Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Just Keep Swimming!

After I emerged from Otsego Lake on Sunday, my husband was waiting near transition, where I would be stripping off my wetsuit and gearing up for the bike. "You came in a good minute faster than you thought you would," he reported. "Yeah," I responded, "that was a good swim." I had no idea how good until I saw the results from the Cooperstown Triathlon on May 27.

When I first considered tackling triathlons nearly five years ago, I recognized the swim as a weak link--I have been a runner for years, and biking is, well, biking, right? How hard can it be to pedal 15-25 miles? I now know that biking presents its own set of challenges, but without a strong, first-leg swim there's no point in even signing up for a triathlon. I have always known how to swim (thanks to summer playground lessons at Sunset Lake in Kenwood, a tony suburb of Sherrill), but it's never been a strength. When I selected my debut triathlon--the June 2009 Keuka Lake sprint--I headed to the city-operated pool closest to my office a good 10 months in advance.

Now, those among us who have completed marathons (I have two on my resume) tend to be a bit macho. What's a half-mile swim to someone who's run a 26-mile race, I asked myself as I got into the water, without goggles (my eyes would thank me later), and promptly swam one lap--that's not once down and back; it's once down, 25 meters. Oh, boy; I had my work cut out for me.

I signed up for a class at the Liverpool Y, but didn't connect with the coach or the extremely chilly pool. So I just kept at it on my own; I tend to be a training loner anyway, so no worries. Turns out I needed all of those 10 months to build up to swimming 800 meters; I had the distance down but not the speed. "Speed" being a relative term, that first triathlon swim took me 21 minutes. Ouch!

Fast forward to my first triathlon swim of the 2012 season. Wearing our white swim caps, we women and relay swimmers (some men), trudged into the channel that led to the lake.

At 60 degrees, the water was chilly but tolerable. The siren sounded and we were off!  Very quickly I found a groove. It took a bit of work to get around a breast-stroker who kept kicking me (not on purpose). I had to put on the brakes and redirect around a woman who was heading diagonally toward the first buoy but also on a collision course with me. I passed several red-capped men, who had begun five minutes earlier. I felt really strong; I felt really smooth; I felt, dare I say it?, like a swimmer!

My struggles after foot surgery in October 2011 have been well-chronicled. Once I was cleared to get my foot wet, the first question I had for the doctor was, can I swim? I returned to the pool on Dec. 15, 2011, and I haven't looked back. While I waited another month for the OK to run, I kept swimming. Like Dory in Finding Nemo, I just kept swimming!

Now there's a school of thought in endurance sports that says if you're weak in one area, keep at it. Want to run better? Run more! Bike a problem? Get in the saddle and go! Because I was conservative about running too far too soon, and because biking in January just isn't pleasant, I kept swimming. In fact, I've been swimming so much, I even cover 3000 meters once a week. Why not?

Well, all that hard work saw its payday on Sunday, with a first-in-my-age-group swim time, of 14:59. Remember my first competitive swim that lasted 21 minutes (a lot of it doing the backstroke)? Well, that's long gone. And I couldn't be more thrilled, especially since I did it myself, without help from a costly coach.

Next triathlon: June 16, Oswego Sprint.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Whatever Floats Your Goat

The Mountain Goat has never been an easy race. But in the eight or so years I have been running it--sometimes fast, sometimes not--it's been gratifying to watch it evolve into a real community event. I didn't run the Goat in 2011 (too soon after surgery on the right foot), so I can only compare the support I enjoyed this year to the race in 2010.
With my well-chronicled recovery from left-foot surgery I just wanted to run this year. I didn't care about my time (though I did set a goal, that I missed); I put one foot ahead of the other and kept moving. 
On May 6, 2012, I have never seen so much crowd support and so many bands along the 10-mile length of the course. Race organizers who placed Letizia and her band, along with about a half-dozen more drummers at the toughest part of the toughest hill on the course--Colvin Street--really hit on a stroke of genius. Knowing the Syracuse University Sour Sitrus Society awaits us as we turn from the top of Colvin to Comstock always gives me something to look forward, but having rhythm-plus pushing us up between miles 6 and 7 made a world of difference.
Oh, and the Blacklites entertaining in the post-race party in Clinton Square? Another stroke of genius.
The Kirk Park Colts Pop Warner football team (along with parental and coach help) is always a highlight for me--those kids wear a smile as they hand out water, Gu packs, Powerade and overall encouragement. They are at mile 5, and an annual treat for me, providing motivation enough for the second half of the race.
I saw more crowd support along the Thornden Park hill than ever before. That's not an easy spot for spectators to get to (not to mention runners)--for me it's the hardest hill in the race. So to see the cheering (majority) women shaking makeshift noisemakers of soda bottles with coins inside really lifted my spirits (even as, I admit, I walked up that hill).
There have been years that after the climb up Thornden Park I have just wanted this race to be over; enough already, as we all make our way out the park and, with a new route, straight onto Madison Street. I really appreciate this change to course, as the previous downhill on Harrison has always been the toughest for me--you see, I'd rather climb a hill than descend one. With my foot not 100%, I fully expected to walk down that bear of a beast of a you-know-what. But I didn't have to!
The gradual descent into downtown was a gift I savored, along with the gummy bears a family handed out just beyond the hill in Thornden. The unfortunate landscape change along East Genesee Street (near Syracuse Stage) foretold Connective Corridor work for the summer and it added a negative aesthetic to the psychological triumph of mile 9. Here's hoping it's all pretty in time for next year's race.
Because it was a perfect weather day, it seems everyone had a smile on their face. Now, perhaps that's always the way it's been, but in years past, when I have been determined to compete in this race, I was so focused on running that I missed the good will.
Speaking of missing things--once again, I did not see the real-live goats along Stolp Avenue. Every year, post-race, I see photos, but never the real actual creatures. Gives me something to aim for in 2013.