Habit #1 – Be Proactive

Hi Everyone – and Happy Wednesday to you!

I dragged myself out of bed to spin class yesterday morning, but I’ll confess that I kind of slacked off in class and kept my resistance pretty low. I’ve been battling off a sore throat/impending cold this week, and I’m trying my best to stay healthy for Kingston!

Speaking of staying healthy, I’ve got some good news on the shoulder front. I went to my chiropractor on Monday afternoon and he diagnosed my shoulder woes in about 30 seconds (not uncommon for him, the man is seriously a genius). He told me that my “top rib” had come out of place and was causing some problems, but that he would put it right back in place.

He explained to me that my top rib (the one right by my neck) had gotten a little lost, and had come out of alignment with the rest of my rib cage. The unfortunate victim of the misplaced bone was my right rotator cuff, which was getting pinched between the top rib and another bone.


Ouch 😦 sorry rotator cuff 😦

I also went and saw my massage therapist yesterday (seriously, sometimes I feel like a professional athlete with a team of therapists dedicated just to me and my silly over-use injuries :P) and she also helped me out A LOT. I would say my shoulder is about 90% back to normal today and I’m hoping for a full recovery by the end of this week.

So since I’m kind of a loser in terms of training lately, and feeling kind of iffy in terms of overall health, I thought today I would do a more cerebral post and start with the first post in my Seven Habits of Highly Effective People series.

I won’t get too deep or go too “Buddha” on you, I promise.


A quick reminder before I launch into this stuff that all of the Seven Habits principles and philosophies are licensed trademarks of the Franklin Covey Institute – I’m not the genius that came up with all of this stuff, nor should I get any of the credit for it…cool?? 🙂

Habit #1 – “Be Proactive”

 Something that the Franklin Covey Institute has done that I really like is to add a tagline to the end of each habit that really defines what the habit is all about in 3 words or less. The tagline for Habit #1 is:

The Habit of Choice

I don’t know what you think about when you hear the word “proactive”, but I used to picture things like:

  • Organized binders
  • To-do lists
  • Suits
  • Agendas/Outlook calendars
  • People with glasses (I have no idea why)


Before we go a step further, let me clarify something important. Habit #1 has nothing to do with being organized, nor does it have anything to do with planning ahead.

“Being proactive” in the world of the Seven Habits is all about choosing your attitude, focusing on the things that you can control and letting go of the things that you can’t.

Hmm…now where have I heard this advice before…:)

We were taught that the human brain has two major response initiators; one at the back of the brain, just above the base of the spinal cord, and one at the forefront of the brain.

The one at the back of the brain is responsible for our “emotional brain” responses. This is the one to blame when you take your frustration from your day out on the first poor unwilling soul that cuts you off on the highway.

I can turn into a cold-hearted, mean, mean person on the highway. I can’t even count the number of people that I’ve wished death on while driving on the QEW.

The emotional brain is controlled by feelings, moods and circumstances. It is impulsive, and acts immediately on a stimulus, leaving no time for analysis or choice.

“Reactive” people respond to situations almost entirely out of their emotional brain. Do you have anyone in your life who responds to situations with a flurry of emotion? Someone whose face turns red and who’s voice elevates when something is frustrating them?

I am an incredibly “reactive” person. When something happens to me, good, bad or indifferent, my natural instinct is to respond straight out of my emotional brain. If something good happens, I’ll exclaim with joy. If something sad happens, I’ll likely cry, no matter what the situation is or who is around. If something frustrating or unfair happens, then get the hell out of the way because I’ll probably take your head off if you get too close.

Can we still be friends? 😦

After I took the Seven Habits course, I realized how wrong this approach is. I’m now working on shifting my responses to be more PROACTIVE.

Proactive people respond out of their “pre-frontal cortex”, or the part of the brain that sits at the front of the skull.

The pre-frontal cortex has a wonderful ability to create space between a stimulus and a response. Imagine somebody cuts you off on the highway. The emotional brain responds immediately with a shout, maybe slamming your hands on the wheel, maybe swearing at the person. The pre-frontal cortex takes in the stimulus, and grants you a moment of choice.

How do I want to respond to this stimulus?

If the person is a raging jerk on a cell phone, then the chosen response may indeed be to scream at him to go pound sand (or something less PG). But maybe if you take a second look, you might realize that the driver is a young person, maybe their first time out on the highway alone, and they are gripping the wheel, eyes wide, trying their best not to mess up or make anybody mad.

Whatever the situation is, the pre-frontal cortex gives you that freedom to CHOOSE your response, not to be sewn into an immediate response that blurts out of you from the emotional brain.

The second part of Habit #1 is about focusing your efforts on the things that you can control, and emotionally “letting go” of the things that you can’t.

They break up this section into two circles: The Circle of Influence, and the Circle of Concern.

Your Circle of Concern may be massive, and includes anything that crosses your plate in a given day that has the ability to impact you in any way. Things like taxes, the construction on your street, deadlines at work, your kid’s soccer practice…you name it.

Your Circle of Influence is much smaller. It represents only the things that YOU can actually control, or do something about.

For example: you may be super stressed about impending budget cuts in your department at work. There have been rumours flying that they need to cut 10 people from your department, and you can’t shake the feeling that you may be one of them.

The budget cuts and the ultimate decision fall in your Circle of Concern. You have no impact on whether or not your department budget is going to get cut, nor can you really change their mind if they decide that you are one of the ones to go.

Your Circle of Influence however includes things like: showing up on time to work every day, putting in your best effort, and making the effort to prove your importance and your ability to your boss every day.

Can’t you see how focusing on the items in that Circle of Influence would take away from the stress of focusing on the items in the Circle of Concern?

This post is getting long (sorry, I tend to ramble about this stuff because I’m way into it), but that about sums up Habit #1 – The Habit of Choice.

I invite you to observe yourself for the next couple of days, and try to pinpoint when your responses are coming from your emotional brain, vs. when they are coming from your rational brain. When are you getting swallowed up by things that are in your Circle of Concern, instead of your Circle of Influence?

I found this habit incredibly revealing for me personally – I hope that you find the same!

Take care everyone!


Toronto Triathlon Race Recap – Part 2

The first thing I felt was a searing burning sensation in the bottom of my feet. This sensation spread instantly up to my hands and my face, the only areas not protected by my wetsuit.

The water was absolutely FRIGID, ice cold, and I’m not talking about “squeal when you jump in the pool because it’s a bit chilly” cold. I’m still scratching my head over how on earth it’s possible for that water to have been so frigid when it’s been so ungodly hot in Toronto for the last 2 weeks straight….

When I came up to the surface, I took a huge gasping breath. The water was so cold that it had literally taken my breath away! I immediately started to panic. There was no way that I could swim in this water. The thought of even putting my face back under the water was so horrific that I couldn’t even imagine doing it even one more time. I turned to the girl beside me and started rambling about how totally freaked out I was and how cold it was. The total stranger reassured me that it would warm up when we got going.

What would I do without the advice of total strangers eh?

Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait too long and the airhorn went within about 15 seconds to send us on our way.

For my first three strokes, I kept my head above water and then I finally took the plunge and stuck it back under. I realized within about 30 seconds that the girl had been right, and that the cold wasn’t so awful when you got moving. I stayed towards the back of the pack and started to truck along.

I started off swimming 3 strokes to 1 breath (the optimal stroke, I know), but I found that my breathing was getting a little bit panicky and shallow, so I made the conscious decision to switch back to 2 strokes to 1 breath (so non-optimal, but whatever). My breathing calmed down a lot, and I felt much more comfortable, so I decided to stick with this for the rest of the swim and just be very careful to lift my head to make sure that my lopsided breathing wasn’t steering my off course like it did in the Milton Triathlon.

I knew that I was towards the back of the pack, but I felt really good in the swim. My strokes were consistent and although I kind of wondered when we would be done a couple of times, I was never really “uncomfortable” while I was in the water.

Well, there was the breath that I took when I turned my head to the side and caught a huge piece of slimy, green algae right in my mouth….that was somewhat uncomfortable. I’m sure my children will all have mutations now that I’ve swam in (and ingested half of) Lake Ontario. Shudder.

I got to the stairs and was very grateful for a hand out of the water from a poor, poor soul who was standing up to her waist in the water to help us get up the steps. She must have been frozen like a Popsicle from the waist down, the poor girl wasn’t even wearing a wetsuit.
I got out of the water and felt like I had been drinking tequila for about 8 hours straight. I’ve been finding that when I get out of the water after swimming any distance I’m really dizzy and a bit disoriented, so this was nothing new, but there are some pretty funny pictures of me with my hands out trying to “steady” myself as I’m tip toeing across the concrete towards the transition zone.

Sara swim

Sara Mariane swim

Matt and my friend Mariane (who was signed up to do the Sprint distance race later that morning) were standing right there about one foot away from me when I came out of the water (you can actually see Mariane in the picture above, she’s the one clapping her hands in the gray sweater!).

While I was changing for the bike, Matt was yelling out to me from the side of the fence that I had only been 38 minutes in the water. I was so thrilled to hear that, especially after having been so nervous about getting swept for not making the 70 minute cut-off! Some quick mental math told me that I had doubled the distance I swam in Milton in much less than double the time, so my pace had improved quite significantly as well! I was thrilled, and it put me in a good mind frame to set off on the bike.

The Toronto Triathlon Festival (somehow, someway) managed to get approval to close the Gardiner Expressway going East bound for the morning of the race so that we could actually bike on the highway! It was really cool to go down the on ramp and see the whole Gardiner full of bikers.

The course was 20km out and 20km back. The first 20 kind of sucked because we were battling a brutal head wind, and a very, very slight uphill grade (my definition of “hill” has totally changed ever since the first day I biked on the Muskoka course, but maybe some people would have called the first half of this course “uphill”). I struggled a bit on the way out, it was my first experience battling a headwind, and it sucked. But if your mind works the same way that mine does, and you’re realizing that we had a head wind and an uphill grade on the way OUT……and the course is an out and back course….

The exact instant that I hit the turnaround point on the Don Valley Parkway, I knew that all of my troubles were over. As soon as I turned Jilly around, I may as well have just put my feet up on her handlebars and relaxed all the way home. I was trying to make up some time, so I definitely didn’t relax on the way back, but man was that last 20 ever fun. I wish that all biking was like that. Sigh.

I came off the bike just as the Junior Elite category was coming out of the water for the Sprint distance triathlon. I got off Jilly and was walking her down the hill towards the transition zone when this pack of spandex clad triathletes came FLYING up the hill towards the start of their bike course on the other side pushing their bikes, elbows flying, screaming at the top of their lungs at each other to “GET OUT OF THE WAY”. I let out a little yelp and kind of dove out of the way to the far side to get out of their way. Holy mother, these guys were intense!
Matt had his head down texting my mom about my progress, and didn’t even see me until I was standing square in front of him and all but tapped him on the shoulder. He followed me back down the hill to the fence by the transition zone, letting me know as I went that one of the elite triathletes had been disqualified minutes earlier for swearing at an official who tried to give him a penalty for having his helmet undone. Who knew triathlons were such an explosive sport?!

Sara bike finish

I had a quick bathroom break before I started out on the run, and I felt terrific as I started out. I remembered back to Milton when I started running, my legs had felt like lead, like they weren’t even connected to my body really. It took my at least half if not more of my run to even get my head around the fact that I was starting to run. Toronto was completely and totally different. My legs didn’t feel heavy, they felt strong. I had a really good feeling as I started out.

Sara transition

Sara run start

My run was far from perfect, but I felt really, really good about it. I hardly walked at all (just a little bit through water stations), and the thing that I’m most proud of is that I kept my head together the entire time. When I would start to think too far ahead (“Oh my god…I still have 7km to go….”), I would keep it together by focusing only on getting to the next water station, or only to the next big tree ahead, just around that corner. I think it’s that mentality that I’ll need in Muskoka, because the thought of getting off the bike after 94km of those hills and starting to run a half marathon is enough to….well….yea let’s just not think about that right now.

I finished the Toronto Triathlon with a smile on my face, in an all-out sprint, just like I set out to do. I was probably one of the last people finishing the Olympic distance race, but I’m really, truly okay with that. It was a really good day for me, no matter where I finished in the pack.

Sara finish

Neil had a FANTASTIC day, and absolutely crushed his goal of completing the race in under 3 hours (I think his final time was 2:43)!

Neil bike

Neil run 2

I once again just wanted to point out that none of this would have been possible without Matt and Jess, our unfailing support crew. It takes a special breed of human being to wake up at 4:30am, stand outside in pretty chilly air for 7 hours straight all for the purpose of holding other people’s heavy bags, taking pictures and cheering at the top of your lungs for all of about 10 seconds. I truly count myself one of the luckiest triathletes out on that course to have such fantastic support on the sidelines!

Since the Toronto race last weekend, the past week has been “Release Week” at the gym, meaning that I’ve taught 13 classes in the past 7 days, and now we are already gearing up for the Kingston triathlon this Sunday. This will be my last triathlon before Muskoka, so it’s a big one both mentally and physically.

Unfortunately, I’ve not managed to escape the abuse I’ve been heaping on my body completely. My right shoulder has been really acting up on me the past 4 or 5 days, and has now reached the point where I can’t really raise it over my head without pretty bad burning pain. I’ve got an appointment with my chiropractor this afternoon, and I’m trying as much as possible to lay off the upper body work this week leading up to Kingston.

On the bright side….I finally found a use for that big bag of frozen kale that’s been sitting in my fridge for months….it sat on my shoulder for about an hour last night!! 😉

Frozen Kale

Have a great week everyone – thanks for your patience (and persistence) with this long post!!

Toronto Triathlon Festival – Race Recap

Happy Tuesday Friends!

Hope your week is off to a great start! For me it’s “Release Week” at the gym this week, so I’m up to my eyeballs in choreography and classes. I’ve got three (yes, three) classes tomorrow, one of each of my programs, and I’m just hoping that my body holds up!

By the time I’m 30 I’m going to have the joints of a 150 year old, but whatever, that’s 30 year old Sara’s problem.

So off the topic of 150 year old joints, do I ever have lots to dive into today! It was the Toronto Triathlon Festival this past weekend and both Neil and I did the Olympic distance race on Sunday morning. There’s sooooooo much to tell you, I don’t even know where to start!

I taught my BodyAttack class on Saturday morning and then Neil, Jess and I headed downtown to pick up our race packages and attend a mandatory athlete briefing before the race. Matt had plans of his own (i.e. running 35 kilometres) so he got left behind. Sorry Matt 😦

Traffic was actually great getting downtown, until we actually tried to get off the highway and into the downtown core. What a freaking train wreck. I don’t know who the urban planners are in Toronto, but someone is screwing up HUGE down there. They’ve got buildings sprouting up literally hanging over top of highways, closing 4 of 5 lanes of traffic for construction (that isn’t even taking place by the way), pedestrians running rampant like an over-populated ant hill….it’s just a disaster. A total and complete, freaking disaster.

End rant. Begin meditative breathing exercises.


We had plenty of time to make our briefing at 3pm, but it took us about 40 minutes to get off the highway and into the downtown core, and it was at that point that we discovered that every parking lot in a 40km radius was full. With the clock ticking cheerfully by, and the prospect of having to wait an extra hour to get the next briefing at 4pm, we ended up ditching my car in a totally illegal parking spot, SPRINTING down the sidewalk to the Westin Harbour Castle, and then running a full lap of the building because we were on the wrong side to get inside.

By the time we burst through the doors of the conference centre, we were soaked in sweat, breathing hard, and it was 3:10pm. We had missed the damn briefing.

Thankfully we ran right into a very kind man who handed us some bottles of sample water from the race sponsors (thanks Porter!), told us to relax and that they would do their best to get us in for another briefing at 3:30pm. In the meantime, we got our race numbers, went and got body-marked and took a quick tour of the expo. We noticed that there was a tent where Simon Whitfield had been earlier, but he wasn’t there when we walked by.

We headed in for our briefing at 3:30pm and that was when I started getting EXTREMELY nervous. The swim cut-off time was 70 minutes for the 1.5km swim, and for some reason I was seriously freaking out that I wasn’t going to make it. My swim time in Milton was 23 minutes for 750 metres, so assuming everything went according to plan, I really shouldn’t have had a problem, but you just never know when it comes to this stuff. You just never know.

My heart was racing by the time we walked out of the briefing. We got our race packages, and made our way back through the expo out to find Jess. As we were making our way out of the expo however, fate dealt us a kind card, and we noticed that Simon Whitfield was back in his tent area and taking pictures with people that passed by!

I’ve met Simon once before at the Can Fit Pro conference last year. He was the keynote speaker and told some hilarious stories about standing in the starting corrals for the swim and trying to joke around with the reigning world champion standing next to him (he didn’t take kindly to it ;)). I really enjoyed his speech, and really admire Simon for his ability to stay humble even with all of his massive accomplishments. He really does seem like a regular, happy go lucky kind of guy.

Simon & I at Can Fit Pro 2012
Simon & I at Can Fit Pro 2012

Neil and I both got pictures with him, and chatted with him for a few minutes before heading back out to meet Jess and get the heck out of Toronto. We certainly didn’t shed any tears on our way out, let me tell you. The kind of ironic twist of fate was that if it weren’t for the horrific traffic, we would have been in and out of the expo without ever meeting Simon! Guess what they say is true, everything happens for a reason 😉

Sara and Simon

Neil and Simon

We gobbled as much pasta and carbs as we could possibly handle on Saturday night, and went to bed early for the 4:30am start time.

Seriously. Who starts a race at 6:50am. Who.

I was soooo super nervous in the morning when we got up. One big win from this race was that I’ve determined what my “perfect breakfast” is before a big race. Betcha won’t guess what it is???? 😉


I’ve struggled all year with what to eat when races are early in the morning, and I don’t want to eat anything that may upset my stomach. For half marathons, I’ve only been eating a protein bar before I start out, but I found in Milton that a protein bar just wasn’t enough to get me through the whole race, and I was so hungry that I was feeling light headed by the end of the race. (Remember that cold cut sub I told you about that I devoured after the Milton Tri?? That’s probably why it tasted so epic…..;)).

I got the idea for pancakes because Matt made up a big batch of pancakes on Saturday morning, and I had some before I went to teach BodyAttack. I had a ROCKIN’ class and felt amazing teaching, and so thought I would give them a whirl before the big race.

So Matt got up at 4:30am and started cooking pancakes for me.

And the award for boyfriend of the year goes to……

Anyways, we FINALLY hit the road, made it into Toronto no problem, parked about 200 metres away from the transition and made our way in to start setting up the bikes. Guess those pesky tourists don’t feel the need to explore the city at 5:15am??? 😉

We milled around for a while, before finally getting into our wet suits and making our way down to the swim corrals. I was so beyond freaking out; you could probably see my heart beating through the wet suit. I made some friends in the corrals and started chatting with two girls beside me who were also very nervous about the race. We chatted until it was our turn to make our way out onto the dock and jump into the water.


Simon Whitfield gearing up for the swim!
Simon Whitfield gearing up for the swim!

Sara Dock

I hesitated for a split second and then took the plunge and jumped in feet first. Here goes nothing………………………………..

To be continued……………………(sorry)……;)

It’s Not You, It’s Me…

Have you ever been broken up with and gotten the line “it’s not you, it’s me”?

 it's not you

Usually I think that line is totally ridiculous, but in this case it really honestly is true. It’s not you guys, it’s me, and I’m really sorry for the total laggard effort I’ve been putting in here on Going The Distance.

It’s been such a crazy month, some of the highest of highs, and the absolute lowest of lows. My brother’s cancer treatment has not been going well, and his prognosis has been deteriorating by the day. We are now looking at entering a clinical trial, which brings some new and refreshing hope to us, but also an incredible amount of risk and fear. Over the past month, there have been some days, some moments where I’ll just sit for minutes and stare into space and wonder how we are ever going to get out of this mess. If we are ever going to get out of this mess at all.

I’ve found some peace more recently by recalling some advice that was given to me by a perfect stranger when I was on a four hour flight from Toronto to Edmonton to visit Matt about 2 and a half years ago. I’m an incredibly anxious flier (read: complete lunatic on board an airplane), and had dissolved in gulping sobs when we hit a particularly bad patch of turbulence. I was absolutely convinced that it was the end, and we were going to die.

I was holding onto the man’s arm next to me (even though I had never met the guy in my life – I have no shame, I told you) and gulping to him “Are we going to die? Are we going to die?” over and over again. The man, who was dressed in a very nice suit I might add, turned to me and said, “Maybe. But there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.” His answer shocked me so much that I actually stopped my wailing to process what he said. Nobody had EVER responded to me like that before (and if you can gather, it wasn’t the first time that I had ever asked the question of a perfect stranger).

He repeated his answer again. “We might die, I guess. But unless you know how to fly an Air Canada jet, or have some power over wind patterns, there’s not a damn thing you can do about it so you may as well relax.”

I’ve realized in the past week or so, that my friend from that flight was right, and he’s right again in this situation. There’s not a damn thing I can do about anything that’s going on right now. It might end in total catastrophe, it really might. But there’s not a thing I can do to change that. So I may as well relax. The thought has brought me a little bit of peace, for what it’s worth.

Training-wise, it’s been an interesting month that’s for sure! There have been so many great moments that I wish that I had been in the mind-frame to share with you and laugh with you about.

Like the bird that landed on my head while we were waiting at the start line of the Wolfe Island 10K race. Or when Neil toppled right over on his bike in the parking lot before starting off to do a 90km bike on the Muskoka course.

I’ll summarize the past month by saying that it’s been a month of incredible learning, and incredible growth. I did two long swims in the lake with my full sleeved wet-suit and felt fantastic (although admittedly a little more tired than I was hoping to!). Matt, Neil and I did the Wolfe Island 10K run (Matt won the race!). I’ve been going to spin classes, and even went out and did a training ride outside with Matt before heading out to Muskoka last weekend Neil and Jess. I struggled a hell of a lot on the Muskoka course, but managed to get a 73km bike in on the Saturday and a 10km run in on the Sunday. Am I where I need to be less than 2 months out from the Half IronMan? Probably not, but I’ll take it.

We’ve got the Toronto Triathlon coming up this Sunday. It’s an Olympic distance race, and will be the longest swim that I’ve done to date. I’m a bit nervous because the field should be really intense for this race. I’m expecting to see lots of “V” bodied type athletes, and am anticipating being the fattest person there easily by about 25 pounds, but I’ve decided that doesn’t matter.

Even if I’m the very last straggler coming in all by myself, I’m still going to hold my head up high because god damnit, it’s hard to swim and then bike and THEN run. Let alone to do it all fast.

I’ll leave you with some pictures from the past month. It really has been a great month, and despite the rocky road that lies ahead, I’m still looking forward to the rest of the summer as well. August promises to be fast and furious and I can’t wait to share the road with you!

Sara Wolfe Island

Sara Neil Jess - post bike

Sara Matt Neil Wolfe Island

 Sara and Neil - prebike