Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Death Weekend--I Survived (Barely)

How NOT to do an Open Water Swim:
Saturday (7/26) started out with the 20th annual "Sickies of the Sea" Cove-Pier-Cove swim, a 3-mile ocean swim from La Jolla Cove to Scripps Pier and back. About 200 of us lined up at the Cove at 7:30 am. I had been informed the water was a balmy 72 degrees, and therefore, wouldn't need a wetsuit. Mistake #1. (Maybe I need to start upping the cheeseburger and milkshakes). I dove in and started swimming, trying my best to ignore that the water felt damn cold. I trusted that I would warm up once I got going. Isn't the water in the Cove always colder right there anyway? Wow, my judgement was already getting clouded.

Our group coasted along easily. Peacefully. I settled into a relaxed rhythm right away, sighting the end of the pier every so often. We were all completely oblivious to the strong northbound current pulling us along. I just thought I was a supersonic, awesome swimmer! Shirelle's Mama Says played over and over in my head (NO idea where that came from!): Mama said there'll be days like this; there'll be days like this, Mama said. Random, slightly annoying but thoroughly entertaining nonetheless. I just wish the internal DJ manning the radio in my head knew how to play a better variety. I should write a letter to the Dept. of Internal Affairs. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

We reached the pier and regrouped. One guy had GU and water. How the heck did he manage that? I had nothing. Mistake #2. I looked at my watch--50 minutes. Ten minutes ahead of schedule. I was in good spirits and very proud of myself. The fact that we were getting pushed, no, make that swept, northward rapidly did not concern me.

As soon as we turned back, it became apparent we were fighting a strong, rip-like current. I remember discovering a southbound current west of the pier on my last Pier-Cove-Pier swim and decided to leave my group to head a little west to rediscover my long lost friend. Mistakes #3, 4, 5, and beyond. My long lost friend was nowhere to be found. In addition, with no landmarks to guide me, it was difficult to discern a "little" west from A LOT west. Remember, folks. Swimming west here in the Pacific means going out to open sea.

I saw my swim group to the east of me but they were far away. I was having trouble fighting the current and wanted to conserve energy. Plus, I had discovered another swimmer, who I nonverbally decided to adopt as my new swimming buddy, assuming he must know this because he must have telepathy like me. I put my head down and swam. And swam, and swam, and swam. I struggled to make progress. I felt like I was swimming uphill. There was significant chop and swells. Every other time I turned my head to breathe, I missed my opportunity for air as an impromptu wave of water smashed over me.

My arms ached and I started to feel tired but I could handle that. I had been in the water for about 80 minutes now and was beginning to feel cold. Very cold. And the cold feeling was getting worse. Not good, not good at all, and I knew it. I breast-stroked for a few seconds to look around but I was alone. There were no other swimmers. No paddlers. No kayakers. Not even a boat. Just ocean. I could see La Jolla Shores but it was very far away. The Cove was definitely closer but the amount of ocean I needed to cross to reach land was vast and unfathomable. For the first time, I felt a sneaking feeling of fear and panic begin to rise.

I tried to swim faster to warm up (also a mistake). It didn't work. The coldness continued to consume me. In addition, swimming faster used up precious energy needed to get back (and for heat). I felt completely exposed to the cold, icy water; there was no escape. My arms and legs felt numb. I was beyond shivering or goosebumps. My skin felt like a weak, outer shell, thinly protecting my organs from the penetrating water. I felt like the coldness was creeping inside the very essence of my being. In addition, I was weary, sluggish and lethargic. I just wanted to get out. If I had seen a kayaker, a lifeguard, a log, anything, I would have begged them for a ride back.

After breast-stroking for a brief period and realizing I was still alone, and still far away, I realized I had two choices: die or swim. It wasn't that death was so bad. It was the suffering involved in getting to that point. And the cold was already causing me to suffer. I really didn't want to be subjected to more. Plus, there were a lot of people on shore waiting for me--my family, friends, boyfriend, Babs & Taz--I would really be letting them all down if I didn't make it back. I decided to fight for shore for a bit longer. But I have to admit, I did consider surrendering and waving the white flag for a few minutes out there. I opted for the 2nd choice, put my head down and swam.

I was still fighting the current. I had been staring at the same landmark on La Jolla Shores for what seemed an eternity, and it hadn't moved. I felt like I was swimming and swimming and swimming and going nowhere. Of course, I was but when your landmark is several miles away, it doesn't move very much. Objects may appear farther away than they actually are. I was doing my best but the Pacific wasn't going to make it easy for me to get back. I began praying (and I'm not a particularly religious person). Please. A little help would be greatly appreciated. Just make the current a little less. Does this have to be so hard?

My brain was still sending me signals to let me know I was painfully cold. Since there was nothing I could do about the current and nothing I could do about the cold, it seemed pointless to suffer further and risk succumbing to the all-powerful Pacific. I had to do something to shut off the SOS signals in my brain. I began counting strokes to drown out the white noise. As I would breathe right, every time my right arm entered the water: 1,2,3,4...10. At 10, I would switch sides, sight for a stroke or two, and count every time the left arm entered the water: 1,2,3,...10. Over and over and over a few thousand times.

I could see the road leading down to the Cove in the distance. I kept angling myself left, left, left. I knew I had gone too far west; I just didn't realize how far. I swam past a few fishing boats. Anger rose within me. Fishing boats are illegal in the Cove! Later, I would discover that the fishing boats were nowhere near the Cove; it was I who was swimming in their territory--out in the open sea, not the protected Cove area. I swam past a tall, yellow stick buoy to my right and an odd, pink balloon buoy to my left. I had never seen those buoys before. Weird. However, the closeness of a fixed object strangely comforted me. Plus, I could see that I was actually making forward progress since I clearly swam past the buoys. Was it me, or was the opposing current beginning to subside a bit?

I reached the kelp beds and picked my way through. I began to feel elated, not a normal emotion when swimming through kelp beds. First, the current had definitely shifted, and I was clearly being pulled over the kelp beds and towards the Cove now. I slipped easily over the obstacle course, instead of the normal clawing battle I do to avoid being strangled by the enormous tangling forest. Second, I could see the stairs leading from the beach to the grass at the Cove. Which meant...I was 1/4 of a mile away. I was going to make it! I was so flooded and overcome with ecstatic euphoria that it suddenly hit me at that moment: the reason I was so happy was because just 10-20 minutes earlier, I did not think I was going to make it back.

The final 1/4 mile of that swim was pure and simple rapture. I was going to survive this. I swam past snorkelers, swimmers, and scuba divers, all blissfully unaware of the dire peril I had just overcome. I reached shore and fought to stand up. And fell down. I got back up again. Wobbled. And fell down. This happened several times. The waves lapping around my ankles didn't help. It was as if the Pacific was reluctant to let Her human sacricial offering escape. Two lifeguards started towards me. I was able to wave them away as I staggered onto the beach, grabbing onto the stair railing for support. I literally pulled myself up the stairs, using the railing. My legs just weren't working. Being in the cold water for 2.5 hours had made it difficult to stand. Plus, there was no blood in my legs.

I reached the top of the stairs, much to the relief of a group of friends who had been worriedly waiting. After some warm clothes, hot coffee, liquids, food, and lots of hugs, I was right as rain again. The rest of the weekend was pretty crazy too--I warmed up with an 18 mile run. On Sunday, I did a 60-mile hilly ride through Del Dios/Elfin Forest. That concluded my "Death Weekend." Let's just end here by saying that I'm never going to use the word "death" with any of my future workouts.

Tips on Open Water Swimming:
1. Never swim alone.
2. Always tell someone on land where you are going, and when you can be expected to return (a lifeguard is preferable for this).
3. If the swim is going to be over an hour, make provisions for food and water.
"After one hour of moderate-to-intense swimming, blood sugars will drop, precipitating a mental 'bonk' as well as an increased risk of shivering and hypothermia." Kim Mueller, Competitor, July '08.
4. If the water is cold, or you are not trained for cold, wear a wetsuit.
5. Sight often.
6. If the swim is more than 2 miles, find a kayaker or paddler to escort you.
7. If you begin experiencing signs of hypothermia (shivering, goosebumps, disoriented, fatigue, sluggishness, lethargy), get out and warm up immediately. Treading water conserves more heat than swimming (because energy is conserved). Hypothermia can occur even in warm water.

Open-Water Swimming Sites:

Hypothermia Sites:

Friday, July 25, 2008

I Love San Diego Reason #433

In July's issue of Runner's World, I stumbled across this photograph of Torrey Pines. Since I work exactly 1 mile from the park, I am spoiled enough to have easy access to these trails whenever I want. I run them at least once a week. There is nothing better than seeing the ocean and the whole city from atop the cliffs in TP. In fact, that's where the pic on the header of my blog was taken. Plus, running the single-track trails through sand, up and down steep stairs, scaling steep hills alongside the cliffs, jumping over roots and rocks is completely absorbing and stimulating. It's my favorite place to go running in San Diego. No surprise to me that it's been mentioned several times in RW (was a "Rave Run" a year ago).
This week's workouts have been going seamlessly. I can't believe how much I benefitted from the recovery week last week. Camp Pendleton International left me unscathed; I'm not sore nor tired. Very nice for a change. I've added an extra run to start preparing for my October marathon, and I LOVE it. I hate having to give up 1 other workout a week (like the bike; ugh) but that's how it goes. This week, I did a hilly TP trail run, a 6-mile tempo Rose Canyon trail run, and a speed workout. (Not to mention a killer 26-mile bike through Rancho Santa Fe (got chased by a large dog; did you know they can run 20 mph?), 2 hard master's swim workouts (1 and 2) that left my shoulders sore and weights (not smart before masters swim)). Tomorrow will be my long run. Gulp. Hope it goes okay. I sort of have a "Death Weekend" planned. I'm not going to divulge the details until its over; I don't want to jinx it.
I'm really enjoying the extra running (in case you didn't notice). I know it's supposed to be really hard on the body but I always feel fresh and invigorated afterwards. And happy. Euphoric. A run always fixes a bad day. Especially trail running. I ran through Rose Canyon the other day, breathing deeply the smell of eucalyptus and side stepping little bunnies grazing at dusk. My feet fell lightly on the path, skipping over rocks and crevices in the ground, effortlessly seeking out the smoothest way through. I lost myself in the rhythm; I was simply being carried along for the ride. I felt as if my legs were a flowing river, the water pouring down the trail and soaking up the canyon, finding the path of least resistance through the valley.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Camp Pendleton International Triathlon 2008 Race Report


The Unintended Taper
Sometimes rest can be a good thing. A very good thing. I hadn't planned on a rest week. I had planned on a 17 mile run this weekend. Full speed ahead. But last weekend's workouts left me wasted (80 mile ride, 16.5 mile run). I had nothing, no gas left in the tank. My body demanded a recovery week. Reluctantly, I took Thursday and Friday completely off. It was an unintentional taper.

Of course, I didn't really sit around the house. I got a little stir-crazy. I hung up paintings and curtains (yea for power drills!), went on a shopping spree at Best Buy, dragged a 70 lb. tv stand upstairs, put it together, moved an even heavier old tv into the bedroom, dragged an even heavier video cabinet from the living room into the bedroom, and set up a new flat screen tv in the living room. At some point, my lower back started complaining. Loudly! I'd like to say I had all this extra energy from not working out, or that I was just feeling particularly industrious but the truth is, Brent was out of town, and I was just trying to keep myself busy. So I went a little nuts. And threw my back out. The low point was on Friday when I hooked up the new tv, and it didn't work (it's a lemon; they have to bring me a new one). Ugh! Talk about a let-down! I was so frustrated, I threatened not to do the race on Saturday at all. "That's it! I'm not doing it. My back hurts, the new tv doesn't work. I'm out." That would show them! Punish the defective tv by not racing.

Brent flew back into town and was so excited about coming out to spectate my po-dunk little race that he inflated me with enthusiasm. And my sister was coming to watch. They pumped me up a little. I cleaned up the bike, packed my stuff, changed out the race wheels, and put my sticker on the bike. I guess I was doing it now. Once you change the wheels, you're pretty much in. But I was not excited. I felt emotionally drained. However, because of the rest days, I felt fresh physically, and I knew it. I knew I would regret it if I didn't do it.

So when the alarm went off at 5 am, I dragged myself out of bed (plus, getting showered in kisses by someone who keeps saying, "Aren't you excited?!" over and over helps too; how could I not at least be a little excited?).

The Start:
As soon as I got there, I was glad I decided to show up. I had done this race 2 years in a row and loved it so much, I was back for my third. I've decided to make this my annual race every year; I love it so much. Plus, I saw tons of friends and was instantly chatting away. Afterall, what's a race if not an awesome social event? It was cool, overcast and misting, a nice reprieve from the previous 2 years of brutal heat. I decided right then and there to just go out and have fun and not care about my time at all. I took all pressure off myself and decided it was okay to be slower than my previous year's time. I breathed a deep sigh of relief.

Michelle, Solene, Monica and me in transition beforehand

The Swim:
Michelle came back after her warm-up swim doing the full body shiver. "Ittt's coooold!" What? In July? I dipped a toe in. Crap! It was about 65. I was thankful for my wetsuit. We waded in and jogged in place to keep warm for several minutes. I think all of us were very happy when the horn blew. Finally, we could get going and warm up!

--me, Michelle, Solene, and Monica freezing our asses off

--Tri Grrls Gone Wild!

I took off quickly, trying to stay in the pack. Generally, I'm a slow starter so beginning the swim a bit aggressively was not a bad decision for me. However, zig-zagging all over the place was (actually, it was not my decision; that's just how it went down). I tried to use the orange buoys as a line to lead me towards the big yellow one but, unfortunately, they were crooked and didn't help my swimming dyslexia. Luckily, the first 500 meters was over very quickly, and I hit the first turn buoy and dog-legged to my left.

Then, I started falling apart. There were a lot of gaps between 1 buoy and the next. Much sighting was required, which apparently, I couldn't do that day. I lost my rhythm and was a bit disgruntled when a few girls from the wave behind me zipped past, totally demoralizing me. However, they also offered a free draft and line to follow. I took it. For a few minutes at least. Until I lost it. And swam straight into a backstroker. Who kicked me square in the face and knocked my goggles off. I quickly squeezed my eyes shut in a valiant attempt to keep my contacts from popping out. I would have been blind without them. I heard the backstroker weakly apologize but I was too focused on getting my goggles back on and back into the game to respond.

Somehow, I got everything back into place and continued onwards. Found my rhythm. And finally reached the turn-around buoy. Since I couldn't trust my suddenly spaghetti arms to swim straight, I sighted more frequently, enabling me to swim the final 500 meters much more smoothly. I hit the beach and tried something new--taking my wetsuit off while sitting in ankle-deep water. Hey, it's a "C" race for me; I gotta try new stuff sometimes. Where's your sense of adventure? Anyway, I'm not sure it was any faster, and I was giggling about it with another girl in my wave who attempted the same maneuver. At least we had fun trying it!

Slightly disgruntled at my disorienting swim (after 2 years of doing this race and all my racing and swimming, you'd think I could master the swim at this race! For some reason, the CP International swim gets me EVERY time--3 years counting--swim 3; Rachel 0), I ran up onto the beach and huffed and puffed the long 1/4 mile run in sand and on pavement to the transition area. Glanced at my watch as I crossed the mats--:34. Really? Could it be true? Last year was :42 (both include the long run to transition--my watch out of the water last year read :40; this year :31). Regardless of how you look at it, that's an 8 to 9 minute improvement! Holy smokes! (And I know I could do better.)

The Bike:
Grabbed Torch with his race wheels and I, donning my Star Trek aero helmet, darted out of transition. I sprinted up the hill out of the saddle, pumping blood into my legs. I'm a slow starter so every little effort to jump start my legs is helpful. Realizing I was hungry and thirsty, I spinned for a minute or two to digest 2 Cliff Bloks and down some H20+InfinIT. Yummy. Plus the Bloks were Black Cherry=CAFFEINE! Watch out, here she comes!

--Out of T2; Torch and I aero'ed out (like the Star Trek helmet?)

It took me about 5 miles to get my bike legs. Soon, I was chasing people down. I passed a girl in my age group. She didn't like it and sped up and passed me back. Then slowed down again. Argh. I held my pace and rode side-by-side for awhile. She wouldn't budge. I pushed it slightly and pulled ahead. She sped up and passed me back. The whole time, she refused to meet my gaze, smile, not even a wink. So. It's going to be like that, eh? Didn't bother me any. I let her stony competitiveness fuel my pace a little. This is going to be grrrreat. I was salivating. We played musical bikes for awhile until I refused to waste any more energy on it. It was just the first half of the bike. Wait until the second half, I kept telling myself. She passed me again, and I let her get in front. Fine. She wants to let me draft? Whatever. That's cool with me. A few miles down the road, another girl passed me, pedaling furiously, breathing in sharp rasps. Hmmm. I wasn't breathing hard at all. Maybe I should pick up the pace?

We hit some hills, and I attacked. I broke each one into thirds--attack at the bottom, find a rhythm in the middle, and power up to the top. I used the momentum from the downhill dipping below the climb to push me to the middle, found a comfortable rhythm and allowed my breath to follow my cadence, then when I wanted to fade as the grade lessened at the top, I pushed it...hard, amping up the power, finally allowing myself to recover at a much higher speed on the flat road after the hill. It worked like a charm. I passed a TON of people (including high-cadence girl and musical chairs girl). Sure, I was redlining...gasping for air but no worries. I trusted that there was flat road or a descent up ahead, and I knew I could recover quickly.

--tearing it up on Torch

Another girl in an ugly pink tri outfit passed me on a hill and blew a snot rocket in my direction, narrowly missing me. Actually, I don't know how she didn't hit me. Thanks. Here, let me mucous all over you as I pass. Of course, that was all the encouragement I needed to zip ahead and get the hell out of Dodge. As I headed back on Vandegrift, I was hit with the familiar headwind. But in my aero helmet on my tri bike with my race wheels, I felt totally protected. And after the 30 mph winds in IMAZ, no wind has ever felt as brutal. I focused on holding my rhythm steady and blasted onward.

Zoomed into T2, quite pleased with my ride. It had been zippy and fun, and I had felt strong. Plus, my average was 19 mph (2 mph faster than last year's), which shaved 7 minutes off the bike compared to last year. Bring on the run!

The Run:
The clouds were still holding, and the weather was still blissfully cool. I didn't even need my visor or sunglasses. I couldn't believe it. I grabbed my race belt and was off. I downed a cup of water out of T2 and smiled for Brent and my sister, enthusiastically cheering me on from the sidelines. Thanks, guys!

--out of T2

I saw a guy up ahead with an IMAZ jersey on, and I picked up my pace to catch him. We started chatting.
"That was a rough day out there."
"Yeah, it was. Did you do it?"
"Yup. It was my first."
"And you finished? You should be very proud."
"It was so awesome. I can't wait until the next one!"
"When's your next one?"
"I'm trying to get into IM Canada."
"Ooh. I hear that's a good one."
At this point, a girl running with us blurts out, "You guys are crazy! I'm just trying to get to the end of this one!"
I laughed. She was right. I had become one of those people.

--negotiating the sand at the turn-around

I ran on ahead, keeping my pace in check. I wanted to negative split the 2 laps. I cheered on other people wearing Tri Club San Diego uniforms. If I didn't recognize them and they were running in my direction, I started chatting with them. "Hi, I'm Rachel. How are you?" One of my friends saw me doing this as he ran the other way and was cracking up about it later. What good is racing if you can't socialize and have a bit of fun out there?

--All smiles on the run course. Oh, right! I LOVE running!

On the 2nd lap, I let myself go a little. It was harder to carry on long-winded conversations now. Damn! We all know how much I hate to talk. Now, others were cheering me on, and I barely heard them. I was focused...in the zone. I downed another cup of water and pressed onward, preparing for the 1 short, steep hill. I pumped my arms and maintained my cadence up the hill, allowing my breathing to increase sharply. "You can recover at the top. At the top," I kept telling myself. Plus, I knew it was the last hill; after that, it was all flat or downhill.

I reached the final turn-around and headed back for the final 1.25 miles. A refreshing breeze hit me, and I picked up the pace. I just felt good. A girl passed me, the number "33" blatant on her calf. "Oh no you didn't!" I thought. I wanted to beat her. Bad. I picked up the pace but she was going at a good clip. I made a quick assessment; she seemed a very worthy competitor; I wasn't sure I had it in me to catch her. I resolved to keep her in my sights, which was proving hard enough to do. Just when I thought I was going to have to let her go, I began passing other girls in my age group that I hadn't been able to muster enough steam to get ahead of before. Okay. Just a little longer. 1 more mile, 1 more mile, I told myself. Even if I couldn't pass Miss 33, I could use her to get a better time for myself. That was motivation enough. At the final turn towards the chute, the final 1/4 mile, I decided to lay it all on the line. Was it me, or was she fading? Couldn't be. Must be my imagination. It was time. Now or never. I began my sprint, blasting past her, bracing myself for her final kick. It never came. She never even rallied with me. I was disappointed. Nonetheless, I was also ecstatic; I had passed the fearsome, Miss 33! I crossed the finish line in a full sprint, fully satisfied, fully ecstatic. It had been a glorious race.

Camp Pendleton International had been wonderful the previous 2 years, and I wasn't to be disappointed for year #3. In addition, I was later to discover I had run the 10k in :48 minutes (about 7:48 min/miles), which is my fastest 10k EVER (even when compared to a straight 10k without a swim and bike beforehand). My long-standing goal had been to run a :50 min 10K, which always had seemed to escape me, and I had finally surpassed it! Compared to last year, I shaved 20 minutes off my overall time. In addition, I raced at an intensity that was enjoyable. It didn't feel like I was trying harder. I was also calm and relaxed and just having fun, which I've learned is where my best performances come from. All I can say is I am more than grateful for the little push I needed to get my ass out the door.

Previous CP International Race Reports:

Thanks, Brent and Russ for the awesome pics!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Thanks for the Pick-Me-Up

Just wanted to give a shout-out to all my blog friends for your encouragement, support, and flood of compliments. Always makes me feel better on a lousy day. I've been kind of grumpy lately. In a slump. I guess the weekend's workouts took their toll. I've had no energy, no oomph this week. I was hoping to train hard this week and recover next week but it looks like I've taken my recovery week early. I had to. My Tuesday morning bike ride was embarrassing. My toe still hurts so I swapped weights for my run Tuesday pm. Wednesday, I headed out on Pandora after work, excited about my evening ride. As I pedaled down the coast, my legs had no juice, and I felt sluggish. The sluggish feeling felt progressively worse and worse. I gave it the 10-minute rule. After 15, I knew it was time to turn-around and head home, head hung low, tail tucked between my legs. I barely made it up the inside of Torrey Pines. I took the rest of the evening off. I'm taking today off too. I think I will just swim on Friday. I'm trying to recover and get my mojo back before Saturday's race (Camp Pendleton International Triathlon). Gulp.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Iron Weekend

No, I'm not signed up for an Ironman. But I'm training for one anyway. A bunch of my friends (and Brent) are signed up for Ironman Arizona in November. I had so much fun training for the first one, I find myself training for this one too. I just can't help myself. This time, I am especially enjoying just doing the training without the added pressure of a crazy-hard race looming ahead (okay, well I do have a marathon in October). I am finding the key to training hard is recovering hard. Obeying this law, I've been eating a lot of good food (high in protein, fruits and veggies), sleeping a lot, getting deep-tissue massages regularly, stretching daily, and doing Yoga to boot. I guess I am simply not happy unless I'm deliriously exhausted from the previous day's workouts. If it were anything other than exercise, my family would launch an intervention, and I would be sent off to rehab.

Long Bike
On Saturday, a group of 11 of us gathered for an 80 mile bike ride with heat, hills, and wind at 6:30 in the morning. What more can you ask for? Thankfully, we had a nice cool cloud cover for more than half of the ride. It was unbelievably humid, however, unusual for San Diego. My sunglasses kept fogging up. I eventually just tucked them into my back pocket, tired of not being able to see.

As I conquered Scripps Poway Parkway and Hwy 67 on Pandora, I rejoiced. A short, little year ago, these hills always killed me. This Saturday, I didn't hammer but just enjoyed the climb. I couldn't believe I could find a pace that felt comfortable. These used to be monster mountains to me. I watched a road runner awkwardly take flight and soar across the road before darting away into the scrub brush. The other riders loudly cursed at me as I explored an extra loop in Ramona, offering scenic views of neighboring farms. Of course, I somehow found the few hills hidden there as well. I had always thought Ramona was pretty flat. Just windy. On Saturday, I found both. Hills and wind somehow always seem to come to me like metal to a magnet.

The group stopped at a grocery store on Main St, and I gobbled down some pretzels, half a turkey sandwich, and a chocolate chip cookie, chased by a Coke. Much better. We began our journey home through the windy, narrow roads of Highland Valley. Riding westward offers some very exciting descents around some very tight switchbacks, which Pandora loves (she hates it when I hit the breaks, and prefers me in the drops, of course). It was the exhilaration I feel when screaming down and around and upside down on a roller coaster. I just love when you have to break to 40!

I felt great all the way until we hit Camino del Sur. At that point, I decided I was done. My hands hurt, my feet swelled, my quads screamed, my lower back ached, and my stomach began to feel nauseous. Oh, and it was humid and hot, and I was dripping with sweat. Only 10 more miles...Of course, hill after hill kept appearing. Are you kidding me? I couldn't complain though; I had planned the route. We hit the 56 bike path, and I knew we had only 5 miles to go. The last 5 miles was the longest 5 miles I had EVER ridden, especially since we faced the full brunt of wicked headwinds. One last hill, and I was home. Thank, God! I drank 2 full glasses of ice-cold water, grabbed a bag of ice, placed it on my forehead, and laid on the floor of my air-conditioned apartment for about 10 minutes. God, that was a great ride.

Long Run
Sunday, I got to sleep in until 6:15 am. (Did I just say that?) Somehow, I dragged myself out of bed to meet my girlfriends for my long run. My goal was 16. 16? (Gulp). How the hell am I going to do that? Do you know what we just did Saturday? Are you crazy? Btw, are you aware that your toe still HURTS?! I ignored the voice of reason in my head. And started running. Slowly. One foot in front of the other, 1 mile at a time.

I chatted easily with one of my friends as ran through Batiquitos Lagoon. The cool, packed dirt trail was soft and forgiving on my legs. We did 2 loops, and 9 miles flew by. I felt great. She returned the start, and I continued onward. I hit the coast and made my way south, watching triathletes battle the heat and hill by South Ponto State Beach as they finished up the bike leg of the Carlsbad Triathlon (great race, btw). I felt a pang of remorse; I wanted to race! However, I had become one of those people. You know the type. The athletes you scorn for running a 2nd loop after the race is done because the race itself wasn't long enough for those crazies to get a decent workout. I had wanted to go long this weekend, and the Carlsbad Tri wasn't going to do it for me. (Besides I have Camp Pendleton next weekend anyway.)

I stopped briefly to refill my bottles at Ponto. It was SO humid! I took extra time to take care of myself--ate enough, drank enough, salted enough. I knew it would pay dividends later. I reached Neptune and ran towards Moonlight State Beach in Encinitas. I admired the multi-million dollar homes with coveted beach-front property and well-manicured little gardens in the front yards.

The turn-around came so quickly. I headed back, a new spring in my step. I was picking up the pace! I felt wonderful! I must have been fueling and hydrating properly because when I hit mile 14, I felt like my head was floating on my body; somehow my legs were carrying me along all by themselves. I had run all the pain from yesterday's bike ride out of my legs. I felt nothing but numbness. I admired the turquoise-green ocean, lapping lazily at the sand. Right at that moment, I was overwhelmed by a great sense of peace and comfort. I was exactly where I wanted to be at exactly the right time. It was a tremendous moment of clarity. My whole being, spirit, and soul was entirely present at that instance in time, from each ephemeral moment to moment, lucidly demarcated by each footstep.

When my truck appeared at mile 16 and-a-half, it took great pains to stop. Afterwards I felt alive and invigorated. Not sure why a long bike ride leaves me wrecked while a long run seems to breathe life and energy into every fiber of my being. I am salivating for my next long run.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


I feel fine. Just sluggish. Can't shake it. I don't feel particularly tired. Been sleeping okay. Eating like a champ. Not too sore. Okay, my arms are a little sore from all the swimming (~8,000 m/week) but nothing out of the ordinary. My training plan says I'm not due for a recovery week for 2 more weeks. Checked my volume and it's not too high. But I still feel blah. However, my training plan says the last several workouts I've done have felt sluggish. And my times have slowed down. Frustrating. I feel like I'm working verrrry hard for very little outcome. I swim as fast as I can and am sure I'm going to set a new WR. When I hit the wall, it IS a new record--STE (Slowest Time EVER). Same thing happening on the track. And on the bike...puh-lease. I don't even want to talk about it. I can't even muster the power to feign an attempt at speed. All I can do is spin. UGH!

I know I probably should take a day off. But I did that Monday! I know, I know. Another day off. (But I don't want to, she whines.) I almost skipped my evening bike ride yesterday. I couldn't tell if I was suffering from an afternoon slump or if I was really tired. So I decided to get on the bike and assess after 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, I felt great. So I hammered down the coast for 10 miles before turning around and hammering back into a headwind like it was nothing (20 mph avg out, 18 mph avg back). Guess I still do have the power. Sometimes. Course the cup of espresso might have helped too.

This morning, I hopped back into the pool for more. (Guess Terry's 3,000 meters yesterday didn't teach me a lesson). My arms were tired. But I had a breakthrough--she told me to keep my fingers closed during the pull part of the stroke and focus on keeping my arms straight during the first part of recovery (instead of swinging back over my back and twisting all about). All of a sudden, I was swimming faster with the same effort! So I hopped in the pool at 7:30 (late, I know) and began chipping away at Sickie's workout with tired, weary arms. I was trying my best to pretend I was Dara Torres as I crawled (bad pun, I know) down the lane. Extend from the lats, front quadrant, close fingers, arm up straight from hip, almost out, quicker turn-over, no, don't shorten stroke, twist from core...no wonder I was tired! All-in-all I felt pretty good, especially during the 600 meters (the longer, the better--I wish he would give us 1,000 m straight).

At the end, I introduced myself to a girl I didn't recognize in my lane. She responded by saying she remembered me from one time before. She then commented that I was faster since the last time we had swam together. That just made my day! I'm still grumpy but maybe not quite as much.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Speed Work Phase

Less Is More (Part III)
(Hmm....I see a pattern here)

I was feeling guilty about training less. As usual, I've been diligently analyzing my weekly volume and miles. Since Ironman, I've shifted my focus to speed, which is less impressive since both the mileage and time drop in my weekly stats. Then, I looked more closely...I started assessing how quickly I was getting the miles done. Turns out, part of the reason my weekly time has dropped is that, lo and behold, I've gotten faster. Who would've thunk? Sure, part of the fewer hours is fewer miles but it has also started taking me less time to do the miles I cover. Big sigh of relief. Guess the training is working.
For the first time in my life, I can actually focus on speedwork. Training for the Ironman earned me a huge base. Now, I am building speed without injuring myself or tearing myself down. However, I still find that the increased intensity demanded by the speedwork requires significantly more recovery and rest than I anticipated. I feel fantastic during (and after) my workouts, whether they be 5 trips up Torrey Pines (hill repeats) or an Olympic brick at Fiesta Island (19 mph bike for 16 followed by 33 min run for 4.2) but definitely feel the hang-over effects the following morning. Therefore, I make sure the day following a hard speed day is less intense, more forgiving, and sometimes (gasp) off completely.
So I think I'll let myself off the hook for dropping my volume. Obviously, something is working. Plus, I'm enjoying the increase in muscle mass. My body type is not the kind that holds onto muscle easily. Thanks to my genetic slow-twitch build, I can hit the weight room 3x a week and still look like a string bean. It's kind of fun to see me "bulk up" from the pool and the hills on the bike and the speedwork on the track. It's a little alarming to jump on the scale though--I've gained 4 lbs since IMAZ! Yikes! However, my pants fit the same so I keep repeating to myself that it's muscle. Right?
Happy Speeding!!!
PS--It's hard not to get super-motivated after watching the Olympic Trials. I can't stay out of the pool. Dara Torres ROCKS!!!
PPS--Oh yeah. And 3 more little words of inspiration: Tour de France!
Tips for Speedwork:
1. Go hard on speed days, really hard. Make sure the overall distance is much shorter than on base-training days.
2. Intersperse easy days with hard days. Never do back-to-back speed days.
3. You may need more rest and recovery than during base training (Shhh. Don't tell anyone but I've been taking Monday AND Friday off lately. Ahh! The insanity!).
4. Don't forget to stretch properly before and after a speed workout. Also, include proper warm-up and cool-downs to avoid injuring muscles.
5. Hydrate and eat properly before and after too. It's hard to do so during a very intense workout. I like to eat ~100-200 cals 1 hr before I hit the track plus take in fluid. Afterwards, I hit the chocolate milk ASAP for speedy recovery.
6. Less is more. Avoid doing more than 2 hard speed workouts a week. If you do a hard track workout 1 week, do a hard swim the next, followed by a hard brick the 3rd week (the 4th is a recovery week--no speed workouts at all, right?).
7. Speedwork is verrry hard on your body and puts you at a higher risk for overtraining and injury. At the first sign of either, back off. Take time off or go back to base training immediately.
Links on Speedwork:

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

San Diego International Triathlon 2008 Race Report

It was only an Olympic distance triathlon but I was nervous. I had sprained my big toe 10 days ago, and it was only 70% healed. I had resolved to do the race just for fun and not care about time. My strategy was to hit the swim and bike as hard as I could so I wouldn't want to run fast. Then, I would run verrry conservatively. Walk if I must. At least I was still racing. Still, in the back of my head, I wondered, "Can I still PR?" I had done this race 2 years ago, in much poorer shape.

We got to transition just as they opened. Within 5 minutes, I was finished with my set-up. After the intense set-up involved with Ironman transitions, everything else seems like cake now. The body-marker wrote my number in HUGE letters on my leg so that the last number was on my knee-cap. C'mon! Next time, I'm just going to do it myself (I keep a Sharpie in my bag, just in case). I grabbed my wetsuit, cap, and goggles and headed towards the bathroom. Suited up, and waited. And waited. And waited. The first wave left at 6:40 but my wave didn't go until 7:25. Torture! Can I go now? Now? How about now?

Finally, it was time to get in the water. I jumped into the calm, 70-degree water. Perfect. It tasted like diesel. Ah, yes. We must be in the Harbor. Yummy. I swam out to the deep-water start and bobbed with the other 68 girls in my wave. We chatted pleasantly and wished each other good luck. Girls are SO much nicer to each other than guys when racing!

I had taped my toe with waterproof tape in an attempt to support it for the run. It promptly slipped off as I waited for the horn to blow. I tried to throw it to the bottom (yes, I'm polluting, I know, but the water's already pretty nasty) but it kept floating to the surface. I looked around, sheepishly wondering if I was disgusting everyone by my mass of floating athletic tape. I guess it could have been worse. It could have been a turd. I decided to keep it wadded up in my fist until the horn blew. Then, I threw it under the water behind me. By the time it surfaced, I figured I would be long gone and could no longer be traced back to the scene of the crime.

We all took off, and I focused on staying in the middle of the pack. Unfortunately, my arms wouldn't obey, and I kept veering to the left when I breathed left. Then back to the right when I breathed right. Guess it was payback for Saturday's 1.7-mi ocean swim. Oh, well. At least it was only 1,000 meters. Did I just say that? I couldn't believe how quickly the buoys flew by. I zipped by the turn-around and picked up the pace. I could already see the final buoy and exit ramp in the distance. I remember a time (not that long ago) when 1,000 meters seemed to last an eternity.
I hopped out of the water and across the timing mat. My watch read 18 minutes. Yippee (5 minutes better than 2 years ago). I walked gingerly to my bike, waaaaay down on the far side of transition. I wanted to run sooo badly but restrained myself. No barefoot running on pavement with my bad toe! Slipped on my helmet, sunglasses, shoes and then w.a.l.k.e.d. to the mounting area. Ugh! I wanted to run SO badly! It was hard to let everyone else run by.
I clipped into Pandora, stood up out of the saddle and sprinted off. I had selected Pandora (my road bike--Look 585 Elle) instead of Torch (tri bike--Kuota K-Factor) because of the numerous little hills on the SDIT bike course. A tri bike might be faster but a climbing bike saves your legs, thus an advantage when you hit the run course. And with my injured toe, I wanted to keep as much pressure off my toe as possible. Using a lightweight road bike designed specifically for climbing was a smart strategy for this course. In addition, I was super stoked about debuting my gorgeous new road bike for the first time.
Pandora didn't let me down. Chomping at the bit, she took off, zipping around people, left and right. Taking them down. It was as if she was telling me, "Finally! I get to have some fun! Just sit back, relax, and stay out of my way. Let me do my job!" We hit Canon, and she took off. I spun up it effortlessly, amazed at the number of people I was passing. My face was burning, and I was breathing hard. Very hard. No worries. Plenty of time to recover at the top. I let loose full throttle.
On the downhills, I hit it hard as well. Pandora descended like a demon, surprising me. I didn't think a bike as light as she would be good at descending but I hunkered down on the top tube, and she screamed downwards at 35 mph. We passed more people on tri bikes as they leisurely coasted down the hills, sipping on their bottles and popping GUs. What is this? A picnic? (Actually, I was kind of thirsty too but had dropped my water bottle. Maybe this saved me more time? Afterall, I didn't need to waste time drinking, and no bottle = a lighter bike!)
I used the momentum from the downhills to spring halfway up the next hill before powering up and gearing down slightly. Then, I popped out of the saddle, unleashing Pandora from her box. That's right! I'm standing on the pedals! Want some of this? Pandora is so light; it's a treat to stand up and glide up the hills. (I think she has wings, honestly. Is that cheating?) As we crested, I continued standing and pedaling, springing forward, gathering speed, before gently resting on the saddle again, and recovering on the downhill sections.
At the end of the 2nd turn-around, as I circled around the Cabrillo National Monument, I took a brief second to admire the ocean surrounding me on all sides. Not only was the course fun and challenging with all the rolling hills but I had forgotten how beautiful it was.
I passed a girl in a pretty light blue-green tri-top and called out, "On your left!" As I passed, she cheered me on, "Go, Rachel!" I turned my head back, recognizing the voice. Michelle? Obviously, I was in the zone. I no longer saw people on bikes. My vision had clouded, as if I was seeing from robot eyes like the movie Predator. Moving object ahead. Obstacle. Go around. Guy slowing down on hill. Obstacle. Go around. Girl passing me. Age. 32. Enemy. Passing unacceptable. Take her out. Take her out.
I couldn't believe how quickly the bike was over. I cruised into T2. 0:55:16. I'll take it. My bike was one of the first ones back in my wave. Really? That had never happened before. I tried to re-tape my toe but my feet were wet and the tape kept sliding off. This wasn't going to work. I gave up, slid my socks and shoes on, and took off towards the timing mats, my visor and race belt in hand.
I tested my toe. Ran conservatively. Focused on my running form as I had practiced. Land light. Off quick. I kept repeating my new mantra to myself as I focused on striking mid-foot under my body and taking off quickly without using my toes. I felt good. Plus, my legs felt fresh. My breathing was calm and rhythmic. My feet felt quick too. How much faster could I really go? I wondered to myself. I let a few guys race past me, their breathing rapid and their faces red. My confidence grew. I knew they would fade in the first 2 miles.
I started settling into my rhythm. It felt SO good to just be able to run. Running is my favorite and my 10-day deficit had made my heart grow fonder. I wish the run was longer, I thought to myself. Then, I hit mile 2 and accidentally toed off. Searing pain shot through my toe like a lightning bolt. I limped for several strides, trying furiously to regain my rhythm. No, no, no, please, no! The pain subsided, and I diligently focused on my form again, slowing my pace. This seemed to work. Land light. Off quick. Land light. Off quick. I kept repeating to myself.
Soon, I was running rhythmically again, pain-free. Thank you, oh, thank you, toe. Thank you for letting me run today. If you get me through this, I will give you whatever you need. X-rays, doctor's appointments, rest, ice, acupuncture, yes, needles in the toe; I don't care how much it hurts. You get whatever you want. The toe responded by allowing me to continue running painlessly so the bribing must have worked. Oddly enough, the farther I ran, the less pain I felt, and the more pressure the toe seemed to be able to withstand. I was elated. I can run again! Oh, happy, happy day. Have I told you how much I love running?
I continued focusing on my running form. I felt so light and quick on my feet. I quickly chased down the guys who had started out from T2 too quickly. They were crashing and burning now at the halfway point. I felt strong, confident, and my breathing was calm and even. I knew I could go even harder if I was 100%. But I was happy to stay at my current pace. I was happy just to be able to run. In addition, it was a revelation to focus inward so attentively. Normally, I zone out when I run. For the first time, I was acutely aware of every movement, every breath, every step I took. I had to be in order to run pain-free. I had heard that elite runners run this way but had always dismissed this tactic, thinking it would be very tedious and exhausting. On the contrary, focusing in was exhilarating. I felt connected to my body, and more importantly, could eke out more speed effortlessly from every stride.
I reached mile 5 and picked up the pace slightly. I tried not to but several girls in my age group began pressing the pace. I could pass most of the girls wearing the light blue singlets and many of the girls wearing the orange singlets but the ones wearing the pink (HerSports), my God! They were so fast! I begrudgingly let them go, knowing today was not the day to push it. Not with the toe. Another day, another day. Still, I took some satisfaction in knowing the girls I was chasing down were part of a team. With a coach. While I go it alone. Did I mention that I was competitive?
My favorite San Diego homeless guy was perched at mile 6, cheering us on. He's always in good spirits, and I waved to him as I passed by. The final 200 meters seemed to take an eternity, and I really had to hold myself back. No sprinting down the chute today! I crossed the finish, exhilarated. That was a BLAST! And my run was :52. Not bad at all with an injured toe!
Overall, my time was 2:11:42 (more than 15 minutes faster than 2 years ago!) I conquered my injury, had a fantastic time, learned how to tune-in instead of tune-out, perfected my running form, and still PR'ed. What more can a gal ask for? Plus, a bunch of us went out to Naked Cafe for a delicious brunch to celebrate. Yippee!

Turf Toe

My toe is doing very well thanks to my body's miraculous healing abilities. Luckily, it held up for SDIT on Sunday. However, after injuring it at the last Aquathlon, two weeks ago, I did a little research. I thought I would share.

Apparently, my injury is termed, "Turf Toe" aka a metatarsalphalangeal joint sprain. No wonder they call it turf toe instead! It can be caused by repeated impact to the ball of the foot (e.g. wearing shoes that aren't supportive enough or running on hard surfaces--running barefoot in my particular case). It can also be caused by "a very vigorous upward bending of the big toe". Sound familiar? As I was hauling ass barefoot through the sand during the Aquathlon, my big toe got hooked in the sand while flexed as my leg continued moving forward, i.e. my big toe went one way, my leg went another. OUCH! Then, to make matters worse, I finished the rest of the run.

Afterwards, it hurt to walk. A lot. It hurt to go down stairs. It hurt to flex my big toe. At all. And there was swelling. I was not happy. I figured I had probably sprained my big toe (pretty close self-diagnosis, don't you think?--f.y.i--not recommended).
For treatment, I decided to use R.I.C.E.:
1. Rest: stop running completely for the next 10 days and hope that it would heal in time for SDIT.
2. Ice (and Ibuprofen)
3. Compression (I used an Ace bandage to compress the ice to my toe)
4. Elevation (then I kept the foot elevated)
5. Tape (while walking and for running, tape the big toe to remind me not to toe off; see link below for how-to instructions on taping for turf toe)
(R.I.C.E. works for almost all injuries)

Luckily, I was still able to swim and bike during this time, which actually helped push the fluid out of my toe and reduce stiffness. I just had to be really careful not to aggravate the injury e.g. pushing off the wall = very BAD! Unfortunately, the penalty for forgetting about my injured toe and flexing it unwittingly would produce pain so sharp, I was howling for mama. I mentioned this to a friend of mine, to which his response was, "Hmm, that sounds like a fracture." This was the day before SDIT. Can we say ancy?

On Friday, I tried a slow, conservative 1-mile practice run to test out the toe. The first half mile felt great. I relaxed and settled into an easy pace. I found that I could avoid pain completely by altering my running stride. I focused on landing lightly mid-foot with my feet solidly under me and taking off quickly, as if I had no toes at all. Turns out, this is correct running form anyway. Maybe this injury would force me to run more efficiently?

100 yards later, my focus faded and I forgot about my new running form. And toed off. YOWCH!!! Mama! On a pain scale of 1-10, it was an 11. I hopped about on 1 foot for a few steps before gingerly trying the foot again. Doubt rose up in me. Should I really race tomorrow? 10K is a looong way to go on one foot. I decided I would at least do the swim and the bike. For the run, I would hoof it conservatively. And hold back. Walk if I needed to. I really wanted to race...just for the fun of it. I decided I would rather race slowly than not race at all.

Turf toe takes 3-4 weeks to heal (as do most sprains) but I was asking it to heal in 10 days. You should always go to a specialist and get an x-ray to make sure the toe hasn't been fractured.

Links for Turf Toe:

Taping for Turf Toe:

2.5K Pier to Cove Swim

Even though I had SDIT on Sunday (post coming soon), I decided to do the La Jolla Cove Swim Club's Pier to Cove Swim on Saturday. What better taper workout than a 1.7 mile ocean swim? I knew I would sleep well that night, a rarity before race day.
I checked in and met some other swimmers. The atmosphere was very laid-back and relaxing, perfect for my needs and expectations. After seeing other swimmers with flippers, I didn't feel so bad about donning my wetsuit, even though the water was a balmy 70-degrees. I surveyed the water--calm, glassy...perfect. I was excited. This was exactly what I wanted to be doing at that moment. There is no better feeling than knowing you are at the right place at the right time.

The whistle blew and I slowly shuffled my feet behind the other swimmers to kick up any stray sting rays. Letting out a pleasant sigh, I dove under the waves. It was time to swim. By the time I reached the end of the pier, the crowd had dispersed, and I was surrounded by nothing but the quiet stillness of the open ocean. And I loved it. It was so peaceful. Just what I wanted.

Most of the swimmers picked a line to the east, closer to shore. I purposely swam westward, toward the open ocean, knowing there was a southbound current that would pull me towards the cove. Only problem is, you have to be careful not to miss the mouth of the cove altogether and end up in PB. I quickly found the current and slipped easily through the water. It felt effortless. I checked to make sure I wasn't drafting off another swimmer. Nope. Just the current. Ahhhh.

A volunteer kayaker paddled west of me and pointed towards the mouth of the cove. He was concerned I was swimming too far west and was off-course. I gave him the thumbs-up sign. He smiled and paddled off. I continued on my line. I settled into a relaxed rhythm. To help make my mind blank, I counted strokes. Every time my breathing arm entered the water, I ticked off another count. When I reached 10, I switched to the opposite breathing side, sighting as I turned. This allowed me to distribute the workload evenly between both sides of my body, helped me stay on a straight course, while simultaneously giving me the opportunity to sight without disrupting my stroke.

All of a sudden, the kayaker appeared to my west again, pointing towards the cove. I gave him the thumbs-up sign. Again. This time, he didn't leave. Ugh. I don't need a babysitter! Was I really going that slowly? Was I really that far off-course? I checked. Nope. I was exactly where I wanted to be. This dude was really pissing me off! He was interrupting my rhythm. I wanted to tell him what was up but I didn't want to stop swimming altogether. Didn't he know that sometimes the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line? I tried to quell my rising anger. Afterall, he was just doing his job. I was one of the only swimmers this far west, and it probably looked like I was going to start swimming to Hawaii.

I sped up, allowing my anger to fuel my engine, in a futile attempt to lose him. No such luck. Maybe if I was Michael Phelps I could have lost him but he didn't budge. I switched sides and started breathing to my east; that way, I could pretend the kayaker wasn't there. All of a sudden, he popped up to my east! Are you kidding me? I switched again. He materialized instantly to my west. Switch--east. All the time, he kept pointing. This was getting ridiculous! Finally, he paddled directly in front of me. Great. Now I have an escort. At least I got to draft off him.

I finally couldn't take it anymore. I allowed him to push me east, directly to the center of the Cove's mouth. Luckily, the northward current that I would normally have been pushed directly into was very weak so I didn't have a current to fight. Unfortunately, he did push me directly into the center of a massive forest of kelp beds. I was so worked up, I surged through the kelp, punching angrily through. I got a couple of mouthfuls of the slippery, green algae. Oh, well. Isn't it a delicacy? Good for you too, right?

I saw the mouth of the cove and started swimming faster. I could see the stairs leading down to the cove's beach. So close...so close (object may be farther than they appear). I surged forward. I paused briefly to admire the bright orange garibaldi. So pretty.


I grabbed sand. Grabbed it again. Then pulled myself to the beach and ran across the finish line. A fabulous 56 minutes. Boy, did I sleep well that night.