September 30, 2013

Tiki Swim Race Recap ('13)

At the beginning of the year, I set some new athletic goals for myself.  I had just finished my first half-Ironman, and wanted a new challenge for myself. As I have no interest in doing a full Ironman, I decided to focus on each sport. I set a goal to do something in each sport that scared me.  Overcoming fear was to be the theme of 2013.

For running, that meant my first trail race, which I did in February. For cycling, that meant my first century ride. Although I signed up for one in June, I did not do it, as I was advised to rest completely due to injury (which turned out to be a herniated disc; resting did nothing to help).  Although I did not do the century, I did a lot of training for it, including conquering my fear of biking up a huge hill, Scripps Poway Parkway, which I biked three times. And for swimming, that meant doing the Tiki Swim, a 2.4 mile open water swim race.

Yes, 2.4 miles, which is an Ironman distance. This would be a huge jump in distance for me, as the half-Ironman I had done was "only" a 1.2 mile swim.  Over the past few months, I kept my swim distance in the pool to my usual 2000-3000 yards until mid-August, when I bumped up to some 3500 yards swims. (For comparison, 2.4 miles is about 4224 yards).  At the beginning of September, I started to get coached by my Ironman friend Steve, who added more mileage and drills, drills, drills!  By the time race day came yesterday, I had completed a 4250 yard pool swim, as well as multiple 3500 yarders with drills, paddles, and using the pull buoy, all designed to make it tougher and to make me stronger.  In addition, I joined some of my friends for a few ocean swims over the past few weeks, all the better to get used to my wetsuit again, remember how to get through waves, and get used to swimming in the swells and currents.

I had 4 goals.  My "A" goal was to finish in under 1:45 (my 2.4 mile pool swim had been 1:50). My "B" goal was to finish in under 2:00.  My "C" goal was to finish in under 2:20, which was the official race cutoff time.  And my "D" goal was just to finish, regardless of time.

As an aside, about a month ago I was on one such a swim with my friends, when my hands and feet suddenly got freezing. The water temperature was not that cold, and I myself was warm in my wetsuit. But my fingers were frozen, and my feet weren't much better. After the swim, I bought a pair of swim booties, worrying that during the Tiki Swim I would be frozen. However, at my last ocean practice, my hands and feet were fine, so I returned the booties to the store.  During Tiki, I was sad about this.

Now, back to my race report!

The day before the race was packet pickup.  They also had packet pickup the morning of the race, but I was getting anxious and wanted to get it early. I headed to Oceanside with my daughter, A.  Big mistake.  I had forgotten that the swim was taking place during Oceanside's Harbor Days, which apparently was a two-day festival literally set on the harbor.  Parking was awful, and I had to catch a shuttle to get to the festival.  If I do the swim next year, I won't get the packet the day before. For this race, the morning of is just fine.  Regardless, I got my packet (swim cap, timing chip and velcro strap) and goody bag.  There is no t-shirt given out (they give a trucker hat out at the finish instead) but I ended up buying a Tiki Swim hoodie. I know I'll proudly wear it all winter. I got home and packed my gear and of course, got a poor night's sleep (I rarely sleep well the night before a race!)

packet pickup

My alarm was set for 4:40, but I was up at 3:30 for good. I got dressed and waited to be picked up by my friend C, was was doing the 1.2 mile version of the Tiki Swim (my husband was supposed to do the 1.2 mile swim, but since he had the brain surgery in August, he wasn't able to participate. I convinced my friend C to take his bib).  C picked me up at 5:15 and we made the half hour drive to Oceanside in the dark.  We parked in the paid lot by the pier (it was recommended to park here, which was close, or several blocks way at the Transit Center for free).  My friend Ted showed up, and the three of us waited in C's car for a while. It was dark, windy, and freezing outside!

Finally the sun started to rise and it began to warm up a bit.  We got out of the car so that C and Ted could get their packets.  They also bodymarked everyone, putting our race numbers on our hands (this was new to me....usually in triathlon you get marked on your shoulder and calf, but of course, in an event where most people are in wetsuits for the entire time, the hand makes sense!) Soon we also met up with other friends (Rebecca, Stuart, Leah and Leo). all of whom I met on Dailymile.  C left to take the shuttle to the 1.2 mile start.  We suited up and I got in the water to test out the temperature, my suit and my goggles.  Everything seemed fine!  The temperature was roughly 67 degrees---very lovely.  My goggles seemed to be leak-free, and I got water in my wetsuit to warm myself up.  I saw another buddy of mine, a man who swims at my gym and has done this race the previous two years.  Back to the beach for  some instructions from the race director, and it was time to line up!  I had been thinking of taking some Clif Shot Blocks with me in my wetsuit sleeve, as I always munch on them in the middle of super long swims. But I didn't like how they felt in my wetsuit, so decided to just stop at the aid station midway for a gel and a drink.  I had fueled myself with a Luna Bar at home before I got picked up, and a Honey Stinger Waffle while waiting with my friends in the car.

The Tiki Swim, now in it's third year, is a point-to-point swim.  The 2.4 milers start just south of the Oceanside pier. The plan is to swim out to an orange buoy, then turn right and head north, again following the orange buoys.  We were instructed not to sight off the pier, as that would get us off-course. Sight on the buoys only.  Eventually we would be joined by the 1.2 milers, who would be in a different colored cap (them in orange, us in yellow).  An aid station in the form of a boat (an outrigger canoe, I think) would be at that point too.  Soon we would all approach the harbor and head toward the right, into it, following the buoys which would now be green.  After swimming to the end of the harbor, we would finish at a boat ramp.

A man blew on a conch shell, and the race was on!  Exactly one year ago, on September 30, I did the SuperFrog Half Ironman in horrific wave conditions---the waves were about 6 feet tall.  It was awful.  Today the waves were small, about 2-3 feet.  I hung back a bit as most of the swimmers ran in, wanting to give myself plenty of space. It didn't take too long for me to get past the breakers, and soon enough I was able to start swimming.

And swim I did.  I kept swimming, and swimming and swimming, and still wasn't getting out to the first buoy.  I don't have a waterproof Garmin, so I don't know how far out the first buoy was or how long it took me, but it seemed to take forever! Finally, FINALLY, I got to the first buoy and rounded it.  I had hardly any swimmers around me on the way there, but it got a bit congested making the turn.  Once I got there, I was already tired, which didn't surprise me. Even with the mild waves, it still takes a lot out of me to swim against the tide and get out there. Also, even in the pool, it takes me a good 500 yards or so to warm up. I wasn't warmed up yet.  There were a few swells even past the break, and some currents to fight, notably near the first buoy, by the pier, and near the entrance to the harbor. Nothing horrible, but enough of a current that I had to work just a bit harder.

I decided to swim from buoy to buoy, and give myself a quick break (a few seconds) at each one to orient myself.  I was sighting during swimming, of course, but it was good for me to take these quick stops to see where I was heading to next.  Soon, my feet were cold.  Darn it, I should have worn those booties!  I passed a man who was wearing some and I was instantly jealous.  I had a brief chat with this man; I passed him and he was bobbing in the water, trying to find the next buoy.  All of the buoys were orange circles, but there was one triangle one that signaled where the aid station was and also where the 1.2 milers would be merging in with us.  He didn't see the triangle until I pointed it out to him. I asked him the time (he had a watch on) and he replied it had been 52 minutes since the start.  I was happy, as I knew we were about halfway and that was a good time for me.

One note about course support---there was a ton!  Throughout the entire race, there was always at least one lifeguard on a stand-up paddle, kayak or boat nearby. One even shouted at me to move toward the left as I drifted a bit off-course. I always felt safe, knowing they were there.  Swimmers were allowed to rest on the boats if they wanted, as long as they didn't have any forward movement. I never needed to rest, of course, but it's nice that the option was there.  And the lifeguards were so nice, shouting out words of encouragement as I passed and giving me time of day when I asked.

I kept swimming and swimming and swimming.  I wasn't too bored, which was surprising; on most of my long swims (any pool swim 2500 yards or longer) I use a waterproof iPod to keep my mind occupied.  I was thinking, racking my brain, trying to think of all my kids' past Halloween costumes from each year (this was harder than you'd think; I still can't remember one of my daughter's costumes, and thinking about it during the swim kept me busy!)  I started to get thirsty, as I had been swallowing a lot of salt water.  I looked for the aid station, which should have been near, but I had passed it!  Ugh!   A lifeguard asked me if I wanted him to get me something, but I said no.  After not bringing my Clif Shot Block with me, I ended up eating and drinking nothing on the swim! I  kicked more than I usually do.  Normally I don't kick at all, only use my legs to balance me, as I need to save my legs for the bike and run portions (it's the triathlete's way). but since I didn't have to bike or run after, I felt free to kick and propel myself a little faster.  I tried to go stronger with my arms, too, as per my race plan, but when I did I tired out easily. I decided to just keep it nice and steady.

Finally, I passed the last orange buoy and was directed to swim toward the mouth of the Oceanside Harbor. Here the buoys were green, and the water was flat and calm.  As soon as I turned into the harbor, the smell of food overwhelmed me.  The Harbor Days festival was getting underway just above me! I especially smelled something sweet, probably funnel cake. It also smelled briny too. I just kept swimming, looking through the green-tinted water, watching my hands as they entered.  This part of the course is actually the swim course of the Ironman 70.3 California Oceanside, a race that I will be doing in exactly six months I kept thinking that the next time I'm in this water it'll be during my next half-Ironman!

At last I was in the final few hundred yards. I saw the boat ramp ahead, and the lifeguards nearby cheered me to finish. There were a lot of people lining the boat ramp watching. As I am so slow (most of the 2.4 milers had already finished  [although I was NOT last at all] and I never even saw ONE of the 1.2 milers, as they had all finished already) I was the only one finishing at that time.  All I kept thinking was "don't slip in front of all these people!"  I swam until my hand hit the ground, then I stood up. Luckily there was not one, but FOUR volunteers at the bottom of the boat ramp to catch people. I needed all four to help me, as the boat ramp was very slippery and I was disoriented from suddenly standing up. I ran, or rather stumbled, up the boat ramp and crossed the timing mat.  One volunteer placed a medal and a ribbon lei around my neck; a second gave me my finisher's trucker hat.  I was done. I  was on dry land. I had finished!  Not only that, I had smashed my "B" goal by about 10 minutes or so, easily finishing within 2 hours. And, I had energy left over to boot. I was glad to be done, but if necessary could have swam further.

Stuart was at the finish, and eventually we met up with Rebecca and Leah (Ted and Leo had already left).  My husband, J, came after dropping the kids off at Sunday School, and while he had missed my finish, he was so proud of me.  Although a pancake breakfast was free for all finishers, we decided to leave and hit up a local cafe for a more hearty, and private, breakfast.

right after the race, soaked and dazed
dry and happy!

A day later, I am still in shock at how much fun I had. I love my running races, and enjoy triathlon, but didn't expect to love this swim-only event so much.  I didn't love every minute, but overall it was fantastic.  It was a very well organized event, and I thought it was pretty unique. And for me, the date (to the day, it was exactly a year ago that I did SuperFrog and exactly six months until Ironman Oceanside 70.3) was poignant. A great anniversary and a great kickoff to my next training. If I am in town next year for this event, I will most likely sign up again.  The only thing I would do different is apply glide to my neck---I never do, as I'd never chafed before, but after the event the entire back of my neck is chafed badly. Ouch!

Next up is the Mission Bay Triathlon, which I'll do next week!

September 21, 2013

9-11 Memorial Stair Climb

I am late in posting this recap, but two weeks ago I participated in an extraordinary event, the San Diego 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb.  It took place just days before September 11, and was a very poignant day.

I have been wanting to do a stair climb event for quite a while, but there just aren't any in San Diego, at least not that I've heard of or been able to find by searching online. I know other cities (New York, Chicago, etc) have stair climb races, but not here.  Coincidentally, about a month ago a friend on mine posted on Facebook about this event in San Diego, with a discount available on a deal through Living Social.  I bought it immediately, as not only was I excited about a stair climbing event to do, but the cause was great---it honored the victims of 9/11 and raised money for FireFighterAid. I roped one of my best friends, Amanda, into signing up with me.  Although I had a 5k the day before, I was looking forward to the challenge.

What was the challenge?  It was to climb 110 stories, which was the height of the World Trade Center.  We were to climb at the Hilton downtown, which was 30 stories tall.  The plan was for each climber to climb the steps 3 times (which would really total 90 stories).  I think the assumption was that the amount of steps it took to get from the exit of the elevator (we took the elevator down after each climb) back to the start would account for the other 20 stories.

the hotel

Amanda and I arrived early at the Hilton, in time to check in and get our t-shirts.  The event was untimed, so there were no timing chips.  And we didn't get bibs. Instead, each participant was given a lanyard with the name and picture of a fallen firefighter, police officer, or port authority officer who died on 9/11.  I was given the name of a firefighter, Stephen Stiller.  Seeing his name and picture made the whole thing very real for me. I realized that no matter how tired I got, I couldn't stop. I had to do the whole climb.  After all, it was the least I could do in Stephen's memory.

the hero I climbed for

this flag had every victim's name on it
a piece of one of the Towers

Before the climb started, there was a ceremony.  A choir sang the national anthem and God Bless America. Some other people spoke.  One of the most amazing speeches was by Lt. Joe Torrillo, a firefighter with an amazing story.  On 9/11, he was actually trapped under the rubble of Tower 1.  He was rescued, and then trapped under the rubble of Tower 2. As a survivor, he has made it his life's mission to travel the country, making sure the words "never forget" and its meaning lives on. They even had some metal, some part of one of the towers that had been transported to San Diego. By the end of the ceremony, I was in tears and feeling very patriotic. I am very proud to be an American.

a firefighter chopper made its way overhead

After this, it was time to get ready to climb!  They went by waves, so I had a while to wait.  The most impressive thing was watching the firemen get ready...they all did the climb in full gear, some with oxygen tanks on their backs.  Jut incredible.

suiting up

firemen about to start their climb

When it was our turn to climb, we first had to touch a piece of metal that was part of the Towers, and then ring a bell and say the name of the person we were walking in honor of.  Again, it hit me the enormity of what I was about to do, and helped me keep Stephen in my mind throughout the climb.

the bell we had to ring, and the piece of metal we had to touch

And then we started to climb!  Amanda and I entered a side stairwell, along with other people in our wave, and began climbing the steps.  There's not too much to write about here, except to say that the stairwell was hot.  It was hot and humid with the sweat of all the climbers.  Every ten flights or so would be volunteers passing out water bottles, which was much appreciated.  The climb was not too hard. To be honest, I was expecting it to be painful, but it wasn't.

At the top floor (30th), we got out of the stairwell and walked down a hallway of the hotel to the freight elevators.  We were then brought down by elevator and sent to walk around the side of the building to do it again!  The only thing noteworthy this time was that we passed an obese woman going up, who was clearly having a hard time. She was walking very, very slowly. The beautiful thing was that there was a firefighter right behind her, who stayed behind her during the entire event (I passed her again on the third round).  This time getting to the 30th floor brought little relief, as the line to get on the elevators was very backed up and we had to wait a long time in line. This part was the worst---I don't ever remember being so hot and sweaty in my life. We were all just dripping sweat.
oddly looking fresh as a daisy
As we began the third, and supposedly last, ascend up, Amanda and I decided that we would do it fourth time. We really wanted to climb an entire 110 flights, and the 90 just didn't feel right. So at the end, we went up a fourth time, making for a total of 120 flights of stairs climbed.

one of the views on the stairwell

At the end, neither of us were sore at all! I had packed my Stick to rub out our quads and calves if we needed to....but neither of us needed it. We left the event happy and full of patriotic pride. This is one event I really hope to do every single year from now on.

September 10, 2013

Aloha Run 5k Race Recap

This past weekend I had a two-race weekend, the Aloha Run 5k and the 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb.  Both were very different events, and I was glad I was able to complete both  First recap:  the Aloha Run!

I signed up to run this inaugural 5k race with my 9 year old son, D.  For the past few years, we have run a few 5ks together, and we hadn't run together in some months.  This race looked fun---along the water in beautiful Mission Bay, and it even offered a medal, which is rare for a 5k and something that my son was excited about.  Over the last few months, they sent out emails asking registrants to vote on the medal design; it was narrowed down to a choice between a hibiscus flower (with a hula dancer on it, complete with actual swinging skirt) or a wooden tiki (you can look at the website for the actual designs; both were cute!)  In the end, it was a tie vote, so the race said they would offer BOTH medals at the finish line, and each runner could have their choice.  I was excited, as I had voted for the hibiscus and D had voted for the tiki. We would both get the medal of our choice!  (By the way, they also had the medals made into keychains for sale, in case you wanted both).

Friday we drove to Road Runner Sports (my favorite store in the whole world!) for packet pickup.  It was an easy pickup, with a very small expo.  This race had 3 wave starts.  The 7:30 a.m. start was for runners; the 8:00 a.m. start was for slower runners and run/walk people, and the 8:30 a.m. start was for walkers.  We signed up for the 8:00 start, and noticed that each wave had a different color bib, which was cool.  After getting our bibs, timing chips and cotton t-shirts, I splurged and bought D his own handheld hydration system. I got him the Amphipod Hydraform Handheld, which is really sleek and actually now I'm jealous of.  Normally for a 5k I don't bring hydration, but I knew it would be hot the next day (it'd been in the 90s all week) and I definitely wanted D to have lots of liquid. I could have shared mine, or worn my fuel belt, but I'm glad I got him his own; he loves it and felt so empowered being able to drink whenever he was thirsty without asking me. It was a great deal, too.  Not only am I a Road Runner VIP so I get a discount, but all race registrants got more money off on top of that. I also bought him a Gu---he wanted to try pineapple. I bought one for me too.

Unfortunately, due to my injury (I have a herniated disc) I have not been running too much this summer, and have not been able to train with D at all in months. We went into this race knowing it would be slow, and that was ok. After all, I don't do these 5ks for a great finishing time; I do them in order to have fun with my son and foster a love of running and racing in him.  So it was with a mixture of anticipation and nervousness that we drove to Mission Bay early Saturday morning. We left the house at 6:30, and not a moment too soon. Even though we didn't start until 8, and it didn't take long to get there, parking was a nightmare (remember, one wave started at 7:30) and as it was we had to park 3/4 of a mile away. Not far, but in the hot sun with a tired and cranky 9 year old after the race, trust me, it seemed FAR!

The pre-race vibe was great.  Lots of music, lots of booths.  A man on stilts dressed in a tiki costume sent each wave off.  As we lined up, a woman in a Hawaiian outfit came over and gave D and I leis. In fact, lots of people were dressed in Hawaiian shirts and hula skirts; I wish I'd have thought to dress up!  Each of the three waves got their own send-off with the National Anthem, which was a nice touch.  A few minutes before start time we each ate our new pineapple Gus. He loved his---I hated mine.  Gross flavor!  At 8:00 on the dot our wave got underway.

Our plan was to do a 2 minute run/1 minute walk combination.  However, D soon tired (remember, he hasn't been training at all) so that deteriorated into a 1 minute run/1 minute walk.  Toward the end, he was so hot and flushed (I've never seen his face so red!) that I let the walk breaks go on for longer.  I had to push him in the middle, as he was very tired and wanted to stop, but he got through it!  They had tons of entertainment! I'm used to no entertainment at all on 5ks.  This one had about 5 acts (mostly hula dancers and steel drum bands, all to match the aloha theme) crammed into 3.1 miles. And with the out-and-back course, we got to see each one twice. Very cool.

There were only two things I didn't like about this race.  First, there was only one water stop, which was at the turn-around at mile 1.5. Normally for a 5k that would be sufficient, but it was very hot and humid.  One more would have been nice....perhaps having a water stop at mile 1 and 2.  We were ok, as we each had our own handhelds (D had his new Amphipod and I had my old Nathan handheld ) but the runners who hadn't thought to bring their own water were hating it. And second, the course, while beautiful, was an out-and-back largely on one sidewalk. With the slow runners still returning from the earlier wave, and then later the runners starting in the later wave, it was extremely crowded and congested on the course. I'm glad we weren't trying for a PR because many times we were forced to walk, or even stop, as there was no place to go with the crowds of runners in front of us.

At the end, he sprinted ahead of me. I came in 20 seconds later, and when I did they announced my name.  We each got our choice of medal (me the hibiscus, he the tiki) and we began the long walk back to the car.  He was so tired I ended up carrying him on my back for a good chunk of it.  But he was happy, and thanked me for signing us up and running with him. That made it all worth it.  Also noteworthy was that I was in very little pain during the race. I am currently doing a new treatment for my herniated disc (spinal decompression, which I will write about another time) and I think it's helping. Yay for me!

All in all, we had a great time.  Hopefully some changes will be made next year (mainly with adding a water stop if it's as hot as it was this year) but for an inaugural race, they did a great job.  And now D has yet another 5k under his belt!