A Local Take on Iron Man: Christine Cogger digs deep
My favourite local blogger proudly proclaims that she’s not a writer at all. But Christine Cogger, a coffee-drinking, multi-tasking, super athletic mom who lives in this incredible part of the world… just happens to hilariously capture what that entails in a way that keeps me coming back for more. (Makes her a great writer in my books.) Plus, she makes parenthood look fun/ny.
Oh yeah, did I mention that she’s an Iron Man?
After living in the same town as her for a decade, but knowing her better through her blog, tweets and instagrams, and with the first Iron Man about to hit the streets of Pemberton, I asked her to submit to the Choose Pemberton probe.
She graciously agreed.
First, I want to cover a bit of professional background. Tell me a bit about your chops as an athlete… and as an events professional.
I didn’t grow up with the traditional sporty career background that a lot of triathletes have. I didn’t run or swim as a youth but I did mountain bike race in my late teens/early twenties. I had had a long stint as a three day event rider (equestrian) but when it came time to go to university I gave it up. I sold my pony and bought a mountain bike… under duress from my boyfriend at the time.
When I moved to Whistler I gradually gave up mountain bike racing and took the long way around to becoming a triathlete.
In terms of event work experiences, I’ve sort of fallen into it happenstance. I worked in events at Whistler Blackcomb for a few years then went on to work at my husband’s business for almost 9 years. When the Olympics came to town, I was lucky enough to work in sport production which has led to a few other gigs since then and I really enjoy it.
What would you say are the highlight events that you’ve competed in,
My favourite events have been Ironman Canada and the New York Marathon, which I ran 4 months pregnant. I wasn’t about to give up that spot!
and that you’ve helped organise?
In 2011, I worked in Doha for the Pan-Arab Games. While perhaps it wasn’t the most glamorous event, working in a middle-eastern culture was an eye-opener and taught me a lot about myself.
Are you the only person in Pemberton who’s done an Iron Man? (As far as you know?) Or is there an entire contingent of hardcores out there, that I am happily oblivious to, as I snack on my little bowl of chocolate chips at my desk..?
mmm… chocolate. Oh sorry, did you ask me something?
I’m not the only one! Nancy Johnston and Paul Vacirca and Paul Nicholas have raced the last few years. There is a core group of triathletes in Whistler who have formed a great little training group.
What made you sign on for Iron Man in the first place? An anniversary birthday? Dare? Moment of madness? Lifelong dream?
Funny, I remember exactly where I was when I decided I wanted to do my first ironman: in my pantry. Weird. Anyhow, I’d never done anything like it but, as they say, I saw it on TV and thought “I want to do that”… before I’m 30!… How about now?! So I threw down the cash and was on my way.
I had never done a triathlon and was completely clueless.
What does it mean to have accomplished it?
I’m pretty proud to have done it, I won’t lie. That being said, in the grand scheme of things, it’s just another race. You aren’t out there saving lives or curing cancer. You’re swimming, biking and running for a bloody long time, that’s all.
Why would you do it more than once?
When I did my first one, I really had no idea what I was doing or getting myself into. I was pleased with my race but was also bitten by the bug. Although I moaned to my husband “this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done” in tears at kilometer 30 on the run, a few days after finishing – and regaining the ability to walk – I began to plot my return. My smarter, better planned, more experienced return.
What was the hardest part about doing the Iron Man races you did?
Training properly while avoiding injury and mental meltdowns. During the race it’s staying focused. And not lying down to nap.
What was the best part?
Crossing that finish line.
If you could give a piece of advice to the people who have signed up this year, what would you tell them?
Don’t underestimate the bike course and make sure you’ve tested your nutrition plan.
Are you signed up?
I haven’t signed up. With 3 kids under 6, I’m not ready to commit to another ironman just yet…
What would it take for you to sign up for the Whistler Iron Man? (Is it just a question of being done with rehab?) Is it more appealing to do one locally? Or less? (ie is going away somewhere exotic part of the appeal?)
Rehab is moving a lot slower than I’d hoped, but that’s not what is holding me back from signing up. This year I’ll be on the other side of the fence, so to speak, working with the Ironman brand to deliver part of the event – thereby merging two things I love, triathlon and event management!
But beyond that, I want to see how the event will play out in its first year, how our communities will handle the influx of triathletes, how the athletes will handle the course. Add to that the fact that I don’t feel like I have enough time to commit to a full ironman, it’s going to be a few years before I’ll be on that start line again. I don’t want to do it “just to do it”. Knowing myself, I’ll want to do it and beat my previous time.
That being said, there’s definitely an attraction both ways: hometown races make you feel awesome (truly) but far away races present a sense of adventure and anonymity, which I quite enjoy when racing.
What do you think of Pemberton as a place to live and train, as an ultra/endurance type athlete?
Other than the lack of places to swim, I love it. We may be a bit limited in the road rides what we can do, but the ones we do have present variety and you can always hop on a mountain bike for even more options. I absolutely LOVE running in Pemberton, specifically on the trails. We’ve been known to get in longer road runs by getting dropped off at the end of the Meadows road and running back to town. In January.
What would you rate as the top 5 best events for athletes in the Sea to Sky corridor?
- Whistler Half Marathon: a super event; challenging but achievable course, great entrants packet, great community support. [Read her latest post, here.]
- Test of Metal: a classic. Especially when it’s raining.
- Nimby 50: I’ve yet to be brave enough to sign up, but by all accounts it’s terrific. And who doesn’t love a race that ends at North Arm Farm? [Christine did this interview before Nimby50, which she competed in this year. Her blog account of it is here…]
- Rubble Creek Classic: gorgeous course, small field, an old-school cotton t-shirt in the registration kit.
- Gran Fondo: I’ve done this twice and probably won’t do it again for a few more years, but what a treat to ride that road without too much vehicle traffic. I’ve met some interesting characters on that ride!
We are lucky to have so many terrific, grass roots events to be able to participate in that it’s hard to choose just 5. You could fill up your calendar in a heartbeat just with local events. Add to that the fact that there’s no way you could explore/run/ride every trail in just one season, the possibilities for activities are endless.
Last summer, I didn’t want to race for a variety of reasons, so my girlfriends and I committed to running the local trails that we’ve always said we’d do but never got around to, thereby creating our own series, “chicks in the sticks”. The only caveats to joining us were that you didn’t need to be a chick but you needed to be able to hold up your end of the conversation. Some ladies catch up over coffee, we did it on the trails.
In your experience, do you think this region is particularly inspiring/motivating a place to live and train?
Without a doubt. There aren’t many places in the world where your neighbour is a pro-[insert sport here] or a retired (or current!) Olympian. Add to that the fact that my mission for years has been to try to keep up to people like Greg Sandkhul (who races in the 60-65, or is it 65-70 age category) – he beat me by 8 minutes in my last ironman, I think. How can you not be inspired?
There’s some concern, especially from Meadows residents about all those riders hitting the Meadows Road. Are our local roads profoundly unshareable?
This summer will be an interesting test: how many out-of-town cyclists will come and ride our roads in packs? Do we need better signage? Unfortunately, there are still a great deal of cyclists in this corridor who don’t respect the rules of the road and this makes me angry, because it gives all cyclists a bad name. That being said, how hard is it to share a road like the Meadows? I’ve been buzzed (including once with my chariot) many times on that road by angry drivers despite the fact that I was on the white line. Where are you going when you are heading out towards the Hurley that you need to be doing 120 km/h? I’d be more concerned about the road out to D’arcy – those tight, blind corners are an accident waiting to happen, unfortunately.
Tell me a bit about this Defeat the Duffey bike ride you organise. When is that? How long a tradition is it? What’s the story?
I cannot take the credit for this! Paul Nicholas is the creative genius behind this one. We’ve all ridden it a bunch in training and the smack talk between all of us was always entertaining. We never get that many people to pony up but it’s fun anyway – riders have to leave all electronic and timing devices behind and guess their ride time. The rider closest to his/her time wins. I think Paul actually came within seconds of his guess time our first year. Winner gets a basket of Pemberton goodies, participants must make a donation to the food bank and we follow up the ride with a family-friendly BBQ.
Iron Man length events strike me as incredible lonely – how do you keep your head together for such distances? What are the tricks? E-books? Playlists? Running buddies?
It can be lonely, but for me, the race goes by surprisingly fast. Listening devices are not allowed during the race, so it’s you and your own head. I do a lot of race-math (which is inevitably full of mistakes and the longer the race is, the worse my math gets: “if I get to mile X by time Y I should be at mile Z by time – ooh! A pigeon! Wait, what? Where was I? I’m thirsty.) I try to talk to people during the run portion (no one seems that chatty on the bike) but I usually string together some good chats on the run – usually about gross things like bathroom breaks and how salty my face feels.
In training I’ll listen to a lot of CBC podcasts (nerd-alert) and some playlists of music I am now incredibly sick of.
Would you share some of your training tips, regimes, or loops? (Or are they hard-won and top secret?) Do you just train on the course? Or find other ways/loops/legs to keep it interesting/mix it up?
I very, very rarely train on the course. I’ll do one weekend of course training (where I will pre-ride the whole bike and either bike the whole run or run portions of it), but in this case I usually prefer the unknown – otherwise I get bored. But everyone is so different. Some people prefer to know every crack in the road whereas I prefer a bit of an element of surprise. That being said, I try to never go in un-prepared for what I’m up against (first Ironman notwithstanding).
Because of where we live, it’s difficult to do a lot of the training outdoors in the off-season, so I try to train indoors with groups to keep my motivation up.
I don’t have any training secrets, really. I think it’s just critical to find out what works for you and go with it.
How many miles do you need to log on your bike/in your swimsuit/in your shoes, in a training season, to prep for an Iron Man?
I’m more of a quality vs. quantity and take a “less is more” approach. I found out the hard way (injury) that my body couldn’t handle the 20+ hour weekly training loads. I was able to be feel well prepared on 14-15 quality hours of training each week, on a 4 week cycle (meaning I’d build up to 14-15 hours in the first 3 weeks then drop down to about 8 for my rest week then repeat the cycle). This works for me, but not for all. It’s worth it to find a coach who understands your needs (goals, life style, other time commitments) and work together to create something that will work for you.