10K Swim. (too brain-dead to think of a more creative title)

I am proof that the holidays can make a person a 'lil crazy.  (No, I'm not referring to my recent trips to Target).  I've been pondering what my next  big thing will be on the race calendar for 2014.  So far, nothing stood out.  Then, after listening to Hillary Biscay's race report of Ultraman and how she swam a 10K once a week to prepare for that, I was inspired.  This past year, I raced the Del Valle Open Water 5K swim, and visions of racing the 10K next year suddenly made me excited.  So excited, that I wanted to revisit once again how that distance felt.  The last time I did my 100x100s was in February of 2012.

This time around, I enlisted the support of Coach, who was kind enough to join me for part of it.  He even let me borrow his Phoenix triathlon cap so hopefully some of that Aussie speed in the pool would rub off on me.

Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!
We swam at Heather Farms in Walnut Creek since I knew this would take awhile, and the 8-11am timeframe at Dolores Bengston Pool wouldn't cut it.  

Steamy swims under the full moon in the mornings have been the usual at Dolores Bengston.
Heather Farm's pool was too warm and so gross.  I knew it was going to be a long day.  Luckily, longcourse was on the menu for today, which was a pleasant surprise- cutting the number of flip turns in half made the sets easier to digest mentally.

Funny how Instagram filters can make the water actually look clear! #totalfacade
Here's the set, in case anyone is interested.  I found part of Rappster's workout for his 10K swim sets, and I liked the variety that the 400s added.  Honestly, the last set of 3x400 IMs were done with one-arm butterfly drill.  After 7000 meters in, I could barely manage to swim let alone pull out some butterfly.  (maybe next year??)

10x100 (50 drill, 50 swim)
10x100 swim on 1:45 
3 x {400 IM/ 400 pull paddles/ 100 kick/ 100 back}

10x100 (50 drill, 50 swim)
10x100 swim on 1:45 
3 x {400 IM/ 400 pull paddles/ 100 kick/ 100 back}

Have fun, kiddos.

Here's some things I learned in the 3+ hours I spent in the pool today:

1) Company makes things better.  Coach joined me for a bit, and it helped to have someone next to me, count with me, and commiserate with.  When he left, it took more to stay focused and motivated.
2) Be focused on the lap at hand.  I would find myself thinking about the next set and how much more I had to do, and I would want to quit.  Then, I'd bring myself back to the lap and tell myself, "At this moment, I am focused on quality freestyle pull with these paddles..." which brings me to my next point...
3) Quality trumps speed.  I didn't concern myself with pace too much.  I wanted my stroke form to be my first priority- doing an incorrect or sloppy stroke for that far of a distance could cause some serious damage and potential injury.
4) I should have eaten more.  For most of my normal swims (3500-4000 yards), I just drink water or an electrolyte drink.  I started eating my ClifShot blocks around 5000 meters in and felt like I had fallen behind.  When you can feel yourself actively bonking, it's a bad sign. 
5) I felt weird eating.  At the end of each 1000m, I would reward myself with some chews and the girl sharing my lane would just stare.  I felt like the chick at the gym who was drinking a 400 kcal protein shake after doing 30 minutes on the elliptical.  A part of me wanted to say, "Sistalove, pleeease. Put your snorkel back on and mind your own beeeezness- I've been swimming long enough to have shared my lane with 2 different people before you who all did their workout already."  And another part of me just said to myself, "Eat, put your goggles back on, and swim."
6) I feel invincible now.  Why?  Because I swam a 10K?  No, because I swam through a bloody bandaid and a yellowjacket without barfing or screaming.

During the swim and after I had finished, Coach gave me some really good things to think about for the future- about racing vs participating, about how I am still learning what 'my fast' is, and how it's not about the races that you do, but rather how you race them.

So, am I going to race the 10K swim?  I don't know.  It's like asking someone after they complete Ironman if they're going to do another one.  For now, it's back to the drawing board again for me, hopefully with something exciting in the making.

Ask me in a week.

Race Day Magic.

Three days after my Lake Del Valle open water swim, I was flat on my back feeling like all the energy had been sucked out of me.  My nose was running, I was coughing, and I had the worst headache.  I slept for almost 2 days straight and was convinced that I had some strange microbial infection from the lake that would eventually kill me.  A 'real' doctor told me I had sinusitis.  And to stop freaking out.

Mom saves the day with homemade chicken soup, garlic bread, an orchid, and Mucinex-D.
Another friend brought over organic lemons (he knows I'm a snob).
With tea.  And chocolate.  And cookies.
I think all this worked more than the Mucinex-D, in my humble opinion.
The thought of having to navigate again in the open water swim just one week after I had recovered from this bout of feeling-like-crapitis made me nervous.  Granted it wasn't Shady Cliffs, but still...

Some races, things just all come together- I can't really explain it- so I just call it "race day magic."  The day before, I had an awesome pre-race lunch (eating fresh fish somehow always channels my inner fast fishy).  I got my good luck pre-race hug.  And pep talk.  Which really wasn't a pep talk, but it felt like tradition.  And it made me happy.

Having most of my GL Coaching teammates also participating made it so much fun.  On the drive over, I opened a super sweet card from Wolfie that made my day and inspired me to swim fast.  According to the Gary Chapman's book The Five Love Languages, Words of Affirmation is my primary 'language.'  So encouraging emails and cards and pep talks are all positive forces that act as huge motivators.  It was perfect timing.  And Hulk (aka the mailman) didn't get in trouble because he remembered to deliver it on time!

Wolfie's words of affirmation. 
Coach said the 2.4 mile swim was just "time practicing in the open water."  I'm not sure if he tells us that to keep us calm and relaxed, but secretly, I think this is what he really means- 

Er, sexiest wetsuit...
Aside from the fact that the anti-fog Spitz was burning my eyeballs within the first loop (Iesson learned for IMLT- rinse them out!) and the fact that my half-a$$ Body Glide application had left my wetsuit chafing my neck with every stroke, I felt good.  It seemed like I was swimming all alone- I couldn't see anyone else around me.  After the first buoy turn, I looked up and saw another human being!  And it was Hulk!  I let out a shriek of joy, partly because I wasn't lost alone in the middle of Chesbro Reservoir, and because Hulk=fast feet. I hopped on his feet for a few seconds and then noticed they were doing a hard kick of BACKSTROKE.  I lifted my head up and we both started laughing.  Then, we got to work and did what we do best- we swam together and it was good enough for a 5th/6th place overall.

Hulk always tows me on the bike, so I was happy to tow him around for a bit in the water.
I was really surprised with my results- I was the 1st woman in my AG, and even more cool- 1st overall woman in the 2.4 mile wetsuit division!  

Game face.

I can only say that it is because of unique coaching I've been receiving, and for all those early mornings with Hulk and Wolfie beside me in the pool, encouraging and pushing me to swim 'my fast.'  We all need each other, and our individual wins are really a reflection of the group's wins.

Turns out, GL Coaching's group is full of fast fishes who also placed really well!

Most of the crew with our winning schwag...
I have memories of the last time I did the 2.4 mile Catfish Crawl.  This year's theme all around seems to be re-writing the past and moving forward with an improved technique and mentality- which is translating into better race results.  I love the coaching I'm receiving.  I love my inspiring teammates.  And I've always loved the open water.

But I'm still taking Mucinex, just in case.


This morning I believed with all my heart that today would be a really fast swim day, and hopefully fast enough to secure a 1st place AG win.  It may seem trite to some, but I really wanted this.  Sure, I've never raced an open water 5K, but I did the math, checked results from last year against my old 2.5K results, and trusted the amazing coaching and swim sessions that I've had since February.  As I was eating my pre-race breakfast, I happened to stumble upon this video.

It left me tearful over my bowl of oatmeal, and there were some valuable lessons I gained- Fall into your own tempo.  Don't allow the pace of others to dictate your race.  Find your own 'fast' and have faith in it.  Trust it, even if others may judge you, and comment- like the track announcer did- that you're "way out of the race right now."

Lake Del Valle. 5K = 2 loops around.  Feeding boat on bottom left! 
The swim start was competitive and fast, and unlike triathlon where strong swimmers can 'out-bully' weaker swimmers, everyone here was stubbornly battling for position and no one was letting up.  Someone behind me kept grabbing and pulling my feet down so I couldn't breathe (I know this was likely unintentional as they were probably trying to stroke their arms forward).  But still.  At one point, another swimmer and I got entangled in each other's arms so we looked like BFFs.  That actually made me laugh.

This is cool on the beach.
During a competitive open water swim?  Not so cool.
I settled into my rhythm and kept asking myself and self-assessing- "Am I giving everything that I can?  Am I squeezing out every last drop?"  I just imagined myself in the pool next to Hulk, and all of those times when we'd have butterfly interspersed into a long swim set to build endurance- just enough to raise the heart rate, but short enough to still recover from that effort and settle back into your rhythm.  Like the butterfly, I'd sprint to chase the bubbles in front of me, roll through it, and recover.  And repeat.  On the second lap around, there was no 'pack,' but merely random individual swimmers sprinkled throughout the water.  To choose a target was meaningless.  I just put my head down and kept swimming "my fast."

As I passed the final turn buoy, I turned on the motor as high as it would go.  At this point, we were all so spread out, each of us choosing a different line to the finishing chute.  I channeled Calidoscopio, coming along that last turn- strong, in rhythm and in flow.

I ran up the ramp and almost lost my balance as the volunteer removed my timing chip.  "Good job, Bob!" I looked up in surprise at who knew my secret nickname, and it was Talia- we had swam together through high school and at UCSD. It was great to see her there. Another friendly face had also perfectly timed his bike ride to hear the announcer say my name- it really made my day.

I was really happy with my swim- 1:25:35.  Was the course longer than 3.1 miles?  Some said yes.  Regardless, I was proud of my effort and was pretty sure that I had placed.  All that changed when I checked the results.  My heart sank.  Above my name was another 32 year-old girl's name, with a time faster than mine by 15 seconds.  All of a sudden, in a flurry of disappointment, a really perfect swim became the object of detailed analysis.  

"Should I have gone out faster?"  I answered myself right away- "No.  I went out as fast as I could."  I took a leap of faith and wasn't afraid to swim alone, even if it meant ditching the feet in front of me and the effortless draft they offered.  I knew deep down in my heart that I swam the best race that I could.  I told myself, "C'mon!  You should be so happy with 2nd place!"   But still, I couldn't shake the disappointment. 

And that's when I met Susan.

As the last swimmer finishing the 5K, her 5K swim time rivaled that of some people who did the 10K swim... 3+ hours.  In fact, as she was toweling off, some people asked her if she had just finished the 10K swim.  You couldn't tell since she had a huge smile spread across her face.  Her 63 year-old body was beaming.  "That was the hardest thing that I've ever done.  I wanted to quit so badly.  But I didn't.  I'm so incredibly proud of myself that I could cry!"

Wow.  Attitude check.

Susan continued, "I know I'm a slow swimmer.  I know that."  In our conversation, I learned that she had just started swimming when she was 54 years old.  

I was intrigued.  "What did you tell yourself when you wanted to quit?"
"I dedicated this race to my friend who has cancer.  And even though this is hard, it's nothing in comparison to fighting cancer.  I do these open water swims and everyone asks me, 'What was your time?  What was your time??'"

She paused.  It was at that moment when our eyes met and I spoke.  "But really, time doesn't matter.  At the end of the day, you and I both swam a 5K.  And that's a lot more swimming than most people would ever attempt.  Your courage, irrespective of your finishing time, will serve to inspire the people you know to attempt something that is outside of their comfort zone."

She began to cry.  "Thank you."  I looked at her as well with tear-filled eyes.  Really, I was thankful to her.  Her attitude gave me a renewed and different perspective.  Sure, it would have been nice to win 1st place.  But at the the end of the day, it's more about giving all you have, at that moment, and surrendering the outcome.  And that's what we both did today.

When I look at my medal, I'll be reminded of Susan- and even if she never wins a tangible medal for her swim efforts, I know that her heart and her story is adorned with those medals of courage, honor, and faith- things of lasting value.

Hardware to remind me of this day and the lessons I learned.
Perhaps just like Susan and Calidoscopio- even if others label you as 'older' and 'slower,' you must learn to be comfortable going at your own pace in your own race.  In your jobs, relationships, or marriages, outsiders may judge and say that you are "way out of the race right now."  The trick is to drown out the voices of those critics and trust what you know is true.  It's at this moment when the race- and the victory- are yours for the taking.

The Icarus Deception

"Stop swimming from behind.  Swim YOUR fast."  Coach first said this to me from the pool deck on Tuesday morning.  He repeated these words to me this morning before practice.  I first thought he was referring to my swimming tendencies with my lanemate, since I tend to mindlessly gauge my efforts on his pace.  He is a strong, steady fish, and sometimes it's easier to swim in his shadow than listen to my own body and what is my own perceived effort.

But Coach was referring to the fact that I am swimming slower than I am capable of, mostly because I like to be comfortable.  How can I get faster if I refuse to swim and challenge my body to a higher threshold of work? (notice I deliberately didn't use the word pain...)

Remember Icarus, from Greek mythology? He attempted to escape from Crete by wings made of feathers and wax.  He ignored the instructions not to fly too close to the sun, and the melting wax caused him to fall into the sea where he drowned.

I recently heard of Seth Godin's book, The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? where he challenges the old rules of playing it safe and staying in your comfort zone in your career and life.  He flips the lesson on the classic Icarus myth, and instead praises Icarus for his willingness to take a risk and challenge preconceived notions.  In society, the real innovators and artists are those who defy traditional rules and strive higher.  They are not afraid to risk. Godin writes about how it is better to be sorry than safe.  We need to fly higher than ever.

In sport, our 'dangerous sun' is also know as our "red line"- the point that you reach where you either quit, vomit, or have to slow down.  Ironically, that line is rarely reached since our head prevents our bodies from ever coming close to that breaking point.

Most of us train in the gray zone, that comfortable place where we give some effort but not enough to make us faster in the long run.  I've been guilty of this.  I know my body and when things start to feel uncomfortable, I dial it back a little, recover and conserve.  I'd rather have "something left in the tank" than crash and burn.  I live up to my nickname "Shadow" at times, where I have a tendency to rest in the shadows and put out effort when I feel like I have something in the tank.  The problem is, I always have more than enough left in the tank.  I have yet to fly close to my sun because I have been afraid of the melting wax on my wings.

Exploring those limits with 3 minute TT relay efforts on the bike...

Exploring those limits with 3 minute TT relay efforts on the bike...

Hence, my coach's words of advice.

So today I swam MY fast, in my triathlon kit with more drag than I'd prefer.  I felt the lactic acid build up in my muscles.  I kept swimming.  I dismissed the negative thoughts telling me to slow down.  I concentrated on feeling strong and relaxed, and gliding effortlessly over the water.  I adopted the attitude of staying curious, not afraid.  Exploring my limits, and moving past them.

"Stop swimming from behind.  Swim YOUR fast."  Don't gauge your rhythm, your pace, and your path in life upon someone else's.  Pave and discover your own way.

I am still finding my fast in the pool and on the bike, and in life.  Today I came one step closer.

Stay curious.

Dance upon the edge.

Be like Icarus.