Monday, January 28, 2013

A Drive to Remember

It's time to stop procrastinating and write a real update around here. Unfortunately for both you and  I, I like my blog neat and chronological, and I still have a long list of "must shares" before I can even get to this week's happenings. So, let's get this party started, shall we?

Speaking of which, at the end of last year, it was our 15th anniversary, and since we didn't do anything really special for the 5th, or 10th, or any of the others before, we decided to buy ourselves a nice little vacation outside the city and for once, NOT in Niagara Falls. I was thinking Hawaii, but when we started adding everything up, it was definitely way too high for our tiny budget, so we looked at places where we wouldn't have to fly to (that saves about $3000 right off the bat). Second criteria was that it had to be warmer than Toronto. Like a LOT warmer because I am already sick and tired of my Raynaud's and I just wish it wouldn't bother me, at least during this time. The most logical and reachable destination was going to be Florida and since we were going to bring two easily bored pre-teens with us, we settled on Disney World and Universal Studios.

This was going to be a first, so in order to prepare ourselves mentally, we also chose to make a first step on our way there in Philadelphia, where an awesome bunch of talented, kind and loving souls happen to live, which makes it my favorite city in the US to visit.

Renewing the contract for another 15 years
We left on the 26th of December and spent 3 days in Philly, mostly resting, watching movies on SyFy (don't, they're horrible!), eating gelato and walking around downtown because it's pretty small after all and going to the liquor store only takes 2.2k each way. It was the best "pit stop" we could have made, we had great food (as usual), great company and lots of photo opportunities.

Last but not least, we managed to do the "Rocky steps", a bucket list item for sure. We walked, we ran, we jumped, we posed, we Facebooked, Tweeted, Instagrammed and everything else that could make it history. Damn well you should know that some things stay forever on the Interwebz.

Rocky and I
Jump here
It can't get better than this
We left the city with a heavy heart, but excited about what was yet to come. Oh the warmth! I couldn't check the weather reports often enough and for some reason, they kept on changing every hour just to tease us, I'm sure. 

To torture our minds even further, we also made the trip last with the challenge of stopping to find a geocache in each state that we crossed: Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida. A few hours after leaving Philly, I was making my 400th find (in total, not that day!), the most humongous ammo box I've come across, complete with a turn-around into a US Marines base by mistake. Never a dull moment with us.
Biggest ammo can ever!
After one more stop overnight we finally made it to Orlando where we parked the car, the bags and our money at Pop Century Disney Resort.

Open Sesame
Room was in this building, behind the Play-Doh

The first picture with the boys trying to open the door should describe well enough the first three days at the resort. The door lock had a software bug and it was late by a day, so no personnel at the resort could understand why our keys would not work. It took countless of trips between the room and the concierge desk to have technician after technician come to unlock, change battery, reprogram the lock, and most likely cross fingers and toes and pray so we can get back to our room on our own. Have you ever walked around those resorts? That's a lot of kilometers added on a daily basis just to go get a coffee or take a dip in the pool. Am I complaining? Not about the distance, but about the unnecessary travel when I could have relaxed, absolutely. Oh well, at least they credited us back a night and gave us a few fast passes. This is all fitness related folks, believe me... I'm getting there.

Anyway, shortly after, we changed into our Florida attire and started visiting the parks. On December 30, when we arrived, we decided to spend the evening at Magic Kingdom. It ended up being the greatest decision ever since there were going to be the exact same shows as on the 31st, with a lot LESS people. It was still crowded, don't get me wrong, but at least we could move around without fearing a stampede.

As soon as we arrived, of course, we were stunned by the lights and the "magical" feeling of the place. Totally surreal and fake, stucco everywhere. Well built though. We got to see the castle light up and blah blah blah, some story was going on (Cinderella?) but we wanted thrills instead, so we didn't bother listening. We walked on.

Okay okay, one more look. Pretty, eh? Wait until you see it in daylight, totally meh. The night was a constant blur, I know we walked, then we waited, we sat for 2-3 minutes, then we repeated the drill. We stopped for coffee at least 3 times. There were two fireworks shows, totally AMAZEBALLS. I am a sucker for fireworks and the midnight show was by far the best I saw, this life, in like... ever. I was almost crying, it was really overwhelming. Good thing is that we stayed 3 more hours after that and I could manage to regain my composure while walking, waiting and riding in tiny cars again, and again, and again. The "Magic Hours" were the best deal that night, we did almost everything we wanted at least once (huh? alriiiight).

The next morning we slept in, d'uh. At 3pm we went to Universal Studios for the Blue Man Group performance (Shake Your Booty, yeah! - I even took a video), then spent the rest of the night at Universal walking, waiting and eventually riding in tiny cars that shook the hell out of our insides. Again, that's right. Just like at Disney, but a bit more violent and at least 4D!

At midnight they had the New Year's show with lights, water, lasers and music, only missing were the Crazy Horses ;-). By then, we were really tired and cranky, but I think we kissed anyway. And I did one more ride because everyone else was busy leaving the park. Here's some footage from the show, it was rather spectacular.

The next morning we slept in, d'uh. This post sounds a bit repetitive, doesn't it? Well, that's because every day was almost the same. Either we woke up really early, at 5-6am so we can get in the park by 7am, or stayed up late and went to be at 3-4am to be able to fit as much fun as we could in our schedule. The lines were always a nightmare, but I don't think we waited more than 1h30 for any attraction, by choice. If it was longer than that, we'd skip it and come back to it later.

This is what 40min of waiting time look like
Sometimes, we stopped for a bit and enjoyed the sunshine, that was a must, and I am extremely grateful for those rare moments.

Lounging by the pool
Water park with fake snow and ski lifts. Why not?
The days went by fast, but overall it felt like we ran a marathon in slow-motion. By my calculations, we walked for over 20h and 30 miles that week. It may not sound that extreme, but our legs were jell-o when we left. We visited Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom (we should have spent way more time there, it was a very photogenic place in its whole fakeness, tree of life, little Asia and all), Holywood Studios, Blizzard beach, Downtown Disney and both Universal Studios parks and their downtown area. The only park that we skipped entirely was Epcot, I am afraid to say that we wanted to leave some for next time... In 15 years, maybe, because overall it was an exhausting trip and it barely qualified as "rest".

Plus, we totally hated the food. We hated it with a vengeance, by the end of the trip, the lack of healthy choices was taking its toll on our mood. The only place where we found affordable and healthy greens was a restaurant called Sweet Tomatoes, but since it was outside the resort, it was not very convenient. The point of staying at the resort was to avoid taking the car out of the parking lot, so there was that. We settled on the croissants, the chicken fingers, the burritos and the tie-dye cheesecake that left our mouths and teeth blue for the rest of the day (hint, eat it before going to bed). In a week we took three trips to Sweet Tomatoes and one to some Argentinian All You Can Eat Meat Buffet to feed the animal in us. There was no way we could have done better with the time we had. I think we all went a bit cuckoo by the end.

How else would you explain this??
Oh well, what can I say, it was indeed a trip of a lifetime. Boys said it was the best Christmas present ever, but I am still dreaming about Hawaii. Maybe if they pick me at the Kona lottery... I should start saving NOW. Anyway, let's go back to our adventures in Mickeyland. Not sure what else I can say about it, maybe I should let the pictures speak for themselves.

Twilight Zone!
Some disturbing looking dudes
As much as I like Hulk, this one had way too long waiting times
Early morning Magic Mist
Hide and seek
Monster hug
Maybe the perfect picture to sum up this trip:

Magic no more
Sad, not. Overwhelmed, yes. Even though here I just couldn't keep my eyes open due to the sun, the feeling was there. I don't know how some people do this every year. I think I'd like to go back there some day, maybe to run those back to back half and full marathons, more for the medals than anything else. Also, if we go back, we won't go as the same time as the half of the planet, the winter holidays are probably the worst. It was well worth for the fireworks, but man... life is too short to spend it waiting in line. Ok, stop bitching already. We asked for adventure, we got it. We asked for warm weather, we got it. We asked for family time, we got it. Overall, we really enjoyed ourselves and have no regrets whatsoever. Plus we got to see our friends in Philly and cross so many states, I can brag that I've seen at least a tenth of the United States. :-)

Happy Anniversary to us!! Happy New Year to you!!

Where to next? There is more, oh yes... come back later this week and you will see. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

2012 Recap (3/3): A year in pictures

Last but not least, a year in pictures, some of them never published before. Isn't this exciting?? (everyone clap now :-)). I realize that I don't talk about my life outside running, biking, swimming and other fitness related activities here, but as I said in the first post when I re-opened this blog for everyone to read, I have been around the blogosphere for a long, long time... 10 years more precisely, and I've ridden this rollercoaster a few times before. It doesn't make me feel any younger, but what else is new?

Since I've started working out, it seems that the clock no longer ticks so loud. I have found peace and happiness and I am having a blast, every single day that I let those endorphins run free. These pictures are proof that there is a way out.

Happy New Year 2012!
New haircut, a bit of hair color, feeling damn good. Wearing burgundy. Resolutions: keep up the pace, stay healthy and happy (spoiler alert, they are pretty much the same this year). Kept this image as an avatar for a while.

Icy baths trigger my Raynaud's. D'uh!
At the same time, I learn to live with Raynaud's, I eat a lot of broccoli and spinach, I still count my calories. I go to the physio therapist, my neck and back bother me, I pulled something in my shoulder. Not a big deal, but I hate the nagging, burning ache. It goes away eventually (acupuncture helped).


I love running tights, oh the freedom!
I buy my first pair of running tights. I still love my cat hat which I bought in Montreal. It makes me feel strong and agile. I fall in love with purple. I buy two more pairs of Adidas shoes from Ebay because they are soooo comfy ($35/each, a bargain!).

Then we get snow!! It's a miracle, so I go snowboarding with my older son after a 5yr interruption and I don't break any bones or get a concussion, another miracle!

I look much better than I board
My pet fish Chloe is getting big. Look how gorgeous she is.
Chloe in her element

I keep on running, there is a race coming up. I really start to enjoy winning free coffee.
I start swimming regularly, discover a few pools around Brampton, big and small. I try Total Immersion, but find my groove with Swim Smooth. I watch a LOT of swimming videos on You Tube, I make a few of myself as well. I really look like a turd in the pool.

I finish the month conquering Heartbreak Hill at Around the Bay relay race with hubbs.
On the way to the top

I go rollerblading for fun. I still can't believe how great that day was, we need to go back! Once a year is definitely not enough.

Roller skating old skool
I run my first marathon, totally out of the blue - because I was in Paris by friggin' chance and I had nothing else better to do :-)

At my mom's home in Paris
I also visit London for the first time and do my "active recovery" by walking along the Thames and going up and down countless stairs.

Riri call home

The travels continue, I go to Los Angeles for work and visit my favorite spot, Santa Monica pier. Too bad it was pretty cold, because I could have jumped in the ocean.
Santa Monica Pier
Usually during those travels, I try to walk everywhere and run as often as I can. I didn't run that time though, I was tapering for the Mississauga Marathon. Coming back home though, I felt like running again and I remember those skies when we dropped my sons to sport camps and we went out for a run. I love me some dramatic skies.
A week later, I run the Mississaga Marathon - y'all know by now how that went. Below is a pic from when people could still be seen around.
Running Mississauga - it's a beautiful day!
My pet fish Chloe dies unexpectedly, and we welcome Calypso. She is tiny but feisty!
Calypso is in the house!
I also welcome Neo, my Cervelo One tri bike and I have my first (and only) professional bike fit done. Neo is also tiny, 650c wheels, 50" high, but it fits my 5'3" frame perfectly. We've been happy together so far.

Riri meet Neo, Neo meet Riri

June was rainy and hot. I met my friend Troy's dog Max. Puppy butt.

Did I just say puppy butt?
Dork face after a run in the rain. 
Does this wet tshirt make me look hot?
I receive my first ever wetsuit, an XTerra Vortex and it fits like a glove. I definitely feel hot in this. Long live rubber.

Full body flotation device
My husband buys me THE triathlon watch, the mighty Garmin 910XT. And I go nuts.

Oh, and did I mention that I start biking a lot?

Breaking the Velominati's Rules.

I feel the happiest that I've been in my life. This triathlon training did the trick! I needed to capture the moment, so I took a pic, which became my new avatar.
I can't believe this feeling
I keep on swimming and I fall in love with Professor's Lake where I do 2-3 loops every Thursday with the Brampton FMCT Tri Club.
Crystal clean Professor's Lake
I still love my bike and I buy an aero drink bottle so I stop falling on my face while trying to reach for the other bottles while I ride. Look, ma, no hands! I also ride in the rain and I feel confident that I can do this!
I'm legit, bitches.
I even conquer Horseshoe Hill multiple times for fun. Ok, not really for fun, but because coach Dave said so.
Horseshoe Hill, complete with sunshine and deer flies.
Eventually, it all leads to this. I become a triathlete. Hell yeah!!
I'm still standing
And then I relax in Algonquin. We hike a lot, we swim, bike, run a little. 
Coffee, compression socks and sandals.
We geocache wherever we go because it makes it even more fun.
We even jump from bridges into the water with our clothes on because we'd be fools not to.

I buy myself a new swimsuit because all the previous ones turned into parachutes. Not sure what else we do aside from the usual. It seems like a blur. It must have involved some running though, since I prepare for the Toronto Scotiabank Marathon.
Blue whale
I vaguely remember rollercoasters too.

Spinning round and round high above ground

I meet Chrissie Wellington and I get inspired to keep on triathloning.
Chrissie and I, all smiles
Then I do the immersive experience, volunteering as a "catcher" at Ironman Muskoka 70.3. I have a blast, I get to meet the "stars" such as Rachel Joyce and Tom Lowe and witness some very dramatic situations. This is definitely harder than it looks!
I promise myself to go down this chute the following year.

So I bike some more...

and I run some more...

And mornings are hard... do I really need to go out at 5:30 am??

Who turned on the light?!
Thankfully there are protein bars to keep me going because it's way too early to prepare breakfast.

Guess my favorite
And the long runs become really long, like the 32k one I did in France (again!) on the Coulee Verte du Sud Parisien...

... plus a "recovery walk" the same day to visit a castle and smell the flowers (and munch on apples) with my friend Frederique.

Castles are everywhere


Continued my European visit with another trip to London for work and came back with an ingrown nail thanks to running too much on heels between trains and meetings. It hurt. A LOT.

I was supposed to run here, dammit!
To add to my stupidity, I also buy my first pair of minimalist shoes, the New Balance Minimus WR00 and I overdo it, that is I run 1h40 the first time I wear them because they feel so good, like running barefoot. Oh well, I keep on learning from my mistakes. A week before the Toronto Marathon, oops.

Anyway, I take on a good dose of painkillers and line up for the marathon anyway, with hubbs nonetheless.
Show time!
My third, his first, and we both cross the finish line with a smile on our face. Mission accomplished, we can now put a seal on this season, but not before...


We sign up for Ironman Muskoka 70.3 and celebrate with Muskoka beer, wheee!

And coach starts giving me treadmill and indoor bike workouts, which really hurt.
Intervals, intervals, intervals.
I do a last outdoor ride that almost makes my teeth fall out.

Frozen smile

But then in December, I start spinning again and I have a blast. 
Spin, baby, spin!
And find new trails around the office, which keep me sane... most of the time.
Let the sunshine in
As well as a new gym, which I start frequenting on my lunch breaks.

When the weather permits, I put my Ninja on, my purple sweater and my tights and I go out and run again... The loop is looped. Another year awaits, the warrior in me is ready to fight.

This is my life, this is who I am now. An athlete, a mom, wife, cubicle slave and business traveler. I could not be here without the support of my family, my friends and the online blogging community, as well as Facebook, Runkeeper, Twitter and Fitocracy. Many thanks to all my friends, near and far, I feel that together we can move mountains. 

I am really happy to have found this passion for running and triathlons, which turned into a lifestyle that keeps on shaping me inside and out every day. I am also deeply humbled by all your efforts and seeing you giving your all in races and personal challenges. You are my inspiration and I hope to be able to inspire you in return.

In Memoriam : Ron Gehring

Ron was one of my reasons to get out of bed every day. He was a great friend, always kind and supportive of my efforts and even if we never met, it felt like I'd known him forever. He was an avid cyclist and trail runner and he was looking forward to A Bigger New Year. We motivated each other to finish our first marathons last year and we even had a friendly competition between us to do an Ironman first.
Ron was in a bike accident on Wednesday and he suffered extensive brain injuries. He left this world last night at 6pm. RIP Ron and heartfelt condolences to his family, wife Debra and son Ashton. I will keep on racing you, Ron!