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Race report: Muskoka 70.3

The focus for the morning was to be on celebration, joy and fun.

But there's something about seeing those big orange buoys in the water that changes your perspective. It makes your heart beat fast. It makes you nervous. It makes you want to crawl back into bed and sleep the morning away.

Ironman Muskoka 70.3 was no different. On Sunday morning with about an hour to wait around between the end of my swim warmups and the start of my wave, a heavy, dark feeling came over me. It's a difficult feeling to describe -- some weird mixture of nerves, anxiety and fear and a good dose of irrationality.P9120092

While waiting to head down to the beach in my wave (the second last one of the day), I found my dad, who offered well wishes from my mother (who was stationed at the swim exit) and gave me a big hug. "Just have fun," he told me while pointing out that the waiting around probably made it difficult. Ah yes. Waiting is not my forte. Especially when I just want to get going.

Other friends who were not racing milled around before the start. One framed it this way: "You're going to have a great day. I'm jealous. You get to race. You're lucky."

Another friend, in my wave, said to start each event slowly and not let the rush take me out too hard each time. 

All three sentiments reminded me of what I wanted for the day: to have fun, to celebrate that I'm able to race and to pace myself through the longest athletic endeavor of my life.

The horn sounded to send us off at 8:33 a.m. I walked out a bit then started swimming. Slowly. Stroke. Breathe. Stroke. Breathe.

"Well this feels just fine," I thought.

Out of the corner of my eye I caught someone backstroking.

Been there. Done that.

But hey, I'm feeling pretty good.

I got another glimpse while sighting  -- one of a blue swim cap and one of a green swim cap. They went off in waves before mine. 

I'm doing OK.

There were three turns on the swim course and by the second turn the final wave, the pink caps, caught up to me.

And it got messy.

Somehow I ended up swimming in line with buoys, instead of to the outside (where it's usually a bit safer and less crowded). At this point, it would have been too much time and work to move, so I stayed on line and paid the price a bit at that turn buoy when the pink caps started swimming on top and over me. It wasn't just that I was getting hit -- I was getting pulled down.

After rounding the buoy, I pulled up and treaded water. Behind me was a kayak. But my eyes looked forward instead. After a few deep breaths, I felt composed and ready to go. Stroke. Breathe. Stroke. Breathe.

My next stop was just before the stairs when a volunteer helped me up the stairs and over the mats.

In my mind, the day was already a success. I made the swim cutoff. And while everyone who knows me (and many who don't) thought I was crazy for thinking I would have any problems making the 1 hour 10 minute time for the 1.2 mile course, I needed to prove it to myself.

Immediately out of the water were two rows of wetsuit strippers. While this is typical of Ironman races, it's unique for the 70.3 distance. But I wanted to get my money's worth and the volunteers seemed very eager to help get you out of your wetsuit. So I ran over, trying to get the top of my suit down, but they stopped me.

"We've got it."

They unzipped me. Each person took one arm and pulled it down. I sat on the ground and threw my legs in the air and each one took a leg and zipped it right off my body. I rolled my wetsuit like a football and started the trot to transition.

And it was a trot. The run from the swim exit to transition was 300 meters ... uphill. A very steep hill on a golf cart path. It was a bit painful but along the way I saw three friends and my mother, all snapping photos, all cheering me on.

Transition took a bit of time as I cleaned off my feet, took a towel to dry my arms and gathered my stuff for the bike. The sky was overcast and a bit cool. The extra time, I thought, would help me more than hurt.

And off I went on a 58-mile bike ride through the hills.

My plan was to stay in steady heart rate zone and spin as much as possible. The heart rate zone would ensure I wasn't overworking the hills and every time I glanced over at my wrist, I seemed to be in good shape -- not too high on the climbs and not too low on descents.

The hardest part was spinning. Natural inclination on the bike is push hard. But while a lighter gear may cost me five minutes or so of overall time, it would save my legs for the run. And so I was in easy gears for much of the ride, thinking about a high cadence. Never have I been in the so-called "granny gear" so much in my entire life. But still, I passed many people on the bike. I avoided mechanical problems with my chain, which can come from grinding gears up climbs and poor shifting. I stuck to my nutrition routine, sipping water or my sports drink every 10 minutes and eating bites of Clif Bars every 15 minutes.

The challenging course lived up to its reputation. While there were some stretches where you could get into a groove, the course was up and down, up and down meaning constant shifting and a lot of time up on the handlebars instead of in the aero position.

The first aid station came around 25 miles into the race in the small town of Dorset.

And I am now a big fan of Dorset.

As you entered the main business area a hockey net was setup to toss your empty waters at. And yes, I scored a goal.

As the cyclists came through, someone on a megaphone was proclaiming emphatically, "Dorset welcomes you!" It seemed as if the entire town, was out, handing out water bottles and gels, offering cheers and encouragement. They lined the street through town and even decorated the one-lane bridge we passed over. For a moment, it felt like hitting one of those towns in the Tour de France and after miles of lonely road, the excitement was a definite pick-me up.

The last 15 miles of the course were difficult as promised. Actually, it was difficult because it came after already riding 40 miles of hills. This is where granny gear became my best friend, where I chose high cadence over grinding it out. Fresh legs, I kept telling myself. Fresh legs.

By the time I hit the straightaway (with a hill, of course) back to transition, I had a huge smile on my face.

Now all that was left was the run.

With my bike racked I put on my Buffalo Triathlon Club hat, stashed some gels in my fuel pouch while sucking down one on the way out to the run course.

For some reason, I had concern about my time. My Garmin was showing me running time and heart rate. I had no clue what the actual time of day was and suddenly was concerned about finishing the course. Spotting two spectating friends who cheered me as I made my way onto the run course, I asked how much time I had.

They looked puzzled.

"Tons!" one said

"Unlimited," another replied.

It was a ridiculous question since I had about 4 1/2 hours to complete the 13.1 mile course. But every once in a while, you just get a bit ridiculous out there. The key is to let it roll. And I did.

I ran the first 2K then walked through the aid station. Shortly after that, I noticed a bad feeling in my left foot -- by the outside and near my toes. The same place where I blistered and bled during the marathon. It felt as if my sock may have bunched up. I decided to fix it at the next aid station and tried to get my mind off the growing pain.

At the 4K mark, I took some water and gatorade and noticed a porta-a-john. Perfect. If I had to fix my sock I might as well do it while using the facilities. The two minutes or so I spent at that aid station made a huge difference. My foot never bothered me again and the comfort level of running on an empty bladder was both physical and psychological.

Going in, I knew the run course would be hilly and after my friend Mark drove it the day before, I knew that part of it would be very challenging. There was an elevation gain of 40 meters or about 131 feet. For those familiar with Western New York running, it was tackling Chestnut Ridge Park only after a really long swim and a challenging 58-mile bike ride.

On fresh legs, I could have run the entire way.

On this day, I needed to walk some of the hills. I walked the one big hill on the way out but started running at the top and kept my run pace for quite a while after that. In fact, I ran up one more hill, thanks in large part to the spectator with the tambourine who was on the corner encouraging runners. When I thanked him for being out, he asked my name, then 20 seconds later called out, "Way to run up that hill Amy! Keep running. Don't stop running until you reach the top Amy!"

Even if I wanted to, there was no way I was walking while I was still in his sight line. It made me smile. It made me laugh. And it got me up that hill.

At points throughout the course I crossed paths with other people from Buffalo, some I knew and some just wearing their gear. Whether we were friends or just sporting the same logo, it was a pick-me-up to give and receive shout outs on the run course.

I walked every aid station, as I planned, munched on shot blocks and a gel and took a mix of water and gatorade. Nutritionally, I was fine.

But at this point, it was early afternoon and the sun was out. It was hot. There were more hills to come. And so there were spurts where I walked. Oddly enough, the walking didn't make me feel too defeated, especially when I passed people while I was walking. Bits and pieces of overheard conversation indicated that others had their legs shot on the bike.

My legs weren't completely shot. It was tough and hot and I took breaks.

Every time I hit a downhill or a shady spot, I ran. And in hindsight, I didn't walk nearly as much as I thought while I was on the course.

In the final 2K I caught up with a woman wearing a Buffalo Triathlon Club jersey and we started chatting as we walked, then jogged, together. Her name was Laura and she had completed a half ironman in Rhode Island in July.

"I thought that was hilly," she said. "But this is really bad."

I told her this was my first one and she said I should be proud of accomplishing it on such a difficult course.

One more hill in the final kilometer. We walked up it together then started running. Laura pulled about 30 seconds ahead of me, which was fine.

Inching closer, athletes who had already finished were riding their bikes out, offering encouragement. The line of spectators started to form and the first person I saw was my friend Eric, who mockingly yelled at me to pick up the pace. Running the final loop, spectators read my name off my bib and cheered me on. Another group of Buffalo people saw me round one of the final corners and gave me a cheer.

As I approached the finish line I saw my parents and gave a smile.

There it was.

Volunteers held out finishers tape and I crossed the line, arms in the air, breaking through for the first time.

P9130120 They placed a medal around  my neck and offered me congratulations.

I found my parents and my friends and while I wasn't quite crying, it was emotional for me.

My final time was 7 hours and 30 minutes. My swim was about 58 minutes, my bike around 3:50 and my run around 2:33.

But the numbers don't matter all that much.

Because it is this feeling that counts most. The sense of accomplishing something big -- bigger than myself. Something I didn't think I could do a year ago.

There will be thoughts as to what comes next.

But for now, there's celebration.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

 

Back in the USA

Today was the return from Muskoka. A full race report will be coming on Tuesday, but some brief highlights.

Of all the Buffalo Triathlon Club members who started the race, it appears all finished -- and a hearty congratulations to all! Apparently, the area made an impression on many at the race as several people mentioned they were asked, "Just how many people from Buffalo are in this race?"

For myself, it was a challenging day, but one that was rather fun. The run was a bit more difficult than I anticipated, but still very doable and my final time was 7 hours and 30 minutes. I stuck with my plan for the most though the paces were too difficult for me to hold on the run course. No nutritional breakdowns. No mental breakdowns when the pain started to set in. I held strong and impressed myself and celebrated the fact that I was healthy enough to get to the start line and strong enough to get to the finish line.

And that is far more important than what the actual time on the clock read.

More details to come tomorrow.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

The day to dream

HUNTSVILLE, CANADA -- It's game day.

The race I've been preparing months for.

In some ways, the race I've been preparing for years.

Today will be my first 70.3 race -- a half Ironman distance with a 1.2 mile swim, 58 mile bike (yes it's two miles too long!) and 13.1 mile run. It's Ironman Muskoka 70.3.

And it's a day for celebration.

Saturday afternoon came a text message from my younger brother: "All you need to do to make us all proud is start the race. Game on, sis!"

That was perhaps the best message I received all day.

Because it encapsulates all that this race is about.

At the pro panel on Saturday, Craig Alexander, the reigning Ironman World Champion and defending Muskoka champ, said that whether you're leading the race or just trying to finish, it's all about the personal challenge.

"It's about racing yourself and living up to your training and your racing form," he said. "Essentially at whatever level you're at, you're racing yourself."

For me, and a bunch of others like me, today will be a PR (personal record) no matter what, since it's my first race at this distance.

But getting to that start line is already the accomplishment.

The race, that's the celebration. That's the joyful part. That's the part where all the hard work comes together, all the focus on fitness and training and learning merge. 

Today is the day I celebrate my strength. I celebrate my ability to look at fear and doubt, both internally and externally, and move past it. I celebrate my fitness, that I am able to even consider doing a 70.3 triathlon. 

Nearly two years ago, swimming lessons consisted of bobbing up and down along the pool edge. Now, swimming is a slow, but steady, distance event.

Running was intervals on the treadmill with more walking than running. Now, running the hills in Chestnut Ridge park is part of the weekly routine.

Cycling was a touring event. Now, there's intervals and speed work and hill work and strategy.

Today is a day to remember where I started, how far I've come and dream about what adventures wait for me after the finish line.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

Slaying the intimidation monster

HUNTSVILLE, CANADA -- The lake was calm and cool. Much like myself. Or rather, much like I want to see myself.

Yesterday's swim wasn't really a swim but more a chance to play in the lake and look at the course. The water was beautiful and the course seemed long. Then again, the swim course always looks long to me. But the quality of the water, that calmed me down. So did taking a few strokes and practicing my newly invented stroke of snow angels.

That helped me recast that feeling in my stomach from "nervous" to "excited" and even "eager."

Then came the drive of the bike course.

Horror stories seemed to abound from people who had done the race last year or those who went up to train on the course.

The visions were of something out of the Pyrenees of the Tour de France.

The course is described as a "lollipop" --- a circle around the lake with a "stick" at the end that amounts to an out-and-back to the transition.

And oh yes, there were hills. Most of the short and steep variety were at the end of the lollipop and on the stick. Out on the course, there were some long, steady climbs.

Challenging? Oh yes.

Intimidating? Not so much.

The key seems to be staying within your plan. Will I be able to pound out a really, really fast time on the course? Not really. But then again, that's not my plan. Will I have to walk up any hills? Probably not. There is nothing on the course that I haven't already rode at some point in the last year.

In other words, the course is challenging but doable.

Suddenly, it's not so scary.

And that has me a bit scared.

Circular thinking, I know, but par for the course for me.

Friday was rounded out with packet pickup (No. 1312) and the athlete's welcome dinner. Then came a few hours of laughter and friendship with fellow members of the Buffalo Triathlon Club.

There isn't a core workout that's better than a few hours of hearty belly-laughter.

Today features a 20-minute swim, mandatory bike racking and a visit to a pro panel and lots of relaxing time in the afternoon.

And stepping into the belief that the challenge isn't nearly as intimidating as I thought.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow the trip to Muskoka on Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

The adventure of Muskoka

HUNSTVILLE, CANADA -- Ah, there's something about being in Canada with the British spellings (the generous addition of the vowel "u" for example) and the availability of Coffee Crisp candy bars.

Growing up on the border, Canada has always meant vacation and adventure which makes it the perfect spot for my first 70.3 race. It feels different and special.

And I feel part of something bigger.

There are about 40 people from Western New York heading to the Muskoka region for the Ironman 70.3 race on Sunday. Some are friends. Some acquaintances. Some just names and faces which are familiar. But in a way, we're all family -- all in this together for laughs, for fun, for a challenge.

There are a handful of participants who are doing a late fall Ironman or Iron Distance race and using the Muskoka race as a training day. It's a day to test fitness and test out new strategies (like holding back on the bike to be fresh for the run).

Others are tackling their first 70.3 race and figured it was a good choice with all the support from the Buffalo-area crew.

My reasons for this race? I wondered if I could do a 70.3 -- would I be able to get to that fitness level? To accomplish a bigger goal?

I wanted a challenge, and while the 70.3 race offers that in general, the Muskoka course give participants a heck of a bike course (which will become clearer today as I drive the course with some friends). The bike is my first love in the trilogy of the sport and a tough bike course seemed appropriate.

There certainly was the family feel, the support of others who understand what you're doing, why you're doing it and want to see you succeed.

And, there's the fun factor. Seriously, "Muskoka" is just fun to say. It's in Canada which means plenty of access to Coffee Crisp and happy childhood memories.

Today in Muskoka is about relaxing and getting prepared. This morning will include a brief splash in the water, just to have fun in Peninsula Lake and create good feelings about the body of water. Then comes a drive of the bike course with a final stop at the grocery store. The afternoon will bring packet pick up, some relaxing by the beach and the athletes' pasta dinner.

And it will include lots of smiles and laughs to help dissipate the nervous knots that will inevitably form in my stomach.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow the weekend events of Muskoka 70.3 on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

Traveling Day

The cycling shoes won't fit in the bag.

It's the only piece of equipment that doesn't have a packaged space for the trip to Huntsville, Ontario for the Muskoka 70.3 race. They will have to sit naked, alongside the bike in the back of my Subaru as we make the journey to a foreign land.

Otherwise, the bags are packed, the list checked and double-checked and this morning marks the final stages of the journey to the half Ironman starting line.

In some ways, it feels like preparing for that first day of school -- a mix of nerves and excitement and wonder and for some reason the starting interlude to the song "I Have Confidence" from The Sound of Music. (Which, while climbing on the bike sadly may lead to renditions of "The Lonely Goatherd" but that's another story.)

My race plan is already committed to memory which includes nutrition goals (how much to eat on the bike and when) and pacing goals (heart rate zones on the bike, pace on the run and moderate swimming to start). Of course the two most important items on the race plan include having fun and truly believing that I am ready for this challenge, this celebration of two years of hard work.

While around 1,800 athletes will be making their way to Muskoka for the 70.3 race, others who earned qualification spots are preparing for next month's Ironman World Championships in Kona. And while replicating their training and talent is out of the reach of most of us, it can be inspirational to read about the elites. Personally, I find that very true of interviews given by two-time defending champ Chrissie Wellington, who never seems to be without a smile or without an amazing perspective to share:

"Triathlon has taught me so much," Wellington said in an interview with Ironman.com. "both from looking deep into myself and reflecting on my personality, and my strength and weaknesses .... you realize the body's amazing capacity to endure pain, that the mind and body are so much stronger than we may give them credit for, to be calm in the face of adversity, to cope with defeat."

To realize that we're stronger than we give ourselves credit for and that there can be peace, calm in the midst of chaos -- those are great mantra reminders for the challenge of a race, the emotional swings of life and for a four-plus-hour car ride into unfamiliar Canadian cottage country.

Keep up to date during the Muskoka 70.3 experience on Twitter, by following Journey to the Finish Line at www.twitter.com/amymoritz.

--- Amy Moritz

Packing for the race

The list started about a month ago. Maybe more.

Every time the notion for something that would be needed for the Muskoka trip came to mind, it went on the list. The final printout is three pages long.

A few days ago, the list turned into piles. The spare room in my apartment is filled with piles of clothes, gear and accessories.

Today will be final configuration of how it all ends up in my car for the five hour drive to cottage country in Canada.

And while I didn't want to fall into the stereotype of "packing like a girl" there is nothing wrong with packing like a girl scout.

Better to bring too much nutrition for race day than be short. Better to have warm clothes never to be worn than searching for something if the weather turns cool. I probably won't be able to pack for every contingency, but it helps to try and think of what I could need.

It helps because it keeps my mind occupied. Granted, I'm thinking about the future when packing but the list-making, the gathering, the actual packing, that's all in the present.

And staying in the present moment is vital this week. At least for me.

A friend who is also racing Muskoka on Sunday listed her Facebook status as "time to start thinking good thoughts."

Indeed it is.

But it's not just about good thoughts. It's about truly believing them.

There's a scene in the movie "What the Bleep Do We Know!?" which talks about positive thinking. While positive thinking is good and helpful, it can be just a thin layer of nice thoughts over long-term negativity or fear. Sometimes, thinking positive thoughts is like white-knuckling.

One of the joys of of endurance sport is that the journey itself to the starting line is multi-faceted. It's not just about training your body, it's about training your mind, your emotions. It's about changing beliefs about yourself.

It's about creating new stories about yourself for yourself. Ones that allow you to do things you may have thought weren't possible.

Just in time for the 70.3 race this weekend, USA Triathlon's e-newsletter contained an article on Slaying the Fatigue Monster.

The article describes how in long races, there's always a fatigue factor usually precipitated by some powerful personal doubts about training and ability.

But here's the thing -- everyone has this pit of doubt and fatigue, whether you're an elite professional, a top-age grouper, or crossing the finish line with just a few minutes to spare.

Dealing with your own mind is the key to finishing strong (however that looks for you). Author Ingrid Loos Miller suggests a mental exercise days before the race which includes listing past accomplishments that make you feel "victorious and strong."

When fatigue and doubt strike during the race, you can use those key past moments to shoot down the negativity monster.

Because no matter who we are, what we do, what our particular life story is, there are moments where we were strong. Times when we felt good about ourselves. Those are the feelings to access when it seems like the next five minutes will bring nothing but discomfort and defeating thoughts.

Some runners and triathletes have told me they use mantras during the race. Others have a song in their head that they sing along to.

The key (as explained to me from people much more learned in these areas than am I) is to feel good in the present moment. Whether that comes from remembering successful feelings of the past or repeating a phrase or singing a song, the idea is to have good feelings taking what's in front of you.

As I pack for Muskoka, there are some key things I won't be taking with me, like those old beliefs and doubts about myself. Fear most definitely is not on my list of contingency items. Neither are the "what ifs" that resemble some sort of worst case scenario game.

Because sometimes it's not just what we choose to bring with us on a journey that's important, but what we choose to leave behind.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

Metric racing

The student-teacher brought us all into the back of the classroom and went over the recipe. It was elementary school and we were making metric brownies. 

What's a metric brownie?

Same as a regular brownie, only using a recipe that uses metric measurements.

Perhaps some of you remember that, the movement in the early 1980s to get Americans to convert to the metric system. I have no idea if it was a serious move, if it was purely an educational move or what even happened to the supposed "movement."

Regardless of the cooking lesson, the metric system is still a bit of a reach for me. Actually it's not the metric system per se but the conversion from English measurement system.

Which brings me to Sunday's race in Muskoka.

Since the race is in Canada, all the course measurements for the bike and the run will be in meters,not miles.

And actually for this, I am grateful.

My first half marathon was last September in St. Catharines, Ontario -- the Run for the Grapes. Not even thinking about the measurement system, it was pretty early when my friend and I realized the course was marked in meters.

Frankly, I kind of panicked.

"How many meters are in 13.1 miles?" I asked him frantically.

Some conversions are routine by now. For instance, 5 kilometers is 3.1 miles. But 13.1 miles? That was too much math to figure out while running.

But once I knew it was around 20K (21.1 to be exact) and replenished my nutrition (math is a personal sign that I'm approaching a bonk) the kilometers were very enjoyable.

It was all psychological.

Which is why the kilometers will be helpful at Muskoka 70.3.

Yes 21.1 is a bigger number than 13.1 -- and same on the bike where 94K is bigger than 58 miles -- but that means participants see race markers more often.

So what if I have to get all the way to 21.1 -- those kilometer markers will come quickly. It breaks the race up into smaller segments. When attempting to be in the moment and look only at what is ahead of me, the smaller the increment, the better. Plus it makes me feel like I'm making progress as the numbers keep ticking off.

The tactic may not help as much on the bike, where the focus will be on each hill. But It has been helpful on the swim, where concentrating on moving from buoy to buoy make the distance seem less daunting. And so it certainly should help on the run. Those kilometers come up quicker than those miles, and so regardless of what pace I'm actually running, it should feel like progress toward the finish line. 

The smaller the segments, the less I have to worry about.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

Embracing taper

It's a period of time that most endurance athletes either love or hate -- or have a love/hate relationship with.

It's the taper.

Taper is, well, just like it sounds, you taper, or reduce, your training before your big race. There are many philosophies about how to taper -- specifically how long to taper and what to do during the taper. Some start four weeks out. Some start a week before. Some reduce training volume. Some training intensity. Some both.

The only agreement really seems to be that you should taper. Training, by it's nature, breaks down the body. In order to build it up, to reap the benefits of fitness and strength gains, it needs rest. Which is why, during the course of training, a good plan will have rest days and easy weeks.

Some research seems to indicate that a two  taper is good along with decreasing volume but keeping intensity. (Check out this article on active.com and this reprint of an article from Northwest Runner for a few more details.)

If the science of tapering and the statistics get cumbersome, consider this -- your body will perform better given some rest. You won't make any fitness gains the week before the race, but you can tire yourself out. Shorter workouts with a few intervals keep you sharp. Rest and good nutrition gets your body prepared.

So what's the hate part of the equation?

Taper, in a word, can drive you nutty.

Well, it can drive me nutty. And while I may not be the norm I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Sunday will be my first 70.3 race (formerly known as the "Half Ironman"). The race is in Huntsville, Ontario, the Muskoka 70.3. (Which, for the record, is really 72.3 since the bike course is two miles longer than the standard distance. Yeah. I don't get it either.)

And so the taper is in full swing. My last big bike ride was Saturday, another 50-miler in Niagara County with a few passes of the Escarpment. Sunday was a brick workout and although it was a total of two hours, didn't feel all that intense, in large part because I ran and rode with my friend Jen.

Company is a great way to pass the time. And to keep your nuttiness in check.

Taper week for me will consistent of short workouts with some bursts of intensity. Today is just an easy one-hour bike ride. Tomorrow is a 45 minute with a few one-minute speed bursts for good measure. The swim workout is in the pool with, again, a few 50-yard bursts of speed. Just enough to get the heart rate up a bit. Just enough to activate my slow and fast twitch fibers. Just enough to keep me firing for race day.

The real test this week is to keep my mind in a good place.

This is where taper becomes hard. Because you want to be doing more. And even when you know that more is not good, getting comfortable with rest can be difficult. Being still. Being idle. It can be healing and peaceful. But it can take some of us awhile to get there.

Embracing the taper means embracing stillness and quiet and peace. It means trusting. In part it means surrendering.

Yes, this is the time when the mantras come out. When visualization is key.

It's this time, more than ever, when enjoying the pure joy of the moment is all that there is.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

Channel swimming season

There is that moment in the water when your technique disappears. Your body feels the glide -- long, strong and yet gentle. There is no fighting the water, just a fluid movement through it.

Perhaps really good swimmers feel this way all the time. For those like myself, the moments come along every so often. On a good day, I will feel the glide a few times. On a great day, I can feel that way for a sustained period of time. But it's an elusive feeling, one that's difficult to capture and replicate. As soon as you notice the feeling, the "how-to" part of the brain kicks in, and we try to analyze how we got to feel this good so that we can do it again and again.

Of course, the key is probably to not think about it too much. Alas, for many of us that's easier said than done. That is part of the journey, not a results-oriented process.

During a few of those glides, my mind wandered to thoughts of the English Channel. Why, I'm not sure, only this kind gliding, this kind of surrender to the water must be part of what it takes to accomplish such a feat. September is the end of Channel-crossing season and while numerous people make crossings and double-crossings each year (to date there are 14 unratified results in 2009) to make it almost seem like a "routine" feat, there is something alluring about those who try and something magical about those who succeed.

The Channel Swimming Association is the official "governing body" if you will of the sport of swimming from England to France (or France to England). It verifies crossing and times along with assisting and advising swimmers who want to make the attempt. And there are rules for making an attempt, including strict guidelines of touching your support boat and what you can wear (no wetsuits allowed).

Elaine Howley of Waltham, Mass. made a successful crossing last month, completing the swim from England to France in 13 hours and 35 minutes. While the crossing is 21 miles, swimmers actually must travel farther, riding an intricate pattern of current which makes swimming the Channel so difficult. Howley's crew estimates she actually swam about 30 miles.

Her story appears on boston.com. Howley is a 31-year old assistant high school swim coach and a textbook editor. There was a moment, she said, when she doubted if she could finish the crossing, experiencing sea sickness, nerves and frustration. But she kept going.

"These ups and downs are a normal part of these kinds of extreme challenges and, in many ways, being successful is more about taking control of your mental state than it is about the actual physical feat of swimming the distance," Howley said. "Reigning in my fears and insecurities about my abilities is probably my biggest challenge."

Then again, reigning in our fears and insecurities is what keeps all of us on the metaphorical shore from time to time, watching the tide and wondering if we can be part of it all.

--- Amy Moritz
Follow Journey to the Finish Line on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amymoritz

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