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Author Archives: Elizabeth Waterstraat

Madison 70.3 Race Report

The other day, one of my athletes asked how to go into a race and race well when you didn’t have any confidence.

Here’s how …

This is my Madison 70.3 race report, a race I trained for over a very long time.  Too long.  11 months ago, I had baby #3.  With 3 kids, my “goals” became much smaller than qualify for Kona, win this or that – I aimed to simply make it through every day!  And, if I could do that, my secondary goal would be to qualify for 70.3 Worlds.

It’s been a struggle.  I don’t talk much about the struggle because we chose to have 3 kids, we chose to wait this late in life to have kids, we chose to compete in triathlons and by the way WHO out there isn’t struggling?

(if this is you, please go away quietly to enjoy your struggle-free life without making the rest of us feel like failures!)

Truth be told, I experienced depths of fatigue and struggle I didn’t know were humanly possible.  The kind of fatigue where 16 ounces of strong coffee laughed at me while saying you think I can fix this?  I was tired and as an endurance athlete my resistance to fatigue had been my strength, ignoring fatigue is what I did best!  But in the last 11 months I experienced fatigue that sent me to several doctors for many different blood draws to arrive at this very unsatisfying conclusion: there’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just tired.

Honestly this wasn’t at all surprising since I didn’t sleep for a year.  Starting around 20 weeks pregnant, my back would wake me up every night.  Chalk it up to one of those fun late pregnancy symptoms – a rib kept getting out of place because of pressure from the baby.  Then, baby came early.  I can handle this, I know babies!  Unfortunately, everything I knew about babies was completely useless because baby #3 was different.  He was premature, he wouldn’t latch, he needed to be fed every 3 hours and he slept very, very poorly.  Finally, in late February, when I had been woken up – AGAIN – every freakin’ hour of the night, I remember thinking to myself this is no way to live, I cannot continue like this.  I was, as they say, at the end of my rope.

The next day, I hired a sleep consultant.  It was an admittance of defeat – after having two children who were (and still are) perfect sleepers, I had one of those.  One who didn’t sleep.  Who the more we tried to get them to sleep, they more unsettled he became.  Who was now sleeping in our bed and STILL not sleeping!  $400 and a phone call later – I had a plan.  And a week later, I finally had a sleeping baby.

(it really was that easy, why did we wait?!)

Mid March – it was then I felt like I truly I started training.  Not just going through the motions of swim, bike, run.  Sure I had been exercising for months but here’s something shocking – when you train and don’t sleep, you don’t really gain much fitness.  My swim times were stagnating.  My bike – I could power through it but it was mostly stubbornness and frustration.  My run was a complete mess.  It wasn’t until I finally started sleeping that I finally started gaining fitness, losing weight, feeling more like me.

At this point, Madison was about 12 weeks away.  I was scared.  I’ve never been scared before.  None of my times were anywhere near where they’d been in the past and I went into this year knowing one thing: I wanted to beat the former version of myself.  Problem was – I was nowhere near the former version of myself.  In fact, if you see her, would you let her know I AM LOOKING FOR HER, at times, desperately?  Whether it’s age, life, fatigue or just too many miles on this body, there was a part of me missing.

At times, that made me sad.  Every training day became a drag of how slow will I be today?  How far will I get before my HR shoots up and I’m forced, yet again, to slow down?  Why can’t I keep up with my old lane? What am I doing wrong?  At times like this, one’s natural reaction is to want to push harder but we know that tends to have the opposite reaction you’re seeking.  The only thing that really works is, gulp, patience.  As cliché as it sounds, I focused on the process and the enjoyment that I’ve always gained from the (at times painfully slow!) process of bettering myself.

Still the closer I got to Madison, the more my confidence tanked.  I had been training for nearly a year – A YEAR – and didn’t feel ready.  In fact, I felt nothing but fear about the race.  I thought about skipping it.  I couldn’t imagine how I was going to complete a half Ironman let alone RACE it.  Even worse, my goal was to qualify for Worlds so I knew I had to be in the top 3.

HOW WAS I GOING TO BE IN THE TOP 3 WITH THIS FITNESS?

Race week I knew I didn’t feel fit but I decided (finally) to control what I could control – focus on your details, use your experience, focus on how you can outsmart them.  Study the course map.  Scope out your competition.  Talk to those who know you best.  It was there I found the best advice – not about paces to hold, HR’s to hit, this advice was insightful, heartfelt and reassuring:

You are a racer, when the gun goes off, do what you do best.

I traveled to the race with Jen Harrison.  We spent most of the day chatting and eating.  She insisted we drive the course.  Thank you, Jen, for talking that sense into me.  We drove the course and I thought about advice from my husband – he told me how to ride based on my build and ability.  The course itself was midwestern beautiful – hills, tall grasses.  We even had to stop for a herd of cows crossing the road.  Besides being beautiful, the course was also a challenge – with long climbs, sweeping descents and rough roads.  Add to that a swim in Lake Monona which is always slow, an undulating run around the lake and a projected windy and warm day.  This course would be all about making good decisions.  I didn’t feel fit but I knew of the 2500 people racing, I could make better decisions than 100 of them.

The night before the race I slept terribly.  After existing for so long in sleep deprivation, that did not at all bother me.  The morning moved by too quickly, so quickly, I left the hotel without coffee.  And without a trip to the bathroom.  And still without my usual beaming confidence.  I couldn’t believe I had to race a half Ironman – today.  How?  Where do I even begin?

CHECK BOXES.

Once in transition, I put myself on autopilot.  Do what you do before a race and don’t think about it.  Everything was set up.  Check the boxes, Liz.  Vaseline in the shoes.  Salt tabs in the Bento Box.  Visor.  Helmet.  Then, I stood in line for over 30 minutes for the porta-potty.  Meanwhile, I watched as people lined up for the practice swim.  Time was wasting.

When an ambulance didn’t show up to monitor the practice swim, they cancelled it.  All of a sudden, things moved even quicker.  I finally made it through the porta-potty line.  Threw on my wetsuit and got into the corral for self seeding.  Two choices:  27 minutes and under or under 30 minutes.  I went somewhere in between.  The gun went off and the rolling start began.

30 seconds later, I was running into the water.  With no warm up and what felt like cold water, I felt panicky.  It took me a few hundred yards to settle down and find rhythm.  But once I found my rhythm, I kept veering right.  And then I realized I forget the most important thing when swim racing – previewing the course!  I had no idea where I was swimming – the buoys, the turns.  The orange turn buoys turned into orange sighting buoys.  The shore wasn’t getting any closer.  I was still veering right.  I felt like I was in the water for well over 30 minutes but looking around noticed very few pink caps.  Hmmmm….

I didn’t wear a watch in the water and I had no idea where I emerged other than having a feeling of not having a great swim.  Lake Monona is usually slow for everyone.  It’s just the swim – move forward and get going.  A quick transition and on to the bike course.

The bike starts out on the bike path.  I knew from doing IM Wisconsin that the bike path is the worst part of the course – narrow, bumpy and slow going.  All of a sudden, I hit a bump and (for the second time in 20 years of racing!) launched a bottle.  I don’t drink what’s on course so I had to stop, dismount my bike and run back.  In that time, Jen Harrison passed me asking if I was ok.  It was at that moment that I realized I wasn’t just ok – I was doing ok!  Jen is a great swimmer and I knew if I beat her out of transition, I had a competitive swim.  What turned into a negative (bottle dropping) turned into a positive for position – now let’s get racing.

The first part of the bike course was directly into the wind, which was building to a steady 15-20 mph force and by the afternoon gusting to 35 mph.  A coincidence.  You see, every outdoor long ride I’ve done this year has been out to Morris where I experienced the infamous Morris shift.  That would be when you’re riding out into a 15 mph headwind, turn around, enjoy about 5 miles of tailwind before the wind shifts into something wicked like a 20 mph north wind that completely sucks the life force and not to mention the fun out of the ride.  I was not only used to the wind but looked forward to it.  I knew I could ride into the headwind harder and handle it.  I knew the wind would make people make very bad decisions – like overwork or under drink.  Let that wind keep blowing.

I also knew the course didn’t get hard until mile 30.  Though it tilted upwards the entire way, all of you guys blowing by me with disc wheels – THIS COURSE GETS HARD AT MILE 30 – did you hear that?  MILE 30!!!  I rode smart, using my energy knowing that at mile 30 it was time to dig in for the real challenge.

I also knew that I would be out on course about 15-20 minutes longer than usual.  That meant bringing along an entire extra bottle of my sports drink.  This also meant I couldn’t bring along water.  So I went through a rhythm of drinking 24 oz sports drink between aid stations every 45 minutes and jamming down a bottle of water in the next 15 minutes to go through 3 bottles of sports drink and nearly 3 bottles of water in nearly 3 hours (why do people fight me on hydration?  IT CAN TAKE THIS MUCH, FOLKS, TRUST ME!).

At mile 30, sure enough it got hard and I was ready.  Coming up were 3 longer and grinding hills.  Not only did the course go up but the real gains on this course were in the descending.  I don’t ride outside often but I have plenty of experience to draw from – I needed to be fearless.  A wise coach once told me: momentum is easier to gain than maintain.  Take the corners fast, clean and look where you want the bike to go.

In the last 12 miles, I could see fatigue in every rider I passed.  The roads were a pot-holed mess from the midwestern winters.  The course had some ups (but mostly downs).  The last part was uninspiring through the Alliant Center parking lot and back on the bike path but I knew this from doing IM Wisconsin and prepared for it.  Before I knew it, I was dismounting and suspecting I was in a good position.  Though technically the race was time trial start (meaning I had no idea who started where) – only 2 women passed me on the ride.  And out there, once into the course, I suspected that I would need to maintain over 19 mph on that course to be competitive in my AG.

Out on the run course, my legs quickly reminded me that we had to run.  And lately running did not make me happy.  To prepare for this, I didn’t wear a Garmin.  Or a HRM.  Or a watch.  I just ran.  I didn’t want the chatter or feedback.  And honestly – it didn’t matter.  At this point, I was simply running for position.  I knew there were two women in my AG who I simply would not be able to beat on the run but suspected I could get close on the swim and bike.  I was now in a race of just hold them off.  The good news is that I knew they both already had slots to Worlds.  The bad news is that I told Jen Harrison if I didn’t place top 3 in my AG, on the ride home I would be cranky.  This run’s for you, Jen!

The run was not hard.  It was not hilly.  It was not even hot.  But I was not moving.  I really missed my former legs – the ones that settled easily into sub 7:30s and now struggled to break 8:00s.  But on this course, it didn’t matter.  Move forward, manage the conditions.  If anything, I felt steady.  I kept cool with my “peppermint sham wow” (I cannot give away all of my secrets – ha ha) that I held in my left hand.  I did my gels.  I told myself to get to mile 4.  Then, mile 6.  Mile 8.  And then mile 11.  At mile 11 I found myself running into the now gusting to 35 mph headwind thinking – there’s mile 11, Liz.  Now what.  NOW WHAT!?  I suppose we run to that big hill they put right before the finish line.

Eventually I crossed the finish line 3rd in my AG and 10th overall.  Earned my slot to Worlds.  Ate ice cream.

At first what felt like disappointment turned into an odd sense of accomplishment.  3rd in AG – that’s where I expected to be.  But 10th overall – that was surprising.  I looked at the names of the athletes ahead of me and I felt proud to be up there.  Forget overall time (and as a guy in transition the day before when racking my bike insightfully said to me – this isn’t a PR course – oh to be so wise …), to be 41 years old and still ‘in the mix’ as they say, I’m proud of that.  This much work to do but I finally let myself feel satisfaction.

So to answer my athlete’s question: that is how you race without confidence.  You simply put yourself on the start line  and set yourself in motion.  Along the way, you control what you can – pacing, knowledge of the course, managing the conditions, executing proper fueling and once the race starts – you race.  Above all, you don’t think about it.  You go through the motions of racing.  While confidence certainly helps en route to the finish line – you don’t need it as much as you need to manage all of the other things that make a bigger difference (like fueling, hydrating and – RACING).  The biggest challenge in racing long course is getting caught up in your head.  Box it up before the race start and think about the process.  Process, process, process.  What do I need to do now.  What do I need to do next.

It’s that simple but as we know –  never easy.

 

Dig the Pig(man) Race Report

West on I-80, Iowa rolls out in historic red barns and lush green hills of a classic midwestern landscape.  The names of small towns light up my memories of Ragbrais from years ago – Maquoketa, Storm Lake, Anamosa, Hiawatha, Coralville.  I can’t cross the border into Iowa without feeling an incredible urge to get on my bike or scream “rumbles” as a warning to anyone about what lies on the road ahead.

This particular weekend, we were headed towards Cedar Rapids to compete at the Pigman Sprint Triathlon, a quintessential midwestern sprint race.  With an elite wave incentivized by a prize purse, it has historically drawn some of the best amateurs and pros from the Midwest. To me, it seemed like the perfect final “hard” workout before I simmered down into next weekend’s half Ironman.

The 3-hour drive was a nice respite from the noise of my daily life.  I spent most of the time in the passenger seat on the Beer Advocate website.  I suppose this is the new Liz Waterstraat, 40+ with 3 kids, triathlete.  The kind of athlete who emails the race director the night before the race because she forgot to sign up.   The kind of athlete who rather than obsessively checking NOAA for wind and precipitation potential predications, spends the drive googling “Best Iowa craft beer” and trying to convince her husband that they should eat at the local brewery.

Race morning we woke up to the 50% chance of rain that was predicted.  5 am, a heavy rain was pounding outside.  I’ve done enough Ragbrais to know that in less than 30 minutes that storm would pass by leaving a thick blanket of humidity and stillness in the air.  Sure enough by the time we reached the race site, the rain had nearly dried up on the roads and the air was, well, thick.

Pigman takes place at the beautiful Pleasant Creek State Park.  My last visit to Pleasant Creek to, as they say, dig the pig, had been back in 2006 when I did the Pigman Half Ironman in preparation for my first Kona.  It was Jen Harrison who convinced me the long rolling hills and humidity would prepare me for a race on the Big Island.  She was right.  It was a trip with great memories – my mom accompanied me only to reveal her new “spectating triathlons chair” (lightweight with a table & a cup holder), finishing 3rd overall, being in the money, getting to hold a mega check on the podium (still remember Michael Boehmer who also finished 3rd overall – I’ve never seen someone so excited to hold a mega check).  Ridiculous memories of triathlon years ago …

Back to the race.  We situated our gear in the elite rack.  I’ve got to be honest.  Racking in the elite wave over 40 gives great perspective.  I sat there applying sunscreen (because at my age, you don’t mess around even in a sprint race at 7 am, if there’s sun, there’s sunscreen) and triathlete watching.  I know, I know, you’re all fast and important.  You, guy trying to rack your bike the wrong way by the seat – yes, you, I did indeed ask if this was your first rodeo because, cowboy, this is about my 100th rodeo and I’m old enough to be your mom.  Let me help you rack your bike properly.

I warmed up in the cool water of Saylorville Lake.  After draining the lake last summer, the water level was much lower and getting in involved a hike through what can only be described as soupy muck.  After the warm up, I stood by the start area.  The elite women started first.  It was a small wave.  As we stood there, no one seemed to know where the start line was so we decided it was in water.  And once in the water, we decided it was near the first buoy.  Before I knew it, we had 30 seconds left and like it or not, my far left position became my start position.

The gun went off and the pro (Heather L.) took off.  After about 200 yards I worked myself into her slipstream which became further and further away.  By the turn buoy, I realized she had 30 seconds on me and I had 30 seconds on everyone else.  The pace was hard to the finish and then I did my best huffy run up the hill into transition.

My wetsuit decided to not play nice and didn’t want to come off.  Even with this being my 100th rodeo, I had to sit down and yank it off.  GET OFF OF ME!  At that point, I had almost lost my 30 second lead on everyone else as the women started to enter transition.  Get out of here & go!

Mounted my bike and with a few pedal strokes, went to shift into the big ring and – dropped my chain.  In almost 20 years of racing I have never dropped a chain let alone in the first 100 yards of the bike in a SPRINT!  Not only did I drop my chain but it jammed to the point where I had to dismount and wrestle it back on.

I caught up to two women and paced off of them.  My legs, however, didn’t want to keep the pace.  They were thinking back to the long rides, run hills and said – nope, we’ll just sit here at Olympic watts and enjoy the scenery.  Come on legs!  At 30 minutes into the ride, Chris caught up to me which I took as a good sign since he predicted he would catch me by 20.

The bike was over before I knew it and it was time to run.  Not flat, the course had a few good rollers and plenty of thick air.  I ran without a Garmin, even a watch, because I just wanted to run.  I’m currently in a strained relationship with running.

We’re working on it.

In the end, I finished 4th overall and took home $150!  In the past month I think Chris and I have made more than a lot of pro triathletes (and, guys, that’s kind of a sad thing about our sport – this shouldn’t be the case!).  After the race, we headed straight to a bar we saw off of 380 into Cedar Rapids – The Sag Wagon.  A Ragbrai-esque bar situated along a bike path that served cold beer and cheap sandwiches under – of course – a white tent.

Because when in Iowa, you beer and bikes.

Another race done and another fun weekend with my husband.  We chat about races ahead, races behind and sometimes we just sit quietly.  I’m not sure what goes through his mind but sometimes I naturally find myself longing for the days when I was younger, faster.  That’s what happens when you’ve been doing the sport since 1998.  But at the same time, I know well enough to keep myself grounded in reality – the fact that I am 41 and still mixing it up with women 20 years younger than me and pros – this is not lost on me.  I realize that I’m not as fast but I’m fast enough to stay competitive and engaged.  And, more importantly, I still enjoy being a part of the game.

On to the next one!

 

Memphis in May

Somewhere south of Effingham, where the roads turn reddish brown and the sweet gum trees line the highway, the south welcomes me with a warm hug and much race success. Some of my best and favorite race memories have been in Texas, Alabama, Tennessee.  I like the south.  There, I said it.

The funny thing is, if you live in the north and tell someone something good about the south, they look at you, nose turned up, eyes narrowed, while saying cautiously:

Yeah, but the people.

I’m not quite sure what that means but as I walked into a gas station Saturday night to purchase Fig Newtons and Gatorade, I got a better idea as a woman declared to the entire store that a) although she was a burly, large woman (her words), she was not actually interested in women, b) which means she also didn’t understand why women might like women, and c) pointed to me and explained, “that there’s a pretty woman but I don’t want to be with her” and d) informed us that it was her good Baptist upbringing that taught her to make choices like that.

Needless to say, I exited without Fig Newtons and Gatorade.

“People”

A few weeks ago, Chris told me he was traveling solo to Memphis to participate in the Memphis in May triathlon.  I thought to myself, I need another 3 hour trainer ride like I need a hit to the head.  And so a plan was made.  I invited myself, dispersed the children and dog to assorted helpful relatives and signed up.

What’s better than one race?  How about two races – the “amateur challenge.”  That would be a sprint triathlon on Saturday followed by an Olympic triathlon on Sunday.  Since I have my sights set on doing the “double” at Nationals this year, I figured I would give it a go.

Early Friday, we embarked on the 590 mile drive to Memphis.  Chris equipped with his laptop to defend his colony of threatened citizens on War Robots, myself with a laptop to complete my work.  It was a drive we had completed countless times since 2003.  You see, back in the day (and please don’t ask me to define exactly when “the day” was – all that you need to know is that if you were around back in the day, you know precisely the moment in time I’m talking about) – back in the day, Memphis in May was THE triathlon that kicked off the start of the upcoming season.  It was a who’s who of the best amateurs and pros in triathlon.  Up to 2000 athletes use to participate.

(fun fact: even further back in the day, the amateur winners of the race got slots to the Ironman World Championship!)

We arrived early evening at Edmund Orgill Park.  After a quick and simple packet pick up, we took a walk around the lake.  I told Chris I hadn’t taken the time to give much thought to how I was actually going to race.  Chris then told me he doesn’t worry about the micro, just the macro.  A very Chris thing to say.  I asked for clarification.  Liz, I don’t worry about the details, I just do what I need to do to get to the race. That settles it, I’m going Chris Waterstraat for the race. Race plan written.  Show up and … well, race.

Race morning rolled around and we headed to the park.  Everyone was so – friendly.  By the time we had made it to transition we had made a new friend.  People say hi to each other, chatting it up, engaging in (GASP!) conversation.  After spending my last season racing the BIG races, it was refreshing to feel the spirit of homegrown triathlon.

With warm water, it was not wetsuit legal so I wore my new speedsuit (this time it did go above my knees).  With a time trial start, we lined up according to number which was given out based on when you signed up.  Unknowingly, Chris and I must have signed up within moments of each other because I was number 227 and he was number 228.  With a mere 3 seconds between us, I revised my race plan.

Run into water.  Wait 3 seconds.  Let Chris pull me for 500 meters.

That’s exactly how it went.  I can’t say I agree with the line my husband chose but I am impressed with this stealth-like ability to turn around a buoy.  I followed his feet until the last turn, lost the feet but kept on his distinct stroke just ahead.  We exited the water within 20 seconds of each other.

On to the bike.  Not surprisingly, after so many hours in the car on Friday, my bike legs felt flat.  I was moving along but never found a rhythm.  Chasing watts was difficult, I was passed by two women and I generally wanted to be off of my bike immediately.  The run was even worse.  Knowing that every second would count, I had to push when my legs didn’t want to push and didn’t ever feel “there.”  But I read an article recently about giving 100% of whatever you show up with on race day.  So I gave it 100% of the 1% I think I had as far as sprint race-ability on that day.

In the end, I finished 1st in my AG/4th overall.  Choked down a bunch of recovery powder and then discovered, sadly, that the best place for breakfast in Millington is an IHop (yuck?) before spending the rest of the day – imagine this!!! – relaxing.

It’s not a trip to Memphis without an Elvis sighting. This poor man had to stand around

in the heat & humidity of Memphis wearing polyester for two days.

Sunday morning.  Time for the Olympic.  I woke up feeling good, oddly like I didn’t even race.  Perhaps it was the scoops of recovery powder followed by the coach directed over 100 ounces of fluids.  But more likely what I’ve learned from coaching over the years.  Most athletes race short course better with a little work in their legs.  In fact, some of my best sprint races have been with a seriously negative training-stress-balance!

Overcast skies on Saturday meant the temperature dropped just enough to make Sunday’s race wetsuit legal.  Another time trial start.  Another start with Chris right behind me.  I ran into the water and again chose the cleanest line to the buoys.  Started swimming when I noticed someone coming up to the left of me plowing right through the line of chaos – meaning, everyone else.  That was Chris (afterwards: that swim course was a mess!  True, when you swim right through the middle of everyone!).  I picked up the pace to keep him in my sights but lost him before the last buoy.

After a decent swim, it was time to bike.  I knew the top woman from the swim started behind me so I tried to see how long I could stay ahead.  After 15 minutes, here she came.  And today instead saying, “There goes Kirsten S.!” I said “There’s Kirsten S., GO WITH HER!

Funny thing when you start to follow someone who is really, really fast.  You realize what makes them fast.  She pummeled those pedals like I’ve never seen and had impeccable handling – not missing a beat into or out of the corners.  For 15 minutes I played the game of chase, now holding watts over my sprint average from yesterday.  At some point, she pulled further away but the chase was what I needed to stay plugged into the race and ultimately also push a pace faster than the sprint too.  What can I say, it takes special talent to race an Olympic faster than a sprint.

And this is exactly WHY I need to race!

The run.  I forgot how hilly the course ends up being in Memphis.  After a run around the lake, you hit 2 decent enough hills that I wanted to tell myself – WOULD YOU STOP WHEEZING AND COUGHING (I seem to be allergic to everything in the month of May and spent the entire weekend coughing up the same piece of phlegm over and over again).  And, right before the turnaround – a relatively nasty hill just in case you were just starting to find your rhythm out there.

And just like yesterday, the race finished right along the levee where you run about 400 meters in grass with the finish line arch feeling like it was about 2 miles away.  I crossed the line 1st in AG/5th overall.  Good enough to secure my spot as 4th overall in the amateur challenge for both races.

Afterwards, we mingled with friends, old and new.  Chris had the pleasure of walking around as the rock star of the race as he took the overall win for the Olympic distance race and ultimately the amateur challenge.  Together, we went home with 4 awards and $650.

It took a few days to recover from but at a certain point, more training just becomes draining.  This is especially true once you’re over 40.  You have the base fitness, skill and drive.  You just need opportunities to put them together.  I’m glad I raced.  The lessons I learned – mentally and physically – out there were lessons I could not have learned in training.  Training is too comfortable these days.  Especially if you do most of your training solo or indoors, you miss out on the things that make for good racing – handling the conditions, dealing with adversity, staying engaged in the chase.  These are the things that take you to the next level – not hitting xxx watts on the trainer or x:xx pace on the treadmill.  While those things can definitely be confidence building, if you’re in control, it doesn’t always translate to racing.  Get out of control a bit, enter the discomfort zone and find out what you’re really made of.

On to the next race!

Always the Bridesmaid

It’s been awhile.

I’m still here, albeit busy working on a new project.  I’ve been trying to create a flow chart to help people decide if they should have 3 kids.

Do you like sleep?

If yes —– > DO NOT HAVE 3 KIDS.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten.

Two kids, two parents.  Feels easy.  Three kids, two parents.  Real feel = 100 kids.  In fact, I now realize why people who have 3 kids end up having 4, if not 6 kids.  At some point they said, f*ck it, we’ve completely lost control, might as well add more kids.

I remember thinking all of my friends with 3 kids who warned me about 3 kids were overexaggerating.  That somehow my endurance, strength of character, multitasking skills would make me exempt from the chaos of 3 children.  Until you live it and find out that every time you turn your back, they’re all off creating some sort of crime scene of destruction.  Your house becomes a mess of play doh, markers, sippy cups, baby wipes, socks, Goldfish and staples.

WHOSE IDEA WAS IT TO BUY THE 6 YEAR OLD A STAPLER!?

I’ve been training.  Can you blame me?  ESCAPE.

I’ve been training too much.  Not in the overtraining sense but in the sense of training too long without racing.  Worst advice I received after baby #3:  don’t put any pressure on yourself.  I’ve since realized that I operate well under pressure.  I need the pressure.  I should have lit a fire under my rear, gone big early and chosen some scary, out of my reach goal.  Instead I said, no pressure, I’ll ease back into it.  I’ve eased too much.  I need to race.

J-Hawk Sprint Triathlon (the “early bird” version – you’ll recall I did the “late bird” in September!).  Talk about easing into it.  A POOL SWIM.  But not just any pool swim race – the Wisconsin World Pool Sprint Triathlon Championship.

Packing for a triathlon – throw anything, everything into your race bag and hope it a) fits, b) works, c) is actually yours and not your husbands.  I traveled with my other Chris – not my husband Chris but another Chris – and drove north to Wisconsin.

I checked in.  I set stuff up.  With an 11 am start time, I wished I had more coffee.  I enjoyed something I don’t get often – two things, actually:  peace and quiet.  I sat in my car and did nothing.  As race time approached, I went into the lockerroom to get ready.  And that’s when things took a disturbing turn.

New race kit, new speedsuit.  Size small because I am, or was, small?  I know I’m not at race weight but at 5’2”, I would think compared to the general athletic population I am on the smaller side.

One would think.

I went to put on my race shorts, success!  I went to put on my race top and pulling it down over my shoulders I said, oh geez.  Snug would be one way to describe.  And the final drum roll please: my speedsuit.

It stopped at my knees.

Oh geez.

Just for good measure, I had brought along Chris’ speedsuit.  Remember, throw all things triathlon into the bag.  It’s hard to believe but apparently I am 5’2” with the build of a 160 pound man.  His medium speedsuit fit (sadly) nearly perfectly.

I swam.  Not fast but I swam.  I ran to my bike and then rode.  Not fast but I rode.  It was windy.  Very windy.  I have a new bike.  Because on race day, you should try EVERYTHING new, including a new never ridden outside bike.  With everyone starting in all different waves, I knew I had to go full tilt as much as possible.  Every second would count.  I set out on the run to try to run fast.  The now post baby #3 over age 40 Liz fast.  One day I will write an entire blog on fast over 40.  By the way – if you find fast over 40, catch it, put it under lock and key.  Lucky for me, unlucky for him, a random guy darted ahead of me and we started playing chase.  Up and over the small hills, grassy paths, trails, roots, bridge and turns.  I chased him for over 3 miles, huffing and wheezing behind him.  I was that person you cannot shake.  He went on to win the race, I went on to come in second overall – AGAIN.  Always the bridesmaid at J-Hawk.  No winner’s fleece for me.

I took my silver medal (whereas my other Chris took his AG win gold medal) and headed straight to one of my favorite places: Backyward Bikes.  Where you can indulge in good sandwiches and great Wisconsin beer.  Yes, Chris sat there wearing his gold medal.  It was ridiculous but also adorable to watch a 45 year old man so delighted because he won his AG for the first time.  It’s the little things!

As I get older, busier and deeper into life with (I swear there’s 3 dozen of them) kids, I’ve learned to enjoy days like this.  Days where it’s just about me.  Days where I can do something I enjoy without being interrupted.  You learn that even on the days where you’re not 100%, you give it 100% of what you’ve got because you have the opportunity.  That opportunity is truly a gift.  I also got to spend time with two of my athletes and best friends – Jen Harrison and Jenny Garrison.  One thing I’ve learned in the past year is that as life gets messier, you need good people to lean on.  They are two of my good people.  It’s of no surprise that Jenny won the Olympic race and Jen came in right behind her!

And now, it’s on to the next race.  Or, an adventure in seeing if my marriage can survive a few races and 1000 miles of driving in 3 days.  Stay tuned.

 

 

Memories from the Madness of a 24 Mile Ocean Swim

Multisport Mastery is pleased to share a race report from an athlete’s 2017 Tampa Bay Marathon Swim.  We’re so proud of Dan for being brave enough to set the goal & persistent enough to put the work behind it.  Congratulations on your accomplishment, Dan!

About Me

I swim, therefore I am (Descartes was almost right). I am a 53-year-old attorney from Chicago. I have been in a relationship with water almost as long as I can remember. My oldest friend, she has been with me through thick and thin. Like all long-term relationships, we have shared a great deal of love, but anger, even hatred, regret, and separation anxiety have also played their parts.  My parents enrolled me in my hometown’s private swim team at an early age. We swam year-round in long and short course pools, ran two practices per day, and competed all over the Midwest. We also had superb coaching. My pre-teen coach left to become the women’s head coach at the University of Nebraska. His successor left when I was in high school to become the men’s head coach at New Mexico State University. It was not until college before I realized how important water had become to me. Thank you, Pat Barry, head coach at Northwestern University, who coaxed me onto his swim team after enticing me through water polo. At a low point in my swimming life, I had not even told the university I knew how to swim. I made it about six months – the longest I have ever been away from the water – when he found me doing intervals by myself during open swim.

After college, I swam on my own through law school and competed in USMS for many years. I managed to stay in touch with decent times in my 20s and even thirties. However, I vividly remember picking up an award during the first day of the 2005 USMS Illinois state meet. Regardless of the placing in my age group, there was no denying I had become old and slow, sadly clinging to some part of my life that was clearly over. I left immediately, and I have not competed for time since. There followed a period where I attempted to swim for “fitness.” That proved unsuccessful and pointless. My attention then turned to long distance open water swimming.

About the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim

Now in its twentieth year, the event has grown in stature to become, in most people’s opinion, the fourth “World Major” of open water swimming. Like Manhattan, Tampa is an invitational. You cannot simply go online and register. It is also a qualifier, and an application will not be accepted without independently verifiable proof of a qualifying swim. Swum on Earth Day each year, it is the only one of the four that is a true race. The start is a walk-in from the beach at the Magnuson Cove Marina Resort at the mouth of Tampa Bay. The finish is at the Ben T. Davis Beach, which is at the north end of the bay. 24 miles of wind, waves, tides, and currents lie between. Tampa shares many features with the Channel, Catalina, and Manhattan in that the distances are comparable and it is a salt water swim (with all the special challenges that brings). All four are governed by the Channel Swimming Association rules: No wet suits and a bunch of other technical things – if you accidentally touch your support boat during a feeding it’s a DQ). But there are two unique things about Tampa. First, the water is considerably warmer than the others (77F this year compared to 59F when I swam in the Channel in 2012). Second, however, the swim date is fixed, and race conditions can be just about anything. When I first attempted this swim in 2014 the conditions were so poor that only six of eighteen solo swimmers managed to finish the race, and one of the support boats sank. This year, conditions were variable but generally okay.

About Coach Liz Waterstraat

I am very grateful to Coach Liz for taking an interest in me, my swimming, and my preparations for this event. It would have been much harder to reach this goal without her, and I question whether I would have succeeded at all. What is all the more amazing is that I never actually hired her to be my coach, and I wrote my own workouts. Nevertheless, she took an interest in my plans, and she became my coach in every sense of that word. Coaching is about much more than just writing workouts, and the experienced athlete is not always looking for that. Liz provided everything that a world class coach could. Apart from listening to my training rants, encouraging me through periods of doubt, and offering her insight on things like nutrition, Liz worked with me like a collaborator. She always gave me a sense that she had confidence in what I was trying to do and how I was trying to do it. Having someone of Liz’s caliber, both as an athlete and a coach, supporting me buoyed my spirits and confidence. Liz is a great swimmer in her own right, and we swam together enough for me to know it. That played a big part in her ability to inspire me. I can honestly say she became my swimming muse during those difficult times when things were not going well, and I was struggling to find answers. When the deadline for the race entry finally came, I was questioning whether I could be ready in time. Others told me that “Sometimes you have to make the smart decision.” Liz told me unequivocally to “Stay the path.” I sent in the entry fee that day.

Training and Preparation

To understand my preparation for this event, you need to go back to the previous summer. I decided to give Ironman a try and joined a team, which is how I met Coach Liz. During a course ride on June 18th, I suffered a fall. The injuries and their consequences were significant: A fractured scapula, four broken ribs, two fractured vertebrae (thoracic and lumbar), a punctured lung, and a lacerated kidney. Fortunately, none of the fractures required surgery, and they were not extremely painful (unless a sneezed). The biggest problem was that I developed bilateral “massive” pulmonary embolisms – blood clots in the lungs – within the first 24 hours after the injury. Those were amazingly debilitating, and I spent three nights in an ICU on oxygen. I was hospitalized for a week. Upon discharge, the pulmonologist somewhat matter-of-factly told me that I should get my affairs in order because a clot could break loose without warning and kill me. The only treatment was blood thinners and time. I emailed Liz not long after discharge and sent her something I had written about my life as a swimmer. I asked her to send it to someone should I die. Her response was very emphatic: That was not going to happen. It was the one of the most positive things I had heard in weeks.

For months, I could not walk more than two or three blocks without being completely winded and having to sit down and catch my breath. In September, the water started calling me and, against medical advice, I tentatively got back in. She could tell I was injured, but when I offered my hand, she took it, and together we started to work through the stiffness from the orthopedic injuries. I struggled to swim more than a few hundred yards at a time. Improvements came in distinct stages: one day I could not walk three blocks, the next I could walk for miles. I soon found some yardage, but I was unable to do flip turns for more than a few hundred yards. During this time, Liz was also getting back in the water after the birth of her third   child. She invited me to swim with her in Naperville, which was incredibly flattering to me. Finally, in early February, I had a 4,000 yard swim without being able to do more than 300 yards with flip turns, and the very next day I had a 5,000 yard swim doing all flip turns. I have no explanation for that, but it was like coming home after years in a foreign country.

The decision to do Tampa was not initially mine. I have known Ron Collins, the Race Director, since 2012 when he witnessed and supported my English Channel qualifying swim from a kayak off of Clearwater Beach. He has sent me a race invitation every year since. It arrived in December. I told my fiancée Stephanie, who is an open marathoner and Ironman All World Athlete. She took it upon herself to inform the race director that I would enter, purchase air fare, and make reservations at the Magnuson Cove Resort. She presented those to me as a Christmas present. The race was April 22nd, leaving just under four months get ready.

Considering that a swim like Tampa takes as long as an Ironman, it should not be surprising that a typical training program is eight months. 24 miles is about 42,250 yards. A traditional training program involves building up to a base of 32,000 – 35,000 yards per week and maintaining that for at least three months – long enough to work through the deep fatigue that such training stress can induce – before building up to a peak of around the actual event distance just prior to tapering into the swim. During a 24-mile swim, a swimmer will typically take more than 30,000 strokes, and you need to build up the muscles, joints, and ligaments to withstand that kind of stress. The rigors of the open water make that even more important because wave action necessitates all kinds of unanticipated lateral arm movements that stress your body in ways not encountered in a pool

With only four months to get ready, I would like to say that I sat down, worked out a training program, and religiously executed that program to a successful conclusion, but that would be untrue. Yes, I had a plan, and yes, I was very dedicated to the training, but the actual plan was only generally defined and somewhat fluid in its execution. My biggest concern was injury, since even the slightest shoulder or elbow injury would have dashed any chance of success. In that regard, my background and experience were invaluable. I relied on that to know how hard and how far I could push and still recover sufficiently to do it all over again the next day. Only experience can define the line between pushing through the tired soreness that can be present at the beginning of a swim (to break through and get in a solid workout), and going too far. Writing my own workouts gave me the freedom to listen to what my body and the water were trying to tell me, and adapt accordingly. I had specific goals for every single workout, both for distance and intensity. Most of the time, I was able to meet them. However, there were a couple of days when I was out of the water after only 1,000 yards. There were also days when the water showed me great kindness and I was able to exceed my goals. I took back-off half weeks (only three) when I needed the rest and recovery. What a coach that you respect can offer is confidence that you are on the right path and not just wandering aimlessly or stuck in a rut – that the goal is achievable. Coach Liz was superb in that regard.

My initial goal was simply to develop a base. Long distance swimming requires both a single swim base and a long-term base. The single swim base is like doing push-ups. If you struggle to do 20 push-ups, you will not make it to 30, but if you can do 50, then you can do 110. In open water, I feed every thirty minutes, which is a common strategy. In that time, I will be lucky to cover 2,000 yards. One might think that is the longest continuous swim necessary to prepare for such an event. In reality, the minimum continuous swim requirement is at least 6,000 yards. That’s get in the pool, warm up, and then swim 6,000 yards without stopping for anything. No food. No water. No bathroom breaks. While that’s not every practice (you still need some intensity), you need to get comfortable doing that. As you approach the race, that distance is going to double (although once you get to 7,000 yards, you will need to eat and drink something). The long-term base, as noted above, is typically in the mid-30,000 yards per week, and you need to get comfortable with that also. In the past, my preferred swim schedule has been 8,000 yard swims on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and a 10,000 yard swim on Saturday. Lots of yardage and lots of recovery time. For 2017, I set my initial sights much lower: 4,000 yard continuous swims and 20,000 for a weekly total. It took some time to get there. The race entry deadline (and its $2,100 entry fee, which includes your support boat) came up on February 15th. By that time, I was finally doing all flip turns, and my continuous swims were between 5,000 – 6,000 yards. They were not terribly comfortable. The weekly totals were still in the low 20,000s, limited by my ability to recover. I begged Ron for an extension, and he gave me to March 9th. I was making clear progress, but still lacked confidence I could be ready in time. By March 9th, things were still improving, with individual swims of 6,000 yards getting comfortable, but weekly yardage totals still in the mid-20,000s and still recovery limited. I had pulled together a qualifying swim, but just barely.

Standing at the crossroads and really not knowing which way to go, I reached out to Coach Liz. I could see that if things continued to improve, a successful swim was possible, but I did not fancy my odds, and anything – even just a cold – would derail my plans. It was then that Liz so unequivocally advised me to “Stay the path.” There was no doubt in her opinion. No hedging. She clearly had more confidence in me than I did at that point. Only an elite athlete and coach, who had knowledge of the above and my progress to date, could have convinced me to suck it up and make that commitment. I am so glad that she did.

The final six weeks of training were a brutal ramp up in yardage. My longest individual swims jumped up to 9,000, 10,000, and peaked with a swim of 12,000 yards. Weekly yardages increased linearly up to over 40,000 per week immediately before taper. My intake of Ibuprofen (“Vitamin I”) increased dramatically. I prefer a ten-day taper maintaining some intensity through the first week but cutting yardage back sharply (The last swim before leaving for Florida was only 2,000 yards). Throughout the build-up, I just had to be smart, listen to my body, listen to the water, but not be afraid of the increased physical stress. I had to trust that the base I had, although not ideal, was sufficient to carry me through. The potential for deep muscle fatigue was a concern, and I hoped I could avoid it.

In addition to swim training, consideration must be given to the unique requirements for spending hours in salt water. People are supposed to be more buoyant in the ocean. Perhaps because of the wave action, however, I have never noticed much of a difference. If you only spend an hour or two in it, you might conclude that ocean swimming is similar to fresh water swimming except for the vile, nauseating taste of the salt. If you spend more time in it, the differences become bigger. There are seemingly little things, like chafing. You will chafe a lot more in the ocean, and in places where you would not in fresh water. Products like Vaseline will disappear in an hour or two. Most people use some kind of grease or a mixture of Vaseline and hydrolyzed Lanolin. The biggest difference involves nutrition. Normally, you need to ingest enough electrolytes to replace those lost through perspiration. In the ocean, you get a lot of electrolytes from the sea. Products intended for runners, bikers and fresh water swimmers are loaded with salt, and they will eventually nauseate you and drain your energy if consumed during an ocean swim. It is impossible to keep the salt completely out of your mouth, and the odd “rogue wave” will get ingested. If you swallow a wave, you need to puke it out immediately. Even if you just fed, get it out and re-feed. In time, the salt will sting the roof of your mouth and make your tongue feel like it is fat and blistered. A friend’s tri coach told me about a company called Infinit Nutrition. Based on past experience, I devised a custom low sodium mix for ocean swimming with them. Again, Coach Liz was very helpful in this regard. I had data about caloric burn (about 1,100 Calories per hour – 15,000 for the whole swim) and fluid loss. Her advice on replacement strategy proved spot on and was the basis for the formula I concocted. It worked well all day supplemented with some solids, orange slices, and watermelon cubes.

The Swim

I got my boat assignment a week before the race, and spoke with Captain Phillip on the phone. I learned he had a great deal of experience with the tides and conditions in the bay. He had also supported swimmers in prior years. The situational awareness he provided proved critically important. Stephanie (my “crew”) and I flew out on Thursday night (The race was on Saturday). Watching the weather all week, it looked okay. However, Friday morning dawned overcast, windy and choppy. We went shopping at the local Publix grocery store for supplies and noted that, unlike in 2014, the local tornado sirens did not go off. That had to be a good sign. I briefly debated getting in the water, but decided against it and just tried to stay out of the blazing Florida sun that eventually came out in the early afternoon.

The safety meeting was Friday night at the resort. It was good to meet the other swimmers, both soloists and relays. There were a lot of serious, famous people in the room: Marcia Cleveland, who wrote “Dover Solo,” the bible for English Channel swimmers; a woman who had swum the Channel over a dozen times and was training to swim from Dover to Dunkirk (40+ miles); and an Australian man who had, in stages, swum the Amazon, Danube, Yangtze, and Mississippi rivers from head to delta. None of them were making a solo attempt at Tampa this year, and most were doing relay legs. The river swimmer was kayaking for a very serious soloist from Houston who had won the SCAR lake swim series (36 total miles). I obviously did not belong in the same room with any of them, but I tried not to show it.

After the meeting, I discussed tides and currents with Phillip (about more later) before having my traditional carb loading dinner at IHOP. Yes, I know, and Stephanie complained, but it’s what I ate before my first ever ocean swim in 2012. I went to bed early and actually got a decent night’s sleep. We were up at 6:00 to load the boat. The boats then leave the marina and take up station about a quarter mile off shore for safety. If you have kayak support, the kayaks can come in close to shore, but I prefer to feed off of the support boat proper and not have a kayaker. The wind was already up to 7 mph, the water was starting to get choppy. Each support boat flies a numbered flag designating its swimmer. While scanning the horizon trying to figure out which boat was mine, I encountered an old college friend who lives in Tampa. He is now a Masters coach, and he was helping a relay with transportation. We were both surprised to see each other, but there was virtually no time to converse.

Stepping into the water, I experienced an eerie moment of silence where it seemed I was all alone with the water. I knew exactly what was coming, and had resigned myself to it. I told the water I needed her help. Sometimes I can hear her clear as day. If she answered then, her reply was overwhelmed by a megaphone announcing the race would begin in ten seconds. Goggles on, try to anticipate both the temperature and initial shock of the salt. Remember to ride the waves and not fight them. Suddenly I’m swimming.

The first five or so miles are due east, and the wind was also out of the east. It gradually rose in intensity to around. 10 – 12 mph. The sky was a little overcast, and the water was rough. I poached the river swimmer’s kayak for navigation until my support boat found me, swimming on the opposite side from his swimmer. Although about a mile off shore at that point, there are sandbars, and at times my fingertips were touching the sea grass growing up from them. That only makes the chop worse. I made the first and probably the most important tactical decision of the day about a mile and a half into the swim. If you look at a map of Tampa Bay, it looks something like the letter “Y”. The finish is near the top of the western branch. There is a natural constriction of the bay where it branches, which is exacerbated by the first of two bridges that must be passed: The Gandy Boulevard Bridge (“The Gandy” to the locals). Much of that “bridge” is actually a causeway, leaving a relatively narrow span for the water to pass between the two lobes of water above and below it. The incoming morning tide slowly fills the upper lobe. When the tide shifts, the upper lobe cannot drain easily. Like sand through an hourglass, the outgoing tide is very fast through the bridge until the levels eventually equalize. Captain Phillip told me I really needed to be at The Gandy by 1:00 to avoid that phenomenon when the tide shifted at 2:00. Unfortunately, I am old and slow, and that bridge is something like seventeen miles into the swim. I had my doubts about being able to get to in in time even under ideal conditions. The early chop was beating me up, and I decided to back off the pace. I paid for it later, but I don’t think I would have finished had I kept pushing so early. The two soloists that beat me both made it to the Gandy by 1:00. Pretty impressive.

As the course turned to the north, things started to improve. The sun came out. The winds died down. The water smoothed out considerably. I was swimming past St. Petersburg in good spirits when some kind of a fish attacked me. I never saw it, and I was later told it was a remora trying to attach itself to my legs. It attempted that for about twenty minutes, and I managed to kick it away each time. I also saw several rays and heard dolphins clicking. I only saw one dolphin swimming near the bottom about thirty feet below me on a perpendicular course. It was startlingly fast, and at first I thought it was going to hit me. I didn’t even figure out what it was until it had already passed. It was probably doing 25 knots!

Along the way, I just tried to focus and execute my plan to swim within myself and maintain efficiency. The water will speak to you if you listen hard enough, and tell you what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong. You need to adapt to what she and your body are telling you. People tell me it must take mental toughness to do such a swim. I like to think the mental part is just attitude. You have to stay positive. You can’t let physical pain or apparent lack of progress get you down. Your training, preparation, and prevailing conditions are either sufficient or they are not. Mental toughness might get you that last mile or two, but it won’t get you 24 miles. Getting down or depressed or developing a negative attitude will end your swim very quickly. I gave Stephanie a swim coach’s stop watch with a stroke counting feature: Measure three strokes and get a stroke per minute rate. It’s easy to subconsciously increase stroke rate by cheating on efficiency. Dropping an elbow during the pull or shortening your stroke will get you more breaths per minute, but it will also burn you out. I am unable to “zone out” in the water, and feel that every stroke is precious. If I need something more to keep my mind occupied, I count strokes. 425 left arm strokes per 30-minute feeding cycle, I learned, but the focus is always on the swimming. As the race wore on, I started paying for my lack of base building. Bilateral shoulder and right elbow pains set in. Nevertheless, it was manageable, and I never felt I was in danger of doing structural damage. My nutrition was also working. Some people drink on a schedule with a set volume of fluid per time. Having tried that, I prefer to drink to thirst. Stephanie monitored my intake and adjusted the strength of my mix accordingly to ensure I was getting the nutrition I needed. I was able to stay reasonably strong all day thanks in large part to her efforts.

My feedings are done off the side of the boat. I use two traditional water bottles like you would have on a bike. One has regular water and the other my mix. I use the first to rinse my mouth out and spit. Repeatedly. I drink the second. Being next to the boat, instead of a kayak, is great because everything is there. It’s like a refrigerator for you, and you can ask for whatever you think sounds good at that moment. Solids are passed by either a bucket on a pole or by fishing net. I prefer the latter. You cannot grab or hold onto the net, but you can see what is in it. I use one hand to support the food from below and push it up. I grab it with the other. I often rinse my hand and the food with plain water before eating it. Your ability to tolerate solids decreases as the swim goes on and the salt irritates your mouth and throat. Early on you can eat bites of things like nutrition bars or even mini Snickers bars to supplement the mix. Later on I use peanut butter and jelly pockets (They come frozen in the grocery store) that can just slide down your throat.

As I feared, I did not reach the Gandy by 1:00. In fact, I was a mile south of it at 2:00 – Probably the worst place to be. The next four hours were like swimming in an Endless Pool. I made 0.4 knots against the current and managed only two miles during that time. When the current was at its strongest, I drifted backwards 0.2 miles during a single feeding. Captain Phillip was very helpful and advised me that once the water levels above and below the bridge evened out, things would improve significantly. It was just time to get to work. The water was still pretty flat. The finish was only six or seven miles away. I swam at what felt like a 1:30/100 yard pace for those four hours (I’m sure it was slower). I swam under The Gandy at the peak of the outgoing tide, which was actually kind of cool. Fortunately, Phillip was right (I knew he was) and the tide finally abated. All I had to do was swim in the last five miles from there. During that time, a storm brewed up. We saw lightning and heard thunder, but it stayed to the west of us and the winds were only moderate for less than an hour. The sun set shortly before I finished, and it was beautiful to see from eye level in the water. Phillip’s boat had lights, and it was easy to follow in the dark.

Finally, fourteen hours and twenty six minutes into the swim, my fingers hit bottom. It was sand. I looked up and saw the buoys that mark the finish line. They were right in front of me. It was kind of anticlimactic in a strange way. We had previously agreed that I would swim to the left hand side of the course so Stephanie could enter the water and we could walk out together, hand in hand. That was a high point for both of us. Obviously, I could not have done the swim without her help on race day and her support while training. We walked out of the water, met the Race Director, posed for a picture, and I sat down.

I was a little woozy for a while on the beach and again getting out of the car back at the resort, but I felt much better the next day. Despite slamming lots of Vitamin I, I could not raise either arm above my shoulders. The right elbow was also stiff and painful. However, in the days following, both shoulders recovered fully. The elbow took longer, with mild residual pain while swimming hard after two weeks. However, I will be fine.

Lessons Learned

Although I had more in race and residual pain than usual, I was surprised (favorably) by my response to the large increase in training stress during the six weeks leading up to the swim. I did not develop deep muscle fatigue, and I tapered really well. Discussing that with Coach Liz afterwards, she advised me some professional Ironman athletes do something similar. I also remembered that during Christmas break training in college, where outrageous swim volumes and weight training were put into a two week period, people often set fast times in meets shortly thereafter. I still think the traditional training program is my preference, but I may modify those last six weeks to add more stress (should I be crazy enough to do something like this again).

 

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