Always trust what your body is telling you. Sometimes, your ratio may be too conservative or you are feeling too scared, but the body knows the best. In every race, give your ALL, as if it is the most important race of your life.

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This was a fun race! :) I have never competed in an aquathlon race, and for those of you who are wondering what the heck is aquathlon, it is a sport even where you swim and then run. There are different distances, but the one I did yesterday involved 360 m swim and then 2 km run. 

It was a big event. More than 150 people on the deck. Luckily, there were several heats, so in the end it was about 20 people per heat. Not too bad, one would think. But, to spicy the things up, instead of swimming in the lanes, the organizers made a simulation of an open water swim, so the lap was a 120 m long swim around the buoys. This means that we only had a narrow space outside of the buoys, so everyone started sprinting out! 

All of the sudden, I found myself in the second position, and worried that I might not be able to sustain it, I decided to back off a bit, and settle into the comfortable pace. I exited 5th and quickly came out of the transition toward the running track. 

The transition run was about 100 m long until you hit the 200 m track. We were doing 10 laps. Almost from the beginning, I started passing people, and I thought, wow, this is fun. I kept my pace steady and it felt good. On my 7th lap, I heard someone behind me pounding like a locomotive. That woman looked really fast! She overtook me easily, and continued swiftly, while I kept my pace on. In my last lap I sped up a bit for a strong finish and came in second.

Considering that before the race my only thought was hoping that I would not be the last, second in my age group is not too shabby. I only wish I knew my swimming and running times, but they had some technical issues, so I only know my overall time, which includes the transition and that long transition run. But, if I'd have to make a best guess, I'd say I swam at app. 1:50/100m pace and ran about 4:30/km pace. It would've been great to have a water resistant Polar! That would have also given me an additional boost for improving my running performance. I always get a kick from looking at the numbers! 

After the race, I felt great , and I wished I hadn't slowed myself during the swim. I also felt I could've gone faster on the run, but I didn't have the reason to speed up, because I knew I wouldn't be able to catch that woman who passed me, and the other girls were well behind me. 

 
 
"Mind over body, mind over body, mind over body....." - Sometimes this is the only tantra that actually works in long and hard races. At least, it does for me! :)

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It was 14th of September 2011 when I signed up for this race. Three months later, Stefan and I got pregnant, so I had to rollover for the next year. Our incredible baby boy Sean was born on August 23, 2012 and, expectedly, it was extremely hard to wear so many hats at the same time! Being a new mom, a wife, a PhD student and an athlete was as tough as hell, to put it simply. 

To cut the looong story short, since July 2012, I rode Eddy (my road bike, a.k.a. my husband's old road bike) only 4 times. First time was at the Research Park. I did several laps followed by some running. Second ride, and my longest ride, was 20 laps around the Hawrelak Park, which is about 2.2 km x 20, so 44 km total. The other two were fun rides in the River Valley, while trying to get some Strava segments! Yes, I got infected, too! :) And, that summarizes my bike workout. 

Running was a little better. I tried to run whenever I had chance. Sometimes it was with Sean in a jogger, sometimes alone. I had no training plan, I just ran whenever I could, for shorter or longer periods of time. I did several races, too: St. Albert (16km)Frank M. (about 4.5km trail run)Run Wild (5km)Half marathon, and Canada Road Race (15km). And, that was really fun! 

As for swimming, like biking, I did three 2km interval workouts in the pool, and swam once in the Hubbles lake, just to try out the wet suit and the water. 

So, I went into the race without expectations. The only thing I was set on was not to quit and to just keep on going. The race was supposed to be the test of my endurance and the pain threshold level. 

On the race day we were running a little late, and I seriously needed to use a port-a-potty (and, oh, boy, am I glad I did!), so I didn't get the chance to warm up for the swim. But, I made sure I had put my wet suit on properly and I did several arms swings to make it sit right. And the start went off. Soon, I realized I should have seeded myself a little more to the front, as I was constantly passing people almost until the first buoy. But, surprisingly, I felt really good and soon got into the bilateral breathing rhythm with sighting on every second breath. I realized the current was pushing me towards the shore, so I concentrated on staying focused on the buoy. After the first buoy, the swimming was really good and it didn't feel like I was working too hard. Towards the end one woman attacked, eager to exit the water as soon as possible. So, I just followed her draft, which was awesome. When I exited the water, the time I saw on the clock- 31:15, left me open-mouthed! Oh, wow, I thought, this is fun! :)

The T1 went pretty smooth, I thought. I didn't want to rush, because I wanted to do everything correctly - 90km ride should feel comfortable as much as possible. After I took the wet suit off, I turned on my Garmin. While waiting for the satellites to acquire, I put the socks and shoes on, sunglasses and the helmet. Of course, I also made sure I put my labello on, because if I hadn't, that would have made me really nervous. I admit, that is my addiction. Oh, well, everyone has something. And, so I went up the hill feeling really positive. I tried to bike by the feeling, not worrying about the speed or anything else. I wanted to enjoy it as much as I could. It felt good, so I became a little suspicious, thinking it shouldn't feel good, but hard, because I didn't train. But, I said to myself to use the good vibes and embrace the elements - enjoy while it lasts! And then I saw Stefan flying by on the other side of the road and I yelled. He just kept on flying. I counted, he was third at that time, and I hoped with all my heart that he would catch the other two guys in front. At the first turn around, I looked at the time. It was 55 minutes, and so the calculation began - the very fun part of every race for me. So, ok, that means 55 minutes to the Pallion. Oh, no, wait...it will be less, because you are not going to the lake again. Well, maybe 45? That thinking got me busy for some time. Then, there was this uphill, which didn't feel too bad, and then, the gratifying downhill. Awesome! Soon, I was heading towards the Pavillion, overwhelmed with the happiness, because I was about to see my baby for the first time since the beginning of the race! And there he was, sleeping, while our friends Glenn and Ingo were watching him. Without them, there wouldn't have been my race or this race report for that matter. Thank you, guys!!! :) The second lap went well, with "Get Lucky" in my head spinning over and over again. I always have a theme song whenever I race - it makes me go. 

When I dismounted, I thought, ok, your bike split is fine (2:46), but, man, do you actually have your feet on? It was ridiculous! My feet were completely numb, and I could not feel them at all! So, I took time in the T2 to stretch my back a bit and to try to get acquainted with my feet again. No luck! In a split of a second I decided to leave my sunglasses on, and after I put my loving Inov8 shoes on, I drifted slowly into the worst part of my race. I checked my HR and it was pretty low (155), so I thought, ok, things will get better. I kept on scratching the "Get Lucky" record while shuffling my poor feet, when a slap on my bum instantly woke me up! It was Stefan, of course! That has become something like a trade mark from our first triathlon we did together (Chinook). While jogging next to me he asked if I wanted to run together with him. I thought, boy, you really are trying to find an excuse for not going hard. I said, NO, you get yourself going and finish this race properly. So, he went off, and soon was out of my sight. Then I saw Lindsey going back from her first lap and looking strong. She, actually reminds me of Stefan by the way they run. We gave a high five to each other and then I came back to my reality. All of the sudden I felt really bad. My feet were still numb and I wasn't sure if I was hungry or thirsty, or both, or is it that my body is letting me down. It was a time for a thorough introspection. In my mind I examined all the parts of my body to understand where was the weakness coming from. I figured that it was all just a mental game and as long as I wanted to go, my body would follow, too! At the first turn around, I asked for gatorade, poured it down the throat and, with the last sip I imagined I got out of my body. I detached myself from the discomfort of my body. That, actually worked great! Soon, (at about 6km in) I felt my left foot got alive again, though I was running "without" my right foot for about 11km. The second lap passed quicker than the first, not by the elapsed time, but by the feeling. I was thinking of my boys, Sean and Stefan. I was imagining running through that half ironman finish line for the first time in my life! And so, I did! I saw 5:25 on the clock, and I felt good about it! 

Will I do it again? Heck, YEAH!!! :)

 
 
"Even after the worst race ever, there are things you can be proud of!"  
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The trip to Calgary was exciting, filled with dry humour and high expectations for the day that was ahead of us. While we were roller coasting through the highway, I was desperately trying to rest my eyes and mind by watching cows ruminate. They generate such a perfect serenity around! Regardless, my heart and brain just wouldn’t calm down.

After driving around Calgary, we finally checked-in. The busy Hostel didn’t promise a peaceful night and I was a little pissed off by the fact that they wouldn’t let us keep our bikes in the room. The clock was ticking unusually slow and I was hoping the alarm would set on soon so that I don’t need to pretend I’m sleeping anymore. Lesson #1 learned: No more shady hostels before the race day.

At last – 4:45!, time to get up and get prepared for the big day! The kitchen was unfortunately closed, and we couldn’t get our breakfast I was really looking forward to the entire night. We hit the road in a flash, stopped by McDonald’s for the washroom break (which turned to be everything but that) and finally came to the parking lot, approximately 1km from the lake where the race was supposed to begin.

It was painfully freezing for my taste, so I decided to stay in the car, with the heating on, while I was contemplating if I should stay or should I go? I was debating with myself, calculating how much time, sweat and money have I spent to get there. Questions like: Have I truly come prepared? Do I really need this kind of stress in my life? What the hell am I doing here? What if…? were breaking against my head.

After 15 minutes of lingering, epiphany woke me up, and I started to run around the parking lot in an effort to pull myself together. Stefan had already gone to find the spot in the Transition, because his start was at 8:00, while Jan, Glenn and I stayed behind. I really had to use the washroom, and it almost came to the point where you just don’t care about who’s around, you just have to do it right here, right now! Fortunately, for potential spectators, that didn’t take place. However, striptease did. I swiftly took off my street clothes and put on my racing attire (yes, that’s right, showing my bottom off), packed the bag, and soon we were on our way to the T1.

My sincere apologies to Glenn and Jan for having them disconcerted and big thanks for bearing up with me! Lesson #2 learned: No matter how frustrated you are, don’t get other people affected by it, too! And, for the love of God, organize yourself well beforehand and don’t dig up through the bags looking for your bike shoes 45 minutes before the T1 closes!

The three bikes were set up at the only rack left, so at the far end, right next to each other, which turned out to be the best spot. I made sure that my labello (the lip balm I am hopelessly addicted to) was neatly placed on the towel, together with biking and running shoes. I took my really nice second hand Orca wet suit, and went to find Stefan before he swims away. 

The Half IM start was really exciting, announcing the fear that was gradually increasing in and all over my body. That was the first meeting with open water for me! A multitude of antsy swimmers hurtling into the lake! OMG! I was ready to leave, vanish, disappear, go without a trace! Two laps, each of 1km, passed quickly by me, and I was happy to realize that Stefan came out 4th!

It was time for the “Olympic” swimmers to get lined up. My heart was ready to jump out of my rib cage; my legs were trembling, partially due to the incredibly cold weather, partially due to overwhelming anxiety. And there we went, running into the dark lake, a mass of 248 people, all highly worked up, with different goals in our heads: some of us set our minds to win, and some of us, just to survive! Yikes! After just one stroke, I realized that free style is not going to be the swim technique I would use this time. Panic attack struck me in no time, and I started breaststroking with my head high above the water. It was the time to quickly reset my goals, from sub 30 minutes (which I can swim easily in the pool) to simply stay alive. As I was struggling with my short breaths and the pulse that seemed to be over 200, the only thing I had in my head was, never, ever to repeat this horrible experience in my life. The orange buoy on the beach appeared to be miles away, but with every new stroke I knew I was closer, if only there wasn’t for this antsy crowd which kicked and hit me in my head, back, arms, legs, everywhere! I thought: there’s no way I can do this, as soon as get there, I’m getting out, nothing will stop me, I don’t need this! Orange thing was just at the reach of the hand and I decided: you are going to suck it up now and go all the way to the end, conquer your fears and fight! Lesson #3 learned: In stress situations, readjust your goals, and no matter what, fight ‘til the end!

As I ran into the T1, ranting and bitching out loud about how terrible and scary open water experience I had (like somebody really cared), my watch was showing 35 minutes and some seconds, and I thought, wow, that’s only 5 minutes more than anticipated – I have to make them up on the bike! That was the point when Glenn showed up in the T1, too, swiftly took his bike off of the racks, and saluted me on his way out, leaving me to my own despair.

Bike leg was great! I enjoyed every moment, and was truly happy for the first time in the race! I managed to easily pass many racers, got passed by only 1 or 2 guys, and no woman. In the T2 I saw I had 1:10 time, and I was really happy. Lesson #4 learned: There are always some enjoyable parts in the race!

Alas, I realized that my happiness was short-lived, shortly after I started running. My knees were already achy, and I knew this is not going to be a really enjoyable run. After couple hundreds of meters, Stefan lightly snapped me on my bum reminding me that the number should be worn in front. Oops! And then he disappeared. Somewhere between 5.5-6km my left knee let me down, and I had to stop and stretch it for a few moments. Then just before the 8km mark, the right knee died on me too, and another stop-stretch was in order. At the so-called “heart breaking” hill, I started to walk again, and then I heard Josh’s voice yelling at me:”Sanja, run!!!” And so I did until the end, with horrendous deep pain in both of my knees. I passed the finish line in mediocre 2:44:23.

In summary, I am happy I didn’t collapse in the lake, and dropped out, like a wimp. After this experience, I am really looking forward to another race, new opportunity for overcoming this really terrifying experience! GWN here I come!