sometimes it takes a village…

We’ve all heard that quote before, “It takes a village to raise a child”. I think that quote, or at least the paraphrased version “It takes a village” definitely applies to me and my training. Only mine would end in “…of doctors to hold me together”. Not my intention, but it happened last 70.3 and it’s seemingly happened again.

I’ve posted prolifically about my shoe-orthotic debacle. Here is the grand take-away from my on-going shoe /orthotic / foot drama lest any of you run into comparable issues:

For those of you who are seeking medical attention of some sort, here’s my two cents (as obvious as it may seem):
Make sure that you like and trust the doctors and medical professionals with whom you are working. Ask the doctors what their experience is in training and participating in the kinds of events you are planning to complete. If they haven’t completed something similar themselves, have they treated someone who has? And what were the results?

They should know and understand your goals and the training program that’s required to get you from here to there. They should be aware of the commitment. And perhaps more importantly than anything, find someone who totally gets it – someone who’s been there, done that (or done something comparable), who understands the sacrifice and commitment. They will do whatever it takes to help you achieve your goals. These people will not tell you to STOP. On the contrary, they will troubleshoot, research, brainstorm, give you options and help you solve the problem. In my opinion, if your doctor tells you at your first visit that if running hurts, you should stop, get a second opinion. Get a third opinion if you need to. Get some options – alternatives to stopping. Alternatives that will help you solve the problem so you can keep on keepin’ on. You’ve put too much time and energy into preparing to get sidelined by a medical professional who is unwilling or unable to help you find a resolution that still allows you to meet your goals within reason.

So, how the heck do you figure out who’s the best physical therapist in town? Sports medicine doctor? Orthopedic specialist? Podiatrist? Massage Therapist? I’ve found that these medical professionals who specialize in treating athletes are often best found through word of mouth. Know a weekend warrior? Someone who runs marathons? Does triathlons? Epic century rides? At some point, it’s almost guaranteed that they’ve had some issues and they probably have a specialist they would be more than happy to recommend (or people to steer clear from, which is also valuable information!). A recommendation from people you know is a much better starting point than Google or the phone book – take it from someone who’s learning the hard way! I won’t make the same mistake twice, that’s for sure…

 

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on setting goals, ironman and going long…

Ok, so confession time: I’m really not much of a “One day…” type of goal setter. I don’t look real far off into the future. Never have. I have always had a hard time with that question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” It’s always been that way – when I was just a wee little tyke and grownups would ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, I NEVER knew what to say. I think I usually either changed the subject (they probably though I was ADD before it was an official diagnosis…) or just said “Teacher” or something I’d heard one of the other kids say.

I’m a “hey, I think I’m gonna do that” type of person. Not “one day” or “some day”.  Usually as soon as legitimately possible. NOW, if at all possible. Decisions to move cross country? Yup, do it this week. Going back to grad school? This fall, pretty please. True stories – that’s how I roll.

Those “One day goals”? “Some day I’ll…” to me means, whatever, you’re never gonna do it.

M-dot sticker – just a little reminder of what’s coming up.

I can’t confess that I started this process two years ago with the explicit goal of doing an Ironman. I don’t want to say it’s been inevitable. But I will say that with the local Ironman race rolling through here each year since we moved here and watching some of the people roll across the finish line at 14, 15, 16 hours, and especially those who roll through at 16:55, mere minutes before they yank you from the course, you find yourself thinking and sometimes even saying out loud, “Hey, if they could do that, I could do that…probably…”. Let’s just say we get a little closer to signing up each time. Plus, the longer we live here, the more people you know that do it.  And not to mention, we’re not getting any younger… it’s not going to get any easier…and all of this training that I’ve been done over the past couple of years and the training we’re currently doing for the 70.3, it’s the question that’s been swirling around our household these past few weeks. And it gets to be a slippery slope.

So, you might as well know that today, the first day of open registration for Ironman 2013, I pulled the trigger. Hubby and I are signed up. That’s right. Ironman? 2013. We’re in and we’re going long and it’s gonna be awful and epic and tortuous and painful and amazing and likely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I wanted to throw up a little bit just thinking about it. Honestly. But the cool thing is, I know there is a lot that can happen between now and then, but I really think I can definitely do it. And once I do it, that’s something I’ll always be able to say: “I’m an Ironman.”

I may not be able to tell you what I want to be when I grow up (the real answer is RETIRED on a beach somewhere in between international trips with an airport close by and a passport full of stamps), but I can tell you that in 363 days, I will be on the beach in a neon pink swim cap with 2800 other wetsuit-clad crazies ready to dive into a cold (but hopefully not freezing cold) lake hoping that before midnight I will hear “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” over the loud speakers as I cross the finish line. And that’s good enough for me. All of the rest of the stuff will work itself out. My journey will unfold in front of me as I go. That’s what keeps it exciting.

This will be hanging on our wall for the next 363 days as a reminder!

running out of time…

I’ve hit the point in training where I no longer have enough time. Even the longest day of the year, just a few days ago, there was not enough time to fit in my training and the things I needed to do. Let alone the things I wanted to do…

Runs are now just barely fitting into lunch with a fake clean-up afterward- just enough so that my co-workers don’t boot me out in the afternoons. The long runs have to fit in the evenings or weekends now, competing for time with the bike rides, which are now mostly in the 2-3:30 hour range and the primary occupier of the evening hours, say roughly from 5:30-8:45. I suppose one could make an argument for morning workouts. But let’s face it. If you’re telling me I could go workout in the morning, you probably don’t know me very well at all. Sleep is another important part of training. Don’t get me started on that.

You do the math. There’s not time for much else these days. You know, things like grocery shopping, let alone cooking (come to think of it, I’m not exactly sure what I’ve been subsisting off of lately. Suffice it to say, it’s probably too embarrassing to list here anyways). Hanging out with friends (unless they’re on a bike or running alongside!). Playing with the dogs. Getting an oil change. Cleaning the house? Fuhgettaboudit.

Ah. And this would explain the recent lack of blog updates as well. My bad.

Time, or rather, the lack of it is a common challenge with any training program. But I’ve found it to be especially noticeable over the past 2 or 3 weeks or so.

This feeling of not having enough time is accompanied by a, well, a  feeling of not having enough time – that is, there are just 6 weeks till race day. That sentence distinctly makes me feel like I’m running out of time, even more than trying to go grocery shopping AND cook dinner at 9 p.m. at night.

Tick tock, tick tock!

rain, rain go away…

I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned this before (though I’m sure I probably have…), but every single race I had back in 2010, with 1 single exception, was in the cold and the rain. It was absurd. I mean, to the point where you couldn’t help but wonder if the big guy upstairs was trying to tell me something. Like maybe I shouldn’t be doing triathlons or something. Since we’re here, 2 years later, you can assume (correctly) that 1) I am stubborn and 2) I don’t listen very well.

The night before my first-ever 70.3, we camped in a supposedly racers-only campground (that’s a whole ‘nother story…) and there was a seriously epic thunderstorm. Complete with booming, holy crap, right-on-top-of-you claps of thunder, brilliant flashes of lightning and some serious driving rain. Big ol’ rain drops, pounding heavy on the tent. Not that I was sleeping so very soundly to begin with what with the pre-race nerves and such, but I remember waking up around 2 a.m. and saying out loud to my also awake hubby, “Seriously?!” And then thinking something along the lines of “Not again,” “Why me?” followed by “Un-freakin’-believable.” Which was then followed by a series of words that are not appropriate to list here and a list of potential accident scenarios that could happen between 2 a.m. and the 7 a.m. start that would be ‘ok’ reasons to NOT do the race (should it decide to keep on storming, that is). You know, along the lines of somehow slipping on something and breaking my ankle getting out of the tent in the a.m. Or maybe I would get attacked by the mythical grand Elk-asaurous Rex and his partner in crime, Big foot.

The chilly swim during the “calm between the storms” – Ghost Reservoir, AB, CAN. Calgary 70.3, August 2010

In the end, it ended up ok. At least in hindsight I can say it did. The water was freezing, thanks to downpour. It stopped raining in time for bodymarking and the swim (where it wouldn’t have mattered seeing as we were already cold and wet).

And then started again while I was on the bike (where it definitely DID matter). But the weather was perfect (by my standards) on the run – overcast and cool. 60-something. ­I guess there was a silver lining. It just took ¾ of the race day for me to find it.I was reminiscing about this earlier this evening as I was being drenched by a sudden downpour that consumed the last 18 miles of my 40 mile bike ride tonight. (According to weather.com, there was only supposed to be a 30% chance of rain until 9 p.m. tonight, so while I figured I might get some sprinkles, I didn’t think I was taking THAT big of a chance… though clearly I was wrong.) The deluge brought back memories – Ironman is in town this weekend, and I can only imagine the thoughts that are going through the athletes’ minds tonight as they all hope and pray for better weather on Sunday. Because you know, it’s not like there aren’t enough battles in a 70.3 or 140.6 mile long day. Clicking mile after mile under your own power present plenty of challenges without rain in the equation.

Tonight there was nothing to do but laugh and shake my head at the downpour. I had to get back to my car; I had no choice but to deal with the rain. Race day weather is just like that. You’re ready for the event. You’re trained up. Hopefully you did some training in the elements because let’s face it – the weather gods are not always nice come race day. There’s not a thing you can do about the weather but curse it or just grin and bear it. And if you’re unfortunate enough to be signed up for a race that I’m doing, you can bet that you’re gonna get rained on at some point in the day.

But I sure do hope that it clears up for the racers by Sunday…

My view of the storm I was stuck in… glad I only had it for 20 miles and not 100 miles! Since you can’t see the actual raindrops in this photo, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Race recap: sprint tri #1

6:30 a.m., hubby’s alarm goes off.

6:39ish – hubby’s alarm goes off again. SNOOZE. C’mon!

6:48ish – hubby’s alarm goes off and he rolls out of bed to start getting ready. I roll over and doze off again.

7:00ish – my alarm goes off, and I finally get up. Swimsuit under sweats and a beanie. Sandals, no socks. Old swim team habit.

7:20ish – start loading up all of the gear we’d packed up the night before (so as not to forget anything as I’m wont to do early in the a.m.)

7:27ish – eat a PB&J I had prepared the night before. Force feeding myself is always part of race day. I need to fuel, my stomach, full of nerves and not much of a first thing in the a.m. eater anyways, never agrees with me and my brain’s awareness of the fact that I will need my energy before too long. Thus, the force feeding.

7:35ish – jump in the car…and take off. Surprisingly, no “turn around, I forgot ________!”

7:55ish – arrive at event parking. Hubby glances at temperature gauge (clearly a mistake). It reads 47. Push hubby out of the car into the cold. Quickly close the door as to keep all of the cold air out there. Hunker down in the passenger seat as he makes faces at me… just kidding, I didn’t lock him out of the car in the cold.

8:05ish – bikes off of the car, pump up the tires, port gear to transition area. Wish for a sherpa or a horse or a wagon or something. (Ok, ok, I’m being dramatic. It’s not that far, but still…)

8:12ish – arrive at transition area at the same time as all other athletes. 33 minutes till pre-race meeting, announcements and instructions. Wander through transition looking for the “just right” bike rack to suit our needs. Begin unloading all the gear with fingers crossed that we didn’t forget anything crucial.

8:25ish – Gear’s unpacked, bike’s on the rack. Off to find volunteers with ginormous permanent markers who will write race numbers on your left bicep and your age on your left calf. (More on that later)

8:25ish – On the hunt for a portapotty… preferably a clean one, without any significant lines. Success, relatively quickly. Good news. It’s a quick stop. Bump into someone else I know, she sporting booties. Man, in hindsight that seems like SUCH a good idea… too late now. We exchange well wishes and head back to the transition area.

8:35ish – People are beginning to squirm into their wetsuits. Some people are even in the water. Hmmmm. Maybe time to start thinking about that… then someone stops by to say hi. We chat for a few minutes about – what else – the water temperature and we swap suggestions on how to brace for the cold. Oh heck, there’s no big secret. Ya just gotta get in. Lots of whispering of numbers – all seem to be in the low 50s. Are they talking temperature?! Someone mentions peeing. Sure. A nice temporary warmth.

8:40ish – ok, wetsuit time. I hope it still fits… squirm squirm squirm… there’s no good way to do this. Zip and stretch. No body glide used this time… I don’t remember if I should have used it or not so here’s hoping not!

8:45ish – time for a Gu. Espresso flavored. Wash it down with water. Race director (or maybe it’s just the announcer guy) is talking constantly now. Who knows what he’s saying. I think he’s calling the white caps to the beach to start – hubby’s in the first wave.

8:52ish – walk with hubby down to the water’s edge. He puts on a brave smile, gives me a kiss and jumps in, prepared to meet his maker, from the looks of his face.

9:00 – white caps are off to the races, including hubby. I don’t see him bailing for shore right away so I take that as a good sign. So far so good.

9:09ish, or maybe 9:12ish – Lots of folks in full wetsuits. Plenty of people with booties and neoprene swim caps. And a couple in straight up speedos and nothing else. I see two girls in bikini tops and briefs – certifiably crazy, all of them. I jump into the lake to get ready for my own wave start… Holy $@%#!*$^! New personal goal  for today – break world record for ½ mile swim. Get out as quickly as possible! I already can’t feel my feet and my hands. My chest is constricted and I’m trying so hard not to hyperventilate.

The Swim (.5 miles):
Too soon, I hear “GO!” and we’re off. I quickly find my way towards the outside of the group, desperately trying to control and calm my breathing while avoiding a foot, fist or elbow to the face. The downside to swedish goggles is that if I take a hit to the goggles, I’ll probably need stitches. At least it’ll give me a good excuse to get out of the water early…

Soon I find myself with just 2 pink caps in sight – one right next to me and one just in front of me. We’re quickly catching the silver caps, then the red, and a few hundred yards out from pulling into the beach, some of the white cap stragglers.

Transition 1:
I hear people yelling at me as I’m running out of the water towards the transition-

“Way to go!”, “Watch your step!”, and “#2!” Huh, could I have been the 2nd pink cap out of the water? I realize it may be possible. That means lots of people will be passing me now that we’re on dry land again. Being a fast swimmer isn’t all its cut out to be…

Pulling off my wetsuit  was easy enough. It was the small actions- putting on socks and shoes  – the things that required numb, frozen fingers to work that I had a hard time managing. It was a slow transition for me. Or at least it sure felt that way…

The Bike (14.4 miles):
Here’s where I realized I’ve definitely been training for an endurance distance race. 14.4 miles should be a walk in the park. I came hauling out of the gates, clipped in and quickly chugging along at 20 mph (fast for me). And I soon realize that it’s going to be a long ride if I run out of gas too quickly.

Here’s where you realize just how awful it is to have your age on your left calf… suddenly, everyone’s a target, including you. I was distinctly aware of the fact that the person in front of me for a good part of the bike was 21 – a full ten years younger than me and by gosh, I was out to prove that slightly older (more seasoned and wiser) is better (and definitely faster) than her . And on the flip side, I’m equally brutally aware of the fact that the 56 year old who just passed both me and the 21 year old like we were both standing still is older than the two of us put together. Yes, I will win my age group when I’m that old, I think to myself. You know, I’ll be retired and there won’t be anything else to worry about.

I think I held it pretty close to a 17 mph pace overall (I’m still waiting for the official results to be posted). But let me tell you, am I ever having some serious biking attitude issues. Anyway, since my bike’s been hurtin’ me for the past few weeks,I’ve been avoiding it like the plague. Not a good strategy. And it’s given me SUCH as negative attitude about biking. Yikes. So I finally went out and got a professional bike fit. Moving things around made me realize that the biking I’ve been doing has been on muscle groups ever-so-slightly different than the ones I was using during the race. Eep.

Headwinds a couple of times really made me groan to myself about how awful biking is. See what I mean? And that 21 year old was still just in front of me. I kept pace, knowing I would catch her at the end…

More headwinds, some less than fabulous pavement, but all in all relatively uneventful. I have GOT to fix my attitude! Now, buckle down and take that 21 year old! (You’ll be pleased to know I got her in the last 2 miles and improved my lead over her in the run portion as well, finishing several minutes in from of her.)

Transition 2:
Good, pretty quick. Jacket off, pull-on sleeves on. Quick swig of water and I’m off. Nothing much to say here.

The Run (5k or 3.1 miles):
I quickly realized 1) that I should have fueled more on the bike even though it was just a sprint distance. I could have used the fuel. And 2) my feet literally felt like bricks of ice. This is a strange sensation as you have no idea how your form is, how your foot is striking the pavement…plodding along.

The run is a comfortable place for me. I’ve spent a lot of time training for everything from 5Ks to a marathon, so I know what running feels like to me under all types of conditions and situations. While I’m not particularly fast, I think my experience is a strength for me come race day.

At mile marker 1, I stopped for water. I didn’t feel like I needed it, but I thought I probably hadn’t been drinking enough. I walked a few steps, drank some water, and started running again, only to have an immediate hammie cramp threat that lingered the entire run. This kept me from kicking it up a notch – not wanting to cramp and have to walk at all, I kept my pace quick, but under control.

I didn’t feel my feet until 2.5 miles into the run. They thawed slowly and strangely. But it was like magic when I finally did!

Hubby was at the finish line when I crossed, saw me come down the home stretch. I was happy to see he was smiling and that he didn’t succumb to the monsters of the deep during the swim. In fact, he was 4th in his age group without even trying.

And my final time was good enough for a 1st place age group finish.

All in all, a good race to get under our belts and a confidence booster for us both as we enter Week 13. Now all we have to do is keep training…

race day prep… warm up race #1

English: IronMan 70.3 Pucón 2009 (Start) Españ...

IronMan 70.3 Pucón 2009  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tomorrow’s the 1st race of the season… a “warm up” race that, as of this moment today promises to more chilly than anything. It’s been raining all day. Heck, it’s been raining all week. A week of wet, chilly runs and spin classes. Ugh. I don’t know what I was expecting. I may or may not have already mentioned that the vast majority of my races back in 2010 were in the cold or (and often AND) rain. Those race included multiple sprint tris, a half-Ironman distance triathlon and a full marathon run in the rain. Yes, it rained the ENTIRE 26.2 miles. Every last one of them.

Tomorrow’s tri is a brick workout in week 12 of the 70.3 training plan – we managed to time this first race perfectly. Except for the rain part. So, while the race tomorrow is just a .5 mile swim, a 14.4 mile bike and a 5K run, I will spend my evening steeling myself against the idea that I will be spending yet another few hours of my life submersed in water chillier than most normal people would tolerate, and then biking and running in 50-60 degree weather and into potentially driving, pouring rain. Hooray.

But I digress.

In the meantime, it’s prep time. Time to make sure I have all of my gear. Fortunately, the internet is chock-full of sample prep lists … what, oh what did we ever do before Google? Here’s my own preliminary version:

Swim / for the morning:

  • Warm clothes for setting up your transition area
  • Towel
  • Wetsuit
  • Swimsuit / tri suit
  • Goggles (plus an extra pair just in case)
  • Swim cap (including a neoprene cap to go under the race cap in case you’re swimming in water cold enough to freeze your noggin)
  • Baby powder for your swim cap
  • Timing chip
  • Watch
  • Body Glide, vaseline or other lube of choice – apply pre-swim and leave at transition area for shorter distances (may want to also include in bike to run transition bag if there are 2 separate transition areas)

Bike:

  • Bike
  • Bike Shoes
  • Socks
  • Bike Shorts
  • Sunglasses
  • Helmet
  • Water bottle / hydration
  • Race belt with bib # pre-attached
  • Arm warmers and leg warmers or Jacket and pants
  • Bike gloves

Run:

  • Running shoes
  • Hat or visor or headband
  • Socks
  • Water bottle

Other:

  • Snacks – bars, gels, chews, whatever you use for race day fuel (remember not to try anything new…)
  • Clothes for after the race
  • Advil or pain killers (depending on the length of the race and how prepared you are of course…less prepared=more pain killers)
  • Wet wipes – I usually have some of these or use a towel at transition that I dump water on and wipe my face off after I get off the bike. You know, to get all of the bugs off my face and outta my grill and all…

I fully expect I have forgotten something here. And I fully expect that even if I didn’t forget ANYTHING on this list, I will probably  forget something tomorrow. Hopefully it will be something really unimportant (though I’m not sure that on this list I’m willing to give up… baby powder, I guess.)

Anyway, recognizing this is the 1st race of the year and I’ve probably definitely forgotten how to do this, my other race day advice for myself and any other 1st race of the year individuals?

  • Give yourself enough time on race morning to do everything you need to do. Don’t forget to get up early enough to eat and let your stomach settle. What is that your mom always said about swimming after you ate?
  • You’ll probably have to park a little ways away and cart your stuff, so be prepared for that – bring a backpack or a gym bag or something (not like me, one of the first race I did, I just threw everything in the car and had to hand-carry it all in multiple trips back and forth from the car to the transition area. Not the recommended course of action).
  • Getting there early also means you’ll have plenty of time to set everything up so you can find it when you get out of the water and are running around like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to minimize your transition time.
  • And of course, getting there early will also mean you’ll have time to squirm and wiggle your way into your wetsuit in a more relaxed fashion. You know, with some dignity. Like the rest of us. Ha.

Good luck, have fun, and happy racing everyone!

shoe dependency…

My shoe situation has still not quite been resolved, though not for a lack of trying. Since shoe #3 (which seemed like it would work), there have been #4, #5, #6 and #7. Different brands, different levels of support, different widths. Each of them has not quite fit the bill; actually all of them made me feel like my feet were on a slope. Like my feet were starting off square on the orthotic and as I ran, sliding off of center towards the outsides of the shoes. Every time. So I have concluded that it must be a problem with the orthotic. What’s that argument – argument ad populum? 50 million Elvis fans can’t be wrong! 600 million people can’t be wrong about Facebook! I know it’s a fallacious argument, but not in this case. In this case I believe there must be an exception – half a dozen shoes can’t be wrong! It’s not the shoe(s). It simply can’t be.

So what, then? Well, to make a long story short, first, I’ve scheduled an appointment with a podiatrist who specializes in running. Unfortunately, the appointment is not until the end of the month. And even then, it’ll be a consult initially. Someone I can tell my running story to – an expert on running who also runs himself (this is important). Someone who has an education in feet (this is also important).

Second, I went back to the doc who prescribed and ordered my orthotic and he is going to order a new one for me with some slight adjustments and we’ll keep our fingers crossed that this next one is better. Ugh.

The story of how I ended up in a custom orthotic in the first place? Well, it’s a short one: I was tired of dealing with IT band pain and had tried everything from Superfeet to foam rolling to strength and flexibility exercises. To no avail. Someone suggested fixing the base (feet) and it made sense to me. But with this recent orthotic debacle, I’m wondering if maybe, just maybe, all of those years of IT band issues were caused by running in a neutral shoe with Superfeet inserts when I really should have been in a supportive shoe with Superfeet. Not necessarily a custom orthotic. Now wouldn’t that be silly. Such a small adjustment. Huh.

So my third step was based on this last hunch, the last little “maybe”. I went back to our local running store where this same poor girl has been working with me very patiently to find a shoe that works. I told her to just start from scratch and asked her to take a look at my feet, how I walk, etc., and fit me in a shoe as if I were a brand new customer coming in off the street. Because maybe I don’t need a custom orthotic after all. Off came the shoes, the socks. She measured, observed me walking barefoot, running. And the verdict? She didn’t seem to think I had particularly flat feet. Or that I necessarily needed a wide width shoe. She said I have flexible arches which flatten a bit when I run, causing me to pronate, so she would recommend a shoe with support. Ok. Bring it.

Pair number 8, maybe #9(?) accompanied me home on Monday night after work. Sauconys this time. Supportive ones. Shiny, red, super cushy ones. I was supposed to test them out yesterday, but I procrastinated – because what if it’s bad news? Yesterday I just wasn’t sure I could handle another shoe fail. But I need an answer, so at some point today, I’ll take them out for a spin and see how it goes. I’m hopeful. Or maybe I’m doomed.

I’m very anxious for some kind of resolution… hopefully a permanent one. It’s been real hard to be excited about running when there’s so much going wrong. Nine times out of ten, running is actually fun for me.But with so many issues lately, it’s been a chore. I can feel it. It’s taken the wind out of my sails. I’ve dreaded it. And let’s face it, I need to be running because, you see, I have this little 70.3 looming… in 8 weeks if we’re being specific. And I need to be able to run 13.1 miles by then (and ideally, countless 5, 7, 8, 9, and 10 mile training runs to prepare). And if I’m being honest with myself, I can’t really afford to skip too many more of them without paying for it.

Keep your fingers crossed and I’ll keep you posted…

open water swims…

A few years back, I signed my mother up for her first triathlon. She had been saying for years and years that she always thought about doing one, that she thought it’d be fun. And she never signed up. So one year, for her birthday, that was her present. Happy birthday, Mom! Now before you deem me to be an evil child, you should know 1) that I flew home and did the race also, and 2) my mom was perfectly capable of finishing a sprint tri, probably without even training for it (she just needed a little push. You know, in exchange for all of that love and support she gave me when I was growing up. Oh, how the tables had turned, haha).

Having said that, my hubby put together a training program for her to follow. Which she did, to a T. Except for the part where you have to get into the open water. Despite my strong encouragement to go find a lake, ALL of her swims were in a pool. Which is fine, except that race day open water swims are not pool swims. Dark, murky water. Cold, sometimes chest-freezingly, brain-numbingly cold water makes you gasp for air. Makes your lungs freeze up. Makes you want to get back out (the same way you came in – the short way!). Add the hundreds of other people splashing and kicking around (and the stress of potential fist or foot to the face hazards) and the open water swim can be enough to sink anyone. Now my poor mom learned this the hard way. She made it through and she completed the race, but not without some emotional scarring. She has since completed a half marathon and last year, a full marathon. But I’m not sure that I will ever get her in the open water again…

English: Open water swimmer

Open water swimmer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Determined not to face the same traumatic experience as my mom did, my hubby’s taken a different approach and yesterday faced the freezing cold lake for the first time. Mano a mano. Fifty-five frigid degrees seemed not to deter him though I’m not sure why. Perhaps one part of why he has already hit the cold water is because he knows that he might well be facing the same conditions on race day. When I went through this two years ago, with the exception of 1 Olympic distance race, every single one of my race day lake swims was in water temps between 55-58 degrees – not exactly tropical soaking temps. Regardless, I’m proud of him for facing the open water swim. And not only that, but for spending a full 25 minutes in it! He goes into this weekend’s 1st tri, and the tri season, wiser and more experienced than those who haven’t yet braved the cold, dark open.

It’s funny, the things that wear you out when you’re swimming in the open water. It’s tough to fight your natural instincts to gasp for air as your chest and lungs submerge. You can’t see the black line on the bottom of the pool because the water is dark and gloomy and murky. Mentally, it is exhausting to try and NOT lose your cool when you see something dark and shadowy below you. Especially if it’s big. Or moving. Toward you. Even perfectly logical and rational people like myself can easily imagine the fictitious black octopus of death swimming menacingly towards you with its eight poisonous legs ready to grab you and drag you to the depths so he can eat you for dinner. You’re such easy, unsuspecting prey. Oh wait, that’s just a tree branch. Safe…? For now…The point of all of this is to say, I highly recommend you don’t make race day your first open water experience. First of all, if you live in this neck of the woods, you can wait for the water to warm up, but really – there’s a chance the water really might not be any warmer on race day and you’re certainly going to have to deal with it then, aren’t you?

And perhaps most important (at least as far as I’m concerned), you’ll want to learn what your personal reactions to things may be – both physiologically and mentally. For example, I know I need to get in to the water and submerge myself just before the swim starts. So that initial panicky cold has faded enough for me to control my breathing. If I don’t, I spend the first leg of the swim trying not to hyperventilate. Also, you will probably want to check out your wetsuit before race day. I have a friend who didn’t and found out at the start of the swim that the neck of her wetsuit were like tiny little angry toddler hands strangling her as she swam. Joy. At least it was just a sprint distance. It was not her most favorite triathlon experience.

And I know that I’m comfortable in the (pool) water, but open water makes me J-U-M-P-Y! But the more I’m in the open water, the more I’ve “survived” the open water – maybe it IS safe after all? And I’ve found that orangey-amber colored goggles literally brighten my view. Rose colored glasses. Think about it- nothing bad or scary ever comes from somewhere bright and sunshiny. Yes, it’s a total head game. Mock all you want, it works.

Sure, you may get a little cold venturing out into the cold, dark. But all of these little things could really save your tush on race day. Doesn’t that make it worth it?