Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Meditation, a Black Pearl, and the Art of Open Water Swimming

Open water swims aren't easy for me. They're not awful - don't get me wrong - but getting used to swimming for a long time in Lake Michigan wasn't the easiest thing for me to do either - especially when it's choppy, or sea-weedy, or murky. I suppose that's normal -- who in their right mind would *love* swimming in a muddy washing machine? Like most folks, SJV and I would often opt out of open water swims when the water looked ... less than optimal. But this year SJV and I are in a class that meets every Thursday night -- regardless of the waves, the visibility, or the presence of dead fish. (Usually there aren't waves, which sortof annoys me, as I'd like to have practice with Monster Waves before encountering any at Steelhead. But murkiness and dead fish are pretty much par for the course.)

I've been swimming since I was a wee kiddo, so I was a little surprised when I'd have slight panicky feelings when the water would get super murky, or super choppy. A few weeks ago, we were headed out to the 1/2 mile marker on a relatively calm day, but the water was pretty murky, and all I could see in front of my face was sediment. I also had a feeling that we were pretty deep at that point, so I had this strange sensation of claustrophobia and acrophobia at the same time. The benefit was that I boogied along pretty well -- nice fast split. But I was surprised at my reaction -- I've never truly freaked out during a swim, even when the chop was significant (maybe 2 foot waves? the photos make it look more calm than it was - folks were getting fished out by the coast guard the whole way) and my goggles fogged up so bad during last year's Michigan City triathlon that I couldn't see a thing. (See below.)

Fast forward a few weeks to my Frigid Swim (also known as The Ice Bath) - when I emerged from the lake with frozen heels and frozen toes. A sanity check revealed that I needed a thicker and fuller wetsuit. So, off I went to contact the guys at TriBug (awesome guys) to purchase the DeSoto Black Pearl that I had tried on at the beginning of the season. Within a day or two I was swimming in my fancy new full-sleeved wetsuit, which makes me feel (and look!) faster and ... well ... warmer. :) Now, armed with my baby Black Pearl, I am a bit more buoyant (always a bonus) and I can cut through the water a bit better. Nice.

That extra padding, and a few more practice swims, and I was starting to feel more calm in the water again. But I also started thinking about my swims in a buddhist/meditative sort of way -- focusing my attention on my stroke, and on my form, and on the feeling of the water on my hand (except when my hand grabbed seaweed, when I focused on speeding up to get out of the seaweed). So, this last weekend when SJV and I volunteered for gear watch down at the beach on Saturday morning, I figured I'd get in a nice long swim. After watching the folks from Swim Across America start from the beach, I hopped in the water -- which was pretty choppy (1 foot waves, or so they said) but relatively clear. Right away, I swallowed water and got hit in the face with a wave, which proceeded to go right up my nose and burn like the dickens. Great practice, but never fun. A wave would come along and move me a bit sideways, then a roller would lift me up and bring me back down. It went sortof like this: slap slap (on the face) roll up, roll down, kerwhack (on the other side of the face), slap slap ... (repeat, ad nauseum). Pretty soon, I got into a rhythm -- I started to expect the slaps and kerwhacks, the rolls up and the rolls down, and to work with them. And right when I got comfortable, I'd get a kerwhack rather than a slap, and the rolls would come from the side rather than the front. I'd get caught off-guard, and would sputter a bit.

It got me thinking. You can't predict what an open water swim will be like -- even from the beach, looking out at the wave-height. You can't even predict what the next wave will be like. It might be a slap, which you're expecting. But it also might be a kerwhack, which you aren't really expecting. The only thing that you do know, and that you can count on for certain, is that it won't always be what you expect, and that you can't predict what the waves will do -- but that you can (with your Black Pearl and your practice) finish the swim.

I won't lie and say that my swim time improved dramatically when I let go of my wave-expectations. It was my attitude about the swim that improved and, I suspect, my energy expenditure. Rather than fighting the waves that I wasn't expecting, I was working with each wave as it came. Each on its own, and on its own time.

I could be really cheesy right now and say that life is the same way -- that you can't predict the waves, and the more you fight each wave that comes in, the more energy you expend (unnecessarily) -- and the more tired you are when you reach the beach. And you'll reach the beach, of course. It's just a matter of when you do, and how you do it, and how you feel about the swim.

But I'll refrain from being super cheesy today, and just say that I'm happy that I made friends with the waves this weekend.

Expect the unexpected,

Monday, July 13, 2009

Finally figuring it out. (Hat tip to Jen Harrison!)

I've always been one of those runners that hates to eat before a run.

In fact, I've always looked forward to the post-run munch fest, and the fun that we have on Saturday mornings at The Bagel Place with fellow runners, eating bagels and hummus, and drinking super-hot coffee (particularly on those February mornings when everyone with any sanity is at home curled up under mountains of blankets). I'm ashamed to say that I've "saved" calories for these post-run-food-extravaganzas -- bargaining with myself over a 10 mile run (do this now, eat this later). I've carried that practice over to races, to a large extent -- fueled with the knowledge that I wasn't "racing to win" and was just "doing it for fun." Who needs to eat some gelatinous gooish substance (aptly named Gu) when you're just out to best yourself? Then I started getting a wee bit faster, and wanting to push myself. Really, really push myself. But, frankly, it's hard to hit top speed when there's no gas in the tank. I got pretty good at running on fumes. Still, I protested that the fact that I wasn't Going Fast had nothing to do with the fuel (or lack thereof) and everything to do with Ability or Training or Conditions.

(Keep in mind that I've done a marathon, here, folks. 26 miles, and only as many calories as went into a water-bottle filled with some glukos. I may have eaten a sandwich before. Before my most recent half marathon, I had two slices of bread and drank only water throughout the race. I'm not kidding.)

And, just to add a bit more flair, I've also always been one of those folks who gets a wee bit ... "cranky" ... when her blood sugar gets a little off. (Just ask SJV. Bless him and his patience.) I've honestly chalked my somewhat surly yet animated post-race-disposition to ... well ... the race. And, in case you don't believe that I could be so ... surly (I am a sunny person by nature, I like to think) -- I give you Exhibit A. From mile 24 of The Marathon. Again - look Mom! No calories!

No, I do not look like a happy camper.

And Exhibit B. This is from the Magellan Half Marathon.

Again -- fantastic time (a PR by 20 minutes). But see that expression? Here's a closeup.

See how I am literally almost elbowing that dude on my left? He's in my way (to get water, I think, but there's also food on that table). SJV took that photo to show me how my ... ahem ... attitude ... changes when I haven't had food and have really pushed it. Again -- this is how I look after 13 miles going all out, with only two slices of bread and water to get me through to a PR by 20 minutes.

Now, fast forward to Bigfoot. SJV's coach, Jen Harrison (here's the hat tip!) had suggested race fueling for him, and had explained how important it was. Now, could I really argue with an expert? Not really. So I decided to try to force a powergel down my throat after the swim, and after the bike. Nothing too fancy here -- just two gels through the race.

I had a pretty fast run. (The wind was most impressive that day, so the bike portion was ... not cool.) So I thought that maybe -- on account of the fast run -- on an upcoming Long Bike I would have some more calories. Just to ... you know ... see the difference. If there was one (I was somewhat dubious).

Two weeks ago, on a long ride in Barrington, I tried out EFS, which seemed like it would work because I sweat like a stuck pig (EFS has some good stuff for folks like me that perspire a bit more than others) and has some calories. And it doesn't taste too horrible. Still bad, but not awful. And it seemed to work -- I didn't feel like strangling anyone at the end of the ride (excellent!) and I felt like I could actually have done even more. The run was a bit off, but otherwise I felt great.

Now, fast forward to yesterday. I had a bagel with peanut butter in the morning. And I brought two bottles for my cages on the back of my bike (one scoop of EFS in each) and 40 ounces of water mixed with 2 scoops of EFS in my speedfill. My strategy was to use all of it by the end of the ride (seriously, guys -- I sweat a lot, so I'm not overdoing it). I was also going to force myself to use a powergel once every hour. Like clockwork, I drank down the first 1/2 of the speedfill by the first 20 miles, refilled with one bottle out of my cages at the first aid station, then drank the entire speedfill, and refilled with the last bottle at the last aid station. I drank the last swig of that as I was pulling into Jean Klock park.

And you know what?? It totally worked. I finished the bike waaaayyyy faster than I had planned (and 20 minutes faster than SJV had planned), and had one of the fastest 5 mile splits I've had in months -- after 55 miles on the bike. And I felt amazing! Who would have thunk it. I was smiling, and laughing, and other cyclists were commenting on how fresh I looked, as I ran by them to go and use the facilities. And I was smiling like Chrissy Wellington herself as I ran down the highway at a nice quick clip, saying hello to the ladies pushing baby carriages and commenting on the beautiful day.

SJV was so proud. And, frankly, so am I. So - a hat tip to Jen Harrison for having such a great influence on my race nutrition, and on the race nutrition for a lot of fellow racers. I can't say that the next time I'm out on a 5 mile easy run with the Clocktower Runners that I'll down a powergel in advance. But I can say that I now know how I should feel. And that's half the battle, isn't it?


A Perfect Weekend

Well, folks, we're back. Back from beautiful St. Joe, with the waitresses that say hello with a smile and a howdy-do-attitude a mere thirty seconds after you sit down at their table (as compared to The City, where SJV and I waited for 15 minutes yesterday -- hungry as can be -- whilst every server in the house passed us by. It might have been because we had gone on a 56 mile bike ride, had driven the two hours home, and had not yet showered. We were a smelly, ugly mess, which is why we requested outdoor seating. We understand you have standards. But even if you can't stand to smell us, at least explain why you're ignoring us, won't you? Rude.); back from beautiful St. Joe with multiple ice cream parlors and two-pound carmel apples; back from beautiful St. Joe with the summer sunlight that lasts until 9:30 at night.... Ahhhh. It's like heaven.

And so, as you can see from above, I did indeed survive the 56 (well, actually 54.7 - more about the loss of the 1.3 miles later) mile bike ride with no incident, and actually fared far better than I could have hoped. SJV has been saying for a few weeks that I'm pretty good on the hills, and that showed yesterday, when I somewhat unintentionally dropped a few ladies I was riding with on the hills -- which is a huge Confidence Boost with Steelhead mere weeks away (how did time speed up like that??). After my ride, which I completed in something around 3:10, I did a fast 5 miles (fast for me) in about 45 minutes. Super time, and I felt ... amazing. My legs didn't feel like rubber, my stomach was fine, head was fine -- I felt fresh as can be. Let's hope that notwithstanding a good dress rehearsal we also have a good show...

I don't have enough time to do the weekend justice - I only have time for a quick post. There are too many funny things, interesting things, and points to ponder. But I did want everyone to know that both SJV and I survived, and had a wonderful, perfect weekend.

Hope you enjoyed yours.
p.s. - if you're reading me on facebook, you can also read me at www.runnerwithatriaddiction.blogspot.com

Thursday, July 9, 2009

And we're off!

Last year, for my very first triathlon, I chose Danskin. Excellent estrogen-centric race -- there are women called Swim Angels that swim alongside you with noodles (the foam rollers, not the food), and there's much discussion and celebration of Girl Power. Danskin has traditionally been held in Pleasant Prairie Wisconsin, during the second weekend in July. This year, Danskin has been scheduled for the end of September; in its place is the Trek triathlon -- also women centric, and run by the same race organization team that ran Danskin for years (props to Maggie Sullivan and Sally Edwards here).

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Maggie and Sally at a little event at the Trek store here in Chicago, when they did a little meet and greet to promote their new event. I went with buddy Carrie, (shown here before one of her legs in the MC200 last year) and we had a grand time. In fact, at the end of the event, Carrie decided to make Trek her first triathlon, and I decided to sign up for the race as well.

That means that my first triathlon of the season, Bigfoot (Sprint distance on July 28) would be followed by Trek (another Sprint distance July 12) which would be followed by Steelhead (1/2 Iron on August 1 -- can you feel the butterflies in my stomach from there?).

After Bigfoot, and the BigWind that went with Bigfoot, I had second, and third, thoughts about whether doing two sprints so close to each other -- and so close to Steelhead -- were a good idea. I started to get a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach -- a sort of refrain of self-doubt, that asked (again and again) what would I do at Steelhead if there was Real Wind, like the wind at Bigfoot? Would I be prepared to handle it? Could I tackle the hills and Wind on my spiffy but still-low-mileage (but climbing) powder-blue-bike?

I began to really stress over this question -- particularly because I couldn't do much about it. I was signed up for Trek, after all, and Carrie was as well. I'd paid my money, I'd secured a hotel -- and I had a friend relying upon me to be there with her and for her. Full stop. So, I tried to settle myself, told myself that I had put in the time, I could gut it through a rough swim, a Windy bike, and a hilly run. I'd be fine. Still, gnawing in the tummy. Gnawing, gnawing.

Then, during a run together (Carrie and I run amazingly well together -- it's honestly fantastic; our cadence and our leg strides match exactly, and there's this easy, musical rhythm that's just like ... magic), Carrie reminded me that her friend Hilary was going to do the race with her, too. And then it all started to come into place. Here was Carrie -- an amazing runner, and former high school swimmer, who had gotten a road bike and was already pumping out serious mileage. And she was Just Fine on her own. She would certainly have fun at Trek -- with me, or without me, and didn't need me to babysit her. Now that I knew she would have someone to travel with, and to hang out with before the race, my mind was nearly made up. I know that I'm important to my friends, but let's face it -- Carrie wasn't going to cry if I didn't come because i needed to train for a 1/2 Iron.
And then, I found out that Wellfit's sponsoring a supported ride of the Steelhead bike course this weekend. That basically solidified it. And so, one morning on a run with Carrie, I mentioned it. Without hesitation, she encouraged me to do the supported ride. She's a cool chick, that Carrie. And she's going to mop up the competition tomorrow.
And so, here I am -- the day before Trek, when I'm sure many women feel exactly like I did last year -- nervous, and excited, and ready to test their training. And I feel that way too, a little -- but because I'm going to ride the Steelhead bike course (which I've now realized is less challenging than the course that we do every Sunday). I'll be going with the Slow Group, which I want to rename the Party Crowd, because we'll be going slow enough to chat and generally enjoy ourselves. ;) SJV will, of course, be going with the Fast Group...
So off we go (soon) to St. Joseph. I'll give you all an update of what we did, and the adventures I'm sure we'll have, come Sunday night. Wish me luck!
Happy trails,

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

SJV's stomach bugged him all night. And, unfortunately, he wasn't alone.

A little background: SJV has two gorgeous siamese cats. He inherited them from a couple he had befriended (and perhaps treated -- I can't remember the details) when they were a few years old. So Romeo and Cosmo have been part of the SJV family for over 10 years -- they're 15 now, and in excellent shape (they moisturize). Romeo is a blue-point siamese, and is the kind of cat who loves to be picked up, and when you pick him up, he goes all limp and paws the air with his little feet. Cosmo is a traditional chocolate/tan color, is very tough (for a pure-bred siamese cat who's never lived on the mean streets), and is no-nonsense. He will be held for 30 seconds or less, please, and only on his terms. He's the more robust and muscular of the two, as well. SJV has promised to send me photos to post -- these guys could have been models.

Back to this weekend. While SJV's tummy was bothering him, Cosmo showed signs that he, too, was having some ... issues. He'd jump into the litter box, walk around, then walk back out. A few minutes later, he'd do the same thing. He was walking, walking, walking all over the place. Very un-Cosmo-like. All of this, of course, on the 4th of July (when all babies and pets have Emergency Issues That Must Be Addressed).

And so, off we went to the Kitty E.R. (After assessing whether we needed to put Romeo through the trauma of also going to the Kitty E.R. because, after all, Coz and Rome haven't been separated -- and would Romeo "freak out" at home alone? Ahh - the trials of parenting.)

We get to the E.R., Cozzie in tow (looking very worried, and perplexed, and as though this was Not the way he expected to spend his holiday). I'm happy to see that the E.R. is totally empty -- there's one woman coddling and soothing a very, very tiny pit-bull puppy, who we later learn is 18 days old (and looking even smaller than an 18 day old puppy should look - hence the visit, I imagine). But other than that one woman and infant canine, that's it.

We get into an exam room right away, and it takes some effort to get Coz out of the carrier, and then once he's out of the carrier, it takes some effort to get him weighed and examined. The vet tech, whose arms are covered in very interesting tattoos (I tried not to stare, but it's hard sometimes, you know?) said he didn't think it was a bladder issue because he couldn't even feel little Cozzie's bladder. So, that was a relief. I was beginning to wonder whether we had overreacted.

Then the vet comes in -- a tall, sortof goofy looking guy with a big smile. He says that they're going to need to take an X-ray, and that it seems that Cozzie might be constipated. Like, severely constipated.

This is where I should make an observation, which I first realized about a year and a half ago when two friends of mine had their first child. I went to their house to meet the new addition, and as I was holding the little pumpkin, they had a very interesting exchange about whether the little muffin had had a b.m. -- and they discussed it in the same tone of voice that you would discuss what you had for lunch. "So, what did you have for lunch, honey?" "Great sandwich at PotBellys -- love that place. Oh, and I may have mentioned that at 11:25 when I changed the baby's diaper, she had a b.m., and it was [insert descriptor here]." Apparently they felt perfectly normal talking about the new baby's digestive issues etc. in front of a newcomer (a single newcomer, at the time): me. This may be uncommon (I have never encountered it) but it does bring me to the observation: parents and pet owners really don't have too much of an issue discussing poo and puke, or poo and puke related issues. I suppose we have to get over the "ick" factor pretty quickly, because like it or not, there are poo and puke related issues with both babies and animals, and babies and animals don't really care if you like to talk about it or not.

Back to the E.R. X-rays are taken of the Cozzie-cat, and as it turns out, he's Super Constipated. He's backed up all the way to his small intestine (yikes!). And so, they begin with trying to flush the poor guy out... which takes about 10 hours, once all is said and done. I will spare you the details on this one...

And so, Cozzie cat is now at home, eating a new diet that's fortified with canned pumpkin (who knew that would help!) and enjoying some newfound regularity (we hope). So, over the weekend we had lots of "outs" -- less "ins." But everyone came out okay on the ... ahem ... "other end." (Couldn't help it.)

Off I go to get on the trainer and try to get in a workout. :) See you tomorrow.


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Ins and Outs (more outs than ins) of the Weekend

Well, happy 4th of July (belatedly) to everyone! I hope that your weekend was full of sun, and fun, and relaxation. Our weekend was ... interesting. Good, in a "cleansing" sort of way.

SJV and I started our our weekend with promises of fun: a sailboat excursion to watch the fireworks from the harbor by Navy Pier. Rock-star seating, of course, and a chance to catch up with some friends of mine that I haven't seen for some time. (Aside: it's interesting how, once you start up a serious relationship with someone as amazing as SJV, you unintentionally lose touch with folks. I always hated people that fell away/went underground after getting into a relationship -- calling them "whipped," etc., and saying I would never do the same thing. But SJV's like, my best friend. Full stop. So it makes sense. But it doesn't mean I don't miss my other buds.)

So my buddy sent us all a map to his dock, which I scoffed at ("I know where his boat is! I've been there a million times") and SJV and I loaded up two six packs into the transition bag we got at Bigfoot (transition bags double as great Beer Carriers, for those that find a need for such transport) and I grabbed the wine. I had made a mental note of the dock number (actually, letter N), just in case, and we set off walking the mile or so to the harbor.

Two six packs in a transition bag are heavy, so SJV was the total gentleman for taking that on. And take it on he did. We walked the mile or so to the harbor, and then snaked around the docks. I saw that the letters on the dock seemed to be going the wrong way (up, not down, as we walked toward where I just KNEW his boat was) but I dismissed it. (For those of you that live in Chicago, you understand that just because something seems logical doesn't mean that's the way it's done, or set up, or organized. So I figured the docks would start renumbering.) Right as we got all the way around the harbor, I saw that the docks did, indeed, start renumbering. With two letters, rather than one. *shit*

I grab my cell phone, and call my buddy. He starts laughing. He has moved the boat to a new dock, he explains, and it's on the other side of the harbor -- very close, actually, to where we started. I added about a mile (perhaps more) to our little excursion. SJV took it like a trooper, but the six packs (bottles) were digging into his back, and although I tried to take them from him for a minute, he gutted it out.

We finally made it to the boat and hopped on. My buddy A (the owner of the boat) had asked if SJV and another friend, Mike, could help "winch him to the mast" -- the true meaning of that phrase, I still don't know. In any case, pretty soon A was dangling in a harness of sorts (that looked uncomfortable in his ... well ... shorts), holding a weather vane with his teeth perilously close to his eyes and the eyes of SJV and Mike. My friend A is nothing if not hard core. There's lots of discussion, and soon other boat-owners are looking over, half smiling and making jokes that when the guys are finished with A's boat, they can come over and help them, too. Nice to have a peanut gallery when you're going to be hanging 30 feet in the air, with a weather vane that can poke your eyes out (and the eyes of onlookers and helpers) held in your teeth, and your ... "guys" (ahem) ... cinched up in a harness that looks as if it's made for a kindergarten playground.

Soon, I hear a creaking, harsh noise, and see that SJV has drawn the short straw, and will be "winching" A up the mast. But, as soon as they start, they end (maybe 20 "winches" or so into the project). About 10 feet up, A has decided that "This Is Stupid" and the project is over.


SJV looks relieved, and I am as well. Back to the back of the boat, we're all having a bit of wine or beer, and I'm meeting some new people, which is always fun. After waiting for the rest of our crew, we start off.

SJV had been a little nervous that his stomach wouldn't cooperate for the ride. He's got a sensitive stomach, so I could understand his concern. Sometimes he gets queasy -- like when there are big swells on the lake and we're out on a long swim. But, I had reassured him, and said that swimming and sailing are two totally different things, and that I was certain he'd be fine. Now, I wasn't certain (I had also recommended that we bring dramamine) but I thought that he'd probably be okay, or at least more good than bad.

We start out, and I look over, nervously, at SJV. I am pleased as punch to see that he's standing at the back of the boat, HUGE grin on his face, saying this is awesome -- totally fun, and that it's like being on the boat in Gilligan's Island. Yahoo! We're in the clear, I think. Beers all around -- let's settle in and enjoy the fireworks.

We get to the spot where we're going to drop anchor - perfect location, just close enough to the fireworks, but far enough away, too. A does this every year, and it shows. We're sitting there for a minute, and I'm enjoying the soft rock-rock-rock of the boat. Then I look over to SJV. He's a distinct shade of green. "Sugar" he says (he calls me Sugar), "This isn't good."

Suddenly, I go into "Mama Goose mode". Off we go to the very tip of the boat, to sit and to focus on the horizon, and to think calming thoughts, etc. We're joined by another couple of landlubbers - W, who is from Nebraska, and her boyfriend Eric. We exchange a few words about how seasickness sucks, and then fall silent. SJV is, I imagine, concentrating on not throwing up. He keeps telling me he's sorry, and I keep telling him there's no need. We hear bangs and crashes from the boat-deck, and a muttered "party foul," and realize that everyone else is drunk -- and we're all focused on ensuring that W and SJV don't hurl.

I give SJV a quick kiss, and head to the deck so that I can go below and use the "facilities". There's a trick with peeing on a boat -- very similar to peeing on a plane -- but the actual toilet is tricky, too. There's a valve, and a thingy to plunge, and it's just generally hard to figure out, no matter how many times I've done it. And so, it takes me a good 10 minutes to go down, pee, come back up and ask for directions on how to plunge-flush the toilet, go back down, fiddle with it. Success! And then come back up. I climb back to the tip of the boat, and SJV is White As A Ghost, and W and Eric are cuddled up, their faces pointed away from both SJV and i.

"I'm sorry." SJV continues with the apologies, and I again assure him that everyone understands, that it's no big deal... etc. He then looks at me as though I just don't get it -- then explains that in the last 10 minutes (while I've been below) he's puked over the side at least 8 times - never once getting up from his position on the boat. The Lake Michigan fishes are, he explains, enjoying an evening of exotic Pad Thai.


"Do you feel better?" I ask. "Yep." He says.

Poor thing. We wait an excrutiating 20 minutes before the fireworks begin. They're amazing, as always, and SJV understands then why we go to the trouble and ... well ... pain. Then we're headed back to shore. Once we get to dock, we hop out, say our goodbyes, and start heading home...

The weekend continued with a similar theme. I'll post more on that tomorrow.

Until then, hold on tight!

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Ice Bath

So last night SJV and I had our Thursday night swim class. And so, we made the trek down to the lakefront, wetsuits in tow. I was wearing layers and layers of clothes (long sleeved shirt, fleece pullover, tri shorts and top and some warmup pants) so that I could overheat a bit before we got into the lake.

Because the lake is currently 62 degrees.


Last week, the lake was 70 degrees -- or at least, that's what I heard. Now, the lake has "turned," apparently, and now what was warm is cold. Like a big Ice Bath. So, in preparation for swimming in an Ice Bath, I wanted to warm up a bit so that the water didn't feel so oppressive. (Hence the overheating, as described above.) We got to the lakefront, and there were only about 8 of us in class this week. That's not all that surprising -- with the holiday and everything, you have to figure a lot of folks are out of town. Still, it was a good group, and we got to meet a few people that we otherwise only know through Chicago Tri Club postings. (Hey Juan!) And I was one of only two girls this week (props to Kim), and one of only two with a sleeveless wetsuit (me and Coach Fitz). (*sigh*)

So, after our howdy-do's, we head down to the beach and get our instructions from Fitz. We're going to to another beach start, and we're going to end up doing a full mile this week, plus we'll be checking cadence and wearing little beepers under our swim caps to help us time our strokes. And so, we start off.

I get my toes in the water, and actually think it's not so bad. Knee and thigh deep weren't that bad, either. Then I had to actually "dive" in as part of a drill so the coach could check our initial cadence. So I did -- and HOLY COW. The first five strokes weren't that bad, but ... wow. Wow. I told myself that it's just like an ice bath after you've gone for a long run, and it's good for you. Builds character. Puts hair on your chest.

Wait -- I don't want hair on my chest. Strike that.

So, pretty soon we were headed off to the 1/2 mile marker and back, with little beepers that go in your swim cap so that you can hear a metronome-esque sound in your ear. You're supposed to stroke with the beat. Everyone got a number -- SJV and I got the same number to start with (awww!) -- 100. We headed out to the quarter mile marker, where we were to add five beats to our beepers (which slows the little beeper down). The water was, of course, incredibly cold, and it seemed pretty lonely out there -- we were really the only swim class going on, and nobody else was crazy enough to be out there. So it was pretty serene, and even when it started getting "deep" it was pretty relaxing. And now, with the beeping noise in my ear, I had something to focus on when/if I started "freaking out." That happens every once in a while, you know. (At least, it does to me.)

Once we got to the turnaround point, we were to add another five beats to our little beepers. It was a little hard for me to bilateral breathe with 105 (it's always hard for me to bilateral breathe, actually) so I was wondering what 110 would do. And let me tell you -- I loved it. I finally stretched out (the point of the drill, apparently) and felt like I was really moving without a whole lot of effort. The water was clear, and I could see to the bottom (sometimes good, and sometimes bad in Lake Michigan), which was relaxing, too. Even with the cold water. After class, Fitz told me that my initial cadence (when I first felt that cold water) was 75 -- so this drill was obviously perfect for someone like me (even though I attribute part of my high cadence to the fact that I was swimming in an ICE BATH).

Once we were done, and standing in knee deep water, I started to shiver. Looking around, everyone else (all men this week, except one other woman, and all wearing long-sleeved wetsuits) was hanging out, chatting. SJV took one look at me and my shivering arms, and said we were getting out. So, I hot-bodded it out of the water (I literally ran), onto the beach, to dry off and get my clothes on. That's when I realized that I couldn't really feel the heels of my feet or my toes, and that my fingertips were purple. Oops! Obviously, it's not optimal for race performance to have digits and appendages that have gone numb.

And so, I'm now worried that the Lake will turn for Steelhead (it could happen). So I'm now in the market for a new wetsuit. A few weeks ago, the guys from TriBug (great guys, great website, and great gear) brought DeSoto Black Pearls for us to try on -- I tried one on and swam in it that day, when the water was 59 degrees. And I LOVED it. Wasn't cold at all, actually. But, before buying, I thought I should see how my body does in cold water without one.

I think I now have the answer to that question.

So, looks like I might be getting a new/additional wetsuit, folks. Anyone with reviews, etc., is invited to let me know about your experience in the comments. It would sure be appreciated.

I hope you all have wonderful holiday weekends -- enjoy the Fourth of July!

Stay warm,

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Photos from the weekend...

Once again, SJV captured a lot of this weekend in some gorgeous photos -- so I thought I'd share with y'all.

Here's the promised photo of the beginning of my awful back spasm. Note the ridiculous hair, which is sortof a boufont. Nice look...

From later on in the day, after I had warmed myself up a bit:

Please note the white bandage creeping out from under my shirt: a Thermacare wrap that I re-tooled to go around my neck. I looked like I was wearing a Miss America sash or something. Funny.
Our room was overlooking the lake -- gorgeous -- and there was a wedding on Saturday at the hotel. The entire bridal party was immediately below our room, so SJV snapped a few photos. The flower girls seemed to get a kick out of us watching the events. Very cute wedding -- well done, b

We don't often get to see full sunsets from the city. So we really appreciated the sunsets from our view in the room:

So here are a few photos that are meant to capture how windy it was. Perhaps you can see it -- a gust of wind was basically throwing the water off to the side of the fountain. Kids were playing in the "sprinkler" effect. It looked like fun (but they ended up getting seriously, and unexpectedly, doused by one significant gust, and got a little water in their eyes, I think).

Here's our congratulatory "Good Job On The Race, Sugar" smooch:

And, at last, my personal favorite, which cracks me up every time I look at it. SJV's expression is ... in a word ... HILARIOUS. I have never seen him with this expression, and we've started calling this photo The Photo Of Dieter. (Doesn't he look like someone who would say "Ve moost daaaahnce now. Come, ve go to daaahnce!) But the photo does show off his eyes, which are, of course, gorgeous.

So there you have it, folks. The photos from the weekend. There are a few more that I'll share later in the week.

Today's the swim class that SJV and I have been part of for a few weeks. My swim time during last weekend's triathlon was a personal best -- and so was SJV's, so we were pretty happy, even though we don't feel like we can "own" our time, as it was just a big walk-fest for part of it. We're pretty sure that we're going to have to explain ourselves during tonight's class, but there really wasn't much you could do about it, save swim off course to go around people, which seems a little crazy.

I'm starting to get a bit jittery for the 1.2 mile swim that's part of Steelhead -- I'm sure that I can do it, but would probably do good with a few more distance swims in lake Michigan. The pool I practice in is TINY, so it's hard to get a real distance workout in without making yourself dizzy from turning so much. So I may lobby SJV to swim with me a bit this weekend if it's not too crazy on the lake, and if there's not too much floating garbage by the beach. (Yuck-o-rama.) Keep your fingers crossed for us...
Enjoy your day!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bigfoot Race Report (Theme: The Unimportance of Time)

For those of you who know me personally, you know that I'm motivated by goals. I like a "finishing line" to sprint to, and without one I'm often less motivated than I would like to admit. *sheepish grin* I'm the same, really, when it comes to races. I like to push myself and set a personal goal -- a benchmark -- a target -- that I can achieve with great effort, and with a little luck. But, life sometimes gets in the way of goals. When that happens, I try to keep a brave face, but I can be pretty ... sad. That's not to say that I don't thank myself for what I can do, or cheer myself on. I do. But when I've gotten soooo close to a goal that I can taste it, and then I see it slipping away... Well. That makes me pretty sad.

And so, I was pretty sad on Saturday morning after my back seized up. After SJV's and my brick workout my back was still sore, and it was becoming clear to me that my goal (a PR) would probably not be in the cards. I still laughed with SJV, and still enjoyed being out in the sun, but I felt betrayed by my own body, and depressed that I wouldn't be able to "give it my all" come Sunday morning.

In other words, I was having a bit of a pity party.

But SJV and I still had a day to tend to. We put the bikes in the hotel room, and -- without changing (we were running late) went to the breakfast at the hotel, and chose some thick bread to toast and some fruit. As we were waiting for the incredibly thorough toaster to finish with our bread, a couple (seemingly in their early 40's) walked up to us and asked whether we were in the triathlon on Sunday. Yes, we said -- and they laughed, and asked why on earth were we working out today!?! They were warm and funny, and really fun to talk to. And so, we spent the next 1/2 hour or so chatting with them, laughing and joking. They were actually 10-15 years older than we thought they were, and they had been doing triathlon for some years. But their perspective was simple and refreshing. They did it for fun, they explained, not to win, and not for a particular time. They took their time in transition, and enjoyed the race. They laughed about their race experiences, and took pride in their placement (while being self-depricating about their age and the fact that there were so few people in their age group).

I honestly couldn't help but smile. I needed some perspective on time, and here I had gotten it -- in the form of two really wonderful people, who were in the pinnacle of health and clearly in love, and who just did triathlon for The Fun Of It. Surely I could do the same.

So, SJV and I left them after breakfast, and went about our day. We ran into them again in the lobby -- this time she seemed nervous about the race (which was silly, she said, because she probably wouldn't win) and we chatted again for a bit. We ran errands, and ate lunch, and generally enjoyed the day.

We went to the packet pickup, where we picked up some amazing SWAG -- worth doing the race just for the gear alone. A transition bag, visor, and a transition towel were included. AMAZING, folks. You must do this race if you can. And then we took naps. Then it was time to go to the free pasta dinner, sponsored by the race and the hotel.

My back was still aching, and after the nap it felt a little worse (curses on that bed/torture device!). My neck ached, and I was sick and tired of feeling so tight, and injured, and sore. And so, by this time, and even though I had internalized the Lesson of Time from earlier, I was back to holding my own pity party.

Lo and behold! We walk into the pasta dinner, and there was the triathlon couple from earlier. Although they had finished eating, they stayed with us and we chatted and laughed, laughed and chatted. My back started to loosen from the giggles. And we started talking about times again. I said that my transitions were too slow, and that I should practice them. They nodded, but disagreed -- saying that they thought it was crazy how fast people would run in and run out. They couldn't imagine going that fast. In fact, they both seemed pretty comfortable with keeping their transition times right where they were. At right around eight minutes.

Eight minutes. (!!)

I'm trying to shave seconds off, and they were taking their time. Again, I couldn't help but smile. Here I was, again holding my own little pity party, thinking of times and goals, etc etc., in serious need of an attitude adjustment, and here were these two folks -- perfectly happy, and just enjoying the race.

I left with SJV, bouyed by the laughter, back feeling better than it had all day. We enjoyed the sunset from the back deck, and got to hold hands and snuggle and enjoy the evening. But (you guessed it) over the course of the next few hours, I got more and more sour. Pity, and anger, and frustration... My back was feeling a little bit better, so I would test it now and again to see if I could turn this way, or that way -- and every time I would get a ZING in response.

I slept fitfully. I awoke to a ZING in my back and shoulders, and I Faced Facts. It was going to be a Hard Day, if there would be any race at all.

SJV looked outside, and said something about wind, and it being a chilly morning. I'm not sure i said anything in response. I was busy in my head, I suppose. SJV and I got ready -- I loosened up my back the best I could, ate, and got some coffee. We coasted down the hill to the race site.

That's when I saw the white caps.

Lake Geneva -- a smallish lake with a reputation for being friendly -- was not so friendly on Sunday morning. Wind speeds between 15-20 miles per hour (gusts of 30-40) were churning the lake and turning it into a washing machine. *sigh*

SJV and I settled in transition. I got my wetsuit, tried to loosen up my back, and chatted with some folks that were watching other people try to warm-up in the chop. I just sighed. Again -- no way was I going to make any goal time today. In fact, I left my stopwatch in my transition bag.

SJV went on a quick run, and I put on my wetsuit and started to get ready for the swim. Before I knew it, SJV was back, and I needed to get into the water to start with my wave. I kissed SJV goodbye, and off I went. The water was warm, and as I walked in, I realized I was in the wrong lane, in a bad position, and that with each wave the water would lift me off the ground and then set me back down. It was eerie, but soothing, and I wasn't even expecting the horn to sound when it did. And then the most amazing thing happened. With each stretch and roll, my back eased. Suddenly I was moving faster in the water, while thinking "why am I going so fast -- this doesn't feel very hard -- I'm not really pushing it..." I was rolling from side to side, not really taking on a whole lot of water, but feeling the rotation of the waves. Suddenly I started thinking "you might be able to meet your goal... oh my god, you might just meet your goal..." ... and then WHAM! I hit a woman who had stood up (you could actually stand -- the water was only about thigh deep) and had started walking. And then I saw the sea of women that were walking ahead of me. Side by side, shoulder to shoulder.

Honestly, I almost laughed. Here I go from injury, to wind, to chop, and now I'm feeling better and making up time -- and my next obstacle is a bunch of ladies that decide to walk the swim after starting out in the front of the wave. *sheesh*

But it also reminded me that Time Didn't Matter (how many reminders did I really need here??), and that I should just have fun. So I did. I porposed around some ladies, and swam, and walked with some, and swam. I hopped out of the water and stripped off my wetsuit. Not a bad transition, really, and my back was now a non-issue. Finally.

On to the bike. Because I was pretty sure that I would not meet any of my personal goals, I started cheering everyone else on. When I passed a woman on the bike with an apparent flat, I'd shout encouragement; same with the folks that passed me like I was standing still. It became part of my race to be the Cheering Section. It was a lot of fun, and I encourage you to try it. :) I will not regale you with the numerous white-knuckle experiences I had, but will note that a gust of wind that comes at you from the side while you're going 22 mph is NOT fun. There were more hills than I anticipated, but I think they felt more difficult because of the conditions - we had an 18 mph headwind, which made the smallest of inclines feel much tougher. I was proud that I finished and didn't fly off my bike. I was also proud that I dismounted and did not fall over. ;)

The transition from bike to run was fine -- but my heart rate was a bit high, and I pulled over at one point in the run to get some food, to hydrate, and to let my heart rate come down. The run was beautiful -- a trail run through the woods. It was the one portion of the race that was unaffected by the wind. And it was right about here that I began to really put together all of the messages that I'd gotten over the weekend about how unimportant time actually is. What was important was the rest of the weekend, and my experience during the race itself. I was trying my hardest, and was having a good race. But the conditions (both natural and physical) were what they were, and I couldn't change that. What I could control, and what I had to learn to control, was my reaction to them. After I made that realization, I clocked my two fastest mile times, cheering everyone who passed me on, and telling them what a wonderful job they had done. I thanked the volunteers for helping, and admired the run course (really nice) and just generally had a great run.

And then, before I knew it, the run was almost over. I gave it a nice kick at the end (was smoked by a 14 year old there at the end, but clocked a 7:15 average pace for the .17 miles that I tried to catch her), and my race was over. SJV and I congratulated each other, and walked around in the sun, smiling and talking about our race.

It was a great Race -- great for stories, great for self-awareness, great for lessons.

And great for time. You guessed it, folks. My swim was a PR (14 minutes and change). The bike was a PR by speed (average of 20.4 mph) [CORRECTION -- NOT 20.4 -- results have changed, and I got 16.9 -- still very good for the day] and the run was nearly a PR because it was a long 5k, so my time's a bit off. In other words, with all my moaning and groaning, and with all of the difficulties and issues, I had a virtual PR (my time was 1:32, and my prior PR on a different, easier course was 1:30, but my speed on all events was significantly faster under harder conditions, so I'm gonna take it)!

And the best part? I didn't know that until the whole thing was over.

Enjoy yourself, have a wonderful day, and know that when you finish is unimportant - it's what you learn during the race that's the key.


Idgy the Cat

Idgy the Cat