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!" :)