Back in 2011, when I was training for my first triathlon, I was a terrified, unathletic 50 year old who could barely swim across a pool, and who fell down every time I tried to ride a bike. I was a mess. I was by far the slowest, most struggling person on our team. Every single time we had a workout, I wanted to give up. I always came in dead last, whether it was a run, a swim or a bike ride.
But this was Team in Training, and we weren’t just training for ourselves. We were also raising funds for those who were dealing with blood cancers. Each team has team captains and honorees, or “honored patients” who remind us why we’re doing what we’re doing. Our team captain was AJ Jabanero, and his daughter Izzy was our honoree. I’ll never forget meeting them both at our season Kickoff.
During one of our grueling training days, I reached my breaking point. I had had a panic attack in the open water, feeling like I couldn’t breathe. My legs felt like lead during the run. I was spent and discouraged and feeling like the whole thing was an enormous mistake. I pulled away from the team, sat down on the curb and just cried.
AJ came and sat down next to me. He listened to me bawl and snuffle. I told him about how I’d been trying so hard to be healthy, to do something strong and great with my body. I’d made a turnaround after being overweight and couch-potatoish and being diagnosed with diabetes. But maybe a triathlon was just too much.
He listened to me. He was very serious. He didn’t try to cheer me up right away, or give me a big pep talk. He just nodded and said, “I used to be like that too. Overweight. Out of shape. Not able to do much.” I couldn’t believe it. He said, yeah. He had not always been the fastest guy on our team of athletes. He hadn’t always been in this peak physical condition. Every time we had a team run, AJ was one of the front runners, finishing easily and quickly, and then waiting sometimes hours for the rest of us to straggle in. He was an incredible athlete. “Yeah,” he said. He told me that he’d also come a long way. I saw that he understood where I was. He’d been there. He had so much compassion.
AJ helped me get up that day. He continued to encourage me through the rest of the season, until I finally crossed that triathlon finish line, one of the very last that day.
I was so shocked at the unfairness of life when I learned that AJ had developed cancer himself, after his daughter Izzy went into remission. I was even more shocked and saddened when he passed away earlier this month. It didn’t seem possible.
What didn’t shock me, however, was the incredible turnout at a San Francisco run in his honor. I was so moved to see many of our triathlon teammates there.
We walked and ran to the Golden Gate Bridge, and there was AJ waiting to give us a fist bump. It made me cry but it also made me smile. Thank you AJ, for believing in me and in so many of us. We won’t forget. #AJSTRONG
I wonder how you think I’ve been treating you lately. I admit it isn’t the same intense, hot love that we had back in 2009 when all I thought about was you, all I dreamed about was you. I know, I was kind of borderline obsessed with you, but that was only because I’d neglected you for like, decades, and you gave me that big scare that made me think you were leaving me forever.
I admit that the last year has been kind of bumpy. I know that I sort of was giving lip service to the fact that I cared about you, but that sometimes my actions spoke otherwise. That was not so great of me.
I really want you to stick around. For a long, long time. I think I’ve been trying to figure out all the different things that I need in order to keep you around. I used to think that you would only love me if I exercised all the time and was really strict about what I ate. But then I realize that you are more attached to me than I ever realized and that if I didn’t take care of all of the parts of me, then you would suffer too.
I’m realizing so many more things about our relationship lately – that you need to sleep and rest. That you actually LIKE it if I take time to write. I used to think you were jealous of my writing and that I couldn’t spend time with my writing and have you too. I didn’t really get that you guys are like BFFs. Wow.
I used to think that you only liked doing a few things and I think maybe our relationship got into a little rut and I started feeling bored. I didn’t realize that you liked doing so many of the same things that I do.
Did you know that I’ve been writing about you for 8 days in a row? (how’s that for attention? are you feeling it??) And I’m going to be doing it for the WHOLE month of November. I know! You must be in shock.
Guess what? Some of my favorite people are also writing about their health, too. Isn’t that cool?
Anyway, I just wanted to acknowledge that I was not the best friend I could’ve been. I was trying, but you know how you can be trying and still be sort of “off.” My intentions were good but hey, this is a really long term relationship and sometimes we just make mistakes. I think I can say that I learned from them.
Let me ask you. What did you think of that triathlon training last year? I know it was pretty badass. YOU were a badass and you did things I really never believed were possible. But I also think I was beating up on you a bit too. I don’t know. Maybe it was my mind beating up on both of us. I still have to mull that one over.
This next year, let’s do some more running. Like a couple of half marathons. You want to go to Disneyland again? Let’s dress up for the Tinker Bell Half. I promise it won’t be anything dumb, just something fun and comfortable. Definitely a tutu and maybe some wings? Or just sparkles.
Then I’m going to take you on a half marathon tour of OUR TOWN – yeah, the Oakland Half Marathon! We’re going to see so many of our friends. I’m super excited about this one.
I’m reallly excited to train, with like a REAL running coach, and a team, this time. I know how dumb it was to try to drag you out for half marathons in the past (remember Las Vegas? Yeah I don’t want to either) when I didn’t really know what the heck I was doing. But you should be pleased to know I’ve joined Team in Training again and we’re going to do it RIGHT! With lots of cowbell and support. And of course you know this means you’ll be wearing a lot of purple in the months to come. Heh.
Well, body, we’ve been through a lot. I want to let you know I appreciate you. I’m going to be taking better care of you. I know you’re feeling kind of tight and that you’ve got some aches and pains. I’m going to get that taken care of. Maybe some PT. Maybe some Pilates. I’m not going to ignore you when you’re crying. I love you!
That’s it for now. I like writing to you. Now the question is – are you going to write me back?
I almost forgot to write this race recap today – making me realize how “everyday” a 5k has become. Which is incredible, considering my humble beginnings and starting up, when a 5k was the ULTIMATE, the PINNACLE, the longest race I could ever imagine doing. And now I can just decide a day or two before, “Think I’ll do a 5k this weekend!”
Today’s race was very familiar and comforting in many ways – it was the perimeter of Lake Merritt, which I’ve run on dozens, maybe a hundred times. So I know the course like my own hand. And the race itself was organized by Team in Training folks as their way of fundraising for the cause – so it was also like a giant family reunion of hundreds of TNT people. I got to see friends from my prior triathlon team, and my hike team coach, and some of the running coaches that I know by sight. It was cozy and fun.
The race itself? Well it was all informal like, with people saying “line up by that sign over there” and then an airhorn went off, and boom! As ususal, I started out way too fast and pooped out very quickly. All that adrenaline! My Runkeeper told me that I was running about an 11 minute mile after 5 minutes. That is nowhere NEAR what I’ve been averaging lately, so I knew it was a bit much for me. Sure enough my feet started cramping up and my calf was also super tight so after about 10 minutes I was in full hobble mode and had to stop and do a good stretch.
I ended up running with a bunch of my teammates that I usually run with, and it was all friendly like for most of the race. We kept passing each other back and forth and it just felt… comfortable. Some of our teammates totally rocked it – Coach Nick won 2nd place in the 30-39 division and Lily and Holly loved it so much they doubled it up for a 10k!
The race was fun because they also had a “Canine Division” (so many happy dogs running!) and a “Stroller Division.” The winning kids and dogs even got prizes.
It was all huge fun. Timewise, it turned out to be pretty much the slowest 5k race I’ve ever done. But you know what? I didn’t care. I felt happy to be out there on this beautiful day with a great group of people, and it was all good.
So, last week I was feeling pretty much like a slug. I was sore and tired and emotionally wrung out. I did have one little swim session but other than that, I laid low and didn’t do a whole lot other than sit around with fake frozen peas on my foot.
This week I was feeling better! and ready to rejoin the world. It reminded me of times that I’d traveled to other countries for long trips. Re-entering my own country was often a disorienting and shaky experience. I’ve been off in triathlon country since July and coming back has been strange.
But this week I went back to work. I was feeling pretty good. I was excited to be back in the world again, using my brain and my body. I think maybe I was moving a little quickly because when I was calibrating my big machine, I dropped a 15 pound steel weight -yeah – on my LEFT FOOT. The bad one! The one I’ve been icing all week!
This time I dropped it right square on TOP of my foot. My other injuries are on the sides (ankles). It’s a good thing my foot has so many different surfaces to injure. Ay.
Yesterday I could barely even wear a shoe. Today it’s doing a little better. But I’m getting impatient, because after a week+ of really no working out to speak of, I am READY. I need to do something! Argh!
This weekend I’m going to join my new team (Hike/Snowshoe) for a nice long hike. I pray I can keep my feet intact until then. The forecast calls for rain but I don’t care. This is what I love about Team in Training -it’s that commitment, and we go out and “do the damn thing” regardless of weather or what. I’m ready to roll!
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 can’t believe it. Just as I was feeling SO AWESOME about the open water swim yesterday, I had to turn my attention to my left foot which has been getting progressively more painful over the last week. Today when I woke up it was really swollen and tender. Oh MAN!
I went to my podiatrist (who is a century cyclist himself) and he promptly diagnosed me with Posterior Tibialis Tendonitis. First thing he asked me was, “Where are your orthotics?”
Um. In the back of my closet?? (redfaced)
See, I got these new shoes, and I was just too lazy to cut out the inserts to accommodate the orthotics, and my feet weren’t bothering me so much like they used to, and my ankle felt pretty much all better, so I just… umm… haven’t been using them.
(hanging head in shame)
So now I have a roaring case of Posterior Tibialis Tendonitis. He said that “normally” he would recommend no running or biking or any sort of weight bearing for a few weeks. But then he gave this wry smile and said, “I could say that, but I know what you’re gonna do.” (he knows me)
I mean really. I mean REALLY DUDE. This is my first triathlon that has been eating up major gallons of my blood, sweat and tears for MONTHS and it’s five days away and I’m gonna…
I mean, just no.
I’m going to do my best to take really, really good care of it this week. As per doctor’s advice, I am icing the heck out of it, elevating it, taking high dose anti-inflammatories, taping it up and using my orthotics religiously. And trying to stay off the feet.
I am hoping that if I treat my foot like glass all week, then it will be able to manage the swim (no problem), the bike ride (a little more of a problem) and a modified walk-run (mostly walk) on Sunday. And then REALLY take it easy before I run again. I will go back to my trainer and work on my upper body! I will! I will! Just let this thing heal up by Sunday. Please.
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.
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.
So I just got my swimming analysis video from the Team in Training folks. WOW. Eight minutes of slow-mo, extreeeeeeeemely detailed analysis of my every move, from both above and below the water! My initial reactions are: wow, this is some excellent feedback. So much more than I was expecting. And two: holy moly, I look like a manatee underwater. 😦
But the real reason I posted this was just the amazing level of attention and support we are getting from our coaches. Isn’t this pretty phenomenal?? I also got to look at the videos of my teammates and really learned some great stuff from that – like what is it SUPPOSED to look like. Impressive!