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Climbing the mountains

Over the weekend, before my 28-hour whirlwind tour to Lake Placid, I went for a group bike ride in East Aurora. I wanted to do a long ride and my friend Jenny complains that I don't do enough hills in my cycling workouts.

And so I went out to East Aurora, went into granny gear to get up the first climb or two.

Then we hit a section of road which was vertical.

I'm talking straight up. I'm talking you might as well get out your rock climbing gear to pull yourself up this hill. That was the incline. Or at least that's how it felt to me.

I tried to traverse the hill, that is zig-zag my way across the road to cut down the incline. That didn't work so well. I still had difficulty turning my peddles and felt like I might just fall backwards off my bike.

So I did what I hated -- I got off my bike and walked it up the steep part.

This was not a proud moment for me. Then again, falling backwards off my bike and tumbling down into traffic struck me as a stupid way for me to die. Happily, I actually got back on my bike once the incline became not quite so sharp. And I didn't get off my bike again until I was back at my car.

Climbing will make me better on flat roads, I know this, and will help give me more power and speed when I'm on an easier route -- hopefully, for example, at the Shoreline Triathlon at Hamlin Beach on Sunday.

Meanwhile, I'm catching glimpses of today's Tour de France stage which features some of the toughest climbs of the race. Personally, I'm hoping that American cyclist Christian Vande Velde can ride himself back in contention for a podium spot. Vande Velde crashed on a descent yesterday and fell more than three minutes behind the overall tour leaders.

Vande Velde rode with Lance Armstrong for years before finally coming into his own as a cyclist this year.

Training for ... registration?

I opened my eyes, did a full body stretch and heard an expletive deleted come from the other side of the room.

"What time is it?" I asked.

"5:25 a.m."

Crude.

We quickly got dressed and into the car.

We were a bit late ... to stand in line.

See, I took a 28-hour whirlwind trip with my friend Jenny to keep her company as she registered for next year's Ironman Lake Placid and we wanted to be in the registration line around 5:30.

Mind you, registration didn't actually open until 9 a.m.

But this part of the entire Ironman experience.

Let me walk you through it.

See, while there are plenty of races which are considered "Ironman distance" there are only 22 races across the world that can have the label "Ironman" (because it's trademarked, you see). Those races serve as qualifiers for the big race in Kona, which serves as the Ironman World Championships.

With the growing interest in triathlon, and Ironman in particular, more and more people want to register. And for a race like Lake Placid, the only way to register is to do so in person the day after the race.

First, on Saturday, athletes who are participating in that year's race (on Sunday) get first crack at preregistration. Then on Monday, spots are released to the general public. People begin camping out in line about 4 a.m. Seriously. I'm not making this up.

The potential mood buster this year was a new procedure where people who volunteered at Sunday's race got to register first on Monday.

That meant the race, with somewhere around, say 2,300 to 2,500 spots, could be closed out rather quickly.

And the volunteer line Monday morning looked rather long.

There was talk in our line of making up t-shirts that read "I didn't get in, 2009" and forming an entire web community for those who tried but failed to register for Lake Placid.

So yes, Jenny and I were silently concerned that we drove up Sunday night, slept for about five hours then stood in line for nearly four only to not be able to register for next year's race.

Actually, you don't technically register. You get a voucher. You then have about two weeks to go on line, complete your registration form and pay up your $525 for the right to attempt to complete a 2.4 mile swim, 114-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.

I knew this procedure and went along to offer Jenny moral support (lest she decide not to go), and because, well, I just like Lake Placid. Little did I realize that the endurance and patience needed for Ironman begins at registration.

I should have trained for this.

It starts with waiting in line for the registration voucher, but then Jenny and I took turns ducking out of the line to get supplies. This included waiting in line about half an hour to get coffee. For me, that much of a delay in my morning coffee could cause serious health risks, at least to the people around me.

Then came the line to make hotel reservations for next year. Actually, for Jenny that was more a virtual line since she called the place from her cell phone, but it still took two calls back and a time on hold to get through.

We did our best to entertain ourselves and discovered that driving six hours from Buffalo to register was nothing.

The couple behind us flew in from Arizona because last year they tried to register on line and got shutout.

We also got to hear updates from the race on Sunday. With my trusty laptop, we tracked our friends from Buffalo and Train-This! as they made they way through the course. Then we became very concerned when I got a one line email which said that Mary, our coach, was in the medical tent with a concussion.

In line, we found out that she got kicked in the head several times during the swim, started to see double on the bike course and eventually, through a combination of her own understanding that all was not right and the astute medical care of the staff on site, was pulled off the course.

If you think Ironman isn't a violent sport, check out Mary's race report. At least she's kept her sense of humor.

Back in line, about 8:45 or so, the volunteer line started moving quickly and I sent out as much positive energy as possible that our portion of the line would get in.

Turns out we didn't have much to worry about. Jenny got her voucher with no problem. In fact, when we were leaving, there were still people in line getting vouchers, though there were probably only about 25 left. That's cutting it pretty close.

Happily, I did not succumb to any peer pressure to get my own voucher. I'm still working on moving up to the intermediate distance.

Heck, I'm still tired from just watching Jenny sign up for Ironman.

Putting self-deprecating humor on hold

So my friend Jenny sent me a link to the website Athlinks which gathers race results that have been posted online. The idea is that you register and can keep track of all your results in one easy place.

Jenny used the site's search engine to look up results and wrote to me later in the day: "You never told me you did a half marathon a few years ago."

Um, that's because I didn't.

Someone else with my same name (who, quite sadly for her also is my age and lives in New York State) ran the Long Island Half Marathon in 2006.

Me? My longest distance is an 8K.

But as I poked fun at myself, Jenny did the cyber equivalent of putting her fingers in her ears and yelling "I can't hear you!" at me. She's having none of my cynical self deprecation this week.

Which is a good thing. We all need friends who are willing to call us out on our ridiculous behavior every now and then.

So I put all that aside and tackled my open water swim ... with joy? Wait a minute. Could I actually be enjoying this swim? It dawned on me that indeed I was.

It was sunny, warm and the water was calm. The sailboat races were off in the distance and I just went about my slow, methodical pace up and down the break wall. I quickly lost my swim buddies Jenny and Carolyn (who heretofore will be known only as "Rock Star") as they kept a quicker pace. But that was OK with me. Someone asked me how it was going.

Slow, I replied.

But I kept plugging along, concentrating on keeping my head down, sighting and (attempting) to swim in somewhat of a straight line.

I wanted to take full advantage of the calm water, so I kept going until I had finished 2,000 meters, marking my longest open water swim ever. So much for the person who started by swimming 20 strokes away from the wall, then 20 strokes back.

Generally speaking, if I stop critiquing myself so harshly, I end up doing pretty well.

Not exactly rocket science, but not an easily learned lesson, either.

Lake Placid Week

This time, I'm the one who gets to read my coach's race reports.

In the triathlon world this is Lake Placid week -- as in the Lake Placid Ironman (or, for trademark purposes, the Ford Ironman Lake Placid) -- and Mary Eggers, who has been plugging in my workouts through my summer of sprint distances, is ready for the start line.

This will be her fifth Ironman and Lake Placid is one of her favorite spots on earth.

That doesn't mean she also doesn't have occasional nutters, like having to get a new chain ring the week of the race. Granted, Mary admits her hypocrite streak on this one -- she preaches to her athletes to be prepared weeks in advance of the race and to never, ever change anything race week.

Oops.

See, it's good to know your coach is human. Because after all, sometimes I think she might be a witch since she knows exactly (a) how, when, where and why I will have a freak out and (b) can predict within scary limits how long it will take me to cover distances, even with unpredictable things like stops, bonks and the danger zone of hearing Ricky Martin songs play in my head.

Jenny and I are driving to Lake Placid this weekend, first and foremost so that the half Ironman woman can sign up for next year's Lake Placid Ironman. (I am there for moral support, just in case she needs help filing out the forms.) But also, we're going to cheer on our coach, others in the Train This! family and the handful of other people we know competing.

Meanwhile, the Tour de France enjoyed an off-day yesterday, which let me catch up on some Internet reading.

In the concern about pollution in Beijing for the Olympics an article by the BBC News explains that endurance athletes will have the most difficulty with poor air quality -- enter your marathon runners, triathetes and cyclists. The experts in the article are hopeful, though, that closing streets to traffic a week before the games will help mitigate the problem.

In reading The National Post I discovered that Canada has four Olympic athletes over the age of 40, including 61-year-old Ian Millar, an equestrian show jumper. The article quotes a doctor from the Mayo Clinic who says of the older Olympic athletes, "If people become obsessed with what they can't do as they age, well then they won't do it. These individuals are more interested with what they can do."

Who said life-long lessons in sports are only for kids?

Guest staring as Sherpa

The rain had turned from a light shower into a full-fledged downpour for the second time Sunday morning.

I was getting a bit cold and wondering why I didn't bring a rain jacket with me when the forecast called for this. Oh, that's right, that would have made sense and lately I seem to eschew anything having to do with common sense.

But there was no place I would rather have been than standing in the rain watching my friend Jenny complete her first half Ironman race at the Musselman Triathlon in Geneva on Sunday. The distances are scary enough -- 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride and a 13.1 run -- but the weather conditions made it that much more challenging as the wind kicked up some strong, nasty waves on Seneca Lake and created a headwind for much of the bike. And then there was the whole rain thing which, after short rides in rain nearly every day last week, I can attest isn't always a lot of fun.

This was my chance to play the role of Sherpa. I helped her get her bike over to transition the night before, took her for a quick shopping trip to Wegmans, repaired a few minor tears in her wetsuit and talked through the race with her.

Jenny has an amazing athletic background, but this was just her second triathlon -- ever. And it was a half Ironman. And she was freaking.

So I pulled the Sherpa "headcase" card on her once or twice. Then I reminded her that whatever she did during the race was good enough.

Frankly, I was so excited for her, that I woke up half an hour early in anticipation of our 4 a.m. wakeup call. Over at the race site, I made trips back and forth to the car, carried her stuff as she discarded it through warmups, then gave her a fist bump as her swim wave was called.

When she got out of the water I cheered her on. I was in total awe. If it was me, I wouldn't have even gotten into that water, let alone completed the swim in those conditions.

Her bike and run were strong, even in the rain and wind, and she couldn't wipe the smile off her face after she made it through the finish line.

As I stood at the run chute waiting for her to finish the race, the rain picked up and I wondered if I would rather be racing in this weather or standing here. I would probably rather be racing ... but a sprint distance for sure, not a half Ironman. Not after my workout on Saturday.

See, on Saturday I went for a long group bike ride in the morning in the heat and wind. It was a great ride, but ... remember my distaste for common sense? I didn't take enough water with me and I didn't take in enough nutrition during the ride which meant those last 10 miles I bonked. I should have known better. Once I start singing Ricky Martin in my head I'm on the verge of something not so good. But my stupid gene kicked in and I thought I could hammer through.

Wrong.

I inched my way back to the starting marina and immediately pulled into the ice cream stand for a chocolate milkshake. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, do not take your bike helmet or gloves off. Just go to the window and order. Then when I got my coveted chocolate milkshake I was so brain dead, I couldn't figure out how to get my straw through the lid.

And that was just the bike ride.

Had I been Jenny on Sunday, that ride would have followed a swim and I would still have a half marathon to run -- without the chocolate milkshake stop.

Not that I needed another reason to be proud of Jenny or amazed by her accomplishment (which, by the way, included finishing the 70.3 distance in about 5 1/2 hours) but that drove home for me just how impressive her race was.

I'll gladly take on Sherpa duties for her any day.

Swimming in the wind

It was late afternoon and I was watching a Law and Order rerun in preparation for my open water swim.

Unfortunately the satellite signal kept getting interrupted by the strong, gusty winds.

This, I thought, did not bode well for swimming in Lake Erie.

Still, it wasn't all bad news. The sun was out and the rain storms had blown through the area. Maybe at least there wouldn't be any dead fish in the water today.

Then my cell phone rang.

"There is no way you're getting in the water." It was Sherpa.

"Well, I can try it and get out."

"This wind is strong. I don't think you'll get to swim."

Well, maybe not, I thought, but I can try. As I drove over to the swim site I decided that I'd get in the water and at least play around (remember, this is supposed to fun in the first place) and if I couldn't get any "real" swimming done, I'd just go to the pool for a traditional workout later in the week.

The water was pretty choppy ... or bumpy as I like to call it. And, um, was that white cap I saw on that rolling wall of water?

The good news was I didn't see any dead fish and the water wasn't crashing over the breakwall. In fact, though I was uncertain of my actual swimming ability in these conditions, I wasn't afraid to get in the water and try. I didn't really whine. I didn't feel like I wanted to cry.

Heck, that was the victory.

Everything else was just a bonus.

I stayed on the short end of the wall, going 100 meters with the waves then 100 meters against the waves, albeit not continuously.

After my second set I thought about just hanging out in the waves for a while then getting out.

"You're already here," said Joe who was swimming with me. "You have the wetsuit on. You might as well do another."

And I knew he was right.

So another down and back and I went. Each time I felt more comfortable. Each time I took a few more strokes without having to stop.

That gave me 600 meters and some quality rough water experience.

Good enough, eh?

"You're doing that again," Joe said.

Big sigh.

OK. Let's go.

I swam the 100 meters with the waves continuously.

Now for the hard part -- against the waves.

I false started then got in the groove. It actually didn't feel so bad at all. The tiring part wasn't so much swimming against the waves as that it took me probably twice as many strokes to cover the same distance I would without the waves.

I felt good so I kept going, past the ladder. I wondered if I could make out to the end of the breakwall but then I turned to breath and got a mouth full of water and needed to stop and recover.

When I looked up at the markings on the wall I had gone 200 meters continuous against the waves.

Not bad considering a month ago I probably wouldn't have stepped in the water let alone tried to swim in it.

This is one of the reasons why I enjoy training with other people. Left to my own devices I would have swam the short distance twice and gotten out of the water. OK, back that up even further: Left to my own devices I would have stayed on the couch and watched another episode (or three) of Law and Order.

It's not about being lazy but about selling myself short. It's about thinking, "I can't do that" when in reality I have no idea if I can or can't until I try it. Having friends around to gently nudge me gets me out of my comfort zone. And if there's one thing I've learned through this whole triathlon experience is that some pretty cool stuff happens when you get outside your comfort zone.

In today's Olympic link of the day, check out this story in the Wall Street Journal about the plethora of specialty shoes designed for the Beijing Games. Apparently, Nike has rolled out specialty shoes for all 28 Olympic sports while Adidas has 27 (eschewing creating an equestrian model). So if you need a pair of new state-of-the-art badminton shoes, this is your year.

Settle into the pain

The best part about live sporting events on TV is that, well, they're live. And apparently the seven-second delay wasn't working for Versus on Tuesday when "sideline" reporter Robbie Ventura was riding along in the Garmin-Chipotle team car, following David Millar through the time trial. As Jonathan Vaughters, the director sportif of the Garmin-Chipotle team was asked about how the race was going, he let an expletive deleted slip.

He later apologized, but the slip wasn't intentional nor overly vulgar.

Frankly, it was just amusing.

His word choice slippage aside, having Versus trail in the team was rather interesting. I'm not a NASCAR fan, but I assume it's similar to listening to the banter between driver and pit crew on those special Direct TV channels.

Vaughters was constantly chattering in Millar's earpiece offering words of encouragement through the time trial and building up his athlete.

"This is the hill where you win this thing," he said at one point.

"Settle into the pain," he offered later.

It was the "settle into the pain" line that struck me. Professional athletes make physical endeavors look so easy and effortless but in reality, they've settled into the pain and discomfort of the moment and pushed through. I thought of that this morning as I rode my hour endurance bike ride through the rain. My pain wasn't all that great (then again, it wasn't supposed to be) but I was in moderate amounts of discomfort as I dodged early morning commuters, puddles and pools of gravel. Actually, I was happy to ride in the rain. I knew in the long run it would make me a better rider and the chances that I'll have to race someday in the rain are pretty good, so I might as well get used to it now.

The unfortunate part is that I didn't have anybody in an earpiece shouting encouragement and strategy at me.

Then again, that part of the Tour de France has become rather controversial and according to notes in VeloNews there has been some restrictions placed on when team officials can relay information to their riders via earpiece technology.

And if the Tour de France isn't motivation enough, more news from the Dara Torres story comes to us from CNN. If you start working out in your 30s you probably won't become an Olympic athlete at 41, but like Torres using training advances can help athletes as they age. Encouraging news for all of us who remember when the only thing "digital" in your house was possibly your alarm clock.

A little bit of everything

You know it has the possibility of being a long day when your very early morning run -- a supposedly easily-paced 30 minute jaunt -- ends with every piece of fabric, wicking or not, on your body drenched.

Running is not my focus this week, but in the post-Olympic trial haze I'm still drawn to stories about track and field. This piece on espn.com about the forgotten stepchild of race walking particularly caught my attention especially when I realized that these athletes walk faster than I can run.

Meanwhile, I'm still enthralled with the story of swimmer Dara Torres who, at 41, is the first American to make five Olympic teams. Then again, she didn't just make the team, she won the trials in the 100 and 50 meter freestyle events. My favorite reported stat -- her favorite goggles are older than Michael Phelps.

Her profile in The New York Times before the trials began makes note that she has spent money, time and energy to put herself in the best possible position for success. And while most of us can't afford multiple coaches (including two who work with her just on stretching) her story is a testament that age is merely a number. The best years can pass you by only if you let them.

My swimming continues to improve slowly but surely. Thanks to a calm lake (aside from the wake created by some not-so-cool boaters and jet skiers) and warm water temperatures I got a really good swim workout. In fact, I did the 300 meters of the long wall four different times -- and only on the first one did I stop midway for a breather. The rest I did continuously, slow for sure but smooth and strong.

On to the bike -- today is a time trial stage of the Tour de France where riders are racing against the clock to advance in the standings. The big names -- the guys at the top of the standings -- are still to start but there's nothing like watching these pros fly on their time trial bikes to make my own week of heavy cycling seem a bit easier.

Race report, yodel style

The course looked simple enough -- an out-and-back on the bike and an out-and-back run across the flood control dam.

And yes, the layout of the course was simple, but the terrain, well that was a different story.

Who knew that Broome County was so hilly?

My third triathlon went in the books this holiday weekend as I competed in the Broome County Parks Tri in Whitney Park, N.Y. The event was just outside of Binghamton, serving as an opportunity to hang out with my brother and sister-in-law.

Going in, I was most concerned about my swim, as usual. The distance was half a mile -- or just over 800 meters -- and would be the farthest distance I've done. Plus, there was a chance that the reservoir water, where we would be swimming, would be too warm for a wetsuit.

Ah, but a cool front moved in and the water temperature stayed in the lower end of the 70s. I was safe.

The water was as calm as Green Lake in Orchard Park and I took full advantage of the swim warm ups, pulling my wetsuit on early and splashing around in the water. I swam out some freestyle and some breaststroke and started feeling really good.

The 150 or so participants started the event from the beach -- as in we had to run into the water. I stayed in the back and walked out into the water, took a few breaststrokes and started swimming. And I did fairly well. Around the first buoy I finally found a rhythm and started making my way to the second buoy. Swimming in a straight line though, not my strong suit. Neither is sighting. Neither is being comfortable knocking into other swimmers. So surely I was adding distance to my swim with my lateral movement in the water.

Probably about 150 meters from the second buoy I needed a rest, so I lazily breaststroked with my head above the water. One of the lifeguards in a kayak came over and asked if I was OK.

"Fine," I said. "Just need a little rest to catch my breath."

"Here. Grab on."

So he positioned himself stationary in the water and I grabbed on the front end, taking a few deep breaths. I felt fine in the water. There was zero panic. Thirty seconds later, I was back in my freestyle stroke, rounding the next buoy.

Heading back to shore there was a large yellow marker on the beach and I swam for that. I'm not sure where I was on the actual course -- I was just heading for the big yellow marker, periodically adjusting my direction as I wiggle-wormed my way across the water.

I pushed myself in the water, counting out 10 strokes then convincing myself I could do 10 more. I kept this mind game up until I looked up and knew I was close to shore when I put my legs down and started running. (In hindsight, I probably should have continued swimming in that shallow end a bit longer, but this is how you learn.)

Out of the water into transition, I hoped on my bike, took off and promptly lost my bike computer which flew off as I clipped in to my pedals heading out of the park. Actually, I was relieved it was just my bike computer. I saw something fly off my bike and was worried it was something really functional -- like part of my pedal, shoe or brake.

Out on the main road, Route 26 in Whitney Point contains several rolling hills. If you're, say, cycling in today's stage of the Tour de France, these rolling hills might hardly register a rise in your heart rate. But the steady incline, particularly when you've just gotten out of the water, felt cruel to me.

With no idea how fast I was going, I tried to keep a steady cadence on the six miles out, playing games with a few guys I kept passing, then being passed by, then passing again. At the turnaround I decided it was time to hammer the ride home. I put myself in a heavy gear and went to town.

I caught up to a small group of cyclists at the final climb and passed a few of them. Then came a downhill. My terror of the descent is slowing subsiding as I get more practice with them and learn to control my bike better. I started passing some riders on the descent but watched in horror as a girl in her 20s lost control of her bike, flipped in the air and crashed on the side of the road. A rubberneck crash nearly happened afterward as a woman in front of me slowed up unexpectedly to get the woman help.

We were a mile from the park, so I busted back and shouted to one of the traffic control volunteers that a woman crashed and looked injured a little ways back. I let out some good karma her way and returned to transition to start the run.

One of the triathletes had warned me before the race about the steep hill we had during the run, so I made sure to start conservatively while I got my land-legs back. The first half mile of the course is on a wooded path that takes you over to the park dam.

Then comes the really cruel part of the race.

After swimming half a mile and biking a hilly 12 miles you basically have to scale the side of a hill. In describing what this steep, grassy embankment was like later on, my brother interrupted me.

"Did you feel like the yodeler in the Price is Right game?"

Yes.

That's exactly what it was like. I jogged up half then settled on climbing the rest at a brisk walk.

Once at the top, you ran across the dam -- a grass path which was great on my knees and hips. Again, I went out easy until the turnaround then hoped to pick up the pace a bit.

The hill wasn't all that faster going down, since the last thing I wanted to was turn a knee or ankle. I tried to gently hop my way down the hill, like Laura Ingalls in the opening scene of Little House on the Prairie, only without the braids and milk pail.

At the bottom I was a mile away from the finish line when someone zipped past me. It was the woman who had crashed earlier on the bike, her back bruised and cut. At least she was OK though I don't know what that says about my running ability that she was able to catch and pass me.

Once the finish was in sight I picked up the pace and sprinted across the finish line.

My final time: 1:40:51.

Wow.

I was hoping to get around two hours.

It's amazing what happens when you actually swim the swim.

It took me 25 minutes to complete the swim, about 42 to finish the hilly bike and just under 30 minutes to do the run. I was slightly disappointed with my running pace, but that did include the big hill. And it was my third race in 30 days. And my second race in six days.

Granted, every tri I've done has been different distances, but in a short course tri, this was my personal best. By nearly 25 minutes.

Forget the asterisks. I'm taking that honor.

Now, I have a break from triathlon competitions until the Summer Sizzler on Grand Island Aug. 9. Unless of course I decide to do the Shoreline Triathlon at Hamlin Beach State Park on July 27.

This week's training is heavy on the cycling focus. Which is great, considering a big part of my free time will be spent on my couch, glued to the Tour de France coverage on Versus.

Maybe I can pick up a few pointers from the best in the business.

Just swim

The cell phone started ringing, or, more accurately, playing Justin Timberlake's "Sexy Back" (musical ring tone selections are a topic for another day).

"Hello." I said.

"HEADCASE." Sherpa said soundly.

"Yes," I replied.

"Stop being one. That's all."

Click.

Yes, yes. I hung my head. I knew he was right.

I was totally freaking myself out for no reason.

Through some great reconnaissance work by my sister-in-law, I discovered that the water temperature of the Whitney Point Reservoir at Dorchester Park, where I'll be doing a sprint triathlon on Saturday, is 76 degrees.

In order for a triathlon to be "wetsuit legal" the water temperature needs to be below 78 degrees.

What? Swim without a wetsuit? But I haven't been in open water without a wetsuit. And I float in a wetsuit. My relationship to my wetsuit at this point is like Linus to his blanket -- it provides a comfort zone and confidence.

I hastily wrote my coach who offered me nothing but tough love. I might as well tie a cement block around my waist and get it over with, she said. I'm too much in my head and freaking out is nothing but wasted energy. Energy I could use, say, to actually swim.

I knew she was right and I worked on talking myself down out of my tizzy.

Later on at the open water swim, the winds made Lake Erie a bit choppy -- but not the worse I've been in. I warmed up on the short end of the course -- swimming 100 meters with my alternating breaststroke-freestyle combo. After that, my friend Jenny tried to get me to swim out to the break wall, 200 meters away. I started, but had troubles. Every time I tried to look up and sight where I was I'd get a mouthful of water. And my goggles kept filling up with water which really, really irritates my contact lens.

So I went back to the ladder and got out for a minute. One of my fellow swimmers pointed out my goggles were on upside down.

Ah. Problem fixed.

Back in the water, Jenny and I did the short distance again. This time I felt better.

"Let's go out to the breakwall," Jenny said. "The hard part is going out. The current will push you back in. I know you can do it."

And so we went. I started slowly, counting 15 to 20 breaststrokes (or aquajogs) then 10 freestyle strokes. Then I was swimming 20 freestyle strokes.

I kept stopping though, concerned about hitting another swimmer head-on or, worse yet, plowing into one of the dead fish floating in the lake.

Welcome the main reason why I had trouble finding my swim groove. I kept thinking.

Stop that.

Jenny would swim out 50 or so meters, then swim back to me.

By the time I was maybe 25 meters from the end of the breakwall, Jenny was swimming over to me.

"When I went back to look for you this time, I couldn't find you," Jenny said. "You looked so comfortable in the water, I didn't realize I had passed you."

We paused, then went back, with the current pushing us. I stopped once as I noticed I was in a collision-showdown with one of the guys swimming in the opposite direction. Once past him though, I easily glided through to finish the 200 meters and end up back at the ladder.

"I didn't want you to get out of the water and not make it to the end," Jenny said. "Because I knew you could do it. Your swim pace isn't much slower than mine."

I was grateful that Jenny forced me to do that swim. I needed the tough love. I needed to remember that my problem isn't my swimming technique (that's for refining in the winter) it's all in my attitude and my focus.

That point was driven home by Michael Phelps, who won his third spot on the U.S. Olympic team with a win in the 200 meter butterfly Wednesday night. But Phelps swam the race just under his world record time and the look on his face after the race was priceless, showing obvious dissatisfaction with his performance.

"I don't know why I'm thinking so much during the race," Phelps said afterward. "I should just do what I normally do and go out and swim."

And so the great Michael Phelps gives me my mantra for this weekend -- just go out and swim.

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