October 31, 2010

Challenging ourselves - in writing & running

Tomorrow marks the first day of National Novel Writing Month (you can still join). Referred to as NaNoWriMo, it described as "a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30."

I am participating for the first time. It's not because I have trouble writing - I am working on two non-fiction manuscripts, making great progress. (If you suffer from writer's block or no longer enjoy your writing, check out my book A Work in Progress: Exercises in Writing.)

My participation is motivated by the lure of the novel. As a longtime journalist and author of three non-fiction books, I am intrigued but also somewhat mystified by fiction. In 2005 I began on a novel  about a super-female triathlete who beats everyone, including the guys, but stopped after 13,000 words.

Recently I have begun publishing instalments of this novel, working title Ironwoman, on this blog (click here to read them). I decided that NaNoWriMo would be a great motivator and reason to try my hand at another one but this time commit to finishing a full draft.

It will be fun, if challenging to produce an average of 1700 words a day each for 30 days.

As it happens, I also have five days left until I start my first 100-kilometre road race. I am an experienced marathon runner, so I have covered the 42.2km distance many times, but the furthest I have run so far is 50 miles (80km).

One reason I am looking forward to running for most of the day this Saturday is that it will give me a lot of time to think about the novel I am writing for NaNoWriMo. Another is that it will be a great break from the mental challenge of producing so many words of fiction, something I am not familiar with.

I started running in the same year that I began working as a professional journalist. Since then I have found that there is a great balance if I push myself physically as well as mentally. In fact, one of the books I am working on is about the similarities between the approach to writing and running (I'll write a post on that soon).

For me writing and running are part of my lifestyle and of who I am. Hence my NaNoWriMo screen name and for this website, The Running Author. I use my regular runs (and daily walks) as brainstorming sessions for my writing. It just happens. Thoughts flow different when you walk or run.

In a way I am holding a meeting with myself as I run or walk, and I consider it part of my writing time because I always, always come up with a new idea, a fresh take on an issue, an answer to my question. And sometimes an epiphany.

Many writers have talked about the benefit of walks and exercise for their creativity, among them Henry David Thoreau. Whether you're participating in NaNoWriMo too, or whether you simply need a boost of creativity, try a walk or a run.

Even a short 15-30-minute walk makes all the difference. It's amazing to see what you come home with, and you'll be refreshed and energized.

Surprise 60th birthday run...

On Thursday I received an emailed invitation to a surprise 60th birthday run arranged for this morning at 9.30am. Thinking it a superb idea, Tim and I were game, and so was Luka. It was another gorgeous fall day, perfect for a celebratory run.

The birthday boy in question is an inspiring ultrarunner who began training for the Vancouver Marathon after a few too many beers one night. However, unlike many boozy bets he stuck to his word and has been a runner ever since. Five years after he took up his new lifestyle, he started and finished the Western States.

Among the many races he has done is the Haney to Harrison 100km, which he has run twice. It was a great and inspiring start to the day. Afterward we went to Vancouver since I had to pick up my race package at the Running Room store. I received my race number, bright yellow, instructions and the H2H black hoody.

I also found out that this edition of the Haney to Harrison is the final one. As for 2011, an ultra will be held in Whistler, a 50-miler held on 20km laps along the Valley Trail which I am not familiar with. I am glad I will have a chance to do this event I have heard so much about since moving to Squamish two years ago.

Piles and piles of H2H sweaters were a reminder there are plenty of relay runners, aside from the 17 solo entrants. Our next stop was the MEC where, among a couple of other items, I loaded up on my favourite gels and bars. I brought 16, and typically have three an hour so that should be five hours worth.

Next stop was the Vancouver Public Library, where the one item I really wanted to get was a novel by John Parker called Once a Runner. Then I went to the sports section where I brought 10 more books, both for motivational and research purposes.

Here's the list, in no particular order:
Going Long: Legends, Oddballs, Comebacks & Adventures edited by David Wiley
Barefoot Runner: The Life of Champion Champion Abebe Bikila by Paul Rambali
Running Through the Ages by Edward Sears
Strides: Running Through History With an Unlikely Athlete by Benjamin Cheever
Run With the Champions by Marc Bloom
Running With Pheidippides by Nick Tsiotos and Andy Diabilis
Marathon Woman by Kathrine Switzer
CC Pyle's Amazing Footrace by Geoff Williams
The Runner and the Path by Dean Ottati
Bunion Derby by Charles Kastner

There should be plenty of extra inspiration in there, for both my running and my writing this week.

Another stop was a shop to get a drink to help me hydrate and stock up on electrolytes this week.

I think I am all set.

October 30, 2010

Seven days until a 100km

Last night I got home at about 1am after working the late shift at the Vancouver Sun. By that time I have usually been asleep for two hours already, so I felt tired this morning when I woke up at about 8:15am.

However, meeting my neigbour and her dog for a run was good enough a reason to get up. We recently started running together along the local trails, and we enjoy it just as much as our dogs do.

We decided on a loop that takes us along trails from our area of Valleycliffe to Quest University then along the golf course and the pool back home for a great 90-minute loop on a spectacular autumn morning. I hadn't planned on going for longer than an hour but it was well worth it.

As I checked the Haney to Harrison website I found the 100km start list which to my surprise only has 17 people, including me. Last year there were 37. Hopefully a few more names will be added to the list this week, though registration has closed.

The list of relay teams looks huge, which is fantastic. I look forward to company along the way. The earliest start time for the relay runners is 6am, so two hours after the start of the solo runners.

In the afternoon I worked on my list of 100 reasons to run 100km, which I began compiling in the past four days, aiming to come up with 10 each day until race day. My goal is to write one book page for each one.

I am on schedule, with 40 pages filled with one reason each for a total of a little over 9100 words. Six more days to go, so 60 more reasons to write. Running is such a natural part of my life that it has been interesting to write down all the motivation I can think of.

Tomorrow I am heading to Vancouver to pick up my race package at the Running Room. I also hope to drop by the Vancouver Library to see if I can pick up some new ultrarunning books to read this week.

Other than that, Tim and I also would like to drop in at the opening party of the Vancouver chapter to National Novel Writing Month which begins on Nov. 1. The idea is to write a first draft for a novel in one month, by creating at least 50,000 word. I signed up, and encouraged Tim to do so as well.

October 29, 2010

Eight days until the 100km Haney to Harrison

This morning I went for another easy one-hour trail run with my dog Luka. The sky is filled with fog, as lingering rain is lit up by the sun trying to peek through the thinning clouds. Yellow, brown, orange and red leaves cover the trees and the trails. A fresh start to the day.

I've been working on writing 100 reasons to run 100km, aiming to come up with 10 in each of the final 10 days until race day. I am filling about a page on each one. As of now I have 28 reasons and 6,775 words. Perhaps a small book in the making.

I don't need a reason to run the 100km other than that I feel I am ready to try and that it is an exciting prospect. But it's good to remind myself of the many reasons I have to lead the lifestyle of a runner, or ultrarunner.

Tomorrow I am meeting up with a friend, and her dog, for another easy hour run on the trails. I've also got a Sunday run planned with friends and strangers. Next week I plan to take it very, very easy. It will be a week of walks, hot baths, and rolling and stretching muscles. There will be lots of sleep and focus on hydrating well.

Rethinking other races I have done that have taken me between 10 and 12 hours including the STORMY 50-miler and five Ironmans (my fastest was 11:12), I have decided to keep my nutrition and hydration very simple, like in those events. My staple foods will be energy bars and gels, while my drink of choice will be water - and defizzed Red Bull in the final third of the race if I can stomach it.

Like in STORMY I will probably bring a few electrolyte tablets too. I will also prepare bags of pretzels, peanut butter sandwichs (on white bread), boiled potatoes with plenty of salt and keep Twizzlers handy with my crew. But that should do it.

October 28, 2010

Getting in the ultra-frame of mind

Running Through the Wall: Personal Encounters with the Ultramarathon by Neil Jamieson has been my night-time reading for the past week or so. It's been awhile since I first read this book and I am very much enjoying it again.

Reading about people running 100 milers makes my 100km coming up in nine days sound very doable. It's a mental benefit I embrace, knowing full well that it won't make my event any shorter.

Last night I read two chapters including the one about a guy running the Grand Slam of ultrarunning and the Last Great Race, consisting of running four and six 100-milers respectively in one season. Amazing.

The other chapter I read, and haven't finished yet, was about the Barkley Marathons. It's the 100 miler that nobody, well very few, expect to finish. The course consists of five 20-laps that are unmarked. The cutoff is 12 hours - for one 20-mile lap that is.

Here is a cool story on the most recent person to finish, one of only nine to do so since the race was first held in 1984. I would love to try 'only' one lap of this event, it sounds so crazy!

Mentally I feel very ready for the Haney to Harrison. I am excited, curious and looking forward to the challenge. I love being a first-timer in a sport that has been such a huge part of my life for the past 15 years that I find it hard to imagine there was a time it wasn't.

Just today I had an email from someone I know from high school and then shared my daily train commute with between the town of Harderwijk, where I grew up, and Deventer, where I went to university. (I moved to Deventer after one year of spending about 3 hours a day travelling).

My high school/university friend, who I haven't seen or spoken to in at least 17 years, said he was excited to read I was about to run a 100km race, and wished me well. Then he wrote, somewhat fascetiously, "Running wasn't such a big passion in our student years I think."

The year we shared our commute was 22 years ago, a long time ago for sure but it seems even longer when considering that was before I discovered that I am a runner.

October 27, 2010

Haney to Harrison

Ten days until I start the 100km Haney to Harrison, my first attempt at running that distance. (As mentioned in earlier posts, I walked 100km in the Sydney Oxfam Trailwalker in 2005).

On Saturday Tim, my four-footed training partner Luka and I drove the course. It was a gorgeous autumn day and the scenery along the race course is superb. Farmlands surrounded by mountains in the second half. Stunning waterviews.

And a few correction centres.

The biggest hills and undulations are reserved for the first 40-odd kilometres, though I am sure that the relatively minor two climbs in the remaining kilometres will feel larger by the time I reach them.

It was good to see the course. While we each plan to carry maps, the course is easier to follow than I had anticipated and especially now that we have already done so once.

Tim decided that he will take Luka with him in the car so that he has some company. The race starts at 4am in Haney, which is at least a 90-minute drive from Squamish without traffic.

So today I booked a pet-friendly hotel room at the Ramada Inn in Pitt Meadows, recommended on the race website. It's non-smoking and has a kitchenette. I must pick up my race package on Sunday between noon and 3pm at the Running Room near Stanley Park.

Today I began writing 100 reasons to run 100km. With 10 days until race day, I plan on writing 10 each day so perhaps I will have 100 by November 6, one to carry me through each kilometre of the race.

Mystery, faith and a sprinkling of gusto

After finishing a rough first draft of a book for writing runners and running writers, I have begun working on the first revision. This is where I must allow my internal editor and critic to speak. And he's screaming - he doesn't like much of what he reads. I know he is as right as he is wrong. I must listen without feeling disheartened.

It's hard to keep believing in the manuscript's potential. The other day I reread the notes I made while on holiday in Oregon last month. One is a small poem:

Mystery of running
and writing
Only shows itself
if we keep practising
with faith
and gusto.

Mystery: anything that is kept secret or remains unexplained or unknown.
Faith: confidence or trust in a person or a thing; belief which is not based on proof
Gusto: keen relish or hearty enjoyment

In the manuscript for my fifth book, with the working title Write. Run. Live., I feel very long on mystery and short on faith and gusto.

October 25, 2010

Thoreau on writing

On the first page of Walden; or, Life in the Woods, Henry David Thoreau writes, “Moreover, I, on my side, require of every writer, first or last, a simple and sincere account of his own life, and not merely what he has heard of other men’s lives; some such account as he would send to his kindred from a distant land; for if he has lived sincerely, it must have been in a distant land to me.”

October 24, 2010

Two weeks until the 100km Haney to Harrison

With two weeks to go until I am scheduled to start the 100km Haney to Harrison road run (at 4am I might add) it's time to focus on the final preparations. Tim, who has generously agreed to crew for me, and I are going to check out the course by car, so we can plan our meeting points along the course.

Each solo runner needs a crew of at least one person who will be her moving aid station, with food and drinks along the way.

This week I will focus on getting my body ready by eating healthy, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking hot baths and using the trigger point therapy tools we have at home to roll out tight spots. 

I will also focus my reading on the race. A couple of days ago I began reading the book Running Through the Wall: Personal Encounter with the Ultramarathon by Neal Jamison, a collection of stories about ultrarunners.


First I am very much looking forward to checking out the course tomorrow, described on the race website as "Paved roadways following the scenic Sasquatch Drive. Starting in Maple Ridge, the course winds over rolling hills, passing through Mission and into the lush farmlands of the Fraser Valley en route to beautiful Harrison Hot Springs."

My books are now on MindsetTriathlon.com

FOR RELEASE ON October 24, 2010                                                    
Author Margreet Dietz Signs on to MindsetTriathlon.com

(Squamish, BC) The era of digital delivery is here and author Margreet Dietz is at the forefront. You can now easily download my books Running Shoes Are a Girl's Best Friend and Powered From Within: Stories About Running & Triathlon 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at MindsetTriathlon.com.

I am happy to announce that I've teamed up with MindsetTriathlon and MindsetRunning and can now offer you, my customers, my titles about running and triathlon as secure eBooks on this exciting, new site. Look inside my books, using MindsetTriathlon's easy-to-use preview option, by visiting MindsetTriathlon.com and MindsetRunning.com now!

MindsetTriathlon.com is the only retailer of downloadable eBook, audio, and video titles focused on running, biking, swimming, training and nutrition. eBooks and digital material have zero impact on old growth forests and use very little energy to produce and distribute, so by choosing an eBook, you're choosing to protect the environment in which you spend so much of your time.

Margreet Dietz is the author of three non-fiction books, Running Shoes Are a Girl’s Best Friend, Powered From Within: Stories About Running & Triathlon and A Work in Progress: Exercises in Writing, and a book of poetry, Sunshine on a wooden floor. Her books are in public library collections in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the U.S. 

October 22, 2010

Run. Write. Live. An epiphany.

This morning I did the first run session of today, with a second one to follow in the late afternoon. As I have been doing in the past couple of months in preparation for the 100km Haney to Harrison run on November 6, I ran along the local trails with my trusted running buddy Luka. 

It's a rainy Indian summer's day. The leaves have turned and are at their most vivid right now. Luka and I settle into our easy pace, and silently enjoy the run that has become our joint routine that is different each time, discovering new ground on familiar terrain.

As usual we see very few people. Today we only run into a family of three walking their four-year-old dog (I know because I ask when we stop for a brief chat as our wet and muddy dogs sniff each other) in about 100 minutes of running. As has become my daily custom on my walks and runs with Luka my running allows my writer's mind to brainstorm freely. 

My mind wanders along various questions, of today, of tomorrow and beyond, of yesterday and before.

As Luka and I finally leave the trails and arrive onto the wide tree-lined street we live on I have a very acute sense of emerging, a sense of transformation. And a few 100 metres later, an epiphany. 

While I have long recognized the importance of running in creativity, mine and that of many others, I suddenly realize that as of very recently my running self has truly connected with my writing self, and vice versa, so that they are now in sync. This realization is an important one for me, and I try to hold onto as many details as possible as Luka and I run the final half kilometre home. 

After drying off Luka's wet and muddy coat in the garage and taking off my running shoes, we head insidethe dog straight for his bowl with kibble and I immediately to my computer to try to capture the main ideas of my revelation in short sentences, so I can work them out later.

In Dr George Sheehan's Running & Being he writes how he wouldn't be a writer if he wasn't also a runner. I've been wondering if the same holds true for me. My gut reaction had been, No because I feel more fundamentally a writer than I do a runner.

But is that true? There is no question that I would not be the writer I am today had I not been a runner. I also would not be the person I am today if I hadn't been a runner.

Somehow I do believe I still would have been a writer, even as I cannot imagine what kind I'd be.

I've been working on a draft for a book about the writing runner and the running writer under the not-so-original working title Run. Write. Live. Over the course of working on my first book Running Shoes Are a Girl's Best Friend I used many lessons I learned from my marathon experiences to help me keep working on that book when it was very hard, as I later described in my third book A Work in Progress: Exercises in Writing.  

And since then I have so often noticed similarities between the way you approach running and writing, and how they can support each other, run/walks and writing, as also written previously by famous authors such as Sheehan, Henry David Thoreau and Haruki Murakami.

Still, while most days I have been excited about the topic, thinking there are plenty of writing runners and running writers, I've also had my doubts.

From mid-May until late July this year I wrote 45,000-odd words under the working title Thoughts of an Independent Author. But when I printed it with the idea to start shaping it into a book and reread it, I considered it navel-gazing drivel and decided it better stay as a private file on my computer.

Today, three months later, as I look through Thoughts of an Independent Author again with the hope I may find a few useful paragraphs in it for Run. Write. Live. I realize so much has happened since thennot only is it a good reminder to see how much I have grown in confidence as an author and writer, it may also have merit as now there is the progress to compare it to/with.

I also wonder today, in my final long run before I start a 100km race in two weeks, why I allowed myself to be lured to ultrarunning, dropping all my speed sessions, instead of staying focused on my training and goal to get faster at the marathon distance. Intuitively my choices have felt like they made sense but I can't help but have considered at times if it is laziness, weakness, an excuse to not train so hard any more for getting faster.

Then I think that I have been doing so many longish runs, on the trails, with only the dog and how each one is a major brainstorming session where my running and writing meet. In my first author reading on Wednesday I read to the Squamish Writers Group from A Work in Progress: Exercises in Writing's Chapter 16 "Inspiring". In that chapter, I wrote: 

"I used to think of inspiration as something that would just happen, a feeling that would suddenly arrive and prompt me to do—write—great things. Often I heard a story or got an idea that made me excited and wanting to share it. As soon as I sat down to convey my thoughts and the feeling that came with it on the page it all went wrong: the words I wrote didn’t come anywhere near what I had wanted to say. In fact the exact same topic that got me all enthused sounded banal and boring when I tried to capture it in writing. My inspiration left as quickly as it had arrived."

Often that inspiration arrived while I was running, and left very quickly when I tried to write it down afterward. Now I also no longer feel that disconnect between having a beautiful idea while I am running only to find it boring and banal when I try to convey it in words at my desk. While it still doesn't arrive perfectly on the page, I no longer expect it to which allows me to at least start creating, with the knowledge and trust I can and will reshape and improve later.

As a result these days I am excited, every single morning, to head to my desk to start writing. This feels normal now. But looking at Thoughts of an Independent Author showed that only in July I still talk about some dread and challenge.

I also realize how many great book ideas, realistic ones, I have had in the recent three months, as I have been training for the 50-mile STORMY I ran in August and the 100km in two weeks' time. 

The more I run the more I write. Perhaps I should run less as I have had too many ideas, and feel I lack time to write. It seems funny given how I felt just a few months ago,and I laugh out loud on the trail, as I think this.

That's when it dawns on me that my intuitive draw towards running ultras, and being a beginner at them and allowing myself to behave as one, is probably what my inner writer needed as it is such great brainstorming time for her, me, on those easy long trails runs. 

That connection between my runner and writer selves is a relationship that has had to grow and now has a chance, I think, to blossom.

October 20, 2010

How A Work in Progress came to be

My inspiration to write a book about writing and my journey as a writer are closely linked and you will read much about those in A Work in Progress. When I was working on my first book Running Shoes Are a Girl’s Best Friend, which I began in January 2008, I drew a lot of support from reading books on writing. 

So often people tell me that they’d love to write a book, and most of those people are not professional writers. I strongly believe everyone has a story worth telling. Many people are keen to write their memoirs, often for family alone rather than for publication, while others want to write a book to share their professional experience. 

I also believe anyone can write a book if they choose to do so—it is simple, but it is not easy. Often the initial excitement about the decision to write a book wears off, especially once we actually sit down behind our computer or with our notepad and realize that that perfect sentence we had in mind doesn’t quite want to arrive on paper. 

We begin to worry, and agonize, and wonder what we were thinking. The enormity of the task begins to overwhelm, and soon stops us from writing altogether. This is where I would like to encourage people to take small steps, and focus on the here and now by writing a few sentences or even a couple of pages a day. Doing this every day not only adds up, but practice makes better, if not perfect. 

We learn to translate our thoughts into writing and become more comfortable with that process. I think it’s similar to the way we learn to walk and talk: we learn to walk by trying to stand up, falling down, and we repeat this until we walk. Nearly every parent remembers the first word their child said, not the first sentence—the first word. We learn to talk word for word. We are applauded for our efforts until the result is walking and talking. Writing a book is very much like that.

The first time I thought about writing a book was more than 15 years ago, before I began my career as a professional journalist in 1996. I still have notes that outline the idea for that book, about the life of my grandmother who is now 94 and a story I still very much would like to write. It wasn’t until I moved to Canada late in 2007 that I seriously committed to writing my first book. 

By then I had worked as a financial journalist for more than seven years, worked a copy-editor at Australia’s financial newspaper and was writing freelance articles about runners and triathletes for magazines. While I now run marathons competitively, running for me is so much more than competition. 

It’s a very important part of my life, one that has empowered me, broadened my horizons, has encouraged me to lead a healthy life and has given me so many great friendships and adventures. And that all started with a decision to go for a little jog to clear my mind while studying and to lose a bit of excess weight. I wanted to provide inspiration and encouragement for other women. 

Rather than just talking about me and my journey I wanted to talk to a lot of other women in different age groups and with various motivations about their reasons to run. I began in January 2008 on what became Running Shoes Are a Girl’s Best Friend, an inspiring book about 53 women who run which I finished in November 2009. 

I learnt a lot in the process, especially from a writing exercise I did in April 2009, where I wrote 20,000 words in eight days. After I finished my second book Powered From Within: Stories About Running & Triathlon, a compilation of features I wrote for magazines in Australia and Canada over a time-span of four years, I looked at those 20,000 words again in January 2010. 

I realized that it had the potential to be a good book, so I spent until May 2010 rewriting, revising and adding 33 exercises to it. The result is A Work in Progress: Exercises in Writing. Unlike my previous two books, which contain stories about others as a vehicle to express my desire to encourage people who are interested in running and triathlon, this book is first-hand and personal. 

I believe this was a breakthrough effort for me because it makes the transition from reporting, as I have done professionally since 1996 from three continents, to a more personal form of authorship and providing first-hand advice. Interestingly I have since heard from readers that they also find general life lessons, not just related to authorship, in the book and enjoy it for that reason.  
Margaret Miller, a U.S.-based writer who has taught writing and literature at the college and high school levels, is a big fan of A Work in Progress. We met in August during my book signing at a Penticton bookstore. Margaret bought all three of my books and wrote this review about A Work in Progress on Amazon. 

“This compilation of exercises appealed to me because I'm working on a non-fiction manuscript and have hit a "block." The exercises she recommends are exactly what I need to jumpstart me back into the writing life. Her stories are personal, humorous and relevant to the process. I went back to the store to purchase a copy for my co-author, who is having similar issues getting focused. Highly recommended for all writers and would-be writers from someone who has been where we all are!”
Scott Jones, who is working on a manuscript for his first book, also said A Work in Progress encouraged him to keep working on his writing. This world-class amateur Ironman triathlete and owner of IMJ Coaching wrote in an Amazon review: "In reading Margreet Dietz' book, I came away with three main themes. 

"Exercises laid out like Dietz has done will absolutely help one in putting pen to paper and produce the beginnings of a work that one can expand upon after finishing the exercises. It will also help to start flexing that "writing muscle" on a daily basis. 

"The secondary benefit of this, short, concise and hugely readable prose will be to tap into a very interesting, accomplished and inquisitive person's nature and see what one can do with their writing. Lastly, I walked away with an profound respect for this author's courage to just set aside what many would describe as the dream career, with all its prestige and excitement, to strike out on a completely new life as a writer. 

"I highly recommend this book for both the beginning and struggling writer, as well as any person who is exploring the idea of a radical shift in the way they are currently living their life." 

A Work in Progress: Exercises in Writing by Margreet Dietz is available in paperback ($19.95) and as ebook ($9.99) through Amazon, Apple's iBookstore, Booklocker and from the author.

Preparing for author talk

Tonight I am presenting my third book A Work in Progress: Exercises in Writing to the Squamish Writers Group because one of its members, poet Jude Goodwin, invited me after reading about my book in the Chief newspaper. (Read the article here)

Incidentally Jude and I met on Saturday at the gala of the Whistler Readers & Writers festival, an absolutely superb event with 10 authors, including some very award-winning ones, reading from their latest work.

The night hosted the 2009 Governor General Award winning author for fiction, Kate Pullinger (The Mistress of Nothing), two-time Governor General nominee, Patricia Young (An Autoerotic History of Swings), the 2009 winner of the Writers Trust of Canada Non-Fiction prize and the BC Booksellers’ Choice Award, Brian Brett (Trauma Farm), award winning author, Russell Wangersky (The Glass Harmonica), City of Victoria Butler Book Prize winning author, Terence Young, (The End of the Ice Age), short-story author Jenn Farrell (The Devil You Know), writing couple and former Whistler writers in residence, Merilyn Simonds and Wayne Grady (Breakfast at the Exit CafĂ©: travels through America),  Kathy Page (The Find), and two-time Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize winning author Caroline Adderson. Local writer Stephen Vogler was a great and entertaining MC. (Details courtesy of the festival's website.)

While I enjoyed each reading, the short story by Terence Young was my favourite.

As for tonight, I am very much looking forward to this author talk/reading, my first.

October 16, 2010

Ironwoman, a novel (Part 3)

Read the previous two instalments of Ironwoman, the (first draft of a) novel, as well as an introduction here.

Disclaimer: Although inspired in part by true incidents, the following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event.

“OK then. So this woman beat all the guys, you say. I guess that is something. And this is a big race right? So who is she?”

“Next headline, Ed,” Megan says, interrupting her editor to save time.

Megan reads out three lines that Ed will send as separate sentences all words in capital letters behind an asterix to the Bloomberg wire immediately.
“TARA WIESNER WINS IRONMAN WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS”
“WIESNER BEATS FASTEST MAN BY 5 MINUTES”
“WIESNER FIRST FEMALE TO WIN CHAMPIONSHIP OUTRIGHT”
“OK,” says Ed. “Now gimme the fill.”

Megan thinks for a few seconds to construct the lead sentence with the key piece of news for the fill Ed is waiting for, then says, “Tara Wiesner became the first woman to win the 29th Ironman World Championships in Hawaii outright, beating all her competitors including the men by nearly five minutes and smashing the female course record by 40 minutes.”

“Thanks. I need four graphs within 15 minutes Megan,” Ed says as she hears him type, hopefully the words she gave him as editors tend to have the final say in each story.

An advantage of working for a news wire is that the stories are built like pieces of Lego. It starts with a small block, a headline. As soon as a reporter finds out a piece of news or as soon as a company, government releases a statement or a person speaks, the most important information is condensed in one line sentences that are sent to the Bloomberg newswire, which simply means that clients can see this piece of news on their Bloomberg terminal.

The competition with the other newswires Reuters, Dow Jones and AP is fierce. At press conferences reporters from competing news wires will keep as close an eye on each other as the chief executive because as soon as one journalist them reaches for a cell phone, the others better do too.

Clients of the news wires, mostly Wall Street money men, stand to lose if the other news wires report something first, allowing the clients’ rivals to buy or sell faster. Billions of dollars can be made or lost at the touch of a button.

At Bloomberg, daily scorecards make the rounds on the biggest stories of the previous day. They show how many seconds, or if somebody really screwed up how many minutes, separated the first headline sent by either Bloomberg, Dow Jones or Reuters, and occasionally AP, the first story that appeared and subsequent updates. Updates of stories have more Lego blocks on it than the previous one. Megan already knew of the wrath of the editor in chief when a reporter wasn't up to speed.

As soon as a headline is sent, the reporter and her editor have five minutes to create one paragraph with the most important piece of news. That piece of news also will have references to other places on the Bloomberg where clients can find information related to the topic(s). It will also have a headline, dateline and byline including the names and phone numbers of people responsible for that story, allowing readers to contact the right person in seconds.

While Bloomberg reports mainly on financial news, it has reporters worldwide covering sports the majority of clients like such as soccer and cricket. Megan was an avid triathlete herself especially keen on the long distance events. It wasn't easy doing both. Her job took a minimum of 50 hours a week—with lunch between keystrokes and phone calls, while her triathlon training took at least 25 hours a week.

Triathlon wasn’t a sport any of Bloomberg’s sports reporters paid any attention too. Somehow she’d convinced her boss that this year Bloomberg needed a reporter at the Ironman World Championships in Kona and that she was the right person to do it. All her colleagues were jealous when they found out.

Megan and her boss Kane Donan got along great. She realized how much of a favour he did her by sending her to this event.

But now, she’d have the chance of her life to make a name for herself in the journalism world with this story. Most of the other reporters here at the world championships were working for the triathlon magazines. It would usually take at least another week if not two or longer for the magazines to appear. The reporter for the local newspaper may write a few words, but those would only appear tomorrow.

So any other news wire, newspaper and even TV and radio one who wanted to publish this story themselves may have to use hers and attribute it. That would earn her a “News You Can Use,” a must-have email from one of the managing editors sent to everyone in Bloomberg News worldwide and helpful in arguing for a salary increase come annual review time.

Now she’d better think about the other three paragraphs she needs to give him within a quarter hour. Since Megan, as always, prepared well for this event with story templates with important details such as the course record for men and women, it doesn’t take her long to come up with the next paragraphs. She is reminded yet again of the advantage of solid research in preparation before any news event.

She types on her laptop that thankfully has a battery lasting at least a couple of hours, “Wiesner, a Czech Republic national, broke the tape in 8:15:48, 4 minutes and 11 seconds ahead of the second finisher and the first male, Chris McDougall of Australia. Wiesner smashed the women’s course record of 8:55:28, set by Petra Nova-Francis in 1992.”

Megan checks the numbers on the fastest times set in the Kona Ironman so far. She feels excited and astonished as she writes the next sentence of her four-paragraph lead she needs to file in 7 minutes from now.

“Wiesner has narrowed the gap between the women’s course record and the men’s 8:04:08 set by Luke von Laser in 1996) to 11:40, from 51:28. Before today, the narrowest margin between the male and female world champion in the same year was 30:01 in 1988 when Steve Miller crossed the line in 8:31:00 and Nova-Francis followed in 9:01:01.” 

Now Megan needs one more paragraph, the one called the nut graph—the why-should-anyone-care-about-this graph. She has four minutes left to create one. As much as she thought she had done her due diligence in preparing for this race report, she had simply not anticipated this outcome. Megan takes a deep breath and thinks, What does Wiesner’s victory mean?

Women have been involved in the relatively young sport of triathlon from almost the beginning. In 1978, when the event that is now the Ironman World Championships was held for the first time 15 men started and 12 finished. The following year, one woman Linda Leeman was among the 14 people starting. Not only was she among the 11 that finished, her time of 12:55:38 was the fifth-fastest overall and would have given her third overall in the first edition.

A very impressive result in every possible way, and especially considering the fact that in 1979 it would still be another five years before females were allowed to compete at the marathon distance at the Olympic Games amid concern that endurance sports like distance running would damage women’s health. And it had only been in 1972 that women were first officially allowed to run the Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon race.

Unusually, in triathlon prize money for the women pros is the same as it is for the men. However, even this sport including in Kona the overall male participation rate far outnumbers that of the women.

Megan writes, “Wiesner’s victory in the race that involves swimming 3.8km, cycling 180.1km followed by a 42.2km, or marathon distance, may mark a turning point in the fight for women’s equality in sports and comes barely two decades after women were first allowed to race the marathon at the 1984 Olympic Games.”

Done—at least for now, Megan thinks as she quickly emails her four-paragraph story to Ed.

Megan always worked hard and loved the intensity of working at the news wire. It has given her a chance to live in different parts of the world and travel. A perk of the demanding job was that, like other reporters and Bloomberg employees, she'd stay in the better hotels, fly business class for a flight over eight hours and use a credit card to take out sources. The latter was exactly what she hoped to do now.

She followed Tara as the world champion walked over the recovery area toward the oranges and melons.
"Hi Tara? My name is Megan. I am a reporter with Bloomberg News."
"Hi Megan. Sorry, who are you with?"

To be continued...

October 15, 2010

Splitting up your long runs

The idea of splitting up your long runs is not new. In the five years that I was coached by Australia's Pat Carroll he often had me run between 2 1/2 hours to 3 hours in the morning, with a 30-minute session in the afternoon, in preparation for a marathon.

Having trained as an (Ironman) triathlete in the previous four years, coached by Australia's John Hill, I was used to doing more than one training session a day, though rarely did those involve two runs in one day.

A couple of months ago I read Pam Reed's book The Extra Mile in which she describes that she'd run up to three times a day in between getting kids ready for school, dropping them off there, before picking them up, and her work as the race director for the Tucson Marathon (incidentally, check out that elevation profile!) 

My 100km road race in three weeks from now, the Haney to Harrison, is a little short of the distances Pam tackles but if splitting runs into two or more sessions a day is good enough for such an elite athlete it is good enough for me!

Today I began with an easy run, with my dog Luka, of about 90 - 100 minutes along the trails. After a three-hour break to work, my new inspiring running partner came by with her dog, as planned, and we went out for another solid hour of trail running in the early afternoon.

Initially I had planned to take a break following this hour, before finishing off the day with a 30-minute run in the evening. But, as a I felt good during the run with my friend I decided to tack on this half hour immediately instead. Sometimes it's hard to get out for that evening session, and I was very keen to get at least three hours of running in today.

The final 15 minutes were tiring, partly because they were mostly uphill, and while I am tired enough now, it was mentally and physically a great way to get a solid long run in today. I highly recommend splitting up your long runs though would advise you to do at least half of your intended run time in the morning.

On Wednesday I ran an hour in the morning and planned to do another 90-120 minutes in the late afternoon. However, my body had different ideas as I struggled through a 70-minute session before calling it a day.

October 14, 2010

Pain - it's never OK

The New York Times' On the Run blog has an excellent article titled "When to Push Through the Pain is a Difficult Question." 

I agree that pain can be tough to assess. However, as an experienced marathon runner with a 3:07 PB, I highly recommend you listen to all the signals your body gives you, during and after training.

While soreness in training is common, particularly near the end of long runs and speed sessions, you should feel a lot better after a shower, food and some rest.

Persistent soreness, tightness and - particularly - pain is an indication of trouble.

In that case an extra day of rest, i.e. no running, is a good idea. So is taking a hot bath with Epsom salts, followed by gentle stretching. You can use a tennis ball and a rolling pin to self-massage tight muscles. Simply try - it will be easy to notice which spots you need to work on.

Get a deep tissue massage from a registered provider or any other treatment that helps release tight muscles. (Note: don't get a massage too close to race day.)

While running can be uncomfortable, it should not be painful.

An example of what can happen if a (novice) marathon runner chooses to ignore persistent signs of tiredness and niggles can be found in Chapter 10 of my book Powered From Within: Stories About Running & Triathlon.

Training for a marathon means challenging our body, and often injury and illness are part and parcel of that. However, catch any issues early so that they don't become chronic and stop you from doing what you love for weeks, months or longer. It's better to be safe than sorry, for sure.

Happy training!

October 13, 2010

From Running & Being by Dr. George Sheehan

As I am trying to structure the first draft for a book about running and writing, I looked through the Table of Contents of some of my favourite books to help me define the right one for my book.

And as I reach for Running & Being: The Total Experience by Dr George Sheehan, of course I start reading and cannot stop. This section is from the final chapter titled Seeing:

“… now I begin to get beyond this sight and sound, of observing the road ahead and the water to the side. The running alone occupies me. Fills my awareness. I am a steady flow. I am pure involvement. Total concentration. I am comfortable, calm, relaxed, full of running. I could run like this forever.

"And during all this I narrow my conscience to the immediate moment. I am moving from time measured to time standing still. I am giving up past and future for this now. I am leaving the linear line where my footsteps are a metronome, my pulse and respirations are in harmony,  and every eight minutes I moved my body one mile.

"And for a while I alternate. Briefly, I return to sweat and movement and sun warm between my shoulder blades, the sight of sea and sky. Then once again I am in the now, the eternal present where literally nothing happens. I am suspended, content with the nothing.

"And the peace that comes with it. And that perhaps is the essence of the running experience for me, and any number of different experiences for other people. The lack of anxiety, the complete acceptance, the letting go and the faith that all be well.

"In running, I feel free. I have no other goal, no other reward. The running is its own reason for being. And I run with no threat of failure. In fact, I run with no threat of success. There can be no consequences to make me worry or doubt. I am secure whatever happens. And in that security I reach a wholeness that I find nowhere else.” 

From Running & Being: The Total Experience by Dr. George Sheehan

Write a novel in November - NaNoWriMo





I had heard of the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, event before, and understood the gist of it. I had not thought of participating until reading this post listing five reasons to do so.

Having learned much in the past years from writing my three non-fiction books and a collection of poems, the latter published only two days ago, I realized that trying to write a novel might be exactly what I need.

I have tried before. In recent posts I began publishing the first draft of the initial 13,000 words of a manuscript for a novel that I wrote in 2005, with the working title Ironwoman, though have yet to finish. (Read more here)

As a longtime journalist I am more comfortable with writing non-fiction. Besides, the truth is often stranger than fiction. Most of what I read is non-fiction, in recent years especially, including the book I am enjoying now, Walden; or, Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau.

However, crafting fiction is a mystery I would like to resume exploring after my initial and abandoned effort with Ironwoman. The word Novel alone is beautiful and enticing enough motivation to begin working on one.

My third book A Work in Progress: Exercises in Writing, of which I wrote the first 20,000-word draft in eight days straight, is very much about the process of writing quantity before focusing on quality; I have experienced the value of writing fast, with abandon, in the first draft.

Writing 50,000 words in 30 days means producing less than 2,000 words a day. If you focus on writing, and let go of your internal editor and critic, that could be done in less than an hour, or two at most.

If you've ever considered, even for the shortest fleeting moment, writing a novel ... why don't you join too?

October 12, 2010

Win one of my books at the GOTRIbal conference

Win one of the 10 copies of my books Running Shoes Are a Girl's Best Friend and Powered From Within: Stories About Running & Triathlon this weekend at the GOTRIbal Conference and Retreat in San Diego, CA.

Running Shoes Are a Girl's Best Friend is an inspiring book about 53 women who run. Powered From Within: Stories About Running & Triathlon will motivate any runner and triathlete. More details on both books here

More info on GOTRIbal and the event here


October 11, 2010

Thanksgiving

Whatever the origin of Thanksgiving, I believe that it is good to give thanks, to remind ourselves of all the good fortune we have in our lives currently and that which we have had in the past. While few people are completely satisfied with where they are in their pursuits for this life, be it career, love, friendship, family, and other goals we are striving toward, we all have something to be thankful for.

Appreciation—not once a year but on a daily basis—of what we do have is not only appropriate and helpful for our disposition, it also affirms that we have achieved, by our own standards, and can do so again if we so choose and try. Goals may, in fact will and should, change over time and I think it is beneficial to recognize this fluidity as growth in our being, however we opt to measure this.

Nothing ever remains the same, nor do we, so it is imperative to recognize the greatness of the current moment and situation. Greater things will grow from today, if we open ourselves up to all the possibilities, consciously and subconsciously, and the more we understand and appreciate where we are now, the better we will be able to receive tomorrow.

As I went for a morning run with Luka around the local trails, I thought all of the things I have to be thankful for. There are too many, and some too personal, to mention.

Being healthy and able to enjoy the beautiful Squamish trails with a happy, inquisitive and loyal friend on four feet, while another one on two feet is at home, feeling my lungs expand and contract, inhaling and exhaling the chilly air on a sunny autumn morning, while my eyes gorge on the colours of the Indian Summer are among my good fortune.

As I released my first volume of poetry for publication today, somewhat scared about baring words I didn’t intend to when I wrote them, I think of the C Day-Lewis quote I used to start my collection of poems Sunshine on a wooden floor, “We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand”, and know that that is a primary reason for me to write, but also a fundamental driver to run.

Much of life suddenly makes sense when I am in motion, moving along at a speed of between 10 and 16 kilometres per hour, depending on the terrain and my goals to cover it. Among the many blessings in my life, the discovery of running is one I am truly grateful for. 

Sunshine on a wooden floor, a collection of poems

Sunshine on a wooden floor, a collection of poems, was published today. Most  these 28 poems I wrote between 2004 and 2008.

One poem, titled "Believe", was recently chosen for an anthology of verse Island Mists, to be published by the Poetry Institute of Canada in January 2011.

I began writing poetry in university. I read a few of my early poems in the mid '90s at one of the monthly literary cafes organized by Gheraert Leeu, a literary group of which I was a board member for about a year until I moved from Gouda in the Netherlands to Brussels in Belgium. I had not before or since published any of my poems.

While writing some poetry in the following decade, it took until 2004 when I made a career change that inspired, among other things, a return to this form of writing. Gabriele Rico's Writing the Natural Way deserves credit in this process.

Five months ago, as I reread the many files on my laptop and a slew of notepads I realized how many poems I had, some of which I liked and thought deserving of publication.

Showing them for the first time to my (of course also subjective) partner Timothy Moore, a professional journalist and editor, he agreed and encouraged me to publish. Tim provided valuable feedback and help in editing and organizing the collection of poems that became Sunshine on a wooden floor.

More information, click Sunshine on a wooden floor by Margreet Dietz.

October 09, 2010

Ironwoman, a novel (Part 2)

Read Part 1 of Ironwoman and the inspiration for this yet to be finished novel here.

Disclaimer: Although inspired in part by true incidents, the following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event.

Tara looked up, smiled and looked at all the incredulous faces around her. “It feels good,” she replied. “Real good.” Then everyone started shouting their questions at once. “How were you able to beat all the men? How long have you been in the sport? Who is your coach?”

Tara looked back and forth at all the shouting reporters around her as if waiting for the one question she wanted to respond to the most. She didn’t seem to hear it and then said, “How come none of you want to ask me about whether I am clean? Isn’t that what most of you are wondering?”

Silence. This was an unexpected turn. Tara obviously wanted one of the reporters to say something before she would answer her own question. That was the price. She wanted it said.

Megan again was the first one to find her voice. “Well, sooner or later that question might indeed be asked. I guess that no one wanted to antagonize you before knowing who you are. Or perhaps everybody was waiting for the exclusive interview with you as to get the scoop.”

Tara nodded and seemed satisfied with the response. “I sensed throughout my whole race astonishment from my fellow athletes and spectators. I know that I have done what no one ever thought possible or maybe not possible for a long time. I myself, before today, wasn’t sure whether I could do it, but I knew I had a good shot at it if my body felt right. And it did.”

Tara smiles again. She is pretty, in an athletic way. Her tall lean body shows every muscle is developed. Her dark hair is tied in a pony tail and even after swimming, cycling and running for eight hours she looks fresh. She sits upright in her chair, though she could be forgiven for being less disciplined about sitting in the proper posture right now.

It is probably second nature, Megan thinks. Megan is intrigued by this Czech woman. And not just because she just became the world’s best Ironman triathlete. There is something about her, something in her composure after having accomplished one of the most amazing feats in history. Megan is struck by Tara’s show of confidence.

Tara doesn’t seem at all surprised by what she’s just achieved. And yet, she expects everyone else to be. And she is right about that.

Christian, who finished five minutes behind her as the first guy and his best finish in Kona to date, is making his way to the group. No reporter has to check his race program to figure out who Christian is. He is one of the world’s rare triathletes who have been able to compete at the highest level in both short and long distance. Instead of throwing questions at him, the reporters watch as Christian approaches Tara.

They are unsure of what is about to happen but know it will be something worth reporting. Christian himself doesn’t appear sure of what he is going to do or say. The only thing he seems to know is that he has to talk to the person who beat him. He’d have done that if it had been a man, so he will too now that it is a woman. He stops at Tara’s chair. “Tara?” he starts.

Tara gets up, smiles confidently and offers her hand for Christian to shake. “Hi Christian,” she says. Christian hesitates for a second, eying her from head to toe and then shakes her hand firmly.

“Congratulations, you have done something amazing,” he says. “I don’t mean it is a big deal because you beat me, though that is quite something too, but I mean by going faster than every other person out there. It really is … I don’t know quite what to call it.”

Megan phones her editor at the Bloomberg office in Sydney. “Yhuellow?”

 “Ed, it’s Megan. I have some heads from the Ironman.”
She hears Ed sigh. “Megan, we have been over this before. You are lucky to be there and writing about it, but no heads. Nobody gives a toss about your Ironman.”

“Ed, listen, we need heads. Here’s the first;

*FEMALE BECOMES IRONMAN TRIATHLON WORLD CHAMPION

“Megan, give it a rest. I am busy.”

“Ed, did you hear what I just said? A woman just won the race. Outright. She beat all the men. In a race where a who’s who of Ironman triathletes is racing. A woman beat all the guys. It is like Paula Radcliffe winning the Boston Marathon, and that before anyone had ever heard of her, and beating the likes of Haile Gebrselassie.”

“This is going to be a huge story, whether she is clean or not. It is going to be huge. Do you want to wait until you get a call from New York asking why Dow and Reuters are running stories and we don’t, while we even have a reporter on the ground?”

To be continued...

October 08, 2010

Ironwoman, a novel (Part 1)

Introduction to Ironwoman, a novel: As an author of three non-fiction books and a soon-to-be-published collection of poems, I have written very little fiction, and certainly none that has been published.

But in 2005, after quitting my job as a reporter for Bloomberg News after more than seven years to take time off and compete in three Ironmans in Australia, Germany and New Zealand respectively over a period of 11 months, I felt inspired to try fiction.

What if a woman were to win the Ironman World Championships outright?

The idea was sparked in part by the performances of women ultrarunners Ann Trason and Pam Reed.

I began writing, using both my vivid imagination and my experience with the sport I’d been involved in as an age grouper since 1999. After creating 12,747 words I stopped.

Two years later, I was in Kona to watch my partner Tim compete in his first Ironman World Championships. That was 2007 and I also watched a then unknown win the woman's championships title. She's since become a household name, having three successive wins in Hawaii. This Saturday she's poised to make it four.

At the time of my first fiction attempt with the working title Ironwoman in September and October 2005, the fastest Ironman time by a female was 8:50:53 set by Paula Newby-Fraser in Roth in 1994; this record was not bettered until the Dutch Yvonne van Vlerken did so in July 2008—a whopping 14 years later.

Since then women have sped up though none more so than Chrissie Wellington who has made Ironman even more exciting, as she redefines what’s possible—not just for women but also for men. At Roth in July this year, she improved the fastest Ironman time for women to 8:19.

Now women are within half an hour of the men. The men’s Ironman record is 7:50:27, set by Belgium’s Luc van Lierde in 1997, also in Roth. When I saw a Daily Mail article on the Xtri.com website yesterday, in which Chrissie is quoted as saying that it is only a matter of time before the women beat the men, I thought of what I had written five years ago, revisited it and decided to publish this unfinished draft in short instalments, before fiction becomes reality.

I want to re-emphasize that I wrote this two full years before I, and most people in the sport, had heard about Chrissie. I want to make clear that the character I chose is entirely fictional and has absolutely nothing to do with any specific female triathlete.
     
At the time I simply wanted to explore a story about something that seemed impossible—a woman taking the overall crown in Kona and what impact that would have on the discussion of the sport. My inspiration was the eternal quest for improvement in sport, as in humanity.

I believe that in the young sport of triathlon, Ironman, athletes have so much more potential. And in 2005 I believed that women particularly had a lot more to offer to this sport. I still do.

I wanted to explore how we look at athletic performance, especially that of women. It was only 1972 that women were first allowed to run the Boston Marathon, the world's oldest, and only 1984 until women could compete in the marathon at the Olympic Games.

I also wanted to explore how our perceptions of performances have been cast into doubt by the rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs in any sport. Most of all I wanted to explore how I, as both a writer and an avid endurance athlete, would approach the subject.

If I let her win in the opening scene, would I as the author allow her to be a superb athlete, a hero, or would I turn her into a villain?

Disclaimer: Although inspired in part by true incidents, the following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event. And I repeat, I wrote this draft in 2005.

Ironwoman  (part I)

“She is about to do what no other woman has ever done. And something only a few men have done. This is history in the making. This is … this is … She is breaking the tape now. She has done it.”

Mark Rally, the Ironman World Championships announcer, then falls silent for a moment. He seems unsure of what to say next, something that rarely happens. He must be thinking what most other people at the finish line of the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, are.

How can a woman win this race, this exhausting triathlon in one of the most humid places on earth that takes the fastest as many hours as most people’s work day in the office? Is it possible for a woman to beat the best male endurance triathletes in the world without any help from performance-enhancing drugs? Should they expend energy celebrating this unbelievable win?

It wouldn’t be the first time that a triathlete has been found guilty of drug use to go that extra bit faster. In fact, it happened last year when Norma Klaus crossed the line as first female and was crowned accordingly before a positive drug test showed it wasn't simply hard training that had gotten her there. Norma admitted to using erythropoietin (EPO) and the real winner, Nadia Brehmen, received her title of Ironman World Champion.

It was Nadia's fifth time winning that honour and she did not appreciate missing out on the celebration at the finish line, and the post-race awards the following night. But what was done was done. There was no repeating that particular moment.

Triathletes don’t earn that much. Winning an Ironman race outside of Hawaii gets them no more than US$10,000. It’s hard enough to win one, let alone a second one during a year. The Hawaii Ironman, on the other hand, pays the winner US$100,000 – both male and female. The added prestige helps increase sponsor money too, so for many long distance triathletes Hawaii is the most important race of the season. Winning it is a big deal.

The race has only been held 29 times*. The gap between the winning times of the men and the women has narrowed but it had never before come even close enough for people to imagine one day a woman would take the overall win.

Yet, that is exactly what Tara Wiesner has done today.

Instead of the usual party in an emotional high-energy atmosphere at the finish line, there was the sound of polite clapping filled with disbelief at what spectators had just witnessed. A woman broke the tape first. Before any man.

It had happened in the Life Time Fitness triathlon, where Bianca Lindsay came out the overall winner two years in a row in the three years the pros raced in an equalizer format in which men and women were given a handicap intended to even out their starting time differences.

And Miranda Johnson once beat all the men home at a regular half Ironman event. Without disrespect to the men who raced there or devaluing Miranda’s superb time there, but it wasn’t like she raced against the elite of the elites like Patrick Road and Neil Strong.

Today’s first man was a couple of minutes away. His arrival at the finish helped announcer Mark recover. “Here we have the first man approaching." Mark halted for a minute, because it sounded so bizarre. Then he pulled himself together.

“Christian McDougal, from Australia, has finally overcome the cramping issues he suffered in the previous three years and shown that he can talk the talk, and walk the walk.” 

Christian looked pained. He, too, seemed incredulous as he lifted the tape, knowing that this tape had been lifted less than five minutes before—by a female. He was chicked at the biggest event of the year. That probably wasn’t how he had imagined his Kona victory, which he always had believed would come one day. He seemed a bit angry too, probably at the fact that someone had stolen the spotlight from him in such a major way.

Who was this Tara Wiesner anyway? Could she really have won outright? How could she be so fast? Had the prospect of winning—the prestige and the money—led someone to cheat? Surely she’d know she would be tested. This race was the biggest triathlon deal of the entire season.

Tara sat on a chair behind the finish line. She looked exhausted but very content. Tara didn’t appear shocked as most other people did. It seemed like her incredible victory wasn’t as big of a deal to her as to most others. A few journalists started making their way towards her.

They looked unlike reporters today, shy and unsure of the questions to ask. The usual post-race questions would have very unusual responses, no matter how there were phrased. The reporters waited, hoping someone else would ask the first question. Nobody seemed keen to be that person, another far cry from the usual shouting match with the loudest question asked usually being the first one answered.

Most of the reporters here had never even heard of this pro triathlete before today, and had to guess at the spelling of her name. So Megan decided to take the lead. “Tara, congratulations on your … incredible… performance. How does it feel to win this race outright?”

To be continued...

October 07, 2010

Introduction to Ironwoman, a novel

As an author of three non-fiction books and a soon-to-be-published collection of poems, I have written very little fiction, and certainly none that has been published.

But in 2005, after quitting my job as a reporter for Bloomberg News after more than seven years to take time off and compete in three Ironmans in Australia, Germany and New Zealand respectively over a period of 11 months, I felt inspired to try fiction.

What if a woman were to win the Ironman World Championships outright?

The idea was sparked in part by the performances of women ultrarunners Ann Trason and Pam Reed.

I began writing, using both my vivid imagination and my experience with the sport I’d been involved in as an age grouper since 1999. After creating 12,747 words I stopped.

Two years later, I was in Kona to watch my partner Tim compete in his first Ironman World Championships. That was 2007 and I also watched a then unknown win the woman's championships title. She's since become a household name, having three successive wins in Hawaii. This Saturday she's poised to make it four.

At the time of my first fiction attempt with the working title Ironwoman in September and October 2005, the fastest Ironman time by a female was 8:50:53 set by Paula Newby-Fraser in Roth in 1994; this record was not bettered until the Dutch Yvonne van Vlerken did so in July 2008—a whopping 14 years later.

Since then women have sped up though none more so than Chrissie Wellington who has made Ironman even more exciting, as she redefines what’s possible—not just for women but also for men. At Roth in July this year, she improved the fastest Ironman time for women to 8:19.

Now women are within half an hour of the men. The men’s Ironman record is 7:50:27, set by Belgium’s Luc van Lierde in 1997, also in Roth. When I saw a Daily Mail article on the Xtri.com website yesterday, in which Chrissie is quoted as saying that it is only a matter of time before the women beat the men, I thought of what I had written five years ago, revisited it and decided to publish this unfinished draft in short instalments, before fiction becomes reality.

I want to re-emphasize that I wrote this two full years before I, and most people in the sport, had heard about Chrissie. I want to make clear that the character I chose is entirely fictional and has absolutely nothing to do with any specific female triathlete.
       
At the time I simply wanted to explore a story about something that seemed impossible—a woman taking the overall crown in Kona and what impact that would have on the discussion of the sport. My inspiration was the eternal quest for improvement in sport, as in humanity.

I believe that in the young sport of triathlon, Ironman, athletes have so much more potential. And in 2005 I believed that women particularly had a lot more to offer to this sport. I still do.

I wanted to explore how we look at athletic performance, especially that of women. It was only 1972 that women were first allowed to run the Boston Marathon, the world's oldest, and only 1984 until women could compete in the marathon at the Olympic Games.

I also wanted to explore how our perceptions of performances have been cast into doubt by the rampant use of performance-enhancing drugs in any sport. Most of all I wanted to explore how I, as both a writer and an avid female endurance athlete, would approach the subject.

If I let her win in the opening scene, would I as the author allow her to be a superb athlete, a hero, or would I turn her into a villain?

Disclaimer: Although inspired in part by true incidents, the following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event. And I repeat, I wrote this draft in 2005—long before I had heard of a woman who I believe has the possibility to turn my fiction into non-fiction.

October 06, 2010

Getting in the ultra groove

Another gorgeous autumn morning in Squamish, so it wasn't hard to head out the door for an easy 85-minute run with my dog Luka. We took a fire trail that runs from Valleycliffe to Quest University, which has very little traffic.

My legs felt good and I very much enjoyed the run - as did Luka - and I am starting to get very excited about the 100km race I am registered to run on November 6.

Often a challenge can seem overwhelming if we allow it be, consciously or subconsciously. By committing to putting our best foot forward, by breaking the big task up into smaller chunks, and by keeping an open and positive mind we can feel very different about approaching it.

I think that in the past four weeks I allowed myself to be intimidated by the prospect of running 100km on the road. As of yesterday, I am refocusing on the fact that I will cover that 100km in 20-minute chunks at a time while enjoying the journey. It's a fun adventure of my choice, and I feel fortunate to be able to make that choice.

I have reminded myself of all the training and racing I have done, both in the past 14 years and especially in the past five years as a runner focused on marathons, and of the 80km trail race I did less than two months ago, which was tough but not anywhere near as hard as I had imagined it to be beforehand.

Besides I walked 100km in 2005. I am sure I can do it again, hopefully running mostly this time.

When it comes to racing ultras, it is very important to remind yourself of the cliches such as:

It's about the journey, not the destination
One step at a time
It's all in your head - so make it positive and optimistic
Focus on the effort, not the outcome

With the beautiful autumn weather, I might try to do a second 85-minute run this afternoon. My body feels good and that would bring my running time today to 2hrs and 50min, similar to the run I did yesterday in one go. Breaking up long runs in two sessions is much easier on your body, and mind, while you still get the training benefit.

I have more experience with doing a 2 1/2 to 3 hour run in the morning, followed by a 30-minute effort in the afternoon which I always enjoy, than with splitting a long session in two. For today the latter seems the right option and I am sure Luka will be game for another run.

October 05, 2010

Ultra training

With 4 1/2 weeks to go until the 100km Haney to Harrison, I decided it was time for a long run on the road today. Since I signed up a month ago I have not done as much training as I would have liked to, particularly when it comes to long runs.

The longest one I have done has been 2hr 20, and I feel that is a little short when preparing for a 100km. I am not sure why I haven't made myself run that extra 40 minutes, even if it was in second run later in the day. Mentally I just seem to have had a reason not to. Oh well, that's the way it is.

This morning, I ran from my house in Valleycliffe along the Sea to Sky highway to Brohm Lake, and back. While plenty of cars, it wasn't too busy and I simply need to get time on the road, instead of the soft trails, since that is the surface I will contend with in the Haney to Harrison.

I had planned to bring my iPod but found that to be out of juice as I headed out the door. So I simply brought my bottle of water, three caf gels and began running. It was a beautiful fall morning, and in the end I didn't miss the music.

Like I plan to do on race day, I took 30-second walk breaks every 20 minutes, a routine that I enjoyed. The first 45-minutes of my run were mostly flat, and then it was uphill in varying degrees of steepness until Brohm Lake, a beautiful freshwater lake very popular with local swimmers in summer.

With my walk breaks every 20 minutes and the knowledge that I would turn around at 90 minutes. it was mentally easy to commit to this long run. As is often the case, once you start something that you have postponed because it is challenging, it isn't anywhere near as tough as you'd made it out to be.

I also enjoyed the fact that on the way out I was mostly running uphill for the second quarter of the route, because of course that meant a swift downhill in the third quarter. And then it was a short stretch home.

Perhaps it was the fact that I was very rested after running only 2 1/2 hours last week over four sessions, or perhaps the walk breaks helped preserve my energy. Most likely it was a combination of both that allowed me to run strong including in the final 30 minutes. According to Gmap pedometer, I ran 32km in 2hr 45.

While I felt good, I don't want to think about the fact that I will have to run another 68km after that on race day as that feels way too intimidating. But it feels exciting too. I have walked 100km before, in a little under 24 hours, but I have never run 100km so I cannot wait to try that experience.

Tomorrow I will aim to do another long-ish run of 2 hours. And this weekend Tim, who will crew for me, and I plan to drive the route so we know where to go on November 6.

October 03, 2010

Trailrunning shoe reviews for IMPACT Magazine

For the fourth time I reviewed running shoes for IMPACT Magazine, a great privilege. Even more so since both pairs that I got to test were superb and I used one pair to run the 50-mile STORMY trail race in August.

Read the trailrunning shoe reviews, 16 in total, here.

Oregon public library acquires my books


The Driftwood Public Library in Lincoln City, Oregon, has agreed to acquire Running Shoes Are a Girl's Best Friend and A Work in Progress: Exercises in Writing for its collections. With that, my books will soon be in public library collections in five countries. 

Driftwood has a great collection of books on writing and I am thrilled to see my book added to that, as well as knowing that my book on female runners will soon inspire local women to begin or keep running those beautiful wild beaches that are a treat for humans and dogs alike.

Article about my book A Work in Progress

Dawn Green (Special to The Chief)

Every writer hears the term “writer’s block” and shudders. It seems every person who loves to write will sooner or later find themselves at a point of intense frustration where the words they are searching for simply dry up.

Enter local author Margreet Dietz and her book A Work in Progress. Her new publication is designed to cleverly take readers on the writing journey and to inspire them to move forward on their own projects.

Read more: Local author helps writers find their groove | Arts & Entertainment | Squamish Chief, Squamish, BC