Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Tour de Mount Vernon

A couple summers ago, I met Dani through Team Z and we did a lot of training together.  Then, I kinda took a break from training and she left the team, though we got together last year for the Luray Swim.  We got in touch earlier this year and realized we have a lot in common and decided to get together..... and why not for a bike ride?!  Uhh.. except it's been since June 2016 that I was last outside on my bike.  And before that, Ironman.  But you never forget how to ride a bike, right??

I had a grand plan of getting my bike dusted off and taking it for a spin to get my sit bones reacquainted with the bike seat before our 35 mile ride.  The weather was unseasonably warm and it would have been perfect riding weather.  Except... I didn't.  I found myself the day before the bike ride thinking, meh, I'll be ok.. I know exactly where my bike is, no problem, I'm set.  Oh but wait... I also need to find my bike shoes!  And helmet!  And sunglasses!  And bike pump!  And bike shorts!
I arrived at the bike start promptly at 7:30 (ugh... early weekend wakeup times) and took my bike (road bike, not Xena since this is a road event and tri bikes are not always allowed) to the on-site mechanic.  I only really asked him to check out my brakes but when I mentioned I hadn't been on that bike since 2014 he told me to give him a minute... ha!  I wandered back to my car and got the rest of my stuff prepped and met up with Dani.  Luckily there was nothing wrong with the bike, and after a little air in the tires and oil on the chains, it was ready to go!  But it was cold!
All bundled up, we started out on the scenic (mostly) ride through Mount Vernon.  Dani and I actually started out with the fast group!  And kept up!  Doesn't matter that it was a recreational ride with plenty of non-cyclists, we were front of the pack!  Might be the only time we can ever say that... It wasn't flat, and I was happy to have the granny gear of my road bike to help with the hills.  For the first half of the ride I was fine, but slow, on the elevation gains, but then we got into Pohick Regional Park and had a mile of downhill to the Occoquan River.  I knew I was gonna be in trouble on the way back out, and sure enough, I stopped about halfway up.  I never walked, but I did stop.  I am attributing the stop to my lack of cycling and hope to get back to where I was during Ironman training... never loving hills, but getting better.
It was a really nice ride, and our only complaint was that every 7-10 miles, the ride organizers forced everyone to stop and wait for everybody else in the group.  I understood why, because they needed to control the road closures, and this was not a race.  But it was so cold!  Standing around and waiting made it even more frigid.  I won't say I was miserable, and the ride was really pretty with all the leaves still changing colors, but I was cold and getting hungry.  There were a few more hills on the back half, and I dropped my chain twice, which I had forgotten was an issue with that bike.  The last few miles seemed to go on forever, mostly because we circled around the start/finish spot and I thought we were done at least 3 times before we actually pulled into the lot.  Time for food!
We went to Dani's house for a shower and then hit the Clarendon Halloween bar crawl.  We spent a couple hours hanging out, chatting with strangers and checking out the various costumes.  I am pretty sure we were among the oldest people in the bars.  After dinner it was back to Dani's for another wardrobe change and off to the Kennedy Center!
It was already a long day, but I was excited to see Book of Mormon.  We realized we had been standing for 90% of our day and were looking forward to sitting down.  What we didn't realize was how painful it would be sitting in those tiny seats for 3 hours...ouch!  The sit bones were feeling it, and the muscles were tightening up.  It was a good show, but by the end we were exhausted.  Back to Dani's to collect my bike and dirty clothes, and then a drive home in the pouring rain.  I was glad I finally have a garage to park in, and I  have never been so happy to crawl into bed.  Full day of activity!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Gansett Half Marathon

I swear, this sounded like a good idea when we all signed up!  Heidi W needed to find a race in Rhode Island (on her way to all 50 states).  It had been awhile since I'd been to visit Heidi T and she agreed to the fall race also.  It was mid-summer when we registered but planned on a nice crisp fall day come late November in New England.  Wrong.  I joined Heidi W for a few long runs, but ran into some achilles pain in one of our last training sessions and we ended up taking uber back to our cars (part b/c of my achilles... part b/c we mis-judged the circumference of the lake...would have been over 20 miles!).  This meant my last meaningful run was a full month before the race.  Then I made the rookie mistake of taking brand new running shoes out of the box and putting them in my weekend bag without even trying them on.  Bad idea.
The weekend started out well enough.  I had an uneventful flight into Providence and hung out with Heidi T for a low key afternoon and evening.  Heidi W arrived Saturday and we did the trip to packet pick-up, ate the most amazing pretzels in Westerly (yep, if the afternoon snack makes it into my blog, you know it's good!) and got ourselves ready for the event.  A 10am start meant no early alarm clocks - yay!

Race morning, we lined up at the back of the pack and were literally the last people to cross the start line.  It was a position I would be well familiar with for the entire race, less a couple minutes here and there.  Heidi T went ahead to semi-join her pace group and Heidi W decided to run the first mile with me.  I jogged most of that first mile until the right turn which I knew was a pretty big hill based on our driving course preview the day before.  I have a pretty fast walk though and stayed with Heidi. 
We noticed the sweeper cyclist right behind us - like literally right on our heels - and Heidi asked him if he intended to stay that way the entire course.  "Yes, unless somebody else falls behind you" - Ugh.

When we made it to the top of the hill, which was a little longer than I had thought it would be, Heidi decided to pick up her pace a bit.  That left me all alone with the cyclist who was still maintaining less than a car length of space between us.  He was also announcing, rather loudly, to each volunteer that I passed, "this is the last runner, you can finally go home..." -- umm, I can hear you!!  There were a handful of people I could see in front of me and my goal was to keep pace with them and not fall too far behind.  I spotted Heidi T on the first out-and-back portion and she seemed to be running at a pretty good pace.  I kept trucking along, jogging and walking, not in any particular interval set.  We were on the shaded part of the course and I was trying to enjoy it....for a late October day in Rhode Island, it was pretty hot!
I was getting a little [more] irritated with the cyclist right on my ass, so when we got to the downhill section, I let gravity take over and picked up my speed.  I passed about 3 people and was feeling pretty happy to have finally lost my escort.  We made the turn onto Ocean Drive and I knew I had to try to keep up a slightly faster pace because these people were not too far behind me and could easily catch up and pass me again.  Normally I don't care about my position in a race, but that cyclist was so annoying!  Of course, about a mile later I heard the familiar sound of tires on gravel right behind me... "You really picked up some speed and passed a bunch of people......but they all dropped out so now I'm with you again".  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!! 
Hard to see but the cyclist is in this photo!  He's so close to me it looks like I'm the one wearing a bike helmet!
The cyclist also mentioned that I was doing OK with my pace and was likely ahead of the cut-off limit.  Uhh... the cut-off limit???  I had scoured the website before signing up (like I always do) and never found anything indicating a time limit.  I was at a 14:30(ish)/mile pace and wasn't super concerned, but I was less than halfway and the fact that he mentioned a limit made me nervous.  He told me that his direction was that anybody not at mile 10 at 2:45:00 would not make it.... oh.... ok..... no problem.  Why did he even bring it up?  I was WAY ahead of that limit.  What's weird was that he kept mentioning it, which made me glance at my watch a lot more than I'm used to.  At one point, a volunteer started jogging with me telling me she was going to help get me through the upcoming intersection.  It seemed super nice, but the sense of hurriedness that everyone imparted on me was concerning.

I made it to the turn-around and saw Heidi W.  I was last by a decent margin so I didn't feel bad taking extra water at all the water stops.  Heading into the halfway point, I realized I had not taken in any salt or nutrition.. D'oh!  Stupid, stupid, especially considering how warm it was.  I grabbed the gel out of my race belt and chugged it, but it was probably too little too late.  My hands were really swollen already with about 6 miles left to go...and it was getting hotter.  There was plenty water on hand at all the water stops, but I do wish there had been some Gatorade or other non-water option.  I heard later that there had been something, but they must have run out by the time I made my way through.
My calves started cramping up pretty bad whenever I was jogging, and my left achilles was really bothering me, so by mile 8 I decided to [speed] walk the rest of the way.  One volunteer actually told my cycling escort that he didn't need to stay with me, that there were a bunch of people walking just ahead of me and it was fine for him to go see how they were doing also.  So he went ahead, chatted with the person about 50 yards in front of me for a min... and then came right back to me!  Seriously.  I actually worked my way past another woman, but wouldn't you know...she ended up dropping out also.  The cyclist kept telling me to try to catch the man up ahead so at least I wouldn't be the last person, except my position among other people couldn't have been further than anything I cared about. 
At mile 10, I took out my phone and my hands were so swollen that I could barely operate it to send Heidi T my pace, so she'd have an idea of when to expect me to finish.  I remembered I had my salt tube, and shortly after a volunteer came driving by offering us BOP'ers a full bottle of water which I used to wash it down.  The mile markers actually seemed to come and go pretty fast, and it probably helped that the race had half mile markers for ever mile.  I really thought it would be more windy along the coast, but the sun was burning down on the back of my neck and I wanted to be done.  I finally gave in and started up a conversation with my cycling buddy.  My pace slowed down considerably, but I did enjoy the company to get me through that final part.  Turns out he is a swimmer and thinking about doing the Save the Bay swim next summer.  
So happy to be finishing... and there's Heidi W in the green shirt, proof that she was actually there!
Finally I was at the seawall which indicated the final mile of the course.  There were a bunch of cars parked and I wasn't sure if I should hop on the sidewalk or stay in the road...but there were a lot of pedestrians on the sidewalk and the racer (I use that term loosely) in front of me - who had his own volunteer escort - stayed in the road, so I did too, even though there were a bunch of cars passing us.  I was hot and swollen and very uncomfortable.  Heidi T popped out from behind the parked cars and kept me company for the final part.  There were actually a bunch of people at the finish line cheering which was quite impressive, especially for a smaller race.  I'm used to desolate finish lines... it was nice.  And I was done!  Yay!
This is Heidi T's medal and her photo that I stole cause I think it looks really cool
The Heidi's and I made our way over to a bench so I could rest for a minute.  Both big toes were extremely bruised thanks to my poor shoe decision.  Sitting was probably a bad idea though... when we stood up, the hot spots on my feet made for very painful steps.  Heidi T offered to go get the car, and Heidi W gladly volunteered to wait with me.  A shower, lunch and lounging around were on the agenda for the rest of the day.  It was an early bedtime, and Heidi W and I had an early flight (4:15AM alarm!) home...straight to work and back to reality. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Great Chesapeake Bay Swim

Holy long swim!  I knew from all the training and those long hours of mind-numbing back and forth in the pool that it was going to take a while but... geez!

I spent the night before the swim at Andrea's house and we discussed strategy.  Mentally, I had to break up the swim for myself.  First, get from Sandy Point beach and into the bridge span.  Then to the first mile marker at the end of the curve.  Andrea's brother told us that mile 1 to 2 was going to be the worst - something to with the currents and the depth of the water and .... to be honest all I really retained from that conversation was that it was going to be a brutal mile.  So the second step was to get through that.  Then it was just an Ironman swim left.  Next section would be to get to the end of the bridge, and finally turn out from under the spans and make my way to the finish at Hemingway's.
Spoiler alert - I finished!  Here's the breakdown of the swim... red line is my path.
I was eager to know the water conditions that day, and was happy that it seemed calm (meaning, no whitecaps) as we drove over the bridge to the parking lot.  Later at the pre-swim meeting, the race director indicated that conditions were as close to ideal as we could get.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Not that it was going to be easy by any means.  There would be a current pushing us to our left, which we'd have to swim against to get under the bridge.  Then at some point, the current would shift to the right, which hopefully would give us a push out of the bridge and into the finish.
Nervous!  Arrived at the park & ride, about to catch the shuttle to Sandy Point
The swim course was defined as staying between the bridge spans.  If you went outside of that area, you were subject to disqualification.  You would also be disqualified for hanging onto one of the pylons, mostly because there were too many jagged rocks around those and it was a safety issue.  There were to be 2 support boats located at mile 2 and mile 3.  You could hang on to those boats, or any kayak or paddleboard, provided the boat was not pulling you along.

So there we were on the beach of Sandy Point, all checked in, body marked and timing chip secured.  Bags were checked, race number tucked under the swim cap, goggles and index card in hand (yet another safety measure because the race directors had to report everyone entering and exiting the water to the coast guard).  I spent some time with Andrea and her crew, said hello to Susan, Tom and John from swim camp, and then settled in with my Team Z-mates for the briefing.  I took my salt tabs and ginger pills, had my wetsuit zipped up and was ready to go [and get this thing over with]!
This was not an in-water start, which meant everyone lined up on the beach and took off when the gun went off.  I had no idea where to line myself up.  We had to swim out beyond a jetty and then make a right to enter the bridge.  Starting too close to the jetty might make it harder to get out there, but starting too far on the other end would mean a slightly further swim, and more against the current.  So... I randomly picked a spot.  Good choice?  Who knows... There was definite nervous energy as I waited for the signal to go.
This is actually a photo Daz took from later in the swim, once I left the bridge spans!
Finally, we were off.  I had my ear plugs in, so I couldn't really hear anything but all of a sudden everyone started racing into the water.  I hesitated so I didn't get kicked and swum over too much.  This was it, the thing I'd been training for since January was finally happening.  I'm not sure if I found a rhythm or not, but I made my way out past the jetty, fighting the current to the bridge.  It wasn't super horrible and that part took less time than I thought.  OK, time to just settle in, there was a lot of swimming ahead of me. 
It was a fight to stay between the bridge spans around my 2nd interval marker (1000yd per interval)
Once between the bridge spans, I didn't really notice the current to much, but boy was it pushing me to the left side.  I really had to fight to stay inside the zone.  Like.. really fight.  It was way too early to even consider giving up, but man this was hard.  I wanted to get closer to the middle, but couldn't. 
The first mile marker came and I was already struggling going into what had been defined to me as the hardest mile.  I was really concerned I was not going to be able to hang on before drifting outside of the west-bound bridge span and pulled from the swim. 

I looked up and saw the first support boat, a lot earlier than I'd expected to see it.  Of course it was docked closer to the east-bound span.  I thought about trying to get over there for something to drink, but there was no way I was going to get that far up the current.  I'd settle for the next boat.
That first interval was smooth sailing... then struggle to stay in the bridges...
7th interval I was really tired... and then a "dash" to the finish!
Finally, as I approached the second mile marker the current seemed to relax a bit.  I was now more firmly in the center of the bridges, which eased my mind tremendously.  Now I could just swim.  And swim.  And swim.  I looked up a couple times but still couldn't see the other side of the bay.  I could tell I was under the highest part of the bridge so it had to be halfway.... right?  I had my watch set to go off every 1000 yard interval, and knew that the swim was going to be about 7700 yards total.  It had only gone off 3 times, but the third time was a few minutes ago so I was probably at least at 3500?  I was getting a little tired of swimming now.
I took this shot after I finished but those are the trusses on the left which I *thought* were close to the end!
I noticed some trusses on the bridge up ahead and figured I just had to get there.  That was going to be my next landmark.  They didn't seem to be getting any closer.  Then I started counting the pylons, except that got boring fast.  I was getting seriously annoyed with how far away those trusses still were.  I must have missed the third mile marker and the second support boat because I knew from my watch beeping that I was in my fourth mile. 
The map kind of makes it look like I went all the way under the bridge, but that's an exaggeration.
I was barely under the bridge, not even all the way on the other side of the single pillar.
At some point the current must have picked up in the other direction because now I found myself drifting to the right.  I'd finally made it to those trusses and decided to breathe to my left for a bit to change up the muscles I'd been using.  All of a sudden the water got dark and I immediately realized I must have drifted into the shadow of the east-bound bridge span.  Yikes!  I swam furiously back into the middle and hoped it wasn't enough to get me pulled.  Luckily there were no kayaks around me and nobody said anything.  At this point I didn't even care if I was disqualified as long as I got to finish the swim and be able to say I swam across that damn bay.
Daz didn't know it at the time but I am somewhere in this shot
b/c I popped up around that yellow buoy only a min or so later!
As I got to the end of those trusses I'd been following, I looked up and was so happy I could see the orange buoy!  That must be the end where we get to turn out from under the bridge!  It was still pretty far away but it made me happy to be able to see it.  My fingers were starting to hurt, my shoulders hurt, my arms hurt, my back was killing me.  I did a few stretches swimming in the fetal position to try to ease the pressure on my back.  Come on orange buoy!
That was a LONG way from bridge exit to finish line!!
4.4 miles = 7744 yards, so the fact that I have an 8th interval marker means I swam extra!
Except, when I finally came up to that buoy, I realized it was only the fourth mile marker.  D'oh! I glanced up again and noticed 2 yellow buoys in the distance and THOSE were the signal to exit the bridge.  Damnit.  Keep swimming.  I was so tired, but at this point there was no way I was giving up.  As much as it sucked, I knew I was physically capable of doing this.  I never wanted to have to do all that training again, and I definitely don't want to have to do this event again.  One and done, but that meant I had to actually get it done.  Luckily, despite my one scare, it wasn't as hard to stay within the bridge spans as earlier when I was getting pushed to the left.
This was the final buoy, outside of the bridge, guiding us to the finish.
Made it to the yellow buoys, I was almost done!  The only thing left was to exit the bay and swim to the finish line.  The night before, Andrea was telling me that it was shallow enough there that you could stand and walk.  I knew I can swim faster than I can walk in water and dismissed the idea.  Yet, as I rounded that corner and saw just how far away the marina was, I stood up in disbelief.  You've got to be kidding me!  I have to swim THAT MUCH FURTHER?!  I was so mad.  Daz was out on the rocks taking pictures and even noted to Joann on the phone that I looked cranky. 
I swam some.  I walked some.  I did some dolphin dives.  I stayed as close to the rocks as possible for the shortest possible route to that finish line.  The end was in sight and yet it was taking forever to get there.  In actuality, it took me about 10 minutes. 
I did one last dolphin dive and started swimming to the end.  Finally, finally, finally, I was close enough to stand up and walk out to the timing mats. 
I DID IT!!  I walked up the short hill to find Joann and Paula cheering.  I paused for a picture and actually got confused where to go.  A nice volunteer pointed me in the finisher chute where I saw my mom, friends and teammates. 
My stomach was going nuts so I grabbed sprite and Gatorade, not sure which would help more?
The chute seemed to go on forever... grab a drink which I was in desperate need of... get your t-shirt... eventually Joann forced her way in the end of the chute to help me take off my wetsuit.  Her, Paula and Daz helped me collect my stuff and pick up my bag drop. 
I got hosed down a couple times and we walked over to the restaurant where Sarah, Dave and Jon were saving a table.  It felt so good to sit down!
We spent the better part of the afternoon hanging out at Hemingway's, hesitant to sit in the traffic that was building up going back west across the bridge.

Bucket list item accomplished.  I will never drive over that bridge and not remember that swim.  I will also never sign up for that event again.  So glad I did it, but it really sucked.  I hated swimming that long.
(skip to 17:30 in the video.  I stand up in the water when the clock timer reads 3:08.20)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Washington’s Crossing [and one week till the bay!]

I'll be honest.  I'm a little sick of swimming.  I woke up Sunday morning and wasn't really super excited about the idea of getting the wetsuit on again, and swimming... AT ALL.  Also, I'd done this event before - the 2015 Washington Crossing - and didn't really have a great swim, so I wasn't too optimistic about it.  I was, however, excited about having brunch with Paula and Andrea, so I gathered my stuff together, made some iced tea, and drove to national harbor.
I got down to the dock, found Andrea and Keith and checked in.  I brought salt tabs that I wanted to try out after the cramping last week at the Reston swims, and took those along with my ginger pills.  I had no trouble pulling my wetsuit on today, and remembered to liberally apply the tri-slide around my neck.  I was ready to get this thing over with!
Jenny, Paula, me, Tommy, Andrea, Keith
We met up with a few other people and all got ourselves ready and talked strategy for how to execute this point-to-point swim.  Keith is Andrea's swim coach, so we listened for some good tips both for this swim and next week at the bay.  I'm still not sure if or how I will carry extra salt tabs and/or gels... something to think about over the next few days.
After the safety briefing we all boarded that boat in the right-hand side of that photo, to be taken to the Virginia side of the river.  The website advertised this swim as 1.3 miles, and then the pre-race email that was sent out said it was 1.4 miles.  As I normally swim quite a bit off course, I wondered how far I would actually swim today? 
I haven't really found a pair of goggles that I love.  I have been using the same brand and model for years, but lately they haven't been fitting on my face as well.  You can see me about to jump off the boat, adjusting them and hoping they would do the trick - these are the ones I've selected for the bay swim also.  The water temperature was right at 70 degrees but felt fine as I jumped in and started swimming over to the start area.
And then we were off!  I hit "GO" on my Garmin and joined the masses.  The suggestion for this swim was to swim close to the bridge as the currents would be going downstream and naturally carry us where we needed to go.  I kind of listened and made a point to breath to my left to keep the bridge in my line of sight.  I was a good 50-75 yards to the right though.  Not a problem now, but I wondered if that would mean I'd end up too far downstream later.
After awhile, I was wondering why I hadn't felt my Garmin buzz with the normal 500yd interval that it's set to record.  I looked up and while the timer was going, it said I had traveled 0 yards.  ZERO.  What?  Ugh.. so frustrating.  I stopped once to adjust my goggles, and was surprised to realize I could stand up in the middle of the Potomac.  Only a 2 second stop because...gross standing on the bottom of that river.  Still nothing on the Garmin.  In fact, it only recorded 122 yards for that entire swim!  I hate not having that data!
That's Paula finishing up... her longest swim ever! Yay!
As it turns out, I never got swept downstream and had a pretty decent path to the exit dock.  I was surprised to see only 43 minutes on my Garmin and wondered if maybe the time was messed up also?  Alas, Andrea's teammate, Jenny, got out just before me and confirmed the time, and Andrea was right after me and confirmed the time also.  Yes, I needed double confirmation.  WOW!  This was literally half the time that I did this swim last time.  And even if I swam exactly point to point without any deviations, it should have been 1.3 miles.  This means that I swam under 2 min per 100 yards for the second week in a row.  We dried off (no chaffing!) and cheered in the rest of our friends.
Tommy, Paula, me, Andrea, Keith
We all did it!  Time for brunch.  The results ended up giving me a third confirmation that I did that swim just over 43 minutes (43:38.9), and even using a worst-case (but realistic) distance of 1.25 miles, which is what Andrea's watch recorded, I still swam 1:58/100yd.  The good news is that there was some decent chop on the river which is closer to bay conditions than the Reston lake, but I am trying not to get too optimistic that I'll be able to have a repeat performance.  Really, just finishing the bay swim will make me happy and I'm hoping conditions aren't too horrible.  I guess we'll find out Sunday morning.  But, I was still quite pleased with this swim and headed home for a lazy rest of the day on my couch.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Jim McDonnell 1 & 2 Mile Lake Swims

I honestly wasn't excited about waking up super early and doing this swim.  I was glad the rain had held off, but still wasn't feeling like swimming back-to-back events, especially with a break between them.  I had to park about a half mile down the road, and immediately John from swim camp.  We made the trek to the lake entrance together and settled into the long registration line.
I was already a sweaty mess when I finally got to the Team Z tents after standing in that long registration line and then another line for the port-o-johns.  Getting a wetsuit on in those circumstances is HARD WORK.  Luckily a few of my teammates and my childhood friend, Allison, were there to offer support and assistance.  Once it was on, everyone said it was time to walk over to the start area.  I will say that I was pretty frazzled going into that first event, not having a moment to myself since I arrived at the lake.  In all the bustle, I had forgotten to put on my tri-slide and sunblock, and was worried about that.  I hadn't really had a minute to catch my breath and think about my game plan. 
I suddenly found myself standing in the start line hoping that my timing chip was going to stay on, since I didn't have time to find a safety pin to secure it.  Finally after announcements and the national anthem they started moving people into the water.  I was in the 10th wave and getting impatient as we slowly made our way up for our turn to walk over the timing mats.  The water temperature was 68 degrees which felt fine on the wetsuit but provided a bit of a sting as I dove in with my bare face and arms.  I was immediately uncomfortable in the wetsuit and with my goggles but was able to make some quick adjustments as they counted us off.  Ready - Set - Go!  We were off and I thought to myself, just take it easy, get your head in the game and find your rhythm.  I avoided people the best I could and made my way into the first cove and around the buoy.  I glanced at my watch when it buzzed for the first 500 yard split and was shocked to see less than 10 minutes - WHAT??
I didn't to put too much thought into what was probably a fluke for a split, but I also didn't want to slow down.  I really tried to focus on the stroke techniques that I learned from swim camp the week before.  Remembering to keep my head down and follow through on my stroke underwater kept my mind occupied.  And then the next split showed another sub-10 minutes.  Holy crap!  As I was on the long stretch heading back to the start area I felt somebody swim into me.  I looked up and it was Allison!  What are the odds?!  I think she started to say something to me, but I was so excited about my time, I didn't want to waste a minute.  I kept going and not only was I able to keep up that pace, but I somehow got myself negative splits!  This is literally faster than I normal swim a mile in a pool.  I'll take it!  I waited for Allison who I knew was only a minute or so behind me, and the two of us had a laugh about running into each other and walked back over to the Team Z area.  Time to sit around and wait for the next event.
During the break, my body kept cramping up.  I went to adjust my wetsuit and my hand froze in a claw position.  Everytime I moved my hands, they would cramp up.  And I was dizzy, not as bad as I have felt in the past after a hard swim, but definitely dizzy.  I didn't have my ear plugs (still in the bag I took to swim camp) and I hadn't taken any ginger pills.  I mentally put both of those items on the "do not forget" list for bay swim.  My teammate offered me some food, and I took it, and had already had a bunch of water.  Not sure what to think of this other than to make sure I have some salt tabs with me for the bay.  But this is weird after only a single mile.  And I still had 2 miles to go?
I really had zero desire to swim 2 more laps around that lake, but it was time to start making our way over to the start area again.  I did remember to put some body glide on my neck and apply sunblock.  what I did not remember was that our swim coach had recommended that we practice nutrition by stuffing a gel packet into our wetsuit.  During bay swim we will be on our own for nutrition, and 3+ hours is a long time on the water.  I guess that will be a game-day situation.  Anyway, there we were back in line for the second event, and I ran into a few others from swim camp - Brian, Tom and Susan, and I think a couple of them will be at the Chesapeake Bay swim also.  More familiar faces!
I still had some cramping, especially in my left hand, but I tried to ignore it as I settled in to the first of two loops for the 2-miler.  Allison wasn't doing this event and instead walked along the edge of the lake cheering.  I followed her until the turn around the first buoy and even tried to wave once.  The next section to the end of the lake felt longer this time and I started feeling the wetsuit on my neck, despite the body glide.  Ouch, ouch, ouch, with every stroke.  Nothing I could do about that now. 
At the first split, I could tell that I was slowing down, but I was still going faster than my original predictions for this event.  For comparison purposes, the practice swim I did in Luray last month was 2:43 /100yd and just over a mile and pretty similar conditions (or dare I say this lake was even a little rougher than the condensed course of the practice swim).  I was blowing this pace away today!   And I was passing people.  A lot of people.  It really helped that everyone separated out pretty well and I didn't have to worry about getting kicked or swum over.
Finishing up that first loop was a good feeling and I just had to go around one more time.  One more time swimming into the cove.  One more time with the long stretch to the far end of the lake, which I am pretty sure felt longer and longer each time (though the map shows me turning in the same spot each time... huh).  One more long straight shot back to the drain, and one final time around the drain and I was on my way to the finish line. I was still passing people.  I felt good, though I was a little concerned with how I would feel when I stood up, given how dizzy I felt after the one more event, and I knew my body was already reacting.
I was so freaking happy to be out of the lake!  To my surprise, I didn't have any issues standing out or walking over the timing mats.  Allison was there taking pictures, so I met up with her and we walked back over to our area.  Time for that wetsuit to come off!  The cramping had eased up, though now my arms were shaking, likely a result of muscle overuse.  I didn't feel too dizzy either.  Phew, though I'm still going to make a point of making provisions for bay swim (ear plugs, ginger pills, salt tabs).  I sat around with Allison and Kim for a little bit and we helped take down the Team Z tent.  Taper time!  Only one more long swim before the bay.

Time for brunch!  These ladies, Daz, Sweeney and his friend, Dave, met us for brunch.  Then after a shower at Joann's house, a few of us went to a winery and out to dinner.  I was exhausted by the end of the day and was happy to crash in my bed.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

swim camp!

I'll tell you what. I had to dig deep and put on my big girl panties for this one. My first solo vacation...if you can call a weekend full of activity and swim training a "vacation".  I found out about the camp by signing up for a swim event that Paula invited me to do in early June.  The organization, Wave One Swimming, had the info on the website when I went to sign up for the Washington Crossing event.  I sent an email to a few people to see if there was any other interest, but it didn't really fit into anybody's schedule or plans.  Except... I was still intrigued and the timing was right.  I sent an email through the contact form on the website, and while I never got any response, I went ahead and signed up!  Once I get an idea in my head, I have to act on it, so I did.  This is very much out of my comfort zone and I was proud of myself for even getting this far.

I arrived at "the Cottage" around 3pm on Thursday and was the first to check-in.  I sat out on the back deck overlooking the ocean until more people arrived.  First there was Andi who flew in from NY, and then Jillian, from NC, who had found me on facebook through the event website a few weeks prior.  Immediately Andi said she was going to go for a swim.  Both Jillian and I seemed to want to swim, but were going to wait for the group that was going later.  Instead, we hung around the house and met the others as they started trickling in.  Eventually the group migrated over to the hotel bar while we waited on dinner and further instruction.
The schedule posted to the website... I still have no idea what 'Hands Across the Ocean" is??
This schedule, which played into my decision to sign up for the camp, was almost immediately thrown out the window.  We had an email from the head coach, Denis, earlier on Thursday saying there was no agenda for day one; no time frame for introductions, no orientation, and no optional swim.  I started kicking myself for not swimming earlier with Andi.
Yep..that's $9 glasses of wine in plastic cups.. yikes!
I was extremely disappointed the optional swim was canceled.  I mean... I was there to SWIM!  That was literally the primary goal.  And not for nothing but this was not a cheap weekend, and the price per swim just went up about $27.  With no other set activities for the day, Jillian and I headed back to the bar, got in a couple mile walk on the beach and explored some of the local nightlife.  When we made it back to the house, we realized we had missed group introductions -- oops!  But.. nobody had told us what time anything was happening!  At this point, I was seriously questioning my decision to sign up and crossing my fingers things would get better.

That's me to the left of the girl (Jillian) in the pink shirt, across from the brick wall.
Friday morning started with yoga, as promised, though not on the beach because somebody had objected to that (and I later learned that there were a couple folks whose opinions mattered more than others).  Yoga was awesome though, probably one of my favorite yoga classes that I've ever taken (granted, there haven't been too many).

We all changed into our swim stuff and met at the house for some classroom-style swim instruction.  I was a little shocked the emphasis seemed to be mostly on how to win races versus acknowledging and working towards individual goals, but there were definitely some very good tips and advice that came out of this discussion.  Finally it was time to go to the bay and get in the water!
The first swim of camp started with a series of open water drills.  I know drills are super helpful, and I found meaning in all of them (and I am definitely glad we had them!), but I was starting to get a little antsy to actually SWIM.  My biggest goal for this camp was to get in as much open water swimming for distance as I could.  As we set out on the actual swimming portion of this workout, I was pleased that I was keeping up with the middle of the pack... at least up until somebody swam into me and knocked off my goggles.  I fell behind as I had to stop and adjust.  Still, we got a swim in, so I was happy.  I think I did about 1500 yards this swim really trying to focus on the techniques we practiced in the drills.

We headed back to the house for lunch and free time.  It seemed most people were content to sit around, but Jillian and I decided to go on a beach walk.  We got in another 2 miles which made me happy - neither of us are the type that enjoy sitting around doing nothing, so it was good to get out and get in another activity.  Swim camp was improving.
Next up was the first ocean swim.  I have done a few ocean swims, most recently the Tiki Swim in San Diego, and did OK, but I am really not a fan.  I took the coaches' suggestion to wear fins for this swim, and watched as most of the group took off.  I was very hesitant to get in and was grateful there were a few others hanging back also, because now we were kind of on our own; not without a coach, but without the comfort of a huge group.
Jennifer and me...what are the odds?!
I got in and made my way through the waves, though I was still super uncomfortable with being in the middle of the ocean.  The wind was crazy and we were all definitely getting tossed around.  I'm not sure you could call what I was doing "swimming" but I was in there and I was moving along.  I looked up and saw Jennifer right next to me and we managed to stick together the entire time.  Having someone around you makes all the difference in the world.  Denis, who was on a surf board and came to tell us we looked good but were too far out, so we started making our way back.  Finally after about 800 yards, Jennifer and I decided we'd had enough and "swam" back into shore.  Not a long swim, but in the ocean, so success.
The shower felt so good after a day of activity!  Andi, Jillian and I decided to walk into "town" and relax with a couple ciders as a reward for our hard work.  We stopped at a grocery store to stock up on wine and water (the tap water in the house was DISGUSTING) and headed back to see what the deal was for dinner...cause still no itinerary.  When we got back, people were just sitting around, and we were starving, so we ended up turning around and going out for pizza.  We returned to the house to find we missed the analysis of the swim videos that were taken of all of us earlier - d'oh!  Luckily, Denis agreed to show us our videos anyway, and I will say that it was hugely beneficial to see myself swimming and have little things pointed out to me.  I am doing better with keeping my head down, but really need to work on keeping my arms straight through the entire stroke (versus curling in on the bottom half).  Friday was decent.

Saturday morning, we moved yoga to the beach due to popular demand and it was great, despite sand getting everywhere (literally, EVERYWHERE).  Again, I really enjoyed the yoga session and think it was a great complement to the swimming.  Then we all packed up to head to our Stand Up Paddle board lesson. 
I'm not entirely sure how I feel about our paddle board excursion.  I loved the idea of SUP as cross-training and working on balance, and I loved being out on the water doing something different.  However, one of our guides was a huge jerk who kind of ruined part of the experience.  He constantly yelled and berated everyone for not going fast enough, not listening to instruction, not being able to read the currents well (he was literally heard saying "you must not be a very good swimmer if you can't read these currents better").  I can't stand up or kneel on the board for too long at a time because my feet and knees start to hurt/cramp, so I have to rotate.  In order to switch, you have to stop paddling for a second, which I got yelled at for.  I was told not to even bother standing up if I couldn't balance.  Umm... a) I can balance, and b) isn't this a learning experience anyway?!  Overall though, I think it was a good experience and would do it again; maybe at a different outfitter.
As it was already lunchtime and we still didn't have any kind of itinerary, a few of us were concerned we weren't going to get in 2 swims this day, but we were assured we would!  Unfortunately, we were told both of them were going to be in the ocean.  I know that getting more ocean swim experience is the only way I will get more comfortable with it, but this was not my goal for this weekend.  Nor was it advertised that this would be an ocean swim focused weekend; I would not have signed up for that.  This partially feeds into the idea that the weekend's activities seemed to cater around a few swimmers' who had a prior relationship with Denis.  Luckily, there were a few of us that felt this way, and our amazing yoga instructor (and swim coach), Leslie, agreed to divide the group and take some of us to the bay.
Can't say enough good things about this group!
Jennifer, Andi, me, Jillian, Leslie and Jay
The individualized instruction and support of this small group was absolutely amazing and was my favorite part of camp thus far.  Leslie was on the paddle board and was able to notice little things that we each were doing.  We took a few breaks during the swim for feedback and were able to apply what we learned immediately.  Apparently I don't kick.. ever!  Leslie also provided some additional drills that were specific to what I needed to work on to improve my stroke.  We swam a little over a mile during this workout.  Great workout!  I am so thankful for Leslie's willingness to break apart from the main group and provide more personalized swim sessions to those of us that wanted it.  She really listened to our needs and worked with Denis to help make the activities beneficial for everyone.  The individualized instruction we got was invaluable.
We had about an hour before the next ocean swim was supposed to start, but Jillian and I didn't want to wait.  There isn't much you can do in an hour, and we'd rather have that break to chill out a bit before dinner.  Leslie agreed to take out a group in the ocean earlier, so we jumped at the opportunity.  It ended up only being the 3 of us, but I felt a little better today!  I won't say it was easy, but I swam a half mile and did OK.  Then, we paused to check in with what we wanted to accomplish, and Jillian surprised us with her sneaky little plan... a suggestion to swim the half mile back against the current... WHAT??  I agreed, and while I considered quitting a couple times, I made it!  I felt incredible that I had met that challenge... Super pleased with that workout!
We found Jennifer as we started getting out of the water.  Nobody was there for the "official" second swim of the day, so Jillian offered to get back in with her, but I was spent after that against-current swim.  The group finally showed up and Denis offered a relay idea, practicing entry and exit with the waves, but I was done, both physically and mentally.  Jillian and I headed back for showers and a little wine before the team dinner. We all stopped for ice cream and then had a restorative yoga class to end the day.  I loved this day!


Unfortunately, swim camp ended on kind of a sour note for me.  We gathered at 7:30 for the final swim of the weekend.  In the beginning of his talk, Denis suggested that maybe we could divide into a couple groups again, based on our goals for the morning.  We were going to the ocean and had the option of swimming against the current, with the current, or both.  But when we got down to the beach, and a few of us said that we wanted to swim with the current, he had changed his mind and said that we were only going out as one group and we had no choice but to swim against the current with everybody else.  He actually got a little snippy about it.  Conditions looked even worse this morning than the previous couple days and I was nervous...and pissed that this was our only option.   I really wish there had been more options to accommodate a wider range of individual goals; not everybody was there to master ocean swims and win races...and certainly not everybody felt comfortable with the single workout presented to us.
Andi decided not to get in because it looked too dangerous.  Jennifer, Jay and I held back as the rest of the group started off.  I wanted to get in, even though I knew I wouldn't go long.  Jennifer and I agreed to try to swim to the next hotel.  We made our way into the waves and went straight into survival mode.  I'm not sure if experiences like this do more to make me more comfortable, or do more to make me never want to swim in the ocean again.  Denis did stay back with us and tried to encourage us, but I have a mental block when it comes to ocean swimming.  I also felt that because I was so hesitant with ocean swims, Denis assumed I was a novice swimmer and treated me as such.  I am a decent swimmer; not that I need to prove myself to anybody, but want my coaching to be commiserate with my ability and experience. Also.. It's hard for me to think about technique when I am struggling for survival.

About 7 minutes in, Jennifer grabbed my attention and said she was considering calling it and going in.  I said I was going to try 3 more minutes to make an even 10, and she agreed, but less than a minute later I said eff-it and we made our way to shore.  We hadn't even made it halfway down our own hotel!  Jay got out with us, and the 3 of us stood around talking about what an awful experience that was.  I didn't want to end camp on that note and suggested that maybe the 3 of us go over to the bay.  Without a coach, we wouldn't venture far, but at least it would be something that more resembles swimming.  As I was letting Leslie know what we wanted to do, a lifeguard called Jennifer and Jay over and reiterated what we already knew, that we had no business being in the ocean in those conditions, especially trying to swim against the current.  We walked over to the bay and did a short workout.  The bay also had a strong current so we got practice swimming against that.  Glad we got in that short bay swim, but overall I was disappointed with how the morning went.

I returned to my room and took a shower, packed and started loading up my car.  Then I noticed the final yoga class starting; of course since I wasn't with the big group and there was no itinerary, I had no idea, so I missed that. Bummer!


I have really mixed feelings about swim camp. Leslie helped make this a positive experience after a rocky start.  And I will forever be thankful for the group of women I met, especially Jillian, Andi and Jennifer.  We challenged each other and gave tough love when it was due, but most of all we encouraged and supported each other.  I really enjoyed both our swim sessions and my down time with this group.  If not for Leslie and these ladies, I probably would have hated swim camp!

I should add that nobody at this camp was UN-supportive.  In fact, they were all very nice.  I enjoyed my conversations with Brian, Janet, Anita, Tom, Susan.... it just so happened that they weren't part of the little sub-group that had formed and I clicked so well with.

At the end of the day, I am super thankful for the experience, and I do think that I gained a lot.  I met some great people.  I got some ocean swim exposure.  I challenged myself.  I got some great feedback on my technique and some drills I can continue to practice.  And most importantly, no time in open water is bad time for my immediate goals (bay swim!).