Monday, August 21, 2006

Open Water Swimming: Tougher Than It Looks

I did my first open water swim competition yesterday, a US Masters event. The lake is about 30 miles from my house, so like a true Ironmom, I decided to get up early in the morning and bike up there in my tri suit to do the swim. Unfortunately, I didn't take into consideration the fact that the sun is rising later and later. It didn't get light enough to set off until almost 6:30, and the registration closed at 8:30. The lake is up in the hills a bit, so that gave me about 1:45 to make 30 mostly-uphill miles, with a climb up and over a local ridgeline to start off. I really had to hoof it to get up there in time, and I pretty much toasted my legs even before the swim.

I've never done an open water swim that wasn't at the start of a triathlon before, so this was all new to me. At first, it felt pretty much the same. I got in the water, scoped out which set of feet I wanted to follow, and we took off at the horn. I got a good draft for awhile behind a fast guy built like a tank, but he was zig-zagging too much and so I took off on my own. As I rounded the last buoy, with about 500 yards to go, that's when things got strange. As a triathlete, I'm used to cruising in to shore, trying to relax and warm up my legs for the bike, and stretching out my arms and back. But in an open water swim, things are different. People started speeding up, really speeding up. The realization slowly dawned on me. This it it! There's no bike or run coming up. I have to finish strong. I started to kick it in. Then that bike ride came back to bite me. I had no kick to kick in. A woman passed me, leaving me 3rd woman back. Then another passed me, leaving me in 4th. That was too much, so I tagged onto her toes and did the old Nascar slingshot maneuver at about 75 yards out, swam all the way up the ramp (as other people got up to run/slog through the water) and beat her out at the finish line. So I was 1st in my age group and 3rd woman overall, with no legs to speak of.

A couple of hours later, a memorial race was held for a local woman triathlete who was killed by a logging truck earlier this year. She had a terrific sense of humor, and was a super strong butterflyer, so they put on a 500 yard open water IM (medley of all the strokes) in her honor. I don't know about you, but swimming 125 fly in the pool is tough. Swimming it in open water, in the afternoon when the waves have started to kick up. Damn near impossible! After drinking half the lake, in the first 50, I started alternating one-arm fly so I could breathe to the side. Then, the backstroke was hilarious. We are all over the pond on that one, with people swimming breaststroke back from the second buoy weaving around the backstrokers. It's hard to laugh while swimming, you get water up your nose. All in all, a great time, and a great way to remember a friend and fellow triathlete.

Friday, August 11, 2006

80 Miles!!

That's my long bike ride for the week. 80 miles is a long ways to ride by yourself, I'm just saying. Fortunately, I always seem to find a person or two at the right pace somewhere out on the backroads. Last week's 67 miler, I ran into a guy training for Ironman Canada. This week, it was a couple who like to do centuries. So I get 30 or 40 miles of companionship at the least. I would schedule rides with some of my biking friends, but with my husband's sporadic schedule and my kids' commitments, I just squeeze my rides in when and where I can. Fortunately, I live in an area with lots and lots of backroads cyclists, so I frequently get to bike with some very nice strangers.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

When God Tells You to Go Home

Oh yeah, it was one of those days. One of those runs. The kind where God himself (herself?) tells you to just Go Home. Well, I didn't hear the big thundering voice or anything, but it couldn't have been more obvious. I started out on my long run yesterday. At about 4 miles in, a hornet hit my face and somehow got trapped under the brim of my running hat. As I did the Crazy Hat Dance trying to get the thing off, it stung me several times above my right eye. Now I'm always out and about in nature, so I get stung a few times a year and have not had any bad reactions to bee stings. So I didn't think much about it other than "Damn, this hurts like hell!" and I kept running. Maybe I shouldn't have cursed. Maybe I could've avoided what came next...

At about 12 miles in, a woman with one of those little punter dogs on the 89 foot extendo-leash lets it run right in front of my feet. I swerve left to avoid it, run off the path and straight through a stand of waist-high nettles. Did you hear me screaming in your town? I wouldn't be surprised. Wow. The Pain.

Surprisingly, that still wasn't enough to convince me to Go Home Now. So God decided to send one more little messenger. At mile 16, I was running under a big horsechestnut tree. If you don't have these in your town, let me explain what they are like. Horsechestnuts look a lot like chestnuts, except on steroids. They're big and round, and they come encased in these extremely sharp spikey things that look a bit like land mines. Here's a great photo of one.. So I'm running under a big horsechestnut tree, and these things start dropping on my head like spikey bombs.

That was when I turned for home. Yep, God, you're right. I shouldn't be running today. By the time I got within a mile of my house, my right eye felt strangely puffy. When I looked in my bathroom mirror a few minutes later, I was starting to resemble Rocky Balboa, and within several hours (even after a dosing of Benadryl), both eyes were swollen shut.

Over the next few days, I've gone through some really interesting facial incarnations. At first, I couldn't even go out of the house. The worst thing about your eyes swelling shut is that you can't even read a book or watch a movie. You just have to sit there. Fortunately, my friend took pity on me and came and picked me up and took me to her house for tea and conversation.

By day two, my eyes were open somewhat, but looked strangely slanted and without signifigant eyelids. My lower face had turned puffier. Since I'm a homeschooling mom, I don't really get time off and so I had to be out and around town doing errands. Apparently, I looked enough like I had Down's Syndrome to cause several people to treat me really strangely. I wonder why people think if they Talk Really Loudly and Slowly that it helps anything at all.

On Day 3, my eyes were mostly open, but my lower face was still puffed, giving me a vaguely Godfather-like look. I couldn't smile, and the slight puffiness above my eyes made me look continually angry. A driver who swerved close enough to my kids while we were walking to make me turn around and look at him suddenly shouted at me: "You don't have to give me that sourpuss scowl, missy! I was just avoiding glass on the street." I want to tell him, in my best Vito Corleone voice, that I'm going to send him to swim with the fishes. So many people turn to stare at me that I vow never to give even a second glance to anyone who looks out of the ordinary, ever again.

By Day 4, I look almost normal, but with a more round face and some eye puffiness. Basically, I've turned into my mother. I return to running. It's amazing to me that even with this slight facial distortion, it effects how people treat me. Normally, other runners smile or act friendly toward me. Now, they turn their heads away. A guy who normally flashes me a grin on every lap suddenly finds interesting things in the distance to look at. Apparently, just the appearance of being a weightier, older runner is enough to put me into the "not cool enough" category. This makes me feel really sad, and I vow to smile doubly brightly at every old or chubby runner I see. I guess I always assumed that runners were just friendly to all other runners, but now it feels like more of an "in club".

So I guess, not only did God tell me to Just Go Home, he gave me some things to think about, and maybe even a homework assignment. I certainly learned something about how others are treated, and have a lot more compassion now for those who look even slightly out of the ordinary.