Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Triathlon: Ten Things I Forgot

Rev3 Half-Ironman in Wisconsin Dells
August 11, 2013
The finish!

Water 73 degrees,
air 58 to 72 degrees, mild wind,
rain from 7:30 am to 11 am.
1.2 mile swim in
Lake Delton, Wisconsin
57 mile bike with 4,087 feet ascent
in Baraboo Bluffs,
13.1 mile hilly run

 Thought I should jot these down before I forget them again:
  • You feel naked in the rain wearing wet shorts. 
  • Marker buoys are confusing in a strange lake on a grey morning. 
  • Cover gear in transition; it rains. 
  • Unfold slowly off the bike. Don't wave suddenly when your arms haven't moved from handlebars in hours. 
  • Each moment is now. Late in the race each "now" gets slower.
  • Finishing doesn't last long at all. 
  • When you're slow you're alone a lot.
  • There are fewer women in my older age group; they are tougher.
  • If pain is tolerable keep going; it will get better, stay the same, or get worse. Don't dwell. 
  • You'll spend a lot of time remembering the best parts of the race; probably when you're at your desk. Then you start dreaming of the next one.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Thoughts on Walking

As one of the latest finishers at the Reedsburg
VetFest half-marathon, I was there to
see the clean-up. In the background vets
are taking down a huge flag that had been
suspended from those two cranes.
"Another runner finishing!" That was the announcement as I came down the finisher's shoot. But they were wrong: I wasn't a runner.

I'd walked the half-marathon. Later a friend emailed, "are you ok?" She was used to hearing about running - not walking - events: a few marathons, half-marathons, triathlons. And she'd heard of the injuries, too; a boring list most runners would know, from lost toenails to stress fractures. So with pleasure I trained to walk and I was exhilarated with the result: a zippy 12:53-mile average walking pace.

Yogi Bera is right, it's 90 percent mental (and, according to him, the other half is physical). It sure was mental for me. It was tough to
seed myself absolutely last in the starting line. It was tough to not hop into a jog with the rest of the adrenalized group when the blast signaled the start. It was tough knowing I'd be the straggling final finisher. But I had a goal: race-walking.

About a quarter mile in, a volunteer shouted "good job getting out there." What he thought was, looks like you can't run but at least you're walking.
To some, walking looks like failure.

But is running better than walking? T
he American Heart Association says:

"Equivalent energy expenditures by moderate (walking) and vigorous (running) exercise produced similar risk reductions for hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes mellitus, and possibly coronary heart disease."

The consensus of other web sites is: choose the sport that suits you, do it often and with vigor, and you'll benefit.

So this season I chose race-walking. Race-walking is not an amble nor a stroll. It's a sweat-through-your-shirt endeavor. The hips sway, the elbows pump, the stride rolls on the feet, and there is always contact with the ground. It's an Olympic sport and real pros can do a mile in about 6.5 minutes - far faster than I'll ever run. I don't aim for such speeds, but I do push.

Around mile two I was no longer alone with my thoughts and footsteps. I could see two women ahead. They were walking by now, talking animatedly. I was a little relieved to see other walkers, intentional or not. I gained on them but every time I got closer they would jog. I kept walking, they kept talking. Then I was talking with them, passing them.

By mile six I had passed three or four others: runners old and young who were not liking the cold or the hills. A few kind words and smiles, and back to just the road, and thinking, and walking.
At mile ten I passed an encouraging mom and her tired, sore teenager. A volunteer shouted to us three, "you'll make it!" "Undoubtedly," I thought. I was sort of sad to have the end in site.

Browse online a bit and you'll find belittling comments about race-walkers. "If you can go that fast why don't you just run?" asks one commenter. "Looks f* weird," says another. Race-walking has some way to go before it has the status of running. But soccer, rugby, and football co-exist. And there is more to swimming than front crawl.

I finished in 2:48, 12 minutes ahead of my goal. I was thrilled. I'd enjoyed my training, added to my fitness, and remained without injury. Sure, it may have seemed like "only" walking to some - but ask a zumba dancer why they aren't doing ballet, and a road biker why they're not on a dirt path. Yes, there are so many paths up the mountain. But the view from the top, well, you know.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Lake Minnetonka Challenge 2012

Saturday, July 28, 2012
Lake Minnetonka, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Water, 81 degrees
Air 60, rising to low 80s, sunny
No wind, calm water, a few swells from boats during miles 3 and 4. Patches of millfoile about 20 inches under the surface in several spots, most notably at the finish for about 300 meters.

Perhaps open-water distance swimmers live inside their own goggled, muffled heads too much to get ruffled by a swim race. The swimmers we talked to on shore before this event had a calm spirit. "Find your pace and swim, don't race," said one. "I swam the five-mile last year," said another. "Why not swim ten this year?" Normal people, just having fun.

This was the Twenty-sixth Annual Lake Minnetonka 5-Mile Swim Challenge. And, this year Minneapolis also hosted the National USMS 10-mile Championships. It drew swimmers from around the country.

Safety meeting on the start beach on the evening before the race. Most of these folks are 10-milers with escort paddlers. Linda, my Minneapolis sister and kayak escort, is in lavender on the right. Fellow swimmer Rayo is in jeans. Pale shore in upper right holds the finish. We were told the tiny blip along the far skyline is a water tower and to follow it.

Pre-race: sorting gear, snacking, wondering where the bathroom is.

The ten-milers quietly started first. Four waves of about a dozen people each, a beach start, no timing chips, no cannon. The race organizer wrote down athletes numbers and said "go!" We watched them jog into the water, dolphin dive, swim. They looked so relaxed as they glided along, but they were moving faster than I ever will, wet suit or raw.

Then, our five-mile wave at 7:05 AM. We were the self-seeded-slowest-swimmers; about 25 people in our wave. Three more waves followed to make a total of about 55 swimmers for this distance.

Only Rayo and I wore only wet suits. Was I self-conscious about the aid of a wet suit? a bit, but only for a moment. I was happy to swim that lake, whatever it took. Besides, champions can't have all the fun to themselves.

Connecting with Linda, our kayaker, at about 70 feet from shore went smoothly, not too crowded, cooperation pretty much all around. What's the rush, after all? 

The swimmers and their boats turned into a sort of parade across the lake. Twice swimmers swam between Rayo and me, and once a ten-miler on the return route headed straight for Rayo, but the only obstacles were the ones we carried within us : ) and a bit of floating seaweed. 

Linda took this picture from the kayak somewhere around mile four.

Race rules stated that we need to stay within 20 feet of the escort, and, when two swimmers share an escort, within five meters of each other. We mostly traveled in this arrangement: Linda in the kayak to the left, Rayo center, Lorraine on the right. I could see Rayo and the kayak as I breathed and could often see Rayo underwater. I learned zebra mussels make lake water very clear.

The pace was relaxed; we were going for distance not speed - goal was just to finish. I tried to take in the event: looked around, admired the colorful assortment of kayaks and swim caps ahead and behind, noted islands we passed. I questioned Linda about the buoy at mile four. Really, we're that far? Sure it's not mile three? The calm water allowed for a long glide, the temperature was so comfortable I only gave it a thought when I noted a little warming on my sun-side shoulder.

We had decided before the swim to minimize breaks because training swims showed us we felt stiff after; I think we had about four quick snack/water stops and a few shouted-out words to check pace along the way. Linda and I shared some thumbs-up as we went along without breaking rhythm.

This is from the kayak as Linda moved off the race route. That's my elbow. I'm heading for the buoy.

Predictably, the last mile felt the longest. Plus, this is a big, busy lake (the busiest in the state of Minnesota according to the race director) and I was confused about precisely where the finish was - there were non-race related orange markers on the water. I got this sorted out before the buoy that denoted where paddlers leave their swimmers near the finish. When Linda left the route I decided I was tired of being a waterbug over the weed field and speeded my way across the millfoile to the sandy shore. As I jogged under the finish banner my watch said three hours, 44 seconds. Don't know the official time, but I'm good with that.
I finished swimming far to the left of the finishing chute - that's where the buoy was and I couldn't see beyond that. There's a guy in blue directing me toward the finish.
Here's Rayo about to cross the finish line (see that line in the sand?)

Mile one, about 33 minutes (don't have exact start time)
Mile two 35:30
Mile three 38:03
Mile four 39:33
Mile five, about 34 (don't have exact end time)
My total unofficial time: 3:00:44

The route was straight across Lake Minnetonka from Excelsior to Wayzata beach, heading northeast. The Garmin map of our swim shows how beautifully my sister, Linda, escorted us in an ocean kayak.

 I asked myself along the way, could I go farther than five miles? At mile four, the answer was, yes, for sure. At mile four-and-a-half, my left shoulder was feeling it a bit. At mile five, I was glad I didn't have to turn around and go back. A ten-miler? maybe not. A 10k? Yeah, probably, next year. Gotta love a wet suit.

Linda's Story
As a dry participant in this Minnetonka Challenge, I have a new respect for athletes and perhaps a different perspective.

My perspective:

I had several sleepless nights prior to this event, due to several "stressors."
Am I in good enough shape to kayak 5 miles--what if the wind is bad, the waves too strong? What if Tommy doesn't show and I don't have a kayak. What if Lorraine or Rayo have a serious cramp, go under and don't come back up, what if I smack one of them in the head with my oar. What if I don't connect amongst the gaggle of swimmers coming in. Will I keep a straight line, will I remember to veer to the right at the end and not run another swimmer over. Will they hear me when I hollar go left or right. Will I tip in my Kayak and not be able to get back in. Will I pee in my pants...no. So many thoughts....

I left you two on the beach, had Bob to hold my hand and push my kayak in when the race official hollared "First wave of 5 milers, get ready." I rounded the corner of the beach—chatting briefly with fellow kayakers who wondered "what wave are we on?" "oh no , my kayak feels tippy," said another.

But as I approached the first buoy I spotted you both on the beach thanks to the wetsuits!! The man behind me chatting with a fellow canoer "I don't see yellow, she said she was wearing yellow!"

I spotted Rayo first, she looked up and gave me a smile and nod—we are connected.

Off we went. At first I struggled to keep a pace, avoid hitting swimmers and other kayakers. Then things opened up a bit. Lorraine reminded me to slow a bit. Eventually we hit a stride. Before I knew it we had already spotted buoy one; one mile down. Couldn't see the next buoy yet, but followed the main flow of swimmers and kayakers. Several times I held my paddle close, to avoid smacking Lorraine in the head, but again we found our stride.

Things bottlenecked at the buoy markers but seemed to open quickly. Other kayakers chatted—most seemed in good spirits. Only a handful of overheard negative remarks: "why didn't you tell me I was crossing those swimmers?"

By marker 3-mile, my neck was asking "aren't you ever going to look left?"

By marker 4-mile, my ASS was asking "why aren't you getting up?"

The lake opened up to a bigger bay, the wind kept my kayak at a constant angle to counter the waves. OH JOY! I see the beach and marker 5!! Lift my butt to catch some blood flow. Wait...I need to PEE!!! I can make it!!

4.5 miles: Lorraine starts to catch a few views above water--I'm guessing she's either delirious or she wants to bask in the "can't believe I'm doing it" moment.

50 yards from the finish: I veer to the right and race for the beach. Grab Lorraine's camera to catch the two swimmers coming in. And then...BATHROOM!!!

We made it. No worries, no tipping, no smacking or running into swimmers, fairly straight line, remembered to veer right, Bob and the kids found the beach...PERFECT!!

Let's do it again.

Rayo's Story

For SOME unknown reason, that swim was easy. It didn't ever seem hard. I think all of Heather's workouts, her encouragement, her little pearls of wisdom were literally floating along with me on that swim. I'd add our long swims with Bob, my long swim with Charlie, and Lorraine, your unwavering faith in me, to that list. I think, for me, focusing on one mile at a time, keeping our pace extremely even and limiting our breaks was a good strategy. During practice we took too many long, unnecessary breaks, so the suggestion of limiting them to perhaps half as many and slowing down the pace was very helpful to me.  
Lorraine, you probably would have liked to go faster and probably could have, but that would have been very difficult for me. Again, during our practice long swims, I had trouble keeping your fast pace/long breaks strategy so thank you for graciously accepting mine.

It was a wonderful, warm, calm day. Linda, you were a champ. Bone-straight navigating, expert water bottle throwing skills, and a cheerful, watchful eye. So cool. Thank you.

I think I'd like to do this again but focus a little more on swims without a wet suit. This would be a BIG step for me...I'm a little fearful on long swims without it because of my tendency to cramp. It's a mental crutch too because I'm convinced I'm just too slow without it (which I am btw). So, something to work on for the future.

The only complaint I have (there's always something) is I got cut off by a rogue kayaker at the end and I'm pissed that my time was slower than yours Lorraine. I was doing my best to keep up with your sprint finish, but then out of no where, there was a man in a kayak right in front of me! I'm really hoping young, sensitive ears didn't hear my expletive-filled rant. I was confused and then stood up too quickly because of it so wound up trying to run through water instead of swimming it.

Thank you for your planning skills and encouragement, Lorraine. I did not think I could swim 5 miles after that 4.46 practice swim when my shoulder completely seized up. I'm grateful for Mellissa's strong massage hands and for the healing power of tapering. I'm grateful to my family for their constant love and support and for the their willingness to accept horrible suppers cooked with me still in a bathing suit and dripping wet. We are all truly blessed.

Rayo was thrilled with our
three-hour finish.
Let's do it again!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Triathlon Prep

Maybe I'm more willing to suffer. 

Been training methodically, working with a coach. She says run faster, I try to run faster. She says bike that hill five times, I do it. Intense.

Yoga tells me to rename pain "sensation," breath into working muscles, relax those less involved, use the mind. The biggest lesson I've learned so far: I can suffer and recover. 

My Olympic distance tri is in two weeks. 

May 31, 2012
Just heard a clip from one of the Star Wars films:
"There is no try. Do or do not." Yoda

Friday, March 30, 2012

Monster Run

I eye the girl to my left, sweating out the last few minutes of spin class. Diane, comfy and sweet. She'd make for a pleasant run companion, she looks kind. I peer to my right. Not sure of her name: Jennifer? Jessica? Thirties, confident, elegant blond pony tail. Quietly serious. She looks sort of fast.

A running companion on this cold March morning would be nice. I'm supposed to be running within a few minutes of dismounting. Think they'd join me? Our legs are slowing down in the last minute of spin class and I get up the courage and just say it: "Anyone wanna do a little out-and-back 20-minute run?"

"What a great idea," says teacher Nellie. "I'll join you next week."

"Naw," says Diane," I gotta get to work."

"Sure'" says the unknown Jennifer, or is it Jessica. "Today's my day off. That would be good."

She's off the bike and ready in 45 seconds. A little too fast. She's done this before, I'm thinking. Like a cat meeting his superior I show my belly. "You look fast." I say. Maybe I'm hoping she disagrees, but she doesn't say anything.

And we're running in the rain.

"Do you know the way?" I ask. "How to get on the trail?"

"No, I'm from Sauk," she says. I point to the turn. We keep running.

"How far of a drive is it for you to spin class?" she asks pleasantly, settling in, making conversation for an enjoyable outing. We compare commutes. I sense she's got more oxygen available than I do, but I want to be nice. I try to answer well, and bounce the questions back to her. We compare pools (she swims in Sauk), families, (she's got three boys, ages seven, five, and two), spin teachers (she's never had a class with Scott). I'm  abbreviating my sentences. Not so much air to spare. Noticing my heartrate. Rising.

I've been on her side of things before, the side that has plenty of oxygen and wants to make the workout pleasant for others. I've swam with newbies, when I had time to roll over on my back and gaze at the clouds. I've rode with people who were just a touch slower than me, chatted to distract them from their effort.

Ah, but being on the oxygen-debt side; that's painfully different. I rode hills with an amazement who talked interestingly and continually, interspersing encouragement, all as we ascended. Her never-ending, caffeine-laced ebullience took not a jot of effort. I've swum next to a record-holding mermaid who flashed by so fast that in one of my breaths she appeared, approached, and slipped beyond. Was this Jen/Jes one of those? A sleek, blond monster with Lance Armstrong's VO2 max and Deana Caster's pace? And just what was her name?

"I'm Jessica, by the way," says Jessica. Now I'm worried she's a mind reader as well.

Flat trail, no other runners, rain falling, cold. The pace is hard. Plain hard. I see my heartrate. Zone four, no. That's zone five. Isn't five the top zone? It hadn't been this high riding hills in spin class. "What are you training for?" says kind, monster Jessica.

I want to brag a bit. Want to save some face. Want to say, "the Capital View Tri in Middleton, Olympic distance. It's all hills both on bike and run. It's a trail run. I took third in my age the first year I did it. The year of the big floods and tornadoes. Remember that year? Could hardly get home after, roads were getting washed out, trees going down, it was wild." Not enough air. To say. All that. "A June tri," I say. "Middleton."

"I was thinking of doing that one again," she says, in a grammatically complete way. "I did it last year. It's hilly," she says.


A little quiet.

I need to get her talking. "Where are your boys now?" I get out.

Her husband's watching them. She needs her workout time to stay sane. I totally understand but I can't say so. I want to say that's great that your husband gets it. I say, "Uh, huh."

Run, breath. Wish I had my Garmin on but she was ready to go so fast I didn't take the time to grab it. Good gracious, how fast are we going. And she's not even trying.

"What's your favorite? Swim. Bike. Or run?" I pant.

"Oh, I'm best at swimming but I guess I like running most. Running seems to give me the best workout. But I was on swim team when I was a kid. I love swimming. They didn't have a high school team for us, but I was on a team in grade school. I'd spend whole summers swimming. I loved it."

"Oh," pant. I want to say, hey there's some great open water swim events. I want to talk about the swims I did last year in some of the Great Lakes. I want to test the water and see if she's interested in that sort of thing, maybe we could ride together or train a little in Devil's Lake together. Breath. All I say is "oh." This is like having my teeth cleaned.

"Are there good trails by you?" she asks.

"Not close." Brief, but answered. "How about you?" I get out.

"Nothing without a long drive," she says. "Wanna climb that hill?" she says. I look up. A one-block stiff hill. It's the turnaround.

"Go on." I say. "Catch you. Coming down." She goes on.

She floats up the hill. I plod. I see her ascend, ascend, ascend. I'm waiting for her to turn so I can stop climbing. Eventually. She comes back. "Nice," I say. "Good climb," I say. We descend.

If only I can keep her talking, get her using more air. My heartrate has moved from zone 5 to a zone I hadn't previously met. It's off the chart. Literally. I'm feeling a little pukey. Muscles in my calves are feeling icy stiff. The rain keeps falling. It's 36 degrees. What would get her talking. "Do you have. Ironman hopes?" I ask.

"My husband's done a couple." She says. "I've done Door county's sprint and a few others. I did a half. I do a half-marathon every year, too. Been to Appleton, Madison, some others. I'd like to do Ironman, maybe when my two-year-old starts school. It takes so much training time."

"Yah." I say. I gotta slow down. But I don't say that.

"You win. Things. Don't you." I say.

"Well, not really, but last year I took second in my age at the Capital View sprint," she admits.

Heartrate 171. Didn't know it went that high. Not enough breath to think of a new topic. No breath to speak. She's gliding. Blond pony tail graceful in the rain. Easy strides with long legs. She could do this forever. Five minutes left. I can do this, I can do this, I can't do this. I gotta slow down.

"I gotta slow down," I say it.

"Oh, that's fine," she says.

"I understand if you, wanna run ahead," I say. We've slowed. I'm getting a little more breath. "I know you gotta, get home."

"No, this is fine." she says. She's so nice; I know she could sprint it in. We're only five minutes out, she's got lots left, she could dash to the end as a nice finish to her easy run.

I can see our cars parked up ahead. I can't start walking before she does. "It's just about 20 minutes," she says, checking her watch. The pace slows. We're walking. I hope I wasn't too slow. I hope she wasn't too bored.

"Thanks for kicking my butt," I say. "That was great. If I ran with you more often I'd definitely get faster."

"Yeah," she says. "I've run with some fast people. It makes a difference."

"Yah. Thanks. Stay warm." I don't know what else to say.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Indoors and Outdoors and on a Hilly Route

You've been out there on the salty roads, I know. You've been training in your reflective vest and intimidating balaclava, hitting the hills, leaving piles of dirt on the rug where your shoes melt post-run.

But not me. The harpies have lured me to the flat, smooth, climate-controlled treadmill this season where I RARELY select the hilly route. But yesterday taught me a lesson.
Sue (right), Cathy (middle) and I
ran the Baraboo Winterfest 5k
on Saturday. Sunshine, no wind,

and temps hitting 40s, nice. But
I joined two mellow girlfriends for a local 5k this weekend. Despite our mutual promises of "an easy run" with an 11-minute pace, even in the three short miles there were grades that prodded me to my toes, tweaked my glutes, and told me, "girl, you need to be training some hills." Uneven surfaces and gravelly shoulders worked my feet in new ways, left my soles tired.

Whoa, eye-opening. Glad I did the run, it leads me to three resolutions:

  1.  Include at least one run each week outdoors, on gritty rollers.
  2.  Add balance exercises to strengthen ankles and feet. (Back to the one-legged-standing-on-a-pillow therapy I was doing last summer.)  
  3. Religiously do downward dog to keep heals limber. 
Well, I'll try. Hmm. I'll let you know if this lesson sticks.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A White, Dusty Christmas

Work gets slow around the holidays so we planned our long-put-off remodel for the weeks around Christmas.

We had the good fortune to have mild weather and no snow; the workmen tramped in and out hauling heavy, dusty things but no snow. Windows and doors were propped open. The 50-foot roll of dust-blocking plastic wall (that I had thought was entirely excessive) was entirely used.

This was my only (forever) foray into the land of remodel. Good points: I learned I can remove a toilet, tear out floors, paint and stain like my life depends on it. The bad things: it's dustier and more upsetting to the routines of life than I could have imagined. I couldn't cook, use a toilet, or find an unsullied surface.

Here's the photo journey. I sneeze just looking at the picts.

Before: bottlenecks, sagging floors, bowed walls.
 Table yet to come.

After: open spaces, level floor, harmony.