Monday, September 24, 2012

Maybe It Is Time I Learn How To Swim, I'll Be A Dolphin, I'll Be A Dolphin

There's a broken beam inside of the big big bridge
I guess that whole thing is caving in
Maybe it is time I learn how to swim
I'll be a dolphin, I'll be a dolphin

I've been waiting awhile to use the above song, a long time favorite of mine by Poe. It's never really been appropriate, until now. And, in revealing little-known-details about myself, I have a small dolphin tattoo (I know, how cliche) on the back of my left hip that most people aren't aware I have unless I wear low cut jeans (hardly ever) or a bikini (oh, wait. NEVER after babies.) I got it in college and I don't think it held specific meaning for me then, other than I liked how it looked. The interesting thing is that it's come to have a lot of meaning for me as an adult, and isn't just something silly I did at age 20. The whole idea of not being afraid to dive into new, potentially scary situations, keeping the head above water, and that sometimes your only two choices are sink, or keep swimming mister....that's given that little blue guy a lot of character in recent years, and is symbolic of those risks and chances I've taken. The song ties right in with acknowledging and recognizing that fear, but having that trust that if you keep swimming, you will make forward progress and won't sink like a stone.

2012 has been a year for trying new and different things as an athlete. Part of that has been getting out of my comfort zone, which I've come to realize I'd been sitting in for quite some time. I've been documenting all my experiences at 100 mile races this summer, and recently added one more crewing gig to the mix at the Run Rabbit Run 100 in Steamboat Springs for a friend who was running with the hares. It kind of felt like old hat this time, with no major glitches in getting our runner in and out at each crew point, and I was starting to see some regular, familiar faces participating as well. 

At the end of the weekend, I wound up contacting Karl Meltzer, winner of the race, at the suggestion of a friend who had received some coaching from him prior to one of his 100 mile races. It felt a little weird to declare that "Hi Karl, you don't know me, but I might like your help next year for the Leadville Trail 100." It was liberating, though, to just put it out there that it's on my agenda next year. It was a step forward, despite my fears and misgivings.

Another new thing I've been doing is swimming and cycling. A couple of my friends nicknamed me "The Enabler"-as in, that chick who talks them in to doing races and events they might not otherwise. I don't know if that's true, so much as just trying to encourage friends to pursue races and goals they are fully capable of completing, and seem to have an interest in doing. 

Now, if you'd told me a few months ago that I might be doing a triathlon next month, I'd probably say that you were nuts. I've always had a fear of trying a sport with multiple apparel and gear changes, and, well, stuff I don't really know how to use, locate, or anything like that. Wetsuits? Stuff myself into this rubbery thing and maybe or maybe not drown? A bike, with gears to shift, and shoes to clip in? No freaking way. I'd said once that MAYBE....if I had friends telling me what to do every step of the way...I MIGHT consider a triathlon.

Fast forward to the weeks after the Imogene Pass Run. Some of my friends were already training for the Desert Edge Triathlon. My friend Angela, who is a rock star swimmer, had been working with us on Tuesdays at the Colorado Mesa University pool. Now, having running endurance does NOT transfer over to swimming at all-at least not in a direct manner for me. But, Angela said I'd get that over time, and that my stroke was generally pretty decent. I was also informed that since I got her to do Imogene, well, I WAS going to do a triathlon. Fair enough. We were first looking ahead to the Highline Hustle, but that's such a long way off. My competitive side didn't want to do a triathlon unless I could really compete and feel like I had mastery of each discipline. Somewhere along the way, I got okay with the idea of doing Desert Edge-just for fun. And to prove to myself that I was better than my fears. 

I know. FUN? A foreign concept, right? Plus, I'd heard numerous stories about friends-many who are strong athletes in various sports-freaking out on the swim. Any time I'd read about an occasional death in a triathlon, it was always in the swim. And then there were the stories of run-of-the-mill kicking, punching, craziness as tons of athletes enter the water. So, I was a little wary about my ability to complete a 750 meter open water swim. But, in my quest to grow and get out of my comfort zone, I decided I'd throw my best submission ever into the Bad Ideas Club, and go ahead with Desert Edge thanks to lots of encouragement and willingness to help and train on short time by friends with the experience, and the stuff available to loan to complete it. And, I realized, it wasn't a good thing to let my fear paralyze me, and be an excuse to not do this. 

When I dive into that ocean
God I hope I don't sink like a stone -- no
I'm gonna move like a dolphin

After several weeks of swimming in the CMU pool, I took my first trip out to Highline Lake to swim in a  wetsuit one of my friends was kind enough to loan me, along with her tri suit and little number belt thingy.  I didn't really know the best way to get into it, didn't know how I'd feel in the water, and just knew that people freaked out on this more than any other portion of the triathlon. Resisting the urge to just go back to the safety of my car, I went out into the water. It was, blissfully, not as cold as expected. Man, though, my friends weren't kidding that you couldn't see anything. The current, while not tremendously strong, was still way more than anything you'd experience in a swimming pool. So, despite my fears I got out there and started swimming. 

Sometimes I think I'm breaking down
And other times I think that I'm fine
But something got into my engine
It slowed me down
Now I gotta turn this whole thing around

At first, it was okay. Then, I had that moment. I realized I was in open water, and that I couldn't really see much in that murky stuff. I knew I had a LONG way to go to get to the buoy I was supposed to swim to in this workout-and it happened. I started to freak out. As quickly as I started to freak out, though, I remembered the advice of several people to get over on my back-backstroke it out. Get control of my breathing. So I did, and in the process, managed to settle myself down quickly. After a minute or two, I told myself "it's just swimming. It's just swimming. You have a wetsuit. You won't drown. Just relax and swim." And on I went, slowly but steadily for the most part, out around a buoy in the middle of the lake, back to shore, and then back out again for another half-loop. And it didn't suck! Yay! It actually helped to relax and work out lingering soreness from recent runs-an added perk.

Later that morning, I met up with the friend who was loaning me one of his bikes. Now, me and equipment-this is a whole new ballgame. This bike, though, was probably perfect for me right now. An older, high-quality, smooth-riding, workhorse bicycle. And, getting tips from an Ironman (a finisher of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 run) who knows what he's talking about is very reassuring. We rode around the neighborhood for awhile, doing loops, going up and down a big hill, and just getting me comfortable to being on the bike. Once or twice, we stopped to make adjustments to the bike to get it where it felt as comfortable as possible for me, and I just practiced with the gears, and basic technique. Clipping in, I must say, is my greatest concern now. I was having a lot of trouble, even with the help of having the bike held upright for me, with something that is easy for more experienced riders. Again, though, it was reassuring to hear, and I am trusting that it is true, that this will become easier with practice.

Yesterday, I had kind of an exciting moment in my second open water swim. I made it all the way around Snooks Bottom, a lake near some of the trails we run near Fruita, Colorado. While I did go to backstroke several times, I made it without stopping, and without freaking out. The water was colder here, and murkier in spots. From the first to the second swim, though, I already felt a little better and more confident. And, I'd covered almost twice the distance I'd need to in the tri-probably about 1300-1400 meters. It felt really good. And just getting on my back and floating in the lake after the swim-it was a moment of indescribable peace I'd never have experienced if I'd let that fear of sinking trump jumping in and swimming. 

Is this an ideal way to go-essentially "cramming" for an event? Well, of course not. That said, I might very well be still sitting on my couch, overweight and not pursuing my goals, if I hadn't signed up on a whim for The Other Half five years ago when I was moved to try something that seemed so hard and out of reach. This is exactly the same. I'm feeling the urge to do this, and that if I don't do it, I might never do it. Waiting until the exactly perfect time often means that the exactly perfect time never comes. I might be missing out on an incredible experience, way out of my comfort zone, that'll make me a stronger athlete and person in the end. So, here I I come....I'll be a dolphin.

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