Man, I am the biggest triathlon Scrooge alive. Bah! Humbug! I’ve been grumbling and grousing and moaning pretty much all season. I’m the slowest runner. I’m the struggliest swimmer and the huffy-puffiest biker. And I’ve had the convenient excuses of injury, illness and schedule to keep me from doing a lot of the really hardest workouts. Part of me has just been DYING for Wildflower to be over so that I can get back to my regularly scheduled life, whatever that is.
But yesterday I just felt so glad and happy to be doing this and to be on this team. We were scheduled to do an open water swim plus bike ride. Originally, it was to take place at a further lake that has bike trails, and there was a 20 mile mountain bike ride included. I just kind of absorbed that info and made the mental note to bring my mountain bike. But when the workout location changed, I didn’t quite figure out that there wasn’t going to be a mountain bike component.
I hadn’t really quite realized the difference between riding a long course with a mountain bike with knobby wheels, and with a nice light little road bike. At this point I now am in possession of THREE separate bikes (I know, hilarious, right?) and I took the biggest, heaviest, most brutal-to-ride one.
The Olympic distance ride was 27.1 miles. I think I never really expected to do the whole thing, and that I would find some convenient spot around 10 miles out to turn around.
First the swim happened. I didn’t swim because I was on “water craft” duty. Which means kayaking around the swimmers and offering a place for people to hang onto. You know what? I almost always hang onto the kayak. I almost always need to. But yesterday I was impressed (and a little embarrassed) that absolutely NOBODY came near me for a breather, let alone to get pulled back to shore. My team is so freaking strong!! So I was fairly useless just paddling around out there. But it was fun. I love kayaks. I think I want to get one of my own.
I was pretty much the last one out of the water since I was providing “water safety.” Everyone had long gone on their bikes. I changed out of my wetsuit stuff and into my bike stuff and took off.
It was a long, long, pretty much on my own ride, until coach Holly caught up with me. Good thing she did because right before that, my course map had blown out of my pocket and I had no clue where to go. She became my human GPS and cheerleader, keeping me company or waiting for me at crucial intersections. We rode wayyyyyy out into the hills past vineyards and horse farms and long stretches of not much except pretty flowers.
Wimpy me, I had thought in my head that there was NO WAY I was going to do this whole ride. Especially on a mountain bike. And being wayyyy last. But I just kept chugging along. And counting each pedal stroke up the hills. When I was about 3/4 of the way through I was acutely aware that this ride was going to go down as my LONGEST bike ride EVER. I never completed the whole course at the Marin triathlon, and I had managed to miss most of the long rides due to absence or injury, so this was the longest by a LONG distance.
I thought for sure that everyone was going to be gone when I finally made it back to the parking lot, except for Lily and Eduardo (who I carpooled with), and of course coach Holly, who had stuck by me the whole way. But when I started the descent down into the parking lot, I could hear people cheering and see little figures jumping up and down and I suddenly got the feeling I might start bawling again. It was a huge moment! And then people were saying all these encouraging things about “OMG you did that all on a MOUNTAIN bike?” and one of my teammates, who I didn’t even think knew my name, came up to me and said I should be so proud of myself for what I accomplished and that I could use this moment as a touchstone “on and off the course.” I was blown away and so moved and suddenly I just felt so grateful for Team and for myself for not giving up and for coach Holly and all of it.
Today I did a 5k race with more teammates. And I just felt happy to be alive and moving, albeit slowly ;-).
This week Mr. McBody and I are taking a long awaited trip to Nicaragua and I will have my running shoes but really no way to bike or swim until Event weekend. It’s kind of a shame to be leaving just as I am getting “warmed up” but that’s the way it happened this time. I’m already thinking … maybe… next time? Run team? Hike team? Tri team?? I’m going to take a break after this one for sure, but who knows how long that break will be.
I went into this training weekend for the Wildflower Tri with a great amount of trepidation and maybe some (?) dread. It was already conflicting with a conference that is very important to me and that only takes place every two years (and in California, which never happens!). My buddy Lily wasn’t going to be there because she was in Phillly accepting this huge award. (GO LILY!)
I performed at the conference on Thursday and got to see a friend/author give the keynote speech. Then on Friday morning I had to hit the road early so I could get to the campground while there was still daylight. Yeah, they call Wildflower the “Woodstock of triathlons” because there are thousands of people camping out foot to nose, and there’s a ton of mud and maybe rain and no hotels for miles. I mean MILES. It just isn’t feasable.
I thought that the campground place was only 3 hours away from where the conference was in Southern California (MAN do I live in a huge state!) but it turned out to be six hours away.
Luckily I got there in time to set up my tent while it was still light out. I was feeling just a teeny bit cranky because I was so sad to leave the conference, but I guess I’m one of those “love the one your with” people because pretty soon I was able to shift gears/transition (haha – puns intended) into being with the team and my mentees. We all chipped in to make a group dinner and then we had a meeting with all the other Bay Area TNT tri teams who were there for training weekend. There were a LOT of folks there! I got introduced to the two (TWO!) other people doing the Sprint/Mountain Bike distance, along with Coach Tom, who was going to be our personal coach for the weekend (nice thing about doing sprint, you get a ton of personal attention!). Everyone else was either doing the Olympic or the Half Ironman. I was not wishing I was in either of those groups.
Our coach Dave is a real joker. Even though our swim practice was not supposed to begin until 10:00am, he woke us up at 5:30am by blasting the Darth Vader theme song and walking around the campground with his boom box. NICE. I took my sweet time opening my eyes to the darkness and crawling out of the tent. It was freezing. BOY it was freezing. Like, 37 degrees freezing? And we were going to go swimming? Right.
We did manage to get out of the tents, make some coffee, blink in the sunrise, and get a good breakfast in in plenty of time. I guess that was the point. Coach wanted to make sure we had ample time to go to the bathroom (always very important on race morning!), get all our gear organized and get our heads on straight.
We headed down to the lake around 9:15 for a little pep talk and swim clinic and to get our wetsuits on. I met up with Coach Tom and the other sprinters. He pointed out the orange buoy which we were to swim around. The mile buoy was pretty much out of sight. I was very glad that was not my destination. I wriggled into my wetsuit and swim booties, my Squid Lid and goggles, and hoped that I was not going to have any major panic attacks or breathing issues. Then we waddled out to the pier and jumped in the lake two by two.
It was cold. But it wasn’t PAINFUL cold. People were shrieking and freaking out all around me. I just bobbed around, got my bearings and started in on my “gentle-kind” swimming routine. All I can say is that it wasn’t impossible, and it wasn’t easy. It just was. There were a few moments when I got a little ragged around the edges and I could hear myself struggling a little, breathing wise. I got to the buoy okay. The trip back to the pier seemed to take freaking forEVER. I could see the little figures of coaches standing on the pier, and for the longest time they didn’t seem to ever get any bigger. But I managed to get there and clamber back onto muddy land.
I stripped off my wetsuit, put on a dry top, helmet, got my bike and was ready/nervous to start out on the mountain bike part.
It was just about 10 miles, but.. mountain bike. Hills. Bumpy stuff. Ack. Coach Tom met up with me and the other two women and he was just so reassuring and calming. He’s a big tall bearish guy and very, very calming. He said, “we’re just gonna go out there and have fun.” He was going to be our personal tour guide of the Mountain Bike route and just show us all the turns and changes. I was so so nervous and anxious about this part. In my head I was thinking, if this doesn’t go well, then I’m done. I’m just gonna drop out of racing altogether (for the Wildflower) and I’ll come back as a cheerleader only. We took off. The first part was nice and flat, along the lake, very scenic. OK. Good start. Then we got to this pretty steep hill. I went to switch gears and… switched in the WRONG DIRECTION. Um. Which ground me to a complete halt and I had to get off and push, panting. Boo.
Next hill, I knew better, so I was able to grind up the hill, really hard breathing, but I made it. YAY! More ups and downs, trail riding, bump bump, rocks and holes and sticks and stuff, but I dealt with it. Then there were the hills. They looked like this.
You can see that there are two really big uphills there. They were… intense. But I just set my bike into the lowest gear and counted. One to ten, over and over. I really tried to dig deep. I knew that if I stopped, or got off, my legs were going to protest and that would be the end of it.
And you know what? I stayed on the whole time, through both those big hills and then the final one at the end. See the super steep downhill? That was crazy steep DOWN at the very end. I bawled my face off on that whole downhill. I couldn’t believe I had done it. And I realized that doing the Mountain Bike Tri was not the wimpy thing I had thought. It had taken pretty much all I had. By the time I got down to the parking lot finish I was a huge blubbery mess.
I really have to thank big Coach Tom for seeing me through that day. He was patient, and reassuring, and kind, and I knew that he believed in us. He was a real Ito-Whisperer and I was so amazingly grateful. I found him by his car and bawled some more. And then I felt like I could really do it, and that it was just right – not too hard, not impossible, but not a piece of cake either. It was a pretty overwhelming feeling given all of my doubts and fears this time.
Yeah, my teammates ended up doing the Olympic and Half Iron distances. They’re a bunch of rockstars. But it doesn’t take away how good it felt to be doing the race that felt right for me right now.
It felt awesome to go back to camp and take a lukewarm (brrr) shower.
Getting through that bike ride/swim combo was soooooo huge for me. Huge! The hugest! I am now really looking forward to the tri on May 5th. It’s gonna be awesome. I am also realizing that maybe the Sprint is “my” distance. I don’t have to worry about bonking or getting super dehydrated. (plus, I did remember to hydrate and fuel well this time) I can really challenge myself without half dying. I can feel proud of it.
I had the opportunity to talk to quite a few people this weekend about my “downgrading” to Sprint distance and I’ve come out feeling so much more positive and confident about it. It’s not a stupid wimpy thing for losers. It’s STILL A TRIATHLON. It’s still a challenge. It’s still freaking badass. I had just lost sight of that when I got all caught up in comparing myself to others and even to my own self. But this weekend proved to me that it’s still a real accomplishment and something to be really proud of. I want to thank all the people who reiterated this to me, who showed me kindness in all of my uncertainty. It has meant the world to me.
On Sunday morning we had our practice run. My race distance is only 2 miles, so a mile out and back. When I got to the turnaround arrows I just wasn’t ready, so I kept going, including a big gnarly hill. I did a total of about 4.5 which felt good. On race day I will definitely just do my alloted 2 but it felt good to push it a little on Sunday. I left the race course feeling good and excited about what’s coming on May 5th. Woo!
I can’t believe it’s been more than a week since returning from my TNT Yosemite event weekend, and this is the first chance I’ve had a minute to sit down and recap it. I have to do it today before the memories completely fade!
I have to say that this experience with TNT was completely unique from all of my other seasons. Instead of facing the Big Weekend with some degree of anxiety, dread, fear and adrenaline, I went into this one thrilled to be going on what felt like a weekend vacation. In beautiful Yosemite! Yay!
At sort of the last minute, Junior and her housemate F joined me for the weekend. Junior hadn’t been to Yosemite since she was about eight years old and she was very excited. We arrived just in time to get to the snowshoe fitting and then the Send-Off (pre-event) dinner.
The mood at the dinner was festive and relaxed. People had made flags with their honorees’ names on them and they were draped along the wall, a good reminder of Why We Were Doing This.
Coach Carolyn gave us our instructions for meeting up, carpooling to the SNOW at Badger Pass, meeting up with our respective guides, and taking a picture at 11:11. We were divided into four groups based on exertion level. I was in the “Mighty Mo” or ‘moderate’ group which would later prove to be not-so-moderate, but still just right. I had just done that Tinkerbell Half, and was about to re-enter triathlon training, so I didn’t need to prove anything at this hike.
We did a little candle lighting ceremony and then blew them out as a symbolic gesture to “snuff out cancer.” We were thinking about one of our honorees, my mentor’s husband, who had been planning to come to Yosemite, but was in the hospital back home following some complications. It was a reminder of Coach Carolyn’s words about life not always going as planned. Randy had grappled with deciding to come to the event weekend, but the doctors had reassured her that her husband would be safe and cared for in the hospital. This lady has been through so much.
When we woke up, these nice mats were outside of our hotel room doors:
After breakfast we drove out to Badger Pass. Yosemite is so breathtakingly gorgeous, pictures can never really do it justice.
We got up to Badger Pass and there was SNOW! We put on our snowshoes… which took about half an hour of grunting, moaning and dealing with buckles and such. Finally… ta da!
Then we split up into our respective groups and headed out with our guide. UPHILL. Going uphill on snowshoes at 7,000 feet elevation is… well, it’s no walk in the park. I was winded after about twenty yards.
It was also pretty darn cold, in spite of the sunny weather. Here’s teammate Dorothy holding a hand warmer packet up to her frozen nose. Nose warmer?
At 11:11am we found ourselves near what looked like a giant flaming snow cupcake. You see how my mind works.
Here’s our trusty guide Zach, who was infinitely patient with our sometimes high-maintenance (ahem) group of women.
We got to the top of the ridge and had us a nice lunch break on the sunny rocks. This is not something you get during marathons and triathlons!
It was so pristine and beautiful up there!
On the way back down, we separated out to do solo meditations for a few minutes. I found a tree to lean on and just soak up the peace and quiet for a while. It was one of my favorite parts of the whole hike.
We got back down to the lodge after about five and a half hours of snowshoeing. Which felt “just right” in terms of a damn good workout, a beautiful hike, but not horribly painful. I had gotten a good day’s work in there.
When we arrived down to the Valley we got the sad news that Randy’s husband had been transferred to the ICU and was in very grave condition. My buddy Jon volunteered to drive her down to the hospital, over 4 hours away, so she could be with him right away. This is what team spirit and our mission is about.
The rest of us celebrated the end of our season and our hikes, thinking of them and sharing a moment of silence.
The next morning we walked up to the beautiful Yosemite falls for some photo ops.
Then it was the amazing Ahwahnee Hotel for their insanely delicious brunch. What a way to wrap it all up.
With this event, I earned my Team in Training Triple Crown pin for participating in three different sports: marathon, triathlon and hike team. It felt good.
Hike Team was very very different from other “endurance” events but it was a welcome change of pace and something I’d definitely do again at some point. They have incredible hikes to the Grand Canyon and other stunning locales.
I’m not fundraising for the Triathlon team this season because I’m mentoring the team and will be putting my efforts toward supporting my mentees. This is the last chance you’ll have to support me and my amazing team until… next time. 😉
All in all, it was a beautiful, active, inspiring experience. I recommend for anyone who is interested in being part of an active team that’s working for a good cause. Thumbs up.
I did not go into this half marathon race with high expectations. In fact, I was kind of dreading it because my running training has fallen short of my intentions. So I was just hoping it wouldn’t be a big, enormous painful fail, and that I would come home with one of those pretty Tinkerbell wing medals.
Originally I’d signed up for this race as a great mother-daughter bonding event. But the best laid plans, you know? Poor Junior, who had actually TRAINED for this race, came down with a gnarly flu/sore throat/feeling like hell on Friday night. She had gone down to SoCal early, and because I had my TNT Kick-Off on Saturday, and Juniorette had crew practice, it was up to poor Junior to go to the Expo to pick up our race packets and chips and all. What a sad thing, to be amidst all that wild enthusiasm and excitement, knowing she probably wouldn’t be able to do the race. Wahh! I really felt for her.
She picked up all the stuff and then we met up at the hotel where she was lying in bed looking miserable.
After taking some medicine she did feel well enough to go over to Disney California for a bit. We headed straight for our most favorite ride, Soarin’ Over California, which is both relaxing and beautiful. At that point, Junior was feeling better than she’d had all day, and we entertained the idea that maybe she could walk the race slowly. But the night was a rough one, with fever and discomfort and no sleep. So when the alarm went off at 3:30am (!!!!!!!!!) it was just Juniorette and I who got up.
One of the VERY BEST DECISIONS I ever made was to book the hotel right at the start/finish line. So all we had to do was take the elevator downstairs, and the race staging area was RIGHT THERE. I knew that other people were having to WALK a mile or more to the start, and that just would not have been a happy thing.
When we first entered the area we were greeted by some Pirates. That was pretty awesome, and took the sting out of the fact that it was still pretty much the middle of the night.
I have to say, this pretty much spoiled me for every other race. If we aren’t greeted by pirates at the crack of dawn, then I’m gonna be sad.
When it was time to go to our corrals to line up for the start, Juniorette and I had to split up because she was in C (younger faster folks!) and I was in E (the End).
I was verrrry happy to then meet up with (out of 11,000 people) two of my friends! What are the chances of that! I found Christine and Sabrina, both of whom with I’d done the Fight for Air Stair Climb last year. It was great to have people to hang with while we were waiting to make our way to the start line. It was Christine’s first half marathon, which was exciting, and it was Sabrina’s 16th! (her first this month- she’s doing a half every month!)
While we were waiting around, I did several minutes of calf stretches. When I had been at the TNT Kickoff on Saturday morning (which, by the way, was awesome) I met up with a foot doctor at their mini-expo. I described to him the excruciating foot pain that has been plaguing me worse than ever. I told him about this sole-stabbing PAIN that came on without fail pretty much every run, after about 1/3 mile, and which persisted until it started subsiding around mile 2. I’ve learned that I can “run through it” but man, it has not been pleasant. It always makes me think of the Little Mermaid who has these knife-stabbing sensations in her feet when she walks (I did a paper on Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid in grad school). Anyway, he said it sounded like a case of tight gastrocnemius muscle and he showed me exactly the stretches to do. Which I did, crossing my fingers. I thought how nice it would be to not be running on knives through Ariel’s Grotto.
Finally it was time to move up to the start line. It was still pitch black, and then fireworks went off (of course) and… wooo! Juniorette texted me that Sean Astin (aka Samwise Gamgee from LOTR!) was in her corral. Squeeee! They called Corral C, then D, then it was our turn: Corral E – proceed to the starting line! Boom!
We ran around some random streets for a while and then after a mile or two (?) we were back in Disneyland. That was surreal and fun, running through the empty park, through the back lots and Secret Areas while the sun was just starting to come up.
Just as we came up around the It’s A Small World ride (fond childhood memories) I saw this big line and thought, what, port-o-potties already? No, it was Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and a few other princesses. And a heck of a long line. I knew that I did NOT want to stand there for 10-15 minutes that early on. Or maybe ever. But then, after mile 2, I saw these two guys standing there – with NO LINE! (or maybe just one person ahead of me) I couldn’t resist.
I also could not resist the real, clean, flush bathrooms right near there. Even though there was a waiting line, it wasn’t any longer than the Port O Potties line, so I went for the flush kind. I was really happy I did that, especially early on, because it made for a much more comfortable race.
Just when I got to the 5k point (3.1 miles) I realized something. MY FEET HAD NOT BEEN STABBING ME. Thank you, Dr. Footdoctor, at the TNT expo! He had been so right. It felt so amazing to run on pain-free feet!!
Pretty soon we came upon Cinderella’s castle. How awesome was that.
I actually felt just relaxed and great through the first eight miles. I was so happy about that. I knew that I had a mental block coming up around mile 9, because that was my longest run in the past many months. OK, my longest run since the Las Vegas Half in December 2010. So I knew I was once again heading into uncharted territory, and I remembered how absolutely MISERABLE and deathly feeling I’d been at mile 11 in Vegas. I was kinda nervous.
I started texting Mr McBody because I knew he’d give me a little pep talk. So every time I passed a mile marker I’d type in the number and word for how I felt.
I was totally psyched that at Mile 10 I was feeling GOOD.
Up until this point I really did not have any discomfort other than what felt like a blister on my right pinky toe. I kept sort of shifting around in my shoe to avoid the tender spot. But it wasn’t like it was killing me.
The last couple miles weren’t EASY (I texted, “I’m feeling it”) but they weren’t horrible. I wasn’t suffering or praying for mercy or anything like it. I wasn’t feeling any systemic problems. I had been drinking a half-cup of water and half-cup of PowerAde at every water stop. I had a little pouch of salted pretzels which I took in steadily, and I had one packet of Gu at Mile 9. (good place for it) I felt perfectly balanced, which is pretty much nothing short of a miracle for me. No GI problems, no tingling, numbness, asthma, nausea or the like. All of which I’ve had in large amounts. I was so grateful but also proud of myself for having figured that part of it out. There was one woman running near me with her hands up, and her friend was massaging her fingers. I gave her some pretzels and said, “need salt” and she was so happy. (“Those Team in Training people are so helpful!”)
I was also really proud of the fact that I ran the entire race WITHOUT MUSIC. Which is also nothing short of miraculous, considering I’ve been pretty dependent on my tunes since day one. It was just that my phone battery was down to 3/4 even at the start line, and I was super nervous I wouldn’t have enough juice to text people at the end (or during if necessary). So I didn’t use my Runkeeper ( which really drains the juice) or ANY music. I listened to the cool high school marching bands and to the speaker music when it came around every mile or so. That was enough, and I think having music as a “special treat” now and then helped me really appreciate it. Having said that I think I need to invest in a Mophie or one of those extra battery things.
Finally we got to mile 12, back in the park again, and I was so happy about how good I was feeling. The last mile between 12 and 13 felt pretty long, but again, I wasn’t dying. Then we got to mile 13 and I was so happy. I saw Sabrina and that was great, to see her at beginning and end (and a bunch in the middle too). When we got to the finish, I did a little jump in the air (I hope Brightroom.com got that one!) and just felt so happy. Then a few feet later I saw Pauly, whom I’d run a bit with during HER Las Vegas half in December! (she is also a TNT mentor, down in LA) That was awesome.
I’ve gotta say, there were HUNDREDS of TNT runners, spectators and coaches through this whole race. It is so great to have people call your name and say “Go Team!” just because you’re wearing this purple shirt. Toward the end, maybe Mile 12, I think I may have been looking a little ragged, and this TNT coach ran with me for a while. He talked to me about drinking water in the last mile, and he was just so encouraging and coach-y, it was as if he’d been training me all season. That made a big impression, the huge community that TNT is everywhere.
I was super stoked to get this giant gorgeous medal!
Then I found Juniorette, who’d been waiting for me OVER an HOUR (she rocked it!!!). We went up to the hotel and pretty much crashed. It felt so awesome to take my shoes off. Junior had slept through the whole thing. Poor baby!
The afternoon was pretty much a blur of napping and lying around, and then later on we went back to the parks to play before Junior’s plane ride home. Juniorette and I had an awesome dinner at Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen then stayed out super late playing on the rides. She convinced me to go on the Tower of Terror, which WAS terrifying but actually really fun and well done. We also did the new 3D Star Tours (AWESOME!) and Indiana Jones and a few others. Finally dragged back to bed around 11 and crashed hard.
This was my second half marathon and I have to say it was one of my happiest races. I’ve had a lot of pain and suffering in many of my events, and even though I was glad to have finished them, they were hard won victories. This one just felt good from beginning to end. (is there something to running a race in the “happiest place on Earth?”) It was slower than my first half marathon by seven minutes, but it felt 100% better. So I’d call it a personal best of sorts. (and I know that time difference was for the Tarzan and bathroom stops!)
I just feel so good about all the things that went RIGHT for this race:
The hotel location was PERFECTO. Nothing sucks more than having to walk 1-2 miles back to a hotel after you’ve just run 13.1.
Salt, water and sports drink ratio were just right. Yay for salty pretzels, water, PowerAde and Gu, all in just the right amounts at the right time. How awesome to not feel SICK.
No painful feet! The calf stretches were amazing, and I wore my ankle brace and orthotics (and compression socks) but didn’t overdo it with tape and extra stuff. I felt well supported but not strangled. It was great.
I feel really good about this race, considering that my training was less than stellar. It made me think, wow, what could I do WITH some good training? Maybe my next adventure will be a TNT half or full….
But for now, my next schedule race isn’t until June, the South Maui Triathlon. I want to feel as good about that as I did about this half marathon, so I’m excited to dive into training with my new team and my new coach. WAHOO!
I’d say that 2011 was overall very positive for me, health and activity-wise. Here’s a peek at what went on last year:
first snowshoe adventure, New Mexico
2nd year as Weight Watchers leader
2nd “Healthaversary” Party
I took my first of two trips to Baltimore last year!
running in the snow
meeting the awesome Roni for the first time!
The “Fight for Air” Stairclimb with Sabrina
View from the top: 110 flights up!
Oakland Running Festival Twilight 5k THE NEXT DAY!
That was quite a weekend.
featured in story in Oakland Trib about running after injuries
Trip to London (here on Abbey Road)
and Paris (Notre Dame)
Good thing we walked a lot because typical breakfast = croissants and cheese
My first Bay to Breakers. CRAZY!
Major highlight of 2011: Fitbloggin!
Looking back, I have to say I feel good about it. That was quite a year. I kept pushing myself and finding new and different things to do. I think that’s the name of the game. Keep going. Keep improving and challenging.
What’s in store for 2012? I’m starting out with a New Year’s Day 10k run. Then I’m doing the TinkerBell Half Marathon in Disneyland with my two daughters (fun!) on January 29th. February 5th is the TNT Snowshoe Hike in Yosemite (prettty!) and then I’m diving into a new season of triathlon training, this time as a mentor. I can’t wait to get back to training again!! Would you like to be on my team and become a triathlete in 2012? Believe me, if I can do it, anyone can!!
What did you do in 2011 for health and fitness’ sake? What are your plans for 2012? I want to know!!
So finally – here’s my race recap. It isn’t exactly a replica of my idyllic visualization that I wrote a few days ago. It also took a long time to gather up all the pictures (click on any of them to make them bigger). When you train with Team in Training, you pretty much have a papparazzi gang following you everywhere! It’s good that I had some reflection time, too. Two days after the fact I can say now that I feel good about it. Sunday night, not so much.
Here goes, in probably excruciating detail, but this is kind of how I process stuff (in case you haven’t noticed, LOL!).
Woke up at 4:10am. Actually woke up at 12:59am, 3-something-am AND 4:10am because Mr. McBody (Dr McBody to some) was on call, and get calls he did. (note to self: if spouse is on call night before a race, sleep in separate rooms)
I was WIDE awake though. This was helped by the switch back to Standard Time, which felt like a gift from the universe. So it only FELT like 5:10am, which I’ve done before! Got dressed and had mini-mini meltdowns due to 1) someone at the last whole wheat English muffin and left the EMPTY PACKAGE on top of the breadbox! So I was left without my Eng muffin and peanut butter breakfast which I have gotten very attached to. Instead I boiled a couple of eggs and ate some weird Chai-flavored instant oatmeal. They both felt unfamiliar and kind of wrong, but what choice did I have at 4:30am? Not much.
Picked up Lily. Yay! Her sweetie and parents and dog were all waiting down on the street to load her bike in my car. We had an awesome drive over to the tri site. I am really going to miss driving to workouts with her in the wee hours of the morning. (snif)
We arrived at the park in plenty of time. It was actually really beautiful there in the predawn.
I ate my hard boiled egg, we used the restrooms and picked out our transition spots. Since we were there so early, we had a good choice of spot and I got to use the fence as a coat rack.
Coach Haakon taped up my foot. Which is supposedly not in the regulations, but I really appreciated it.
We went and got our bodies marked with our race numbers and our ages. 52, baby!!!! I always wonder why they do that – so that if we die on the course we have ID on our bodies?
Our mentor Annika gave us a visual preview of all the ins and outs and showed us where all the buoys were for the swim course. I’d say we’re looking fairly concerned. Teammate Vince calls it “game face.” LOL.
We started walking over to the swim entry area, led by an awesome bagpipe player (very dramatic!). My heart was pounding like a jackhammer. Then I stepped in this crazy HOLE in the parking lot (like six inches deep and the width of a coffee can) – my foot went RIGHT IN and I fell down. Bam! Not an auspicious beginning. I could feel something bad in my knee (which is still feeling pretty twisted, by the way). But we kept going. I was feeling pretty psyched, and pretty ready.
We TNTers got to go in the first wave and that was a really good thing. We got in the water (brrrrrrrrr!) and got the water in our wetsuits and floated around while we waited for the starting horn.
We were being led out on paddleboard by Coach Neil, the guy who had led my semi-disastrous last open water swim a few weeks ago. I told him I was feeling good about the swim and he seemed pleased but also surprised because I think he really had me for a goner in the open water department.
So we swam. I know that I was swimming really, really slowly. But I was relaxed. I kept up my “gentle-kind” mantra pretty much the only time, except when I was daydreaming about pleasant things, which was a pretty nice way to pass the time. I noticed that each time I lifted my head to sight on the big orange buoy, it kept GETTING BIGGER! which I found very encouraging. I was making headway, even though virtually everyone was passing me and leaving a large gap between them and me. I was OK. I made a few little “bobbing” stops to get my bearings and take some extra oxygen in, but they weren’t like panic stops, more like, “let’s see what’s going on.”
I was somewhere between buoy 2 and 3 (out of 4?) and a couple kayakers were yelling and motioning at me to “pull it in toward the shore!” I think I got kind of drifty toward the right and ended up adding a couple hundred extra yards to my swim. I had a few moments of “Well, that’s a drag” but I didn’t freak out. Pretty soon a huge wave of red-capped swimmers took us over. They were churning up the water like a hundred sharks in a frenzy. A couple of them slapped at my feet and bumped into me. Thank goodness that is ONE thing that doesn’t freak me out. I just kind of got out of their way.
The swim felt long. By the clock I think it was around 40 minutes, which was shorter than I’d planned for but still I was near the end of our group. No matter. I was relaxed the whole time, and toward the end I was almost regretting it was going to be over. I was sort of enjoying thinking my nice thoughts and just stroke, stroke, stroke. The last bit between the final buoy and the red finish arc felt reallllllllly long. But I didn’t panic, didn’t float on my back, didn’t hang on any kayaks or people, and pretty much DID the damn thing! After all the struggle I had these past months? I was ecstatic.
I was pretty darn happy when I got out of the water.
I headed to T1. (Transition 1) When I got there I was suddenly overcome by lightheadedness. I felt super dizzy and suddenly insanely COLD. So I was just focused on trying to get warm and put on some dry stuff. It seemed to take forever to put on my socks and gloves. My feet were this wacky white/red color. Finally I felt ready and I pulled my bike down and got out of there.
Ha! Forgot this very Special Moment during the tri until teammate Katherine sent it to me. Right after this last picture above, it was time to “mount the bikes.” I got on and then… OOPS! Seems like Katherine wanted some team togetherness. 🙂 Neither of us actually fell over though, and it was all good! This is now one of my favorite pics of the event.
Important note for subsequent events: I was really kind of a woozy space cadet during this transition. I wasn’t thinking clearly. ie., I looked at my huuuuuge bottle of Gatorade on the ground, and a littler bottle. But I didn’t drink any. Nor did I eat any of the salted pretzels I’d so carefully baggied up. I took a little swig of water and then put the water bottle in my bike’s holder. I ate a half of a Kind bar. (sweet flavor)
I go back and back to this moment. In the past months I learned that the combo of Gatorade and salty pretzels is like the PERFECT combo recovery/fuel for me. The electrolytes/carbs/salt combo. This combo has given me like superhuman energy and really surprised me. So WHY didn’t I eat/drink it during this transition? One, I was dying from salt overload from the swim and I couldn’t deal with the idea of pretzels. Which is why I chose the Kind bar. Two, I remember kind of glancing at the Gatorade and I may as well have been looking at a doorknob. Like, “Hmm, that looks familiar like something I’ve used in a past life.” It just didn’t click to me. I took that one little sip of water and then I was starting to get really concerned about sitting there having a picnic while everyone else was clearing out to bike, so I just wanted to hustle and get out of there. I MAY have thought, “I’ll drink when I’m on the bike” but I also thought there would be some water/Gatorade stops on the way.
I got going out of transition and up the hill. This is a really steep kind of hill of doom thing, but I set it in first gear and just got up it. It wasn’t so bad. I was feeling pretty good. My feet were absolutely NUMB and I had noticed when putting my socks on they were a freaky white/red frostbitey color. They never thawed out the whole time I was on the bike.
Then we turned out of the park and it was so exciting! People lining the streets!
I saw Annelies and my coaches and a whole ton of people. It was so cool. Then we had ANOTHER long climb but I felt OK.
I got through the first loop, turned around at the campground and headed back to the park. Fewer people standing around this time because a lot of people had transitioned to run. I was still feeling OK I thought.
I started coming up the long climb for trip number two and right away, my chain slipped. Damn. And as soon as I got off the bike, my head started swirling and I just felt… NOT GOOD. This guy came over and helped me with the chain. I continued up the hill and then I just had to stop. By complete coincidence, I happened to stop in front of this orange-shirted volunteer guy who had this first aid kit. It was a medic! Wow! He asked me how I was doing. I said, “Um…. not so hot.” He told me to rest a few minutes and I did and then I decided to walk to the crest of the hill. But I was feeling really wobbly.
I got on the bike again at the flat and went a little ways longer and then damn, my chain slipped off AGAIN. This time my teammate Art came to my rescue. He fixed my chain and at that point I just started crying. And finding it hard to breathe. And shivering like nobody’s business. I was SO COLD all of a sudden. Then I felt nauseated. I drank a little more water but at that point I felt like I was going to puke. Then the orange-shirt medic came trotting up and he told me to sit down and I told Art to keep going. And then I REALLY fell apart.
(edited to add: I was dehydrated. I was SO DEHYDRATED! Because I hadn’t really had enough to drink beforehand, and I FORGOT to drink during transition, and I thought there would be water stops on the bike route so I didn’t drink while I was riding either.)
When supervising the medical care of athletes, it is important to recognize the basic signs of dehydration. These include thirst, irritability and general discomfort followed by headache, weakness, dizziness, cramps, chills, heartburn, difficulty breathing, vomiting, nausea, head or neck heat sensations and decreased performance.
I felt like I was dying. Like all of my internal systems were just going haywire: stomach, lungs, brain, circulation, the works. The medic took my blood pressure. It was high. He said my heart rate was “pretty fast.” I started crying even more, and gasping and death-rattling, not unlike what I’ve done in open water. Except here I was now by the side of the road. Meanwhile I was getting colder and colder and all I wanted was my big fake-fur parka back at transition. I thought I was going to die if I didn’t get warm. The medic gave me his fleece jacket but it didn’t cover my whole body and my teeth were just chattering like a skeleton dance. I knew that I had two choices at that moment: I’d have to throw in the towel, or I’d have to rally and keep going. I had been sitting on the ground there for probably more than twenty minutes (no, no exaggeration!). I was feeling in a desperate state. He said, “Maybe you will feel better with some wind in your face, or we can call the car to come get you.”
HELL NO. No car! No car! I felt like I would die a thousand deaths of shame if I got toted back in a car. (worse than a kayak?) So I walked the bike shakily over the next rise and then got on again. I was about 20% into the 2nd loop at that point. I started going verrrrry, very slowly and grimly. I felt like death. I was so cold it was almost unbearable, and I was still kind of hyperventilating. I pedalled. Finally I got out to the turnaround where my friend Mary was waiting with another support person. I was feeling pretty miserable right then. I made my way back to the park and my plan was to ask coach Haakon what he thought I should do.
But there was pretty much nobody there at the park entrance at that point. People were FINISHING the race (I could hear the loudspeakers) and the guy waved his orange flag and flagged me back toward the entrance. They were starting to take down the bike course. I knew that about 4 of my teammates were still out on the course, doing their 3rd loop, because we’d passed each other. But they were past the turnaround and I hadn’t even started. I thought about the big hill and the time. I felt like I had no energy to do another loop, and no time to do it in, and that it would pretty much finish me, physically and emotionally.
I turned into the parking lot and headed down to Transition again.
Here, dear readers, is what is LITERALLY a turning point in the story. Where I made that decision, for better or worse. On one hand it felt like the only tenable choice. On the other hand it felt TERRIBLE. I knew that if I started the run portion I would still be way behind 99% of all of the participants in the race.
So I went down to transition, put on my running shoes and hat, and headed out again. As I passed a lot of people yelling my name, all I could think of was, “If you only knew! I just did two loops!” I also knew I had to keep going and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
In spite of my wonky knee and foot, I managed to “run” (ie not walk) more than half – maybe even 75% of the six miles. I did a walk interval with Art, who had saved me with my slipped chain during the ride. It was great to have him for company during that final piece.
He finished up his 2nd run loop (my first) and I ran the majority of the last one. Two of the highlights of the run portion were seeing my beautiful Juniorette appear. She ran up and gave me a kiss and I got all weepy. Then I got to pass my awesome trainer, Doug, who had set up camp with a cup of coffee and a folding chair. I could hear his huge booming voice, “Here comes SUSANITO!” from blocks away. It was amazing to see him out there. (I wish I had a picture of this!)
Meanwhile, the vast majority of participants and spectators were passing me on the road as they headed out of the park, beeping and cowbelling out their windows. I think a hundred cars must have passed by and while it was nice to be cheered I was also wondering if there was going to be ANYbody left in the park when I got down to finish.
As it turns out, my whole beautiful team was there. I got down to the finish chute and my beautiful mentor Annika and her husband ran in with me.
The whole team was yelling my name. The announcer goes, “What an entourage! They’re all yelling for Cindy!” and everyone yells “SUSAN!”
I passed over the finish and got all hugged by everyone and I was a sobbing, weepy MESS.
The announcer boomed out, “Yes, sometimes there are a few tears.” Which made me cry more. I was just freaking SPENT at that point.
Then the last bunch of teammates came on in a while later and then everyone was done and I walked around feeling super fragile, and a combination of triumphant and completely fraudulent and awful. I told Mr. M what had gone on, and of course he was not the least bit disgusted or concerned. (he was, however, quite dismayed by my lack of hydration)
Came home. Took a hot bath (I was STILL cold!). Passed out into a fitful nap then had soup for dinner.
I read the gazillion Facebook accolades and “you are so awesome!” comments. I started writing this recap but at that point I was drowning in feelings of guilt (over not doing the 3rd bike loop) and feeling like I had somehow cheated. I didn’t want to think of myself as the kind of person who takes the bus to the finish line. I was really agonizing over it and felt like I needed to return all the congratulations that had come my way.
I sent a confessional sort of race cap email to my coaches. It was really eating me up. Their responses made me bawl even more, but helped me see that I really did have something to be proud of and not ashamed about.
Coach Stephanie said:
I knew that you hadn’t finished that last loop. You are still a triathlete. Nothing takes that away from what you accomplished this season. I don’t know too many people, myself included who could have the tenacity to get back on that bike after the very emotional moments and sheer physical discomfort that you experienced and decided to carry on. Well done to you! Live to fight another day…Forgive yourself for any feelings of defeat. You are a warrior and a Triathlete!
Then Coach Haakon said (and he was who I was most worried about because he is such a BAD ASS!):
You do not have anything to be ashamed of. I hope with all my heart that what you take out of this experience is that you accomplished a hell of a lot more than I think even you thought you were capable of. Plenty of people start and don’t finish completely. You toed the line and you battled through more obstacles than just about anyone else out there. You have trained diligently and hard and have contributed in a big way to the personality of our team. You deserve that medal and many more. I am none the less proud of your accomplishment today than I was yesterday and I would be shocked if anyone else was either. Everyone has a story and everyone has their reasons for doing things. What I see here is someone who struggled enormously yet pushed through despite every part of her body telling her to stop. I can imagine that the decision to cut it short was not an easy one, but it also sounds like it was the right one. Be proud of what you accomplished and celebrate the small victories that you made along the way. Some times it is good to “fail”. It teaches us where our limiters are. Notice I did not say limits. Recognizing our limiters gives us the opportunity to focus our attention in areas that will in term make us better, faster and stronger.
Be proud of what you did, I know I am. Your story will be very inspirational to many and there is no need to paint it any other way. Hang your medal proudly on the glory wall and use it to stay motivated and continue to push outside your comfort zone. Thank you so much for your participation this season and for sharing your story. I would love to see you come back for another go at it some day.
DOUBLE WAHHHHHH! I hope they do not mind posting these emails, but receiving these made me really feel what it has meant to be part of Team in Training. Where they took me in and encouraged me and believed in me to the very end, and beyond the end. This has been one of the most transformative experiences of my LIFE.
Thank you team, thank you teammates and friends and donors and supporters who have followed this journey since July. I know I’ll never be the same.
I’ve been preparing for Sunday’s Olympic-distance triathlon in Marin County since July. It has taken so much blood, sweat and tears (literally) it’s incredible. This week is the time for the mental and emotional preparation. My awesome sports psychologist, Michelle Cleere, gave me the assignment to write about my upcoming triathlon exactly the way I want it to happen. This is it. I would love it if you would read this and then imagine it happening just like this for me on Sunday. It’s my best case scenario, my dream event. Thank you ALL for your incredible support and encouragement in this undertaking! Much love and gratitude — Susan
On my knees. Arranging items in a pile on the floor, some of which I’d never heard of three months ago. A box of silicon earplugs nestled like soft eggs. Swim booties. Purple spandex. My Team in Training wetsuit with its oddly comforting smell of rubber and salt. I’m checking things off on the list our coach sent us, building a little altar to improbability and miracles. I love the ritual of lining everything up the night before, touching each object, asking each one to do its job, to keep me safe, keep me healthy, warm, dry, hydrated, nourished. Vanilla GU and a lavender towel.
I set my alarm and sleep with dreams of floating effortlessly, rolling over hills up and down and taking sure steps.
4:30am. The alarm goes off and I don’t want to hit Snooze. I’m excited to get up in the dark. Today is the day. Today is the day I become a triathlete. For me, believing that I can be a triathlete is like believing I will be an astronaut, a tightrope walker, a brain surgeon. A fantasy of the nth degree. But today I’m going to put on the costume and the identity.
First layer: the purple tri shorts (padded for biking, quick-dry for swimming) and top. I’m so proud to be part of this team. Then thick sweat pants, heavy socks, a sweatshirt. I need to keep warm. Warm warm warm to carry me into the ocean. Is it raining already? Maybe. It’s okay. It’s just water.
Breakfast. Coffee, water, whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter. Maybe some cut up apple. Boil some eggs to take in the car. Fill the water bottles, one with Gatorade and one with water.
Transfer the gear pile into my gym bag. Check everything twice. John is out in the garage, oiling and cleaning the bike chain, filling the tires. He’s a great bike support. Hard to believe that three months ago I was terrified to get on a bike of any kind, that I couldn’t turn, stop, or start without falling over. I still have scars on my legs from all the falls I took.
5:30. Time to pick up Lily. My buddy, my angel, my constant companion since the day we sat next to each other for the first time at Kick-Off in July. She has pushed me, nudged me, encouraged me and made me believe that I can do this. I will so miss our nighttime swims, with her reading the wet workout sheet from the light of the pool. Nobody in the pool but us crazies, and then rewarding ourselves with a rest in the hot tub after.
We drive through the dark morning, no traffic, over the San Rafael bridge, over the very water we will be swimming in. It’s quiet. We’re contemplating the hugeness of what we’re about to do.
By the time we get to the transition area and our reserved parking spot, our coach Haakon is already there. He helps us find good spots right next to each other and gives us some encouraging tips before saying his mantra, “Let’s do the damn thing!”
I drink hot tea mixed with electrolyte powder to get warm and stay warm. Also to fill up my bladder so I can warm up my wetsuit and my body with some nice warm pee later on. (didn’t know that trick, did you?) I’m wearing my daughter’s Oakland Strokes fake fur parka and thinking of her encouraging “Go Mama!” vibes from Peru.
Then it’s wetsuit time. I put the Bodyglide on my ankles, wrists, neck, armpits, and then stretch the thick skin over my body. I remember the first time we got these – it was an Olympic event just trying to wiggle into it. I thank the wetsuit for keeping me warm and buoyant in the water. I love this thing.
It’s time to go down to the water! There’s a bagpipe player leading us all down. The sound of the music gives me goosebumps. My heart is pounding out of my chest. It’s still pretty dark but the light is breaking over the water. We walk over the rocky beach on a special carpet and WOW it’s cold! But it’s okay. I walk in up to my knees, then calves, then thighs then I just better dive in and get the shock over with. YOW! Yeah! It’s refreshing! It’s super refreshing! All my teammates are around me. We’re laughing and shrieking from the cold, letting the water into our suits from our necks. I know people are peeing around me. It makes me laugh.
There’s about 15 minutes from the time we get in the water until our special TNT wave begins. I use the time to float around, to realllllly get used to the water, to take a few warmup strokes. Breathe. I think about my special breathing mantra: “gentle” on the exhale into the water, “kind” on the inhale. Gentle-kind-gentle-kind. I look out at my first landmark, the pier. No fisherman today, no line to get tangled in. The giant orange buoys are bobbing around gently and easy to see. I’m just going to swim swim swim like I did at Keller Beach.
The horn goes off and it’s a churning of arms and legs as everyone takes off. I stay toward the back and the side, away from all the limbs. I’m not in a hurry. I’m just going to take it one stroke at a time. With every breath, I roll almost all the way onto my back and take a nice full breath. I blow bubbles down into the water. Gen-tle. I remember to look up every few strokes and I see the pier getting closer and closer. Then I’m around it and looking for the first buoy. I see the paddleboarders, the kayaks and other support. They’re cheering us on. I get to the first buoy and I’m feeling good. I see some of my other teammates around me. I’m not alone. Swim swim swim. With every stroke the air gets brighter and brighter, the sun coming up. I get to the 2nd buoy. One more and then land. I just look at one at a time. I sing a little bit into the water.
It’s hard not to get too excited when I see people running out of the water. I give it an extra kick and feel my hands touching ground. I scramble out of the water and feel for my wetsuit leash, unzipping it I wobble to the transition spot. Wow my legs feel funny! And the air is cold. Is it raining? No matter, I’m gonna get warmed up soon.
I get to my transition spot. I take a big swig of Gatorade, suck down some GU and peel off the wetsuit. It’s like a giant, wiggly sealskin. BRR it’s cold! I trade my swim cap for bike helmet, my goggles for glasses, and try to dry off as quick as I can. I pull on my socks and bike shoes, take one more drink and pull the bike from the rack.
The first hill out of the parking lot is STEEP but I’ve done it a bunch of times before. I’m still pumped up from the swim. First gear, here we go, just pedal, pedal, pedal… Whoo! Got to the top and have a little coasting before the next long hill up the road. I’m glad I’ve done this route before, glad that the hills and turns are familiar to me now. Just… get .. up… this hill, then around the corner and wheeeeee. I let my heart slow down some, let myself enjoy the downhill through the trees around the part with the beautiful view of the water in which I just swam! It’s pretty soon and I get to the turnaround at the campground. Back past the beach entrance (more hills, but they feel fine) and there are so many people here! I love that there are no cars. People are clanging cowbells and yelling out. It’s kind of fun. I see some of my friends. WOW!
Get to the turnaround and head back out for loop number two. I’m feeling strong now. I’m getting warmer after being chilled in the water and the sun is stronger and warmer. All the familiar turns. I see my teammates passing me on the other side and it makes me so happy to call out to them. What we have all gone through together since July – this is amazing.
Okay, final bike loop. My butt is starting to get kind of sore. The course is getting a little bit TOO familiar. But the crowd is getting bigger as we get closer and closer to finishing. Every time I go past the park entrance there are more and more people there. It’s like a big party.
Finally, down the parking lot hill back to the transition. My legs are definitely talking to me (“Are we done yet?”) – not quite. I hang up the bike, take off my helmet and put on my running hat and running shoes. They feel nice and soft after those bike shoes! Throw back some more Gatorade, a handful of salty pretzels (my power snack) and it’s time for the run part.
Six miles. Okay. I still have this nagging tendonitis in my foot so I’m determined to go as fast as I can without hurting myself. Which at this point means a steady walk. Around the beach area, up the darn hill AGAIN and this time turning left to the trail along the water. It’s beautiful! It’s pretty! Instead of the 1:5 walk/run ratio I was doing during training, it’s now more of a 5:1 walk run but that’s okay. It’s a beautiful day. My clothes are dry, I’m feeling good. I need to use the bathroom and voila! There’s a portOpotty on the corner. Perfect.
Out to the turnaround and back. One final loop! I’ve almost finished an Olympic triathlon! Damn! I’m seeing my teammates fly by. I get so excited to see them. I’m passing my friends and some of them jump up and walk with me. This is so awesome. Final downhill back to the transition area – yeah, Haakon warned us it would be kind of steep. I take my time till I hit the grass and then I can’t help it, I’m running just this last part through the FINISH. FINISH! There’s coach Haakon with my medal.
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.
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.
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.
12:35pm — This is a short phone post. But I’m overwhelmed by relief from my experience this morning. Michelle took me out to Lake Temescal and we had a great swim. It was sooo what I needed. I am so grateful. And I think it’s gonna be okay.
OK, so here’s the longer extended-version of today’s session because it seems a bunch of people have some questions about “What actually did you guys DO out there?”
Well, first of all, I cried like a baby in the car on my entire drive down there. I was terrified and really nervous it was not going to go well. Even my next door neighbor noticed there was something weird about me as I was getting into the car. I was just so wound up because I felt like this was my LAST HOPE (“ObiWan Kenobi, you’re my only hope…”) and if I didn’t have a positive experience it was going to be Game Over.
So I was pretty shaken when I got to the parking lot and Michelle pulled up right next to me. “How are you?” she asked and I was like… “Errr…” It has been a tough week. Starting with the open water swim last weekend. I also had my annual cardiologist appointment this week. He said everything looked terrific, “except your EKG…” It had some funny dips where it was supposed to bump, or vice versa. T-waves. What do I know. (nothing)
He said it COULD be just some good changes that happens when people get more athletic, or it could be.. something else. And given my hyperventilation/shortness of breath nonsense that has been occurring, not to mention some troublesome lightheaded/dizziness stuff as well lately, he said I need to have a treadmill cardiac stress test before the tri. So that’s scheduled for next Friday (um, 2 days before). So that put me into a bit of a worrying state (like I wasn’t already) and it’s just been a domino/snowball effect of anxiety.
We had a bit of a comedy show wriggling into our wetsuits on the beach. That’s always good for some chuckles. There’s nothing more comical than trying to put on a wetsuit.
She said the plan was we’d go into the water, make a plan, etc. We got in about waist deep (BRR! But to be honest, I actually love the feeling of wetsuit in cold water – it’s like, nyah nyah can’t touch me!) and discussed some strategy for race day. I told her my plan was to position in the back of the pack and maybe to the left, since I tend to drift to the right. We discussed this and the course a while and she pretty much convinced me to stay to the right to avoid too much buoy and pier traffic on the turns.
So first we did some back and forth swimming in the super shallow area. (chest high?) So far so good. She asked me how I felt. I said I felt fine because I could pretty much SEE the bottom. Which I think I found reassuring. So they we ventured out beyond the first set of ropes into the “Steep Drop-Off” area. She showed me a little about “bobbing” which is kind of like vertically treading water but without moving. She kept repeating how the wetsuits are going to keep us afloat, and that we can bob like a cork. I found this comforting because that’s my “kayak” position except without holding onto the rope. (that was kind of an “aha!” moment) I can catch my breath MUCH easier when I’m vertical than when I’m on my back (<wheeze position).
Then she asked if I knew about “head up” swimming – which is like doing freestyle but with (duh) head out of water. I said no. Which is weird. I see people doing this in tri videos all the time but I’ve never tried it or learned about it. I actually like it much better than the other “recovery” strokes – breast or side stroke, both which seem to make me more anxious. So I practiced that a bit and I liked it. She said that if I get all out of breath that I should try that for 3-4 strokes and see how it feels for recovery. Then she asked me what my strategy was going to be, mind-wise, while swimming. I said I was going to mentally count to 10 over and over, and I was also going to use a mantra that the wonderful Annelise suggested to me: Exhale on “gentle” and inhale on “kind.” What two better words could there be? As it turned out they were much better and more effective than last week’s “You got this.” (you can’t really ARGUE with “gentle and kind” can you??)
So then we ventured out into the REALLY deep water (like, 20+ feet?). After you can’t touch the bottom anymore, it doesn’t really mattter if it’s 20 feet or 200. There are some lane lanes out there in the middle of the lake and the plan was to do one big rectangle, using all my strategies. I took off. I think about 3/4 of the way around I started getting that “I’m tired I want to rest” feeling. But I just slowed down and counted. And before I knew it we were back in the corner again, bobbing. No death rattle of doom! No panic! And no need to ever stop, I didn’t even use the head-up method.
I told her that I had gotten that “uh oh” feeling a few times, but that each time I was able to count it down or slow down or “gentle-kind” myself back to just swimming. We went back and forth (60 yards I think) about 4-5 times. Which is about 300 yards? Maybe 500 total given the shorter ones before. Not a huge distance but definitely the longest I have ever gone in open water without having the Bad Feeling. I felt like I could go more. But I didn’t really have to.
I was so happy when we got out of the water. Part of me was disappointed that I hadn’t actually HAD the Death Rattle Wheeze, but of course part of me was enormously relieved. To be honest I’ll be happy if I never have that feeling again.
So, a bunch of major good things happened:
1. Long, uneventful swim in open water.
2. Learned a couple of good “recovery” techniques: bobbing and head-up freestyle.
3. I had a positive experience! So now I can build on that and let go of the bad one from last weekend.
YAY. I feel a million times better than I have all week. I feel so much more confident. I feel like… that triathlon is definitely in my reach now. And I have to say, I have been to see many a therapist about many a fear/bad feeling/etc. And this is the first time that someone actually TOOK me to my scary place (quite literally) and worked it out with me. I am really so grateful. I need this so very badly. Woo hoo and thank you to Michelle, sports psychologist awesomeness.