Wednesday, September 25, 2013

That wasn't so bad

I finally went to masters' swimming! For years various friends, coaches, and husbands (OK, just one husband) have been pushing me to do this. I finally gave it a try, and of course it was great, and now I am hooked. Huge thanks to my friend Suzanne for encouraging me to join and then being the nicest and most welcoming lane-leader ever. And for not laughing at me. At least not while I was around.

Just in case any readers are considering a similar move, here are the things I was afraid of, and how reality compared:

Swimming into someone: Turns out swimming with random people and their weird-a** strokes at the YMCA is good practice for this. I am OK at sticking to my side of the lane. Although I think I brushed up against someone in the next lane a couple times--sorry about that.

Flip turning smack into someone: I think this would have been a bigger deal two years ago. I've been flip turning for 3 or 4 years now (I've lost count), and it really is natural to me now, so it wasn't too hard to do it with other people coming and going. Also, from the occasional times I've had to circle swim at the Y, I've gotten so annoyed by the people who don't know the way to do this that I think I learned by strong counterexample how to do it reasonably. Although if you're reading this and you were there, and I was being annoying, please let me know!

Not being able to do anything other than freestyle: Well, that is pretty much still true. My instruction in other strokes dates back to Red Cross swimming lessons when I was about 10, and I'm still coasting (or not coasting) on that. We had some "short axis" drills, and while I mostly got in theory what I was supposed to be doing, when I tried to do it I was very, very slow and probably very, very painful to look at. But the drill sets were short enough that I didn't get lapped. Worse than that was the set of 4 x 150 kicking on back with fins. The kicking part was fine, but up to now my method of turning when on my back is to kick or swim until my hands bump into the wall, stop, turn around, have a cup of tea, and go. When I got about 25 yards behind the leaders in one lap, I stopped to watch what they were doing, and I realized (duh!) that they were doing flip turns. Like real backstrokers. I attempted to mimic this for the rest of the set, but I definitely need more practice--I had trouble ending up on my back (I tend to turn toward the side automatically during the flip, I think) and once or twice had to do some emergency flailing around to get back where I was supposed to be in the lane. Plus I snorted/swallowed a ton of water. But I just sat out another 50 at one point to catch up, and all was good.

Not being able to keep up when doing freestyle: I expect this is all about lane assignment, but I was fine any time we just swam, even on the longer sets. Of course that is easy to say from the position of 3rd or 4th in line, because I was riding a nice big draft the whole way--thanks again, Suzanne!

Getting yelled at by other swimmers: I won't lie--I know other people who have gone to this group and have encountered less-than-friendly lanemates. I was totally prepared to deal with that, but then as I said, the coach put me in the nicest lane ever, so it wasn't a problem. In general, though, my anxiety about this and just generally about whether or not I'd be able to cut it made me understand a little more why new people who want to come to our tri team track workouts are so nervous about it. It is always scary to join a new group of people doing something you're not sure you're very good at, but really I think it's the job of those of us who are veterans to help those people over their fear.

The cockroaches: Turns out we swim in the pool that does NOT have a cockroach-infested locker room. My husband swims in the other pool at the university, and his cockroach stories have made me fairly squeamish. But apparently they leave that pool to the kids' swim team. Kids are much better equipped to handle cockroaches.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

L'homme de citrouille

I actually had to look up how to say "pumpkin" in French. Seven years of French and I never learned that, and yet I can still rattle off a scintillating dialogue about a failed bouillabaisse.

Pumpkinman was its usual awesome self. This was my 4th year in a row racing the sprint here, and the 4th year in a row of perfect weather. It is pretty clear that the swim was a little shorter than usual here (no, I didn't take 1:30 off my last year's swim time!), but I am choosing to believe that it was not over a minute short, and therefore this counts as my best time in 4 attempts.

While the swim course might have been short, I did my best to lengthen it by swimming an oddly wide arc to the first buoy. I kept correcting every time I sighted, then finding myself wide again. Other than that, though, the swim felt great, and I could see I wasn't too far off some of the lead caps from my wave. During my endless pre-race obsessing over my previous years' performances, I decided I had lollygagged pretty seriously up the big hillclimb to T1 last year, so I focused on keping that quick this year. My focus netted me something unimpressive like 7 seconds' improvement, but at least I felt better about myself at the time.

Onto the bike: I rode so hard I thought I might puke, passed tons of people (because I was in the 2nd-to-last wave), and for my efforts ended up with almost exactly the same bike split as last year. The only thing I can think of is that I had to spend a lot of time passing people who were not super experienced at racing--some of the roads are a little dicey on the side, so these folks were often riding pretty far out to the left, which made passing challenging. I'm still not convinced this could have lost me that much time, but who knows? Anyway, it wasn't a big deal, and everyone in my AG had to deal with the same situation. Also, it's one thing when you see a guy in an aero helmet riding a disc wheel engaging in this behavior (which I did earlier in the season), and quite another when it's some person on a mountain bike. They just didn't know, and it wasn't going to help anyone to get frustrated with them, so I just called, "please move right" when I had to and thanked them when I passed.

I saw the 1st place amateur about a quarter mile into her run when I was coming in on the bike, which I knew translated to a deficit I couldn't make up unless she decided to sit down on the side of the road, but I took off anyway, not really knowing who else was ahead of me (especially from the earlier waves). I felt great this year on the run; my time wasn't as fast as a couple years ago, but it wasn't as bad as last year either, and I pushed pretty hard the whole way through. I want to thank in particular one of the volunteers, a teenage girl standing at the last corner of the run around transition--she was yelling at everyone to kick it in, and she was seriously motivating when I went by.

In the end I was the 4th amateur woman, 2nd in my age group (because yes, the same woman won it again--she is a rock!), but awarded 1st because of that whole bumping-up process. The downside to this was that I had a bigger climb onto the podium than I'm used to, and that is one tall podium.

And look--I won a visor, along with my lovely Pumpkinman coaster! I love prizes I can use. (I also love those coasters; I'm not 100% sure they're supposed to be used as such, but they work really well.)

I was joined in Maine this year by two teammates, Cindy and Kevin, who both had great races as well.

Cindy's partner took the photos, and although it looks like she added a fake backdrop here, that's really what a beautiful day it was. Also, I'm not standing on a podium here--I don't think of either of these folks as short, but apparently I'm kind of a giant.

The day after Pumpkinman was my running team's home cross country meet. We are trying to score in both the masters' and open categories for the women's USATF-NE cross country series, which means the more meets we can score in, the better. Since our club was hosting one of the scoring events, it just seemed bad form not to show up for it, even 24 hours after a race.

The start was just like I remembered--fast, with me at the back.

I felt pretty good, at least until about 800m from the end, when the wheels kind of came off. But who feels good 800m from the end of a cross country race, anyway? We won the masters' team race, primarily because we were the only full masters' team, but a win is a win, and I was the 3rd scorer for that group, having finished a rather sobering 24th out of 29 women in the race. My team also won the open race, no thanks to me. Here we all are, post-race and victorious:

A more typical post-race shot:

Me, wiping my sweaty face off. I think I am both the tallest and the sweatiest runner on my team. Also, I tend to run into scratchy things a lot during cross country:

The next weekend was another road race in the USATF-NE grand prix road race series. Are you keeping up here? There is both a road race and a x-country series. (Also a mountain series, I think, but I'll leave that alone.) This one was a 10K in Gloucester. The first thing I realized, a couple days out, is that Gloucester is really far east. I had to get up at 4:15 to meet my carpool for the 9 am race. I had a dark moment when I spilled most of my coffee in the car, but I recovered emotionally and had a lovely day. Gloucester is beautiful, the weather was beautiful, and the race wasn't half bad. Our master's team finished 7th and our open team 6th, and I scored for both after one of our actual fast runners was stricken with calf cramps partway through the race. I felt bad for her, but when I passed her on the side of the road (and yes, I checked to make sure she was OK first!), I knew that made me the 5th scorer for the open race, which was highly motivating. I kept thinking that I owed it to the other 4 not to embarrass myself on the uphills. And despite what this picture looks like below, I actually ran hard the whole way.

Really, it looks like this picture is missing the oxygen cart I was pulling along with me. And this was less than a half mile from the finish, so in theory I was running faster than average.

I love that there were so many free pictures available from this race. I just wish they had edited them to give me better running form.

What is with that hand? I actually ended up outkicking this women, who looks like she's about 25 but turns out to be 38. I felt prouder when I thought she was 25.  Anyway, surely the hand position is just an artifact of this particular shot.

Or not. I think my running form is pretty good when I'm not tired, but there's no denying the photographic evidence--I am a huge cross-body arm swinger when I'm tired. Not to be confused with a plain old swinger.

The other great thing about this race was that my college friend Sue, who lives a town or two over, showed up to do it. We found each other, out of the 1,000 or so runners there, in line for the bathroom, and we finished just over a minute apart, taking 9th and 10th in the 40-49 age group for women. I'm not posting any of her race pictures here, because she thinks they're hideous, but as usual they just show that she has much nicer running form than I do.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A year or so

I figured no one was really reading this, and then this summer at the pool a friend said, "I was reading your blog the other day!" So Suzanne, this update is for you!

Since I last wrote, I ran the local 10-miler in February.

My main strategy this year consisted of wearing a Smith basketball shirt, so that people would think, "She's not that fast, but hey, for a basketball player, she's doing great!" The picture above is about a mile into the race. Below is a shot from near the end, where I look decidedly less happy.

After running this race I lay on the couch, sore and wanting to throw up, for the better part of the day. At which point I decided, having done this 4 times and finished in the same time plus or minus 4 minutes each time, I am crying uncle on this race. Next year I will partake of the terrific atmosphere, the sense of seeing all one's running friends after a long lonely winter, by volunteering at a water stop. I'm writing this here so that someone can remind me of this if they see me with a race application in my hand. Although since then I've joined a running team and may end up having to do this as a team event. Bah.

Speaking of Smith basketball, I spent much of my winter being a super basketball fan. Smith made it to the Div III NCAA tournament for the first time ever, so Patrick and I road tripped to Maine to see their game.

The reason he looks so happy here is that, unexpectedly, Smith won their first-round game, beating the #8 seed on their home court. And now basketball season will be starting again before you know it.

Triathlon season started for me in May this year, when I road-tripped to New Jersey with Alicia to do Devilman. This year I opted for the sprint, which is really more of an Olympic Light. Last year the big story was the vicious biting bugs at the race. This year it was the 42-degree air temps at the start. I pretty much had hypothermia before I even started, and things didn't really get better until the run. The low point of the race for me was being unable to unbuckle my helmet in T2; I eventually found an official to take it off for me. 

At this year's finish I looked a lot less haggard (having only done the sprint) and a lot less bug-covered. After the race we hightailed it to Ocean City to hang out with Martha and some of her new NJ triathlon buddies. A neighbor lent me a beach cruiser to go to the boardwalk and buy saltwater taffy for the kids.

Other races this season included:

1) A ridiculously hilly Olympic tri in June, which was fun mostly because several of my teammates made the trip to eastern MA with me. 

I shared a hotel room with Lisa, who was doing her first Olympic race, and I can now say with confidence that she is even more obsessive than I am. For instance, she insisted on wading out into the lake the night before to take the water temperature.

2) My super-favorite local race in late June, where I tried really hard to get 3rd but didn't really get that close, ending up 4th behind three fabulous women who are all older than I am. This simply makes me optimistic for my next decade.

3) Back to NJ for the New Jersey State Tri, my A race. It is a long and not that interesting story how I ended up picking this race, but in the end I think it was a great choice. The obnoxious heat wave sort of broke, so air temperatures weren't that bad, although the water was a balmy 89.5 degrees. I still had my best Olympic swim ever, even sans wetsuit. My bike was great, and I pretty much imploded in a sea of cramps on the run, but I had a blast and ended up 5th in my AG. 

Also, that's not my time--I started about 45 minutes after the first wave. I want to go back next year for redemption. Two friends of mine did the sprint, and another one did the Olympic with me. Here we are post-race, after taking about 5 minutes to figure out which way to face so we could actually see ourselves in the picture.

4) A 5-mile running race! As alluded to above, I joined a local running team that wants to field a master's team in both the USATF grand prix races and the fall cross country series. I distinguished myself in my first race for them by being the slowest member of my team, but it was incredibly fun. I am such a dork that I was just thrilled to wear a team singlet. 

As a triathlete I often forget what a bad runner I am, relatively speaking, compared to people who only run, but in the end I think this will be good for my running, if rather humbling.

5) A local sprint tri to shake off the cobwebs after summer vacation. I went into this race hoping to win and didn't really come all that close, but I did come in 2nd woman, and once again Alicia and I proved we are the ideal road-tripping pair. (Although if you want to take a road trip and know the water temperature, Lisa is your gal.)

Next up: Pumpkinman sprint, my favorite way to cap off the season! And maybe since I'm on sabbatical this year, I'll actually update this blog occasionally.