July 28, 2013

Giving Back: Being a Swim Buddy

A few weeks ago, my friend Steve got the great idea for a small group of us to practice open-water swims (OWS) most weekends.  I haven't been able to join for all, but did a few weeks ago for an ocean swim.  It's great, because I never do OWS by myself (too dangerous) and it's fun to hang out with my friends during and after.  For this week, Steve suggested that instead of our usual swim, we volunteer as swim buddies for the Solana Beach Triathlon (Tri Club San Diego had just sent out an email to its members asking for volunteers).  Sounded great to me!

I haven't seen swim buddies at all triathlons (definitely not the Oly or half-Ironman I did) but I've seen them at other sprint triathlons I've done, all volunteers from the Tri Club. Basically, a swim buddy is there for any swimmer who wants someone to swim with, usually people who are very slow or inexperienced in the open water.  They obviously aren't there to physically help a swimmer, and if there is any trouble there are myriad lifeguards all around on kayaks, paddleboards and jetskis.  But a swim buddy is there to talk someone through panic, doubt and other swim hazards.  I've never used one before myself, as I've always felt confident in the water, but lots of people do.  The email specifically said you don't have to be a fast swimmer (which is good, because I'm on the slower side) but you have to be confident and strong.

Getting up at 4:55 this morning was brutal, especially for a race that I really wasn't even racing!  But my friend T and I wanted to get there early, as parking is tough. I did this race last year and remembered how sparse parking is....so getting there early was key.  I picked up Ted on the way and we got to Solana Beach about 5:45.  We found the swim buddy people, met up with our friend Steve, got our special blue caps (to identify us as swim buddies), and received instructions from the coordinator.  Soon we suited up and headed down to the beach.  I joined dozens of triathletes in the water, ducking waves and warming up. I was nervous---I was afraid I'd get paired with a super-fast triathlete that I wouldn't be able to keep up with.  But, as Steve said, if they are that fast and strong, they don't need a swim buddy in the first place!

The swim, like last year, was 1/4 mile long, in a rectangular loop. There were several waves, spaced 10 minutes apart, meaning that we could potentially go out on the course more than once.  The race started, and I wasn't chosen as a buddy.  Soon enough, a woman in a green cap came over to me to ask me to be her swim buddy. Turns out she is a strong and fast swimmer, but she is 6 months pregnant and wanted someone with her in case she started having leg cramps or other pain. Her wave wasn't for about 20 minutes so I used that time to run back to my pack to change out my goggles (the goggles I originally chose were too dark...I swapped them out for a pair of blue-tinted ones that ended up being perfect) and run into the water to test them. As I exited the water, I noticed the green capped women lining up---whoops, I was late! I quickly found my pregnant athlete, but while I was gone she had talked to other swim buddies and they told her my concern that she would be too fast for me---and they ended up pairing her with T.  Fine with me, I didn't want to have to sprint during this swim!

As I turned around, another woman in a green cap asked me to be her swim buddy. I agreed, the horn blew, and off we charged into the water! At first I thought she would be good to go, the way she ran into the water....but she immediately stopped. She was afraid of the waves. I successfully talked her through the waves, and then she started swimming. Very, very slowly. I thought I was slow, but this woman was sooooo much slower. I had to slow my stroke down a lot, and even doggy paddle in order to wait for her.  She was nervous, even though she did this triathlon last year. "It's not a pool," she kept saying. I told her yes, it wasn't a swimming pool, but it was the world's pool.  I coaxed her from buoy to buoy, and kept telling her how awesome she was doing. She inspired me so much, and I told her so; it reminded me of the quote about how courage is being scared and doing it anyway.

Finally she exited the water, and I went to stand with the other swim buddies.  There were only a few waves left, and one was about to take off---white capped males. As they ran into the water, a few of us noticed that there were NO swim buddies with them! No one had asked for one (as one swim buddy said, typical of men--most triathletes that ask for one are women, even though men need them too).  A few of us, including Steve, decided to go in a "sweep", to see if anyone needed help. By the time I got my cap and goggles back on, the men had been in the water for a few minutes.  But I easily caught up to the stragglers, who were really having a hard time in the water. I targeted one and asked him if I could swim with him. He said yes.  Like the woman before, he was very slow---but in a way, even slower because when the woman got tired she would do the sidestroke or breaststroke or backstroke, anything to keep moving, but the man would stop. Literally, stop. He was very fatigued and was complaining about his wetsuit being too tight.  As I did before, I stuck with him stroke for stroke, coaxing and talking to him.  It was great to see him finally leave the water; I'm sure the swim wasn't fun for him.

One thing I had never really noticed in triathlons before were how encouraging the lifeguards were! I'm always swimming away, head down in the water, so I don't notice them. But I spent so much time just treading water that I was able to really appreciate the lifeguards. For both my swimmers, they would ask how they were doing, if they needed help, and cheered them on.  That was cool to see.

After that, I was done. My friends had each done three swims, and I had done two---I probably could have done a third had I not had to go back for new goggles.  Regardless, I was exhilarated. It felt so good to volunteer (I'd never volunteered for a triathlon before, only for two half marathons) and it was nice to give back to the triathlon community I love so much. More than that, I really felt like I did a good deed. Could these swimmers have made it without me? Of course. But I know that having me swim side-by-side with them helped them a lot; they both told me so.  I will definitely look into being a swim buddy at other triathlons. The morning finished by watching our friend Andrea cross the finish line---this triathlon was her first last year---and seeing her compete on her triathlon anniversary was fun.  All in all, a good day of giving back---and being inspired for my own triathlon endeavors.

July 10, 2013

Decision Made (or, Oops, I Did It Again)

I haven't blogged in almost a month....not because I don't have anything to write about (on the contrary, too much is going on) but because I've been too overwhelmed and busy to find a block of time to sit and write.  A lot of what's going on deserves its blog post (and I will write about everything soon, I promise) but in a nutshell: the kids are off from school, so I'm parenting full-time; my mom just got diagnosed with ovarian cancer and is going through chemo; and my husband is getting ready for brain surgery, DBS, which will hopefully help his Young-Onset Parkinson's Disease. On top of all this, I am trying to rehab my leg, which is not yet healed.  I will write separate posts at some point about each of these topics (and I have an MRI this weekend, so hopefully more news to report on that front) but I wanted to pop in to talk about a big decision I made this week.

I wrote in my last post that I was on the fence about signing up for the Ironman 70.3 California Oceanside (half-Ironman) for 2014. The registration was about to open, and as I was resting from both running and biking in hopes of healing my leg, I didn't want to sign up.  And I didn't.  Except...except that two days ago an email got sent around to Tri Club San Diego members that the race was 80% full. It was this email that made me realize that I really wanted to do the race. I know I wrote about maybe doing one later next year, maybe in Arizona, but I really want to do this one. It's local, it's Ironman-branded (which I know is not a big deal, but my other half-Ironman was not Ironman-branded and while I loved it, I feel like I missed out on some good gear. Yes, you can go ahead and judge my vanity. I love gear.), and it looks tough but fun.  I spectated it a few years ago and really want to try it myself. Yes, I can wait until 2015, but that seems so far away. And it is.

So, after emailing and tweeting back and forth with friends, and discussing it with my husband, I signed up.

I'm registered.

Here's where I stand, and why I am hopeful enough to take the gamble that I will be able to toe the line at the race:

  • Swim:  I am still swimming, and swimming long. In fact, I'm training for an Ironman-distance ocean swim (2.4 miles) at the end of September, the Tiki Swim.  Doing 1.2 miles is my usual "short" swim now. And after fighting the huge 6-foot waves at SuperFrog, doing the bay swim should be much easier.  The water is supposed to be freezing, which is the only thing that worries me, but I'll HTFU and get it done. I'm not worried about being ready for the swim.
  • Bike: I stopped biking at the beginning of April due to time constraints, and then took a few months off in an effort to rest my leg. I didn't get to do the century ride that I was signed up for (and yes, at some point in my life I have unfinished business with my bike and 100 miles).  With the approval of my physical therapist, my chiropractor AND my doctor, I got back on the bike a few weeks ago, with the promise to stop if there was any pain.  It had been nearly 3 months since my last ride, and I was nervous, although excited to ride my new bike.  I've done two rides so far, both short.  A 10 mile flat ride to start, followed a week later by another 10 mile ride, this time hilly. Both rides kicked my out-of-shape tush, but there was no leg pain, and I look forward to resuming training again to be able to ride the 56 hilly mile course at the half-Ironman.
  • Run: Here's the issue.  Anyone who knows me, or has read my blog, knows that while I enjoy triathlon, and swimming and biking, I am really a runner.  I took off almost 7 weeks from running (only running in the pool, per doctor approval) in an effort to heal my leg. It didn't help.  It's not just a muscle issue, it's a nerve issue, and hopefully the MRI will reveal why. However (and again with my doctors' approval) I've been running again lately.  I've gotten clearance to run up to 3 miles. I've yet to run more than 2 so far. Most of my runs are 1 mile, maybe 1.5, with some "long" runs of 2 miles.  BUT----it's not as painful as it was. Yes, there is discomfort, but no sharp pain. I am hoping that I am slowly healing; I am diligently doing my PT exercises almost every night, designed to stretch and strengthen.  The race is 8 1/2 months away, and I'm hopeful that by January I will be able to start training for the half marathon in earnest, using a slow, run/walk method.
That's my status so far. I can swim and bike now, and hope to be able to run/walk the half marathon, with training starting by January. I have promised my husband, my mother and myself that if I'm still in a lot of pain by the time the race rolls around, I won't do it. And I won't. I really want to do the race, but not at the cost of huge pain again. But I think the gamble is worth it...I have a long time to train, and am doing all the right things in order to heal.

In the meantime, I've had to DNS (did not show) two races so far this summer: the Jump! Aquathlon, (which they are letting me roll over to next year) and the San Diego Century Ride (which I can't roll over and had to eat the registration fee).  I am 99% sure I am not going to do the America's Finest City Half Marathon next month, which pains me, not only because I wanted to finish the Triple Crown Challenge for the first time, but because it would have been my 20th half marathon. But, I know, there are always other races to do. Half marathon #20 will happen at some point.

I added another 5k to the schedule, the Aloha Run, which I will do with my son. Today I also registered for the Mission Bay Triathlon, a sprint. I've done it twice before (in fact, it was my first-ever triathlon) and while I wasn't planning on a triathlon this year, I haven't done one since SuperFrog and don't want my NEXT one to be the Ironman Oceanside 70.3 I'd like something in the middle to reacquaint myself with triathlon and transitions.  I'm excited about having some things on my race calendar.  All this will help me deal more effectively with my stress levels....it's good to pound the pavement, pedal the bike, and paddle the water to relieve my stress.

Here's hoping I can arrive to the start line healthy! As it gets closer, I'm sure I'll be freaking about about the actual execution of this monster race distance (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run is huge) but for right now, I'm just focused on setting my training base and getting healthy.