Air Riderz Trampoline and Climbing (featuring Shark Boy)

I had first heard of Air Riderz from birthday parties that Shark Boy had attended.  I thought the combination of trampoline park and climbing gym was interesting, especially since they had exercise classes (“AirRobix”) for adults – I thought I might try sampling one and doing a write-up here.

Instead, I found myself taking Shark Boy there.  You see, this past weekend my wife took the Lightning Kid to a live Paw Patrol show on the Saturday and a birthday party on the Sunday, so I had my eldest all to myself.  Between Air Riderz and another climbing gym we had visited once, he chose Air Riderz.

I bought us a 2 hour pass (time slots start at the half-hour, and we got there 10 past noon, so I guess we had a little less than that since neither of us had the patience to wait for 12:30).  Unfortunately you need to be wearing official Air Riderz socks to use the facility – this wouldn’t have been so bad, as we have at least 2 kid sized pairs at home from the aforementioned birthday parties, but we didn’t bring them.  So now I have a pair of my own, that I think will also come in handy for yoga in cooler environments like my basement – the soles have little grips.

 

Our pass included both the trampoline zones and the climbing area; you can only put on your climbing harness once, so you’ll want to get your fill all in one shot.  For that reason, I encouraged Shark Boy to enjoy the trampoline zone first.

I’ll be honest, it made me feel old.  Not many adults were jumping, so I  checked multiple times that adults were allowed to partake in the fun too.  There was also the fact that I noticed every bounce in my bones, at least till I got warmed up, so I’d recommend starting slow and not throwing yourself into it till you get more of a feel for it.  I had envisioned myself pulling flips or bouncing from my back, but I just didn’t have the nerve for it.

 

The main area has a grid of small trampolines that are great for individual use, as well as longer strips that are more suitable for running (or flips).  Some of the walls are trampoline-like so that you can throw yourself against them.

There are 3 basketball hoops (of varying non-regulation height), but we only got to try the highest one, and I couldn’t get high enough to dunk; it’s actually pretty difficult to make the shot from the highest point in my jump – even though the distance was short, being in mid-air made aiming difficult.

There is also a foam pit with segregated lanes (with trampolines of course) – you pull your best flip and are guaranteed a soft landing.  I should mention that all these areas have lifeguard-like supervisors to enforce safety rules.  The last area of the jump zone are the dodgeball courts.  One was being used for a toddler area, but the other had games going.  I had half a mind to enter myself into a game and be an avenging ‘big kid equalizer’, but I thought better of it.  I did notice signs for an adult league that I hope to investigate in the future.

After a while, Shark Boy wanted to try his hand at climbing.  There are several walls and one tower that is limited to climbers under 100 lbs.  He did fairly well, and you could see how some walls were easier than others based on his performance, but having tried some of them myself, I can tell you it’s not as easy as it looks.  I think more serious climbers will miss having access to chalk or better footwear, but it was still fun to give it a try.

I had a lot of fun climbing the towers in the photo above.  You’re anchored to 2 safety lines to reduce the amount of swing when you dismount (or fall).  Since I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of good images/video of myself, I decided to let Shark Boy record my climb.  I think he did a fairly good job of it, for his age.  Have a look – you might be able to tell when I made the mistake of looking down.

Once we got tired of climbing, we took off and returned our harnesses, we rounded out the rest of our allotted time in the jump zone.  I wondered if I would be sore the next day, and if I’d be OK to complete some speed work I had planned (according to my TriDot training plan) for the late afternoon.  I can tell you now that yes I was sore in my legs, but I don’t know whether the speed work (which went fine) or Air Riderz was to blame.  According to a little research I did, trampoline (or rebounder) work is good for the core, as well as all lower body muscles (the upper body does get addressed somewhat to as you flail your arms for balance) – sounds great as running cross-training, especially as the impact is much lower than running, skipping rope and other high-impact activities.  There are also circulatory and internal organ benefits.

Between these benefits, and my curiosity about the Airobix classes and dodgeball, it’s probably not my last visit to Air Riderz.

Have you tried rebounding or climbing? What do you think about it as cross-training?

Welcome Back – Revenge of the Iron Rogue

Hi Everyone!

If you’re here as a previous reader of this blog, you’ll have noticed my new digs on WordPress and the new look of the place.  If this is your first visit, welcome!

2016 was a rough year for me and my family – I don’t want to go into gory details, but there was job loss, terminal illness, death, hospital visits, emergency home renovation… you know what, I’m getting bummed out just listing them all, even vaguely and generically.  The point is, both blogging and the kind of adventures that I love to write about took a back seat all year long, in spite of my efforts to “dig myself out of a hole.”

There were a few positives in 2016 and while they really deserve their own individual posts, I’m going to start 2017 with looking forward, but I’ll just list a few honourable mentions…

 

We took a trip to Jamaica….

The kids did the C3 /Kinetico Caledon  Kids of Steel Triathlon,

with Shark Boy also competing in the East End Kids of Steel (the Lightning Kid was sick that day).

While the 5 Peaks Terra Cotta Trail Race got its own post, you guys never got to hear about the 5 Peaks Rattlesnake Point Race…

which we used as an opportunity to take our first family camping trip.

 

We managed to make a shorter, later version of our annual trip to Germany.

We capped off the year by spending New Year’s at the cottage, which is the first time we did that as a family.  We tried some downhill skiing, some cross-country skiing, and lots of snow-frolicking.

 

What does 2017 hold for this space? Lots of the same outdoor, active family living, with a focus on multi-sport/triathlon.  Some things in our life have changed; the kids are older and pursue their own extra-curricular activity with less parental involvement (except driving them to and from the venue), and I’m less fit than when I was writing this blog regularly, so some of the fitness subjects will be more on the rehabilitative side (though I’m not going to turn this into a weight loss blog).  I will probably incorporate more mental health and productivity content, and I’d really like to step up the amount of gear and technology review.  Also, this might not be the final look of the blog, but I have to shout out and thank Janice from Salads4Lunch for getting me this far!

I’m already looking forward to my next post, recapping the Snowshoe Fondue event at Hardwood Hills!

Race Recap: 5 Peaks Trail Run – Terra Cotta

Well, race season has started!  It looks like this is not going to be a season of great personal accomplishments in endurance or fitness, but I’m happy to report we’re keeping active as a family.  Our inaugural race for the warmer months was the 5 Peaks Trail Run at Terra Cotta.

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Shark Boy was participating in his first timed event.  He’s quite fixated on numbers and quantifying things; it’s always a big deal who’s older, who’s bigger, etc.  I’m a little apprehensive about introducing him to more competitive events – he seems to be the fastest kid in his own schoolyard races, but I don’t want him to get upset if he’s not the biggest fish in a bigger pond, if you follow my meaning.
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Luckily, 5 Peaks seemed to have no problem with parents running alongside their kids at this event; I guess there was plenty of space on the trail.  Though plenty of kids took off in front of us, I tried to get him to reign in his pace and save the best for later on.  I’m really glad he listened, because he got to trade in his disappointment at being in the back of the pack for the thrill of passing others on the uphill climbs, who had already blown up.  He did give me a good scare when he tripped and landed practically on his face, but he got up again and kept running without any tears, so no blood, no foul, I guess.  He ran the entire 3 km and ended up in 20th place overall.

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The Lightning Kid did the 1 km ‘fun run’ with his mother. He’s picked up some speed from last year, and I think the concept of racing is starting to sink in, but he still does take his time to smell the roses on the course. I think he just loves all the attention he gets.
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I participated in the Sport course race. Since the race was some time ago, I don’t really recall too many details, but Terra Cotta isn’t the hilliest course in the series, but it is still very pretty. I came in 22nd in my age group, which I was happy enough with, considering I wasn’t really training prior to the race. 

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I mostly wrote this recap to entice readers to come join us next time at Rattlesnake Point. You can use the discount code of MARK (courtesy of my friend Mark Sawh) or JESSICA (courtesy of lacesandlattes) for $5 off each registration. The 1 km fun run for kids is free. Hope to see you there on June 25th!

Barrelman Triathlon Recap – Part 1: Pre-Race

I’ve read triathlon race recaps that have to be broken up into several parts; I used to complain (to myself) that they were too long, but I think I get it now.  A lot goes into these longer races, and my experience at the Barrelman Triathlon fits the bill.  I learned a lot, felt a lot, suffered a lot, smiled a lot.  So, while I’m not sure how to break up the actual race experience, I’m going to devote this post to everything leading up to my swim start.


On the Saturday, we took the Kids to Ashbridges Bay for the Beaches Kids of Steel Duathlon.  I wanted to devote my energy to getting the Lightning Kid through his first race, and it turned out we had registered Shark Boy for the age 6-7 category, which meant no parents on the race course.  Luckily, he’s always been able to roll with changing circumstances, and he’s done enough of these to feel confident.


Taking the Lightning Kid through his race acted as a nice little shake-out run for me, and he did a fantastic job.  He ran the first leg (50m) hard enough to get a little gassed, and I helped him with his helmet and bike.  He walked the bike (which he didn’t get to practice much before hand) out of transition to the mount line, and then we took off.  There were occasional stops to look at dogs, and I’m actually proud he chose to dismount for the one part where a decline was too steep – discretion is the better part of valour, after all.  Not that he lacks guts; he managed to get his glider bike up the biggest incline on the course (600m) and rode quickly back into transition.  The way to get him to keep up the pace was simply to say “FAST!”…. I must have said it 100 times in the race.  We headed out for the final run (100m) and before I knew it he was crossing the finish line to collect his medal, and his high-fives of course.


Shark Boy had to tackle new distances this year.  I already mentioned how well he dealt with having his expectations subverted – this was a big deal, since he hasn’t turned 6 yet, and was expecting to win or place in a race where everyone was younger or smaller.  In the 6-7 age category, he’s a small fish in the big pond again.  He handled all the distances (longer than he’s experienced before 250m run, 1.0km bike, 100m run) no problem, and I explained that running with the big dogs and not coming first was worth more than coming in first in a contest that is easy.  He seemed to get it.


After a celebratory round on a trampoline they had there, we headed home and I got to packing.  I had intended to dash off right after the kids’ race, but with the mandatory athlete briefings at 2:30 and 5:00, I could opt for the second one and linger a bit.  I figured I’d be leaving my wife with both of them for the rest of the night, so whatever I could do to lessen the load before leaving was a good move.  The Lightning Kid was tired, so I helped get him down for a nap, and apparently the plan was to go see a movie, Shaun the Sheep, which would be the Lightning Kid’s first trip to the movie theatre.  I left the house at 2:00PM for the drive to Welland, and got a text message that while they were all playing in the back yard, Shark Boy had locked his mother out of the house in a fit of pique.  Guess he’s the one who should have had a nap – not a good sign for peace on the home front.

The drive to Welland was peppered with rain showers and some downpours, but the forecast for Sunday/Race Day was good, so I didn’t get too worried; I just didn’t like my bike getting wet on my car roof.  The swim and T1 were located at the Welland International Flatwater Centre which is used for open water races such as Dragon Boating, Kayak, and Rowing.  I got my race kit/swag, different gear bags and timing chips.  The rain kept me from experiencing the exhibitors at the expo, and some were packing up for the day anyway.  I did get a chance to talk to Jessica from LifeSport Coaching about getting our kids involved in multi-sport; getting them on bikes seems to be a common difficulty.
The Welland International Flatwater Centre in the rain


I was on Periscope a fair bit that day, and I’ve compiled all the scopes I did on Saturday into one video:

As you can see, I got my race kit, scoped out the swim venue as best I could, spied on bikes and drove to Niagara Falls. During the race briefing, they mentioned several spots on the road where large trucks carrying the blades for wind turbines had damaged the roads. I knew those wind turbines would be an interesting sight on the ride, and it certainly was windy in the general area.

From Welland, I made my way to the Chippawa area of Niagara Falls, where I stayed in a cheap motel steps away from Kingsbridge Park where the T2 transition area was to be. I described the motel as a “great place for a drug deal to go bad”, it reeked of cigarette smoke, had borderline no hot water, and various other failings, but it had free wifi, the owner was a nice enough fellow, and it was one of the better deals for accommodation in the local area.

I organized my gear into the various bags (black was to keep my wet-suit and anything else I would drop in T1 – Welland to be transported to the race finish, red had anything I’d need in T2 for the run, and a clear bag for anything I’d need after the race was done like clean, dry clothes), then tried to go to sleep.

I got a late night text message. The Lightning Kid was having difficulty breathing; throughout the cold and flu season this seems to happen. He wakes up wheezing, and difficulty breathing is pretty serious. When we take him to the hospital emergency room, sometimes it’s not really anything, but at least once he’s had pneumonia. This time ended up being one of the worse ones – my wife stayed up with him from 10 PM to 3 AM before taking him to the hospital – he would be put on an oxygen mask and given oral steroids for the better part of Sunday morning. Plan A had been for my mother to take care of the kids so my wife could take a bus to Niagara Falls and cheer me on for the run portion, and we’d take Sunday night as a romantic getaway. Instead, my mother went to the hospital to assist my wife, Shark Boy went to his grandfather’s house for Sunday, and I would race alone.


Of course, a big part of me was questioning what kind of man I was, not being at the side of my wife and family, and instead gallivanting about in some vain attempt to prove something… to who? For what? Did I think I was some kind of hero or something? Then I’d argue that I’d come this far (including a fair distance from the hospital and home), and I should try to enjoy the day. So my mindset went from giving my all to simply trying to auto-pilot my way through the race and soaking in some of the experience while fighting the temptation to throw in the towel and go home to take care of business on the home front.


I drove to the parking lot of the Rapidsview Park (getting a little lost on the way), with plenty of time to spare. I’m guessing I caught one of the first shuttle buses. Though I joked to the crowd:”Anyone feel like doing a little swimming, biking and running today?” my mood was dark and I mostly kept to myself on the bus ride back to Welland.

I verified my fear that I hadn’t packed my timing chip into any of my gear bags, it was still back in my car. This is the kind of little mistake that is no big deal when you arrive with time to spare, but the end of the world when you’re running late. Fortunately, I fell into the former camp and joked with the volunteers about being in a special little club with other who had done the same.

I set up my transition area, including mounting my phone on my bike, but not before I took my last selfie before the swim.


I headed down to the water and waded in to get a few practice strokes in. The water was surpisingly warm, and the swim was less about a warm-up than just checking that the wet-suit was on comfortably. I met my friend Peter, and helped him with his Garmin. The elite and first two swim waves went off starting at 9:00 and every 5 minutes after that. You could start on either side of this floating divider, and though they encouraged faster swimmers to go on the far side of it, the far side was more crowded so I ended up floating on the side closer to shore as I waited for the horn to go off.

I had a long day ahead of me.

To be continued!

You can still donate to my RODS Racing Page to aid in the adoption of an orphan with Down syndrome.

Looking Ahead to Barrelman, Looking Back on the Training Season

This is the final week of “training” before the Barrelman Triathlon.  I put training in quotation marks, because between lower back pain, a head cold (that descended to my chest on Sunday), and some of the rainiest weather I’ve seen in at least a month, I haven’t been hitting a lot of workouts.  I thank my lucky stars that I’m tapering, and the workouts don’t count as much (or at least that’s how I’m consoling myself).  


The good news is that I’ve gotten chiropractic treatment for my back and it’s been improving slowly yet steadily, and I’ve got until next Sunday to shake this cold.  Doctor Wife’s prescription is to be in bed by 10:00PM (N.B. my wife is not a doctor, but I still think it’s a good prescription).

I’m feeling ambivalent about the last few weeks of training that I’ve been through.  On the one hand, I’ve hit new records for distance in every sport (all time distance for open water swim and bike, and 2 year records for running, pool swim record probably occurred earlier in the season), I’m faster and stronger than I’ve probably ever been, and I’m thankful that I’ve been able to undertake the journey at all.  Still, I feel controlled by the program: Monday=Strength, Tuesday=Swim+Run and so on.  I was watching a Periscope a few weeks ago where the host was distinguishing between exercise and training.  If I understood her correctly, training has a finite goal, and is structured to serve that purpose, whereas exercise is more about general maintenance, health and fun.  I commented that I missed exercise and was sick of training, but I don’t think I really made myself clear. I just want to take an exercise class for fun sometimes, without questioning which of the 3 masters (Swim, Bike, Run) I’m serving.
This needs updating with a bunch of other new ideas…

I’m already wondering what I’m going to do with myself when it’s done; which feels like a mistake, because I haven’t finished the race yet. Still, stay with me for a bit while I ruminate. Most of all, I want to re-devote my time to my family; while I think I did ‘Walk The Line’ the way I said I would on my Vision Board, how can I ever really give enough? Big ticket items include volunteering with Shark Boy’s Beaver Scout Colony and helping the Lightning Kid with speech and occupational Therapy work.


The race weekend is going to be a hectic one. On Friday, I turn 42, so this race is kind of my birthday present to myself, and the sacrifices my family has made are the only presents I really wanted. Saturday will see us put both boys in the Family Fun Fit Beaches Kids of Steel Duathlon. This will be Shark Boy‘s fourth year, but the Lightning Kid’s first. He’s been really improving on a glider bike, and participated in a bike camp during the summer to get better on a pedal bike with training wheels. The trick will be keeping him focused on forward motion rather than waving at fans. He also does fall off sometimes, and even steers into his father’s legs (trying to cause a DNS no doubt). From the race, I’m going to Welland to set up my T1 and bike, pick up my race kit and get informed and oriented, then I head to a cheap motel in Niagara Falls on my own. My wife will be in Niagara Falls on Sunday to cheer me on (for the run leg) and then we’ll have our romantic getaway night… sore muscles and all.

Remember, you can still sponsor me and donate to RODS Racing; we’re still short of sending Laura home to a loving family. I’ll be wearing my official kit if you see me there! Wish me luck this weekend!

German Vacation 2015 Recap

I used to break down these trips into multiple parts, thanks to extensive journals I kept, but I think I’d just prefer to do a single round-up and not just because I didn’t keep a journal this time.  I think I’m just going to do a summary by category.


Family Adventures


  • Climb UP! Climbing Forest.

This was one of the cooler adventures we got up to.  For adults, there are various challenges to climb up into the treetops, and of course, some zip lines.  We didn’t do the adult challenges in favour of accompanying the kids.  They each wore safety harnesses with 2 carabiners that got hooked into safety lines that ran alongside each climbing challenge.  The challenges were strung together to form an entire course to traverse.  At the end of one challenge, you’d unhook a carabiner from the completed challenge’s safety line and hook it into the new, then you’d repeat for the second carabiner, so that in principle, you were always tethered.  The kids never got any higher than around 5 feet off the ground, but I guess it’s the principle that’s important.  Shark Boy loved it and managed his own safety harness, and while the Lightning Kid seems to be a born climber, he got a little tired about halfway through the course so I let him bail.


  • Germendorf Zoo/Theme Park

We’ve visited this place annually for at least 3 years now.  When we got in, Shark Boy found a dead snake beneath a statue of an elephant, and by the time we were done, he still considered it a highlight.  This year I had us navigate toward the ‘Dinosaur’ section before we got too close to the carnival rides and playgrounds that always seem to high-jack the kids’ interest in the animals there.  I think I only saw one dinosaur (statue) but we got to see some animals we haven’t seen in prior visits.  For me the highlight was a puma, which is not only one of my favourite animals, but this one actually got up and walked around, which is kind of rare for big cats in captivity (in my experience).  He did seem to take an unhealthy interest in Shark Boy; at least, unhealthy for the boy – his ears pricked up, he stared, licked his chops, you name it.  


We got to see monkeys playing, meerkats, parrots and even pet and feed a deer.


Then it was time for lunch and rides.  We shelled out for them to ride these electrically powered motorcycles (they move fairly slowly), which not only gave us a sweet moment of the two brothers riding together, but we actually got the Lightning Kid to ride his own.  He did a great job of steering until he’d get distracted by what his brother was up to, and then he’d crash – which didn’t hurt him but resulted in tears from the sudden shock.  There was an indoor play area which used to house a ball pit and a few bouncy castles, but they’ve expanded it into a much more extensive play area with all kinds of climbing structures.


I don’t like to make fun of personal appearances, but I have to tell this story.  My wife and I were sitting near the ball pit which was intended (according to the signs) for kids aged 0-5.  There were kids much older in there, and they were throwing the balls out of the pit and generally making a nuisance of themselves.  The supervisor turned up and told them off – and they got off light, because the supervisor was a witch from a storybook, I kid you not.  Hook nose, wild and wiry hair, crazy eyes… all that was missing was a wart.  I know we weren’t all created to have movie star good looks, but maybe using a brush once in a while… on the other hand, maybe it helps with her job.  My wife and I have read a lot of German children’s literature (as children ourselves, we don’t like it too much for our kids) where there is often some kind of boogeyman who comes and gets you when you don’t follow the rules (see here for an example) – so we couldn’t help but laugh to see one of these scenarios brought to life.


  • River Cruise

Another annual mandatory outing.  We had lovely weather, but this year they stopped making a stop near where we were staying, so we had to make a round trip.  The food menu seemed reduced too, but at least it’s getting easier to keep the kids safe while they roam the decks.


  • Bike Ride

We rode our bikes through the local forest into the town of Tegel to find a playground.  This day was particularly hot, so the shade provided by the trees was very welcome.  Shark Boy had been getting over a flu, and I think we overestimated his recovery, because he simply quit well before we could get home, in spite of covering a much bigger distance last year.  Still, taken as a whole, I have to call it a successful outing, and hopefully a precursor to future family bike trips.


Food


There’s a Simpsons episode where Germany is referred to as the land of chocolate, so we had plenty of that.  I honestly don’t quite understand how Germans stay thin (my observations of people make me think that they’re thinner on average, though I found this on Wikipedia – Canadian men are 2 kg lighter than Germans [who are 6 kg lighter than Americans] on average).  They have some good habits like more walking and biking as transportation, not to mention that the evening meal is generally quite light, with lunch being the big hot meal, but still!  The bread is made with white flour, the meat is often red; I have a hard enough time eating fruit at home, but with fresh cold cuts and cheeses bought on a daily basis, they really get pushed to the side.


And then there’s my fetish for ice cream made in the image of pasta… I try to eat Spaghetti Ice Cream as often as I can get my hands on it while I’m in Germany since I can’t get it back home.  The ice cream is pushed through a press to make noodles, the tomato sauce is actually strawberry sauce, and the grated cheese is either grated coconut, or grated white chocolate.  I didn’t get to try any new places this year, but I got enough samples to keep me happy.


My wife and I had two date nights: once at our favourite little Italian place, where they always treat us like royalty and once at Alten Fritz (which has been open, in some capacity or another, since 1410!).  We actually went to this restaurant twice: once with a larger group, and once with just the two of us.  The first time I had a Goulash made with Wild Boar, and the second time a platter with 3 kinds of dumpling; it was really an eye-opener to how fine traditional German cuisine can be.  There’s outdoor seating and even a little forested area with pond that really adds to the ambience.


Training


  • Swim

I used our proximity to the Havel River to my full advantage and I’d packed my wetsuit.  I got in 3 open water swims, and since I’ve been doing a lot more than usual pool training, the difference that the open water makes was a bit of a surprise to me.  I’m not sure of my technique in open water, but I’ve got the rest of the summer to figure it out.  I got 3 different swims in, and one was 1800m, close to a half-iron distance swim.  I think I’ll be putting together a post about swimming in an unfamiliar river.


  • Bike

In addition to the family bike ride mentioned above, I got in 3 rides.  I knew my cycling training would suffer the most for not having access to a road or tri bike, but two of my rides were with the Lightning Kid, including one that had us out for about 3 hours (2 hours of actual riding) – it was great bonding time for us, and he liked seeing the sights and sounds including visiting a pens where boars and deer are kept.  My third ride got cut short by a flat tire.


  • Run

Running is the easiest form of training to accomplish on vacation.  Running with my brother on the day we arrived with jet lag (after an overnight flight) was pretty challenging; I expected to feel tired, but I had this dead feeling in my legs that I wasn’t prepared for.   For the first few days in Berlin we had a lot of cold weather and rain so my first solo run was not enjoyable, but I also had nice runs in sunnier weather, alternating between going along the Havel River (and trying, unsuccessfully, to race one of the Steamboat cruises) and through the forest.



Beer

In addition to the usual suspects I also got to try the original Budweiser.  This Czech lager is nothing like the American brew and I really enjoyed it.  There was also Altenmuenster, which I gave 3.25 stars out of 5 and my wife and I both had a Kronbacher Radler.  If you haven’t heard of a Radler (Moosehead is making one, for example), it’s a little like a shandy or other beer based beverage.   A mix of sparkling lemonade and beer, the story goes that a bar owner was getting cleaned out of stock by thirsty cyclists stopping in, so he found a way to stretch his inventory while still quenching his customers’ thirst – Radler translates to ‘Cyclist’ as it turns out.  So of course we had one while on the family bike ride mentioned above.


That’s a wrap on another German holiday!

Indoor Sky-Diving at iFly (with Shark Boy)

I’m linking up with Lakeshore Runner for Tri-ed It Tuesday.  Wait till you get a load of what Shark Boy and I tried the weekend before last!



OK, this post is going to be off-topic, since it’s got nothing to do with triathlon, or fitness or any of the usual subjects.  I suppose it is related to active family living, as one of the ways we manage to get the whole family involved in physical activities and travel is to treat our life as an ongoing adventure.  Plus, the experience was simply too cool not to use this space to shout about it.



During the winter, we were taking the Lightning Kid to a hearing test at ErinOak Kids.  I spotted a building called iFly and deduced it was dedicated to indoor skydiving; something I had read about when I was a kid, and seen on TV, but never experienced.  The idea is that you’re put in a wind tunnel that simulates the air rushing by you when you’re in free fall.  By assuming a spread-eagle position, you float on the air currents.   All the fun of sky diving without jumping out of a perfectly good airplane – far less risk, somewhat less adrenaline.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, my wife was taking mental notes, and gave me a pass to be used in the future as a Valentine’s Day present.  I waited for my chance (i.e. a break in our weekend schedule) and took Shark Boy, as they take kids as young as 4.

We had booked a 6:00PM slot, so after a rushed dinner at Boston Pizza, where I think Shark Boy was too excited to eat even his favourite foods, we walked into the facility and reported to the front desk.  I was sent to a screen to fill in waivers for the two of us.  They asked the usual health questions you’d expect, as well as asking about a history of shoulder dislocation.  Doing it digitally was nice since it auto-filled a lot of Shark Boy’s information with mine (e.g. address, email, and phone number).

After that, we were weighed for the record and sent upstairs to the viewing area where we could see flights in session.  We were told we’d have about 2 and a half hours of time to spend there which would include some training time.  I worried about Shark Boy’s attention span for any classroom orientation, but watching others tackle their flights was exciting enough to keep him engaged.


We were assigned a group number, and our instructor, Mike G, came to the viewing/waiting area to gather us into a classroom.  He was very laid-back and casual, and told us the classroom training would be an hour and a half.  That was apparently a joke, as it turned out to be about 15 minutes.  He was great and engaging kids and adults alike, and walked us through the basic rundown of what our flights would be.  We had two flights each, although you could book 4 beforehand and one lady in our group had.  The suggested method for her was to make her flights twice as long, and still have two sessions which would give her more time to hone her skills.

Mike explained the basics of the correct body position; the hips should be the lowest point of the body, the hands should be level with the plane of vision and most importantly the chin should be up.  There are hand signals used in the tunnel because between the ear plugs and helmet for protection and the noise of the turbine, you can’t communicate verbally. Some of the signals are for safety, some for guidance (straighten your legs=two straight fingers, bend your legs=two bent fingers), but my favourite was ‘relax’… it’s the old ‘hang loose’ sign from surfer culture (thumb and pinky extended from the fist).

He showed a video to get us oriented with the basics of entry and exiting the tunnel, and it ended with an expert rising to the top of the chamber and diving back down in an array of flips and turns.  One concerned parent asked if it was possible for someone (especially a child) to rise up that high accidentally.  The answer was no, it actually took a high degree of skill to get up that high – you need to build up momentum somehow.  Of course, getting us excited about getting to that skill level is how they get people to come back!

I made sure Shark Boy was paying attention and repeated as much as I could to him to make sure it was sinking in, I also volunteered him to lie on a special chair to simulate the position.  I probably came off as a little intense, but I just wanted to make sure we got the most out of the experience (it’s not cheap!)


We headed out of the classroom, and got suited up.  The jumpsuits have little handles on the back to make sure the instructor (who is in the chamber with you) can control your motion if necessary.  You can’t bring valuables (including cameras or phones) into the wind chamber with you, but they have lockers which are easy to use.  I snapped a few pics before putting everything away.


There’s a control booth with a window into the chamber where an operator can control the wind speed (or shut it down completely) and also a camera recording video (so they can sell you a DVD of the experience, of course).  While we were waiting for our group to get its turn, I checked out a few facts that were printed on a wall.  Apparently the wind tunnel is built with the motors at the top, meaning the air is actually being sucked from the top as opposed to blown from the bottom – though it does feel like the wind is coming from below, and your cheeks and face show it.  There was also a list of other such facilities all over the world – I only counted 26, so figure we’re lucky here in the Greater Toronto Area (this place was built in 2014).

I have to tell you, each individual flight is only a minute long, which seems dreadfully short when you’re spending 2 hours there, but I swear the time flies  (my puns are always intended).  The inner chamber’s floor is simply a net that air can flow through, but enough to cushion your landing should your flight skills not be up to scratch.  You enter the inner chamber through a doorway, and just outside that is a bench where you wait for your turn.  The kids went first, and when they get in, they all flop around like fish out of water.  The instructor is very attentive to every possible movement and keeps the whole situation under control though – that’s for adults as well as children.  I sat on the bench next to Shark Boy, because I wanted to make sure his exit was as smooth as possible.  I needn’t have worried, since it went perfectly.

For my first flight, I was glad to be able to go independently, without Mike holding on to me, though I had a bit of a laugh at how I crashed into the sides.  I even mugged for the camera.

We went through the entire line-up, and when it was the second round, the girl at the front of the line had lost an earplug.  The effort of getting it put back in meant shutting down the turbine for a minute or two, and by the time we had everything going again, she had lost her nerve.  She declined a second flight.  Then the kid behind her (her brother, same age as Shark Boy, I believe) declined too.  I was worried that it would be contagious and Shark Boy would follow suit, but no, he was game.  On the second flight, you’re a little more comfortable and you do a little better.  Shark Boy flew in what we called a ‘helicopter’ with both he and Mike in the air unanchored, spinning around the tunnel, and I got right up to the top of the viewing window, which apparently is as high as a beginner can get.

The session ended with our instructor Mike demonstrating flips and spins with  big rises to the top of the chamber (a good 30 feet up from the floor) and dives to within inches of the floor.

Once the group’s session was over, we got out of our flight suits, and there was an option to save on future flights if we purchased them that day.  It was enticing, but I wasn’t willing to commit.  If we do go back, we’ll spend less time in orientation and the flights will cost less. As part of our package, we got the DVD and I managed to not only rip the video from it, but edit it to show only the exciting parts (i.e. Shark Boy’s flights and mine).


I talked at length with Shark Boy about how glad I was that he didn’t chicken out because this was a really rare experience that not everyone will ever get to enjoy.  I really meant that.

What do you think? Would you give it a try?  What about the real thing (i.e. jumping out of a perfectly good airplane)?

Motivation Monday: Crashing the Sport Chek #SweatForThis Party

Sport Chek invited some of my favourite local bloggers, like Wildly Fit, Robyn Baldwin and Darwinian Fail (as I composed this sentence, I envisioned them as Charlie’s Angels, and I’m like Bosley or something) to participate in their #SweatForThis campaign.  


Krysten (a.k.a. Darwinian Fail) is even on a TV commercial which you can see here.


I love this campaign, because everyone has their reasons to run, swim, bike, lift and generally break a sweat, so I decided to crash the party with my own reasons.  I’ve compiled them into this video, I hope you like it.  

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For some of the stories behind those images, our active family adventures can be found under the tag ‘family‘. I’ll call out some particular highlights like the 5 Peaks Heart Lake Race, our Ski Vacation to Smuggler’s Notch, the 2014 Toronto Yonge Street 10k, and our First Kids of Steel Duatlhon.

What do you think of the video?

Race Recap: 5 Peaks Heart Lake Trail Race

“This race is the longest course in our series, so you guys are all bad-ass for finishing!”  said Erin Dasher (I’m paraphrasing at best) during the awards presentation at the 5 Peaks Heart Lake Trail Run Race and she wasn’t kidding.

When I put the Enduro race at this event on my race calendar, I was expecting a 14 km course.  I didn’t sign up till the last minute, and we found out less than 24 hours before the race it was going to be… 16 km thanks to a detour.  Oh boy.

The pre-race bulletin said to get there early since there would be a line-up to pay the park entrance fee, but we were able to drive straight in.  We were coming in from the parking lot when we ran into our friend Steve, who we last saw at the Lakeside Triathlon.  We also ran into our friend Peter, and were glad to find out I might have some company at the Barrelman Triathlon in September.

We grabbed our respective bibs (this would be Shark Boy’s first timed race) and posed for our obligatory pre-race pose.



The biggest prize in the pre-race swag was either a cool coffee mug that said “I eat mountains for breakfast” or this flexible cup good for insulating hot or cold beverages that is basically unbreakable.  We have too many coffee cups at home, so I took it.





Shark Boy seemed cool with the idea of not only going long (3 km) but running on his own (the rule is for adults to stay off the course during the race, though some alongside running is expected), and I didn’t want to step on that with my own nervousness on his behalf, but I still thought it might be a good idea to scout out the first part of the course with him and show him the orange flags he’d have to follow as well as signs for direction.  The timed kids’ races on the 5 Peaks series vary from 2 to 3 km, so at 3 km, Erin’s quote above applies to the kids too.

Shark Boy attentively listening to pre-race instructions.

Pre-race instructions were given (including a check to see if everyone knew their right from left, which is why he has his hand up in the picture).  I positioned myself at a fence about 25 m from the starting line to cheer him on.  Ready, set, go! He took off with the other kids at a good clip, and it didn’t seem to chaotic as all the racers gave each other safe space.  I took a short-cut path down the shore of Heart Lake to see him go by.

The little guy toward the back is Shark Boy

Then there was nothing left but to go back to the starting line and wait nervously for a while. The Lightning Kid had been eagerly chanting “GO! GO! GO!… FASSSST!” for probably the last 24 hours, and was taking practice runs from the starting line.  Of course, no 5 Peaks race is complete without saying hi to Buffy the Tiger.


When I saw the first of the 3 km racers cross the finish line, I figured I’d head back to the shore and see how Shark Boy was coming along.  I had to wait a bit, but sure enough, I saw him, completely red-faced, huffing and puffing and giving it his all.

He’s nearly spent

I cheered him on, and got him to give what we call in German an Endspurt; that burst of energy and speed you get when you’re nearly finished.  I ran ahead to let my wife know he was closing in for extra photo opportunities, and he finished the race strong – probably one of the youngest racers in the timed race.



In spite of all that effort, Shark Boy wanted to join in on the 1 km ‘Fun Run’ for younger ones that he’d done at the other 5 Peaks races; he said he wanted to help his younger brother. As much as I’m proud of Shark Boy’s grit, determination, athleticism and sense of adventure, his generous heart is his best quality.

I’ve seen these Kids’ Fun Runs vary from 600 to 800 m; today, of course, it was going to be a whole kilometre.  Again, every racer on that day was a bad-ass, even the little Lightning Kid.  I managed to get this great video of him running in the beginning.

He did start to flag after a bit; I’ve found with both boys that they start to lose interest in going as fast as they can without a reward – keeping up the distance running is more of a question of mental focus than physical fitness.  All it took though, was a reminder to “GO! GO! GO!… FASSSST!” and he’d break into a run again.  It definitely helped having Shark Boy there for encouragement.


Photo Credit: Sue Sitki Photography

Toward the end, I had Shark Boy take the same short-cut that I had used in his race to get back to the finish line and warn his mother that we were on final approach.  We crossed the finish line to loud cheers; in fact, they cheered loudly for Shark Boy on his finish too.  It’s always a super-supportive vibe at the 5 Peaks races.


If the splash pad had been open, my wife might have kept the kids at the park while I raced, but we had made a last minute plan that would let Shark Boy attend his dance lesson (for those keeping score at home, that’s a 3 km race, a 1 km race and a dance lesson on those little 5 year-old legs!), and I could pace myself without worrying.  To try to force myself to take it easy in the beginning, I seeded myself in the fourth wave, but I couldn’t help but try to get to the front.


The race starts downhill, and though I knew it was going to be a long run, I couldn’t contain my excitement and went a little fast; the first kilometre was my fastest.  I tried to watch my heart rate the entire race and keep it in Zone 2 (with exceptions for some hills and stuff).  As we went by the shoreline of Heart Lake, I noticed how chummy and chatty my little pack of runners was; we talked about how beautiful (yet hot) the weather was, and when the guy behind me saw me jump a log (rather than go around it) he joked it was “the scenic route”.  I answered that you have to have some fun on these things.


Shark Boy had told me that his race involved a “forest tunnel”, and I chalked it up to his overactive imagination, but they did make a few features with logs and fallen trees that put a ceiling over your head.  The “maze” he also mentioned did prove to be part of his imagination though.  The nice part about an Enduro race is when I see things I want to take pictures of, but I’m not sure whether I want to sacrifice the time to stop, I know I’ll probably be begging for a rest on the second loop, so all I do is take a mental note on the first loop.


The 4 km mark had an aid station in a sunny clearing.  I didn’t need water since I had it in my pack, but I sipped some (what they were calling) Gatorade for the calories, and prepared to be on my way.  I saw a woman dump water on her head, and remembered that was something you could do.  A relief, but not one that lasted.


After being in the shade for another 2 km, the 6 km mark came as we entered another stretch of sun-exposed terrain.  I noticed my legs felt heavy; and promptly tried to un-notice that.  6 km is not long enough to have any real signs of fatigue yet; you are in better shape than that! I told myself.  Despite being bad at meditation or any other kind of more passive mental activity, I did forget about my legs for a while.  On the last kilometre of the first loop, I even picked up some speed for a bit and passed a slower runner.  Before that loop was over, she passed me again while I took a walk break and encouraged me to pick up the pace as it was “almost over”.  I didn’t correct her, but I did laugh about it with another Enduro course runner as we took the right-hand fork away from the finish line and onto the second loop.


“That’s the nice part about the Enduro,” he said, “On the second loop you can run your own race and not have anybody nipping at your heels.”  He’s not wrong, but by the time I had cleared 9 km, I couldn’t help but notice how lonely and quiet things got.  My mind wandered in the worst way, and I lost track of how long my walk breaks got, or what kind of pace I was really keeping.  After neither catching anybody for a while nor being passed, I began to wonder if I was in last place, and all kinds of other negative self-talk.  My entire lower body began to complain, checking in one muscle group at a time: hamstrings, glutes, calves, quads, even hips and lower back.  The complaints went from screams to whines to whimpers as they competed for my attention and drowned each other out.  Also, my hydration pack was empty; the first time that had ever happened, in fact, I used to wonder if I was wasting effort carrying so much on my back.


A few showers came and went which was a nice way to cool off, but they didn’t put any real fuel back in the engine, so the trudging continued.


When I reached the 4 km aid station from before (for a total of 12 km), the volunteer told me that the finish line could be reached just a few hundred meters away if I wanted.  I hope he was just trying to light a fire under me (which he kind of did) because I’d hate to think anyone in my position would take him up on the offer and quit.  I told him I knew, because I could hear the music and P.A. system, but I wasn’t ready to stop yet.   I told myself I could simply watch the kilometers tick off as I went along… 13, 14, 15 and done.  Of course, I also reminded myself that same distance had seemingly taken forever on the second loop already.  Still, I saw my Garmin distance numbers go up (by half-kilometres in intervals that felt like they should be whole integer kilometres) all the same.  I even picked up the pace to real running for the last 2 kilometres, and crossed the finish line to loud cheering (some of that might have been for the awards ceremony which had already started).


I had barely crossed the finish line when I saw my family, returned from the dance lesson and a trip to Tim Horton’s.  With the kids crowding me, I barely got a chance to get any post-race treats.  Not that I minded, I didn’t have that big an appetite somehow, I even turned down a cookie Shark Boy offered me.  I found a shady spot on an embankment near the parking lot and collapse; they had to come find me because I hadn’t even said where I was going – I wasn’t feeling too talkative.  I think everyone suffered in that heat, but Peter managed to come in at 1:43 (to my 1:54) and Steve killed it at 1:36 or so.  I didn’t know then, but my friend Paul had an even worse race.


I tried to look at it as a net positive from a training perspective.  I had put some real strength and staying power into my legs that day, and even more importantly, I got to visit the dark places where I’m sure I’ll be during the Half-Iron race, and learned a little bit about how to get myself out of them.  And before I could wallow in it too much, I got an ambush hug from the Lightning Kid.


Shortly after that, the thunder rolled in, and we had a good laugh at our hurried retreat back to the car.  I secretly suspect the Lightning Kid had something to do with it by living up to his namesake – he even took the time for one of his trademark wild hairstyles!


Though the race was a visit to the pain cave for me, the 5 Peaks events are always a great experience for the whole family, and I’ll always come back.

Race Recap: C3 Kinetico Kids Of Steel Triathlon

The C3 Kinetico Kids of Steel Triathlon took place on Sunday, May 24th, and in a refreshing change from so many endurance events, it didn’t start first thing in the morning, leaving us time to get organized (or even get a couple of hours on the bike trainer before breakfast, in my case).  Thanks to steady stream of emails from Barrie Shepley, we knew exactly when Shark Boy’s race would start, and how much time we should leave ourselves for race kit pick-up and transition set-up.


We pulled into the parking lot of Mayfield Secondary School which is right on the border of Brampton and Caledon and unloaded.  There was a nice volunteer who offered to give us a ride to the race site in his golf cart.  It really wasn’t far, but the kids were thrilled to take a ride, and it made getting the bike there easier, since I didn’t want Shark Boy riding in the parking lot and walking a bike is always tedious.
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We arrived at the main race site to see festivities in full swing.  Shark Boy’s favourite song ‘Paradise’ by Coldplay (also a fave of my wife and I) was playing, and the Bouncy Castle/Wall/Slide drew the boys attention right away.  


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First things first though, we found the transition area and got his bike and helmet in the proper place.  I was already in a swimsuit, anticipating that I’d be getting in the water with Shark Boy.  I let him keep his shoes on for safety, and brought them to transition a few minutes before the race start, and we opted to go sockless for the sake of speed.  I had a last minute dilemma about putting him in the 6-7 age category; he’s 5 now, but triathlon rules (and body marking) goes by what age you’ll be at the end of the calendar year.  I knew he could handle it physically, but I worried a little about putting him in a higher pressure situation, and that race started a whole hour later.  The fact was that we had registered for the 3-5 year-old race, which is non-timed, so that’s where we stayed.


Then, with some time to spare before opening ceremonies and the race start, off we went to the inflatable slide.  Shark Boy knew what to do, and so did the Lightning Kid, except the whole, ‘wait your turn’ thing.  What nobody expected him to do, is climb the thing unassisted! I think he made a few sets of teeth sweat, but he always made it to the top where a volunteer assisted kids in getting over making sure they all stayed safe and didn’t land on one another.

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Either the heat or pre-race nerves started to get to Shark Boy, because he couldn’t wait to get into the pool, and was not happy with waiting for any process or procedure that might keep a race like this organized and free of chaos.  He was even less enthused about sitting through speeches for the opening ceremonies, but luckily, his mood improved once we entered the rec complex – the swim portion took place in an indoor pool.


Each wave had only a few athletes, and it was generally one or two athletes (plus their parent/guardian) per lane, so everything was comfortable.  They had us inch up to an imaginary line where a lifeguard chair was, and wait for the start.  Hilariously, the kids’ nervousness and uncertainty seemed to spread to the parents, as several people started to ask if there would be a signal to start; as if there might not be and we could just go whenever!  That signal came, and off we went.


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Thanks to a waterproof case for my phone, I got a few snaps in the pool as he was swimming.  As far as I could tell, he was the only one swimming without a life preserver (I had to turn down several offers).  I think we were first or second to the end of the pool, and some volunteers helped him out while I hoisted myself onto the deck.


We headed outside, and although I had reminded him of where his bike was in the transition area, he still hesitated and had trouble finding it.  Still, once he did, we got shoes on and helmet (of course) before he picked up his bike and we headed to the mounting area, but not before another wrong turn (this time it was my fault).


I’ve experienced how fast Shark Boy is on the bike so I made sure I sprinted ahead.  I tried to get pictures, but wet fingers don’t work well on touch screens, so I missed out and figured there would be some official race photos (more on that in a bit).  The bike course was very short, once around the parking lot, and the volunteers took our bike at the dismount point.

I later heard from my wife, who was struggling (along with the Lightning Kid) to keep up with the race progression visually, that Shark Boy’s name kept being announced over the speakers, as he busted through each leg of the triathlon; out of the water, out of the pool, out of transition 1, into transition 2, across the finish line.


He really got the idea of going as fast as possible, because he didn’t bother to take off his helmet, much to the amusement of the race announcer.  I asked, and he said he was OK running with it on.   We did a loop around the grass, and through the finish gate.  First place for Shark Boy!


He wasn’t interested in bananas or oranges (he’s a bit of a picky eater), so we came round and found my wife and the Lightning Kid who hadn’t been able to see much after the swim because it went by so fast!


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The finisher’s picture we took makes it look like triathlon is something we force him into against his will, but I promise you he’s all smiles during the race; he just doesn’t like having his picture taken and it didn’t help that the race took place during the lunch hour.


I wish we had more pictures to show, and I acknowledge that this is a nit-pick, but the race photographers seemed to manage to get several shots of almost every kid (especially our nearest neighbours in the race), but none of the one who completed the race without physical aid from his parent, nor a life preserver, nor training wheels.  And again, he came in first place.  I’d feel bad for dwelling on the win, but really, how often do you get first place in life (assuming you aren’t Chrissie Wellington)?  We even noticed a drone taking either aerial photos or video, but I don’t know when or where they’ll be available.  


We celebrated the win with a free toy that Shark Boy picked out of a box (a giant bubble wand), balloons, and hot dogs. The C3 Kinetico Kids of Steel Triathlon is a welcoming, inclusive event, because every one asked if the Lightning Kid was racing this year, or if he would next year (it’ll be soon, with a little improvement on the bike). When we floated the idea of him being the first athlete with Down syndrome in the race next year, we found out there was a girl with Down syndrome doing this year’s race. Like I said, being the first is a rare opportunity in this world!

Thanks to the C3 Triathlon Club, Personal Best and all the sponsors for organizing such  a great event!