Skip to primary navigation Skip to main content

Dead fish day

Laurie needed some extra encouragement and so I basically told her just to get her rear end down to the lake.

The "tough love" was offered in jest and she took it that way. Laurie and I have been friends for a year now having met as both were introduced to the sport of triathlon. We both wanted to get in the open water but Laurie was balking at the potential for choppy water since it was a windy day.

"Come to the pier and look then make your decision," I said.

I arrived before she did and immediately parked my car and went to peer into the water. Oh, the lake was bumpy but there really weren't any waves and the chop was minimal. It looked like a pretty decent day to get in about 45 minutes worth of open water practice.

Then I saw the dead fish by the ladder.

And another.

And another.

Not surprising since we had thunderstorms the other day. The lake probably turned over and the debris of the storm was washing away.

They will float to the end, I thought, and stay along the break wall. If we swim toward the middle, we'll be just fine.

The count of dead fish floating by had reached five.

Then I looked out at the water.

More dead fish, floating in the middle.

My count was up to nine and I stopped.

I have swum in water with dead fish before but this was a bit too much.

Laurie pulled up.

"I'm so sorry but I don't think I'm getting in," I told Laurie, feeling a bit guilty that I had teased her about the choppy water and I, in turn, was balking at the dead fish.

"You know, that's OK," she said. "It doesn't matter to me. Let's go to the pool."

And so we went to one of the pools we both belong to -- and that's where the fun started.

Driving over to the pool I realized that I was in triathlon mode, not gym mode. This means my bathing suit was underneath old and ill-fitting clothing (because your clothes will likely get dirty when changing out of the wetsuit at an open water swim). I only had my wet suit bag with me, not a gym bag. Luckily I had a towel, my goggles and my swim cap. Which really was all I needed to swim. But I had nothing to change into afterward and no lock to secure my belongings in the locker room.

No, instead, I would walk into the building, do directly to the pool, take off my shorts and t-shirt and dive into the water.

This, I thought, felt like a skid row type of swim.

Because not only was I not exactly in proper gym form, but the pool we were swimming in? Well, it was one of the skanky pools -- old with some tiles that will probably never be clean and water that is kept way too warm.

In fact, Laurie and I joked that this particular pool swim was a step up from the lake only in the fact that there were no dead fish in the water.

Heck, I still had my Road ID on my ankle. So did Laurie. This cracked us up.

Not prepared for a pool swim meant I also did have my beloved fins to help me swim faster and glide smoother.

But I didn't think too much about it. Laurie and I were laughing too much at ourselves, at how ridiculous we looked "changing" on the pool deck and deciding to keep wearing our Road IDs.

In the water, I felt good. I felt calm. I felt, well, hot. The water was terribly warm, which sounds nice at first but once you start moving gets a bit uncomfortable. I pushed a few laps then would ease up. My goal was to swim for 45 minutes and I swam for 43:30 with one 20 second break to adjust my goggles. 

And I did it without my pool safety net (my fins) and without any judgement.

Laurie and I continued to laugh afterward as we walked to our cars. Core workout? Sometimes laughter isn't just the best medicine, it's the best exercise.

Any disappointment of not swimming in open water quickly disappeared for us as we made fun of ourselves and the situation. 

And the more I made the situation into something ridiculous, like completely mocking myself for having to throw on my shorts and tee-shirt over my wet swimsuit to walk out of the gym, the more relaxed I became about swimming in general. It led to a good swim, a hard workout, and something good in the memory bank.

Back to base training

Sometimes, life gets in the way.

Things happen at work, with our places of residence or in our relationships that supersede what we want to be doing.

And last week, work too precedence and my training was relegated to a low-intensity recovery week. My coach new my work schedule before planning my training sessions and when I first got my plan I was a bit taken back by just how light the exercise load was.

I mean, I'll be doing my first intermediate triathlon this week and am gearing up for the half Ironman in Muskoka in September. Can I afford to rest?

The question should have been, could I have afforded not to?

My assignment last week, and through the weekend, was to cover the Wegmans LPGA golf tournament in Rochester. And while I wasn't digging ditches, and am grateful for my job, the four days were definitely a marathon and not a sprint. The days were long and the golf was interrupted constantly by rain and the stress levels were moderate.

We all have stretches like that where work (or other aspects of our life) need our full attention.

By the time I hit Saturday I was eternally grateful that my coach had the foresight (no pun intended) to keep me at a light week. I couldn't have pounded out a hard workout if I wanted to, let alone if I was required to.

And so this week we return to base training and a full week of workouts.

Again, a bit odd at face value since I will be racing my first intermediate distance at Tri in the Buff at Evangola on Sunday. Racing on tired legs isn't something you normally do, but this isn't a priority race for me. It's a chance for me to get experience racing a longer distance. It's about using this week as a base-building week and using the race as a boost into full-on Muskoka prep.

Today's installment, back to open water swimming and running, both of which are starting to feel a whole lot better. In addition. I'll be forgetting all about the past week. I can't get that time back and there is no sense in worrying about how that will affect me at Tri in the Buff or at events down the road.

Life happens.

You hold dear the things you enjoy, the people that you care about, and do the best you can.

Then you move forward. And say hello again to old friends.

Playing with the waves

Finally, it was one of those perfect summer days. Warm with a slight breeze and bright, bright blue sky.

And aptly, a swim in Lake Erie with the Buffalo Triathlon Club.

It was my first time in the water with the group this season and probably close to 40 people were in and out of the water.

I found numerous friends to swim with, or chat with once we reached the end of the 300-meter wall. And the entire time I couldn't help but remember these swims from last year. Even on a perfect day like this, I would have been scared. I would have spent the majority of my time bobbing up and down and constantly pulling up. But more often than not, it seemed like we swam on days when the wind was high and the lake was, well, bumpy. The chop would frighten me and my progress was slow but friends were there to make sure I swam, even if it was only 25 meters at a time.

This day, I was gliding along, swimming the length of the wall continuously. Was I fast? Heck no! But this is where we learn what at true gift perspective is. Because I didn't care that I still can't keep up with my friend Jenny or that my other friend Jen was in and out with her workout before I even noticed she was in the water.

While floating across the water I was able to suspend our human nature to compare ourselves to others and merely enjoy the improvement I had made.

All those fears and tears when crashing against the waves last year? Those served to make me stronger and more confident.

And as perfect a day as it was, the lake wasn't completely calm. At times there were some gentle rolling waves. I remember the advice my friend Colleen gave me about swimming in open water -- to play with the waves, not punch against them.

Because waves will come, at times when you don't expect them and usually when you don't really have the inclination to deal with them. Fighting through them is an option. It will eventually get you to the end of the swim, though you will likely be exhausted.

Or you can ride them. Take the wave as it comes. Feel your body rise with the water or playfully duck down and slip under the surge. Approach the waves and the water with a smile.

The ending point is the same either way, but you get to choose wether the journey is a struggle or an enjoyment.  You always get to choose your approach. And if the one you've chosen isn't working for you, the good news is you get to choose again.

The great swimsuit debate

Sometimes I debate which I love more, my wetsuit or my bike.

My love for my bike is a long-term relationship. We've been together since 2005. We took a trip to Italy together. My bike was my entry into a new world of fitness which spurred my evolution into an athlete.

My wetsuit and I go back a year. But it is like my security blanket. I adore my wetsuit. As much as I detest getting into it and feeling a bit like a sausage and some restriction in my movement, my wetsuit and I are tight. The wetsuit helps me float. It's buoyant. If I do nothing, the wetsuit will keep me bobbing in the water.

Top-flight triathletes use wetsuits to gain an advantage on the swim. The wetsuit, because it's buoyant and helps keep you close to the surface of the water, helps you swim faster. It also decreases drag, which makes you swim faster.

In some circles people feel this is cheating.

Not all races are wetsuit legal. Athletes can wear a wetsuit if the water temperature is 78 degrees or colder. Between 79 and 84 degrees, age group athletes (meaning those who are not "elite" racers) can wear a wetsuit but will not be eligible for awards.

Then there is the personal preference debate about the type of wetsuit that's best -- full sleeved or sleeveless. Personally, I have the full sleeved wetsuit. I figured I need as much buoyancy as I can get. And while the wetsuit does allow me to swim faster, by no means am I shooting the water. The entire field usually wears wetsuits. Sometimes for the mental comfort (like myself), sometimes to keep up with the competition and be in the running for a podium spot and other times just because the water is too darn cold.

While triathletes will debate sleeve or no sleeve and occasionally discuss the merits of swimming with or without a wetsuit, generally the technology is standard and the majority of athletes I've run into merely accept the wetsuit as part of the requisite racing gear.

Welcome to one of the differences between open water and pool swimming.

Because just when you thought the great swimsuit debate had passed us by, it comes to light a month before the World Championships in Rome.

On Monday, FINA (the international governing body of swimming) approved over 100 modified swimsuits
for the upcoming championship.

If you'll recall last summer the Speedo LZR suit caused great controversy in the swimming world. The technology of the swimsuit is believed to have helped break 120 world records in the last 16 months prompting a great debate as to if technology is ruining the sport.

Are swimsuits, which help cut drag and help swimmers float, an unfair advantage? 

There is the issue of availability and expense, a kind of swimming arms race if you will, so that those with the money and access can buy better suits and, possibly then, better times.

But if every single swimmer had the same technology in his or her swimsuit, does that still somehow taint the times? Are world records becoming more and more meaningless?

Finding stillness

Trolling through the web, I stumbled on a blog entry by Chrissie Wellington, the reigning Ironman World Champion. She was discussing a race in Kansas and mentioned meeting women from GOTRIbal.

GOTRIbal? I had to look it up.

Turns out, Wellington is involved with this mix of real and cyber social community on which, on its main page, describes itself as an "organization aimed at empowering women and promoting triathlon around the world."

While groups of women (or "tribes" as they're called) form in different cities around the world to get together for training and support, there also is an online social community that offers advice and support.

On the forum was a topic on anxiety and one athletes quest to battle anxiousness during a race. The topic caught my eye and while not a long thread, I took the time to read it. Many (if not all) of us suffer from being anxious at times and one woman suggested that knowing the anxiety will come before every race regardless of distance or surroundings can be comforting. The anxiety? Normal. And so, you don't necessarily get caught up in the downward spiral and can manage your anxiety.

Another woman went more detailed, giving some suggestions on how to manage anxiety from visualization to relaxation to soothing music and food triggers. All very helpful stuff.

Shortly after, I opened up a book of short, daily meditations and today's entry was on stillness.

Nice synergy universe.

The idea of stillness (or peace, or solitude even) is not about the absence of noise or chaos. It's not about turning off the TV and sitting without movement. Not about going away to a cabin the woods. Not about being calm and centered and spiritual away from the every day world. 

Stillness is a place within you. It's a place you access whether you're alone on the couch on a Monday night or with hundreds of people at the start of a race.

It's a place many of us have to practice finding. But you know when you're there. It's the place where things flow naturally, without much thought or effort.

it's the anti-anxiety place.

And a great thing to practice finding during training so that I can easily find my way back on race day when the anxiety gremlin decides to try and rile me up.

Swimming on empty

LAKE PLACID -- People sometimes ask me the order of a triathlon and wonder why the swim is first. In the minds of many people, they would rather swim last and get the refreshment of the water after pounding out miles on the bike and run.

But yesterday's training session in Lake Placid was a great reason why the swim is always first.

Because if you get tired on the run, you just start walking. If you get tired while biking, you can go into an easy gear or, worst case, walk your bile.

If you get tired when you're swimming, you, um, have no other than to keep swimming or find someone to rescue you.

The morning began with a ride of the Ironman loop -- a 56-mile bike ride that has very little stretches of flat road. The big news of the day -- the descent into Keene, which is long and steep and, for me at least, kinda scary, has been repaved. This will be joyful news to those doing the Ironman Lake Placid race next month as the potholes and poor road conditions are much improved.

The next portion of the ride is my favorite. It's relatively flat along route 9N into Jay and Upper Jay. It's beautiful scenery and almost makes you want to stop and snap some photographs. But there was too much riding left to do to justify that.

Next is the turn back onto Route 86 and the climb into Wilmington. For me, this is the part of the ride I hate the most. It's a short steep climb and then the road just seems to gradually climb -- forever. Eventually you come to the portion of the course known as the out-and-back. This is a right hand turn onto a back road that travels about six miles, then turns around. 

After this portion is complete I stop my watch and head into a gas station. I need to replenish my water bottles. I was careful to sip my water and my sports drink every 15 or 20 minutes. I also went with fig newtons as my fuel and had two each hour.

Then came the final 11 miles which everyone always talks about. The first part is a climb past Whiteface and this is where two of my Train-This teammates bonked. After getting past this area comes the final five rolling hills named Little Cherry, Big Cheery, Mama Bear, Baby Bear and Papa Bear.

Those hills equal what's affectionally known as "granny gear" -- I get into my easiest gears and spin up. If I'm lucky, I'll be going about 8 miles per hour.

I felt pretty good about the quality of my ride. I completed the course in a decent amount of time, used all my gears and worked the hills pretty well (and tried to feather, not slam, on my breaks during the downhills).

An easy 30-minute run followed and after the first 10 minutes my legs started to feel better. I frankly have no idea how fast I was running or how far I went.

It was about feel and quality not quantitative measurements. And I was pretty happy.

After grabbing a sandwich for lunch and lazying around the motel with teammates, I went over to Mirror Lake with two of them -- Eddy and Steve -- to swim a lap of the Mirror Lake course. 

The rest of the gang was going at 4 p.m.

I went early.

Why? I honestly have no idea.

It wasn't my best decision of the day.

Because had I waited until 4 p.m. I would have had other people to swim with and our coach, Mary, was out in a kayak to supervise and look at our swim strokes.

And, had I waited, I would have learned that the course was set up too long. Apparently there is some other (non-swimming) event that the buoys were set up for.

This made a lot of sense.

Because while 1.2 miles is a long way to swim, the buoys on the way out seemed to never end.

I had planned to take it easy and figured if I just went slow I would be fine.

I saw Eddy turn around, He was only planning on swimming for a total of 30 minutes. I lost Steve who was faster than I was.

I looked up and saw ... no one. Not another soul in the water.

At this point, I was getting pretty darn tired. The bike and run took a lot out of me and now I have to swim back. Frustrated that I couldn't make it to the end of the course (which, at this point, I didn't know was far too long) I crossed over the middle the course and started the swim back along the return buoys.

Only I was tired.

And I started to panic a bit. I was out here, all alone. What if something happened?

I bobbed around in my wetsuit. I floated on my back. I even did some backstroke.

Yet, I couldn't calm myself down.

Then I caught a glance of guy on some sort of canoe. It was long and skinny, almost like a kayak, and he was on one knee while padding through the lake. I called him over. At this point, my fatigue and panic were giving me a side cramp so I asked if I could hang on his boat for a minute. He was nice enough to help me out.

With some calm and some rest I was able to start swimming again and made it back to shore just fine -- in a nice steady, slow rhythm.

Initially I was pretty disappointed.

But when I put it all together -- the fatigue of the day, the not-so-smart decision to go out with faster swimmers and the fact that course wasn't marked as the Ironman swim course -- I felt pretty good about my 50-minute swim effort.

I even decided that I had worked hard enough during the day to warrant a cone of premium ice cream.

Saturday, as it turned out, was the celebration of International Olympic Day.

What better time to be in Lake Placid as an athlete, testing yourself to see how far you can and learning, all the time, how to be patient and forgiving with yourself.

Lake Placid Training Camp begins

LAKE PLACID -- This is the third time I've been to Lake Placid and there really is something special about this place. For some, it's the lure of the Ironman race held here annually in July. For some is the beauty of the land and the quaintness of the town. For others, its the Olympic lore and a place where many Olympic dreams are still nurtured.

For me, it's a mixture of all three. There really is something special about this place, particularly if you're an athlete.

This weekend I'm with my coach and my Train-This! teammates for what we call training camp. We bike the 56-mile Ironman course (some do it twice, I do it once), we run and we swim in Mirror Lake.

It's a chance to train, to practice and to be around other people who share your desire to run, bike and swim.

Yesterday was arrival day but already I completed a bike, run and swim. It started with a 90-minute bike ride which consisted of riding the Ironman course backwards as an out-and-back -- 35 minutes out, turn around and climb back into town. Only the climb back didn't take as long as expected (I learned later at dinner we had wind at our back. Oh, that we have that today!) so I continued on Route 86 North toward Saranac Lake for a bit of extra time.

Off the bike it was a quick change and on to a run -- 30 minutes. I ran with a woman named Kim who is recovering from a hamstring injury. This meant I could keep pace with her as we ran the hill from our hotel into town and back again. My easy runs are still challenging weeks after the marathon but I'm told that's normal -- that it can take some time before I feel I have my "running" legs back.

After that, the group drove down to Mirror Lake and the Ironman swim course. I was to swim for 30 minutes, which meant less than one turn around the 1.2-mile course. But alas, I forgot my watch so I ball-parked the time (and ended up swimming only about 20 minutes). Attempting to break in new goggles, the first part of the swim was a challenge as I would swim 10 strokes, then have to empty out my right lens which filled with water. By the time I decided to cut across and turn around, I got the goggles on my face just race and was able to swim continuously back to shore.

Today brings more of the same only a bit longer -- a full loop of the 56-mile bike course, a 30 minute easy run and later in the afternoon a full loop of the 1.2 mile swim course.

And while I want to have a quality workout, it's important for me to keep in mind that training is all about the experience. It's the journey. It's the climb (literally and figuratively). 

It's about enjoying a moment in a town that loves athletes of all kinds.

Musings on the bike

In theory I know how to change a flat tire on my bike.   

The execution of that theory however, often leaves a lot to be desired.

With a summer of riding and, more specifically, a weekend at Lake Placid and my race in Muskoka on the agenda, brushing up on my tire-changing skills seemed like a good thing to do.

Most bike shops offer free maintenance clinics to help you learn basic bike care. This is helpful because as much as I adore my friendly local bike mechanics, they probably won't be with me when I hear that awful noise of air being let out of my tires. Last night, I attended a clinic at Tom's Pro Bike Shop and got a chance to practice changing a tire and, my personal favorite, taking the back wheel on and off without screwing up the gearing.

I did OK. Granted, Tom was standing next to me, but I did all the work. The principles aren't that difficult but there are some tricky points -- like getting the last bit of the tire back into the rim. The key is practice, but then again, who wants to sit home and practice changing a flat tire? But the more you practice, the better you'll get. Just like, oh, pretty much anything in life. Right now, I think I'm proficient. I could get by. Which, at this point, is good enough for me.

Speaking of the bike, I had a slight problem during Sunday's long ride (besides the crash and duct tape bandage). I lost too much weight.

Not as in permanent weight loss but in water weight, weight through sweat. On long runs and long bike rides my coach likes to have me weight myself before and after. The actual number on the scale isn't important but the difference between the two is. Lose too much weight and that means you're not replacing enough fluid. Gain weight and you're consuming too many electrolytes and not enough fluid. 

Hydration is a very individual thing and depends upon not only the way in which you sweat but also weather conditions and the type and length of ride. (See this article on about cracking the hydration code for more specifics.)

I need to drink more water and sports drinks -- something I'll have to practice and experiment with during training this summer.

In other bike news, we are approaching the Tour de France and that means more talk of doping. In the news recently was an eight-year ban for American cyclist Tyler Hamilton.

Since Hamilton is 38, it effectively ends his career. Hamilton admitted to taking an herbal supplement for depression knowing it contained a steriod. 

Meanwhile, since one of the stages of the Tour de France crosses into Italy, there are questions as to whether Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde will be able to ride. Valverde recently received a two-year ban from competing in Italy though the sanctions are being challenged by Valverde and Spain.

Ride report: Coffee and duct tape

For the record, the longest ride I have done outdoors this year was something around 17 miles.

The longest bike ride I have ever done was something in the 65-mile range.

Ah, but Sunday, was big jump day -- 74 miles from Rochester's Mendon Ponds Park to Naples, N.Y. and back. The turnaround point was a coffee shop. Hence the ride became what's known as a "coffee ride."

Or in my case, it became the "coffee followed by a duct tape bandage" ride.

The ride was with my coach, Mary, and a bunch of other Train-This! athletes. It was an easy route and, as always, a mandate to ride your own pace.

That I did, and since I'm still getting my road legs back and remember how best for me to shift up and down hills, that meant riding in the back of the pack. A bit solo for most of those 37 miles into Naples. But that was OK. Because it was a beautiful day. The weather was perfect. The sky was clear. Heck I could still see the setting moon on stretches of Route 64.

My goals were pretty simple for the day. I wanted to enjoy being out on my bike. I wanted to get used to my gearing again and refresh my memory on how to climb hills and descend them. And I wanted to experiment with my nutrition on the bike -- what to drink, how much to drink and what to eat to keep my hydrated and from bonking.

Once in Naples I rejoined my team at the coffee shop. After a nice cup of coffee and a blueberry bagel lit was time to head back up Route 64 and return home (or, more accurately, to the car).

In need of filling up my water bottle with some Gatorade, my teammate Pete and I decided to leave early to hit the gas station that was on the way out of town.

That's when I took the curb wrong heading into the parking lot and ... CRASH.

My right forearm was bleeding. My right knee was scrapped up.

Thankfully my bike was just fine.

Inside the gas station mini-mart we only found small bandages. Content to wash off the wound and use napkins to mute the bleeding until I got home we went to check out with our Gatorade and water. But alas, the attendant had a first aid kit behind the counter. I went to the bathroom and washed my cut. The woman at the counter had Neosporin (which really, they should sell in an economy size for people like me). She then went through the sparse kit to find only small bandaids.

I noticed a roll of gauze.

"What about that?" I asked.

Aha! She unrolled some gauze over my wound and the went to pick up the medical tape dispenser in the first aid kit.


So, she secured my gauze bandage with ... duct tape.

I winced every time I went to my aerobar position. But the sight of the duct tape. Well, that was just too funny.

The climb out of Naples is long and a bit steep and I promptly went into my granny gear and gently spun up the hill. It's June and my first long ride. I felt no need to try and pound up the hill.

Pete kindly stayed back and rode back with me since group rides are better if you actually have someone else to chat with and share war stories with. (Although his involved actual bike accidents while mine involved getting a concussion in my own shower.)

When things go wrong on rides it can almost be a blessing. That's when you develop a memory bank of tricks to use in the future. To be honest, the duct tape bandage worked fine, but the cut and accompanying skin loss still stung. And yet, I made it through the rest of the ride.

It's never about the fall -- regardless of how big, small or ungraceful it may be.

It's about the ability to get back up and keep going.

And remembering why it is you're out there in the first place.

Providing entertainment

It was one of those days when I had a bad long run. My pace was OK, but not spot on and I'm pretty sure I ended up getting bored three quarters of the way through it.

My coach reminded me that race day is different from training day and urged me not to discount the power of the venue. On training runs, it's you and maybe a few friends. On race day, there are people on the course cheering you on, celebrating life.

It was perhaps my one criticism of The Buffalo Marathon, the lack of entertainment on the second half of the course. With the majority of participants running the half marathon, the final 13.1 miles saw stretches of sparse runners. The crowd support was thin, too, making me especially happy to see my friends and family at certain spots and very eager to find those team relay points for some human interaction. Perhaps in the future they could find some local bands or high school cheerleading squads or a guy with a boom box to set up at various points along the North Buffalo part of the course. The distraction and the encouragement makes a difference.

Which is one of the reasons I decided it was important for me to volunteer and to cheer.

Last week, a change in my schedule allowed me to volunteer at the Olmstead Duathlon -- a run-bike-run race that started at the Botanical Gardens and finished up in Cazenovia Park. I arrived willing to do whatever. I started off with body marking and handing out timing chips (and reconnected with my swim friend Jen, who incidentally won our age group at Keuka a few days later) and ended up working the finish line, cheering in runners and handing them bottled water.

I may not have a made a difference in anyone's day, but I know from experience that finishing a race alone (and with no water) takes away from the accomplishment of finishing. I was hoping for a kind of pay it back-pay it forward scenario. So many volunteers had helped me along the way at races (and continue to) that I felt it was important for me to give some of my time for a race.

Also, I must admit, I had the Keuka Tri coming up and I figured it wouldn't hurt to make nice with the multi-sport gods.

Today I'll be heading over to Delaware Park for the Race for the Cure 5K. Another Jen, this one who works with my mother, is part of a beginners' running group. She's done one 5K before but this is her goal race -- the one she's been training for.

On my last day of recovery, I can't think of a better way to spend my morning that by cheering her on and watching her finish her first 5K strong. General support from strangers is amazing. Having someone looking for you and cheering your name, that's even better.

« Older Entries