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Gentle, Kind… Victory! October 30, 2011

Keller Beach: all photo credits to Katherine Mapes-Resnik

Today was really an amazing day on so many levels. It really felt like my Last Chance. Yesterday at the bike-run workout, our Coach said, “It’s really important that you get in a mile swim in open water before the race.” I knew that was true. I have biked the distance, I’ve run the distance, but until today I had not swum (in open water) anywhere near the race distance. I needed to know I could do it.

So today a bunch of us gathered out at Keller Beach, which is pretty much right across the Bay from where we will be swimming next week. It’s the same water!

First of all, I was happy to note that I was calm and happy on my drive over to the beach. Unlike my drive over to Lake Temescal on Friday. I knew I had that positive experience in me, and I was ready to build on it. I made a bunch of pumpkin bars to celebrate a great swim with my teammates.

When we got out there, we mapped out the course. We figured that a round trip to this jutting-out-point and back was about 800 yards or half a mile(ish). So to do it twice, two round trips would be a little bit over a mile. There were already some families picnicking on the beach and some playing in the water, I noticed, without wetsuits!

We got in and that rush of COOOLD water when you open up the neck of the wetsuit – I shrieked. Mostly I noticed my feet were really cold and I regretted forgetting my new swim booties at home. We bobbed around and got used to the temperature. I took note that we would have one person on a standup paddleboard but no kayaks. Which I think was actually a good thing.

Annika, my mentor, who has swum right next to me for all of my panic-swims, asked if I wanted a buddy. I said I was going to try and just go with the group. She said I could just wave my arm if I was in trouble. I prayed that this would not be necessary. Somebody made a fake horn sound with their mouth and we started off.

What can I say? It just felt different this time. Right away I stretched out my arms as far as I could, and I swam with the “gentle” exhale and “kind” inhale like last time. (Again, huuuuuuuuuge shout-out to Annelise who suggested this to me via Twitter) It just calmed me. I also employed the roll-and-breathe method where I pretty much rolled on my side and put my face up to breathe. Which gave me more breathing time and also kept me going in the right direction. I just kept going. I’d say on a scale of 1 to 10, I got about level “3″ tired. I never floated on my back to rest. I never did the heads-up freestyle. I just kept swimming.

When we were about to the turnaround point, my right ear was reallllly hurting from all the cold water. I’d forgotten to put in my ear plugs and I thought, I’ll just go to shore. I’ll stop. I’ll just do one lap. And so on. It was a familiar litany of “you can’t make it the whole way, just stop.” But then when we got out to the point, another voice said, “that was 1/4 the way. not bad.”

It just felt like fun. My teammates were all around me and every once in a while I’d bob around and check in with them. At one point I saw what looked like someone in a black swim cap, and then I was like… “Um, what’s that black thing?” It was a harbor seal, coming to check us out! I had a little flutter of nerves over that but my teammates reassured me that nothing bad would happen and he was just being friendly.

our little swimming companion

We returned back to where we started and Monica asked me if I wanted to go again. A bunch of people had headed in at that point. I said yes. I knew I could’ve said I was done, and she would’ve said it was okay. But I reallllllllly felt like I needed to get that mile done, for my own mind’s sake. I wasn’t tired. I knew I could do it.

So we did the 2nd loop and it was just… man, I can’t describe it. It was calm, and relaxing. Swimming without having a panic attack is kind of like… walking. It was just that easy.  I kept my “gentle-kind” mantra going, and I noticed that when I put my face in the water, it was this pretty green color, and when I put my face up, it was blue sky. Green-blue-green-blue. It was all very… relaxing. When we got out to the point the second time, Monica said, “You just look so peaceful!” which made me really happy.  We turned around and went back to shore. It was like.. nothing. It was fine. I could’ve gone further.

When I got back to where I could touch down, I was so happy. I felt like Rocky. I wanted to cry I was so happy. Instead I went to hand out pumpkin bars and the box was full of ants!! It didn’t faze most people (“hey! more protein!”) but we managed to shake them off most of them and pass them around.

I was just kind of walking around the beach in disbelief. Even if we don’t actually do a triathlon next week, this swim felt like such a major victory. Man, it hasn’t been easy. But it’s taken time, and going back again and again again. Learning about myself, learning some tools. I am so grateful to Michelle and to my amazing teammates and mentors and coaches and FRIENDS and family who have believed in me these past months. My own belief has dipped down to incredibly low levels, especially recently. I really wasn’t sure I was going to make it, last week.

GO TEAM!

But now I am happy and I feel ready. All I need to do this week is take care of my foot (funny ankle/foot injury that popped up last week) and rest and do some taper workouts and get ready. I’m not dreading next Sunday anymore. I am EXCITED.

 

I’d Like to Schedule an Open Water Lobotomy, Please October 22, 2011

Today I did another mini triathlon although it wasn’t my original intent really. My intent had been to get another open water swim in, this one organized by a private group called TriMoreFitness. It was taking place at the actual Marin Triathlon swim course and after last week, I felt like I really need to get back in there and also have another go at open water.

I was feeling so prepared. I’d gone to see the sports psychologist and we’d had a fabulous and what felt like very helpful session. Last night I swam a mile in the pool and felt so incredibly relaxed and happy the whole time. I felt like I was doing everything possible to make this go right.

Sigh.

I admit, it went “righter” in many ways than last time. But still it was not what I had hoped.

This is the course. I know it’s sort of hard to visualize, but this is what we did.

So we started at the point marked “Olympic Swim Start.” First we got in and got our faces wet and practiced floating on our backs for a while. That was pretty relaxing. I checked in with myself. So far so good. The first kayak paddled out  about even with the end of the pier. Man, it looked tiny and far. (first flutter of anxiety as I noticed this) Then it was time to go. I tried to really focus on going SLOW (the coach instructed us to go what felt like “embarassingly slow” and I was glad to comply). I think I was about half way to the pier when my brain kicked in with, “I need a rest.” I flipped over on my back. Already? This was kind of annoying. But whatever. I breathed. When I turned over I noticed the huge and growing gap between me and the vast majority of swimmers. There was one guy behind me with the other kayak I think.

I kept going. It was sort of swim, rest, swim, rest until I got to the pier. I was happy to get there. But then I noticed this weird… “What the heck?” feeling. I was caught in a fishing line. For a second I felt like a fish. It was like walking into a spiderweb (ack! no! What is that??) but stronger. I was really hoping there was no fish on the other end of it.

So, that rattled me. The coach came by on his standup paddleboard and kind of guided me off and away from the pier. He was reassuring. I set my sights on the first buoy beyond the pier (there were 3 total, and after the third we were to sort of make a sharp U-turn to shore).  But by then my breathing was all messed up. I’d swim like two strokes then my body would almost involuntarily flip over, like, HELL NO this isn’t working.

My sighing was also messed up and I realized I was relying on the coach to kind of point the way. Which he did. But then he started talking to me and gesturing and I couldn’t really hear him because I had earplugs in. It seemed important (and potentially lifesaving). So I wrestled one earplug out and tossed it in the water. (sorry for the litter) He was saying something about swimming with one arm. At this point my brain was kind of scrambled. Like seriously scrambled. I had no idea what this meant even though he was gesturing. He could have been speaking Swahili. I tried the one-arm thing and then he said “Face down!” and I was like, “Ohhhhhhhh man I am just screwing up right and left!” I know he was really trying to help me get more relaxed and save energy and all that but I was seriously stressing at this point.

That’s when the wheezy, death-rattle breathing started up. Oh GREAT. I was talking myself the entire time, saying my “You’ve got this!” mantra. But at this point another voice came up, somewhere around my strangled lungs, and responded, “I don’t believe you!” So that’s what was going on. Some crazy Gollum/Smeagal death match in the Bay.

I didn’t know what to do other than just roll over and try and get my composure. But I remembered last week the instruction to “Just keep moving” so I was fluttering my feet and arms like snow/water angel formation. The coach was like, “STAY STILL!” because he wanted me to conserve oxygen and get a grip. But I was now confused as well as freaked out. I heard him say the work “kayak” and that was it.

Suddenly I wanted that kayak and I wanted it BAD. So the kayaker came over and she was very kind and patient and I grabbed the rope thing. I had really, really, reallllllllllllllllllllly wanted to complete this swim without kayak aid. But here we were. She began paddling toward shore and I kicked and she pulled me a long for a while (I have no idea. 50 yards? 100?) until I realized I could breathe. I made some conversation. I said, ‘Oh man, what if this happens to me during the event?” And she said, “No problem, you just go to shore and go do your bike and run.” And I was like, WHAT? Even if If don’t go all the way around the 3rd buoy? And she insisted no, “the swim can be whatever length you can do” and I was like, “Huh!” This was a glimmer of hope and possibility. I swam alongside the kayak and for a little while it felt almost as good as in the pool. I got back to shore.

I think I swam out to the 2nd buoy, which was about halfway between the pier and the turnaround buoy. Which was about 3/4 of the way, more or less. Maybe 2/3. Better than last weekend’s halfway.

So. The good thing about today’s swim is that I went farther. I only hung on the kayak once, as opposed to like half a dozen times.

The bad things were getting tangled in fishing line, getting freaked out by not hearing/understand the coach’s instructions, and the Bad Phase in which I had dueling voices in my head and could only swim two strokes at a time.

I was not the last person out of the water because most of the people did their complete swim, ie around the 3rd buoy. Which would naturally take longer.

After the swim, Lily and I had a rather leisurely transition onto our bikes (which had been locked in my car) and we did one loop of the bike course. My chain slipped off two times. (Lily helped the first time and the 2nd time I put it back on myself, yay for that) I was more tired on this bike ride than any of the other three times I’d done it. I realized I hadn’t really had anything to drink or eat after the swim, and I didn’t drink while on the bike either. (I better get used to that Camelbak) I was pooped. After I got back down we hustled into our running shoes and went up to the run course.

Both of us realized pretty soon that we really, really needed to pee. Which is a not-good feeling when trying to run. It’s almost like having an injury. At the very least it’s extremely distracting. So a lot more walking than usual went on.

That was our mini triathlon of this weekend. I keep telling myself the ways in which it’s going to be better on Race Day for a variety of reasons.

Right now I am really kind of looking forward to completing this season. I’m disappointed that my mental training did not yield a calmer swim than what I had. But I’m glad that I accomplished what I did today and I’m going to move forward. No crying today or tomorrow.

 

Back in the Saddle/Water September 19, 2011

I knew that if I didn’t do something FAST to counteract the terror of yesterday that I was going to be in deep trouble. So today I made a plan to swim at Lake Temescal with Lily and my bike friend Mary. It turned out to be a really hot day out so even though we brought our wetsuits we knew we would be broiling, no matter how cold the water.

You can click on the lake picture above to see how it’s set up. There’s the shallow part, which goes to the orange  floaters. Then it drops off and gets really deep (“really” = anything over my head). There’s a lane line where people can do laps way out yonder. That looked kind of nifty from the parking lot.

But my objective today was to get comfortable swimming again. It was to avoid having a panic attack at all costs. So basically what we ended up doing was lots of laps back and forth on the “deeper” side of the orange floaters. It was mostly over my head, but I knew that all I had to do was splash over that rope and I’d be standing up again. Which I really psychologically needed.

The first length was kind of a shocker, it was pretty cold and I could feel my heart racing. But it wasn’t HAMMERING. And I wasn’t having an all out panic. I was tired, and sort of out of breath when I got to the end, but I wasn’t like dying. I did a bunch of laps back and forth and each time it got a little better. The last few times, we did two lengths (back and forth) without stopping. That felt just fine.

I’m feel like I’m taking little baby steps (strokes?). I am back at square one. I’m going to have to build from here. But I  accomplished my goal for today, which was to find my way back to some sort of comfort zone. Next time, we push it just a few feet more. Then a little more. Baby steps.

it's good to have buddies.

 

Open Water September 18, 2011

I was actually really excited about the open water swim yesterday. The drive out to Del Valle Lake in Livermore was incredibly beautiful and I wasn’t feeling too nervous. We had had a good pool swim on Tuesday where I’d done about 2000 yards and felt relaxed – slow, but relaxed.

First we had a little clinic about open water swimming- how to “sight” (ie see where you’re going) without the comfort of lane lines in a pool. Then they passed out our wetsuits – very exciting! Wooo!

We got a demonstration on how to put on BodyGlide and how to turn it inside out and put it on “like pantyhose.” Then we were shown how to do the “wetsuit wedgie” – when someone else picks you up to jam the wetsuit completely into your crotch. Pretty funny.

AJ demos the pantyhose technique

Then it was our turn! Here’s Matt giving me my wedgie. Wheeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!

We felt pretty stoked with our new wetsuits.

Finally, we went down to the lake. The mud at the edge was SUPER DISGUSTING feeling but soon we waded in up to our waists and dived in and opened up our neck holes to get water into the suits (this is to form an insulating layer to keep us warm). I didn’t think that the water was too cold, actually.

Here they are instructing us to pee in our wetsuits to warm up. Nice!

Our first drill was to swim out about 25 yards (a pool length) to coach Stephanie in her kayak, then swim back to shore. I took off and the first several strokes felt just fine. I noticed right away that there was NOTHING TO SEE underwater – ie, it was just a bunch of murk. Just bubbles from exhaling. Okay. I think maybe I was about halfway to the kayak when I realized I was panting. Oh man, I have to rest already? I rolled onto my back and tried to breathe some. I made it around the kayak and got back, but I was SUPER out of breath and it didn’t feel good. I thought, “Man, what was that? Am I getting asthma or something?” The feeling in my chest was just tight.

I'm in the aqua cap

Second trip around the kayak went much better. I felt relaxed, but the memory of the first trip had kind of spooked me. They had asked us at first, “Who wants a buddy swimmer” and silly me didn’t raise my hand. But when we got set to do our first long swim (1/4 mile back and forth to a buoy) I was like… um, yes please! So my mentor Annika said she’d swim with me.

Things were going pretty well for about the first half. Then I heard Annika say, “Susan, turn to your left a little.” I popped my head up and saw that I was bearing really hard to the right, and I had drifted way away from everyone else (who was also way ahead of me, not to mention way to the left). I think that was it. My chest just seized up instantly. I couldn’t breathe. I turned on my back and tried to breathe but I was hyperventilating. Coach Haakon came over and he and Annika literally held me up, horizontally, like a little baby, while I struggled to regain my composure. It felt like forever. Finally they asked if I could manage to do sidestroke. I tried. I did sidestroke for a little while and then I felt like my lungs attacked me again. I sort of flipped out. “I…. can’t…. BREATHE!” I flailed around for a bit and then coach Stephanie showed up with the kayak and I pretty much lunged for it. I held on for dear life and panted and panted. I felt like there was a giant steel vice around my chest and it wasn’t letting me breathe. Stephanie asked if I wanted her to pull me in. I felt very, very defeated but I said, “Yes please.” I felt like there wasn’t any choice. I think we were very near the buoy at that point, but I’m not sure.

We got about halfway back and all of a sudden I realized I was breathing normally. I wanted to swim again. I said, “I think I can try again.” I got back to doing freestyle and it felt pretty good. I thought, at least I can redeem myself by swimming back half the way. It felt decent. Then I was almost, almost, almost there – I mean SO CLOSE and Bam! it hit me again. I was so close. I think what happened is I thought I could touch bottom and then when I tried and couldn’t, the Thing happened again. Shit! Another coach AJ asked, “Are you okay?” and I said, “No! NO!” and he grabbed my arm and dragged me like five feet to where I could stand. Annika asked if I needed to sit down but really I just needed to stand there and breathe. I was devastated. My breath sounded like a death rattle. My lungs were, I don’t know how to describe it. They felt like they were made of wood. It felt like an asthma attack. Was I having an asthma attack? I just couldn’t breathe. The coaches asked if I had an inhaler or I’d taken my medication. I haven’t actually HAD asthma in probably ten years so I don’t have an inhaler, no.

We got out of the water and out of our wetsuits and changed into running gear. That’s when I heard we were running 4-6 miles. I was like, oh BOY. Most of our post-bike or post-swim runs have been really short, like 20 minutes or 2 miles. This was a definite change.

We headed up to the trail for the run. Coach Joan told us it “wasn’t flat.” Um, true story. I decided I would do a 5/1 run/walk ratio. It was going okay at first. My feet were pretty achey but I know from experience that that goes away after the first mile or so; I was just going to have to run through it. I knew that I had about 3-4 people behind me and something about that made me feel like I had some company at my pace. The deal was we were supposed to run to the 2 mile marker, run back, then run to the 1 mile marker and back for a total of 6.

There was a killer hill in there right before the 2 mile mark that I just had to trudge up. Again I was feeling that panting feeling, like I couldn’t catch my breath. I didn’t like that very much. But I got to the 2 mile turnaround and realized the people behind me weren’t there anymore. They must have turned around earlier so that meant I was truly the last one out there. Coach Mark showed up to see if I was still alive (ha!) and jogged around with me a little bit. He nudged me up a couple of hills. Then my breathing started acting up again. I wanted to cry. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get my lungs to fully open up. I kept wanting him to go ahead of me and leave me in my misery so I could walk and cry.

Finally at the one mile marker he seemed satisfied I could make my way back so he took off. That’s when I pretty much hit my psychological wall. I was walking. I was walking really slow and the most incredible onslaught of thoughts just ran through my head. I knew there was no way I was going to go back out for the 6 miles. Four was going to have to be it. I thought about the swim and how terrifying and upsetting it had been. I thought about the really sucky bike ride I’d had on Friday and how I still couldn’t manage to deal with this little bridge on the trail near my house, and how I almost fell down twice. Almost.

By the time I made it back to the rest of the group, I was emotionally wrung out. It was HOT and I went over to sit under a tree a little ways away. I sat on a curb and cried for about twenty minutes. I knew that if anybody came and talked to me I was going to get truly hysterical so I kept my distance. Then I went and got my car. I have never felt so discouraged. I really felt like it was over.

Lily was a total rockstar yesterday. She did two entire loops around the buoy (1/2 mile!) and the whole 6 miles. I am so proud of her. We talked on the way home and she was her wonderful supportive self.

Look who got the Golden Hat of glory this week!

I’m not ready to give up. I’m going to give it another go, hopefully soon. But man, that was scary. I have to have some success and soon or else this little dream of mine is going to deflate fast. My friend Mary challenged me to a pretty daunting bike ride this afternoon but I know that’s not in the cards. I need to feel some success, some ease, some sense of possibility.

 

 
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