Triathlon

My Worst Bike Crash

The last time I crashed really hard on a bike was the spring of ’96. I was mountain biking with some friends and didn’t see a gap created by the heavy rains. My friend bunny hopped it. I landed on it, went over the bars and slid on the right side of my body for several feet. I didn’t need to go to the hospital, but I remember inviting a couple of friends over to partake in a mini keg of Grolsch. And I didn’t wear skirts that summer because the road rash was so bad.

I had a pretty good streak going of no bad crashes – until last Sunday. I was just going out for an easy spin down by Todd’s place. I like going into this wilderness park where there’s a paved road to practice my aero position and take in the scenery without cars.

Four miles into my ride, I hit a pothole that I didn’t see. (Yes, I have crappy vision.) Usually I can recover from those bobbles, but not this time. My Garmin showed I was going 18.4 mph. I don’t remember the fall. But my Garmin said I took quite a bounce, crashing at 16.8 mph and sliding for 12 seconds. I got knocked out. I don’t think it was for very long. When I regained consciousness, I was surrounded by five strangers who wouldn’t leave my side until the paramedics got there. Apparently, I stopped my Garmin 1 minute and 50 seconds after impact. I don’t remember doing it. If I had been wearing this headband that I got at the Boston Marathon Expo, perhaps one of those kind people could’ve done it sooner. They kept saying, “I can’t believe you didn’t break your collarbone!”

Once I found out that I had been knocked out and saw my trusty Specialized Prevail helmet was cracked in two places, I knew I had to get checked out at the hospital. I’ve been writing about head injuries for the past 15 years for my rehab hospital client. I know you just can’t mess with them. The rush of adrenaline or shock that you get from impact kind of masks the pain. As the minutes ticked by, I wondered if maybe I broke something – my ribs hurt and my hip was swollen. The paramedics/firemen rode me, and my bike “Blaze,” out of the park. Todd’s brother, Ken, picked me up at the park entrance and drove me to the hospital. Ken is no stranger to bike accidents as you may recall. He’s broken his collarbone four times! And I was grateful he kept me company for three hours in the hospital. The folks at Mission Hospital were great. They gave me a CT scan, X-rays of my pelvis and ribs, a tetanus shot, and cleaned up my road rash. I had a mild concussion. The next day, I still felt shelled. I declined using the prescription for a painkiller. The last time I took one I had dreams of King Kong sleeping in the fetal position in my neighbor’s garage and strange little rat-a-saurus creatures with neon tails eating pineapple off my bedroom floor. No thanks! I opted for vodka and pomegranate juice instead. ☺

I thought recovering from this would be like getting over the soreness of a marathon or a half Ironman. Nope. I’m still incredibly sore on the right side of my body just over a week later. It still hurts to laugh.

With 11 bruises, my legs are like a mood ring, changing different colors every day. I have scrapes on my hip, elbow and shoulder that are healing well, but I wouldn’t dare take them for a dip in the pool. I still have a slight limp when I walk and it hurts to do little things that I normally wouldn’t think about like kicking the bottom sock drawer of my closet closed. Or rolling over in bed. I’m using my arms still to push myself up or ease myself down in bed because my ribs still ache so. Yesterday, I got on the trainer and spun my legs for 20 minutes. Getting on and off was the hardest part. Despite all of those complaints, the biggest overriding feeling I’ve had this week is joyous relief. I feel lucky it wasn’t much worse. I’m in tact. My life is in tact. I feel gratitude for the strangers that came to my aid and my honorary bro Ken. Grateful for my sister, Jane, coming over to help this week and changing my bandages, knowing she’s the most squeamish chick I know. There are such good people in my world.

My thoughts this weekend are with my blogger buddy, James Walsh, a phenomenal endurance athlete who got hit by a car this weekend going 50 mph. The driver hit another cyclist in his group as well. James suffered numerous broken bones and I can only imagine how uncomfortable he must be, if I’m hurting this much still without breaking anything. Please send positive vibes his way and cheer him on for a speedy recovery on Twitter at @jmwalsh2.

Making Produce Last

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to not waste food, particularly produce. Spending time back and forth between Todd’s place and mine, I noticed something. He doesn’t waste food. I do. I’ve been the queen of good intentions whenever I go to the store and tend to buy enough fruits and vegetables. I just don’t get to it all before it goes bad. After doing much soul searching I’ve come to the following conclusions for why this happened:

  1. Perhaps my eyes are actually bigger than my stomach.
  2. Definitely not enough meal planning on my part. I shopped for the same stuff on autopilot.
  3. Believe it or not, I forget to look in the vegetable crisper drawers. For me, out of sight can actually be out of mind.
  4. Items get hidden behind the bigger items and turn into things that look like science experiments.
  5. Ethylene-producing fruits shouldn’t be stored with or near ethylene-sensitive vegetables or they will go bad quickly.

That last one was an ah-ha moment for me. You can read more about the science of why produce can go bad quickly and which fruits and veggies should not be stored together in a great article by Vegetarian Times here.

Once I read that I was reminded that I have a couple of FridgeSmart Tupperware containers (click for a short demo video) tucked away in a cabinet.

These containers have two vents, which can be adjusted in four different open or closed combinations based on what you put inside them. I’m glad I kept the pamphlet that explains the way they should be adjusted for each type of veggie and fruit.

I also picked up a few more Progressive Fruit and Veggie Keepers, which I found on sale at HomeGoods.

I still keep a couple of things in the produce drawers. But everything isn’t jammed on top of each other there.

After three weeks, I can see that the new system is working. For me, being able to see things, lined up and organized in their own containers is helping me stay on track with eating healthier while preserving food longer.

Wednesday ZenDay: A Big Enough Dream

One of my favorite things about my bimonthly meditation group is that our “Zen Coach” often reads to us a wonderful passage from Ralph Marston. And our group usually responds with a satisfying sigh of agreement. I usually can't wait to share them with Todd and his bro. So I thought I’d share them with you here from time to time too. A big enough dream

How big is your dream? Make sure it it’s big enough to overwhelm all the challenges.

Are life’s pains and problems and annoyances getting to you too often? Though you can’t stop them from popping up, you can stop them from dragging you down.

When you’re passionate about where you want to go, you’ll more easily deal with all the things that happen where you are. When you focus on what’s on the other side of the challenges, you’ll find the strength to persist through those challenges.

There is a beautiful purpose within you. It is a purpose so compelling that it absolutely will not allow you to give up.

Open yourself to the truth of who you are, and you open yourself to that purpose. Allow that purpose to inspire you, connect with it, and tap into its undeniable power.

Express that purpose with a dream that is too big and too wonderful and too meaningful to abandon. With a big enough dream, anything is possible.

Ralph Marston

The Big Off-Season Tune-up

  This is the time of year when triathletes can finally rest and take it easy.

My off-season officially began in the last mile and half of my Olympic distance race in mid-October. The heat got the best of me. I mostly walked it in, feeling lame, alarmed, and defeated. (But would you believe I podiumed?) I knew I didn’t feel right. And with chronic insomnia, I hadn’t felt right in a long time.

I made a long overdue appointment with my doctor. She took eight vials of blood and performed a couple of other tests. Yup, she pretty much looked at everything under the hood.

The good news:

• I’m not going to have a heart attack anytime soon.

• I do not have sleep apnea (according the home test that made me look like a Jedi warrior and scared Todd’s cat 7)

The bad news:

• I’m low in iron, but not anemic. According to Runner’s World, 56% of the runners they polled had an iron deficiency.

• I’m low in vitamin D. Yes, you can be low in D even when living in sunny So Cal. I had tested low in this three years ago too. Being low in D can cause fatigue. I guess it’s one of my bug-a-boos. My body doesn’t absorb it well. Back then, I was told that 50% of Southern Californians are low in it.

• My endocrine system is a bit of mess. My doc said, “I’m amazed you’ve been able to do what you ‘ve done. Your body isn’t producing energy right now.”

The great news:

It’s fixable. I just need to give myself some time to let my body rest and get re-adjusted with the meds and supplements. Which means, for now, super light workouts. No exercise within four hours of bedtime. Limited activities. And do whatever I can to reduce my overall stress. I’m still a bit overloaded with work, but I can finally see some light at the end of the tunnel. For now, I'm basically going to have to act like a bear in hibernation.

I’m glad I got checked out. I had about a million excuses to put it off. But in retrospect, the beginning of the off-season is the perfect time to get checked out by your doc. Okay, your turn. If you haven’t done so in a while, please make an appointment so you can have a great season next year.

Iron Girl Lake Tahoe Race Report (Way to Impress the Parents)

A couple of months ago, Todd and I were planning a trip to Tahoe to visit his folks and hit the trails. After a little too much time perusing races on Active.com during the off-season, it instantly struck me that the timing was right to do the Iron Girl there.

I loved the idea of getting a chance to swim in Lake Tahoe after hearing about Brett Blankner’s endurance swim there last summer. I loved the idea of getting a taste of what it’s like to race at elevation since they introduced a new Ironman event there. Hey, I’m no way near ready to take on an Ironman, but a sprint? I hadn’t done one since before my knee surgery almost four years ago. That I could handle. I looked forward to pegging it in a new environment!

We drove 500 miles straight to the check-in, which was mandatory the night before the race. Then I made a quick change in the car and we strolled down to the lake. I wanted to see if I could tolerate the temp without resorting to wearing a wetsuit. The water was about 65 degrees, maybe cooler. Nothing I couldn’t tolerate for 10 minutes after all the cold-water training I did in Lynne’s unheated pool last winter.

Before the race started as we headed to the beach, we heard the race MC announce, “Now, you’re going to see a couple of ladies without wet suits. Those will be some of the local girls!” Todd and I laughed. No there was one crazy, So Cal girl too. You can recognize her by the blue lips and the goofy goggles on race morning.

The 43-degree air temp was a bit much. Glad Todd stood next to me on the other side of the chute, so I could hand off my sweatshirt and hat at the last possible second.

My first goal of this race was to do it without a wet suit. I had never raced without one, so it represented breaking through a huge mental barrier for me. Taking up swimming late in life made me a little too co-dependent on that thing. It was only a 400-meter swim. I had to go for it. It went well. But I overshot the second buoy. This was the first place where I probably lost a good minute or two.

T1 went well for me. It was one of the longest I’ve ever done.

We had to run up one block around a corner for another block and through the race chute. But it was a long one to do bare foot. Note to self: Next time, bring a pumice stone so you don’t have black feet for the rest of your vacation.

When I got to my bike, I was surprised to see I was one of the first few who made it back to the racks in my age group. Um, that never happens in the races I’ve done the past few years. We raced two loops from the strip to Zephyr Cove. There were a lot of rollers that felt steeper when you’re used to zero elevation and racing at 6,200-feet plus. There were some places that felt so cold that my feet where shivering in the pedals.

I had trouble taking in any fluids on the bike. Not sure if something got wedged on my Speedfill or if I was just too winded from the elevation to draw fluids properly. I’m thinking the latter because I’ve never had issues with my Speedfill before. I had five sips of water the whole 15 miles. Note to self: Buy a normal bottle cage for sprints like this one.

T2 was uneventful. Looked like a few more gals came in ahead of me. I need to work on grabbing my stuff faster. But it was one of my betters ones.

On the first lap of the run, I cramped up badly and walked before and through the aid station. It was pretty bad and not my norm. I’m thinking it was dehydration. Todd found me and looked concerned when he saw me walking. Grrr, I didn’t want him to see that… but his encouragement helped. The second lap went better. I passed a couple of ladies in my age group in the last mile. I went as hard as I could in the last half mile. I finished strong. And then another first – as soon as I crossed the finish line, I puked. I didn’t even know I was nauseous. The poor volunteers stepped back and looked at each other like ‘Who’s going to put a medal on her? You do it!’ And all I could think was ‘Way to impress Todd’s parents!!’ They swear they missed that part. After I made my way out of the finish area, I immediately spotted my enthusiastic tri sherpas. I was so happy to see them and it meant the world to have them there. I knew Todd would be wonderful. I was afraid his folks might be bored there. But it was obvious they enjoyed taking in the whole thing. His mom spent hours making her artsy sign the night before. And they were so patient, waiting for me to check on results and gather my stuff.

I was pleased to find out that I did pretty well. I was 9th out of 64 in my age group; 150 out of 605 overall. I was about 4 minutes off the podium. And you know what? That was just a matter of better navigating of the buoys and better hydration. Woulda? Coulda? Shoulda? No, I’m just feeling like maybe one of these days, it might be doable.

We had a nice celebratory breakfast back at Zephyr Cove. Well, it looked tastey, but my body was only ready for a café mocha. As I answered some texts about the race from friends back in Cali, I heard Todd joking with his parents, “You know I should get Minnow some jewelry one of these days. We’ve been dating for so long, you’d think I would get her something by now.” (Yeah, my guy is amazing, but he is not a shopper.) I may have made a smart a$$ comment back about the fact that grocery stores don’t sell jewelry. Then he said, “I should find her some jewelry and put it in a little pink mesh bag.” And then I thought ‘Wait, where did that come from?’ I looked up and there in front of me was a little pink mesh bag and we all started laughing. Yes, my tri sherpa totally surprised me with an Iron Girl necklace charm. Hey, if I knew that was waiting for me, maybe I would've gone a little faster!

Wednesday ZenDay: Photography as Meditation

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For the past few years, I’ve been practicing meditation. I’m still taking a bi-monthly class that I love. Every month it amazes me how many different ways there are to meditate. They all offer a way to look at your life through a different lens and relax.

The common theme? Slow breathing and quieting the mind. Very few things can do that for me. But I couldn’t help noticing a while back that I feel as relaxed and refreshed after taking pictures as I do after a meditation session. When I’m alone, taking pictures of nature, my mind ceases to think of all those to-dos and other things that concern me. Getting caught up in the visual delight of composing a shot is my mental break.

Part of it, I’m sure is my upbringing. My dad gave me my first camera in the third grade. I’d spend many school nights down in our basement darkroom. Dad guided me as we dipped photo paper into trays of chemicals and watched them slowly come to life. I look back fondly on those days as much as I look forward to pulling out my iPhone or digital camera at unexpected moments.

The real reason I started meditation? I read that it was good for the adrenals. When you overwork those little glands through physical (training) or emotional stress, your body responds with fatigue, a weakened immune system and other symptoms. A decade ago, my adrenals weren’t up to snuff. My doctor forbad me from running for nine months! The only thing that kept me from losing my mind was learning how to play golf with my then young nephews. I don’t want THAT to happen again. So meditation is now a regular part of my recovery. Yeah, 7 (pictured above) isn’t the only one who needs to slow down.

Wednesday ZenDay: Setting Your Intention/Making Cooking Easier

A couple of years ago, our Zen Coach Devi gave us a pretty interesting exercise. We had to take out an old-fashioned paper calendar and “set our intention” for each month at the beginning of the year. We had to do it in a way that sounded empowering rather than negative or self-admonishing. For example, me (little Minnow) couldn’t write:

“Swim better in the ocean”

Nope!

“Face your fear of the ocean”

Nope! Nope!

“Find courage in the water”

Bingo. Much better!

It could be anything that you want to focus on that month. It doesn’t have to be a total self-improvement thing. January was a blast for me because after a pretty intense year, my intention was “to laugh.” And hanging out with Todd’s family over the holidays helped me get a jumpstart on that one.

So, I looked down at my calendar this weekend and realized I had written for September, “Nourish myself.” Pretty funny since after reading TriSaraTops blog, I downloaded this slow-cooker e-recipe book she recommended for $5.99. And as a belated b-day gift to myself, I replaced the hand-me-down crockpot my family has had since the Carter administration and got a new, larger programmable one.

With a couple of hours of chopping and assembly in front of the TV on Saturday and Sunday, I was able to prep what I think will be about 30 cheap, healthy meals for this single gal. The recipes are designed for families, but I just divided up the portions into more bags that are in the freezer and ready to go in the slow cooker. If you’re like me, Zen is just finding a way to be at a peace. And lately, some nights that has meant eating half a tub of hummus with some rice crackers and a couple of Steinlagers. I'm human! But I think this style of “cooking” once or twice a month will do just that for me too. Now I’ll be able to pop a bag out of the freezer and into the slow cooker and come home from my master’s swim workouts or crossfit classes with some nourishing, warm comfort food meal ready to go. (Without blowing my mostly gluten-free diet or budget.)

Another Round of Bobcat Pickups?

One of my favorite places to ride is a stretch of pavement within a local state park. The most traffic it ever gets is kids on training wheels, mountain bikers, and joggers. No cars are allowed. So I like to go in there and do a few laps and practice being aero. I think of it as my own semi-private wind tunnel with a view.

Three years ago, I had some unexpected company. Two big cats checking me out as I came around a bend. I wasn’t sure if they were mountain lions or bobcats. I stopped in my tracks. They gave me a long stare. My heart raced. I was petrified. It was Valentine’s Day. I wondered if I’d ever get my romantic dinner. I left Todd a message on his cell, letting him know where he could claim my body.

After those cats looked at me for what seemed like a minute or two. I hopped on my bike. I was still rehabbing my left leg, but managed to get up 24 mph on a grade and some flats for a couple of miles. When I got home, Todd and his brother Brad informed me that some gentle bobcats lived in the bushes down there and were harmless. Ever since, this regular workout has been dubbed, “Bobcat Pickups.”

Inspired by some words of advice from pro Jessi Stensland on the Zen and the Art of Triathlon podcast, I headed out to do a ridiculously slow zone-2 bike ride. I was determined to take it easy on my normal pickups.

Then on my last lap, I spotted the biggest cat I’ve ever seen walking down a dirt trail away from me. He looked at me nonchalantly, like he was saying “Whatever.” Then he took a sharp right and headed up a little kicker parallel to where I was riding. I got a really good look at him since he was only about 25 or 30 feet away.

He was tan, shorthaired and much taller than most big dogs. I saw a tail, but was even more struck by his beefy muscular shoulders. In my mind, I saw a mountain lion. With my volunteer training at El Moro, I knew it was a good sign that he had initially walked away from me. If one comes toward you, you’re supposed to stop and lift your bike over your head to look big. I didn’t do that though. As he matched my slow pace, he looked at me. I looked at him. Like a sprint start waiting to happen at the end of a Tour de France stage. And then, I decided I didn’t like this feeling of being looked at by the big fella and I booked it for a mile.

I rode back to Todd’s where his brother Ken greeted me. He was about to head out for a ride. When this adventurous soul who has spent a lot of time camping in Death Valley heard my story, he quickly decided he wanted to go out and find this cat and his tracks. Oh great! Look what I started. Of course, I felt 100% sure it was a mountain lion this time, but it would have to be verified – preferably by the ranger.

Ken went down there with a camera just before dark and found the fresh prints. We waited anxiously. We were beyond relief when he got back. He captured this shot. We Googled the tracks of different cats over beers and recounted what I saw – with my eyes, which let the record show aren’t 100% correctable. I didn’t sleep great.

Here’s the thing: We love this park because it feels pretty safe there. We don’t want to have to start watching out for mountain lions there. I didn’t want to start any rumors that weren’t true. On the other hand, what I saw had to be reported.

So I went down early this morning and talked to the ranger. He was cool. He explained most sightings are bobcats. I explained that I hadn’t seen any bobcats with broad shoulders and features like this one. Then he pulled up a database of two large bobcats that have been caught on the park’s infrared camera. The two biggest ones weigh 65 lbs. I looked at the photos and still can’t say for sure it was one of them. I didn’t see any spots on this animal. It could’ve been the lighting. The tracks were definitely that of a large cat.

The ranger said he’d check it out and look for more proof. He said he’d move some cameras around to see if he finds anything out of the ordinary. But I really don’t want to be right.

Kenevil is On The Mend

In early July, I posted about a very sick sea lion that we spotted in Seal Beach right before our open water swim. We called for help and the Pacific Marine Mammal Center came through for the little guy. I tried to see him in person after my trail patrol at El Moro last month, but he was still in isolation. I learned he was doing better then and taking in solid food finally. They just didn’t want to expose the other sea lions to parasites and anything else that was upsetting his system.

A few days later, one of the volunteers down there emailed me a picture of him after he was finally allowed to swim with the other sea lions. A hopeful sign.

So last weekend after trail patrol, I stopped by again. Kenevil was doing so much better. It’s amazing. I arrived in time to see his weekly weigh-in. When he was first admitted, he weighed 52 pounds. That afternoon, he weighed 91 pounds. They’re hoping to get him up to 120 pounds.

Then they put him back in the big pool with the ladies. I even witnessed him being a little territorial because they added a new boy to the mix. Apparently Kenevil has enjoyed being the token male all week and didn’t like the competition. It was funny to observe the action. One of the volunteers caught this clip of him when he was acting mellow.

They’re hopeful that he’ll be released in a couple of weeks. It made my afternoon to see the awesome work they do with the seal lions and elephant seals at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. If you’re in the Laguna Beach area, driving or riding through Laguna Canyon, you should check it out for a few minutes. Or you can see what they’re doing online. Definitely has a way of making you feel better about the world to see these guys rescue and rehabilitate marine mammals.

WednesdayZenDay: Visualization Like an Olympian?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be just like tennis player Chris Everett. (Yeah, dating myself.) I would spend six hours a day hitting a tennis ball around the court and against a backboard in the summer, honing my two-fisted backhand. So when I read an article “You’re Not an Olympian: Imagine That” in The Boston Globe’s fitness blog about mental imagery in sports, it took me back. The author delves into how certain visualization techniques can help or hurt your performance and a couple of great research studies.

My favorite quote, “…imagining yourself as Ryan Lochte powering through the 200-meter freestyle may be nice, but imagining you yourself exploding off the walls during a 200 freestyle will yield greater mental and emotional benefits.”

Sure that kid is still inside me. Once in a while I might fantasize about qualifying for the Boston Marathon or Kona. Maybe you do too? But if we really want to get there, we better focus more on visualizing the ways we’re going to become faster and stronger, not the end result.

WednesdayZenday

For the past five years, I’ve been taking a meditation class with an incredible group of five women. We meet every other Wednesday. I plan my training around it. Our husbands and significant others know we can’t miss it. The class has done more for me than I could have ever imagined. Devi, who Todd has nicknamed my “Zen Coach” has a way of helping us constantly look at our lives through a different lens. Set our intentions for the little and the big goals. Change some of our bad habits. Recognize the good. Learn to be more mindful. And cope with the variety of stress that enters our lives. It’s become my own personal re-set button.

I’m still working on all of the above. I’m human. For instance, a while ago, I set an intention to blog more about the things I’m passionate about. This is one of them. I’m going to make WednesdayZenday a regular feature and share with you some of the things I get out of my classes and elsewhere. Devi usually passes out a handout near the end of class that makes you want to read it again and again. Here is the last one, which I may just have to commit to memory:

Peaceful Awareness

Open your awareness to the abundance. Open your awareness to the goodness and the possibilities.

Life is renewed in every moment. There is no need to keep re-fighting the battles of the past.

Relax, and let the fears dissolve. Be at peace, and allow the abundance to flow through you.

Send all your energy into all your love. Now is when opportunity is transformed into beautiful value.

Focus on what is good, what is right, what is true and meaningful. Give the whole of your presence to the best you can envision.

Let the richness into your awareness and into your life. Enjoy and love and live and create with no hesitation, free of worry and doubt.

Ralph Marston

Help for a Sick Seal Pup

Last Sunday, I took a stroll on the beach with Jan, Lynne, and Cindy. Jan pointed out where Dave and Laura were swimming off in the distance and we noticed an adult seal. It was typical gray morning here.

Jan and I were more than happy to delay our learning-how-to-swim-in-the-surf lesson with a walk. Until we spotted a young seal struggling in the water. The four of us stopped to see if he was just tired or sick. Lynne immediately went over to the lifeguard to request help for the little guy. But the guard seemed preoccupied with working on his jet ski. We continued to watch the seal make several sad attempts at getting beyond the breakwater, only to drift back to the beach. Maternal instincts kicked in and we decided to make a call just in case. I called the business line of the police department to request help and learned the guard did radio it in. A crowd started to surround us and it seemed like it was distressing the little guy, so we walked on. Lynne was great about coaching the kids about not getting too close to him or he could bite. As we headed towards the pier, I looked back and saw the little guy’s head in the water going towards the jetty. We worried about him. And wondered if they’d be able to find him again. Would he get the help he clearly needed?

It was one of those mysteries that lingered throughout the week. Then Sharkbait emailed me the good news. Through the magic of Facebook, one of her friends posted this from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center:

Kenevil, a 52-pound yearling sea lion, was rescued Sunday afternoon from Seal Beach. He is battling intestinal parasites/bacteria, severe dehydration and malnourishment. Two days of hydration therapy, antibiotics, and a quiet-warm-safe place to rest, brought improvement today. Kenevil still has a long road ahead, but his energy level has improved and for the first time ate the fish he was offered, which is certainly a good sign.

This news made my day! I have trail patrol tomorrow. The Pacific Marine Mammal Center is on the way to Todd’s. I’m tempted to stop by to see if I can visit Kenevil.

 

I Finally Got My Popsicle Stick

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I first moved to Seal Beach 21 years ago. Shortly thereafter, I learned of a big tradition in this small town – The Seal Beach Rough Water Swim. I thought it was for crazy people. Back then I wouldn’t get in the water unless it was 95-degrees in the shade. And if so, I’d only wade up to my waist because this East Coaster wasn’t comfortable in the surf. I wasn’t a swimmer yet. That changed in 2006 when I took up triathlon. My first few times in the surf were a disaster. I didn’t know what I was doing. It terrified me. I got flipped by a wave and stuck the landing like a waterlogged, lucky gymnast. Unfortunately, I allowed that experience to let my growth as a swimmer get stuck too. My fear of waves was as palpable as others’ fear of flying. My heart pounds, chest tightens up, and throat closes up. Pretty hard to hold your breath and duck when you already feel like it’s hard to breathe.

After my first season, I stopped entering races with a beach start. I wasn’t proud of it. Just wasn’t ready to face it again yet. Then last year, still recovering from the shingles, I watched my Master’s swim teammates compete in the Seal Beach Rough Water Swim. I was so proud of them. As they entered the finisher’s chute, each was handed a Popsicle stick with their place written on it in black marker. I was so envious. I felt left out.

So last summer, my friend Dave worked with me on dolphining in and out of the water whenever he was in town visiting from Utah. He was so patient with me as I timidly tried it out. When he left, I had my nephew and sister spot me as I kept at it – my homework. I met “Sharon Swimmer” on trail patrol and she swam with me several times at Corona Del Mar last fall. I even took a couple of Fearless Swimming workshops this winter from Ingrid Loos Miller, which were wonderful.

I still hardly felt fearless. I was scared. And I had all year to think about how chicken and evasive I’ve been about getting over it. The self-admonishment was tempered with the visual of one day being handed a Popsicle stick. I meditated on it. I read about it. I watched ocean swimming videos. Now it was just a matter of doing it.

Last Saturday was my chance to toe the line of the Seal Beach Rough Water Swim. Todd was my Sherpa. Coach Mary was my escort out to the first buoy. I experienced all those uncomfortable feelings those first 200 yards and then I was good. I thanked Mary and enjoyed the rest of the 1-mile swim. The water was very cold in places and very warm in places, thanks to the power plant that heats the nearby river that runs into the ocean. As Sharkbait put it, “Made you wonder if a whale just peed.”

I was apprehensive about coming into shore, but Mother Nature was kind that day. There were no flips, but I felt like doing backflips when I ran up to the chute! It didn’t matter where I placed. The joy I felt to finish. The joy I felt to be with my teammates Sandy, Janice, Jeff, Gus, and a coach I truly love. The joy I felt to have Todd, Dave, his siblings Lynne and Laura, and his wife Jan there will be something I’ll cherish for a very long time.

 

Flip Turn Fail

Okay, if you’re a longtime reader, you know I’ve attempted to learn flip turns in the past. Those previous attempts didn’t go well. I have a tendency to stick my neck out at the worst time and back out of the somersault. I even had a lane mate attempt to physically flip me to no avail. We mutually, jokingly agreed I might need therapy to pull this off. That was back in 2008. Since then I’ve found a million excuses to not try this again – knee surgery, rehab, the Aquabike training, Oceanside training, bilateral breathing training, open water training, fatigue, crowded lanes, and busy coaches. Can you hear the “buck, buck, buuuuucccckkkk” chicken noises as you read this – uh-huh, I can!

I hinted to Coach Mary a gazillion times, “You have to teach me to flip turn.” Last Saturday, she surprised me by saying, “Come on, go do one.” Absolutely oblivious to what a little head case I truly am about it. “Do a somersault.” Fail. Fail. Fail. “Am I going to have to take you over to the grass to do them on dry land?” she asked. I laughed, “Yes!” “Okay, come on,” she answered.

So there we were – two big kids doing somersaults on my beach towel. It reminded me of the hours I spent in dojos studying various forms of martial arts. Sorry Mary, it’s just not the same with nothing solid to hold onto in the water.

Back in the pool, I did slightly better but never got my legs over. My nostrils seared with the sting of chlorine. I acted like I was being waterboarded. It was not my finest coachable moment. I’m usually pretty coachable. Mary looked at me with another grin and said, “Am I going to have to get Gus over here to flip you?” “Yes!” I responded. And then when she turned her head, I snuck out of the pool like an evasive little kid.

Ever had something you really wanted to do and NOT do at the same time? It’s a quandary. I do want to get the over this already. I certainly have the ability to laugh at myself in this situation. There’s also a varying degree of self-admonishment that’s not good. On any given day, this inward impetus to change and finally do a flip turn is somewhere on the scale of organizing-my-sock-drawer (not that urgent) to gotta-get-my-taxes-done (really urgent). The thing is I know I’ll feel a lot better about myself as an athlete if I can just start doing those flip turns. I know it’ll help my fitness and training. And I know I’ll walk a little taller in my flip flops if I do.

It’s Like an Episode of “House”

Season 7, Episode 9 – only less dramatic. A couple of weeks ago I was dog sitting for Sharkbait. I noticed some pain on my left cheek and behind my ear when I went to bed that night. I thought ‘Oh crap, maybe I’m getting swimmer’s ear.’ When I woke up that Thursday morning, her sweet golden retriever Roxie looked empathetic and alarmed. A glance in the mirror and revealed that I looked like I got a sock in the jaw and bump growing on my forehead.

I made a beeline for the urgent care and explained that I was going on vacation in a couple of days. The physician’s assistant diagnosed me with either an infected cyst or blocked salivary gland. “The treatment is the same, and I’ll give you some antibiotic cream for that rash on your forehead.” She gave me a prescription and for good measure, ordered an antibiotic shot in the you-know-where. I explained, “I bumped my head on the shower door last Saturday. It feels like a bruise more than a rash.”

Since Todd and I were about to go camping in the Grand Canyon the following Monday, she wanted to see me the next day before I left town. She stuck to her diagnosis and ordered another antibiotic shot in the you-know-where. All the while keeping me at a good distance away where she didn’t really get a good look at the disputed rash. (Note to self: next time make the doc/P.A./nurse take a closer look even if it’s not pretty.) She told me to eat sour and spicy foods to unblock the salivary gland.

Friday night I lay in bed very uncomfortable. I Google-d “blocked salivary gland” on my iPhone and discovered that a dentist might be able to unblock the gland. My dentist saw me on Saturday morning. He double-checked to see that it wasn’t a toothache. And pleaded with me not to leave town without seeing an oral surgeon. "The location of your infection is like a super highway to the brain. You don’t want to be out in the middle of nowhere and have things take a turn for the worse. Eat spicy food and suck on limes,” he said. Like a good patient, I ordered Buffalo wings a degree hotter than my normal liking and sucked on a bag of limes all weekend.

Saturday night I had a splitting headache and a fever. And it wasn’t from tequila. Todd raced his mountain bike the next day and came in second. Then he raced back to take care of me. I was still in denial and packed as best I could for the camping trip to the Grand Canyon. I’ve never been. He looked at me that night and said, “I don’t care what that oral surgeon says. We’re not going to the Grand Canyon.” I was bummed and relieved at the same time.

We just hung out on Monday and thought of something special to do that was vacation-like in town. For lunch we ate Mexican and Todd dared this East Coast wimp to eat a Habanero pepper for the first time. Anything to avoid the pending oral surgery. If I wasn’t going to be eating much for a couple of days, this girl decided she wanted a filet mignon with béarnaise sauce at Café Lafayette for dinner – something I haven’t indulged in for ages.

The next morning as I settled into the oral surgeon’s chair sans my morning coffee or anything to eat, prepared to hear “You need surgery.” He took one look at me and said, “You have the chicken pox.” I asked about the bump on my forehead and explained that I hit my head really hard on the shower door. “You were exposed to the chicken pox at some point in your life. It was dormant in this branch of your facial nerves. When you hit your head that hard combined with being stressed or worn down, it saw an opportunity to break out. You can stop taking antibiotics now.“ he replied with a chuckle. Yes, in this episode, the oral surgeon was House, only he didn’t get it all right. He said I was no longer contagious.

I called the urgent care and told them to tell the physician’s assistant that I had the chicken pox. No one told me I needed to be on any medication.

A couple of days passed and I started having major eye pain. I reluctantly went to one long meeting because my ad client’s client swore he had already had the chicken pox and needed to meet with me. Awkward.

On Saturday, we were trying to figure out when it was safe to expose myself (did I say that?) to Todd again. “Research it!” he said cheerfully. The guy has never had the chicken pox. When I did I was horrified at what I learned. This is the PSA portion of the story. When the chicken pox become ocular chicken pox (affecting the eye), it can cause loss of vision months or years later in a pretty high percentage of patients. And if medication isn’t given to those patients within 72 hours of the initial breakout, it is considered an opthalmoligical emergency. The adrenaline surged through my body that night as I kept the information to myself.

The next morning, I waited until Meet The Press was over (a polite hour) before calling my trusted optometrist. Miraculously, my call went through to him while he was up in the mountains. He referred me to an opthalmologist I met once before who was also out of town in San Francisco. When he returned my call, he said, “Amelia, you need to be on anti-virals right away. Since it’s a holiday weekend, I think you’re going to have to go the hospital.”

The guys in the E.R. were totally cool. The examined my eye, fed me a sandwich and gave me some really strong drugs to reduce the swelling in my eye and make the chicken pox not last quite so long. Of course, I asked the normal tri question, which makes me giggle a little bit now. “When can I work out again?” “You’re not going to want to be out in the sun with this medication. And you need to give your body rest to fight off the illness, “ the doctor replied. “And yes, you’re still contagious. Stay away from people for at least a few more days, but see your opthalmologist within 3 days.”

The opthalmologist said my eye looks like it is in good shape, but I can’t wear my contacts or swim for another two weeks. All of this might sound like a bunch of TMI, but I figure if any of you or a loved one ever experience symptoms of a blocked salivary gland or chicken pox/shingles as an adult, you’ll know what to do.

I’m lucky the complications weren’t much, much worse – like the episode of House in Season 7.

Endurance Traveler – A New Ironman TV Show

I’ve been known to watch those reruns of Ironman races, one after the other as they air on Universal Sports. (I usually need a box of Kleenex for them, too. They get me every time.) Now I have a new guilty pleasure. Sharkbait turned me on to this new show called Endurance Traveler, which airs on Fox Sports Net.

What a great concept. It’s a travelogue show that follows the host, Dean Warhaft, as he travels and competes in Ironman races and other endurance events around the world. The first episode I caught showed Dean in Austria, visiting castles and breweries, flipping fish in the kitchen of a world-renown restaurant, and taking a boat tour. I also saw him take a trail run and pre-ride the IM Austria course. Then on race day, I saw him comfortably talk it up for the camera as he competed in his 30th Ironman race and conversed with other athletes on the run.

He made it all look so easy. Judging from his bio that’s probably the way he approaches everything in life. “….Dean Warhaft, an experienced endurance athlete, writer, attorney, land surveyor and amateur chef who has raced, eaten, and explored his way across 6 continents for almost 2 decades.” Kind of makes you want to invite him over for dinner, doesn’t it?

This guy has done races I’ve never even heard of – next up in the DVR queue is the annual Swim Around Key West. And coming up this month, Ironman Mexico and the Reggae Marathon. I love this show for giving me a glimpse of the places I might want to race someday, and the chance to enjoy them vicariously with my legs up on the couch as I recover from my own workouts.

Here’s a link for the Endurance Traveler shows airing in your area.

Kona Coverage

(If you'd rather wait to see some of the results until the TV coverage in December, don't read this post.)

Some of my triathlon friends scoffed at the idea of watching the live feed of the Ironman World Championships from Kona. Not me. I looked forward to it like Christmas Eve. I couldn't wait to watch the pre-race coverage with my first cup of coffee. We had a nice decadent breakfast around the computer monitor. The footage was amazing.

It almost felt like I was on one of those stand-up paddle (SUP) boards, watching the pros swim. I noticed Andy Potts took several breaths from his right side and then switched and took another 15 or 20 breaths from his left side. Hmmm. That might be worth trying versus breathing every third stroke as I try to adapt to bilateral breathing. The water looked like it wasn't flat, but had layers of light chop on top of some swells. I wondered what it really felt like for the swimmers out there. Not so bad or kind of rough?

The aerial shots of the transition area left me awestruck. I've seen other Ironman events and the transition at Oceanside is pretty cool. There's just something about that shot of Kona with all the bikes waiting for their owners.

Early on with the bike coverage, they showed Macca pass someone in a no-pass zone. I wondered if that would come back to haunt him with a 4-minute penalty later. While I saw most of the coverage, I did slip out for a swim in the Bay with Kristen and Ryan. Maybe more was said about Macca's pass later.

I felt badly for Chrissie Wellington who was too sick to defend her title. It was great to see all of the other pros in action. I was just as impressed by the age groupers, most qualified with uber-fast times. I was particularly interested to see how my 74-year old friend Mickie Shapiro and fellow blogger Beth Walsh did out there. It was sad to see some age groupers miss the cut-off times and their faces as they were told the bad news that they were DQ'd. I'm not sure if Mickie was DQ'd or if she had to drop out halfway through the bike for another reason. She has done Kona several years in the past. This just wasn't her year. I hope she'll try again because she gives me hope that I'll be able to keep doing this when I age up a few more times.

I waited with anticipation for Beth to cross this finish line. I knew she'd climb in the rankings as soon as she hit the run. She was in 33rd place off the bike. By the end of the run, she finished 13th in her division of 30-34 year olds. She crossed the finish line in braids, and at first, I didn't recognize her! I'm simple blown away by her running and mental toughness. She had the fastest female age-grouper marathon time. I'm not surprised. I am thrilled for her!

I thought about Kona a lot in the past 48 hours. I thought about the duel between Chris McCormack and Andreas Raelert in the last few miles of the race. I’m sure it will go down in history as one of the most exciting IM finishes ever. I thought about how Mirinda Carfrae charged on the last half of her marathon. There was an absolute animalistic aggression to her stride that you don’t normally see with distance runners. I thought about the suffering – seeing Chris Lieto lead the race until he started running like the Tinman. One of my favorite athletes from Boston, Dede Griesbauer, finished in tears. Was she disappointed in her performance or just happy to see the finish line after a day that was so physically and mentally punishing? Yes, the pros showed just how tough this race can be too. And I thought about their tenacity. The oldest competitor in the race, 80-year old Lew Hollander, finished in 15:48. Can you imagine? He did:-)

I couldn't help wondering how these athletes felt over the weekend and now. How tired their tri-sherpas must be from hanging out in the hot sun all day, watching for their athletes. And then there's a little part of me who wonders if I'll ever get there some day. I'm not too proud to take a lottery slot. I am too proud to enter the lottery before I significantly improve my skills though. Saturday inspired me to keep doing just that – regardless of whether I ever make it to Kona. There's just something so pure about watching the best of our sport give it their at the big race.

Tri-Diver

So my favorite training partner from the Great White North (Montreal), Kristen, did something pretty incredible. She helped her roommate, Karen, celebrate her birthday in style by going skydiving. Oh, but she did more than just fly like a bird up there. She also swam, biked, and ran for the camera and gave this blogger some fun fodder. You can check out her drop from 12,000 feet here. And for a limited time in the header above. I must admit, this looks like a blast! Think she earned a new nickname – Tri-Diver.

Back On Track


Last weekend was a good one. We headed out to Mt. SAC for 734’s Dad’s second race in the Triple Crown Series. It was a beautiful, clear fall day. It was fun to watch him tear up the course and come through the chicanes by the feed zone right after the pros. He had a good time out there and won his age group. (Yup, I was pretty proud of him.) Once I was done passing out bottles, I got a couple of shots of him finishing the race.

Then it was my turn. There was a nice cushy track a few steps away from the finish line. 734's Dad grabbed the camera for the momentous occasion. I finally got a chance to run again. The past three months has been a lot of trial and error, trying to get the new orthotics dialed in. Couldn't run without 'em. Every time I tried to run with them, I got blisters under my arches. After two adjustments, the third time was the charm.

I was so happy to be out on that track that I ran a mile straight. Then I walked/jogged another mile. Didn’t want to tempt fate too much, doing too much too soon. My cardio definitely suffered the past year, but it felt so incredibly good to break a sweat.

It was a start. Not a false start. A start. I’m looking forward to getting back to that point where I can run for miles without breathing so heavy that I sound like a bad prank caller. I want that sense of peace that comes from moving meditation during solo runs. I want to gab with old friends on group runs. I want to challenge myself with speed work and trail runs. I know all of that will come in time. But just to get out on that faded red track with the painted white lines for twenty minutes was pretty exhilarating.