The trouble with racing ‘only’ 5K’s

There are many things I love about racing ‘shorter’ distances like 5K’s, 8K’s and 10K’s. I say ‘shorter’ because it seems everyone these days is training for a marathon or half marathon (not to mention those training for Half and full Ironmans!) These longer races are all amazing events and admirable goals to train for. I’ve been there and I’m sure I’ll come back to one or two. But these days they just require a bit too much time and structured training for my liking. You need to go with the flow of the stage you’re in, and right now my stage is “get everything done super quickly and efficiently and move on to the next thing” – which lends itself well to 5K training and racing.  So, to anyone who asks, I say I’m training for mostly 5K’s. However, I’ve discovered a serious flaw to my plan of “going with the flow” and jumping into 5K’s when they’re convenient. And that is that they never really are completely convenient and they often get re-prioritized! I have no one to blame for this but myself, but after a summer of saying I was racing 5K’s I only ended up starting two and finishing one (my DNF is another story…)

 

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Some non-regretted summer experiences I chose over racing a 5K

It does suit me right now to be flexible and to be able to re-prioritize on the go.  Imagine having to say ‘no’ to a kid’s birthday party (they come up more frequently than you’d think), or a bike ride excursion with kids and friends, an invite to a cottage or a camping weekend with the family, because “Mom’s racing a 5K this weekend”? I truly would not enjoy that – no matter how fast I ended up running. I keep myself fit enough that I could jump into a 5K on any weekend and be either pleasantly surprised (it did happen this Spring) or have a bad race and question my training and racing strategy (see DNF). I never know because my training is never focused on one particular race. Again, this generally suits  my life right now, but after a few missed 5K races for other things that came up (plus my DNF), I realized I wasn’t giving enough respect and commitment to my races because they were “just 5K’s”. For any of my longer distance races in the past – from Half Marathons and up, my weekends were blocked off and my family and social schedules adjusted. Why did I feel I could justify the prioritization for those races just because they’re longer? In fact, I’m one of those people who loudly defends the 5K as not ‘just’ a 5K, as it too is an Olympic event, and you would never say an Olympian runs ‘just’ the 5K. Focusing on going faster over a shorter distance is just as commendable as completing a longer distance.

So, I’ve learned a lesson. If I really do care about the results of a race, I will have to plan for it – regardless of distance. I now have a “season” of fall races penned in (thanks in large part to a new coach who is guiding me) and they are written in my calendar in pen. If a birthday party, a cool excursion or some other fun sounding option comes up, I will still prioritize my race. Plus, it’s only a 5K – it won’t take that long 😉

 

Racing as a Master – my perspective has changed!

I will always like to run, whether I’m competing or not, but often enough the urge strikes me to register for a race and compete. By this I mean, run as fast as I can, test myself, and try to hit a certain time. I usually have a pretty good idea of where I will rank among finishers, depending on the size of the event. Sometimes in the smaller races I win outright, and sometimes I’m happy with a top-10 finish. I don’t really care about beating specific people, as my own time is what I’m aiming for. I would rather run with fast people who beat me but pull me to a faster time than come first with a slower time.

But I won’t lie: it’s nice to “medal”. Especially as my times are starting to slow down with age. I usually know on the start line by looking around whether I’ll be in the mix for a top-3 finish or not. In any races where there is significant prize money and elites show up, I put myself way down the list. Until this year when I turned 40. Suddenly there was a new (lower) bar. I could compete against older runners for a top podium spot! I’d be competing against women who had families, careers, and other major priorities outside of running. People who were older, busier, and fitting in training where they could.

I had mixed feelings. I knew (or thought) I would fare better in this new group, but I sort of felt like I’d been put out to pasture. I was competing against the “B” Team. Oh well – I would compete in this new category, but maybe really still measure myself against the runners in the open race.

The first race I competed in as an elite master was the Race Roster Spring Run-Off in April. It was -12C and windy (and hilly as it always is). At the beginning my toes and fingers were frozen, and by the end my mouth was too frozen to speak.  But the conditions were tough for everyone. If my time wasn’t the best, I still had places to run for. And this is where I learned how tough these other masters women are! I ran one of my faster times on that course and I still didn’t make the podium as a master! This was a bit of a shock to me, but also oddly exhilarating. This is no “softie” category – these women are serious athletes who kick butt! I am so pumped to be one of them – even if I’m not the best 😉 I love having others out there setting the bar high. These ladies are fierce and fearless. They have nothing to prove to anyone. Pretty sure they’re all doing this just for themselves. The funny thing is they are also super friendly and warm and seem genuinely happy that I’ve joined their ranks. No one takes themselves too seriously. We’re all “something” first, and runners maybe second, third or fourth. But don’t let that cause you to let your guard down. We will run fast and hard all the way to the finish. I am so excited for this new phase in my competitive running. Look out ladies – I’m comin’ for ya!

The top 10 finishers in this elite race show a nice range of ages!

The top 10 finishers in this elite race show a nice range of ages!

The joys and sorrows of electronic race results

There is much to be said for having an electronic record of my times courtesy of the timing companies which time, record and post online results for road races. Especially since I’m not very good at my own record keeping, and small details like seconds (and sometimes minutes) don’t always stay in my head. I can look up my times over different distances, check my past results from specific races, analyze my patterns of ups and downs over the years, and find my personal best times all with a few simple clicks. Almost all races these days are electronically timed and those times will sit beside my name on a website forever (or at least probably for my lifetime – scary thought). This is a great service for personal reference, but there is no denying that there is a different level of ego involved knowing my times will go down in history, available to anyone who casually looks up my name.

Tracking my races from 15 years ago

Tracking my races from 15 years ago

There are the times I don’t want, but can’t erase. There they are shining brightly beside my name.

For example: A few weeks ago, I was fighting a bug and feeling pretty run down. I had signed up for a half marathon a few weeks earlier, and had made plans to go with friends. My optimistic (but not always realistic) brain told me that I should still run it because you just never know. I think I had just read a story about an Olympian who had raced a great race while suffering from the flu, so I obviously thought I could too. Off I went, and about 7 or 8K into the race I realized I wouldn’t be racing it for a great time. By 10K I figured I’d just run it in. By 15K I was walking and if there had been a sweeper bus I would have gotten in. It was not pretty but I had only one way to end my misery and get home, so I continued jogging and walking to get there. Then, my dilemma: Should I cross the finish line and officially record a time 10 minutes slower than I felt I was capable of? That would be the time everyone would see beside my name. Forever. It turned out it was too awkward not to cross the line once I’d gotten there, so I sucked it up, crossed the line, smiled, accepted my medal, thanked the volunteers, and officially stamped that time beside my name in history.

Then there are the times which I want to be there, but aren’t.

An example: This past weekend I ran a race to try to reclaim a time which I’d “given” to a friend three years ago. She had registered for a race and gotten injured right before the event. She very generously asked if I wanted her bib. I didn’t think I was that fit and hadn’t committed to racing, but decided I could use a good low-pressure training run and I didn’t want her bib to go to waste. It turns out I was somewhat fit, and surprised myself with a time I was pleased with. But it wasn’t my time – it was her bib so the time was recorded beside her name. Fair enough. It’s not that I didn’t want her to have it, but I wanted it too! So this year I ran the race with the sole goal of getting that time under my name. Unfortunately my ego wasn’t quite powerful enough to propel me up that last hill fast enough, and I fell 17 seconds short. I’ll have to go for it again next year.

A good effort, but didn't quite hit "my" time

A good effort, but didn’t quite hit “my” time

I’m not actually upset about either of these scenarios. I’d committed to them and knew the potential fall-outs. Just a couple of stories to remind you that before you step on any start line you have to have decided whether your result will stand beside your name, or whether you’ll race in anonymity. You can do either, but there’s no changing your mark once you’ve started.

Race recap – Beer Mile World Championships

I don’t usually write race re-caps because I tend to think they’re a little boring and self indulgent, but I will make an exception for the one I ran last week. As the former women’s Beer Mile world record holder, I was invited down to Austin, Tx to compete in the World Championships. Although I had been in Beer Mile retirement for the past 15+ years, I decided to have some fun and try my best at making a convincing come-back. I did hold out a fair bit of hope that I could place well. I’ve kept up with running competitively, and although I’ve had my ups and downs, I currently feel like I’m about as fast a runner as I was 15 years ago. My only worry was the beer drinking. I do still enjoy beer, but I like to sip one or two in an evening. Let’s just say that in my 20’s my beer drinking was a little less civilized. However, people who are in the know say there is an “X” factor to good Beer Milers – they’re not always the fastest runners or chuggers, but together they can be the best. Physically, I look and feel similar to how I did 15 years ago, so whatever that “X” factor is, I should still have it.

The entire experience was amazing. As my friend (former Queen’s track buddy Suzy G) who accompanied me down said: “we played hooky from life for three days”. The organization and professionalism by Flotrack, the event organizers, was incredible. I was picked up at the airport, taken to my hotel, and then pointed in the direction of one of the nicest running trails I’ve run.

view from the running trail by my hotel in Austin

view from the running trail by my hotel in Austin

I had meant to go for a little “shake-out” jog but ended up going for over an hour because I was loving it and for once didn’t have to get back for chores or responsibilities.

miles and miles of trail

miles and miles of trail

Back at the hotel I met up with Jim Finlayson (also a former Beer Mile world record holder from Canada – same era as me but a more decorated runner – past and present). We went out for dinner and discussed strategy. This was the menu:

of course I ate the Drunk Chicken

of course I ate the Drunk Chicken

We each had a pint with our meal and then Jim suggested each chugging a quick beer. I wasn’t sure about having TWO BEERS the night before the Beer Mile, but he likened it to running a few 400’s at race pace – just to sharpen up. Made sense. We timed each other and were both feeling confident with our chugging abilities.

Suzy G arrived later and we explored Austin. A late night for me, but for once I could sleep in! This was feeling very indulgent.

The next day was race day. Suzy and I went for a little shake-out jog in the morning (this time really keeping it to 30 minutes). Then we had the athlete’s technical meeting. The attention to detail was astounding – everything was taken care of for us, right down to the exact temperature we wanted for our beer at the start – to the degree!

elite athlete package - including full event program

elite athlete package – including full event program

We had been told the venue would be at an F1 race track – The Circuit of the Americas. This was amazing as I’ve never been to an F1 track, let alone raced on one!

Beer Mile event site

Beer Mile event site

the "track"

the “track”

The event itself was pretty surreal. I’ve never raced at a large international level event with live broadcasting before, so I got a taste of what it’s like to be an elite track athlete. The elites had our own warm-up area, and everyone was getting into real race-prep mode. Stretching, doing drills, listening to music, not making eye contact. And every now and then some of us were pulled aside to do an interview. It was quite intense. Then we were marshaled to the start and it all unfolded from there.

When the gun went off I started into my first beer and I just felt that the taste was not right. It wasn’t a carbonation or stomach capacity issue – I just wasn’t prepared for the taste of that specific beer. (I know – how do you make a rookie mistake like that after 20 years?!) I was off the pace of the leaders from the beginning. I stayed consistent and ran well – I didn’t have any big pauses, but my beers were just consistently about 5-10 seconds too slow. I was a tad disappointed in myself, but I guess I had been relying on a magic “X” factor which had been lying dormant for 15 years.

competing on the same stage as Olympian Nick Symmonds

competing on the same stage as Olympian Nick Symmonds

I know the Beer Mile is a strange event. There will always be people who don’t approve of the drinking aspect. For me it was just something we did in university to take some of the seriousness out of our training and racing. It was our time to relax and have fun, but we were incapable of not adding an element of competition to anything. We are of a breed who were born to compete. We can’t help ourselves. We want to win – even if it’s winning the party. We had some other strange running-related competitions back then: Naked Run, Timbit Challenge, Earl St. Mile, Slow-Twitch Decathlon. I wonder if any of them will ever develop into World Championship events? 😉

I’m a tapering cliche

I’ve turned into a cliche. I know all about “Taper Madness” but it’s not me. I love tapering. As much as I love running, I also sometimes love not running. I’ve raced hundreds of races in my life, and I know how to get to the starting line ready to go. So what’s this? I’m running the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon this weekend. And suddenly …

– I’m stressing over little aches and pains that have suddenly popped up
– I can’t tell if I’m eating too much or not enough
– I can’t seem to focus on my work and keep flipping to the race website to double-check details
– I’m not sure if I’m running too much – or not enough
– I go out with a friend and have two glasses of wine. Wait – was that smart 3 days before my race?
– I’m not as tired as usual with less running, so I’m not going to bed as early. Am I getting enough sleep?
– Should I stop doing core exercises 4 days out? 3 days out? At all?

Good grief! I didn’t know I cared that much about my performance here. Truth is I’m going for a PB, but I always am and will always be disappointed with less than that, even if it’s not realistic and I haven’t put in the training (which may be the case in this one.) Logically I’ll fall anywhere between my goal time (1:21) and 2-3 minutes of it. I’m straddling the line between being logically realistic and being optimistically confident – the two are not perfectly aligned. I know I’m over-thinking this and there’s nothing I can do now but show up on Sunday ready to give it my all. A glass of wine and 25 sit-ups aren’t going to make a difference either way. Deep breath, stop thinking, … here we go!

Let's just try to relax and enjoy this

Let’s just try to relax and enjoy this

Having fun with my races this summer

I’m not always training for a race, but usually when I do it’s “for serious”. I try to run my best and do whatever is within my power to post as fast a time as I can. These races are satisfying, but also not without their stress and intensity. I was recently giving a pep talk to some of the grade-school kids I help coach who had a race coming up. I said: “Go out and have fun!” and I really meant it. Then I thought, hey – why don’t I do that too?? Imagine that – a race experience that is FUN!

My inspiration for having fun

My inspiration for having fun

So this summer, while I do have a long range goal race which I’ll do “for serious”, I’ve decided on the most part to do races “for fun”. This means I’ll be randomly jumping into races without over-thinking them or worrying about the outcome. In fact, I’ve already started.

My first “fun” race was a 1K course, the second half of which was a very steep hill (Pottery Road Hill for those in the Toronto are who know it). Here is a picture of the hill, although it’s a long, windy hill, so I’m not sure this does it justice.

A third of the way up the hill

A third of the way up the hill

It turned out to be pouring rain by the time the race was about to start. I considered not doing it, but my super keen cheering crew (4 year-old and 7 year-old) wanted me to run. To top it off, my 7 year-old nephew wanted to run it too! (we later realized that was because of the opportunity to get soaking wet, not in spite of it)

This was the view from my car window a few minutes before the race:

Spring downpour

Spring downpour

This was me after the race:

A little damp

A little damp

Was it fun? You bet!

I’ve since run a 5K race complete with a chocolate station and shirtless firefighters handing out water.

Fun? Um… YES!

Volunteer handing out chocolate at the Toronto Women's Runs event

Volunteer handing out chocolate at the Toronto Women’s Runs event

Next up, I plan on running some more races ranging in length from 5K to 10K. Why not? I can be serious anytime. Summer running for me is the time to have fun.

Enjoy 🙂

Think the Beer Mile is fun?

As most people who follow these things know, a new world record was recently set in the Beer Mile. James Nielsen recently ran under 5 minutes for the event which is an amazing feat. The Beer Mile consists of drinking four beers and running four laps of a track in sequence (beer, lap, beer, lap, beer, lap, beer, lap). This is an extremely grueling event. I know because I have run it numerous times and am the still reigning women’s world record holder. Beer Mile Records (yes, it was set in 1997 – I was basically a child prodigy in the Beer Mile).

I have heard many people talk of this event as if it is fun. I am writing this to clear that up. The Beer Mile is not a fun event. It is hard and it hurts.
My time of 6:42 = an average of 70 second laps and 30 second beers. My best 1500 m time is 4:36 – translated into a mile that would be about 4:57 mile. So counting my 30 seconds or so breaks for beer, my Beer Mile time required me to run pretty much as fast as I possibly could over that distance.

Here is how I recall the race playing out:

Race Day:

I’m nervous. I’ve tapered appropriately – done some strides the day before and a light jog that morning. I’ve eaten a good meal four hours prior to race time to ensure my stomach is expanded but empty for race time. I’ve not let myself drink beer for a week (a long time in University) in order to build up a thirst for it. The first one has to go down easily. I get to the track for my warm-up jog, then switch into my spikes for mobility and strides. My body has to be ready to run as fast as it can go. I line my beers up and find my place at the start.

The Gun:
The gun goes off followed quickly by the sound of dozens of beer cans being opened simultaneously. Many people are faster straight-up chuggers than me, but that’s ok. I focus on getting my beer down as smoothly as I can. The first one, of course, is the easiest. I hold my empty can over my head and take off. There are a lot of people in the game at this point. I keep Julia and Kerry in my sights. They’re both faster 800m runners than me and I’ve seen them both party pretty hard. I have no idea how competitive they’ll be. I run a hard 400m but have to start slowing down before the line in order to find my beer.

Beer/Lap 2:
I find my beer and crack it. I’m not completely winded yet so I can manage timing my breathing with my drinking. Gulp air, gulp beer, gulp air, gulp beer,… The second beer does not taste nearly as good as the first but I force it down. Onto the next lap. It takes a few strides to burp out the extra gas and start moving smoothly. I think Julia and Kerry are close behind me. A few of the guys are already at the 200m mark of their second lap. Down the back stretch I’m feeling like I’m back into the rhythm of running a normal running interval. Just focus on a fast turnover. At 200m my legs are burning but I’m used to this feeling from countless track workouts and can work through the pain to the end of the 400m.

Beer/Lap 3:
I desperately need to breathe and want to double over and clutch my knees but I reach for a beer instead and start gulping it down. It’s starting to taste like pure alcohol that’s been carbonated and I have to consciously suppress my gag reflex. I don’t breathe through my nose because the taste will make me stop drinking. I just have to put mind over matter, much like in the intervals, and focus on finishing it fast. I suspect my third beer is slower than the first two but it’s done and I’m off. The longer beer break has given my legs a bit more of a rest but again I’m forced to start slowly while my stomach adjusts to the volume. I find my stride again down the back stretch. I’m aware of a mix of beer, snot and saliva all over my face and front. I chance a glance behind and see Julia still working on her third beer. Dan is pulling up to her for his final beer. My goals are to be the first woman and not to get lapped. I round the bend and feel myself tying up from lactic acid as I run the last hundred meters of the third lap towards my final beer.

Beer/Lap 4:
As much as my body wants (needs?) to stop to end the pain of running at my top speed, I am dreading getting to the exchange zone for my last beer. I’m not sure which is more painful at this point: the beers or the laps. I want to slow down and I want to stop drinking. ONE left! I crack the can. I see Dan powering down the back stretch and coming up on the 200m mark. Don’t get lapped. Kerry’s still at the exchange zone working on her third beer. Julia’s on her third lap but I feel safe for the win. Just get it over with. I force the beer down in between gulps of much needed oxygen. I am aware that my face is contorting into grimaces of disgust as I try not to gag. Dan is coming down the home stretch. Done my beer! Off again for the bell lap. Running is starting to feel a bit weird. I’m not sure if I’m pushing as hard as I can as my head is getting fuzzy and I’m starting to feel numb. I just try to focus on the mechanics of running and of holding a steady rhythm. Finally the last turn. Once I’m on the last 100m I just focus on bringing it home. Jason sprints by me to avoid being beaten by a girl (I out-drank you buddy!) A few of the guys will try to nab me on the last lap. I reach the finish line and collapse in a heap of surging lactic acid, oxygen debt, alcohol, sweat and snot.

Final thought:
As I stagger off the track to avoid the drunken final sprinters and retchers to the side I think “that was the hardest, most painful thing I’ve ever done. I’m never doing that again”. Then, five minutes later, once a good beer buzz has set in and I’m still high from endorphins I think “That was fun! I totally bet I could beat my time next time”.

Some of the early pioneers and authors of the Beer Mile's "Kingston Rules"

Some of the early pioneers and authors of the Beer Mile’s “Kingston Rules”

Still smiling

I had a goal to run the Around The Bay 30K race in a PB time of 1:56. I trained hard through the winter and stuck to my schedule despite tough training conditions – freezing temps, icy roads, knee deep snow. Then, three weeks out from the race I sustained a hamstring injury. It stopped me from training properly from there on in, but I was still hopeful that I’d be able to race. I laced up on race day and started out on goal pace. However, by 10K I started to struggle with tightness around my injury and by 13K I knew I couldn’t maintain my pace. Instead of risking further damage, I decided to slow down and jog/walk back while cheering on other runners.

SO…

How am I taking this? How do I feel? What of all the work gone to waste? What next?

I feel fine, I’m happy for the work I’ve done, I’m optimistic, and most importantly, I’m still smiling.

After my race, my husband sent me a quote by Winston Churchill. If you ever need to channel some optimism, grit, determination, inspiration and inner strength, look to Churchill. Here are some reasons which I have to smile, backed by his words:

1. I’m smiling because I did manage to run through this brutal winter, and having a goal pulled me along where I otherwise may have run a lot less – and I’m glad I didn’t!
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill
2. I’m smiling because I can still run. Being injured makes you realize how much you take for granted. I can’t run hard (right now) but I can run, which I’ll continue to do until I can run hard again.
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston Churchill
3. I’m smiling because I’m optimistic about my future running. I’ve learned that I can’t take little things for granted, like not doing core/strengthening exercises. With my renewed focus I know I will come back stronger.
“I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.” – Winston Chuchill
4. I’m smiling, because if you’re not smiling, then you should stop until you can, and I’m not stopping.
“War is a game that is played with a smile. If you can’t smile, grin. If you can’t grin, keep out of the way till you can.” – Winston Churchill

Smiling at 29K

Smiling at 29K

Would you rather … ?

Three weeks out from my race (Around the Bay 30K) for which I’ve been training all winter, I’ve sustained an injury. Instead of a taper, I’ve come to an abrupt halt. Needless to say, I’m a bit upset. I’m still unsure how bad the injury is – it hurts to run fast, but jogging slowly is ok. All I can do is rest it and hope for the best on the start line. I am still clinging to optimistic hope. I’ve always said that over-tapering is rarely something which brings on negative results, so if I can manage to race with manageable pain there is a chance I can still hit my goal of a PB (1:56). In situations like this one, I try to remember that it could always be worse. I like to play a little game with myself called “Would you rather …” where the answer leads me to choosing the scenario I’m in.

For those who have never played it, “Would you rather … ” is a game where you’re given two bad options, and you have to choose one. It’s a fun way to mentally torture yourself.
For example: Would you rather…
a) have a hairline that starts at your eyebrows and continues up your forehead, or
b) have a nose sticking out of the back of your head?
They’ve even made it into a children’s book, so of course I bought a copy.

Fun bedtime mind games

Fun bedtime mind games


Here is a typical choice:
Would you rather be chased by ... a crab, a bull, a lion, or wolves?

Would you rather be chased by … a crab, a bull, a lion, or wolves?


There are a lot of things which could happen throughout a training cycle and race which have the potential of throwing you off course. I think about those and this is how I play my game.

Would you rather…
a) sustain an injury 3 weeks out from the race but still be able to race OR
b) sustain an injury in the middle of a big training block?
I choose a).

Would you rather…
a) sustain an injury 3 weeks out from the race but still be able to race OR
b) come down with the flu 2 days before your race?
Again – a).

Would you rather…
a) sustain an injury 3 weeks out from the race but still be able to race OR
b) have your car break down on the side of the road on the way to the race so you miss the start?
My answer: a).

Would you rather…
a) sustain an injury 3 weeks out from the race but still be able to race OR
b) have a wicked storm blow in on race morning with torrential freezing rain and fierce head-winds leaving no hope of a PB?
Totally a).

Of course any of these other things could happen as well, but in my game, I’ve already picked my choice, so option b) won’t happen. Sort of like karma. Those of you racing Around the Bay 30K can thank me for the perfect racing conditions we’ll be receiving on race day.

Appreciating the skills of our Olympic athletes

As a competitive runner I love watching other athletes compete at the top of their game. Watching top level runners is one of my favourite things because I can understand exactly how good they are relative to me, and it gives me a huge sense of awe and appreciation of their abilities. For example, in the 2012 Olympic final in the Women’s 5000m, all 15 runners ran between two and two and a half minutes faster than I ever could. Finishing place aside, I love watching that level of athleticism and think every one of those athletes are amazing. I want to take that same approach to my viewing of the winter Olympics starting this weekend. I know these athletes are the best in the world, and in order to fully appreciate just how good they are, I like to picture myself doing their sports. Luckily I have a little bit of background or experience in some of them so I have some sort of reference point.

Hockey
I actually played hockey competitively and quite seriously until University. I got as far as I did because I could skate. I could back-check like crazy and was always able to put myself in the right position at the right time. However, once the puck landed on my stick it was another story. I could never make it go where I wanted it to and often ended up giving it to the wrong team. These Olympic hockey players combine the skating skills and power of speed skaters and figure skaters with the eye-hand coordination and precision of archers. I am in awe.

Hayley Wickenheiser putting it all together

Hayley Wickenheiser putting it all together

Cross-Country Skiing
This is another sport with which I have some familiarity. I cross-country ski raced for a number of years, and started to think I might be good when I came first in the City Finals in high school. However, once I made it to the Provincials, I realized that coming from an urban centre, I had just risen to the top of a very small pool by virtue of being a competitive runner who owned a pair of skis. It turned out that “real” cross-country skiers weren’t just runners who were coordinated enough to compete on skis. These were hardcore athletes who trained year-round for this sport, and reached a level of fitness and skill I’d never seen before. I went from first-place in my city to fifty-something in my province. These top level athletes deserve a huge amount of respect.

Aerobic beast Sara Renner skillfully scaling a hill

Aerobic beast Sara Renner skillfully scaling a hill

Freestyle Skiing
In terms of downhill skiing, I’ve only ever skied recreationally. However, that didn’t stop me from attempting cool-looking aerial moves over any bump I could find. I worked hard at this, and I may be dating myself to admit that my biggest feat was to pull off a Daffy. Actually, I may not have landed it. Most of the time I did Spread Eagles, and about fifty percent of those times they were by accident. Now when I watch the freestyle skiing at the Olympics I can’t even get my head around the moves they are doing. I don’t know any of the names of the moves now, but I am duly impressed.

Jennifer Heil performing ... something amazing

Jennifer Heil performing … something amazing

Bobsleigh
Okay, I have no experience with bobsleigh, but I have tried to push a car stuck in the ice, and let’s just say you wouldn’t want to have to rely on me in such a situation. Also, ever since I turned 30 I have been deathly afraid of roller-coasters. Finally, my six-year old can beat me on video games that involve driving at high speeds. If those three things combined have anything to do with bobsleigh skills I am nowhere close to the Olympic competitors so I will just sit and watch in silent fascination.

Kaillie Humphries finishing a run (I would still be trying to launch my bobsleigh)

Kaillie Humphries finishing a run (I would still be trying to launch my bobsleigh)

Curling
I have tried curling, and I was so bad that I could barely even finish a session even though it involved drinking beer. Hey wait – maybe those two things are related. Regardless, I would put the skills of curlers into the same category of those which I am lacking with a hockey stick. The constant mental discipline and focus required with no aspect of pushing through physical pain makes it a sport which is not suited to me. This is not to say I can’t enjoy watching it – I think just the opposite. I appreciate the different skills these athletes have, and as I watch them compete at the top level I have nothing but admiration.

Fierce, focused athleticism

Fierce, focused athleticism

I plan to watch, cheer on and be inspired by all of the athletes in the games next week. I may not have a full understanding of exactly how hard it is to do what they do or what it’s taken to reach their level in each sport, but the little I do know makes me believe that they are all incredible athletes. Go Canada!