Sunday, September 6, 2009
As I look back on my training this year, I've learnt quite a few hard lessons.
1. Overcoming fear of open water
2. Race nutrition
3. Reclaiming the joy of Tris
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
My goals for the race are pretty modest:
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
I know. Disturbing isn't it?
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.
Hasta la vista.