Sunday, April 25, 2010

RocketChix Redemption!

FitBirds and Sputniks

So a week has passed since the New Orleans Half-Ironman. I have had time to contemplate my race and lick my wounds. It has not been easy to think back on all of the things I "wished" I had done, but was not able to execute. I am still pleased with my ability to persevere with the swim (if you can call it that), but I am bummed that I couldn't pull it together to finish in the style I desired. Having said that, it is over and I can't go back, so this will be my last time mentioning it. The question now is where do I go from here? I am still chewing on my options and discussing my future race plans with my coach, but I think it is just a matter of time before I bite off another piece of the ironman and give it another go. I can't go through the rest of my life with a half-done half-ironman. It's not officially been checked off my bucket list, and I still haven't earned my peanut butter shake (long story).

Monday, April 19, 2010

New Orleans 70.3 Race Report

Let me just preface this long post with a short summary for those that are curious to know the outcome of this race, but who don't really want to read my long-winded report: I did cross the finish line and receive a medal, but I did not "officially" finish as I was not able to do it within the eight hours. I know that to those of you who do not "do" triathlons and to even some who do, this detail may to you mean nothing less of an accomplishment for me, but for me and many in the "elite" group of true finishers, it is not the same. I am truly respectful of those that finished within the time frame, because it is really quite a feat. I am proud of myself for what I did accomplish, but I do recognize the difference. If the time didn't matter, then there would be no "cut-off". I do appreciate everyone's kudos for my efforts, but please excuse me if I downplay my enthusiasm over having just "finished". Now with that having been said, I hope I can entertain you with my race report, as I had plenty of time to write it in my head during the last three hours of my race! So here goes:

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday: Packet Pickup Day!

The pre-race excitement has begun! This morning Fitbird Team 70.3 (minus Kristin) headed out around 7:30 to New Orleans. Once we arrived we drove to transition for a quick look to see where the swim entrance and exits were going to be. For once we were not chased off by security.  As you can see, some of our team was a bit enthusiastic about race simulation...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

FitBird Send Off Party

Thanks again to all my awesome Fitbird teammates who came out to support those of us racing this weekend. It truly means so much to me to have your support and encouragement. I have never been so blessed as to have such a diverse group of close friends who are genuine in their interest in each other. I had so many laughs tonight rehashing old training stories and sharing special moments with my peeps. Thank you to all who showed, called, and are planning to attend the race. You guys are really the best tri team out there!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Countdown To New Orleans 70.3: Three days left!

I feel the need to update my blog since the race is in the foreseeable future, my emotions are on a rollercoaster, and so much is happening these last few days! My plan is to pop out a quick blog update for the next few days until I leave for New Orleans. Then I may have to wait and send out my pre-race saga and my post-race saga when I get back. After that, I am not sure what will happen to my blog because the rest of the summer seems kind of a let down in a sense with my "A" race having come first...but I am sure I will think of something...afterall, I still have the Santa Rosa tri to look forward to in the fall and I am sure this "girl's" trip will be one for the memory book. But that will have to wait for now...

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Week Nineteen: Git R Dun

"I have a choice. To choose to do it or to choose not to. Saying I will try is allowing me an option for failure. So I choose to do it. It may be ugly, but I will do it. I've worked too hard not to."
 Le Cougre's final decision after contemplating another failed attempt at the OWS

And that's all I have to blog about today.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Week Eighteen: The Resurrection of the Wetsuit

Confidence: Assurance; freedom from doubt; belief in yourself and your abilities

So let's just assume the opposite of confidence would mean a total loss of belief in one's self and abilities; obsession with fears of failure; a mind full of self-doubt and loathing. That's what I had become after my hellacious open water swim last Sunday.

The experience was so bad for me that I truly thought of walking away and throwing in the towel on this whole triathlon journey. I truly hit rock-bottom on the confidence meter. I thought I had had rough training weeks before, and knew I had been troubled before by my performance in the pool, long rides on the bike, and during the initial build of my run. But this was different. This was debilitating.

I have never been so embarrassed by my lack of performance in any area of my life before. I was a thrashing, tantrum throwing, splash at the water, cursing, freak-out on Sunday. I was pissed at my lack of ability to 'just swim' and to 'just breath(e)'. I was a dramatic, crying baby and I detest drama. I had become what I loathed. I was overwhelmed at even the thought of attempting a long distance swim in the river. I was convinced I couldn't do the distance just by looking at it. I was afraid I'd fail. In fact, I think I knew I'd fail. I had defeated myself even before I had left the house.  I knew my issues and how I'd probably react, but I couldn't HTFU to get through them, and that even made me angrier.

And so it began. The raging snowball turned avalanche. What began as a cut to the core of my swim, quickly turned into an out of control infection that was permeating every aspect of my life. Monday I was so worn down from the experience I couldn't even make a plan for the week. By Tuesday it had affected my run, and my scheduled 1 hour run turned into a 20 minute push to just do something. Luckily I didn't have a long bike scheduled early in the week, because it would have attacked that too. I didn't have the energy to train, and I lost my desire to continue. What was the point in it all if I couldn't do the first part of the race? I was beat-down and utterly demoralized. I was hopeless.

By Wednesday I had picked myself up enough to consider my options for continuing. I knew my only hope was to get into the water as quickly and as frequently as possible and to keep trying. It couldn't get any worse. Truly. Even drowning would be an improvement.

Lizzard empathized with my plight as she too struggled with her own water issues. She became pro-active and started researching everything she could find to get tips on coping with open water, and in particular, cold water anxiety. She found us a swim clinic that was being held in Lake Ponchartrain the following day. I figured it was worth a try.

We decided we were going to make an adventure out of it. You see, Lizzard and I have a brain that is a bit more centered on creativity than most. We don't work well with the just "get in and swim" mentality. You must first build a story, set a scene, build the characters. We have an inner child that we like to bring along on our adult outings, and this child refuses to be left behind. If you do, she tends to throw tantrums. So we set off on building our adventure:

We decided to leave early enough on Thursday so that we wouldn't be rushed or stressed to get down to New Orleans in time for the 5:30 p.m. clinic. On the drive we had time to discuss our fears, what worked, what didn't, and Lizzard shared her tips for potential success that she had read about. She gifted me with a "squid lid" as she had learned that they can increase your core body temperature by about 5 degrees. She also came prepared with ear plugs, vaseline, body glide, and an assortment of mental techniques to combat the cold water.

Our first technique was simple. Go to the Yacht Club and get lit before we swim. Okay, maybe not lit, but we decided one toddy might help to take the edge off. We both admit that this technique is not one that is highly recommended, as usually alcohol and open water are not an encouraged union, but we figured until we were proven wrong, our approach was no worse off than the one we tried at False River.

We pulled into the Yacht Club and made our way to the second floor deck with Lemon Drops in hand. We sat and looked out over the water and gradually the scene began to change. 

This is what we saw pre-martini:

And this is what we saw post-martini:

Score goes to Lemon Drop.

The confidence began to build. Some may call it liquid courage, but I like to think of it as putting high octane fuel in the tank instead of relying on the cheap gas. It has to make a difference in performance. 

It must have showed that we were starting to feel good, because we became the target for a sweet young buck to make his moves on us. 

This is what we saw...

This was our reality...
(Lemon Drops Score again, I think we're on to something here.)

We still have time to ease over to the swim hole, donn our wetsuits, and stick to our plan that includes "playing" in the water. We say goodbye to our new friend and load up and head to the site. We're nervous but excited and feel like the opening act of our adventure has gone well. Now we need to add some characters to the play.

The GNO Tri group is already there when we pull up and they are grouped together as they change into their wetsuits. We are unsure as to how we will be received, but decide to break the ice and join in. To our delight everyone is extremely nice and inviting and we are immediately accepted into the group. The clinic is led by Keith, an obviously talented and experienced triathlete who states he has taught many swim clinics. The atmosphere is good and he is very adept at explaining the plan for the clinic and at relieving the fears of many of the swimmers, present company included, who have never swam in open water, or are afraid of it. He discusses the natural tendency to panic in cold water in particular, and shares what this sensation feels like, and ways to control it. He splits the group of thirty+ swimmers into experienced and novice and lets the more advanced swimmers take the lead.

Already the experience is going well. There is time to adjust to the water, mentally and physically. We are able to walk into the water from the concrete steps that surround the levee. It's cold but it doesn't take the breath out of you the way it did jumping in off of the dock at False River. We were encouraged to get moving, but not to swim right away. We put our faces in the water and blew bubbles, or yelled, or just forced out the air in our lungs, all of which helped to ward off the panic that comes with that sudden blast of ice cold water hitting your face. I had taken Lizzard's advice and donned my squid lid (which all of the other swimmers had as well) and I also put in some earplugs. The water was cold, but tolerable once I dunked my face in it a few times.

The course was marked on one side by pile-ons that were in the water every 50 yards or so, and by a buoy rope that had been set out which was about 600 yds in length. The plan was to swim one direction in between these two landmarks, then circle around the buoy rope and swim back. One lane was too deep to stand in, but the return trip was more shallow and allowed you to stand if you needed. Just the knowledge of this improved my anxiety level tremendously.

So we swam. I was actually swimming. I found myself falling into a rhythm of breathing and stroking that kept me progressing forward. I rounded the buoys and kept swimming. By the second lap I had a grin on my face underwater and I could feel the weight lifting off of my shoulders. By the third lap I was elated. Oh my God, I can swim. We paused after the third lap to ask questions as a group, and then someone pointed out there was still time to swim if anyone wanted to. Lizzard and I looked at each other, grinned, and swam another lap. All in all, we swam about 2400 yds. When we finished, we realized that most of the group was gone and had never even chosen to do that last lap. We were giddy with our success, and I felt hope for the first time in almost a week.

We loaded up, headed to the Yacht Club to shower (as this complemented the adventure) and stopped for Five Happy's Chinese for dinner. We talked about our success, what worked, what we would do differently next time, and how making it an adventure really set the scene for success.

I slept well that night, for the first time in days. We had made a step forward. I knew that I still wasn't ready for the real swim, as I had a lot of security blankets around me that I wouldn't have on race day, but at least I had a taste of success.

Friday came and we decided we needed to replicate the positive and continue building the story. This time the adventure would include some of our FitBird peeps. Linda and Kristen came along to join in our swim. We made it to the swim hole by around 3:30. The weather had changed and the sun and perfectly calm water had been replaced by clouds, some gusts of wind, and a moderate chop to the water. The buoys were gone, as were the members of the tri group. The variables were changing, but I still had the comfort of the pile-ons to site off of and the sandy shore nearby if it was needed.

We gave our peeps a brief tutorial on what we were finding worked for us, and then set out into the water. It didn't take me too long to get moving this time. I swam about a quarter mile, turned and began the swim back. I wasn't panicking, but did find I was having trouble adjusting to swimming into the chop. I was getting water in my mouth with every few breaths, and the sensation of being knocked in the head by the waves was making me tense. I decided to pull over to the shallow ground, calm myself, and then try to practice ways to combat the waves. I finished my loop, but chose to sit out on another lap and instead became "one" with the water. I wasn't as elated at my performance as I had been the day before, but I didn't beat myself up about it either. I know that this is hard for me, for whatever deep internal reason, and I just have to take it slowly. I have a few more opportunities to get in the lake between now and race day and will just have to make the best of it. All I know is that I am 100% better than I was last week.

The swim came to an end and we dried off, warmed up our hypothermic Linda, and got our bikes ready to ride. We had an hour scheduled and so we took off to explore. This in particular kept my inner child very happy. We found a great curvy bike lane that ran along the lakeshore that was filled with great turns, wildflowers, and beautiful scenery. I completely became enthralled with the ride and hated that it had to end. Ah, the joy was returning.
To end the adventure, we headed back to the Yacht Club, took a warm shower and met Lizzard's wonderful husband Kevin and daughter Ann for dinner. We celebrated with a cocktail and a good meal and a few laughs. Home by eleven.

It's been a long week. I miss my family. I have had long days and long nights trying to get back on track with my training. I feel under the gun to get a grip on my swim, but am hopeful that it will be there for me by race day. I am still not getting it all in. I should have run 2.5 hours today but early morning rain and the need to be with my kids won out. I hope that I can complete tomorrow's bike and run as planned. All I know is that I am hopeful again, and grateful that my confidence is beginning to return. I am starting to realize what a huge undertaking preparing for this event has been and still is. I am scared. I am excited.