Posts Tagged ‘triathlon’

Race Report: 2014 Brickman Triathlon

Posted: September 28, 2014 by writingsprint in Essay
Tags: , , , , ,

Matt's to-do list

My wife’s brilliant idea for a sign to cheer me on. It’s interactive! She checked off the boxes as I finished each leg.

The Brickman Triathlon is fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity and the Lawrence, MA YMCA, and I just ran in it — my first sprint triathlon, ever.

I am tired.

The Brickman’s is a good triathlon for beginners because the swim leg is only 250 yards, inside a pool, and the bike and run legs are mostly flat. I received the announcement for the race two months ago. Starting “off the couch,” I wouldn’t even have considered racing in it if the swim leg was a full half-mile. There wouldn’t have been enough time to train up to full strength. I found a training program to get from couch to triathlon in nine weeks, so I started in week two and got my butt in gear.

Check-in started at 6:30 a.m., with welcome to the racers at 7:45 and start at 8:00. My wife and I woke up at 5:30, got on the road at six, arrived just as registration was opening. I assumed correctly that as a new guy I’d be walking around in circles trying to get my head on straight with registration and setting up my bike and equipment in the transition area.

Lesson #1: If you’re a newbie, leave yourself time. Lots of time. You have enough to worry about with the race without adding stress over just finding your way around on top of that. With time, you can take your time getting set up and you won’t be stressing out about anything but the race.

I actually wasn’t that stressed out about the race, today. That’s because I was completely stressed out about it last night. I couldn’t fall asleep and I woke up twice, including laying in bed wide awake for what felt like an hour before my alarm went off.

Lesson #2: Unless your race is happening somewhere that you can walk around in bare feet, you’ll need two pairs of shoes: your running shoes, which you’ll leave in the transition area, and whatever you wear for everything else. I figured this one out while boiling over with stress last night. Keep in mind that I only have sneakers and shoes for work, so I walked into the gym wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and my nice shiny work shoes.

I was one of the first people in the locker room at Y. I changed into my swim trunks, still in the same T-shirt, then moved over to the pool. It was about 7:00 and I was the first one there besides the lifeguards. Me? Really? I killed time talking to them about the race, then went back to the locker room and did sun salutations in a part of the room that no one was using. As the locker room filled up I moved back to the pool, which also started to get activity as people found their way over. Some jumped in and started warming up. As more people arrived, I tried to get an idea of how many would be in the race and where I’d be seeded. It looked like we had somewhere between 100 and 150 people. Some people were marked with numbers close to mine, who looked like they were in far better shape, so I didn’t know what to think.

At 7:45 the room was packed with racers, a few of their friends, and lifeguards. The race director greeted us. He went through how the lap structure of all three legs would work. Then he asked us to move to the far side of the pool and sort ourselves by number. He asked for a show of hands: “Where are the four-minute people?” Most of them were together, but a few were scattered elsewhere in the line. “Okay, sort yourselves out so that you’re all together. Five-minute people?” Ditto. “Six?” At this point we got the idea of what we had to do and we reshuffled ourselves so that we were closer to people of the same ability. I was sorted into the seven-minute group, but I knew I could do it in closer to six minutes if I had a good day, so I dared to go closer to the front of the group. I could also blow it, get hung up in the lane lines, or who knew what.

The race began. It’s an honest-to-God honor to watch skilled swimmers. Their movements are fluid and effortless. They cruise up and down the lanes. It doesn’t look like they’re working. The four-minute racers and the early five-minute racers looked like they’d been practicing swimming this way. No one passed anyone because they were just that good. The later five-minute racers and the six-minute racers started bunching up as people passed each other going both up and down the lanes. People started getting hung up in the lane lines. The later six-minute racers and the seven-minute racers (ahem) started getting nervous, but then we saw that the field was starting to spread back out. That’s because none of us had the speed to pass anybody. Which was fine by me.

I took the swim leg out too fast, and didn’t settle into a groove until about halfway through. I had one good lane change and otherwise mangled them. Except for scraping my back and getting sloppy push-offs from the wall, I did fine. I was grateful to be doing my first tri swimming inside a pool, where I didn’t have to worry about being swum over and the distance was short enough to manage. I climbed out of the pool and waved to my wife as I ran to the transition area.

Lesson #2: I wanted to wear a T-shirt under a long-sleeved top for the bike leg because the morning felt chilly. I pinned my number to my shirt without thinking. The number had to visible throughout the race, so once I started getting dressed in the transition area I realized my mistake. I didn’t feel like taking the number off and pinning it again so I headed out without the long-sleeved top.

I tried not to take the bike leg out too fast. If you’re new, excited, and feeling good after the swim leg, good luck with that. I did what I could to settle down and pushed the pace here and there because it was too darned fun not to. The bike leg was mostly flat with a few easy hills. Some sections of the road were under construction, but I thought it was a good taste of real life on an average road. I felt embarrassed that I was surprised by the ruts and potholes. That’s what I get for doing most of my training on a stationary bike.

Lesson #3: Eat your carbohydrates. About halfway into the bike leg I started feeling loopy. My first thought was, “And there goes my glucose level.” I slowed down and focused on breathing, trying to give my body a chance to build energy faster, but I knew that was a warning sign for the run leg. I had plenty of fruit and pasta the day before but could have had more.

I took the run leg out a bit fast, because even though I was starting to feel dizzy, I felt stronger than I had in some of my workouts. That didn’t last, and I settled in to a steady pace that I knew I could hold. It’s smart and it works. It’s frustrating and not as much fun as running fast. It feels better than stopping to walk because I ran too fast. Steady pace wins.

Lesson #4: Hydrate. I saw many people with water bottles in the transition area or in racks on their bikes. I didn’t, and during the run leg I started to cramp up. If they hadn’t been handing out water, it could have been really bad. I skipped breakfast and didn’t drink water before the race because I didn’t want to be holding back having to go while I needed my energy for the race. That may have been a bad idea, but I think if I’d swigged a few gulps of water in transition I would have felt okay.

Lesson #5: If it’s a sunny day, wear a light shirt. I wore a black shirt because it was only a three-mile race and the temperature wouldn’t get really warm until later. Valid thoughts, but this is an endurance race. You want to make your life as easy on yourself as you can. If the race had been much longer, I would have taken my shirt off so that I could stop baking in it.

At one point during the last mile I was almost in tears—not because I felt tired, but because we all have bad memories and emotions that we’d rather forget stored in our muscles. When your body is squeezed out like a rag, it’s easier to let those feelings out than it is to waste the energy and the tension to keep them bottled up. I had a moment like that. I experienced it, let it go, moved on, and felt glad that I had the courage to handle it the way I did. It was a beautiful day and I was almost there. Let’s finish this thing.

So I did. I don’t know what my time was yet because of the rolling start. As a newbie, the time doesn’t matter to me. It was all about the finish. I feel proud that I did it. I trained up, even with a busy job and a commitment to blogging and writing. My wife’s support meant to the world to me. Every clap, every cheer keeps you going. Having it coming from that someone who makes the sun rise and set for you reminds you why you’re there.

Good race 🙂 .


And this day is done!


Her New Command

Posted: August 8, 2014 by writingsprint in Science fiction
Tags: , , , , ,

Aurora Australis

Commander Forbes ducked under a tangling of cables as she walked onto the command deck. She was about to call over the first officer when a handful of sparks came down into her hair.

“Commander on deck,” lieutenant Willis said.

“Commander on fire,” Forbes muttered, brushing off her hair and her shoulders. She had black spots on her fatigues. Well, nothing like a little character. The technician working on the power junction started to apologize but she waved him off. Lieutenant commander Parkes came to meet her. Forbes asked, “Is there anything that works on this station?”

“Do you want the short answer or the long one, ma’am?”


“No, ma’am.”

“Wonderful. What are we doing about that?”

“Life support and power in the central hub is the priority, followed by maintenance and defenses. We can raise a level three shield and hold it, and operate half of our guns at full power.”

She nodded. “The fleet’ll be defending us in the near term. Get the shield up to full as soon as you can. At least then we can hold on until help arrives.”


“How are the perimeter satellites?”

“The last of them should be deployed in about two hours.”

“Good.” Forbes folded her arms. “So, what did you do to get assigned here, Mr. Parkes?”

“I helped stop a reactor meltdown when my ship was hit. That’s the one I tell people about.”

“I have to meet with the Treel ambassador in the morning. I’d rather help stop a meltdown.”

“So would I, ma’am. ”

Forbes chuckled. She looked over a map of the sector on one wall, and next to it, a display of their systems status. Dozens of lines charting unregulated traffic flew from one system to another carrying who knew what. A bank of yellow lights that should have been green showed that they weren’t even done building the station yet. Of course nothing worked. That didn’t mean she had to be happy about it.

“Commander… what did you do to get assigned here?”

“My service record isn’t a secret.”

“I was hoping you’d tell me the part that isn’t in the record.”

Forbes relived it for a moment. Then she said, “I almost starved my crew of food and oxygen while we dogged an enemy fleet for a week.” They’d taken out three enemy destroyers, and even damaged a battlecruiser. Everyone knew that.

“How did you hold them together?”

“On the fifth night, as I was leaving the bridge, my first officer told me, the crew’s ready to mutiny. Before I went to my bunk, I walked from compartment to compartment. I looked each crew member in the eye, and said to them, ‘We’re saving lives.’ They believed me. Four days later we threw the Treel out of the sector.”

Parkes breathed out slowly. Who knew what story he’d heard.

The communications officer—she thought her name was Nyoto—turned and said, “Commander, you have a personal communications from captain Rodriguez.”

Forbes smiled. She walked to the comm station and opened the channel herself. “Deep Shit Nine. How may we help you?”

Today was my day off from triathlon training. I didn’t do yoga after all, which is a big bummer. I stayed up too late after going to see Guardians of the Galaxy last night. That part was my own fault, then work was busy today, which wasn’t. I need to keep the tri in mind when I’m planning my day.

Here’s how yesterday’s workout went:

45 minutes bike: My ass was killing me from the jog two days ago. I sat down on the bike machine at the gym and my first thought was, “Is it the seat?” I tried the next one. No, dude, this is what getting back into shape feels like. It took me around 45 minutes to go about 10 miles. It’ll be more challenging in real life, but in two months I should be in better shape, too.

15 minutes jog: After the bike ride my stony leg muscles didn’t feel any looser, plus they had less energy. My jelly legs actually put a smile on my face. I know this is normal, and this was my first taste of what race day will actually feel like. I thought it was cool. I started the treadmill up at four miles per hour to keep from risking an injury. As they loosened up, I increased to five miles an hour, and eventually to six.

Photo credit: “Aurora Australis,” NASA Marshall Space Flight Center at Flickr
Photo is unmodified
Shared under Creative Commons license

Day Three: Well, That’s Better

Posted: August 6, 2014 by writingsprint in Triathlon
Tags: , ,
dog swimming

I’m a little faster than this. I think.

I’m going to shorten up the training reports unless something really big, good or bad, happens. Technically these are all “slice of life” posts, but The Daily 400’s meant to be more of a creative writing than a training journal. Rest assured that race day or the day after is going to have one seriously long post about how the day went.

As a public service, I do want to post links to the training program I’m using until I get squared away with a fitness trainer from the YMCA. I found a nine-week “couch to sprint triathlon” training program. I’m jumping in at week two, since I only have eight weeks. It looks like this:

Monday Swim
Tuesday Bike + Run
Wednesday Swim
Thursday Bike + Run
Friday Rest
Saturday Run
Sunday Bike

Time intervals increase as the you get closer to race day, easing off in the last two weeks. Two or three of the workouts can contain some intensity, but the rest are easy to moderate pace. A few years ago I tried using this four-month plan, with a trainer’s support, but my overtime commitments at work got in the way.

I was surprised that the workouts are fairly short. Almost all of them are an hour long or less. Normally I’d dive into the deep end of the pool and work out longer. I think I’m going to play with it instead and see where that puts me. Maybe keep the same amounts of time, but add intensity here and there for endurance.

Okay! So, today’s report:

My thighs are killing me. They feel like stone inserts under my skin. Lucky for me today I swam 50-yard intervals rather than ran. (Ran… yeah right. I’m still jogging. When I get up to running I’ll let you know.) My swim workout was:

10 x 50 yards freestyle
2 x 50 yards kickboard
2 x 50 yards pull buoy
2 x 50 yards breaststroke

Or something like that. One of the last three might have had another 50 yards thrown in. After that I biked on one of the machines at the gym for 30 minutes at a moderate pace. Note to self: find someplace to get the bike tuned up this weekend.

I miss yoga. I love bending myself into a pretzel and doing the balancing act. Nothing spectacular at my 45 years, but it’s a blast. I think I’ll do restorative yoga on my days off. If I can fit it in on the other days it’ll totally rock.

Photo credit: “Kumo swimming laps” by Emilee Rader at Flickr
Photo is unmodified
Shared under Creative Commons license

Day Two: And This Is My Strong Event?

Posted: August 5, 2014 by writingsprint in Triathlon
Tags: , , ,


^ What they said ^

I went for a 30-minute jog today. The good news is that I made it farther than I expected I would. Call it motivation. The bad news is that I’m still woefully out of shape. I putt-putted my way for I don’t know what distance. I didn’t stop, which was my main, moral goal. It sank in: I’m going to be swimming 250 yards, then biking until my legs are jelly, and then jogging three miles on top of that. (Yay?) Those hills looked much longer on the way back than they did on the way out. But I didn’t stop. Like I said with the swimming yesterday: I’ll take it.

My right hip doesn’t seem to want to get in the game. Part of it might be a touch of scoliosis from using an exercise ball for a desk chair for the better part of a year. It improved the heck out of my posture, but over time I think I favored using my left leg to hold myself still, and my right leg just sat there. Part of it involves some personal history. Let’s just say this experience is going to be soul cleansing. It’ll be good for me, but man, it is not fun right now.

Later I biked at the gym for 30 minutes, too. I tried to keep it light but I got fired up chasing the pace biker on the monitor. I tell myself I’m not competitive. Maybe it’s only against humans. I need to get my bike tuned up and get on the road for real.

P.S.: I also need new headphones—for the gym, not the road. The package said “sports” headphones, but it turns out that’s because the cords are short, made to be reaching into an armband rather than your pocket. Not a tragedy. I’ll add it to the training “to do” list.

Photo credit: American Council on Exercise
Used without permission

Time for Sacrifice

Posted: August 4, 2014 by writingsprint in My two cents, Triathlon
Tags: , , , ,

(Hey, that’s a good title for a book. Write that one down…)

Two days ago I received an announcement from my local YMCA that they’re holding a sprint triathlon at the end of September. Doing a tri has been on my bucket list ever since I helped a friend of mine train for one back in 2005. I would have done it by now, but life intervened: overtime. Getting married. Moving. Plantar fasciitis. Writing. Getting yoga certification.

All good reasons to get sidetracked, but the time has come. It’s one thing to see an opportunity. It’s another to have fate smack you in the face with one. The race is happening less than thirty minutes away from my house, and the swim leg is only 250 yards. Even out of shape and a few years removed from regular swim workouts, I should be able to handle that.

All that’s the good news. The bad news is that I have a very busy job, and I only have two months to get from the couch to the starting line. As I see it, I need to get my ass up early in the morning every morning between now and race day and whip my butt into shape. (I’m not helping myself any by staying up until 10:30 to make a blog post.)

This morning I did my first training swim. Here’s how it went:

250 yards freestyle: I made it! It wasn’t pretty, but I made it! I flipped over and kicked on my back for about ten yards near the end because my breathing technique has never been as good as I wanted it to be. Otherwise I did “fine.” The time doesn’t even matter to me. I’m glad I was able to finish! In case you really want to know, it was seven minutes and change.

I was shocked by how much yoga helps! All that body awareness is improving my reach and balance. My body feels lighter in the water than it ever has before. I think it’s because I have less tension sitting in my body.

250 yards kickboard: Ugh. Can I doing something besides kick for a while? That would be no, young man. Your kick is the only thing that keeps you from dropping like a rock when you’re trying to breathe during freestyle as it is. Make friends with the kickboard. Sleep with it under your pillow.

200 yards pull buoy: It should have been 250 yards but I was so discombobulated by it that I lost count. These things are just weird. My legs flip back and forth like I’m a six-foot tadpole. And what’s with that knot in my back? There’s a muscle between my right shoulder blade and my spine that doesn’t want to relax. It’s keeping me from stretching as far on the right as I do on the left. My swim teacher used to tell me, “I wish I could cut off your right arm and give you two lefts. Your left is perfect. Your right just doesn’t want to stretch.”

150 yards breaststroke: I was rounding out my 30 minutes at this point. Take it easy and work some other muscles.

As I changed in the locker room, I saw that finding my way to the gym and getting squared away at the front desk took me longer than planned. I didn’t have time to get my bike workout in. I still considered the day a win. I got my ass out of bed at 5 a.m. and succeeded in getting a good start in my hardest event. I’ll take it.

When opportunity hits you like this, go with it.

More on Open Water

Posted: August 2, 2012 by writingsprint in Triathlon
Tags: , , , ,

Today was my second try at open water swimming, and it went much better than the first. The first wasn’t necessarily bad, it just scared the crap out of me, and I had no idea how to gauge how much energy I had left and what to do with it. I also wasn’t sure how far I’d gone.

If you’re anything like me, here’s a comparison between what your first time in open water will be like versus your second:

The First Time The Second Time
This water keeps moving every time a boat goes by. I just got a mouthful of water! Damn! Look on the bright side: at least the water tastes better than chlorine.
I can’t put my feet down! I have to swim where it’s shallow! Hey, this is kind of cool. It’s like I’m weightless. I bet this is what it feels like to be an astronaut doing a spacewalk.
The water’s getting dark. I can’t see the bottom. Now I can’t touch bottom and I can’t see bottom. This is too much like Dante’s Inferno. Get me the hell out of here! Hmm. Not seeing the bottom is kind of creepy. I’m going to skirt the edge of it this time, and I’ll work on swimming over it more next time.
My arms are tired. I mean, not exhausted tired, but I don’t know how much gas I have left in the tank. What if I make a mistake, take in a mouthful of water and lose it? My arms are tired. Let’s work stretching out farther. In a few minutes I may roll over and just kick for a bit.

Feeling like I could play with not touching bottom and the dark edge of the water below me took about eighty pounds of the pressure off. I actually had fun with it. I am more glad than I can put into words that I’m doing this for the first time now, and not with a month or two to go before the triathlon.

Hmm. I need to get more open water swimming in. I need to look into where I can do that in Philly.

Since I was more composed I did a better job counting my strokes this time. I’m very sure that I went at least 600 yards, and possibly 800. Most of it was freestyle, some of it was breaststroke and a little bit of it was kicking on my back. Other than learning that open water isn’t the antigravity well of terror, I learned that I really, really need to build up my lung capacity so that I’m getting more air with each breath. My rhythm is good, but I need more air in order to pull as strongly as I want to. I breathe much better on my right than my left, meaning that my right side ties up because it doesn’t get a break. Need to work on that too.

My sister-in-law’s dogs didn’t know what to make of this strange guy swimming up to the dock from way out on the lake. I popped out of the water with two very curious faces staring down at me :).

I’m up in New Hampshire with my wife and her family, up by the Great East Lake. It’s a lovely day, quiet and softly raining, temperature in the mid to high 70’s. Other than relaxing and having a good time… and getting some Maine lobster… visiting Kennebunkport, watching some Olympics… anyway, other than a bunch of things, I wanted to have the guts to do some open water swimming while I’m here. I’ve never done open water swimming, and if I’m going to do the triathlon next year, it’s high time I get used to it. I wanted to get used to what it looks like under water, how dark it is, how it feels. How it feels is a big question for me: it has to be colder than pool water, so again, I’d better get used to it. I also wanted to learn what the water tastes like, and how I’ll react when the water’s choppy and I get a mouthful of it. I won’t have the chaos of a thousand other swimmers around me, but a start’s a start.

There were more than a few butterflies and excuses knocking around in my head. Oh, it’s a rainy day, don’t bother. There are some boats out, you should be careful. It’s your first day of vacation! Relax! Yammer yammer yammer. Get in the water, dude. It’ll be cold! Yammer. If I listen to the excuses today it’ll be harder not to listen to them later. I’m still going.

Speaking of starts, We drove up at oh-dark-thirty yesterday, so I slept in today and got off to a late start. I made it down to the water’s edge in swim trunks a little after noon. The thermometer that we keep in the lake said the water temperature was about 77 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s pretty good. High 70’s, 80 max, is a good pool temperature for me. My wife told me the lake’s been warm this year. That means the river back home is going to be colder next July. Okay, that’s good to know. I put my goggles on and flopped backwards off the dock into the water. Then I started kicking and settled into my fingertip drills.

Let’s start by saying that the bottom of a lake looks nothing like the bottom of a pool. It’s green, it’s rocky or it’s muddy, and it’s dark. Visibility was maybe about 10 yards. Bits of plants blown off from nearby trees floated here and there. No doubt any fish in the area bolted as soon as I started swimming.

It’s hard to see where you’re going. Holly, my trainer, already told me to relax my neck and not look so much at where I’m going, to keep from bunching up the muscles in my shoulders. I’m here to tell you that even when you’re looking, you’re really not seeing enough to help anyway. Three times I was almost on top of a neighbor’s boat dock before I knew it, and had to swim around. It was all the more reason to just look straight down and swim far enough away from the docks for it not to matter.

Fresh water tastes much, much better than pool water. They don’t call it “fresh” for nothing. I’m sure there’s some algae, leafy bits, and boat fuel or polish in it, but it’s not like I was drinking it.

It’s easy to get disoriented. Other than my close encounters with the docks, twice I found myself in shallower water than I expected. I figure this won’t be such a problem when I’m surrounded by all the other swimmers. That’s my master plan not to get lost: follow someone else’s feet.

And, for those of you who’ve been following this adventure, the next part won’t surprise you. The biggest problem I had was in my head. As soon as I got tired, at all, I got worried. Let’s face it, I really don’t know how tired I’m going to feel before there’s a problem. That dark water and not always being able to just stand up and breathe scared the crap out of me.

First I swam through the fear. Fear happens. It’s what you do with it when you’re in the middle of it that matters. I didn’t ignore it and I didn’t push it down, but I recognized that my arms weren’t lead weights, my legs weren’t either, and I could still breathe. It didn’t make it go away but thinking at all is a good thing. After a while, I did what my trainer taught me to do: I rolled over onto my back and kicked, but kept going. When I got my breath back, I rolled back over and kept going. A few times I breaststroked, too, but that’s boring, so I went back to freestyle and worked on my breathing. The big thing was that not to stop, at all.

The goal was to do at least a quarter mile today. If I felt dynamite, I’d do a half mile. I have no idea how far I went; I lost count after 200+ strokes, so I definitely made the quarter mile. I swam as far as I had the nerve to go, then turned around and came back. My wife said that she didn’t know when I left, but it went past 12:30 while I was out, and it was about 1:00 when I came in. Assuming I was swimming the whole time, fast or slow, breaststroke or freestyle, that’s pretty darned good for a first try.

The next swim is in three days. I’ve got two days of solid put-your-feet-up-and-enjoy-it time coming in Kennebunkport tomorrow and the day after. That’s a working port and there’s no way I’m swimming in *that* water! After that, we’re back at the lake house, and if there’s no lightning, I’ll be swimming open water again.

We Have to Work on Mind Training

Posted: July 25, 2012 by writingsprint in Triathlon
Tags: , , ,

Tonight’s going to be a short post. I’m inundated with work as I get ready to go on vacation, but tonight I made time for one more training session before I go away on vacation. We’re going up to New Hampshire, where we’ll spend a week by a lake and hopefully I’ll get some open water swimming in!

Anyway. First Holly had me swim ten strokes, as fast as I could.

Huh? 10 strokes?


Then she had me swim eight. The eight strokes were almost as far as the ten. Huh! That was a surprise.

Then she had me swim six. Those were almost as far as the eight.

“This is exactly what I wanted to show you,” she said.

“What the heck is going on?”

“You’re reaching farther and pulling harder when you have less strokes to do. Every stroke you do should be like this. We have to work on mind training for you. You need to think about doing one stroke at a time, not 40 laps.”

I half-coughed as I kept from protesting. I have to make sure I have enough gas left in the tank! I’m not good enough! I don’t know… I mean… pffft….

A wiser part of me knew that everything I wanted to say was everything I had to get past. I knew that what she was saying made sense. I would love to have a longer, smoother stroke and a looser rhythm when I swim. If this is what it takes, I’ll trust her.

The next part of the workout was to swim a series of laps that way. If I became too winded, I was allowed to flip over on my back and kick until my breath came back, but the important thing was not to stop. One of the highlights of the night was when during my second round of kicks, when I got fed up, rolled over and started swimming freestyle again; I thought I heard Holly say, “Attaboy!”

Then I repeated the whole thing.

The last, strangest swim of the night was an exercise in building lung capacity. I took a deep breath and kicked as far along the bottom as I could. The first time I flopped between the top and bottom like a fish out of water. Every time I came up, I came to a dead stop. Holly eventually stopped me and emphasized along the bottom of the pool. Something clicked and I got my inner fish on. I made it half the length of the pool and probably could have gone farther!

I don’t know how I’m going to swim 800 yards when I’m reaching as far as I can, pulling as hard as I can. I’m trusting that it all makes sense. Maybe the only difference between a marathon swim and a sprint swim is how fast you stroke, but it’s all the same stroke in the end.


I’ll figure it out. In the meantime, it was a really good night at the pool.

swim paddlesMonth 3 Week 2
30 minutes swimming
60 minutes biking

The campaign to end my fears and just enjoy the triathlon experience has begun. On Saturday I was just supposed to swim, and Sunday was supposed to be biking only. On Saturday I threw in light weightlifting (because I’m not ready for heavy weightlifting, yet), and Sunday I both swam and biked. Why? Because I love exercise! I’m addicted to video games, but I truly love getting out there and feeling my muscles moving and my blood pumping.

The pool was empty when I arrived, calm and flat, the swimmer’s equivalent of a skier coming to the top of a mountain and seeing nothing but fresh powder sweeping out below him. It was all I could do not to scream for joy like a five-year-old and leap into the water flailing my arms and legs. There were white Christmas lights strung all over the roof from the Black and White Ball fundraiser for animals that was held here the night before. I wondered if people had been literally twistin’ by the pool.

My trainer encouraged me to keep working on my fingertip drills. To mix things up, I did just that, with paddles to build up my shoulders and back. I admit: my main motivation is that I would love to have Michael Phelps’ shoulders and Jeremy Renner’s biceps in a few years. Well, we’ll see what happens with that, but I have to say that the paddles did more for my stroke than I thought they would. Paddles encourage you to push all the way through your stroke. When you put all that work into pushing the water behind you, then just yank your arm out without finishing, you feel a bit like you just spun your partner in a dance move, then didn’t pull her back in. The move just isn’t done! I liked the pinch I felt in my triceps when I made full extension.

Finally, when you don’t give your fullest reach at the beginning of a stroke, the paddle will let you know: the front end will stick in the water like a spade in sand. HINT! Reach farther, dude! Or at least flatter. There were a few times I reached out, then slid my hand along the top of the water until I couldn’t go farther. Hopefully that’s “close enough.”

The next 75 minutes were spent biking through Philly, then along the banks of the Schuylkill River. It was a gorgeous, cool summer day, high 70’s, with the sun glittering on the river and a breeze giving me some sweet relief and a little challenge as I rode. I cranked up the resistance on my gears to give my legs the same treatment I gave my shoulders with the paddles. I shared the path with joggers, other bikers, skateboarders (including a father who was doing a great job keeping up with his two sons), and dog walkers, not to mention geese.

Ahhh. That’s more like it.

You’ve Already Proven It to Me

Posted: July 21, 2012 by writingsprint in Triathlon
Tags: , , ,

Month 3 Week 1
30 minutes swimming
15 minutes light jog

On Wednesday I had my first session with the personal trainer in two weeks, after a weekend on vacation in Washington, DC and a week of overtime in work, which is a nice of saying “very little time in the gym.”

Holly took it easy on me. The workout was 12 sets of one lap where I was changing speed, to prove that I could control it, and one lap where I would do a fingertip drill. A fingertip drill is where you pull your arm out of the water and drag your fingertips through the water, with your hand above, until you reach full extension. Fingertip drills encourage you to have proper arm position while you swim. For me, it encouraged me to pull my elbow as far back as as I could, stretching my chest and getting maximum stretch out of my arm.

I did okay. Holly said she was glad she had me working on the fingertip drills, because it would really help my form. I’m not getting enough oomph out of my shoulders and upper torso. On top of that, my poor form was actually churning the water in front of my face, making it harder to swim no matter how far I reached or how hard I pushed. This was the first time it felt like I was swimming into calm water! She also noticed that I have my neck extended while I swim; I knew this already, because I was doing it to see where I was going. That’s fine for splashing around, but for a long distance swim, it’s a good way to bunch up the muscles in your neck and shoulders and burn extra calories that you’re trying to save.

Mentally, the lesson of the day is to talk to your trainer. One of the best things about my recent marriage is that I’ve learned how much it helps to just be open when you have a problem, because someone can usually help in ways you never thought of. I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to training. Normally I’d fight through it, but in an endurance sport, when your need everything relaxed and flowing, holding or pushing away anything is a big waste of energy. So I just said to her, “Holly, I’m scared I’m going to drown when I get tired. Sometimes I feel like I’m a lost cause and I can’t do this. I’m not going to give up, but what do I do?”

Holly didn’t blink. I think she’s had this conversation before. “First, you’re not going to drown. You’re a strong swimmer. You can also flip over onto your back and just kick your way to the end if you have to. There’ll be more lifeguards in kayaks watching the swimmers than you’ll believe. Finally, we’ve got a year.” Firmly, she said, “I am not worried about your swimming ability at all.

“As far as the rest goes, that’s the biggest thing you have to overcome. I know you’ve got what it takes. You have to prove it to yourself,” then she smiled, “because you’ve already proven it to me. Try to focus on having fun with it. When you first started this, you said you just wanted to do it for the adventure and the experience. Get back to that.”

My wife agreed. She even pointed out that I’ve done the tri’s distance already. I didn’t have anything to refute it with, other than “it was only a pool, not open water and not under race conditions.” She smiled and said that lots of people find ways to say “Oh, but that doesn’t count,” when their accomplishments go up against their fears.

Friday and today I was in the pool again doing fingertip drills. I’m going to fake it until I make it, and just keep going and going until my head has no choice but to accept that I’m doing it and I’m strong enough.