Alright then – as long as I don’t throw up on my shoes I’ll be juuuust fine. That’s much less pressure!
Alright then – as long as I don’t throw up on my shoes I’ll be juuuust fine. That’s much less pressure!
July 19 – the second open water swim with my Team in Training (TNT) crew. We all know about the first one and how that went, so – even though I swam great in the Hudson a few weeks ago – I started the trek to Coney Island that morning with an uneasy feeling in my stomach and nerves that were acting like I was on my way to the guillotine. I originally planned to meet some TNT folks and ride my bike to the beach with them, but decided not to at the last second because I wanted to just concentrate on the swim and not worry about being tired from the ride, where to stash the bike while I swam, and the logistics of getting back to the city after the morning at the beach was over. Instead, I met other team members at the last car of the Q at Union Square at 6:30am. One of the guys on the train with me was in the tapering phase of training for an Ironman that he was doing in 8 days in Lake Placid. I guess his 2.4 mile swim was a bit more intimidating than my 0.93 mile swim. What a show-off. (Seriously though – that is so impressive and I hope to get there one day, too!)
When we got to Coney Island, I immediately wished that I had a sweater and was glad to put on my wetsuit. It was 7:20am, cloudy and chilly and I was shivering from either the air temperature or my nerves. Or both.
Such a little drama queen, right?
We pulled on our wetsuits on the boardwalk and then headed onto the beach for a Mission Moment – a reminder of why we are doing this in the first place. A team member gave a bit of background about her battle with cancer and chemo as a kid, and then talked about how she had run into her hospital roommate years later on a subway in Boston. Both were doing well, working impressive jobs and living. She emphasized living, saying that it’s not all about the money and effort that goes into treating and finding cures for cancer, it’s also about the lives that are given back when the cancer goes into remission. The lives that can then live to do great things and potentially change the world – which is something that they may not have been able to to without organizations like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) and donations through Team in Training. And how every penny is valuable, useful and appreciated. (Don’t forget to visit my fundraising page and read more about my story: http://pages.teamintraining.org/nyc/nyctri14/meredith)
Then it was time for the water. It was a bit warmer than last time, and this time around we just swam on our own within the group – no buddies to swim with. I high-fived one of my friends while we told each other than we would be fine and we ventured into the water, just after one of the coaches gave us all a warning that there were tons of jellyfish lurking about.
For some reason it is hard for me to breathe out at first when I put my face in the open water. Maybe it’s the cold or the movement of the current or something, but I have to really force myself to breathe that air out for the first 3-5 times before I settle into it. But I think it could also be some kind of natural response to something – I find that I hold my breath way more often than I should when I am punching in Muay Thai, lifting at the gym, or even hitting a tennis ball.
We jumped right into swimming – no acclimating to the water or slow warmups like last time. We swam in a rectangle – out pretty far, then parallel to the shore, then down toward the shore and back parallel in the shallow part until we got to where we started. To be honest, I kept my head above the water for a lot of this drill. But I concentrated on my form, specfically my arms, and slowed myself down when I felt myself overdoing it Otherwise I would be totally exhausted by the time I finished. “Keep your head down, little girl!” I heard a friend yell out to me. Oops, I had been spotted and called out. Couldn’t let that happen again! We did a few more drills in that rectangle and broke into smaller groups so that we could start in 15-second intervals like we would do on triathlon day. I was feeling alright. Still nervous, still a little anxious, but good. (And proud of myself, too.)
Then the coach told us that we would swim the rectangle for 40 minutes straight and that at no time were we to be in water where our feet could touch the bottom. I can’t imagine what the expression on my face must’ve looked like when he said that, but a wave of panic swept over me. 40 minutes? In the ocean. With the waves. In a place where I couldn’t touch the bottom. With the jellyfish. And the tons of other swimmers all around me. Ok. Maybe triathlons aren’t my thing. Maybe I got a little overzealous with this whole idea and am just not ready. Maybe I’m a duathlon girl. Let me run a marathon instead. An ultramarathon, even. Is it too late to bow out gracefully? Tell everyone that I was just kidding about this whole thing? Admit defeat and move on?
I swear I’m not always such a drama queen, but the thought of 40 minutes nonstop in the ocean brought out a 6 year old scaredy cat and I felt stuck between fight or flight. Luckily I am not one to admit defeat easily and was definitely not going to be the person to bow out. No way. I’ll fight over flight any day. The mantra that the coaches have been telling us since day one, drilling into our minds and repeating over and over again in weekly training emails came into my head. I am strong. I am alive. I will thrive. Not just survive.
I took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. I am strong. I am alive. I will thrive. Not just survive.
I had this.
There’s nothing scary about the water. When I was a kid I would’ve given anything to be Ariel from the Little Mermaid and could spend days in the water. Maybe I didn’t have the cool mermaid tail but I had an awesome wetsuit. Lycra superhero (as one of the coaches put it). I got to the beginning of one of the lines and was in the 3rd group to enter the water. We swam out to where one of the coaches was treading water and acting as a buoy and went around him. Then all the way to the other side of the embayment where another coach was also treading water making sure that no one cut any corners. Back down the short side of the rectangle and then all the way back to where we had started. And repeat. I settled into a calm rhythm of stroke, breathe, stroke, breathe – turning my head for a breath on every left stroke. I passed some people, others passed me, but at no time did I try to compete with anyone. As far as I was concerned it was just me in there. (At one point though a family began their day at the beach and I had to swim around the grandma as she waded or did her Silver Sneakers water exercises or whatever she was doing.)
I loved being a little mermaid, but after some time I wondered how much longer until those forty minutes were up. I had done several rectangles and had no idea if 8 minutes had passed or 38. I was also a little nauseous from all the movement of the waves combined with continuously turning my head to breathe. I started the short leg of the rectangle and heard the coach whistle and yell that 40 mins were up – time to get out of the water!
I got out of the water, quickly tried to turn my water legs back into land legs, reunited with my crew and got out of my wetsuit. I was freezing and shivering and my head was a bit dizzy, but I was smiling and ready for the 5 mile boardwalk run. I threw on my shoes, turned on the Nike+ app on my phone and ran. Since most of us had our race gear on under our wetsuits so that we could practice swimming in what we would be wearing on the actual day, the boardwalk was covered with purple LLS and TNT race tops, shorts, headbands, you name it. It was pretty amazing actually. I can only imagine how many more of us will be there on the actual day.
So – the swim was a success, the run was great, and all that was left was fries from Nathan’s and a cold Coney Island Mermaid pilsner. Done and done.
Triathlon day is less than 2 weeks away and I feel ready. I am so excited to wear my purple, to jump into the Hudson, to get the adrenaline rush that comes with races (which I can only imagine is intensified for triathlons), to be a part of something bigger than I am, to swim, bike and run for my grandma, for the fighters, survivors and victims of cancer. To be able to say, after months of training, that I am a triathlete.
What? You didn’t think I would let a couple weeks go by without doing another race, right?
Last Saturday morning, bright and early with 71% humidity, was the 4th annual Boomer’s Cystic Fibrosis Run to Breathe 4 mile run. Named for Boomer Eslason, an NLF Hall of Famer, this race originally started out as a 10k but has since been shortened so that more individuals with CF could participate. Katharine’s friend from college died from CF so I was doing this race with him in mind. I had only met him a handful of times, but even one time was enough to know that he was someone special and one of the most hilarious people out there. So here’s to you, Ian.
(Kath and Ian circa 2005.)
The race was in Central Park (like the last few) and so I was very familiar with the course. No sweat. It was a beautiful morning (even with all that humidity) and every good weekend should start with a run. I went down my usual checklist as I was walking to the park:
– Nike+ watch? On my wrist and linking sensors
– Phone? Strapped to my arm
– Earbuds? No, totally forgot about them
– Runner number 6651 (formerly known as runner 4929)? Right next to me
– Race bib? 3654 was proudly sprawled across my shirt
– Vivobarefoot sneakers? Absolutely
Ok so far I was doing much better than the previous race!
6651 and I were in separate corrals and so, having already decided that whoever was in the faster one wouldn’t slink back so that we could start together, we walked for as long as we could together before heading to our respective starting places. The course was pretty much the same as the last couple races I’ve done. It started on the east side just south of the Cat Hill, went counterclockwise up to and through the 102nd street transverse, down the west side, and to71st Street and ended near the bandshell.
Ok – so we started and headed up to the Cat Hill. My pace was good but I knew I wouldn’t be shattering any records that day, which was fine because I knew that 6651 would be. As long as one of us had a record breaking day then it would be all good!
The humidity was pretty brutal but I chugged along, sweating out the vegan pizza and wings I had the night before. (Vegan or not, if you’re ever in Long Island make it a point to stop by 3 Brothers Pizza. I promise it will be worth it.) Miles one and two went off without a hitch. Just a little girl and the pavement – one of the most freeing feelings out there. My legs started to feel a little tired around mile 2.5 for some reason, but I pushed it out of my mind and was fine by mile three – just in time to sprint the last mile!!
I turned onto the 72nd Street transverse and looked up ahead to see the finish line. I love to see that thing in the distance. I’ve run a ton of races, all different lengths, and the first sight of the finish line looming up ahead is like magic. I hope it always feels like that. I got one last bit of adrenaline (which happens every time, whether I run a 5k or a half marathon) and really picked up my speed. According to my trusty Nike+ watch I crossed the finish line in 32:48 – an 8:05 pace. I grabbed some water, wiped away the sweat that was dripping off of me, and searched for 6651, who did great – records were shattered! We rewarded ourselves with a NYRR plum and headed home to register for some more races!
In other news – today was the second Team in Training open water swim, but you’ll have to wait a day or two to hear about how that went! At least you know that I didn’t drown in the mighty Atlantic. And tomorrow is TWO WEEKS until the triathlon. How is that even possible?!
Ok, so we all know that I’ve been stressing the swim part of this triathlon. And it’s definitely no surprise that the stress grew after the first open water swim last month. Since then I have been swimming a ton in the pool – usually before work. I feel great there, but every time I swim there is a nagging voice inside my head that reminds me the pool isn’t the Hudson River. Sure you can swim here, it tells me, but what about when you add in the current? Or the other people? The murkiness of the water? The temperature difference? What if you freeze up and make yourself panic again like you did in the ocean? What if…
Yeah. Sometimes those nagging voices are mean SOBs. But seriously – what about all that stuff? Those things had potential to totally ruin my whole triathlon experience. I knew that, even though there is no doubt in my mind that I will finish the tri and cross the finish line with a smile on my face, I would remember it with an asterisk that would always remind me that I could have done better if there was some kind of swim-related snag. (I know, I know – just completing it should be enough, but I also know myself and am way too stubborn and competitive with myself be happy with “just” finishing.)
Since this is my first triathlon there will be bumps along the way – I get that – but if there is a way to begin to smooth them out now, I’ll do it. And really – what better way to tackle the fear than to face it head on, right? So last Saturday I didn’t go to the pool. I didn’t go to Coney Island. I went straight to the mighty Hudson itself, zipped up my wetsuit and took the plunge. I’d never felt more like Kramer from Seinfeld.
The bottom of the Hudson is a strange consistency of cushion-y sand and slime. Super slimy. Soft muddy quicksand. It’s gross. But I think it’s the murkiness of the water that makes it seem much worse than it actually is. I hate water where I can’t see my feet because I always imagine the creepy creatures that are seconds away from gnawing on my toes and legs, but I think if I were in the Mediterranean somewhere with crystal clear water, then that sand would be super soothing – like something suckers at the spa would pay lots of money to get slathered all over their bodies.
Anyway…. my pal Susie – a woman who is no stranger to swimming in the Hudson – took me on this adventure. Just the two of us alone in the river with onlookers staring at us like we were complete whackos. (Maybe we are?) I took the first 3 minutes to really get comfortable. I knew that I was on the brink of making this a great experience or working myself up for Coney Island 2.0 and totally freaking out, and so I loosened up, did a little warm-up and then started my freestyle. Stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe. Easy, right?
After a minute or so I settled into the rhythm, let my mind roam, and just swam. Calmly, carefully, confidently. We were only in there for about 30 minutes because I had to get home to wash the Hudson off of me and head up to Yankee stadium to see my Red Sox, but that half hour calmed my nerves much more than I expected and now I feel an entirely new sense of motivation. We did about half a mile, I think, and I felt good and like I could keep going for another 30 minutes. I have another open water swim coming up in Coney Island on July 19, and then a swim challenge in Montauk on the 24th (although I haven’t decided if I should do the 1/2 mile or full mile challenge yet). After those, along with more pool swimming, I should be totally ready for my date with the Hudson on August 3!!
Also – don’t forget that there is still time to donate to my triathlon charity, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I wouldn’t be doing this without them! Check out my fundraising page at http://pages.teamintraining.org/nyc/nyctri14/meredith !!
Sunday was the 12th annual Achilles Hope and Possibility 5 mile run at Central Park. Achilles International is a nonprofit organization that pairs able-bodied volunteers with disabled runners so that everyone can participate in main-stream athletics. I know some people who have volunteered with Achilles and all have described their experiences with them as pretty unforgettable.
The race started at 9am that morning and as of that time it was 74 degrees with a humidity of nearly 60%. As I was on my way to the park that morning, I went down the checklist to see if I had everything that I needed for this race:
I had the things that I absolutely needed so I was all set. No phone, no gps watch, no problem – I could rough it. It would be like camping, but with a lot more running. (Or camping while running away from a bear, maybe?) It was “only” 5 miles and I would be done before I knew it.
I got to the beginning of the race about a minute after the starting horn sounded, but there were still a ton of people waiting to cross the starting line and so I shimmied my way into the crowd and felt like I was missing something. I went to turn on my music, but remembered I didn’t have any. My right hand instinctively went to my left wrist to start my Nike+ watch but it landed on my bracelet that I always wear instead. No sign of my watch anywhere. Alright then – I guess the only thing left to do was just run. And so I started to run.
There were so many Achilles guides in their bright yellow shirts, and a ton of runners in wheelchairs, handcycles, with prosthetic or amputated limbs. Some were training to be guides, too – there was a girl running while wearing a mask over her eyes while being helped by a guide. Kind of makes you never want to take those legs, eyes and everything else you’ve got for granted again!
The course started around 67th street on the west side of the park and went counterclockwise around the southern loop of Central Park, up the Cat Hill, through the 102 Street Transverse back to the west side, and then straight down the west side of the park back to where we started. Pretty straightforward and nothing I’d never done before.
When we got to the Cat Hill, I happened to be near a runner whose right leg and arm twisted extremely inward, forcing him to move his body in a strange direction each time he ran on that leg. The hill must have been incredibly tough for him, but he didn’t show it. The entire way up the hill he repeated “This hill has nothing on me. It’s got nothing. Nothing on me.” Each time he said it he smiled, and he made it (pretty exuberantly, I might add) to the top of that hill. He had an energy about him that made me glad that I happened to be in that particular spot at that particular moment to see that particular victory.
Because I didn’t have my Nike+ watch and have grown very reliant on it to check my pace, I had no idea how fast or slow I was going. I thought I was taking it easy, especially because my legs were tired and kind of screaming at me after my 25 mile bike ride and 0.5 mile swim the day before, but I really had no way of really knowing so I just kept chugging along. I know that I picked up the speed the last mile or so. It was very hot and humid out and I kept thinking about the fruit that was waiting at the finish line and wanted an apple more than anything. Seriously, at the moment, nothing in the whole world sounded better than an apple. They ended up handing out peaches and bagels. I grabbed a peach after picking up my medal and a bottled water, and oh man – it was better than an apple.
According to the official results from New York Road Runners, I finished the 5 miles in 40:49 – an 8:10 pace. Not bad for a lazy Sunday while roughing it without modern technology! While I was somewhat surprised to see my time (I had estimated that I was around an 8:30 pace, but really didn’t know), I have also seen a big change in my running lately. Everything else, too, but mostly my running. Maybe it’s all the training starting to come together. Maybe it’s the whole vegan thing I’ve been doing for the last month (after months of research and a relatively slow initial transition). Maybe it’s other things. Maybe it’s all of those things.
But whatever it is, I like it.