- Published: 29 July 2016 29 July 2016
Ever since returning from Iceland on Monday, I've been feeling positively buoyant! It was one of those cool life experiences that leave you feeling lucky, grateful, and even causes you to randomly start smiling so that your husband inquires: "What are you giggling about over there?"
Perhaps he's asking this because it's a noticeable change to my overarching mood as of late. Now, I'm a pretty happy person in general to whom smiles and laughter come pretty easily, but before going to Challenge Iceland last Monday, I was feeling pretty depressed. Despite having the most successful race season of my career to date, events in the world haven't been that rosy lately, and when the view is further obscured by the fog of deep physical fatigue, things can start to look pretty bleak.
One of the reasons I love sport so much is the purity of it: The abandonment of self that happens when you're deeply immersed in the moment striving for your best performance; How you grow as a person by working hard to achieve big goals, and by overcoming the disappointment of the inevitable failures along the way; How by redefining what is physically possible, you can also redefine how you view yourself, and have a greater appreciation for the world around you.
Sport has taught me to laugh at, love, and accept myself in a way that few other activities could. But even my joy in these things was getting tainted by all the doping scandals coming to light, by seeing what I thought were the most cynical estimates of doping in sport coming true, increasing evidence of the ineptitude of WADA, and the hard realization that it is highly unlikely that my career as a triathlete is not being affected by dopers. This sucks. Straight up. It means all the things I cherish about the sporting journey have essentially been thrown out the window. It's not about the process; about doing your best. It's about winning at all costs, getting ahead, money, rationalization of wrongdoing, politics... Bleh.
Add this to the weight I was feeling from recent terrorist attacks, the state of the environment (e.x due to CO2 concentrations and ocean acidification, coral reefs will probably disappear in my lifetime and we are officially in the scientifically recognized Anthopocene age and the "6th Great Extinction"), Brexit, the current US political climate... well, let's just say I was in a proper funk.
2016 really started to feel like this:
You could reasonably argue, that there has never been a shortage of things to feel angry, hopeless, scared and depressed about, and that doping in sport is probably same as it ever was - all that's changed is our access to information, or perhaps my own naivety and somewhat blind positive belief in the general honesty and integrity of people.
Be that as it may, all this stuff seemed to hit me especially hard as of late, and I was really looking forward to my trip to Iceland! I knew there was a very high probability of it being an awesome race, and a fun trip - but I couldn't have foreseen that it would completely rejuvenate me and be that breath of fresh air I needed to forge forward for the rest of a season.
Riding your bike, on quiet roads, in places like this is a very good way to feel rejuvenated!
I think we can all use some reminders that life is pretty damn good, and I hope you can get some enjoyment out of sharing this experience with me a little here.
On the plane over, I watched a funny, quirky, Icelandic movie called "Albatross" that set the mood immediately. I loved the subtle jokes between country folks and a big city boy from Reykjavik, and a hilarious scene where they moved Arctic Tern nests wearing helmets, carrying umbrellas and running around in terror while the terns dive-bombed them.
Icelandic sounds a bit like Elvish from Lord of the Rings with all the soft "th" and "ph" sounds, which makes it completely captivating to listen to. In one of the many interesting conversations with my homestay family, I learned that this is from the Celtic parts mixed in with the Nordic parts of the language. Paternal lines in Iceland are more Norse, while maternal ones are more Celtic - the whole Vikings picking up slaves from Ireland thing... Sometimes I could even understand some phrases b/c I understand Norwegian passably well, so already on the flight over I was engaged and happy to be seeing/hearing some new things.
I left BC on Monday, flew for 7 hours, lost 7 to the time change and arrived early in the morning on Tuesday with the task of trying to stay awake all day to adjust to the time zone difference. This was made easier by a trip to one of eight, yes EIGHT, 50m pools in the Reykjavik area. My hometown of Kelowna has around the same population, and ONE 50 m pool. This one was outdoors and also had 4 different temperature warm -> very hot tubs, and an ice-bath temp cold pool as well.
Often a challenge when travelling to a race venue is finding a decent place to swim. This is definitely not the case in Iceland! There is also a really nice atmosphere at the pools that starts with shoe racks at the entrance and the sparkling clean facilities. No shoes mean no disgusting floors in the change-rooms, and everyone gets naked and has a proper shower before putting their bathing suits on and going out to the pool. Aside from keeping everything so much cleaner, the acceptance of body image that this engenders was really refreshing. I've never seen 10 year old girls unselfconsciously walk naked with their friends to have a shower before. It's just so darn... healthy, and it made me very happy for them and quite jealous that I didn't grow up with a change-room ethos like that at home in Canada.
So, kick ass pool facilities? Check! Great running paths and trails? Also check! I had brilliant pre-race runs filled with 'Góðan daginn' greetings from the locals out exercising, and lots of beautiful scenery. Then, it happened. I entered the territory of an angry Arctic Tern!! Before I knew it I was being dive bombed with terrifying speed! I screamed and sprinted away as the tern aimed for my head and dropped a perfectly timed shit on my shoulder! From watching Albatross, this seemed like such a genuinely Icelandic experience, that, after escaping, I could only smile and laugh. I actually felt quite lucky for it! Ha ha ha!
Really enjoyed the Heiðmörk Nature Reserve running trails.
Attack of the Arctic Tern!
I was also very lucky to stay with a lovely homestay family, with impeccable standards for coffee, all of whom spoke brilliant English. Their young son didn't, but he was fond of humming the Star Wars theme song and when I hummed along, dramatically (I mean this is a great song!) this seemed to render me cool enough to play Legos with him :D. Connecting with interesting new people from different parts of the world and having stimulating conversations is a real pleasure. It's good to be reminded how much value comes from simply taking the time to sit and talk with people!
The lead up to the race went swimmingly with delicious healthy meals, care of the race sponsor Glo, and a gorgeous day for course recon where I swam in the ~16oC lake and rode in a pleasant 18oC.
My sweet race machine out at the swim venue on an exceedingly pleasant Icelandic day!
On Thursday, Tim Don and I helped out at a pre-race Tri Clinic with some good Q&A, followed by a pool-based, open water skills swim practice. I also had the pleasure of meeting the infamous Nick - the Ox - Saunders, and Brad - the Stag - Brown, who would feature in good times out on the race course, and super fun post-race sightseeing adventures.
It being an inaugural race, and a real grass-roots initiative - the original idea for the race was conceived by my host Viðar Bragi Þorsteinsson - there was a great sense of community with so many people investing a lot of their personal time and energy to make it all happen. When you show up at well established races, it's very easy to take for granted all that goes on behind the scenes to make these logistically complicated events run as smoothly as they do. Hats off to all race organizers out there, and a special thanks to Einar, Pétur, Ranna, and Vidar for all that you did to make this event so fantastic!
Race day dawned, not with the clear weather and a couple scattered showers that the Doppler radar had hinted at, but with proper rain that could be heard on the roof of the A-frame cabin, I was oh so lucky to stay in, most of the night before the race.
That's right, I was invited to stay in my homestay family's cabin on the lake, exactly 1.1 km (thanks to all of Vidar's course measurements) from the race start! They were concerned that I might be uncomfortable with the intimacy of it all with a bunch of family staying there so they could help out at the race, but my stoke couldn't have been higher! I mean I lived in a 23ft RV for 6 years, so space isn't an issue for me, and so many of the best times in my life have happened camping, fishing, biking and hanging out by lakes and cabins in the woods, so it just felt like the best pre-race juju ever!
How lucky am I to get to stay here!?!?
After a bit of angst over exactly what to wear for the bike portion of the race, and a solid warm up in the lake, we were off! I had a bit of a slow start to the day and was out of the water behind super speedy swimmers, Haley Chura, Carina Bretchers and Radka Vodickcova (pronounced Vo-DEETCH-co-va for your info :D). I took a little time in transition to put on gloves and arm warmers. These, plus a kitchen catcher garbage bag that I swam with under my race kit (super handy for blocking rain and wind + trapping body heat) kept me plenty warm on the bike. All systems were firing as I hammered away on the incredibly scenic, but very challenging, bike course.
You can see the white garbage bag poking out a bit... I kept this on until ~4km into the run when I tore it off like Hulk Hogan and threw it out at an aid station :D
I was happy to have put in a solid lead by the half way turn around, and worked to extend it as much as I could on the way home.
On to the run I felt pretty good, and ran a hard first lap of the course as I got a sense of where my competition was. Radka was running strong and pulling some time back, and I could see Haley gaining places through the field as well. Tine Deckers (pronounced Teenah, not Tyne for heaven's sakes!) was also racing incredibly tough, after coming second at Ironman UK only the weekend before.
I know that the photos make the run course look totally deserted, but it really wasn't. Cheers from the pro guys out on course, as they headed the opposite way on the out and backs, made me feel pretty good and there were some super supportive locals out cheering near the aid stations, as well as the Ox and the Stag who were running together in their own races. I was all smiles taking in the scenery, the great race atmosphere and thinking to myself: Look at where I am right now!! I'm freaking racing a triathlon in Iceland! I get to make my living doing this! How cool is that!?!?
I was having a good time, and it was an excellent reminder that if you put positive energy out there you definitely get it back 10 fold. I was touched to have several people say that it buoyed them up to see me smiling at them in the race. It was great to come away with the win but even better to make some awesome personal connections and soak up the atmosphere! Don't get me wrong here, I am a very competitive athlete, who takes racing very seriously and I work incredibly hard to go as fast as I can, and to try to be one of the best in the sport - but, I am also well aware, that in the big scheme of things, results are quickly forgotten, while life experiences and friendships are what truly stick with you.
So, thanks Challenge Iceland, for reminding me of all these things, and for being a much needed, season refresher!
I really encourage you to sign up for the race next year, and plan some time to travel around Iceland afterwards. You won't regret it!
Good Times! I'll leave you with a few images from a super fun day of sight-seeing, around the Golden Circle, after the race:
Iceland is located along the Mid-Atlantic ridge (where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plats meet) which means there is "liquid hot Magma" (said in a Dr. Evil voice) very near by :D. This causes all sorts of interesting phenomena like boiling hot water in holes in the ground, geysers, and steam vents.
The Wolf Pack! Couldn't have asked for a more fun group of dudes to spend the day with! Nick was driver extraordinaire, Tim kept the jokes flowing, as usual, and we all tried to keep up with our own comedy. Thumbs up to Brad for "what are we supposed to be looking at?" picture framing here.
Gulfoss. Um. WOW!
The Kerið crater. I may have been teased for spitting out random factoids all day b/c I'm a dork like that, but the area is so fascinating! More from the interweb: It is believed that Kerið was a cone volcano which erupted and emptied its magma reserve. Once the magma was depleted, the weight of the cone collapsed into the empty magma chamber. The current pool of water at the bottom of the crater is at the same level as the water table and is not caused by rainfall.