Monday, September 7, 2009

My first Olympic Distance!

Finishing time: 4hours 8min :)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Full Circle

It's hard to believe it's the night before my target race - the Austin Triathlon. I first signed up for the race in April, and prepared over the last 4-5 months for my first Olympic Distance. It's amazing how quickly time passes, and it's insightful to observe the ups and downs of training which in many ways parallels life itself.

As I look back on my training this year, I've learnt quite a few hard lessons.

1. Overcoming fear of open water
This was by far one of biggest learnings. I remember how debilitating the fear was 5 months ago, and just other day, as I swam effortlessly and fearlessly in Barton springs, I felt free. On hindsight, I had made a mountain out of a molehill in my mind, and it was only when I gained control over my thoughts, was I able to see how mistaken I was. When I gained clarity and calm, swimming became the joy it once was when I was a child.

2. Race nutrition
The Sweet & Twisted Tri turned out to be a huge wake-up call in this respect. I crashed and burned at the tri because I had not eaten wisely the day before the race. On race morning, I could not keep anything down. I started the race on an empty stomach, and by the time I got on the bike, my energy completely tanked. On the run, I barely had the energy to run and felt nauseous. It was a hard race in other ways too - the heat got to me & the bike seat had not well-adjusted. After the race, I felt really overcome and my confidence took a hit. I remember sitting down with Coach A and going over the race in great detail. Finally, I asked if he thought I could actually do the Olympic Distance. He put it plainly, "Of course you can! Sha, you "bonked" at S&T. You had no fuel, and you need learn how to eat right during the race. If you don't put anything into your system, how do you expect it to anything for you?" Feeling like a trainwreck, I retreated inwards and focused more on training. I dealt with my negative energy and learnt to move on. I trained hard the week following S&T mostly to shake off the negativity. After regaining some confidence during training sessions that followed, I felt better.

3. Reclaiming the joy of Tris
While this may sound silly, but I think somewhere along the way, I stopped having fun during tri training. Several times, Arv would watch me struggle through an ardous bike ride or long run, and say, "Are you having fun yet?" Truthfully, I did not. I felt the training was necessary but tedious. After the Sweet & Twisted Tri, particularly, I became conscious of this, and went back to my core reasons for tri-ing. I also read my previous blog posts from my first season, and realized that although training had been challenging, I genuinely had fun getting through the challenges. I examined the reasons why my thinking had changed, and began to reclaim my joy of doing triathlons. I became mindful of when I felt like the training was a drag, and shifted my mental energy to more positive thoughts. Arv as always was my pillar - he chided me when I slacked, encouraged me when my confidence plummeted, coached me when I felt unsure of how to train and most of all, reminded me when I had forgotten the joy of tri-ing.

I've walked a long way on this path, and in some ways, I feel like I've come a full circle. But perhaps, that's best destination of all - to return to your Self and see the same world of Tris with new eyes.

I've set no timegoals for my first-ever Olympic Distance. And I'm already celebrating - I know how far I've come from my first season in 2007 (when I had initially thought about doing an OD), and feel so much better prepared for the race - that in itself is a great feeling!

And as Coach A put it, when you do a new distance for the first time, you already know you're going to PR. :)

Friday, August 28, 2009

This Race is Yours, and Yours Alone.

(Inspirations from Bhaja Govindam)

Will you help me cross the finish line, my friend?
We’ve played together, trained together and ran many miles together.
Won’t you stay a while until I finish my race?

“I would if I could, dear friend... but this race is yours, and yours alone.”

Crossing the finish line, I felt a sense of freedom,
independence, and peace within..
that I had made it, and did it alone.

Will you journey on this Path with me, my teacher?
You’ve taught me, nurtured me and given me the strength to come this far.
Won’t you walk with me until I realize the transient nature of life?

“I can’t and I won't, dear student… my absence, not my presence will help you attain this knowledge. This Path is yours to walk, and yours alone.”

So I walked and walked,
reflecting on this wisdom,
Until I came across my own reflection in a lake,
And there I stood stunned, when I saw that I was truly alone.

Will you be with me forever, my love?
We’ve shared our joys and sorrows, trials and tribulations together.
Won’t you live this life with me for always?

“This moment is ours, and I can’t promise you more than this. This life is yours to live, and yours alone.”

Going through life, I began to see
the world seemed like an easier place to live in,
when I accepted being truly alone,
And I depended on myself, and myself alone.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Learning from the Fish (or Facing My Fears Part II)

Barton Springs Pool, Austin, TX

My usual trepidation began as I set out for my open workout yesterday evening at Barton Springs. I had a near accident on the highway getting there while asking Arv about how deep 30ft was. As I was driving, I pointed to the height of the freeway to get an idea of the depth, veered into another lane and nearly skidded. After the drama, Arv looked at me wryly and said "you need to stop thinking about swimming when you're driving!"

Just as I got ready to get into the springs, I met a friend of mine and we chatted. As I expressed my trepidation at looking at the depth of the lake, my friend said something that struck me, "when you look inside and see the fish hanging out, it's really pretty cool! You'll feel like you're flying..." I thought about for sometime. The idea of flying held for me a great sense of freedom. It put me in a contemplative mood.

My plan was to swim 800m with the pull buoy and REALLY look into the clear springs. I had never dared to look inside (and usually got away with keeping my eyes closed or head straight ahead). With security of a floating device, I figured even if I panicked, I would not struggle in the water and feed my fear further. This plan worked like a charm. It really gave me an opportunity to peer into the depth of the springs. At one point, I just stopped stroking and floated.. observing the fish below. I was reminded of what Steph told me me last year, how amazing it was to watch life underwater when you really paid attention and observed. Most of the fish moved away from me hurriedly. A few others lay very still. I was calmed by their stillness. Some looked at me inquiringly. And it dawned on me that if such little fish could be so comfortable in the water, I did not have anything to fear. (except arguably my mind!)

After that, I did another 400m unassisted. I felt myself gliding through the Springs, using very little effort. I realized that the reason I had gasped and usually felt tired after open water swims was because I expended a lot of energy in the process of panicking - breathing deeply, irregularly, heart rate racing, all of it drained my energy. If I could stay calm, and just swim, I would not be as exhausted.

Towards the end of it, I still swam a little cautiously, no doubt. But I had learned from the fish. To be in the water as they were.. practicing stillness. Within.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ruminations on the Rookie

I met my goals for the Rookie! YAAY!

I had created the mental picture of my goals and as I did them, I "checked" them off in my head and gave myself encouraging words on the tri. This kept my spirits up during the tri.

Since I did not have any specific time goals, just a general "hope-to-do-better-than-my-first-tri", I did not wear my watch. I usually avoid that anyway, because looking at the clock is more stressful and takes some of the fun out of it for me. ( I can see you Garmin-and-what-not users balking as I write this..) I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I had shaved off about 8 minutes from my first tri. Considering I took a year-long break from training, I'm quite pleased with the result.

Here are some short notes:


I've said for the 100th time now, but the lake was DISGUSTING. A foul stench emanated from the lake as we jumped in. I was a little distracted by the smell and struggled a little initially to focus on swim. Fortunately, I was calm about swimming in the deep. I found myself veering off course when I did freestyle, so I used breast-stroke to re-navigate. There's still a lot of improvement but the important thing is that I finally put my head in the water and did free-style (and that too, in a filthy lake)! :) I took about 10min 23s to finish it.

What worked well is that during my swim practice the day before, I practiced my routine - mental & physical for how I would swim - how I would breathe, how I would mentally chant, and the rhythm of the two. Once I figured this plan, it was easy to execute on the actual day.


Gearing & hydrating on the bike were my two focal points, and I didn't care much about the speed (though I was happy to note later that my speed had improved). I took pains to find exactly the right gear for the moment, and stayed alert throughout the course to get a feel for gearing (as opposed to switching off mentally while coasting down the hills).

And yes, I hydrated on the bike - 3 times!!! I slowed down, reached for the bottle, pulled it quickly, took a few swigs, and put it back into the cage. It sounds very basic when I spell it out this way, but it does take quite a bit of balance to do this right. anyway, this made me particularly happy because it was an indication that both my balance and confidence had improved. As bike distances get longer, I know now that I can stay hydrated on the bike, and this will surely help me down the road when I train for my Olympic Distance tri.

3. RUN

Was not great. I didn't walk, thankfully. And frankly, the first mile for me is extremely tough but I warm up after 2 miles or so. The trouble with super sprint distances is that by the time you're actually warmed up, it's done. I'm not a sprinter and generally do better on long-distances rather than short ones. So this was tricky for me.

It did make me wake up to the fact that I need to pay more attention to my running and build my endurance over the summer. The heat and humidity are huge factors in one's performance, and I could have been definitely been better prepared. Admittedly I've gotten lazy about running. The challenges of swimming and biking tend to occupy most of my focus, so running has been on the back burner. Additionally, this past half-marathon season was so disaster-stricken that I did not really have a chance to train well - and it showed.

Overall, however, the Rookie was a great kick-off to my tri-season, and hopefully it sets the mood for the rest of the tris I'm planning for the season. (more about races soon.. dun dun dun dun...)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Be The Rookie!

The Rookie is on May 10, just 3 days away. Texas Ski Ranch is definitely one of my favourite courses. I did my first race there, and the shallow pond is a great way of getting used to open water.
This is going to be my warm-up tri - and also my first full tri since Oct 2007. (Last summer, I did a relay tri, so I don't really count that.) So, I'm excited and happy to be back in the swing of things.

My goals for the race are pretty modest:
1. Stay calm
2. Do freestyle

1. Practice gear-shifting, and "finding the right gear for the moment". (will write about this soon, it was an insight I got from a Bike 101 that Coach A held for us a few weeks ago)
2. Hydrate on the bike

1. Sl-og if I must, don't walk.

One of the main things I've changed in my training this year is how I hydrate. I'm a big fan of Nuun, so I'm definitely filling my bottles with Nuun goodness for the race. :) I'll probably take a few cliff blocks before the swim. And since this should be a pretty short race, I won't need to worry about nutrition on the course.

Most importantly, I want to reclaim the joy of tri-ing. Sometimes, setbacks in one's training occupy the mind so much, that we become one-tracked in resolving those issues, and we forget the bigger picture of why we're doing the sport in the first place.
I met a fascinating lady yesterday, an experienced & inspiring triathlete, Deb, who was introduced to me by my boss (who I consider my tri-mentor). We talked a lot about open-water swimming, and a few things she said really clicked with me. She said some times, maybe we just get caught up with being focused on the focusing on the problem - in my case, fear of open water - and not enough time on the solution. If I did the reverse, then maybe I would feel more motivated and empowered. My friends have observed my tendency to overthink things. That's hard to change in the short-run. So this nugget was a helpful suggestion to channel some of that over-thinking in a more empowering way.

She also shared that a good contemplation before the race, was to remember the reasons why I'm tri-ing. And as I reflect on it, I started tri-ing as a spiritual practice.. as a platform on which I would work to overcome mental limitations I had placed on myself ("I can't swim in the open water", "I can't", "I'm not an athlete" etc), in order to discover what I could really do. The fact that I've had setbacks awakens me to the fact that I still have much to learn, and a reminder that the fun is not over yet!

My mantra for this race will be "Let go, and be the Rookie!" :)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fear Factor

From my previous posts, it's pretty evident that I have a fear of open water swims, inspite of the fact that I've done about 4 races now, and numerous practice sessions at Barton Springs pool. So, it was not without some trepidation that I signed up for Splash n Dash race at Quarry Lake a few days ago.

I had hoped this race would be different; that after swimming in three different lakes Quarry Lake would not be so intimidating. I called the gym to find out the depth of the lake (mistake #1), and my heart sank - 100ft at its deepest point. In the midst of nursing a minor heart seizure, I pinged Coach A and asked for words of wisdom. His pat reply was - what does it matter how deep the lake is? We'll be swimming near the surface anyway. Good point, Coach A.. if I had been thinking rationally.. I wasn't though..

Once I reached the lake about 30min before the race, I realized that in my preoccupation with the splash part of the race, I had forgotten about the dash - and had not brought my running shoes! (needless to point out ..mistake #2) Since I was more concerned about the swim, and not the race in general, I figured at the worst I would skip the run and just use the swim practice. My training buddy, Cha, came to the rescue and miraculously produced a spare pair of running shoes that were my size.

And then, as I stepped into the lake, a familiar feeling of terror slowly washed over me. The water was 60 degrees or less, and my muscles started tightening. The 750m lake course looked a lot farther than I had imagined. More than the distance, it was the depth that concerned me (even though, logically there was no reason to feel that way). As the pre-race announcements began, Coach A joined us. He started giving Cha and I tips about the course, but I could barely focus. The lake had become larger than life..

Change of scene to the Matrix.. Morpheus tells Neo to fly across two buildings as part of his training.

Morpheus: You've got to let it all go, Neo.. fear, doubt, disbelief.. Free your mind!

Neo: (from top of the building, looks at the ground below) ohhkkk... (deep breathing) ok, free my mind, no problem! no problem! I can do this..

As the wave start began, I hung back to the end of pack, as did Cha & Kris (who similarly panicked). By now, the panic had crippled my breathing and I could not put my head underwater. I breaststroked with my head above water for a good 200m. I could see Kris freaking out too, and by now, the safety canoes were escorting us. One of the lifeguards asked her if she wanted to turn back. I yelled out to Kris, "come on, we can do this! let's do it together!" She reluctantly agreed. I silently noted the irony of me encouraging someone else when I could not persuade my own mind to stay calm.

And thus saying, Neo falls flat on his face... Cypher: (shakes his head) Everybody falls the first time.

I completed the course but did not meet both my goals of staying calm and using freestyle. The feeling of imminent danger overcame me so powerfully that I was barely able to function, my swimming skills regressed that of a beginner who was swimming at the deep end for the very first time. I felt disheartened that inspite of improvement in my swim technique, my knowledge left me when I needed it the most. Inspite of encouragement from all my buddies, I mulled over the issue for a while. Yes, I completed the course, which I never doubted I could. But my goals were different. It was more the issue of why I lost my nerve that upset me.

Then I had an interesting insight last Thursday, while listening to Brahmachari Girishji, in the midst of a weekly spiritual class for young adults. He said that fear is a result of a deep attachment to our physical body, and that the root of all fear is the fear of death. We become engulfted in fear when we give importance to the mere thought of dying. The way to move away from fear is to focus all of your thoughts and attention on the task at hand, and not let your mind wander at a crucial time. He shared his experience of how he used to surf 30-feet waves in California (prior to him becoming a monk). He said, if you lose your focus for even just a second, you could be destroyed by these strong waves. So scaling the wave is not just a test of your physical, but your spiritual strength as well.

This then brought to me to question of how my mind got caught up in it - why wasn't I able to muster up the focus and attention when I needed it? Girishji replied, it was a question of practice & training. I reflected on the fact that while I had dedicated time to physical training, I had not devoted any time at all to mental preparation - my pillars for focus were meditation and yoga, and I hardly commit time for either. My busy lifestyle was not really nurturing my mind to become more focused, it was just occupying the mind with more and more distracting thoughts.

If I continue on this path, then no matter how great my skills, I will not be able use these skills if I don't master my mind. So, looks like I'm going to be making some changes to my schedule this week.. to create some time and space for much-needed mental/spiritual training. And I'm not just talking about giving sporadic motivational msgs to the mind (like how Neo had attempted). I'm referring to something deeper, and more transformative. A consistent, calming, daily practice strengthens the mind and allows it to stay in equilibrium when the waves of adversity crash upon it.

Next time, I'll be better prepared to ride the waves.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Overliving and other insights

It's been over 7 weeks now since I've started training - and it feels great! Some things that have worked well for me in keeping to my schedule:

1. Training with a buddy. This helps a lot, particularly on days that you don't feel like getting out of bed in the morning.. The fact that you've committed to working out with someone will motivate you to attend the class - if not for anything else, to keep your promise.

2. Morning workouts - ups and downs here.. on the upside, it's great to have your workout out of the way first thing in the morning. I've always admired my friends who have the discipline to workout regularly at 6am. I never thought I was an early riser. But with some practice, it's not as hard as it used to be for me to get up early in the morning. On the downside, you need to sleep much earlier at night to get enough rest or it will not be a sustainable schedule.

3. Going to the gym - as simple as this sounds, it's really quite motivating to have gym membership not only because of the variety of group classes and good facilities, but it also gives you an indoor option to train on days that the weather is bad. Bad weather is one less excuse to skip a workout, because you can always make it up with going to the gym!

4. Having a structured but flexible schedule helps. This year, I started my season with a weekly schedule because I was slowly easing into workout schedule after having health issues over the last year. I did not want to draw up a monthly schedule simply because I did not know if I could keep up with the pace of such planned workouts. Planning on a weekly basis gave me the flexibility to workout as I was able to do them. This helped increase rather than diminish my confidence, and got me back on my feet.

Though I'm still somewhat ambivalent about this.. I miss having set days to do particular workouts (Mon-swim, Tue - bike, Wed-swim, Thu-run etc) when I was in the training group, instead of planning a weekly schedule. In any event, it has worked out well so far because healing is my priority. That said, now that I'm in much better shape, I'm glad to have signed up for a swim clinic (twice a week, mon & wed) because this will bring the kind of regularity that I'm looking for.

On overliving...

I had attended a Tri-clinic by Rogue Training Systems, and it was a good opportunity for me to have a one-on-one discussion with an experienced tri-coach. She mentioned the idea of "overliving" - trying to do everything successfully - work, family life, intense training schedule, friends, travel, volunteer work etc. And that as we venture into our training, we should keep in mind our priorities and not lose sight of them. This simple yet poignant point reminded me of how we burn out because we often chase the illusion that we can have our cake and eat it too. And if we can't have it all, it means that we're not capable enough. This fear and discontent drives "overliving".

Ultimately, it's not about our abilities, but about our choices that will lead to a sense of contentment. Even if we did juggled everything, it can leave us with a sense of emptiness and burnout if we don't find fulfilment within ourselves. And in order to find fulfilment, we need to reflect and prioritize our commitments - to ourselves and our loved ones.

And to me, that means learning to let go of expectations and being kind to yourself and your body - that works so hard to help you achieve goals set by your mind.. In Bikram yoga, one of the most important postures is "shavasana" (corpse pose) - where you lay still and relax deeply. Through practice, this relaxation allows cells to repair themselves and the posture is intended to rejuvenate one's body, mind and spirit. Rejuvenation is JUST as important for the body as is working out.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Good news! I'm happy that I kept to a schedule (without actually creating one) for two weeks in a row! The workout times that Cha originally drew up for herself, worked for me too and I've been able to workout regularly this week. It's been fun training with Cha, and having a buddy to train with keeps me in check, especially on days when I'm tempted to slack off (or when it's freezing cold and rainy AND too darn early to get up in the morning!!)

The swim workout today was awesome. Bright (I should say dark, really, since we've switched our clocks over to Daylight Savings) and early, I showed up at 5.40am to get ready for our planned swim workout with (Coach) Amit. A seasoned triathlete who's currently training for a half-iron distance, Coach had offered to help us correct our free-style technique by closely observing our free-style. I was so grateful for his help, because I definitely needed the expert eye to correct my technique. Although I could swim decently and had the endurance for long-distance swimming, my technique was not efficient and it took that much more effort and time to get through the distance.

Coach gave us excellent and insightful feedback. One key point that Coach brought to my attention was keeping my body in balance to help me glide through the water. He demonstrated some drills for us to do to help keep our bodies in balance. (Will refrain from explaining the method in excruciating detail, but if you're interested, drop me a note) The mantra for the drill was "where's my hand, where's my head" - both had to be pointing downward.

After doing several repeats of the drills, Coach asked us to do a few laps to incorporate balance into our technique. Instead of swimming normally, I unconsciously started doing the drill! When I became aware of this, I tried to use both hands as I normally do, but slipped back into the drill. Coach was amused that both Cha & I had been so "drilled" that we forgot to swim!

After that though, when I eased up and started my free-style, I suddenly felt faster! Maybe it was psychological, but I felt myself glide more effortlessly through the water. I swear, I had propelled myself so much more that I nearly crashed into the wall of the lane at the end of my lap. I definitely felt a difference. So, the plan for the next swim workout on Monday is to swim more mindfully, keeping my balance.

As I reflected on "where's my hand, where's my head", it occurred to me what a profound application it had with regards to life. (Amit, maybe we should change your nick from Coach to Guru??) Are your hand and head aligned in every moment? How many times do we let our minds wander when we're doing an activity (or at work), instead of being mindful and focused on the activity (ie where the hands are). It's a great mantra to use in daily life to keep yourself in check, and to ensure that you're fully present in whatever you're doing.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Testing, testing...1, 2, 3...

Last week, I marked a month and a half since I had exercised. I was eager to get back to working out and training, but was under strict orders (doctor & family) to back off. It was awful, knowing that I could not exercise even if I wanted to. Since I have friends who lead an active lifestyle, I listened intently to their plans and activities. I felt like a kid who was told to stay home, and had to watch her friends play outside. While I was sad that I couldn't join them, it also motivated me to get better, sooner.

I sought advice from Steph about what she did to get back on her feet after an illness, and one of the things that she said really resonated with me. "I was sick of being sick". That's exactly how I felt after a month of bedrest and monotonous routine (wake up - work - home - eat - sleep. I reached a point where I was ready to get going with life again. Although, logically speaking, I think the rest was definitely important in helping with the healing process.

Finally, two weeks ago, the doc gave me the green light to exercise "in moderation", and warned me against strenuous exercise. Under the eagle-eye of my hubby, last week, I started doing short workouts - 25min stationary bike, 300m swim twice a week and 2mile run/walk just to see how my body responded.

One of my tri-buddies, Cha, had sketched out her OD plan and so I tagged along for a couple of workouts. Another buddy of mine, Dads, who wants to do her first tri ever this season signed up at my gym and we did a workout together. It definitely helps to have your buddies' support. That was a test-case week. I did not draw up a schedule for myself because I did not want to create something that I would find difficult to keep up (and result in further disappointment). The idea was to test the waters and see what I could handle. Fortunately, things went well. I backed off whenever I felt any strain, and went easy on myself. Swimming free-style was probably the hardest because the arm rotation caused discomfort.

What I also realized was that I was getting tired easily not only because of lack of exercise but also poor nutrition - junk food, desserts et al. Exercise and nutrition are intertwined, and so when you stop exercising, you may become less careful about about what you eat, because you know that you can sleep in late the night after a heavy meal (instead of having to workout).

The challenge for me is to find a balance between staying motivated and exercising in moderation. When I cannot do much, I find it hard to stay motivated, and when I am motivated, I tend to push myself. So, the theme for the upcoming season is probably going to be finding my inner balance (arguably a life-long effort) so that in the long-term my body is ready to handle some of the goals that I set to develop my full potential.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Bad Dream

That just about describes my training this past fall/winter season.

And literally too.

Yesterday, I had the strangest dream. I'm not one well-versed in the field of dream interpretation, but some things about the dream struck a chord with me, so I'll share my thoughts on how it reminded me of my training.

So, I'm driving on this road, which is a familiar road (not sure where exactly but I driven on it before so it's familiar). There are gates lining this road, and beyond the gates on one side, it's a valley. All of a sudden, it's wintery and the road begins to wind - in strange twists and turns that I've never had to manouever. So there I am trying to swerve around the corners, thinking, how odd, I've never had to deal with this before! The scene ends when I reach the end of the road, and the same scene repeats - me again on this windy road.. but this time, the same road has iced over, and there are new things I have to do to manage. The same scene repeats over and again, each time with new corners and turns. Finally, when I'm driving on this road, there are no gates lining the road at all, and I'm just driving full speed and losing control - and finally, I lose all control of the car and I fall into the valley. I feel myself falling to the bottom, thinking, so this is the end..

I know. Disturbing isn't it?

But oddly enough, it struck me that this is the perfect analogy for my training because throughout this season, I've had to face new twists and turns - some preventable and others completely beyond my control. Mostly, the situation has been out of my hands i.e. new scenery along the same road each time that I just have to deal with. So although I've trained before for a half-marathon, this time the training was difficult because of recurring back pain. Training happened in spurts - I trained whenever my back was ok. And when my back got better, I had strange and random attacks of hives that prevented me from running at two of my planned races, including my target race, 3M. No clue what set off my allergies. It remains (and may always remain) a mystery. I'm now in week 3 of hives, so it definitely extinguishes any faint hope I had of doing the Austin Half-marathon. Apparently, the hives could be aggravated by exercise so I can't even do that for now. A friend put it aptly, "Sounds like someone up there doesn't want you to run."

When I sat in hospital days before the 3M race, I wondered how my body had freaked out in the way that it had, and just barely a week or so after doing an iron-distance swim, AND in spite of my best efforts to stay healthy. Life changes without warning... and I've done my best to deal with the twists and turns. I'm feeling pretty worn out now. I'm ready to take a break and heal.

For all that I've been harassed by strange and unknown forces, the experienced has humbled me greatly. To know that the ways of the Universe are greater than a single individual's effort. And that while it is necessary to apply every bit of effort and spirit to one's training, we need to be very grateful for everything else that's not in our control that goes right - a beautiful, cool morning on race day, a strong stomach, a sturdy immune system that keeps out the thousands of viruses running amok in the atmosphere, a running buddy who'll motivate you on those mornings you hate getting out of bed, friends who show up on race day to cheer you on, getting help from strangers along the race course when you need it etc.

So I end this training season with a note of gratitude - to my pals who've encouraged me, to my buddies who've run with me, to my hubby & family who've endured me through my insanity, and most of all, to the Universe that has taught me a lot about myself through its mysterious ways.

Hasta la vista.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

First Iron Distance Swim

The Thought

On January 8, 2009, the day before I left Singapore, I did my first iron distance swim! 80 lengths of an olympic-sized pool, 2.4 miles or 4Km. The funny part is, I had never actually planned to swim this distance. In fact, it hadn't even occurred to me that I could actually do it until my buddy, Karthik, who is keen on doing a triathlon, planted the seed in my head. When he suggested we take on an iron distance that weekend before he flew back, I sat up with interest. What a crazy idea - I loved it!

My brother discouraged me, "you can't just go out there and do 80 laps without building up to it! How much have you been swimming? We only did 800m the other day. Have you lost it?" I reluctantly agreed, and that weekend, I did half the distance. It was awesome! I didn't even feel tired. In fact, the only reason I decided not to continue on with another 40 laps was because I had a lunch commitment. Karthik, who had set his goal for 2.4miles, continued towards his goal that day, and later told me he felt great after the swim. That gave me even more confidence.

Having done the half distance, I was determined to go the full distance after a few days. I had not run that week to give some rest to my back (after repeated warnings from hubby, bro & parents), and swimming was definitely good for my back. I figured since I couldn't do my long-run (10-14miles), I might as well swim.

The Swim

It was hard getting out of bed early in the morning, and trying to sneak out before my parents had an opportunity to dissuade me. My mom, quick as ever on the draw, cornered me before I left and demanded to know where I was heading out at 6.30am instead of taking rest at home. "Oh, just a quick swim.. when I go back to Austin, it will be too cold to swim, so I figured I might as well make use of the warm weather here. Besides it's great for my back, Ma! See ya!" and ran out before she had more time to reason with me. She called me to find out when I would return, and when I told her, her voice dropped into a disbelieving, hoarse whisper, "3 hours?!"

I was not totally off the mark in my estimate. It took me roughly 2 hours and 50 min to complete the swim. I was obviously not gunning for a good time, I just wanted to see if I could actually survive it. I discovered it was really more of a mind game than physical exertion. The idea of 80 lengths is not only daunting in terms of distance, but also boredom. I daresay comparable to running laps around the track, but not really. Swimming is a lot more fun for me, and more therapeutic.

So the way I worked it in my head was to think of it as 40 laps (instead of 80 lengths). This made the time pass by much quicker. Since I was used to doing 15-20 laps, 40 laps didn't seem so bad.

The first 20 laps passed very quickly. I would say about 10 laps were really just a warm up. I focused on my stroke and kick, and form in general. My strokes were a lot stronger than my kicking, so I guess I'll need to strengthen my kicking over the tri-season. In the 10 laps that followed, I didn't even think really. Perhaps some idle thoughts about cooking Singaporean food or what food supplies I'd take back to Austin? Dunno.

The next 10 laps were the hardest. My arms and shoulders began to complain. While thoughts of quitting flitted in and out of my mind, I firmed up my resolution to continue. I had a golden opportunity that I wasn't about to quit on - swimming in a gorgeous Olympic-sized pool with no agenda for the rest of the day. I just kept focusing my thoughts on how I would feel after the swim - strong and rejuvenated. At this point, I started noticing that my fingers were shrivelling. That alarmed me a little, but oh well, what else did I expect? It helped that there was a senior ladies water aerobics class at the other end of the pool. So I tried to amuse myself by stealing glances at the old ladies' enthusiastic jiving.

The final 10 laps were just amazing. The aches and pains were drowned by joy of coming that far into the iron distance. I relived my childhood swimming days and felt genuinely thrilled by how far I had come. Finishing the 40th lap was almost a non-event, I was just swimming like a fish by then. I didnt' ache after the swim, surprisingly. My shoulders felt a little tight, and I had some chaffing under my arm, but that's about it.

The Aftermath

"Finally, there comes our Madam, all charred and roasted from swimming in the sun!" remarked my mother as I walked into the house. My dad grumbled, "You're leaving tommorrow, and you're spending all day in the pool." My grandmother said, "You must be starving! Why don't you get something to eat?" I smiled to myself. Family keeps you humble. No accolades for doing a 2.4 mile-swim - just simple concern. Only my brother's eyes danced when I told him I did my first iron-distance swim, "Holy crap! Awesome, sis!"
And that's exactly how I felt. :)