Monday, June 30, 2014

Tri-Smore: Kids' First Triathlon

The kids have sat on the sidelines for a lot of my races and had fun wearing my finisher medals. Finally, they got their turn at the Tri-Smore.

For several months I have been training for the Chinook Triathlon, and I started finding lots of other triathlon-types all around me, especially at church. One guy named Josh turned out to be a great swim partner/coach and also told me about a fun triathlon for families held in Strathmore. There are various lengths for all different age groups, including a short one for kids 8 and under. I asked Scott and Katie if they would be interested and both responded with a resounding YES.

While I would be doing the Full-Smore Sprint Triathlon (500m swim, 20km bike, 5km run), the kids would be doing the 2-Bite Smore, which was a 25m swim, 800m bike and 250m run. One night when we were out for a family bike ride, Scott decided he was going to start his training in earnest. We measured the length of the pathway behind our house and figured out that he needed to cycle for 5 lengths of the path and run for 2 lengths. Even though it was time for bed, he immediately went to work, pedaling back and forth and then dropping his bike to finish his run.

Clearly, Scott likes to jump into things right away with both feet. R says that this is very similar to his father. Scott even recruited his cousin Hayden to try out the distance when he was over for a play-date. Katie likes to ride her bike back and forth too, although she stops along the way to look at plants and say hello to people.

As a final part of our preparation, we went to the Cochrane pool and the kids tried swimming a full 25m length in the swim lanes. We borrowed some swim-assist vests that were quite helpful, and each of them ended up swimming 3-4 lengths.

The actual race day was cold and windy and a bit confusing. Rather than spending the day outside cheering each other on, we often retreated to the civic centre to warm up. As a result, we didn't have all the transitions set up quite how we might have liked. Plus, I forgot to bring the charged battery for the good camera, so all the pictures and video were taken with our phones.

Still, the kids were super-excited to get their new race shirts and get their bib numbers written on their arms and legs with a marker, just like Dad.

It is no secret that I am a terrible swimmer, but I am pretty sure I was sabotaged and swam 4 extra lengths. I was supposed to do 20 lengths of the pool to cover 500m. I counted off 10 lengths and felt good about being half done. I did 2 more and the girl who was counting lengths for my lane (and chatting with a boy next to her and texting) called out to me "half-way done!". I lose track of how many lengths I do all the time, so I figured she might be right, but it still took the wind out of my sails a bit.

A few minutes and 6 lengths later she held up four fingers for me as I touched the wall. I figured that meant 4 more lengths, which made sense based on my reckoning. I swam 4 more lengths and climbed out of the pool. She said, "you have 2 more to go!" I said, "Are you serious? Are you sure?" And then I jumped back in the pool and swam 2 more lengths. After a total of 13min : 43sec, I finally finished my swim, being 69th out of a field of 108 adults. Even though I swam a steady front crawl in straight lines without veering all around the pool, it would appear that my average lap pace of 41 seconds/25m was no better than the previous week, when I floundered around in Lake Midnapore with no apparent sense of direction for 3 times the distance, often resorting to the backstroke. Final comment on this -- R filmed a short video of me swimming 1.5 lengths, and I clocked one full length at 27 seconds, which is nowhere near 41 seconds/lap. If you assume that I actually swam the extra 4 lengths, then my pace would be a more respectable 34 seconds/25m, including time spent climbing in and out of the pool near the end.

The point here is that I always have an excuse for underperformance.

It was super windy on the bike, but I managed to climb from 69th place to 11th place by the end of the bike segment. Then I ran a 21-minute 5km to move up to 9th place overall by the finish. I think that says more about the relaxed nature of this race than it does about my abilities. I have to say that I am a bit shocked that my strongest relative performances seem to come in the run, segments since I would not have considered myself to be much of a runner before.

It was great to have the kids waving at me during the transitions and at the finish line. Once I was done, then we turned our attention to the 2-Bite Smore. Being one of the oldest in his category, Scott got to hit the pool before Katie.

There was a moment there when he was getting lined up and he got pulled one way and then sent back to the line and you could tell he was a bit rattled, but in the end he got his chance at the starting line.

Several of the kids were very strong swimmers without any swimming aids, but one boy brought a pool noodle with him. Scott was quite pleased that he beat 1-2 other kids across the pool, including the noodle-boy.


The transitions were a bit crazy because we were novices. I was so busy with my race that we hadn't really had a good chance to lay everything out for the kids, and then suddenly we were rushed to the starting line for Scott's race a bit unprepared. I don't think anyone predicted how cold it was going to be. Scott ended up wearing his jacket over his shirt and race bib because he was freezing. Good thing he had his number scrawled down his calf.

Scott came out of the run pretty much sprinting, and he had to dial it back a bit when we finally figured out that he had quite a ways to go (seemed closer to 400m than the advertised 250m). I trotted along next to him, having mostly recovered from my race.



Katie poolside

When it came to her turn to race, Katie started to get a bit nervous. She was starting to have second thoughts. However, to her credit, she still went through with it, even though the little boy in the neighbouring lane panicked and climbed right out of the pool. Once the race was underway, the smile never left her face, and it was clear that she was having a wonderful time.

As we left the pool to do the first transition, Katie told me, "Did you see that kid and that dad in there? I was faster than them at swimming. I was like a rocket, dad."

Katie Transition

Just like Scott, we ended up bundling Katie up in pants and a hoodie because of the cold. Even still, her swimming suit soaked through the seat of her pants, which was adorable. Her Disney Princess shoes were key to her elite performance, obviously.

Katie Bike

While she was the on the bike Katie provided a fabulous commentary on the proceedings, which I happened to capture on video while I walked beside her. Scott was a bit too fast for me to make a ride-along video, but Katie's balance bike was just right.

Katie Run

After she crossed the finish line and got her medal I picked up Katie to give her a hug. She said, "I'm so happy that I finished my very first race!"

Eating Smores

We ended up wearing our matching shirts everywhere for the next day and a half. The kids were SO PROUD of their races, and Scott asked me every 10 or 20 minutes when he could do another one. Sounds like the Tri-Smore is going to be a family tradition.

The Video

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Great Movie With Great Grandparents

[May 29, 2014]

Our kids have the great privilege of having great grandparents that live just a few blocks away. Despite the proximity, we mostly only see them at church on Sunday. Katie and R and R's mom decided to have a movie date at the retirement home with Great Grandma and Grandpa M. They made popcorn and watched Frozen, which Great Grandma had been wanting to see. Katie was very excited for the days leading up to it and she had a wonderful time. She was a bit shocked when she finally realized that all these people in her life called "grandma" or "grandpa" are all mommies and daddies in their own right.

Mother's Day

[May 11, 2014]

The kids made some special crafts for Mother's Day. Katie also helped make some waffles. Then it was off to church where Scott had assistance from his lovely mother to give a talk in Junior Primary. We sure love Mom around here.

Monday, June 23, 2014

First Real Golf Clubs

[Jun 7 2014]

While R and Katie were away for the second showing of Katie's dance recital, Scott and I prowled around the parade of garage sales in our neighbourhood and stumbled upon a fabulous find -- a nice set of left-handed golf clubs that were just Scott's size. He's right-handed, but he swings everything lefty, including a ping-pong paddle. That makes it a bit harder to track down second-hand clubs. However, we found these just 4 houses down from us for a great price.

Of course, we immediately had to go to the driving range where Scott could dispose of a basket of 50 balls in a matter of minutes. I couldn't hit any balls because my hand was still torn up, so I just watched and restrained the urge to try to coach him on his swing. He manages to figure it out on his own quite well. The only tip I gave him was to line up his club head with the ball BEFORE his backswing, so that he would be more likely to connect with it on the downswing.

When we got home he still had an insatiable appetite to hit more balls, so I rigged this tarp to catch the plastic practice ball that he would hit off the grass. He did another 30 minutes every day for the next several days, and would have done more but he doesn't really like to be out there by himself.

When Katie finally got home from her recital I lined the two of them up for a photo to send my dad for Father's Day. I found it almost comical how stereotypically boy/girl the two of them appear in the shot.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Father's Day Cards

The kids made some very cute cards for me this year for Father's Day.

Note that "Sleepy" is one of my primary attributes. I asked Scott about it and he said that it was the first one he thought of.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cub Car Preparations

Our first cub car rally is officially 1 year away. In fact, it should be less than 2 weeks after Scott's 8th birthday, so I figured we needed to be ready. As preparation, I got 3 car kits to try out: one each for Scott, Katie & me. I cleared out a spot for a legit workbench in the garage, complete with lights and peg board and a vice and everything.

I also got a band saw. It was on sale.

The kids made design templates online, printed them and then coloured them in with markers. I transferred the designs onto the wooden blocks and then used the band saw to cut them out. The highlight for them was using the palm sander to smooth out the surfaces for painting. They each helped me with some of the spray painting, and then the cars were ready for wheels and stickers. Scott's first car was cut with the trusty old jig saw because Scott didn't have the patience to wait one day for the band saw. When he saw how nicely Katie's turned out with the band saw, he decided to "help" design mine.

We have learned some lessons on these cars and hopefully we can take our time to makes something really cool next spring.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Chinook Triathlon 2014

In 2010 I did my first triathlon. It was the first time I ever really tried swimming any distance and the first time I ever ran more than 5km. I finished the race, but I wasn't exactly competitive. Since then, I have done a lot more running, and after 3 half-marathons, a full marathon and a Spartan race, it seemed like the natural progression was to go back to triathlons. Fortunately, my friend Troy is always game for a race, so we signed up together for the Chinook Olympic Triathlon, located right here in town at Lake Midnapore.

Troy likes to do his training on the weekends. Personally, I like to see how much I can incorporate my training into the daily commute. If I have to travel 40+ km every day for work, why not take advantage of it. Running and biking were easy to fit in, but swimming is a challenge. I toyed with the idea of trying to swim in the Bow River as part of my commute but then I realized that was completely mental. Instead, I just swam at a pool that was on the way to work and located near the Bow River pathways, so I could tag on a bike or run (or both) to the office after my swim. I did 2 swim sessions before Christmas and 4 in May. It wasn't much, but that is 3 times as much as I did in 2010.

It's one thing to swim in a 25m pool. It is another to swim in a cold lake, even with a wetsuit on. We did an open-water wetsuit trial at Arbour Lake and I realized how much I veer to the right when I don't have a line in the pool floor to follow. I thought I was following Troy across the lake but after about 100m I popped my head up to realize I had made a 90 degree turn toward the shore. This was somewhat disheartening, as was just starting to develop a rhythm in my swimming, I thought.

I worked on sighting at the pool one morning with another triathlon buddy, but a bike wipeout the next day (10 days before the race) cut short my final swim training. I literally had no layers of skin at all on part of my palm. Fortunately, the wound in my hand closed up just in time for race day.

My marathon effort in 2013 was hindered by stomach problems. What did I do differently to prepare for this event? I ate 40 Chicken McNuggets as fast as possible the day for the race. I was in a fundraiser competition for children's charities, and I only came 2nd. That was disappointing. I was so sick about the loss that I threw up multiple times. This is good, because keeping those chickens on board would have certainly spelled disaster on race-day.

The night before the triathlon I watched a lot of youtube videos about the race to try to get a sense of the course and the transition areas. Most of what I found were videos of the mass swim start from previous years. They were unsettling, to say the least, since the numbers of swimmers had only grown since then.

I watched several videos about how to do efficient triathlon transitions. I learned quite a few good things that helped me plan out my gear -- and there was a lot of gear to bring. I am more accustomed to half-marathon races, where I usually arrive 10 minutes before the starting gun with nothing but my running shoes and a few energy gels. For this event I had a huge bag full of gear plus a bike to haul into place early in the morning.

I also stripped all the commuting gear off my bike for two reasons: 1) to save weight; and 2) to look less like a novice. Reason #2 was the primary factor, actually. The standard commuter bell came off first, then the rack off the back. I even pulled off my tool kit from under my seat. I figured, if I have an emergency that requires tools, my race is pretty much shot anyways (famous last words).

Race day we watched from the beach while the Half Ironman competitors did their swim. It was cold and wet outside and we waited for more than an hour. Then it was our turn to don our swim caps.

#139 Leaving 1,500m swim (40:59 - #139 pace)
#138 Leaving Transition 1 (3:11 - #61 pace)
#125 Ending 40km Bike Ride (1:16:26 - #104 pace)
#123 Leaving Transition 2 (1:14 - #25 pace)
#97 10km Run to Finish (46:53 - #38 pace)
Final Time: 2:48:22

I am only marginally better at swimming than I was 4 years ago. Once again, I was one of the last out of the water. I started out somewhere in the middle of the pack and it was a terrifying experience to be blindly crashing into all these other swimmers out of the middle of a cold, dark lake. And if the first few minutes were bad, things only got worse as the wide arc of swimmers converged on the first yellow buoy to the make the turn. For a few moments I looked at that buoy and secretly wished I could just grab onto it and escape from this wave of humanity. Instead, I pressed through the turn and then kept turning further to the right until I was out of the way and could flip over into a backstroke and collect myself for a moment. I found the backstroke so refreshing that I stayed in it much longer than I should have. My backstroke is probably slow, but at least it is straight -- whereas my front crawl tends towards the right, except when I overcompensate for that and veer to the left instead. One time during my second lap of the lake I poked my head up from the front crawl and couldn't figure out what direction I was trying to go. Just then, one of the volunteers in a canoe read my mind and called out, "go right!" I managed a steady and relatively straight front crawl for the final 250m segment into the beach. If I could swim like that the whole time, I think I could cut a lot of time off the swim. Heck, just swimming straighter would help -- I figure I probably swam an extra 300-400m because of the circuitous route I took through the water.

One of the highlights was having the "strippers" on the beach that helped racers pull off their wetsuits. It was hilarious to watch and fun to be a part of. As you run out of the water you pull your arms out of the suit and pull it down to your waist. When you get to the strippers you flop on your back and stick your feet in the air. The strippers grab your wetsuit and yank it off you and send you on your way. We saw one half-ironman competitor get dragged across the grass a fair ways because his suit was really tight and the strippers were very determined.

The bike ride was on pace to match my 1h12min time from 2010, until I hit an issue with my chain. Honestly, I could have given a bit more but I was pacing myself for the run. Next time I am sure I can do a top 50 bike pace. For the first half of it I was trying to just keep a steady pace, in case there were some surprise hills or a big headwind on the way back or whatever. It felt like I was doing well because I was passing lots of people and no one passed me except for one elite-looking guy who'd had mechanical problems at T1. Things were great heading out so I notched up the speed as I turned around to come back. However, on one of the longer downhill sections, I finally shifted into my highest gear and my chain jammed. I tried rocking my pedals back and forth and shifting gears to fix the problem with no success.

Zipping along at 59km/h I finally diagnosed the issue: when I removed the rack from my bike I had put the screws back in place on the frame so they would be easy to find when I put the rack back on. However, without the rack there, one of the bottom screws protruded well past the frame and very close to my rear cassette, jamming the chain when I finally used the highest gear. I only needed to loosen the screw to fix the issue and continue. I usually have exactly the tool for the job under my seat -- but I had removed it for the sake of weight reduction. I tucked my head and coasted down to a flatter section and pulled over, trying to pull my back wheel off to remove the jam, since I couldn't turn the screw. Just then, a support vehicle from the blessed angels at Speed Theory pulled up next to me and asked if I needed help. In less than 3 minutes the guy had the Allen key out and had loosened the screw and I was on my way, hammering harder than I had ever planned to in an attempt to make up for lost time. I still don't know if I managed to put everything back together with my rear axle and brakes. I bet I didn't.

I learned my lesson about getting lost in transition. I made a very careful note of the location of my stuff and even practiced running into the area and finding it. It helped that there was only one transition zone, so there was only one spot to keep track of.

I had been really burning it on the bike following the chain incident, so I was a bit tired as I started out the run. I settled into a sustainable speed for the first 5 km, keeping pace with two runners I could see ahead of me. We were passing people pretty steadily, and I couldn't help but shake my head at the variety of athletes who were still out ahead of me -- I knew my swim must have been BAD. Once I got to the 5km mark I pulled up even with a lady who had been setting my pace to that point. I wasn't tracking my splits, so I asked her what we had been averaging for 5km. She said it was about 4:41/km. I figured I had less than 25 minutes left to run, so I could pick it up a bit. At the 7.5km mark, I spotted Troy coming back from the final turnaround towards the big hill. He still had at least a 1km lead on me, but I still tried to catch him. The last half of the run I averaged 4:34/km, including that horrible final hill.

R and the kids were waiting for me at the finish line, along with Troy and his family. Katie asked to wear my medal. Scott made sure to clarify that the medal was not hers to keep. She will get her own to keep. The kids are getting excited for their own first triathlon race, which is coming up in a week. I think I am hooked.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Making the Basement a Fun Zone

A little over a year ago I took the kids to the free open house at a kids gymnastics and play center near us. The space wasn't massive, but they managed to fit in a whole bunch of gear, including trampolines, a ball pit, monkey bars, crash mats and -- most popular of all -- the zip line. It was a lot of fun, but I couldn't see us paying the monthly membership fee plus program fees to bring our kids to this, especially when we could build our own version at home for less money. And so it began.

Our basement was a D-I-Y job and I think I can safely say it was a learning experience for whoever Did-It-Themselves. We figured it was only a matter of time before we would tear out a good portion of it and do it over again. In the meantime, we don't really care if a few holes get drilled here and there. We pulled out the big old TV and one of the couches to clear space and went to work.

The first thing we bought was the trampoline. I had to drive out to Airdrie to grab the very last one on sale at Toys R Us for $180. It is 8 feet across and and the deck is only 18 inches off the ground, so it's perfect for 2 kids (or 3 little kids). We crammed it into one corner so it doesn't totally dominate the room. Scott likes to use it to jump rope. Katie likes to fill it with pillows and stuffies. One time we covered it with a tarp and it doubled as a tent for some downstairs camping.

The next thing was the grocery checkout stand. We got this idea from the Children's Museum in Las Vegas, where they had a miniature grocery store with lots of plastic produce and empty food containers. You could load up your basket and bring it to the checkout stand with a cash register that you could push the buttons. It was quite well done. We saw similar configurations in children's museums in Salt Lake and North Carolina, but they were all missing the best part of a checkout stand: the conveyor belt. I got an old treadmill off Kijiji for free and removed the handles and the motor, adding a hand crank to let kids drive the belt manually. Then I raised it up on a wooden frame to be the right height for kids and added a cash register complete with coins and various bills. It was a bit of an iterative design, and I need to partially disassemble it before I can finish it off, but it is serviceable. We also got a used grocery cart and what seems like a truckload of food items that kids can shop from.

After you finish shopping for food, you need somewhere to keep it and cook it, right? The corner of the office was converted to a kitchen area, with a toy fridge and stove and a sink and all the standard equipment. There is also a little baby bed nearby and a stroller, just in case. This area gets lots of use.

Also in the office is the dress-up center. We have a huge bin full of princess dresses, a trunk full of crowns and tiaras, a drawer full of shoes and another filled with swords, masks and superhero garb. There are A LOT of dresses. Pretty much every princess you can name and then some. Plus, the drawers of items are in a the bottom of a padded bench that doubles as the stand for a puppet theatre -- although the curtains have not yet been created.

We inherited the the old pool table from the cabins that R's family used to own at Windermere. It has a heavy top cover so it served as the kitchen table in R's home for a number of years while they lived in Hawkwood. In addition to playing some somewhat non-level pool, we clip a retractable ping-pong net on it and play mini-table-tennis. Scott is getting pretty good and Katie can hit it if I serve it up just right. I wonder if they will struggle to adjust to a full-size table when they first encounter it.

For Christmas the kids got a cool present from the cousins -- it's a construction set that they can use to build the frame of a fort and then cover it with a blanket to make a fort. It's like having jumbo-sized tinker tots.

It is one thing to do something cool in your basement. It is another to watch yourself do it on TV. So we mounted a TV on a pivot that will swing 270 degrees to be visible from anywhere in the basement. I hooked up our old digital camera to it so you can watch or record yourself doing whatever activity. I stole that idea from the Airborne jump center in Draper that we visited last summer, where they had cameras everywhere on a short time delay, so once you jumped off something, you could immediately check the screens and see what you just did. I will need to work on the technology a bit to make that system a bit more seamless.

In the meantime, there are some cool camera apps that essentially turn your TV into a hall of mirrors. It is hilarious, until someone decides that their little sister is taking up all the good spots to stand. Then it is just another reason for an argument, but creepier than most.

We also can hook up the tablet to the TV and show videos or use the karaoke app that I downloaded. The kids can sing along and copy the dances to a lot of simple children songs, while singing along into two microphones that I have connected into the ghetto blaster that I bought from Costco when I was 12. Yes, that first-generation cd player lives on. I would have thought that the kids would have loved singing away into the microphones, but they seem really self-conscious about it and hardly sing loud enough to pick up on the mic.

And yes, there is a zip line. I picked up the zip line kit online at (I even got a discount because the packaging was damaged). I used a pair of eye-bolts with a lag bolt down the center to anchor each end to the wall, running the line diagonally across the basement. You launch from the top of the treadmill/checkstand and land in the corner on a legit crashmat that we also picked up online.

The slope is very gradual, so small kids have very little velocity coming into the end. Bigger kids figure out how to push off at the top to get a bit more zip. This is probably the most popular activity among Scott's friends. He is a little tired of how they ALWAYS want to go on the zip line, actually, but he's found new ways to make it fun... like crashing through a big pile of empty cardboard boxes and tackling a dummy at the end.

There is a climbing wall, as mentioned. We already had the crashmat in the corner, so all we needed was the wall. I got a starter kit from MEC that had essentially everything to get started but the lumber. I built a frame according to the directions, giving it about a -5 degree incline.

We got a box of another 100 T-nuts so that we could cover more of the wall and have more options in configuring our holds. Scott helped me mark the holes, drill them and hammer in the T-nuts, which was a HUGE mess on the carpet.

There were enough holds in the box to make 2 panels for experienced, fully-grown climbers, but we just jammed them all on our one panel and then used different coloured tape to mark off some harder routes for Scott to try. He has no trouble getting to the top if he can grab any hold he wants, but the marked routes can be quite challenging (read frustrating). Katie was scared to go very high at first, but she is getting braver all the time.

I have a pool noodle wrapped around the end of the zip line cable to minimize interference when climbing -- that metal cable snags hair like nobody's business, but I can remove the zip line cable in just a few seconds if we are going to do a lot of climbing. We are already planning the next panel and we have the wood in the garage.