Thursday, April 28, 2011

Can You Butterfly?

I love to swim. I always have and I can't imagine a time when I will no longer love to be in the water. I don't remember a time in my whole life when I didn't feel more at home in the water than on land. When I was really young I used to pretend I was a dolphin. As I got a little older I would pretend to be a pearl diver and try to go really deep and get pretty shells and rocks from the bottom and line them up on the dock. I knew how to have fun in the water - playing and splashing about.

Then one day at summer camp when I was about 10 years old everything changed. I had to complete a test to see which swim class I would be in. "Can you butterfly?", the teachers asked. That question changed everything. I had seen my brother butterfly before and I had messed around with it a bit on my own, so I figured I'd say "umm, I think so." Off I went and I thought to myself, "well this is pretty awful." When I returned to the dock I saw amusement on the faces of the teachers. This only confirmed my fears - I had embarrassed myself. But instead of laughing at my stroke, they were actually laughing at my comment about being unsure. Apparently, like my older brother - I was a natural. My stroke may not have been a thing of beauty, but I had the right idea...some raw talent with no ingrained bad habits. And so it began.

About a year later, I joined the local swim team that my (champion) brother belonged to and I quickly became the ace 11-12 year old female butterflyer on the team. I was a big fish, so to speak, in a very small pond. But at the same time I was living in my brother's shadow. Knowing that I could never be nationally ranked like he was and knowing that I had so many other interests, I finally packed it in the year I turned 13. I have no regrets, only fond memories of the wonderful coaches and the other swimmers. I took the natural next step and became a lifeguard and swim instructor. But now I no longer knew how to have "fun" in the water. It had become ingrained in me to do laps. All I knew how to do was laps and teach - and boy I could swing a mean whistle on a rope!

For many years I swam just a bit here and there; mostly I enjoyed water skiing and tubing with the boys and watching over them as their life guard when they were very young. Neither of them inherited my love for the water or for swimming, but they are both good strong swimmers who can get themselves out of a dangerous situation. A mom can want for nothing more than their safety in the water.

I didn't swim competitively again until I was in my 30s when I started competing on my triathlon relay team as the swimmer. That first year was a tough one so I reached out to a local swim coach for help with my technique. This helped improve my technique, my training plans, and my speed. If you are struggling with speed - the first place to look is your technique. Get someone to help you improve your technique, which will improve your power and your speed. Then have someone help you develop a good training plan that will build your endurance and help with proper breathing.

After many years as a relayer, I started the solo tri gig. When I first started I came in second or third place in the swim leg a LOT (I'm speaking only of my division). How frustrating always being the bridesmaid! But finally last year in the Webster coed tri I took a first place in the swim! I couldn't believe my eyes. I had to check and recheck the results over and over again. I now had street cred - or race cred as it were - and I began helping others to try to reach their potential in the water. What a great feeling to help others with their goals!

I am spending time in the water again as this 2011 tri season begins. The first few times have been a bit stiff and I don't feel very smooth in the water. A few more visits to the pool and I hope to be back into my rhythm and then I can start rebuilding my endurance for the upcoming races. Open water swims are just around the corner. As the water warms I will don my wetsuit and brave the cold lake water, hopefully with great results.

The smell of chlorine brings a flutter to my heart, the sound of a starter pistol in a indoor pool area brings a tear to my eye, and the splashing sounds of a triathlon swim start makes my whole being melt. I am, and will always be, a water junkie.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Riding the Rails

When I was a young girl I used to dream of the railways and being able to travel by train. I am not exactly sure where the dream originated from but I always had this rather romanticized notion of a train. I still dream of traveling via the Trans-Siberian Railway and I am determined to live out that dream at some point in my future. It is on my very long list of places to see and things to do, and I have no doubt that I will get there.

Yesterday I traveled round trip on the Cape Cod Rail Trail on my bicycle. It was not quite the same adventure as being on a train or the same relaxation as having the locomotive do the work but I did, at certain points along the ride, imagine myself on the Old Colony Railroad trains that used to travel this railway corridor. The CCRT is a 22+ mile paved bike path that runs from Dennis to Wellfleet MA. The trail is mostly flat with only two hills - that are really just bumps - and a few minor grade inclines. To the average New England cyclist, these things are hardly worth noting.

I had originally hoped to take a group of about 8 people with me on the ride, but one by one they all had to drop out from the ride for various reasons and I ended up going it alone. Since it
was Good Friday, I didn't mind spending the time alone with God, contemplating His sacrifice, and enjoying His creation. And I ended up having beautiful weather - sunny and cool.

I took my time on the first half of the journey out to Wellfleet, stopping along the way for lunch, to take pictures, and for snack breaks. I chatted with the locals at a lunch hangout along the path and smiled with great joy to see the Chocolate Sparrow was open for business (aka Ice Cream), making a mental note to stop there on the return trip. I completed the 22.5 mile ride to Wellfleet in a leisurely 2.5 hours.

I sat down to eat my second lunch (a whole wheat ciabatta sandwich with sharp cheddar, tomato, lettuce, cucumber, and avocado, yum!) and glanced at my watch. Good thing I did because it was already 1:45. Yikes! I had planned to leave the Cape to head for home at 2:00-2:30 and I still had the 22.5 miles to ride back to Dennis. So much for the ice cream stop at the Chocolate Sparrow, so much for any snacks on the way back, so much for pictures on the way back, so much for a leisurely return trip, and so much for leaving the Cape at 2-2:30.

I high-tailed it back to Dennis and made it in 1.5 hours - waving at the ice cream shop on my way. I stopped only once with 8 miles to go to retrieve a text on my phone from my son Dave and respond to it. That whole return ride was a bit of a blur, but I am glad I got in the faster ride and pushed myself just a bit. It was worth it to be able to spend the time at my church's Good Friday service last night. What a great day it was. I am looking forward to going back in May to ride the rails again. I will spend a little more leisure time on the back half of the ride and will plan to have that ice cream at the Chocolate Sparrow - make it a double!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Learning to Listen to My Body

The last time I went to trapeze school two years ago I was sore in muscles that I didn't even know I had. Even my fingers and toes were sore. It took days and days to feel human again. So here I was two years older and 15-20 pounds heavier, but in the best shape of my life. I knew that I would be sore, but I was not sure what to expect.

I went to trapeze school on a Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday afternoon I was still feeling pretty good. The bruises were blooming but the muscles were still holding steady. Unfortunately Sunday night I ate something that didn't agree with me and I spent the night with very little sleep and a whole lot of vomiting. Neither of which helped my poor sore abs.

I took the next day off from work to rest and did very little all day except lay on my couch. BIG mistake. While I got some much needed rest, my muscles felt like they were in a rigor mortis state by Monday afternoon. It hurt to breathe, cough, sneeze, sit up, lay down - you name it, if I moved then I hurt. Silly me. I knew better than to lay around doing nothing but I did it anyway.

On Tuesday I woke up considerably less sore and slightly more black and blue and I went off to work and then two hours of dance class. Silly me. I should have known better than to jump right back in to my routine so soon. Instead of re-energizing me, it knocked me back into soreness and tiredness for two full days. I am kind of hooked on exercise and now here I was completely unable to do anything.

By Friday, I was chomping at the bit with all kinds of extra energy. I had to force myself to stay away from the gym at lunch time so that I wouldn't be too sore for my planned bike ride that evening. I was glad I listened to my body (3rd time is the charm!). I was able to have a great ride on Friday night with my friend Cori.

So I learned two things. (1) rest does not mean to do absolutely nothing, it just means to take it easy and listen to your body and (2) when your body is too sore to dance, stay home and stretch instead. Listen to your body; it will let you know when it is ready to start having you push it to knew heights and distances again, but never ever give up!!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Flying Trapeze

Pretty much all triathletes do is cross train. We swim, bike, run, lift, strength train, punch and kick the heavy bag, do push ups & sit ups - the list goes on and on. Last fall I added dance (tap, jazz, ballet, contemporary) to my list of cross training sports. But last week I added a new sport - the Flying Trapeze. I had been to Trapeze School once before a couple of years ago with my son. I caught the bug, but never was able to fit trapeze into my life at that time. Well I finally decided that I just had to go back. I even had a friend, Joannie, who was willing and able to come along and fly with me. It is truly a special friend who will go flying with you. I am a lot stronger now than I was then and I was pretty sure that I would love it just as much. Well I was wrong - I loved it even more. So here I am now simply addicted to trapeze.

The first jump is always the scariest and this time was no different. I balked a little before finally allowing myself to jump and fly free from the platform. I am not afraid of heights, instead
my fear is that I will not be able to hold up my own body weight. After the first jump was over, I felt like my body responded well to the swinging motion. With each subsequent swing I learned how to listen for the caller better so that I could get the most out of the centripetal force of the trapeze and work my body less.

I learned to complete the knee hang well enough so that I was allowed to try the "heels off" trick. In this trick you hold on by your heels and then let go with your hands and reach for the catcher. In the picture above you can see that I am literally hanging by my heels. I was so happy to be able to attempt this trick. It meant that I was gaining small successes as the class went on.

Near the en
d of the two hour class we start to actually do release and catch tricks with a very experienced catcher ready and waiting for us on the far trapeze. The audio and visual cues of the tricks change just a tiny bit. We get to try for the catch three times. My first was the knee hang and it was a success. Then I was set to try the heels off trick. I had a bad hop on the first jump and totally lost my concentration and then blew it. I nailed the second jump with confidence, but then missed the catcher by inches.

Without a doubt, Flying Trapeze is a full body exercise. I was sore and bruised for a full week after the class, but I have not let that deter me. I am all signed up to go back again next month, ready and determined to successfully complete the heels off catch!