Flailing is my favourite swim adjective

Waking up at 5am in the dead of winter for a swim workout is fun. Nothing really beats shuffling down the icy driveway towards my frosty car as the chilly breeze freezes me to the core. It’s like a second alarm clock that jolts me awake.
I am nearing the seven month countdown until my half-distance tri in August and two-a-day group training sessions have begun, which means, chilly before-the-rooster-awakes morning workouts. For the past year, I trained alone, which has allowed me to set my own schedule, find excuses to miss workouts, and otherwise avoid early mornings in the winter. But this year I decided to get some coaching to help guide me through more focused workouts, and with group training sessions I now have company and a motivator for getting out of bed, even at 5am in the dead of winter.photo(12)
I find my group on the deck, and my coach looks at my goggles and cap, and says, “Do you have an ankle band?” Staring blankly back at him I shake my head as I look down at his thick black elastic-band and then to the rest of the group, who are all carrying swim bags loaded with training aids. In just the last six weeks, I have seen tempo trainers, pull buoys, hand paddles, and now ankle bands. Gone are the days when a cap and goggles are the only swimming gear required.
As we hop in the pool, Maurice lays out the workout, four sets of 15’s, including free swim, ankle band, pull buoy and pull buoy with paddles. Four sets of 1500 metres? That can’t be right. We haven’t even started swimming, and I’m already confused. At least I know how to swim; I figure I’ll just follow their lead.
As I finish my first set of 15 minutes, not 1500 metres, Maurice, offers me his ankle band. “Here, just loop this around one ankle, figure-eight it around and put this end on the other ankle, it’s meant to make your legs sink.” Oh sweet, you want me to tie my legs together. “OK,” I reply, “I’ll try not to drown.” With a somewhat serious expression, he responds, “Yea, there are a few lifeguards around if you need help.” Oh, so drowning is definitely a possibility. OK. I wasn’t about to tell my coach I didn’t want to do it; I don’t think it was an option.
So I proceeded to literally tie my ankles together and pushed off the wall. At first a mild panic rose within my chest and my heart began to beat faster as my legs sank behind me. This is how I imagine it feels after walking the plank, at least my hands weren’t tied behind my back, but for a brief moment, I wonder if that’s an exercise for next week. I picture myself writhing around like a worm through the water, and then realize I already look like a drowning seahorse or a floundering walrus, so it probably can’t get much worse. While pulling through the water with my dragging, useless legs I found that if I focused more on the swim than on my bounded feet, I was surprisingly OK and in fact not drowning at all, minus some flailing here and there.
Next set, and it’s on to the pull buoy, which I have maybe used once in my life, but I gave up because it felt like a balloon pulling my ass towards the sky. Once again I have no idea what I am doing, so as my swim mate stops by the wall, pops in her buoy and asks if I want to go first, I reply, “no, you go on.” She doesn’t know that I need to first watch what she does before I make a fool of myself. As I look under the water at the placement of the buoy, I follow suit, and carry on. And just as last time, my ass floats skyward. Buoyancy is definitely not an issue for me, so when you stick a flotation device between my thighs, well naturally things will go up. At this point, I wasn’t sure what looked better, my drowning seahorse act or my giant floating bum. I longed to just swim normal laps without the hindrance of an elastic band or a piece of foam wedged between my legs.
For the last set, I grab my hand paddles (the only other piece of swimming gear I own besides my cap and goggles) and continue pretending to be the pro that I am not. With the buoy still firmly squashed between my legs, I keep motoring along through the final 15. At each end, as I attempt to grab the deck with my flipper-like hands for my open turn I can’t quite get my grip, and end up just kind of bobbing like a child on a pool noodle before turning around and setting off again. The ensuing laps are reminiscent of an overweight seal with a slightly dysfunctional back end. Seriously, only I could manage to resemble three different drowning sea creatures in just one morning swim. Maybe it doesn’t look as funny as it feels. At least that’s what I’ll tell myself anyways.
At the end of the session, my head is full with new knowledge and my body has learned a few new ways of getting from one end of the pool to the other. It still never ceases to amaze me just how much there is to learn and that it’s a constant process. Who knew something as simple as swimming, biking and running could be so complicated? Nonetheless, I am grateful for the stories, and even more so for the chance to laugh at myself as I continue on the road to one hundred forty point six miles.

Changes are on the horizon

I’ve never been one to set resolutions in the New Year. I’ve always just thought of January as another month, where the numbers turn over and a bunch of people start swearing they’ll lose weight, go to the gym, be nicer, and overall become better people. We still have a few weeks to go in 2013, but with or without resolutions, I already know that 2014 is going to bring a lot of change into my life. I just accepted a new job, and I am over the moon with excitement that I will be embarking on a new journey with new challenges. Anyone who knows me knows I need change, and I need it often, otherwise life becomes too predictable. More importantly, though, this new job breathes new life into my training. For the last five and half years I have worked in the wildfire business, where summers are nothing but flames, planes and fire trucks. Between on-call shifts and 12-14 hour work days for three weeks at a time from May to October, the summer can leave me with few precious hours for anything else, let alone, swimming, biking, or running. But come January 6, 2014, I will have my summers back, which means I can focus all of my energy during my spare time on reaching the goals I’ve been dreaming about for the past year. No more 10pm swims after my on-call shift is over, no more running with the Blackberry attached to my hip, no more wondering if the next big fire will interfere with my next big race, no more riding the bike while talking on the cell phone (which, I might add, has almost led to some epic crashes). During race season, my life revolved around work, and I have spent a lot of time over the last year wondering if I could ever reach my goals, especially an Ironman distance triathlon, while working those kinds of hours.  In fact, there were times when it seemed impossible. Now I feel like a weight has been lifted, and it’s one less thing to think about. Now when I see smoke in the air, the only thing I’m going to worry about is how the particulates will affect my lungs during training, not about when my phone will start ringing.

Ruthless feet

There is no doubt that running takes a pounding on the lower half your body. I can’t even count the times I’ve grimaced in pain from muscle and joint aches in my calves, quads, glutes, hamstrings, hips, ankles, and achilles since my training begun. Yet there is one body part of my lower half that, despite all the pounding, has become extremely durable; my feet. I have no doubt I could walk across burning embers without even flinching, and I am damn proud of that. But I suppose that over time the more you beat up on something, either it gets stronger or it breaks. I have spent just over a year really beating down on the two pillars of my foundation, and as a result I have tough-as-nails feet that can sustain miles of running through mud, sweat, rain, snow, scorching heat, and with or without socks. It doesn’t, however, come without a price. Despite the ruthless superiority of my rough hooves, I have been asked to keep them hidden, like golden gems, beneath the veil of clean, fresh socks. These are the people who don’t truly understand the true beauty of the callused sole. It’s even been suggested that I treat them with a pedicure, or cover the blackness with shiny pink polish. But for all the blisters, blood, pain, and lost toenails I have endured over the last year, I would say that I’ve earned the appearance of my feet, and no one is taking my calluses away from me. There are many more miles of pounding these feet must endure, and I am certain there isn’t any shade of pink polish that is going to help me get there. So callused, bloody, blistered, raw and blackened my feet shall stay, and if only I see the beauty in that, so be it.