Category Archives: swimming

Getting Started

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On Biking

The  red-faced, wind-kissed cheeks and the smell of fresh air on your skin ,and knowing that you just came in from a slightly windy morning riding at the beach never really does get old. San Francisco has changed. For sure. But the morning fog still rolls, and and the crazy waves still crash on the shore of Ocean Beach. Still not up to “training pace” but getting out again on Sunday put me back into that infinity circle again of “what have I been missing!”

On Running

Crissy Fields is another one of those magical places. I ride my bike down Market, up Polk Street all the way up to the Marina; gives a real feel of how the city changes from one area to the other (from rags to riches…and all the colors in between). My heart becomes lighter as I climb up that last hill and the ocean comes into view.

20160522_092624Getting started, like with anything, always feels like a big push. And last Monday I drudged myself along for the first mile or so, convinced to keep going only by the ocean breeze and the sway of the grass. By mile 4 I was in a groove when I heard quick-footsteps behind me and then beside me. Realizing that we were basically the same pace, the other set of foot-steps and mine matched each other–first her running slightly faster with me a little behind and then vice-versa (the pains and gains of training with another). Half-way through, I gasped between breaths, “What’s…your…name…” and aside from that the only sounds we exchanged was the  rhythm of our feet and the quick breaths as we continued down the path.

On Swimming

Yesterday, I tried to run on the treadmill. Bad. Idea. Too tired. Too light-headed. Too stifling. Not happening. Didn’t even want to get into the pool after that. But it’s a rooftop outdoor pool. And it was, again, that perfect mix of fog and rain.”One lap,” I whispered to myself, shivering on the side of the pool. I dipped one foot in the water which sent my face into a scrunch.  I felt the whine coming low and fast and before it sent my legs running down into the locker room where a sauna awaited, I dove in, the  water making me forget whatever doubts I had about being here in the first place.

Sprints were on my agenda. Just one length of the pool at a time with a 20 second rest…how to get my time down to just 20 seconds? I put my attention on the pull part of the stroke; where the elbow is bent and the forearm pushes against the water. Could I push any harder? Recover any faster? Focusing on the push and recovery on the seventh of twelve lengths, I glanced up at the clock as my fingertips touched the wall. The clock read 20 seconds…all because of a bit of awareness and effort at one aspect of my stroke.

 

 

 

 

 

The Water’s Edge


The weekend of May 23rd was the most fun-disasterous-ego-busting-laughing-learn-my-lesson the-hard-way weekend of the year . My friend Kate and I had planned to do a triathlon on the coast of Ixtapa. It really was one of those everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong types of weekends, but so fun that everything worked out in a wonderful way. Here’s a “Fortunately/Unfortunately” synapsis of our weekend:

Start of the race in Ixtapa. Our international crew.

Start of the race in Ixtapa. Our international crew.

10. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find cheap tickets to the beach.

9. Fortunately we decide to take an overnight bus! And then, Kate finds cheap tickets!

8. Unfortunately, she bought them backwards. And so we have to buy a new set of tickets.

7. Fortunately, they have tickets available.

6.Unfortunately, the return flight is for Monday. This means we have to miss a day of work.

5. Fortunately, we have to miss a day of work to stay at the beach another night!

Suffering at the Beach one more day.

Suffering at the beach one more day.

4. Unfortunately, our flight is delayed….and delayed…and deeelaaayyyeed. (we spent more time in the airport than on the plane)

3. Fortunately, they gave us food vouchers so we got to eat a pretty good meal at the airport.

2. Unfortunately, we were going to get in after packet-pick up and registration closed.

1. Fortunately, the owner of the race was on our flight and so they kept registration open and when we got our packets just as they closed the     doors!

On the physical side of things I had hurt my foot pretty badly the week before. “Tendinitis. Stay off of it for two weeks,” were the orthopedic’s recommendations. “MMmmm. Listen. I have a competition in a week. Let me do that and then I will rest for as long as I need to. And um, listen, I’ll just swim and bike if I need to, and will stay off of it for the run.”  I pleaded.

I did realize the ridiculousness of my negotiation. It  was as if I was six and my mom and I were negotiating how many more bites of broccoli before I could have dessert…only, I’m 33 and this is not about dessert this is about recuperating from an injury! What patience doctors must have working with athletes! It’s not like I can say to my foot, “Hey..pssst…just heal for now and then you can hurt afterwards.” [although admittedly, I did].

My most important rule about racing is that I cross the finish line with a smile. Races always have their moments, but I do this for fun.

“I really will just do the swim and the bike, and stop there.”  I thought to myself. Yeah..right.

Unfortunately, I finished that race… with a grimace on my face. I think I came in last.  What a lesson in humility, injury, and letting go. It was a great weekend-cheering on my teammates and spending an extra day at the beach with Kate.

Returning to DF I got a stern lecture from Coach 1, Coach 2, an orthopedic doctor, and my foot might-as-well… in which the message rang clear: OFF YOUR FOOT.

I asked my coach about his thoughts on this race.

“You did an ironman, Sarah. That’s awesome. But your ego made you do this race. And now you want to ride 90km on an injured foot. For what?” [I had just signed a teammate and I up for a ironman in July in which I was going to swim and bike and he was going to run] . Also, cut the bullshit. Start training.”

I was puzzled. “I am training. I’m training every day.”

Still not quite grasping his meaning another coach pointed out to me, “You come here tired and stressed.” Oh ,that’s true.

The thing that no one tells you about the aftermath of an Ironman is how long the let down is going to last and how it manifests itself. I knew that it was going to be hard afterwards. I figured two weeks. Maybe a month at most. And the most obvious part of it probably lasted two months (the first month after everyone wanted to talk about it still, so that was fun!). But then regular life settles in.

Paloma (my partner in Ironman) and I would talk about this periodically. She was able to identify more easily her struggles with the aftermath. “I’m fine.” I told myself. “I don’t have a problem slowing down. I’m still training every day. But I’m good!”  Or so I thought.

But really I wasn’t good. I was pushing at everything I was doing; I was afraid that I stopped pushing then I would lose all my strength, gain weight, and god-forbid, have no purpose! Enjoyment and ease of course did not even enter this conversation. I am an ironman. I am a long-distance triathlete. I must teach all day, tutor twice a week, teach yoga, complete a master’s program, and compete  90 kilometers on a bike because that’s what I do.

And so I pushed. I pushed at everything. And without realizing it I was just kind of physically present to whatever was there but didn’t have my whole being into anything in particular. And as a result: I lost strength, gained weight, and wasn’t sure for what I was training. And what pushed me to go and go and go? This idea that I couldn’t stop or else I’d be a total failure….look at all of the people around me and how fast they swim and their workload! Of course I can keep up…I have to keep up!

I finally hit bottom when I was examining yet another option for the summer and on the brink of taking it, I cried to my mom, How can I know what I want to do next when I have not even submitted grades yet. When my apartment is still a mess and I have to move in a week? My whole life I have been rushing to do the next thing and meet the next goal. I just need to be.

After that race in May I started counting my steps.Training was my godsend in the craziness that was going on and I showed up. Not always my fastest times or my “strongest” moments, but I smiled more. Started to become more conscientious of my body, my breath, my attitude, and the other people around me.

In the pool (where I was spending a lot of time since I couldn’t run) my coach badgered me. Every time I did a long distance work out he would say, Much better than Ixtapa, huh? 1500 meters in 32 minutes-not okay anymore.

Endurance sports are about personal bests for me.  32 minutes is an awesome time. So is 40. So is finishing! So is getting in the water and taking a stroke. . Everyone’s goals are different for them. So the time references here are not a general statement for what everyone should/shouldn’t do. For me I only use time as a reference because I know what I am capable of.  32 minutes is slow especially because I hadn’t been able to break that time in open water.

5:30am waiting to go to the start line for San Gil.

Sunday, July 13th I stood on the edge of the lake at the start of San Gil in San Juan del Rio, Queretaro. My race mate walked down to the start with me. I was freezing. It was 6:30 in the morning and the sun hadn’t risen yet.”Oh yeah, even in Mexico it’s cold when the sun’s not up.” I didn’t have a jacket with me.

Start of the RaceMy job was to swim 1900 meters in under thirty-eight minutes and then cheer on my teammates as they raced 90 km on the bike up a mountain and ran 21km for a strong finish. Nervous. That I’d get the route wrong and get my team disqualified. That I’d be stuck forever with the same speed in open waters even after two months of solid training in the pool practically every day.

Why? I thought. Why do I do this for so much anxiety. I don’t get money for it. Why?  Ni modo. Here I am. My teammate who walked down with me to the start said, “You are so brave to swim in this water so early in the morning!” “The air is colder than the water,” I reassured him. And I knew it to. But still what if I was wrong and it took me the whole swim to warm up?

I stood, at my coach’s suggestion towards the front of the pack, ready to jump in at the sound of the race. What if I get run over?Yellow buoys to the right and green buoys to the left.  Breathe.

The sound went off and so did we. Counting my strokes, listening to my breath, sighting the buoys. This was just like any other race. This was the pool…find the line, push the hand down in in the water, relax the elbow as it comes across…one, two, three…next buoy.

So why? Why do it?  Every time: as I stand on the water’s edge, the stage’s edge, whatever edge…always, why? Am I an adrenaline junkie…? Probably. But then I am there: swimming, acting, being.  And then the question becomes always, why wasn’t I here before?   All I know in that moment is that I forget about what or why and hear only my heart beating strong.

Lou just off the bike!

The cyclist on our team just off the bike

It it only when I pass another colored cap, or when another swimmer passes me does my mind come back and say Yessss! or Shit, what place am I in? …and then it comes back for a split second when the coach is at the water’s finish holding up a 3 and a 7. Panting, slightly dizzy, and disoriented I can only give a thumbs up about ohmygawd37minutes!!!  as I sprint up the cobblestones in bare feet to meet my cyclist who is waiting in the relays tent for me so that she can climb the mountain. With all the spectators clapping and yelling  animo! I am there giving her a big high five send off as I collapse ready to enjoy the sun for the rest of the day.

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Enjoying the sun with teammates.

It is a relief to not climb 90 km up and down a mountain, nor run 21km in the heat of the day.  It is so fun to spend the day in the sun with the other athletes on my team and cheer on the cyclists and the runners. And it is then that finally I see  the results of my strength; the grin from ear to ear is back and it started the minute my teammates arrived the evening before and continued well into the evening of the race day and pretty sure it stuck when I went to bed that evening.

There will continue to  be bad races, annoying training sessions, maybe hopefully no more injuries (please!), internal battles, and ego checks.

Our Awesome Relay!

Our Awesome Relay!

I sometimes worry about my  adrenaline junkie. It’s not very heart-oriented and I worry that because of her I will continue to seek these very highs that then lead to the very lows. But then I think that perhaps actually she is what takes me to that unknown edge even when there is fear and anxiety, and then my heart is what steadies me when I’m there.  I never know what’s going to happen at the start of the race. Can’t control it. And that unknown space is the only thing that is real in this life.

 

What Have I Gotten Myself Into

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Running in La Pila, Mexico City

is a phrase that I often find myself saying. It’s how I got into a Cage Fight last Fall, and how I found myself mountain biking over rivers in Chiapas, and really what has provided me with some of the most beautiful, adventurous, and (sometimes) stupid things that I have done.

Sometimes when I see a child doing something that as an adult, I see has clear negative consequences, I ask the child in a frustrated moment, “Why did you do that?” He or she usually stares at me blankly, and at the moment the shoulders shrug I realize the stupidity of that question. I think if I had thought about some of the “consequences” of my actions that have gotten me to the place of “What Have I Gotten Myself Into” I wouldn’t have experienced the incredibleness of those adventures (to be completely cliché!).

I have friends who will research every possibility of every action that they are about to take (I admire this greatly! I don’t have the patience for that) which is another reason I find myself asking the question that is the title of this entry..frequently. So, my latest action (which I have thought about and whose consequences I can only see as wonder and far away) is that I signed up for an Ironman…yeah. It is not until November 2013, too far away at this moment to even imagine doing…still, I think, from participating in  previous endurance events and enviously (and not so enviously) hearing friends’ and family’s comments about the race, it’s a good idea to train for it. i guess my point is anyone can sign up for anything, and not necessarily commit. So, I’m not at the stage YET (read back in May and then we’ll see) of feeling the “burn” from that.

No, I thought about it today because I went with a triathlon team to a place called Las Aztacas which is a gorgeous park located outside of Cuernavaca that is known for the crystal clear natural springs.  Not knowing the “plan” having been with this group for very little time and only having heard about this little slice of heaven, I had no idea what to expect or what the consequences of my decision to join, might be. The plan, simple enough, was to start by swimming downstream (a warm-up) and then up-stream twice. Sure. Not a problem until one is swimming upstream against the current and wonders if there is a Buddhist proverb somewhere that says something about the silliness of swimming upstream. And then as I let go of any dramatic stories of drowning or getting carried away with the current (it’s quite shallow and the shore is always near) I kinda realized that What I Have Gotten Myself Into was a split moment’s understanding of the idea of doing something that one is more than uncomfortable with so that one can surrender and just relax and be there.

The other objective of this entry is to point out how GORRRGEEEOUUUS Mexico is and not even have to go that far! I think training for an event is 1/4 challenge, 1/4 fitness, and half (well if the numbers added up, more than half) getting out into the most beautiful places in the entire world that I’m not sure (maybe sadly) I would push myself to go if I didn’t have a goal.

I mean yesterday running I started giggling…like I was on a swing in a park because the sun was shining as I ran down and looked out into almost a canyon type beauty. There wasn’t quite giggling today, but enjoyment yes…and little by little  finding ease while going upstream.