Sunday, August 24, 2008

My Little Swimmer Girl

As a mom, as a swimmer, I get so excited watching my little gal in the pool. She was in her second swim meet ever this weekend. She still doesn't know how to swim the butterfly, but she signed up for it anyways, what a brave little thing she is! At her age, I would've been mortified to mess up or lose, but she just takes it all in stride. She came in last in the butterfly and was just excited to have completed it.

Because our pool is so shallow, we don't allow diving and don't have any diving blocks. So it was a little intimidating for the kids to get to this meet and see the blocks for the first time. Still, Asa managed to take that into stride too, she's looking pretty nonchalant here leaning on the blocks before her freestyle race.

Halfway down the first 25, she's looking pretty strong. That's her in the pink suit in the far lane. But like me, she's more endurance than flash and as the other swimmers started to fade, she just started picking up steam.

About 5 yards out from the wall she took a breath to the left and looked at the other lanes and I could see she was so surprised that there was no one there. She told me later she wasn't sure whether she was way ahead or way behind. Well, that would be way ahead. Man, she is one strong little gal!

And, unlike her mama who totally sucks at backstroke, she's got a lovely stroke. The lack of a ceiling to follow threw her for a loop though, and she zigzagged across the lane a few times before getting the hang of guiding off of the lane lines. I love her sweet little smile in this photo as she strokes along.

All in all she had a great time. I love that the coaches keep it pretty fun and low-key, but she gets to try her hand at competition in a great atmosphere. I don't know if she has it in her to put in the grueling hours it takes to be a great competitive swimmer, but I do know that this girl's got some talent in there.

Friday, August 22, 2008

And In Honor Of the Olympic Games....

There's this hysterical cake over at Cake Wrecks . This blog has me laughing so hard I'm crying on my keyboard.

My Biggest Fear

You know what really scares the bejeezus out of me? What wakes me up in a cold sweat at night? The boogeyman behind my closet door????

It's that my life is too good, too sweet, and something horrible and unendurable must surely be around the corner, because it just can't last this way. Being a parent gives you so much more to fear than any mortal should have to bear. I was thinking of this the other day as I watched my hubby ride his bike to the left of both of the kids on their bikes as we were headed downtown. Why? Because he would rather get hit by a car than let a car hit our kids. That's what being a parent does to your heart - puts something there, much greater than yourself, that you never knew existed. I used to have a "No Fear" t-shirt. No longer.

Today we went for a family bike ride, getting ready for Italy. We rode just over 30 miles with the kids on the tandems (which I can tell you triathlete folks is about equal to 50 miles on my tri bike in terms of effort expended!!). It was fun, we went about 8 miles alongside the river path and stopped at Jamba Juice for smoothies, then another 7 miles to a small town with a shady park. We hung out while the kids played and swung on the swings, ate a picnic lunch, turned around and leisurely came home. Stopped to pick some blackberries along the way, took a bit of a detour to a friend's house, stopped at REI for more travel supplies, and arrived back home about 5 hours after we left. The kids kept us laughing with their antics and jokes, and it was a balmy 79 degrees out, just a perfect day. I am very very blessed and I know it.

So tonight as I go to bed, the only way I know of banishing the boogie man is giving thanks. Consider it done.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

See What You CAN Do

I found this article about Michael Phelps' childhood struggles with ADHD very moving. Especially the last line "Too many adults looked at Ms. Phelps’s boy and saw what he couldn’t do. This week, the world will be tuned to the Beijing Olympics to see what he can do." As a mom, I know it can be difficult to help your kids see past the things that limit them, and to help them work hard, and latch onto the things that they do well and run with them. Michael Phelps is a great example of someone who turned his focus to his strengths with incredible results. I watched an interview with him and his mom this week just after he captured his 8th gold medal and could really see the bond between them and the amazing amount of encouragement that she was able to give him through his life, even when he struggled.

It's not just hard as a parent, but as an adult as well. Sometimes we talk to ourselves, not as a loving and supportive parent would, but as our own worst enemies might. When we don't measure up, when we blow an opportunity or have a bad day, it's easy to use self-talk that is less than what we would hope to be able to give ourselves. I know for myself, I struggle so much with running, sometimes I look in despair at the fast and graceful runners that call my town home and just wish that I could wave a magic wand and be able to run like they do. I forget that although I'm not blessed with that magic runner's body or talent, I do have other talents that I can concentrate on, while also working on my weak spots.

Along this vein, I was especially inspired watching the 200 & 400 IMs that Phelps swam. Although breaststroke is technically his "weakest" stroke, he somehow turned breaststroke into a secret weapon to pull away from his competitors. I wonder how many lengths he swam in the pool focusing on making that one weak spot into the leg that would secure two of his eight gold medals.

I'm old enough to remember watching Mark Spitz swim for his gold medals, and as a young swimmer at the time I remember the awestruck feeling I got, without really understanding all of the mechanics of his victories and the hard work behind them. Now as an adult athlete, I can say to myself in the pool that while I'm struggling to make myself finish that last few hundreds of my 4,000 yards, somewhere an athlete like Michael Phelps is pushing themselves beyond all reason to become the best of the best. My hat is off.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Attack of the Animal Farm

My favorite swim of the week was derailed by the world's ugliest chicken. Well, not precisely, but my husband found this rooster so disturbing that I figured I had to at least picture it on my blog somewhere.

I can count the number of times in my life that I haven't wanted to swim on about three fingers. Sadly, this morning was one of them. I was supposed to go swim the long course with my friend Kay. It was a lovely and warm morning. My day was so jam-packed that I knew I wasn't going to get a workout in at any other point.... and I woke up with the sinus headache from hell and ears that were not only stuffy and painful but screaming with tinnitus.

As it turned out, I think it was a reaction to all the hours I spent in the animal barns at the county fair last night. You see, my kids are animal nuts. You wouldn't know that from the fact that our family has sixteen animals, right? So of course when we go to the fair we have to pet every goat, watch every last chicken hatch, take photos of the baby pigs, compare breeds of chickens, and ooh and aaah over every baby bunny and guinea pig. I don't know if it was some kind of animal dander or one of the millions of varities of hay particles floating around, but something did a fandango on my sinuses and I woke up simply unable to drag myself to the pool.

Of course, within a couple of hours it was all gone and I was feeling hunky dory again, but by then my lovely early morning hours in the long course lanes were all gone. Friday is my last chance before the high school water polo practice steals away our early morning long course hours. And I may have to whisk the kids away to the pool tomorrow afternoon just to steal a few laps in the sunshine as well.

In order to make up for torturing you with the photo of that rooster, I hereby post a cute little tiny fluffy bunny in a pink hat. Even Steven.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


I think I've watched the finish from the Olympic Men's 4 x 100m relay about ten times by now, and every time it just blows me away. That's got to be one of the best moments in sports that I've ever watched. I stayed up really late watching the other night, then saved the program to replay for hubby and the kids. They all peeled off the edges of their seats as Jason Lezak blitzed into the home stretch of the last 50 meters, it was so unbelievable and beautiful. Despite my many other misgivings about the Olympics, that was a moment of pure unadulterated sports magic. It reminded me a bit of when, as a kid, I watched Nadia Comaneci score that first perfect ten in the 1976 Olympics. I'm betting my kids, especially my newly-minted swim teamer will remember this moment too.

And in a happy side-note, I got totally fired up in my swim workout yesterday and did some just awesome sprint sets. How can you watch something like that and then go to the pool for some boring old lackluster workout? Simply not possible. I think all of my strokes benefitted just from watching so much swimming over the last few days. I kept thinking of things I'd seen on the underwater camera and how to apply them to my own stroke, and overall I had the strongest swim workout I've had in a long time. Nothing like some inspiration!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hills Are My Friends

I used to hate hills, dread hills, fear hills, loathe hills. On the bike, on the run, and I would thank God there's never hills on the swim. Sometime after moving back here to a place where I have to go up and over a big hill just to get to most of the great bike rides, hills became the norm. Just something you do, usually in the first couple miles of every bike ride. Eventually, I realized I was getting stronger on every hill, taking longer to stand up on my pedals. I used to get to the curve sign, now I made it past the mailboxes, now I made it past the picket fence, now all the way to the top. Hills weren't the horrible monsters I had made them out to be, but they still weren't my friends.

One fine late-summer day a couple of years ago, I had an epiphany. Epiphany is a favorite word in our family, largely because of an epic multi-day tournament of Ghost that my husband and I played on a long car trip when we were just dating and barely knew each other. He didn't know yet that his beloved was The Human Thesaurus and Dictionary all rolled into one, otherwise he wouldn't have blithely played word games with me in the car. I got him in several successive games of ghost with words like zweiback, gnu, and epiphany. Though that moment is now going on 16 years in our past, he delights in using the word epiphany in the most random and inappropriate ways, just to get my goat. Yeah, he's like that.

So like I said, I was out on my bike one day and had an epiphany (used correctly here) that hills were really my friends. Every single hill was helping me become stronger. I composed an epic poem about hills that my oxygen-deprived brain promptly forgot (this is most likely a blessing). Since that day, I've relished hills, delighted in hills, passed people up hills whistling dixie, and posted most of my best finishes on hilly courses. I'm too dense (not brain-wise, but body-wise) to be a really great hill climber, but it's no longer my achilles heel.

Yesterday I headed up what used to be a horrendous hill for me, now it's one of my best buds. It's a ride I look forward to and yesterday didn't disappoint with stupendous views out over the blue-layered hills and valleys to the South.

In just about four weeks, the famiglia and I will pack our tandems into suitcases and head for the hill towns of Tuscany and Umbria. I'm using Google Earth to carefully pick routes, but there's no getting around the fact that medieval people used terrain to their best defensive advantage when picking their townsites. Our ascent to our first hill town of Cortona climbs 780 feet in less than two miles. I think we may be pushing our bikes by that time. So over the next month, I face the daunting task of convincing my kids that hills are their friends too. Wish me luck!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Swim Set: Powerups

Here's a good main set that you can throw in for any distance you want: Powerups. When my kids were little and we would go hiking, I would take a small baggie of jellybeans in my pocket for a little bit of energy on the trail. The kids took to calling them "Powerups", so that's what I always think of when I need a little extra energy. This set can be used to train for anything from shorter to very long distances.

A Powerup is any length of swim that you start at a cruise pace and increase speed throughout. The key is to really know your pacing. Really do start at a slow pace, and gain speed smoothly throughout by applying power to each stroke, not by increasing churn or arm turnover. By the time you come in to the wall at the end of each Powerup, you should be going full-tilt boogie and you should be starting to go hypoxic.

150s are some of my favorite Powerups (especially in the 50 meter pool), so I did a set this week of:

3 x
{3 x 150 Powerups
50 cruise backstroke

For a total of 1500 yards.

You can do Powerups of even really long distances like 3 x 1000 Powerups. These are great for Ironman training because they help you remain strong throughout the swim instead of starting fast and fading away like so many triathletes do.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Like A Chip Off the Ol' Block

Asa had her first swim meet this weekend, only a week after deciding to join our club's swim team! It was great fun to watch, she's such a go-getter. Although she hasn't even learned all of the strokes yet, she entered an event in every stroke. This led to some fun moments, such as her flip turn during the 50 yard breaststroke event, and her butterfly with breaststroke kick. But she really kicked some booty in the backstroke (ironically my totally worst stroke), coming in 2nd in the 25 yard backstroke and swimming backstroke on the medley relay team! More than anything though, she had fun.

I can't help but reflecting this week on my own swim team experience. I also joined a club team when I was eight years old, but instead of fun, and encouraging Jordan (Asa's swim coach), I got grumpy, mean, whistle-blowing, name-calling Mr. Freeman. He more or less single-handedly ruined any desire for competitive swimming that I might've had, and I only lasted a couple of months. Since he was also the high school coach, I did not swim in high school either. Basically, I didn't swim competitively until college, an unusual start to my athletic pursuits. I'm so happy that Asa has a fun and supportive team to swim with and to have fun with. Whether or not she chooses to continue as a competitive swimmer, just watching her enjoy herself is the greatest!

And man, look at that top photo. Don't you wish you had a freestyle like this kid? After one week of coaching? She is totally a natural. I wish I could take credit for that, but I've only really given her a couple of tips myself. She's a fish!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

What An Experience! Cascade Lakes Relay Race Report

Hubby and I got the opportunity to join a team for the Cascade Lakes Relay, a new entrant in the PacNW stable of relay races. We've done the Hood To Coast, the first and most classic of relays, before. But it has gotten hard to enter (a lottery for the thousands of slots) and with thousands of vans and runners, it's really a zoo to get through. The Cascade Lakes had several appealing features - it was the first year, it's the longest relay in the U.S. (I think) at 217 miles, it goes through some of the most stunning scenery around (boasts 12 mountains and countless lakes that you wind around) and it is quite challenging as you range from 4,000' elevation to almost 7,000' and back down again. Our team, Worst Case Scenario (team motto: "It doesn't get any better than this, and it's not that great right now") promised to be a fun group of people to spend 30 hours cooped up in a couple of vans and running our legs off with.

Our team met for pasta the night before and to go over the considerable logistics - two vans, 12 runners, lots of schedules and very little sleep. We were in Van 2, and took off Friday morning to meet for the handoff from the last runner of Van 1, which had started at 8:30 that morning. On the way, we stopped at Subway and got a couple of foot-long subs for each runner. This would be our staple food for the next two days, and I'm not sure I'll darken the door of another Subway for a verrrryyy long time.

In a relay like this, each runner has three legs of about 5 – 8 miles each. After the last runner has gone from Van 1, they handed off to us and our first runner was launched. I had the 11th leg, which ended up being a hot and hilly 5.6 miles. Between the altitude and the heat (and maybe, just maybe, my lack of recent run training), I was really sucking wind. As it turned out, we had a pretty heated competition with another team, and we traded places frequently throughout the entire race. The runner on their team who had the same legs in the race as I did was a 16 year old girl. She got the first handoff in front of me and took off, and I set off to chase her. I never did catch her, but kept close on her heels, handing off the race bracelet to my hubby who had the last leg in our van. This photo is hubby chasing down a "roadkill" (runner from another team) on his first leg. We called his strange running shirt the "nuclear angel".

When we were done with our legs, we had to get to the next handoff, throw down our sleeping bags in a field and try and get an hour or two of shuteye, then it was up at 12:30 am to go meet Van 1 for the next handoff. As our first runner started his leg, we discovered that we were now over three minutes behind the team we were chasing. But while their runners, which seemed to be mostly ultramarathoners and all acclimated already to higher elevations since they were from Bend, had whupped us in the heat of the day, the cold (BRRRRR – 34 degree!) night air gave us a jump start. The runner who handed off to me passed their runner after an epic gain of over 3 minutes, and I took off with a scant 10 second lead. I widened that to 35 seconds and handed off to hubby who took us to a 2 minute lead. Running through the black forest at night with shooting stars streaking across the sky above me was a moment I will remember and cherish for many years to come, I’m sure. From conversations after the race, it seems that many runners from various teams apparently felt great trepidation at running through the dark forest and empty roads at night, but a few dozen years of camping and backpacking left me feeling more ecstatic than worried. Although apparently a badger chased one runner on this segment, I didn't see or hear any wildlife more dangerous than a few owls and field mice.

Then again, it was off to the next stage, throw down our sleeping bags (in the forest this time) and get another hour or two of scattered sleep. At the final exchange, it was mid-morning. Here, we entered the most challenging but also the most stunningly beautiful part of the course. Again, we were back to being behind our competition. But alas, now we were really up against some challenging elevation gains, and their star hill-climber pulled away from us on a leg that gained 1000’ of elevation in 4 miles, climbing almost to 7,000’ elevation. From the top of this leg, we could see the runs we ski on at Mt. Bachelor right beside us. Giving us inspiration, our oldest runner at 72 years old not only ran his own 3 race legs, but ran this toughest climbing leg alongside his daughter. Wow, now that’s an inspiring pair of athletes!! By the time it got to me, their runner again had a lead on me. My last leg was an excruciating drop of 1300 feet, which really punished my already stiff quads. This is not a leg I would choose to run again, and it earned its “Very Difficult” rating for sure. I saved myself some misery by running on the soft shoulder, and only lost a minute or so to the young runner in front of me. Though the rest of the team also tried valiantly to catch our competition, they ended up beating us by 2 minutes, over a course that took us 29 hours and 43 minutes to accomplish! That’s pretty amazing that our two teams were that closely matched over such a long distance and 12 different runners.

Still, we pulled a nice 9th place finish out of our race, all of us pushing ourselves to do our utmost on a very tough but incredibly beautiful and scenic course. Considering that many of our runners had never met before (we gained one runner from a conversation in a a doctor’s waiting room based on their Hood To Coast t-shirt, and another runner had been recommended by a friend of an employee of one runner), we coalesced nicely into a fun and supportive team. Even though we had a friendly rivalry going with this other team, we also talked with them and encouraged their runners along the course as well. All in all, it was a terrific experience.

The race director provided some really awesome technical race t-shirts, a wonderful BBQ dinner, and best of all hot showers complete with towels and shampoo at the finish at a high school in Bend. The team all ran in together for a photo, and enjoyed hanging out on the shady lawn and chowing down. Then it was off to a nearby town to stay the night, eat a whole mess of ice cream and share all of the details of the last 29 hours events. The icing on the cake was the next morning when we discovered that our very own team captain, veteran relay runner and enthusiastic teammate Bob Hawkins had graced the cover of the Bend Bulletin sports section on his very last leg, a tough trail run coming in to the finish line. We picked up a dozen copies of the paper en route to a morning breakfast and parting of the ways.

This is a race I would gladly do again, and I would totally recommend this kind of race to any triathlete or runner who wants to expand their racing repertoire into something really original, fun, and very challenging

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Have You Ever Run Through a Dark Forest at 3:00 am??

I have, and I'll tell you all about it when I get to download all of my photos from the Cascade Lakes Relay Race and actually get a real night's sleep.

I'll tell you this much: it was a lot of fun! Running three shifts of around 6 miles each, 12 people on a team, 217 miles total, elevations ranging from 4,000' to almost 7,000' (gasp gasp), big mountains, forest, and desert to run through, about 4 hours of sleep in two days and we finished in somewhere around 29 hours and 43 minutes. Our team came in 9th out of 54 teams. This was the first running of this race ever and we had a blast!