturday, June 8th. It was worth it as I shattered my personal best coming in 21st overall, 5th in my age group with a time of 43:46! Fantastic, but there I was three days before my first triathlon with no swim workouts for two weeks. Yikes! As the panic set in I forced myself Thursday morning to go for my first open water swim. Beachway Park on the edge of Lake Ontario in Burlington had been cleared for swimming and the water temps looked good. Only one problem, rain, wind and 3-4 foot waves. I had no choice, I was out of time and needed open water swimming before the race. I managed about 400m in 15 minutes while getting rolled, tossed and smashed with waves. There wasn't a single person on the beach either so it was one of the dumbest things I could have done. Any of those waves could have caught me off guard, filled my lungs with water while trying to breath and swept me under. Desperate times call for desperate measures. That night I went to the pool and cranked out 1000m in 21 minutes. Amazing what anxiety can do for your training.

So back to the triathlon...

   Guelph Lake was the destination for Christine and I. I spent the morning meticulously packing and going over race course maps and rules. We arrived with about an hour until race time which turns out is just enough time to get your race kit, pee, rack your bike and get into your wet-suit  I got down to the lake with enough time to warm-up with a couple hundred meter swim. I had met a few guys in my age group that were also making their first attempt at triathlon and we nervously chatted about how far out in the lake the turn around buoys looked. Not for long though as the horn sounded and our wave was off into the washing machine of kicking legs and flailing arms. You can see it and imagine it all you want but until you are in the mash of bodies trying to stay afloat you can't really know what it's like. I was ok until the turnaround point when I caught a glimpse of how far from shore we were. That's when the panic attack took hold. I felt like I couldn't breath, like my wetsuit got tighter and I forgot how to swim. Open water swimming is not like anything else. You can't stop or take a break if you're exhausted.
You have no choice but to swim. I rolled onto my back and backstroked for about 200m to catch my breath and regain my composure. With about 200m to go before I hit shore I was able to roll over and swim hard to the beach. As I came out of the water I couldn't even begin to run up the grassy hill to the transition area. I was spent already, feeling nauseous and was reduced to shuffling up the hill while slowly stripping off my wetsuit. Chris was there to cheer me on, but could tell I wasn't looking so well already.

 By the time I reached the transition area I had made it to a slow jog and was beginning to recover. It took me three precious minutes in transition to get out of my wetsuit and into my cycling gear. I was still in a bit of a daze as I ran out of transition with my bike, performed a flying squirrel leap onto the seat, clipped in and sped off as fast as I could. for the first 5km I sipped Gatorade and fought throwing up. I was still passing people, but it wasn't until the 10km halfway point when I began to feel alive again. Now I was passing people one after another. There was everything from mountain bikes to beach cruisers to time trial bikes flying along the road. The unfortunate passing in May of my Grandmother Alice had left me with a small inheritance and the ability to purchase a new carbon-fiber road bike. I had decided it fitting to name it after her. Alice and I made good time on the course coming in just over 38 minutes.

   Transition two (T2), was considerably better and I racked
my biked, then removed my helmet - if done the other way around it's a disqualification. I put on my Vibram Five Fingers and ran out the other side. I didn't see another athlete the entire day racing in Five Fingers so I actually felt like I was representing the minimalist running community in a way and wasn't going to let them down. The first kilometre was a little tough. With legs tired from cycling I was slower than usual, but began to seriously overtake runners on the second km. Running is my forté and I knew this is where I had to make up time. I had just settled into a good pace when 30 seconds before the turnaround one of the first-timers I met waved to me as he was on his way back. "No fucking way this guy is going to beat me!" I decided to go for broke and began hammering out the last 2.5km. I was passing runners like they were standing still, scanning the field for my target. I was going to run that guy down or die trying. Before the last km marker came up I blew passed him with a "Hey man!" leaving a bewildered look on his face. I clicked off runner after runner until the finish chute when one of the last guys I passed decided to return the favour and blasted past me at the last second. I gave him a pat on the back and a big smile at the finish line, "Well played dude". I had brought my placing up considerably on the run and was completely satisfied with my performance overall.

Ryan BROWN Hamilton, CAN #654
179 overall (526 total)

Age group place - M35-39 - 39/64
Gender place -144/295
Swim (750m) + run to T1 - 00:18:51
Bike (20km) + T1 - 00:41:18 (38:10 actual)
Run (5km) + T2 00:23:24 (21:35 actual)

   All in all it was a great experience. I'm looking forward to the two other triathlons I have entered this season. I clearly need to get out into open water a lot before my next attempt. I'll have to work on controlling my anxiety in the swim and my ability to get running right out of the water. I'll have to be faster and more organized in the transitions and hammer it a bit harder on the bike. This was really the purpose of my day though. I wasn't so much racing as learning. I have tried to stay in the mindset that my entire first season is about learning, discovering my weaknesses so that I can work on them and generally just enjoying the experience. It's definitely a day that will stay with me for a lifetime and without Christine there at every checkpoint cheering me on it would have meant nothing.

Thursday 9 May 2013

May 5/13 - Turning Yet Another Page in the Book of My Life

   It's now actually Thursday morning and it's the first chance I've had to sit down and get some thoughts out about last week. I began my new position with an outdoors retailer this past weekend and what a change of pace. I can't stress enough how awesome it is to be around like-minded people all day, discussing all the things I am passionate about. The fact that I'm being trained by the company on all the awesome gear and have the opportunity to learn from my peers is just the icing on the cake. I really feel like this is the road I should be travelling down. It's not going to be easy peasy though. It is only part-time hours for now and just a 3 month contract. Whether or not I still have a job come September will depend on my performance over the next few months and the company's staffing needs. I have a safety net in the bank to get me through for quite a while, but it will have to turn into something full-time within a year or I will have to make some more decisions come next spring.

So now to last week.

   Monday I was in Brantford to pick up my tools and final paycheck from my old boss. I decided since I was there I would hit their recreational trail along the Waterfront. Just like everything else in Brantford, don't bother. It eventually winds through some of the farmland and is pretty peaceful, but not worth the drive. I really wasn't feeling like a run so I was pretty content with the fact that I pushed out a 7km in just over 32 minutes.

   Tuesday I spent the day loading up my entire home gym from storage at my parents and dragging it home in the truck. In keeping with my minimalist lifestyle a huge multi-gym, calf machine, roman chair and free-standing chin-up station all went up for sale on Kijiji. I have my basic bench press station with attachments for the bench plus all my free weights here at home which is all I really need. The rest has been or is about to be sold bringing in around $1100! I made one rule when I began selling off my belongings. The money is to fund fun. By this I mean gear. Now this may seem counter-intuitive, but I'm a minimalist in that I don't want stuff just for the sake of having stuff. I have consistently said that if it has a purpose and gets used regularly it's something I'll make room for. Gear for sports and activities will always be used regularly by Chris and I. To us this is really what life is about. This round is getting all my camping and climbing gear. Oh wait I didn't mention I am becoming a climber? Just wait...

   Wednesday I spent the morning cycling to my new job location and back to see the route and what kind of time I would be dealing with. Just one of the awesome perks to my new job is the ability to commute by bike. It's 14.5km and I currently make it in about 35 minutes. This is going to be great for me to get extra time in the saddle before triathlon season. Plus I'll be working mostly in the cycling department and this is a good chance to "keep it real". The afternoon was spent studying gear to prepare for the weeks training. That evening I went climbing at an indoor climbing gym in Burlington called Climbers Rock. I tried climbing back in the 1990's and fell back in love with it instantly. I went into a lot more detail in a post I did last week called "WTF Am I"

   Thursday morning I headed out to Turning Skatepark in Hamilton. It was weird to get back on my board and it unfortunately felt very alien under my feet. After about an hour I was beginning to feel comfy again and then it all unraveled  I tried a standard ramp maneuver for me, a backside disaster revert and the next thing I know I'm smashing hard onto my ass. What shouldn't have been a bad slam actually destroyed me. I must have hit just the right way because within minutes my left glute had seized and I was done for the day.

   Friday morning I headed down to Smokey Hollow along the Bruce trail. I got out of my truck and realized I had forgotten my Garmin watch and MP3 player. Fuck! I wasn't heading back home so I started out for my run. Strangest thing, I was actually enjoying the silence. The sounds of the water in the stream and the birds were actually soothing. It had been so long without listening to music on a run I hadn't considered how nice it might be just to have silence  Running without the ability to track my pace was incredible too. I had a GPS tracker on my phone so I could see my distance at least. It is intensely hilly throughout this area and it wasn't too long before the pain in the side of my knee began to be relayed to my brain. I'm beginning to think it's from the pounding on the downhills. I'm going to try some flat road runs this week and see if the pain appears then. I made it 10km over about an hour and a bit. I was getting some "hot spots" in my toes from my Vibrams so upon returning to the truck I took them off and gingerly ran another 2km of trails barefoot. The sensations were awesome. The feel of the cool soft mud and leaves was like nothing I ever experienced. I certainly see the attraction of barefoot running more and more.

   Friday afternoon I sadly had to attend the funeral for a friend of Christines. It was strange being at a funeral for such a well-liked and respected individual and never having met the man myself. I could tell his life influence many though. He was an avid outdoors-man and after the service to celebrate his life,
Chris surprised me by taking me out to Rattlesnake point for my first real rock climbing experience. I have to admit I was more than a little scared. I had been quite a pest since our jaunt to the climbing gym in terms of getting her to take me out for a "real" rock climbing experience. Then she called me on it. Did I mention I'm terrified of heights? I have such a deep trust in her though that the thought that something could go wrong never crossed my mind. We lugged the gear down to the cliff, picked a route and Chris setup the ropes. I love seeing her experience at work and I'm constantly in awe of her skills. I went down to wait as she repelled down to meet me. Now it was finally the moment of truth. I had no climbing shoes so I was using my Merrell Barefoots. I gingerly began the ascent. I did pretty good until halfway up the face where I was completely stumped by a smooth rock face. After a few attempts Chris lowered me down and proceeded to show me how it's done. Her experience showed as she used her climbing shoes and a lot of techniques I still needed to learn to climb right to the top. I gave it one more really good try, but with the same result of being stumped.

Before we left I asked if I could give repelling a try. We climbed the stairs to the top and with every step I could feel my heart pounding faster and faster. What the hell did I just get myself into? Chris set up my harness with the repelling device and I began to swing out over the edge. I was shaking and absolutely terrified! After about 30 seconds the anger in my own cowardice took over and I yelled "get yourself together Brown!", then began to drop over the edge. By the time I reached the halfway point I was already relaxing and enjoying the ride. In fact when I hit the bottom I ran back up for one more try, descending even faster on my second attempt. Climbing, count me in!

   The weekend was the start of my training at the store so no sports for me. It's a worthwhile trade off though for the chance to start a better, happier part of my life.

Thursday 2 May 2013


   I'm sure most are familiar with the meaning of the initialism WTF, but here I'm using it to stand for "who the fuck" am I. 

   This week I rekindled an old passion for climbing. Chris and I went to Climbers Rock
Trying the bouldering wall
indoor climbing gym to meet an old friend, also named Chris and his wife Amanda. My girlfriend, we'll use Christine to save confusion, friend Chris and wife Amanda are all experienced climbers, Christine having 20+ years of experience. Myself? I had a brief and fleeting romance back in around 1993 with indoor climbing when Peaks climbing gym opened in my hometown of St. Catharines, Ontario. A group of friends and I went on a whim to check out what the hell a climbing gym might be. Intrigued, we rented some equipment, took the "belay" test and were off scaling walls. The concept is pretty simple really. One person stays on the ground tied to a rope. Then using a pulley and braking system takes up slack as the climber, who is hooked to the other end scales the wall using a variety of "holds" for your hands and feet to grip. Easy right? Well that depends on your strength both muscular and tendon, as well as your ability to read the route up the wall. There is also a lot of techniques to learn to advance, but even a newbie like myself can really have a good time. I even tried my hand at bouldering which consists of climbing shorter more difficult routes without ropes or a harness, but over a thick crash mat. I think I made about 8 climbs in 2 hours before my arms were trembling and my hands had lost the ability to grip.

   So where is all this going? In the words of the rock band Genisis "To the land of confusion". You see I love sports, well at the least the unconventional, non-team sports. I love trying new things and fall in love easy. I also become obsessed with learning and mastery when I discover something new that I like. My first thought leaving the gym was "when can I get back here?!". Then I began to think about a discussion the four of us had in the gym that night. Chris is a bmxer, a runner and he and his wife both climb and do yoga. Christine is a cyclist, backpacker, climber and runner. We had a conversation about how can you fit all the things your passionate about into your life. We had no answers. Part of my reasons for quitting my job recently and going to something with a lot less hours was for this very reason, more time. More time with Christine and more time for my passions. So finally we reach the initial question, "who the fuck am I"?

   I've spent my whole life trying new things and then "becoming" those things and by that I mean it becomes my identity. I sometimes feel like a chameleon. I have always had the ability to slip into another lifestyle and blend right in with everyone else. In my pre-teen years I was a martial artist learning jui jitsu until a back injury from a homemade zip-line left me bedridden for an entire summer. I became a cross-country runner in public school and obsessed over that. Now I was a runner. In middle school I finally talked my parents into letting me have a skateboard and quickly became a skateboarder. This was it for me or so I thought. My entire identity revolved around being a skateboarder.
I wore bandannas and suspenders hanging off my shorts because that's what the pros in California were doing. No one got me or my style other than my fellow skateboarders, but that's how we liked it. I have been a skateboarder for 25 years now and until last summer that's what I considered myself to be. If you asked what I did or who I was the answer was simple, I skateboard therefore I am a skater. the last few years I felt my skateboard prowess slipping away as I worked harder and harder to keep up with the next generation. Last year was the tipping point and after getting dominated by their power and speed at a contest I no longer felt like I was a skateboarder. It's strange just how much I had tied my identity of being a skateboarder to the necessity of being a really good skateboarder. That's when I discovered triathlon and through triathlon discovered running. Now during my many years of skating I sidestepped into a few other identities.
I became a hardcore mountain biker for few years, got sponsored by Kona bikes and didn't skate very much. In my mind though I was still a skateboarder who also mountain biked. I got into parkour and gymnastics for a couple years, but I simply saw it as an extension of my skills learned as a skater.

   So where am I now. I'm not sure anymore. As I discover new endeavors to grow and develop in I fell awash in how to describe myself. An identity crisis of sorts. Oh and did I mention I'm a songwriting and guitar player that spent a couple years to record two albums of original songs?

I still skate and mountain bike, this year with the addition of road cycling. I'm racing a lot as a runner so I certainly feel that it is a part of my makeup now. I began swimming again in anticipation of my triathlon racing this summer. Am I a swimmer too? I also fell in love with camping last fall when Christine took me to Algonquin and now have a list of items to purchase to begin my life as a hardcore backpacker. Now climbing has been thrown in the mix.

So who am I?

   I am a skateboarder, mountain biker, road cyclist, runner, swimmer, triathlete in training, weight lifter, yoga practitioner, musician, juggler, outdoor enthusiast, backpacking hopeful, newbie climber, loving boyfriend, ex-chef, ex-carpenter with obsessive tendencies for learning.

This is Ryan Brown in all my confusing glory and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Sunday 28 April 2013

Apr 28/13 - On My Feet Again!

   So it's been barely a week since I began to recover from the super-flu that I feared at some points was going to kill me. I can't remember ever being so ill before. By the time I was feeling better on Monday and began eating again I had already dwindled to 139 lbs. Through bone breadth testing I know I have a very small frame for a guy, but at 6' tall this is still too low in my weight range. Wait what's this? You haven't heard of bone breadth testing? Let me explain a little. Your bone breadth is a measurement typically taken at the wrist or elbow that with the use of a chart, gives you a better idea of your ideal weight. It  may sound strange, but someone can actually be "big boned" 
  • Compare your measurements to frame size guidelines. For men, a wrist size of 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 inches indicates a small frame, while a measurement over 7 1/2 inches is typically of a larger bone structure
  • If you are female, your frame size will depend upon both your wrist measurement and your height. For women under 5 feet 2 inches, a measurement under 5 1/2 inches is a small frame, while a wrist over 5 3/4 inches shows that you have a larger bone structure. Women 5 feet 5 inches to 5 feet 7 inches are small framed if the measurement is less than 6 inches and have a larger frame if it is more than 6 1/4 inches. Females 5 feet 7 inches and taller are small boned if the wrist measures less than 6 1/4 inches and large framed if the wrist is more than 6 3/4 inches in circumference.

   To give you the idea I have a wrist measurement of 6 1/2" which is the chart says is small for a guy and should therefore weigh between 149-160 lbs. I usually weigh-in around 150 lbs at 5% body fat and rarely change from that. It's now Sunday and I've managed to "beef up" to 144 lbs and 3% total body fat. We're talking Bruce Lee territory now. At this point the fat in my body is basically my brain and what's left of the visceral fat which hold the internal organs in place. It's very difficult for me to gain weight and now that I have resumed some physical activities this week it's going to be even tougher. I'm on the classic see-food diet now. I see food, I eat it.

   Monday was spent in bed, holding down food and sleeping. Most of the symptoms had dissipated, but I was still feeling weak.

   Tuesday was a beautiful Spring day and also my birthday. I couldn't stay inside and I had a bit of energy. Chris was off work sick and came with me to Smokey Hollow Conservation Area. I had insisted on at least attempting a trail run and getting some fresh air. Chris vegged on a rock in the sun as I headed down into the valley with my Go Pro strapped to my head in hopes of getting some great trail running footage. The first 2km I felt amazing, my heart rate was pretty high, but I was flying. Around the 2km mark I almost instantly ran out of gas. I turned around and lightly jogged back, struggling to get back up the steep hill and out of the gorge area. You can see the little video I put together from the days run here: 

   By Wednesday I was slowly regaining energy. It called for rain so I headed out at 7am for a run. Approximately 2km from my house there is a Bruce side trail the heads down from a set of stairs I usually climb into Sam Lawrence Park. I put on my New Balance trail runners and figured I would check it out. After a short run through the city I descended into the trail system. Wow. I had passed this trail head several times in runs and couldn't believe what I had been missing. A beautiful and technical trail system right smack in the middle of Hamilton! I made 2km along the trails with no end in sight but I didn't want to push it knowing I still had the 2km of city to run back through to get home. I doubled the previous days performance for a total of 8kms of trail and road. Back home to eat and rest.

   You may be wondering by this point where my long work day seems to have gone. This week also marked an amazing turn of events for me. I have ranted here several times concerning my 12 hour work days, but hadn't really gone into much detail about my job. Well it was difficult to say the least. I worked with a very serious gentleman whom I had never even seen crack as much as a smirk in two years together. He's a heavy smoker and I was second hand smoking a pack a day. I also enjoyed dealing with MDF dust. It's a peculiarly horrible wood product made from glue and sawdust pressed together into a sheet of plywood. The dust from cutting it is incredibly fine and gets through every possible gap in your dust mask. I would blow brown boogers from my nose all night after working with it and we worked with it often. I enjoyed the work and the pride of building things, but many of our days spent trimming houses involved back breaking baseboard installations or risky work on scaffolding. The last few months together things had changed for the worse. My boss was constantly angry or in a bad mood and taking his stress out on me. On more than a few occasions he had temper tantrums so bad he would throw tools or smash holes in the walls. I couldn't stay in that environment any longer. I've never been the kind of person who can stay in a situation I'm not happy in. It may sound unrealistic but I believe strongly that life is about finding happiness. Some people think it's crazy to leave stability in search of something better. I think it's crazy to live unfulfilled just because you may be afraid of the unknown. I wanted something I could put my passion behind and strangely enough I found it. I was interviewed last week and got the good news over the weekend that I was hired as a front-line staff member at a large outdoors store. I would be assisting people in their search to fulfill their passions for living life outdoors and also helping with the natural running clinics. A perfect fit for me. For now it's a seasonal contract to be reviewed at the end of the summer. It's a risk, but one I'm prepared for mentally and financially.  Sometimes you have to take chances in life and although it's not the kind of pay or hours I would like, I see this as my chance to get a foot in the door and prove my value. 

   Thursday and I was finally back in the pool. I was feeling the strain of recovering from illness with the small amount of training I had been doing so I kept it light and cruised out 1500m worth of laps.

   Friday afternoon was spent watching Chris add some new ink to her completely amazing sleeve. I love seeing it unfold into a true work of art on her arm. Just when I thought she couldn't be any fuckin' sexier! I headed straight from there to Mount Nemo to push a longer trail run. I left the beaten path and took the Bruce Trail from the conservation area. It just occured to me that some of you may not know of the Bruce Trail so here is a quick blurb from wiki:
Typical trail along the Bruce. Mount Nemo

   "The trail follows the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, one of the thirteen UNESCO WorldBiosphere Reserves in Canada, for almost 900 km (560 mi). The land the trail traverses is owned by the Government of Ontario, private landowners and the Bruce Trail Conservancy (BTC).

   The trail begins in the Niagara Peninsula of Southern Ontario in Queenston, Ontario, on the Niagara River, not far from Niagara FallsThe cairn marking its southern terminus is in a parking lot, about 160 metres (520 ft) from General Brock's Monument on the easterly side of the monument's park grounds. Its northern terminus is in Tobermory, the jumping off point for Fathom Five National Marine Park."

Cliff-side view from the Bruce Trail
   The trails are amazing and we are lucky to have such a fantastic trail system traversing through our area. The terrain contains everything from gravel paths to some of the most technical hiking and running imaginable. It includes streams, waterfalls and spectacular cliff views overlooking cites and farmlands. Most of the trail running adventures I describe are on either the main trail or one of the hundreds of side trails that weave through it.

   Seems as though I took a bit of a side trail from my story, I'll get back on track now. The run at Nemo was just what I needed to restore my confidence. It was super technical with lots of ups, downs, roots and rocks. I started to fatigue around the 9km point and began to get sloppy. This kind of terrain can wear you down quickly. I got lazy and let one of my feet drag and it caught a root. The other foot was too slow to get in front and before I knew I was crashing face first into a jumble of roots and rocks. I managed to get my forearm out in front at the last second and ended up smashing it and the side of my body into the jagged mess. At least I saved my face. It was my first fall and I was totally stunned. I laid there for a few moments groaning. This was worse than a lot of my skateboard slams from over the years. I pulled myself together and managed to run the rest of the way out of the trails. I would feel that in the morning.

Jumps section at Joyride 150
   Now Saturday morning and I was feeling it. I had spent the night icing my arm and an inflamed Achilles tendon. Both were feeling well enough for activity and they had too. Chris had a birthday surprise for me and was taking me to  Joyride 150. An indoor bike park in Toronto complete with wooden BMX tracks, dirt jumps and an indoor cross-country mountain bike course. We had the time of our lives and rode for a solid 2 hours. It felt great to jump my bike again. A couple years ago I had gotten back into dirt jumping and it was always something I loved. The feeling of flying through the air on my bike is second only to the feeling of flying around on my skateboard. There's a freedom in it few people get to enjoy. I was grateful for the chance to have that experience again. Great day with my best friend. Now to rest up and do it all over again this week!

Monday 22 April 2013

Apr 21/13 - Bad Luck Strikes Again

   This post is a little different in that it's actually Friday April 19th as I sit down to write this opening paragraph. Usually I wait until Sunday evening when my training has completed to take the week in review. What makes this week so different? I'm supposed to be racing a 10km trail race in Niagara Falls tomorrow morning and here I sit in bed where I have been almost exclusively for the last 3 days. I awoke Wednesday early morning to discovery something inside my guts was very wrong. Very, very wrong. The diarrhea that began shortly there after still hasn't ceased and was quickly followed by relentless vomiting  Chris came home early from work Wednesday afternoon to take me to the emergency room.
Enough said
By the time I got there I was so weak I could barely stand on my own. I had been vomiting at least every 15 minutes for about 12 hours at this point with absolutely no relief in sight. Wtf could it be? The most frustrating part is this was the 3rd time in 6 months. The first one I blogged about occurred on New Years Eve and had both Chris and I laid up for days on end. The second was in February I believe and I had to be taken from a job site by ambulance after collapsing in a port-a-pottie with uncontrollable vomiting. Both of these instances were written off by the attending physicians as food-borne related. Then a couple weeks ago I awoke with the worst migraine I have had since I was a child. That lasted nearly 12 vomit and pain-filled hours.  I think you're starting to see where my frustration is coming from. Yes maybe they are all just non-related events, but I can't help thinking what the hell is going on here
? I quit drinking several years ago, stopped smoking pot about a year ago, became a vegetarian 5 months ago and exercise daily. This should be the healthiest point of my whole life and yet I have never had so many bouts of illness bring me down in such a short span of time.  As I write this I am beginning to hold down food, but am already down about 7lbs in 3 days weighing in at a measly 143lbs. Unless something completely amazing happens in the next 12 hours tomorrow it looks as if my race is already over.

This goes for 1.5km!
   So not too much to report this week. Monday I had the day off as my boss had a doctors appointment. It was a beautiful spring day so I headed back to Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area where I had just run the previous Saturday. I slipped on my Five Finger Spyridon trail runners and headed out on the trail towards Crawford Lake. I felt amazing. Everything was working as it should and the run was effortless. I had brought my Go Pro camera to get some footage, but had left the memory card in my laptop. I also realized as I geared up to run that I had forgotten my Garmin watch. For the first time I was running completely by feel. I decided to run to Crawford lake which was 7.5km. At least like this I would have an Idea of my distance. I still felt amazing when I arrived so I ran the 1.5km raised wooden boardwalk that circumferences the Lake. All in all it was a perfect run. Awesome weather, legs were still strong and no blisters or issues breaking in my new shoes. 16.5km total and I was feeling very positive about the race this weekend.

   Tuesday was a really tough workday physically for me. I drilled out and drove in 100 cement Tapcon screws into the walls of my bosses cold room. We were installing drywall in there and much of the day was spent working over our heads. By the time I came home that night I was physically devastated. In in hind site it may have been that whatever would be taking hold of me in less than 12 hours might already have been starting. Needless to say though that mixing a 10 hour day of physical labor with trying to train in the evenings has been my greatest challenge in taking on triathlon. I fear that it maybe the consistent wearing down of my body through work and training which may be leaving me susceptible to illness. It's just another reason backing my decision to look for employment in a different field.

Time passes...

   Well now it's Monday morning, the day before my 39th birthday and I've finally gotten the chance to finish this story. I had thought about posting the first half and leaving this portion as a cliffhanger, but I didn't want to leave anyone on the edge of their seat, biting their nails for days on end.  So how did it all turn out? Not so good for me I'm afraid. It was a tough
weekend to say the least. By Saturday morning food was staying down, but still not well and was making quite a "splash" on exit. This was supposed to be an amazing weekend away for Chris and I. I was racing on Saturday in the "Head for the Hills" trail race in Niagara Falls and then it was straight to Calabogie (just outside Ottawa), where she was racing her bike at Calabogie Motorsports raceway. I was totally demolished by this point from the flu and her from the stress of taking care of me and watching me fade away. 

Not a great idea, but I was desperate
   It was bitterly cold Saturday morning as we arrived in Niagara Falls. No I wasn't even thinking about racing, I could barely stand! I just wanted my race sweatshirt and bib. We had to travel out to St. Catharines anyway since my father and I share the same birthday I wanted to drop off a gift and see him briefly. We began the long drive to Calabogie around 10:30am and I was already eating gravol like it came from a candy necklace. I had eated barely anything in days and had to stop for fear that I would have "issues" on the road. I was in and out of consciousness for most of the trip. I tried eating little bits here and there and even broke my 5 months of vegetarianism to eat almost half of a plain Wendy's Jr. burger. I was so ill I went for anything my tastes buds would crave and it strangely came back to fast food.

My weekend supplies
We arrived at the rent house we were sharing with 4 other cyclists just outside of the racetrack in Calabogie around 7pm Saturday evening. I felt like a leper and I could tell by the looks on their faces most of them wished I hadn't come. Part of me wished I hadn't either, but my commitment to supporting Chris was too strong to allow me to stay home. I spent most of the night creeping downstairs to decimate the lower bathroom in hopes that no one would hear the terrible sounds emitting from my body. I went everywhere with a container of Lysol flu disinfectant wipes to decontaminate anything my disgusting body touched.

   Sunday morning came and I somehow was feeling a little better, almost human. I had a hot shower and held down some peanut butter on toast. We packed up and headed to the race. I was an awesome venue. An actual car racetrack, taken over by hundreds of cyclists from all over Ontario. Chris hadn't eaten or trained all week because of how sick I had been and all the stress it caused her. Now she was feeling like shit and under prepared. I was feeling like shit and guilty. It was also as cold as an ice cream headache and the thermometer was reading -5C even though the sun was shining. Everyone warmed up and got into the line up just before 9am. Then it was 11 laps and 56km to go.
Chris is on the right in the white kit & helmet
I'm always so proud when I see Chris in her cycling kit, lined up to race and she is always the most beautiful girl in the field. It was great for spectators because we could walk freely around the 5km track taking pictures and watching the race from different vantage points. At one point I saw the ambulance head out onto the track, but Chris appeared around a corner before I could worry. Good thing too. It had been a bad crash and one girl had to be airlifted to the hospital. Cycling is a lot more dangerous than people would suspect or at least more than I personally had thought. Chris did great for her second race of the season coming in 5th despite the previous weeks events. You can read about her point of view HERE. I was feeling better so we stopped for gas and breakfast to celebrate on the way home. Breakfast was a mistake. Chris had eggs and I had a western. My mom always made westerns with a little ham and some peppers, this one was just eggs and chopped bacon. This was the second time I had broken my vegetarian streak in two days and little did I know that in just a short time I was going to pay for it. Not 30 mins down road the terrible abdominal cramps started. We were a long way from anything except winding, rocky Ontario roads and by now the pain was so intense I was convinced that something had ruptured inside me and I was going to die out here. We had no signals on our phones and couldn't find a hospital, but we both knew there wouldn't be one for sometime now. We were both beginning to panic. We stopped at a small restaurant and I stumble in to ask for a bathroom. I was alone in there, but could here voices outside and assumed they could probably hear the horrors of what I was doing to their bathroom. I never thought it possible to have liquid coming from ones body in such a violent way for such a long time. When it was over however I felt a million times better and had rendered their bathroom virtually unusable. I purchased a bottle of water on the way out and tipped the lady a few dollars. "Oh thank you" she exclaimed!  "Your welcome" I replied and then muttered "it won't even cover the cleaning bill" under my breath.

   Well I made it home and slept well last night with the help of some Imodium and Gas-X. Feeling better today and holding down food consistently. I'm certainly on the road to recovery now, but the sad part is I lost a lot of weight and strength over the last week. I'm weighing in at a pathetic 139lbs now and have lost a lot of my muscle mass and stamina I worked so hard for over the last few months. I have no races in May except for Tough Mudder and I have the next two weeks off work to regain my strength. Oh and the reason for the two week vacation will be explained tomorrow as their has been some great news that occurred during this difficult week. I have a birthday gift that I want to share with everyone I know tomorrow that will hopefully inspire my friends to think about different possibilities in life.