September 29, 2014

Tiki Swim Race Recap ('14)

Yesterday I raced in the Tiki Swim, a 2.4 mile open water swim. I did this race last year and had so much fun that I wanted to do it again. Last year it was my first swim-only event. Since then I've also done the La Jolla Pier to Cove, and again I really enjoyed doing a long-distance swim without having to worry about biking and running after.  I signed up for Tiki right after they opened registration. It has become so popular, now in it's 4th year, that it's a sell-out.  There is also a 1.2 mile option, and both distances have increased registrants every year.  It's a point to point race.  Starting just south of the Oceanside Pier, swimmers swim out to a buoy, then north, then into the Oceanside Harbor, finishing at the boat ramp.

from the Tiki Swim website


I trained hard for this race.  Last year I finished in around 1:49 and change.  This year I wanted to beat that time. My friend (and coach!) Steve designed a 7 week Tiki Swim training plan for me, with 3 swims per week, plus an optional open-water swim.  I hit almost every workout. I think I only missed three and a half.  Two because the kids were still on summer break and I just couldn't fit it in without too much guilt; one because I had a migraine and was in bed; and a half because I did go to the pool but it was during a 100 degree heat wave and the pool was literally too hot to swim in (the water must have been 86 degrees when I got in; after doing 700 yards I was too hot to continue).  I did long sets, speed work, drills, and even a 4200 yard swim (2.4 miles).

The best part of training was seeing real improvements in time.  I am not a fast swimmer, but have markedly improved just in the past few weeks.  Steve had me doing a periodic time trial of 1000 yards (20 laps) where I had to swim as fast as I could and record the time. On August 8th, my first TT, my time was 23:08.  On August 27th, it was 22:30.  And on September 10th, it was 21:36.  That's a 1:28 improvement from my first one in just a month, which is huge gains in the water.  I've been feeling extra strong and confident, and was having dreams of a 1:40 swim, or even 1:35.

Of course, the pool is very different than the ocean. The pool has no variables, save for maybe a temperature change or if someone is sharing a lane.  Likewise, swimming in the bay, like my friends and I often do, has very little variable.  No waves, very little current, and only temperature to worry about.  The ocean, on the other hand, is an entirely different beast.  You never know, not just hour to hour, but minute to minute, how the ocean is going to be behave.  Between waves, swells, currents, and undertow, not counting temperature, seaweed, etc, you never know what you're going to encounter.

Enough foreshadowing. Onto the recap!

Last year I had gone to the packet pickup on Saturday, and it was a cluster f**k.  You can read my recap to see why I didn't want to deal with it again this year.  They said this year it was mandatory, and there was only a 3 hour window on Saturday to do it. Luckily, I contacted the race director, who said there WOULD be pickup Sunday morning. I opted to do that, and save myself 90 minutes round trip of driving and a headache getting through the crowds.  As I wanted to be there at 6 when they opened, I set my alarm for 5:15. I had a surprisingly good night's sleep, and woke up well rested. I got ready quickly and was out the door by 5:35, eating a Luna Bar as I drove. Plenty of time to get to Oceanside, right?  Well, I was glad I had left extra early when traffic was stopped due to an accident!  I never expect traffic at 6:00 a.m. on a Sunday, but that's why I always leave extra time.  I finally got to the Oceanside Pier, parked nearby in the paid parking (had to admit I got a bit choked up; the last time I was on this street it was to park for my last half Ironman, which was exactly 6 months ago!)  got my packet, my race number marked on my hand,  found my gym friend Bill, found my friends Steve, Leah and Leo, and suited up.

with Steve, Leah and Leo pre-race


Now, when I first got there, the waves were tiny.  Maybe 2 feet tall.  But after suiting up, we went down to the water to warm up,and the waves were suddenly taller.  Stronger.  It reminded me very much of Super Frog, my first half Ironman which, ironically, was exactly two years ago.  Then, the water started off glassy, but when it was time to race the waves were 6 feet tall.  I was nervous yesterday. I don't like big waves.  I have a fear of getting pounded.  I know how to go through them, and have practiced enough.  But they still scare me.  During Super Frog, one hit me so hard that I was underwater, tumbling, and didn't know which end was up.  I hated that scary feeling, and ever since then am fearful.  Only a month or so ago, Steve and I did an open water swim in the ocean and I had to get through similar waves. I was actually crying as I fought through them.  So during our "warm up" I was getting very nervous.  The water felt good, though, likely in the high 60's.  We got out, lined up with the rest of the 2.4 miler crazies, walked through an arch where we were counted by hand, and waited for the siren to go off before we ran into the water.



So the siren went off, I ran into the water, and immediately stopped.  How the hell was I going to get through the waves?  They were strong, they were fierce, and they were tall. Not as tall as the 6 footers at Super Frog, but I'd estimate 4-5 feet.  It's an awesome and eerie sight to see swimmers IN the big waves---right before they broke I could see dozens of black-clad bodies with orange caps, in the middle of the wave, like a pack of sardines. It's a hard image to describe. I found a similar image from a recent Ironman Florida swim start to show you:

 
From Ironman Florida. See the swimmers IN the waves?  source

I started swimming, but only felt comfortable swimming Tarzan style (head out of the water) as I needed to see where the next waves were.  I was suddenly thankful for all the Tarzan drills Steve had me do in the pool!  It was slow going, as the waves just kept on coming! I was tired already, and couldn't have gone more than 200 yards.  Other swimmers were around me, struggling as well.  I saw one man turn back and swim back to shore. I asked him if he was heading back, and he replied that he couldn't see because his goggles kept filling with water.  I thought about him often during the race, knowing that no matter where I placed in the race, I beat THAT guy! (As a side note, if that had happened to me, which it could have because goggles do leak, I would have at least swam with one eye open out to the first buoy before making a final decision about dropping out.  Anyway...)  After I got past the breakers, and was able to put my face in the water to really swim, MORE waves came.  Really?  What was going on?

The first buoy was still so far away and I was exhausted.  I had thoughts of giving up and calling for a lifeguard, but knew I wouldn't.  I was swallowing so much water.  I have never swallowed so much water swimming in my life! I started to feel despair. I developed a new mantra, based on a picture a friend had recently posted on Facebook:
  
"I am strong. I can do hard things.  I am strong. I can do hard things. I am strong, I can do hard things."

Finally, I got out to the first buoy and paused to reorient myself and catch my breath. I felt nauseous from all the waves and the swells in the water and the gallons of salt water I had ingested. I have done many an ocean swim, and have never felt seasick until yesterday.  I must have looked a mess because a lifeguard there asked if I needed to hold onto her boat to rest! I declined, of course, and headed on my way.  I started swimming north. I was hoping for calm water to swim in, but I never found it. It was swells all the way.  I had originally planned on not taking any breaks (last year I briefly stopped at each buoy) but I had to yesterday---not only did I need a few seconds respite from swimming, but I needed to find the next buoy to sight off!  They were hard to see with the swells, the water covering them from my line of sight.

"I am strong. I can do hard things.  I am strong. I can do hard things. I am strong, I can do hard things."

My mind went to some dark places during some of the tougher portions. I have been entertaining the thought of doing my first full Ironman in a few years, and this swim really messed with my head.  Negative thoughts kept going through my head.  How can I do a full Ironman?  Clearly I'm too weak.  Everyone else is way up ahead of me. I'll never make it.  Luckily, my mantra really helped to stop those thoughts, and I was able to clear my mind for a good chunk of the swim.  I told myself I will never do this damn swim again, to just get through it.

At the triangle buoy, which is supposed to signify where the 1.2 milers join in and where the floating aid station is (again, for the second year in a row, I didn't see it. Not that I needed it, but still....) I asked a lifeguard what time it was. He answered 8:33. Since the race had started at 7:30, I had been swimming for 1:03.  I thought that was the halfway mark, and got really down.  All my goals for beating my time went out the window. I figured I would be over 2 hours.  And really, that was ok....the conditions were awful!  I spent more time that I probably should have resting at a few buoys.  At one point, in between buoys, I stopped and just floated there for a bit, orienting myself.  A waste of time, yes, but I needed a break with the exhaustion and the nausea, and at that point my time goal was out the window. My new goal was literally just to finish.

It was also around this time that I noticed lots of other swimmers around me, and behind me.  What?  I wasn't last?  Not by a long shot.  I even saw a 1.2 miler clinging to a paddle board, resting; last year, I never saw one 1.2 miler (the 2.4 and 1.2 people have different colored swim caps so it's easy to tell).  I felt a bit rejuvenated. I could do this thing!

Finally it was time to turn into the harbor.  This was confusing to me, as the buoys suddenly switched from big orange balls to small green balls.  My goggles are orange tinted, which meant that the green balls looked pale yellow, and since they were so small I could barely see them.  Now I was in familiar territory.  I've swam this harbor twice before, in both Tiki and in the half-Ironman. Like last year, the smell of funnel cake overwhelmed me from above. The water was much warmer there, and I was getting hot in my wetsuit.  All I wanted to do was be done.

"I am strong. I can do hard things.  I am strong. I can do hard things. I am strong, I can do hard things.".

 At long last I was making the turn into the boat ramp. Lots of people lined the dock above me, shouting encouragement.  As I was swimming, and had my ears in the water, I couldn't hear what they were saying but I heard the cheers.  I swam until my feet could touch the ramp, and then stood up.  This year it was a bit confusing, as they added a new feature of two different finish chutes, one for wetsuits and one for non-wetsuits.  I didn't know what to do, but a kind volunteer helped me to my feet, pointed me in the right direction, and I ran up over the timing mat...almost five minutes quicker than last year!  I have NO idea how I managed to be faster in tougher conditions, but I'm going to assume that my swimming itself was stronger, and that got me through.

Oh, sweet land, how glad I was to see you!

Steve was at the finish line waiting, as he, as well as Leo and Leah, had finished with kick-ass times way ahead of me.  I got my swag (my earned truckers's cap, a medal and a handmade lei). After getting my free breakfast (which I couldn't eat, since it was a burrito with meat in it) I found the rest of my friends and debriefed.  ALL of us struggled. It was a tough race.  That ocean was angry yesterday, and it didn't spare anyone some struggles.  The lifeguards were amazing---there were tons of them out on the course, and I'm sure many swimmers needed them, at least to rest.



proud finishers!



Of course, after finishing, I felt proud. Not only had I PR'd the course, but in much, much tougher conditions that last year.  And, I had energy!  Would I have been able to immediately get on a bike?  Yes, I believe that if I'd had a few minutes to settle down in transition, I could have gotten on a bike. Maybe not for 112 miles, but I could have ridden.  I felt good. My shoulder was sore, but not in pain.  And, unlike last year when I didn't apply Body Glide and my neck badly chafed, this year I learned my lesson and applied it liberally---and had no chafing. Yay for that!  I would love to do a similar swim but in body of open water with no big waves or swells to contend with.  If I hadn't stopped so much to rest and reorient myself (ie find the buoys over the swells), I think could have swum a 1:40, or even quicker.  This is just a theory, but one I'd like to test out some day.

And although I promised myself I don't have to do this race again, I likely will if my schedule allows it.  Because I am strong, and I can do hard things. Even a tough 2.4 mile ocean swim with huge swells.  And I am confident that, with training, I can do an Ironman if I choose to. 


September 11, 2014

My Joyful Manifesto

I know I've been absent from the blog for quite some time.  Like always, it's not that I have a lack of things to write about, or even the time (now that the kids are back in school, I do have lots of free time during the day). It's more of a lack of motivation...or, to be more specific, feeling too overwhelmed to just sit and put my thoughts down.

I feel like I am starting a new chapter of my life.  And in one sense, I am.  My mother died in February, and from here on out, things will always be dated in my mind as BEFORE MOM DIED and AFTER MOM DIED.  Just as with getting married, having kids, or any other major milestone, there's a before and after.  I am learning that I need to redefine myself as a person without a living mother.

I am also coming off of one of the most stressful 16-month periods of my life.  I've dealt with major stress before, most of which was in 2006.  That was the year my daughter was born and spent 3 months in the NICU, finally coming home  and leaving me to deal with a feeding tube and tracheostomy for 4 years, and also the year my husband got officially diagnosed with Young-Onset Parkinson's Disease.  Since 2006, many stressful life events happened, but things came to a crisis starting in 2012.  In a 16-month period, from October 2012 through February 2014, the following events occurred:
  • my daughter, age 6 at the time, broke her neck, requiring spinal fusion surgery and her wearing a halo screwed into her head for a few months
  • my mother got diagnosed with ovarian cancer
  • my husband had a stroke, as a side effect of a brain surgery designed to help his Parkinson's Disease
  • my daughter broke her ankle, necessitating use of a wheelchair while it healed
  • dealing with my mother's health decline, and flying back and forth to Houston to visit her
  • my husband had a heart attack
  • my mother died
This was all in addition to my everyday stress of dealing with my daughter's and husband's everyday health issues, plus regular parenting issues, schoolwork, friend drama, and everything else that can make life stressful.  Luckily, everything except for my mother ended up ok.  My husband totally recovered from both his stroke and heart attack, my daughter miraculously was unscathed from the neck break, her ankle healed, and I did end up with good closure with my mother before she died.

I've been thinking a lot since she died....about how I want to live my life.  Life is too damn short. She was only 68 when she died.   And while I'm only 44 today, I don't know where life is leading me. I can suddenly die tomorrow, or I can live until I'm 110.  But I want to be happy.  And truthfully, I'm not very happy at the moment.  I'm not depressed---I suffered from depression in my 20s and know what that feels like, and I KNOW I'm not clinically depressed.  But I'm not as happy as I'd like to be, and I'd like that to change. I'm tired of feeling just "ok".  I deserve more than that.

I'm declaring a joyful manifesto.

From here on out, I want to do things that make me happy.  Have meaning to me. Bring me joy.

Now I get that not everything I do needs to make me joyful.  For example, scrubbing toilets or driving the kids to all their activities don't exactly put a smile on my face all the time.  But, even those examples end up with me happy.  Having a clean house, or having active kids, bring me joy.

Here's a short list of what I've been thinking of doing in my life to create more joy.  It's short because I'm still working on it, and I'm sure it'll be a work in progress.  But here's what I've come up with so far:

  1. Be choosy who I spend time with.  I'm sick of making lunch dates and coffee dates with people who I'm not too close to.  I only want to socialize with people that I really care about. Yes, sometimes I need to suck it up and make chit-chat with acquaintances.  But most of the time, if I'm going to make plans with someone, it's going to be someone I consider to be a true friend.
  2. Say "no" more often.  I have the tendency to over-commit, and say "yes" when I should say "no".  This year? I will NOT be the room parent for either kids' class at school. I will NOT be the room parent for their religious school classes either. Been there, done that, and it's someone else's turn to step up.  Not that I won't help, of course I will---but I don't need to be in charge.  I am being very picky about what I am getting involved in with my school's Foundation, a Foundation that I myself started several years ago.  I am still active and involved with it, but I am choosing a fundraiser to chair that really speak to me.  I have dropped out of not one, but two, book clubs.  No more book clubs for me.
  3. Say "yes" to things that excite me.  I am getting more involved in Girl Scouts.  This year, not only am I my daughter's co-leader of Brownies, but I am taking a small role in our Service Unit.  Girl Scouts make me very happy.  I am helping a few friends train for athletic events that they are only dreaming of completing. 
  4. Purging my house.  I have a clutter problem with paperwork, especially stuff relating to the kids.  We just got our carpets upstairs replaced by hardwood, and everything had to come out of the rooms.  I am purging as I'm putting things back. I want to be a more clutter-free person. I do NOT like cleaning and de-cluttering, but when my house is freshly deep-cleaned, and things nicely organized, I am a much happier person in the end.
  5. Thinking about athletic goals. I have suddenly, as of this weekend, have thoughts of a full Ironman flitting around in my brain. I am seriously considering doing one, although IF I do, I won't be for several more years, not until the kids are teenagers. I have thoughts of Ironman Texas in 2020.  Even if I don't do it, the idea of completing it is making me happy. In the meantime, I want to sign up for more things that challenge me, scare me, and excite me.
 I am going to close out this post for now, but this is where I'm at right now.  I want deeper relationships, more meaning to my activities and time spent, and more challenges for myself. I'm hoping that in the end, more joy will arise.

August 14, 2014

Balboa Park 8 Mile Race Recap

When I sign up for a race, I usually do my due diligence. More often than not, it's a race I've heard of before, and know something about.  If it's a new race, or new-to-me race, I try to find out some essentials---course, elevation, etc---before shelling out money to sign up.  For some reason, though, I did none of this when it came to the Balboa Park 8 Miler.  I saw an ad on Facebook for this race, which is put on by the San Diego Track Club.  It was ridiculously cheap---only $35 for an 8 mile race, including a t-shirt and medal.  As I'd never done a race of that distance before, and love running in Balboa Park, I immediately signed up. 
After I paid, I did some research, and found a few bloggers that had recapped last year's race.  The salient features that people were writing about were the HILLS and the TRAILS.  What?  I used to run in Balboa Park quite frequently---in fact, I did much of my marathon training there in 2003--and never ran on hills that were THAT steep.  Or trails.  Turns out, I ran in the wrong part of the park.  Balboa Park has a lot of hills, and a lot of trails, and that was where the race was to be.  I had a brief moment of consideration to drop down to the 5k, but I knew I could do this race.  After all, a year and a half ago I did the Xterra Mission Gorge 15k, and THAT will always be my benchmark of how difficult trails and hills could be. If I could do that race, I could do this. Plus, this race wasn't even going to be entirely on trail, just part of it.  I consulted with my friend Mihael, who did the Xterra race with me, and he reminded me of the best way to get down hills, and basically boosted my confidence.  The Xterra Race, and frankly most of my recent athletic endeavors, including my two half -Ironman races, and my century ride---have given me a feeling of fearlessness,  that I could do anything. I may be one of the slowest, and it may not look pretty, but I can do anything I train to do.

packet pickup






Race day came and I made my way down to Balboa Park.  I easily found parking  I hadn't gone to packet pickup the day before, so I went to the registration table. It wasn't crowded, and the vibe was very low-key.  In a way, it reminded me of the Xterra race---just a chill vibe in the air, without the feeling of frenzy that often comes with the big races.  Because I had parked so close, I was able to go back to the car to put my t-shirt away, relax for a bit, then make my way to the port-o-potties and start line.  The 8 milers were to go first, followed by the 5k runners a while after that.

start line
The race started. I turned on my iPod and started out.  The weather was perfect---absolutely perfect for running.  While it was a bit muggy, the sun never made an appearance from behind the clouds. In fact, soon after the race ended it started to rain, which is odd for August in San Diego, but much needed. The first few miles were on a combination of pavement and groomed trails, nothing technical at all.  Soon we made our way into the depths of Balboa Park---and found the hills.

before the race

For anyone who is reading this and contemplating doing this run, let me assure you the hills aren't that bad. Yes, they are on trail. Yes, they are relatively steep.  But they are not THAT steep, and certainly not that long. Nowhere near some other hills I have done (I'm specifically thinking of not only the Xterra race, but the Washington hill during the San Diego Half, a big hill during the Hollywood Half, and Torrey Pines during the La Jolla Half). It was very doable. Now, I fully admit that I walked up and down every hill, which was in my plan (I have a hard time running hills, it usually irritates my sciatic nerve)....but I saw many people running them.  And, the best part for me was that although they were trail, they weren't slippery, meaning that I wasn't slipping and sliding on the descent.  Sadly, I didn't take pictures during the race, but really, they weren't bad.

After a few miles on the trails, we were on a back on a sidewalk, and then grass, heading toward the zoo for the turnaround.  Here we had to run in the zoo parking lot, which was partially blocked off, but not too much of a worry since it was so early.  Back to the trails, running back the same way we came, until the finish line, which was by the Air and Space Museum/Puppet Theater in Balboa Park.  They announced my name as I crossed, I received a medal, and was offered water and fruit. A very low-key ending to a very low-key race.  The course was a bit long---my Garmin measured 8.18, and believe me, I was muttering to myself  "where the heck is the finish line?"--but that was ok.  I was done.

bling bling medal
I was very proud of myself for a few reasons. Obviously, I was proud of myself for finishing---it was definitely on the tougher side, and I finished strong. I wasn't last by a long-shot, and even in my age group there were many women finishing after me. I don't care TOO much about my time, especially for a trail race at an unusual distance,  but I'd be lying if I said I didn't care if I was last.  But more important, I was proud of myself for starting the race in the first place. It would have been so easy for me to downgrade to the 5k, and not even see those hills.  I knew I could tackle them, and I did. 

While I don't know if I'd do this race again, I can definitely say I recommend it.  It's a great mixture of trail, concrete, grass and asphalt, which is fun.  The views are beautiful.  And I cannot say enough about the volunteers.  They were not only at aid stations, but sprinkled throughout the park, making sure we didn't get lost.  The trail was clearly marked, which was good because there were a few times no one was in front of me to follow.  The San Diego Track Club put on a great event.