What Motivates You?

It’s 4:30am, and my alarm is going off for the third time. I set it for three different times in case I accidentally turn one of the alarms off. 4:03am. 4:20am (because it’s funny for this former high school teacher who’s students got a kick out of this particular number and begged to write the date on the board). 4:27am. I choose weird times so my brain doesn’t know when to expect the early wake up.

It doesn’t matter. I’m up at 3:50am.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I love to stay up way past midnight and get up no earlier than 8:00am. That’s all changed with trying to fit in triathlon training around family and work schedules. Getting up early ensures that I get at least one of my two to three workouts for the day completed.

So, how do I motivate myself? Lots of ways! Please add some comments below and tell me how you motivate yourself to workout early in the morning, after work, or even late at night:

  1. I lie to myself. “It’s not that early.”
  2. New gear helps: “I get to wear my new swimsuit today!” Woohoo! Or, “I get to test out my new shoes, watch, tights, shirt, hat…”
  3. I joined US Masters Swimming, so my coach and teammates will wonder where I am if I miss a practice.
  4. I organize a 5am Meet Up run, so I know my running buddy is waiting for me on the corner at 4:45am in order to run up to the meet up location. No kidding. I used to think 6am was early.
  5. I get to show off my race gear. Yeah, I like to silently brag while wearing my Ironman Maryland cap.
  6. Strava will show that I didn’t train today.
  7. My friends on Garmin will rack up more miles than I did.
  8. I can go to Starbucks later and get a mocha and not feel that bad about it.
  9. I have a race or event to train for, and if I don’t workout, I won’t be ready.
  10. I can watch the sun rise while I run.
  11. I can run or bike through a new neighborhood or check out a new trail.
  12. I overcome my fears and know that anything is possible, especially in the open water.
  13. I meet the best people through triathlon and running.
  14. I can post another swim, bike, or run post on Facebook because that’s what I do all the time besides writing, reading, gardening, doing crafts, drinking decaf coffee, eating chocolate, or driving the kiddo to gymnastics.
  15. I am going to realize my dream of kicking butt into my 90s. Keep moving!

What motivates you? Leave a comment below!

Represent Women

I find numbers fascinating. One number that sticks in my head is 37. It’s not the answer to life, the universe, and everything like 42, but it’s the percent of female athletes in the sport of triathlon.

Thirty-seven percent. Women make up fifty-one percent of the population and have begun to dominate the running world, slowly at forty-four percent for the marathon distance; however, women make up for what they lack in numbers as seen in the recent New York City Marathon where American women performed better than expected with four U.S. women placing in the top ten. Shalane Flanagan placed third and got on the podium once again (last year, she placed first), which is a huge feat.

So, why only thirty-seven percent in triathlon? Gwen Jorgenson won gold in Rio in 2016 for triathlon, but didn’t seem to inspire lots of women to join the sport. As for cycling, women make up about 25% of riders, and for open water swimming women only make up 37%, the same as it is for the sport of triathlon. I can’t bear to look at the numbers for African Americans in triathlon: it’s .5% in case you’re wondering. POINT 5%. But that’s another post.

In the U.S., Title IX didn’t allow for girls’ teams until 1972, which kept my mom and the women who came before me from participating in organized sports–we had few role models because adult women we knew weren’t on any teams of any kind, didn’t run in road races, etc. Because of Title IX, I was on my high school’s first girls’ soccer team in 1992 when I was a junior in high school. We had swimming, track, and other sports, but soccer was late to the game even though we had a boys’s team prior to 1992. I’d like to say we’ve come a long way, but there is still a long way to go, especially in the sport of triathlon with only 37% participation for women.

What keeps women out of the sport? Intimidation? Time? Money? Work and family obligations? A bigger problem is that women currently in the sport don’t give themselves enough credit: women apologize before they even begin group rides or runs even though the guys don’t care.

This has to stop, and I know I’m guilty of this too. I often apologize for the few group rides I go on, not expecting anyone to wait for me. I let other swimmers go ahead of me in a lane even though I may be faster. I pick up the rear in runs when I want to give up. I plan to change these attitudes about the three disciplines with myself, and I would love to see other women stop apologizing, get some more friends, and get into the sport so that we represent ourselves properly. Maybe then that 37% will go up to 51% like it should.

Ironman Maryland

While running the marathon of the Ironman, two runners asked me why I was doing this. I can’t remember if I asked them why they too were completing an Ironman or not because that would have been polite (and I was beyond polite at the time).  My memory is foggy at best through the delirium I experienced on the run, but I remember replying to each one of them: “I just don’t know; I should have that answer in a week.” So, if you’re looking for an inspirational blog post about my revelations before, during, and after Ironman Maryland: this is not that kind of post.

And, It’s been a week.

Well, more than that, and I still don’t have an answer to that question. But I do know that I would like to do another. Maybe I’m just out to punish my body– to escape responsibilities in exchange for training– to wake up at 4am to train — to ride for hours on end on Saturdays– to swim endless laps in the pool staring at the black line (actually, I like this part)– or swimming loops around swim buoys in a lake for hours, flicking seaweed away– to run on exhausted legs every. single. day. where every run is absolutely a punishment and all of your running friends leave you behind— or worse– to ride for over five hours on a trainer.

Not all training is grueling. I’ve met some Ironmen who have trained with me on the bike or run, and I adore the masters swim team I train with three times a week, and I’ve met the BEST people while preparing for the Ironman.

In any case, here’s my Ironman story. It’s not pretty, but neither is the Ironman.

Four hours from Chattanooga, Lacey sends me a text: “The swim is cancelled; I’m so pissed.” She was checking in on Thursday for Sunday’s race while I was in the car en route. My heart sank. I was devastated: a year’s worth of training and now the swim is cancelled? How can I call myself an Ironman (silly, I know) if I don’t do the swim? The swim is my best sport of the three. With the new staggered time trial bike start for Chattanooga, I wasn’t sure if I would make the bike cutoff, or if I would get pulled from the course at some point. I vented my frustration on Facebook and to my friend, Catrina, racing in Maryland. Lacey received many of these texts too. Catrina sent a message saying that the race director for Ironman Maryland is doing walk-up registrations on Friday from 10am-1pm and that I should consider changing course and race Ironman Maryland instead. There were 30 slots available.

For many of you who do Ironmans, a walk-up registration the day prior to the race is almost unheard of. Phil and I deliberated in the car for over an hour while parked at a gas station four hours from Chattanooga. I texted family and friends and talked to Cathy for awhile. We decided to take the chance and drive to Maryland. It was five o’clock on Thursday, and we pulled into Cambridge, MD by midnight.

The next day, Phil and Sophia slept in while I drove to the transition area for Ironman Maryland. I arrived by 8am and started asking around about the walk-up registration. One volunteer didn’t think they were doing that–it couldn’t be! I was still determined and hung around, watching athletes practice their swim in the Choptank River. I spoke to anyone who would listen and felt like a total outsider. I didn’t belong here. What was I thinking? Did I throw away Chattanooga for nothing?

I headed to the bike in/out for transition when I noticed more activity. An athlete there spoke to me and mentioned that the race director, Gerry, was the guy in the pick up truck right next to me. He knocked on the window, and Gerry eased my concerns when he said that they are doing walk up registrations at 10am where they were setting up tents. Finally! I hugged Gerry too! I was able to sign up, got my green Ironman band, and then proceeded to panic since I had to race on Saturday instead of Sunday. I had to get all of my gear ready and dropped off by tomorrow. Back to the hotel!

Race day came before I knew it. Phil drove me to transition while Sophia stayed with his parents (they were kind enough to head to MD to watch the race after being so close to Chattanooga). I handed my gear and special needs bags to the volunteers and carried my swim bag to the swim start where I still needed to get a timing chip, or this whole thing would really be for nothing. While waiting for volunteers, I forced myself to eat something more, but ended up dry heaving in a trash can near the swim start. I found Catrina and Dylan and calmed down chatting with them and getting my wetsuit on. Soon, Catrina and I lined up for the swim ready to go.

In the corral, I talked to experienced Ironmen and calmed down again. I was ready and still had to pee, which I couldn’t possibly do in my wetsuit. All of that vanished in the rolling swim start–I got my head wet, adjusted my goggles, and swam for the buoys, one at a time. Waves lifted me up and down as I swam forward. My wetsuit felt tight around my neck despite cutting it lower. I flipped over on my back three times before the first turn buoy 500 meters away just to breathe. I thought about quitting and searched for a kayaker. The waves were choppy enough that sighting was difficult, but I told myself I am a good swimmer, I won’t drown, and I have a wave of people who support me coming along for this race. I closed my eyes and pictured all of them following me like geese in formation. I am not alone. I held this image throughout the swim for all 2.4 miles. Whenever I hit sea nettles with my hands that bubbled up from the deep, I pictured my friends and family with me. As I prepared to exit the swim, my calves seized up, and I wan’t sure if I would be able to stand let alone ride my bike. I flexed my feet to stretch out before getting out of the water, which seemed to help.

In the changing tent, a volunteer helped me with my cycling gear while I drank a protein shake, swallowed a salt stick capsule, and ate some gummies. I found a port-o-potty on the way to my bike. Phil found me and cheered me on while I ran with my bike to bike out.

The bike course was fast, flat, and windy. So many cyclists passed me in the beginning, but I stuck to my plan and held my pace and heart rate to prevent burning out later in the race: I ate every forty-five minutes, drank a bottle of Tailwind every hour, and stopped to pee. Around mile 50, I knew I was going to have GI issues, so I stopped again, ate a banana every time my fingers tingled–that happened three times on the ride. Overall, I thought I was going to be OK for the run. By mile 70, I could no longer sit on my saddle and adjusted my position every few minutes. I sang songs out loud to myself and passing cyclists. Wind pushed me around when I was in aero, but I tried to enjoy all of it–even the last 42 miles of wind, wind, and more wind. I smiled for the sports photographer, watched a blue heron land, and traced the ripples on the water as I rode by. I wanted to be here, and I’m lucky to be here.

As I entered transition to prepare for the run, I saw my support crew, which made me feel really happy. I started the run strong with the intent to walk as needed. My stomach was still uneasy, but I ate some pretzels and drank some Gatorade Endurance upon leaving transition. I felt good. Bring on the 26.2 miles!

The first 8 miles went well, then GI issues were back in full force. I went through cycles of feeling hungry, dizzy, and dry heaving, to full for a few minutes, followed by severe stomach cramping that stopped me in my tracks. By mile 16, I could no longer run because of my stomach. All I could eat was chicken broth, pretzels, and water. The aid station made me want to vomit with its cookies, gels, bars, and Gatorade. Just give me chicken broth, please.

The cycle of nausea, temporary relief, and stomach cramps stayed with me for the rest of the marathon. I saw Catrina and Dan twice on the run through some of the most desolate sections of the course–seeing them gave me the motivation to keep going. I tried to speed walk, did calculations in my head to see if I would make the cut offs, felt utterly alone in the darkness when the crowds went home, and when my friends were ahead of me. If I passed out, who would find me? Should I go to medical? All would be lost if I did that, so I continued anyway. At the last turn around, the bright lights made me dizzy, so I looked at the blood orange moon instead. I heard Mike Reilly calling out names of athletes who finished, and I desperately wanted to get to that red carpet.

I passed the last cut off, so I could walk if I needed to. This was such a relief. I heard a song that reminded me of Sophia’s friend, Hope, who beat cancer, and began crying as I ran to the last turn around. How many people are able to do this? How many people have the financial means to do so? How many people have the luxury to train and the family support behind them? I walked faster and maybe even ran. I don’t remember.

After the last turn around, I started to see people behind me, which made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Thank goodness. At the last aid station, I ate an orange, possibly the best orange I’ve ever tasted and kept speed walking. When I hit that red carpet, “Stayin’ Alive” was blasting from the speakers, I sang, I danced, I shook Mike Reilly’s hand, and I became an Ironman.

To answer that question about why I was doing all of this, it’s because the challenge is there, and I can.

Thank you to my coach, Mary Kelley, without whom none of this would have been possible. She make schedule changes, told me when to take a break, and pushed me when I needed it. Thank you to Phil and Sophia for putting up with all of my training days, cleaning the house, cooking dinner while I napped, and for being supportive even when I was hangry, which was all the time. Thank you to my family who had to work around my training while I visited and watched Sophia on the long rides–I took my bike everywhere I traveled this past summer. Thank you to Jan and Clint for driving to Maryland to watch me race and to Aunt Nancy for making so many phone calls to secure lodging in Cambridge. Thank you to Friends Central Masters Swim Team, coached by Kerry, for making me faster and for the friendships there. Thank you to all of the Ironmen I know: Cathy, who got me into this sport in the first place, Dan, Mary, Mary, Lacey, Amajit, Lou, Catrina, Dylan, Bill, Sue, Steele, and John. For being .01% of the world’s population who have completed an Ironman, I know a lot of you! Thank you to all of my running friends near and far: Kim, Marianne, Caroline, Gene, Mira (my running twin), Jen, Megan, Hua, Kelly, and the running pups: Moose, Marla, and Packer! Thank you to my friends all over the place who never doubted that I could do it–Becky, Vince, Angela, and Amanda. I’m sure I missed someone, so thank you everyone!

French Creek Racing Swim Series

It’s hard to believe with the Philadelphia Escape Triathlon coming up on June 24 that this was my first open water swim of the season. Weather rolled in and scheduling changes prevented me from taking the plunge in May and earlier this week, but I’m fortunate to live in an area that offers all kinds of open water swimming opportunities. This is the first year that I’ve tried one of French Creek Racing’s open water swim races: 800 meters in the Schuylkill River north of Philadelphia. I signed up for the whole swim series and plan to go to most of them along with a few at Marsh Creek Lake with Mid Atlantic Multisport. French Creek Racing has some awesome swag though, and after the swim is a BBQ, which I highly recommend.

The water temp was around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the river cast for pollution was green due to a lack of rainfall and runoff, and the current was moving at over 3000 cubic feet per second (cfs). I have a sense of what that means for swimming since I’ve been in the ocean currents before and a few lakes with a current, but I didn’t fully appreciate the power of the Schuylkill that creates world class Olympic rowers from the famed Boathouse Row.

I have a better idea of what 3000 cfs feels like now.

The swim started from a small dock with the course running clockwise around the buoys. Swimmers were told to keep the buoys on the right and to swim on the far left in order to stay out of the strongest part of the current, except for the end when we all had to swim between two buoys before slapping the timing board. Kayakers and lifeguards were out and had to keep paddling to remain in one place. I got worried when I noticed that.

I started my swim with the current for 25 meters and rounded the first two buoys, breaking out ahead of all of the swimmers in my heat except for two men who kept up with me the whole time. As soon as I rounded the second buoy, it was into the current for all three of us. The water was frigid and numbed my hands and feet. I tried to sight the two buoys in front of the 422 bridge, but I couldn’t see them with the setting sun. I looked towards the shore where we started to get some sort of visual and then took about ten to fifteen strokes before glancing to the shore again, but I was in the same spot in the water. What is this? A water treadmill? Am I swimming uphill? I took another fifteen strokes and had the same view on my right. Another fifteen strokes reinforced the fact that I was going nowhere fast–literally. I headed for the opposite shore even farther left and finally hit some warm water, which meant it wasn’t moving as quickly. Then, and only then, did I start making progress after five to eight minutes of swimming in place.

The kayaker and buoy up ahead started to appear closer as I drafted off the feet of the guy in front of me to save some energy. When I rounded the third and fourth buoy, the current helped carry me to the finish.

Wetsuit or not, the power of the Schuylkill is no joke. I plan to swim here again and swim smarter, and I’m relieved that the Philly Escape Triathlon is a point to point swim with the river’s current.

To sign up for any of the French Creek Racing Open Water Swims, click on this link:

Open Water Swim Series

Swimming Lexicon

You’re in the pool, your workout is printed, but you have no idea what all of the abbreviations are that your coach wrote to actually complete the workout. What should you do? You need a swim dictionary of sorts, and below, you’ll find some common abbreviations, words, and everything else you need to know to read a swim workout. Dive in!

If you are new to swimming, workouts are written in yards or meters. Most pools in the United States are 25 yards in length, so a 100 is four lengths of the pool. If you are lucky enough to swim in an Olympic size pool, that would be 50 meters one way, so a 100 would be two lengths of the pool.

swim

Common Swimming Terms and Abbreviations

B 3/4/5– this refers to breathing. So, you would breath every 3 strokes for one length, every 4 strokes for the second length, and every 5 strokes for the 3rd length, and then repeat.

Build– means that you will get faster within a swim distance that is within a set. For example: 4x100s BUILD means you get faster with each 25 yards of each 100, and then you repeat that BUILD for your next 100.

Catch up– hands are out in front of you for freestyle and you swim with one arm at a time while kicking. When one hand catches up to the other out in front, take a stroke with your other arm.

Claw–short-arm freestyle drill

DESC–means “descending”. This is when you get faster in a swim set. For example 4x100s DESC means that each 100 is FASTER than the one before.

DPS- distance per stroke. Focus on decreasing the number of strokes it takes you to swim one length of the pool.

DR- drill. You will be asked to do a drill for your stroke, like the fingertip drag, catch-up free, etc.

E -even. For example for a set written as 8x75s O=stroke, E=Free, you would swim the odd numbers a stroke of your choice and the even numbers freestyle.

FAP- fast as possible. You better sprint your butt off!

Flip Turn–one way to turn off the wall. Count your strokes from the top of the “T”, tuck, dolphin kick your legs over in a half somersault, push off, turn over on your stomach, streamline, kick, break the surface, and swim.

Free–swim freestyle or front crawl

IM– Individual Medley. The order for the IM is butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle.

KOB or KOS–kick on back or kick on side, without the kick board

Lap– two lengths of the pool.

Length– one length of the pool

Long Course Pool– 50 meters in length

N/S– negative split. This is when the second half of a swim is faster than the first half. For example, in a 200 N/S the first 100 is slower than the second 100.

O — odd. For example for a set written as 8x75s O=stroke, E=Free, you would swim the odd numbers a stroke of your choice and the even numbers freestyle.

Open Turn–one way to turn on the wall, grab the wall, tuck yourself into a ball, throw one arm over your head, and push off.

OWS– open water swim. Swimming that’s done in a natural body of water and not a pool.

Perfect– concentrate on good form and not speed

Pull– use a pull buoy, paddles are optional, but not necessary

Repeat– repeat the preceding set as specified. No extra rest unless noted.

RI– rest interval or the amount of time to rest. Sometimes this is written as :30 RI or 30s rest.

RLR- red line run. Swimming drill where your run from the wall in the shallow end to the line that divides the shallow end from the deep end.

Short Course Meters Pool (SCM)– 25 meters in length (slightly longer than a 25 yard pool)

Short Course Yards Pool (SCY)– 25 yards in length

SI– swim interval, usually a slow, recovery swim in between sets.

SKIDS– stands for swim, kick, individual medley, drills, stroke. An example would be 300 SKIDS, so you would do a 300 of each: swim, kick, IM, drill, swim for a total of 1500 yards.

SKIPS- stands for swim, kick, individual medley, pull, stroke

Streamline– arms over your head, and you are as straight as an arrow leaving the wall.

Stroke–any stroke such as butterfly, backstroke, or breaststroke, but NO Freestyle

Times– written as :30 (30 seconds) or 1:30 (for 1 minute, 30 seconds). Some sets are written as 4x100s on 1:30. That means that you need to swim each 100 of the set FASTER than one minute thirty seconds if you want to get any rest.

T-pace– this is the pace per 100 that you swam in your time trial.

TT- time trial. This is when you swim for time. It’s like a test.

W/D or sometimes C/D– warm down or sometimes cool down, depends on where you live. This is at the end of the workout to slow your heart rate down.

W/U — warm up. Gets your heart rate up before the main set.

U/W– underwater recovery. The recovery phase of your stroke is done underwater instead of bringing your arm out of the water. This helps with your arm turnover and speed.

Pool Toys 

Fins–help develop your kick. I recommend short fins that will help you flex your ankles for more effective kicking.

Kick board–use this floating board for kicking and other drills

Paddles–help you catch the water, but are not necessary

Pull Buoy– goes in between your legs so you can focus on your pull. They also make pull buoys that will lock your ankles in place so you don’t have to focus on squeezing your legs to hold the buoy.

Snorkel–when you are concentrating on your stroke and head position while swimming. This way, you don’t have to turn your head to the side to breathe.

If you know of any other swimming terms or abbreviations, please add them in the comments below. Thank you! 

Why You Should Join Masters Swimming

masterspool
Upper Dublin High School Pool in Fort Washington, PA 

Into the the great wide open. / Under them skies of blue.  That’s what open water swimming is like–no walls, no lane lines, no cold tile, no chlorine, no flip turns, nobody around. Just you and the open water. There may be a shark or two lurking near the dolphins, but that doesn’t bother you. Jellyfish? Smellyfish. You’ve got vinegar in your swim bag. Tangled up in seaweed? Whatever. It’s the great wide open water. You’re a rebel with a clue and a swim buoy. Maybe you’ve got a few friends nearby as you wave to the fish nibbling your feet.

Open water swimming makes you feel invincible and vulnerable at the same time. I know I don’t belong in the ocean or lake because I have lungs, but I swim there anyway to prove that I can enter that wide open world–and that’s when I feel vulnerable. I’m a tiny human barely breaking the surface of the vast ocean as I swim, tossed aside by waves and pushed off course by currents larger than my understanding. It’s awesome. But, you can’t swim in open water year round if you live in a colder climate.

So, instead of hitting the pool by yourself, which can be incredibly boring, I highly recommend you jump in with a US Masters swim team. Here’s why:

  1. You will get faster. In the few months I’ve been swimming with the masters group, my 100 yard repeats have dropped by 15 seconds! Crazy, right? I’m not too far off of the times from my competitive swimming days either.
  2. You’ll befriend like-minded swimming buddies. Maybe on the days you don’t have practice, you can meet your swim friends at the local pool?
  3. You can compete in swim meets. Even if you love the open water, there’s something about going fast, really fast. All you do is enter a meet, enter times for your events (or not), and swim! Heck, you’ll even get a t-shirt just like in running. You’ll be inspired by all of the different ages and levels of swimmers at a meet.
  4. You will be a better all around swimmer by swimming all of the strokes in a structured workout: butterfly, backstroke, breast stroke, and of course, freestyle. If all you ever swim is freestyle, you’re missing out on being an all-around strong swimmer.
  5. You’ll have fun. Group workouts with red line runs, jumping jacks in the pool, fun stroke drills, diving off the blocks, practicing drafting (which you’ll use in an open water race)–you’ll feel like a kid again.
  6. You’ll realize that this is truly a sport you can do for the rest of your life. In the video below for the 50 yard freestyle, I’m in lane 5, but look at lane 4–that guy is 72 years old, and he almost beat me! He is on my team and kicks my butt on most days for our masters swim workouts, but still. He’s not stopping, so I won’t either.

Swim on and swim happy on a masters team! Here’s the link to find a masters team near you in the US. Keep in mind that there are masters teams all over the world.

Click here to find a US Masters Team by you.