Tag Archives: Fail

The agony of victory and the thrill of defeat

When did cycling become the Thunderdome? I suppose given London’s notoriously wet weather some Olympic events that in previous games had been held outdoors were designed to be indoors this time around.

I was watching the women’s omnium finals when Canada’s Tara Whitten narrowly missed winning the bronze medal. The CTV announcer stated as the medals were awarded, “And Canada’s Tara Whitten failed to make the podium.” (Emphasis mine)

Failed? The fourth best woman in a sport I hadn’t heard of until Tuesday was just told by some faceless voice, that she had failed.


Between the sportscasters casually dropping the “fail” word and the usual collection of armchair coaches and haters on Twitter and Facebook, I was getting annoyed. I even posted on Twitter:

Let’s banish the word #fail when talking about Olympians. They failed to medal? Dude, you failed to get off the sofa.

It’s easy to criticize when you’ll never face the consequences of your words. You won’t do better because you’ll never be on that stage. You’ll never miss the podium because you never played the game.

Reminds me of this diddy by none other than the one true captain:

Paula Finley finished a triathlon injured. She came in last, but she finished. While some cartilage in her hip may have failed, her will, her instinct to finish the race did not. In recent months, I’ve become something of an expert on the subject of tough gingers. Paula, you’re up there with the toughest.

A high school classmate of mine, Jane Thorton (then Rumball), knows this subject far better than I ever will. She was on the women’s eights rowing team in the Beijing Olympics. I kind of boycotted those games because I thought the whole process of awarding those games was ginned by the IOC to pre-determine the outcome. Well, that and I’m a bit of an artifact from a previous generation that sometimes has to be reminded that the Cold War is over and, thankfully, we won (an effect of having spent a disproportionate amount of my adult life on the last enlaves of Marxism in the western world, university campuses).  I followed the rowing events because of Jane. It was the only event where I had a proverbial dog in the hunt. Due to the time zone differences, the events were almost always on while I was at work. Thankfully, my office had a television. I even went so far as to put the rounds and what channel they were on into my Outlook calendar so I wouldn’t miss them.

All my co-workers and pretty much every New Brunswicker working on Parliament Hill crowded into my office to watch Jane go for the gold in the final. When she came up just short of a medal, fourth place, I was pretty sad for her. Having worked so hard for so long, I could only imagine how she felt. She recently posted this article from another Olympian that pretty much summed it up for her.

As that afternoon went on, I thought to myself, “Someone you’ve known since a teenager is on the fourth best rowing team … in the world! Whow. That’s pretty awesome.” I was pretty proud of Jane that day. I still am.

We haven’t crossed paths in forever, so if you read this, Jane, I just wanted to tell you that your success was part of the inspiration I drew on when I decided to change my life last year.  Whenever I felt a case of the quits coming on, usually when the alarm was going off on a dark winter’s morning, I would think of the inievatable early morning rows that you probably did to get Beijing. If you could get to an Olympic final, I could at least my arse to the gym.

One of the armchair experts responding to my tweet mentioned that our athletes are paid to train. True for the ones in high profile sports that can get corporate sponsorships or some money from Own the Podium. Of course, the ones who aren’t so lucky, like discus or any of the events that involve guns, are part-time athletes. We don’t have the glorified  Spartan agoge that China seems to train all its athletes in. We let our athletes seek out the best available trainers. For many of my east coast friends, getting the quality trainers that can get an athlete to the games meant leaving the Atlantic provinces for Montreal, Toronto or even the United States. It’s not just jobs we leave home to find. Since there are so many more events in the summer games than the winter games, the vast majority of our athletes are part-timers. Since we concentrate our funds on the events that have the likeliest chance of medals, if they’re going to be able to train for an event we don’t traditionally do well in, they’re going to need to earn a living.

The pay to train model may in fact be exasperating things. Look back to Paula Findley. As Simon Whitfield pointed out, she was injured for the past year to the point she had not actually competed in the last year. Yet, her previous coaches trained her while injured. He didn’t come out and say it, but the implication is if she took time off to have the injury treated properly, they wouldn’t get paid to train her.

I write this as someone whose pastime is training for races I have no hope in hell of actually winning. I’m not a 110 lbs Kenyan in my early twenties. I’m a 160 lbs Acadian-British-Scottish Canadian in my mid-thirties.  I may have exceeded even my own expectations Ottawa Race Weekend and every other race I ran, but I didn’t win. By the Ricky Bobby-ian logic of the haters, I failed.

Strange, it never felt like failure. It didn’t feel like the silly “participant” ribbon they give out on sports day in elementary school (I always found that rather condescending). It actually felt pretty damn good. Unlike the winners, who I would see being escorted off the track in wheel chairs, I actually get to leave the race grounds under my own power (at least until the adrenaline wears off). I wouldn’t even call the thousands of runners who finished after me failures, either. They crossed the start line and the finished line. In doing so, they did something very few people ever attempt. The failures are the thousands more who could do it, but never try.

Forget winning. I’m failing.

I’ll probably never make the Olympics. I’m the age when Olympians retire. I doubt I’ll ever win a half marathon. That’s not going to keep from either the start line or the finish line. Want to call me a failure? You’ll have to get to that finish line before I do to earn that. Unlike the Olympians who want to save their sponsorships, I’ll tell you what I think about you, too. You may have noticed, I have a gift for words.



Week 47 – Adventures in Shoppingland

Another season, another shopping spree, another charity pile.

For those not in the Ottawa area and/or unable to look out a window this morning, the cold weather is finally upon us. It’s even snowing on this blog.  That’s how hard it snows in Canada.

(It’s actually a setting in WordPress for the Christmas season. Pretty neat?)

With winter hitting like paratroopers on D-Day, I am in desperate need of warm weather casual wear.

Actually, I was in desperate need of warm weather casual wear. The most recent sweater I owned was a Christmas gift from last year.  It was only two sizes too big.  With the cold weather coming fast, I figure my sweaters are best put to use keeping the poor and homeless warm.  I cleaned out my closet and drawers of the warm stuff and everything else that Moore’s wouldn’t take back in September.  I called Shepards of Good Hope on Monday and they were only too glad to pick them up.  I filled up two garbage bags worth of the stuff and left them at the front desk of my building for pick-up.

Vicky and I went shopping last weekend.  We’re pretty frank with each other when it comes to what each other looks good in.  As I wrote before, this stuff is expensive and the window of opportunity to return anything is short.  With the holidays coming and crowds at the mall now elevated to horde status, neither of us wants to waste time trying on stuff that one of thinks only looks good on the rack.

Brutal honesty is better than a polite fib any day.

I have developed this tendency to replace an entire season in one outing.  I just want to get it over with.  I don’t mind shopping, in general, but I’ve never liked shopping this time of year. Once Advent begins, I won’t go to Walmart until after Christmas.  Now that I live in a city where the nearest Walmart is 45 minute bus ride away, that habit is really easy to maintain. Since I have to travel to be with my family for the holidays, I find it easier to shop online and select my father’s office as my delivery address.

It was a pretty productive trip.  I bought pretty much enough to get me through the winter in one shot.  I’m pretty sure besides the honest advice one of the reasons why Vicky loves shopping with me is I tend to need more therefore I buy more and inevitably spend more, thus making her feel less guilty for her purchases.

Since holiday sales have started earlier on this side our border with the United States to keep us Canucks with our near-parity dollars at home, I can at least say I didn’t pay full price for everything. A couple of items were full price, but I couldn’t exactly wait for a store to mark down the winter boots.  That doesn’t happen until spring, and it’s snowing today.  I was incredibly lucky a couple of years back to be living in the US during their Thanksgiving.  I think 2008 was the first year stores extended their Black Friday specials to their websites.  I worked out a pretty good system.  In the days leading up to the blessed occasion, as stores would advertise their specials I would place them on my wish list.  I’d get out of bed early Friday morning and move the wish list to the shopping cart, go through checkout, and be back in bed within the hour. One of my picks was a rather expensive pair of winter boots, regular price $325, that bought for a relatively mere $75.

I’m the SEAL Team 6 of shopping: identify target, engage, achieve objective, return to base, leaving only dead men to tell no tales.

Okay, maybe not that dramatic.  You get the idea.

I picked up my new suit from Holt Renfrew last night.  My first tailored suit ever.

Read .... Michael Read

Feels great to wear something that fits so perfectly.  As I put it on, I could hear Jack White’s fuzzy guitar riff and Alicia Keys sweet wail from the last Bond movie in my head.  Daniel Craig, eat your heart out.  There’s a new guy on the block who’s better than all the Bonds … except Connery.  There are few people that I would settle for being in second place to. There’s Connery and … Okay, it’s a list of one.

One purchase made this past week wasn’t so productive. I bought my first GPS running watch this week.

I also returned my first GPS running watch this week.

Another crime of opportunity by a gadget geek.  The Running Room had a customer appreciation sale, 20% off everything.  My instructor discount on tech gear is only 15%.  It was probably the best deal I would get before my current clinic ends and I return to student in February for the half-marathon clinic.  I have a Timex which usually does me quite well on the training runs, but during races I have  failed to hear it over the iPod or inadvertantly ignored it.  That’s not to say, fancy expensive = better, but it was at least worth a try.

Unlike my friend Christian, I like the running gadgets and technology.  While it is partly to satisfy my inner gadget geekery, much of it is for practical reasons.  For example, I wear the fancy compression gear because, until recently, every part of me was fairly floppy.  As a previous entry illustrated, floppy leads to rubbing.  Rubbing leads to chafing. Chafing leads to screaming like a girl when you go for a swim in a salt water pool with your best friend. Even though I’m now less floppy, I’m still floppy in those particular areas when I run.  The nice Lululemon shirts are fine for my Greco workouts where I might be bouncing up and down for no more than 90 seconds at a time, on a 5K run they might as well be fine grade sandpaper.

I first went with the Nike+ GPS watch made by Tom Tom.  Seemed like a good idea.  I was already using the Nike + GPS app on my iPod with the shoe dongle, so I could stick with the same system for tracking my runs.  I also liked the form factor.  It wasn’t as big and bulky as its competitors.  It was small enough that I could wear it to work and no one would be the wiser.

Like George Costanza, my first instinct was wrong.

Upon field testing, though, two small flaws revealed themselves which when combined were real deal breakers.

1. You have to set it up on your computer and there are very few adjustments you can make on the watch itself.  This would normally not be a problem.  Set it at home for the run intervals for that night’s clinic and not a problem.  After a couple of weeks it’s 10 and 1 intervals for the remainder anyway. The problem is actually between clinics, some of the alumni want to stick with the 10 and 1 while others tend to want to scale it back after their goal race while they’re waiting to do the next clinic.  On those occasions, you don’t know what the intervals will be until you arrive.

2. It has the wimpiest alert ever.  It’s so bloody weak, I originally thought I forgot to turn it on.  Turns out I did turn it on, but it’s just not loud enough.  There’s also no volume control.  The alert is either “on” or “off”. I could barely hear it over the ambient noise during my Sunday run, so hearing it over my iPod while listening to music will be impossible .

The funny thing is, normally when I buy gadgets I read the reviews.  I am not an early adopter.  The iPod was in its 4th Generation when I finally bought one.  When its battery life had whittled down to 40 minutes after years of faithful service, I replaced it with a 4th generation iPod Touch.  When I finally broke down and bought an iPhone, it was the … wait for it … 4S. I probably would have broke down earlier when the 4 was released, but since work supplies me with a Blackberry I didn’t see the need for a personal phone until recently.  Long story short, I’m no one’s de facto beta tester.

While the issue of the computer only set-up was raised, no review I read seemed to realize the negative implication. I guess reviewers just assumed they would now what their intervals be when they left the house for the day.  Not a single review mentioned the crappy alert volume. I can get around the first one, but the second is a deal breaker. Full stop.

Thanks, Internets.  Thanks a lot.

So now I am the owner of a Garmin Forerunner 610 (ask me in a few weeks if I’m the “proud” owner).  Yes, I could have gotten one of the older models cheaper (Amazon had a door crasher on the 410 less than 24hrs after my purchase), but the 610 has a few things going for it that the others do not:

1. Form factor – a. it’s smaller than the older models.  The watch face isn’t as large and doesn’t look like Dick Tracy’s wrist watch radio.

Did I just date myself?

b. The face is touchscreen and there are very few buttons.  No one will mistake it for a wristwatch calculator.

Did I just date myself…again?

2. Vibration alerts. You can set it to vibrate as well as beep and light up when you do intervals.  Even if the beep alert was as wimpy as the Nike+ watch, I have the vibration as back-up. It’s a pretty aggressive vibrate alert, too.  Not rip my hand off aggressive, but aggressive enough I’ll definitely notice it.

That written, I’m still using the Nike+ on my iPhone with the shoe dongle.  I figure one can compliment the other.  The downside of all the watches, both Nike+ and Garmin, is that it doesn’t have the instant gratification of the iPhone/iPod app.  Once I end the workout, it automatically sends the data to the website and I can look at it, the map it generates, etc. all before I get home.  The watches have to be synced directly with the computer either through USB (Nike+) or bluetooth (Garmin). I’m going to run with my phone on me for emergency purposes, regardless, it might as well track the runs.

In all honesty, if the iPod app just had an interval feature I wouldn’t have bought either.

In terms of the tracking information, the Garmin wins hands down.  If you are  interested in looking at your performance, the Garmin provides more data points than Nike+. The mapping feature allows you to choose between Google and Bing as your map provider.  I’m sure this is an important feature, I’m just not sure why.  I also like that I can customize the workouts on the Garmin.  In under a minute, I can program the upcoming week’s run into my watch.  For example, I can program 2 intervals of 10 minutes running with the 1 minute walk breaks followed by a third interval of four minutes for next week’s runs. On my Timex, I’d be literally watching the clock on that third interval for four minutes to elapse. Not a fun way to run at night.

Even though it is the easier of the two to use, I can’t recommend the Nike+ watch.  I’m sure it’s fine at tracking, and better than just using the iPod app  but, as an instructor, I require something more versatile. I would actually keep my Timex over the Nike+.

My current rankings:

  1. Garmin
  2. Timex
  3. Nike+GPS watch
  4. Nike+GPS iPod app

While I still like the app and will still use it, the lack of intervals will mean the “+” will be more than brand recognition. It will be + some other device, in this case a watch or otherwise.  If you just want a watch that does intervals, a Timex will do. The Nike+GPS watch tries to be the middle option, laps and intervals for those that want the Timex features but what it gains in simplicity of use, it loses in versatility. The price point for what you get isn’t that stellar either.  An older model Garmin which does everything the Nike+ does and more retails for $30 less.

It’s too early to give the Garmin more than a qualified recommendation. I’m still playing with it and learning the ins and outs.  Right now, I can say it is the best one of I have used thus far. We’ll see in future posts if my praise becomes more effusive.  Since I’m kind of prone to bitching about stuff that doesn’t work properly, if I never mention it again it’s probably a good thing.

The 5K clinic is entering it’s second half.  I will only be here for three of those weeks before I take off to Fredericton for the holidays.  With the exception of this Wednesday, my group is pretty consistent in attendance.  A combination of rain all day turning to cold rather quickly scared off most of my students. Okay, all of my students, except one: Vicky. She’s actually the only one who so far has not missed a single run.  I know a couple were a struggle.  I was at the party the night before, too, and was dragging my arse just as bad Sunday morning. Vicky in bad form is still faster than they rest of the class.

The rest of the class, that is, except her instructor 😉