Sunday, June 10, 2018

The Unintentional Swimcation

view from our cabin

I just got home from a long weekend in a house on Watauga Lake, Tennessee with my two boys and two of their friends (so two 16-year-olds and two 18-year-olds)

This trip was of the boys' choosing. When I asked what they wanted in a summer getaway, they decided on the following: a lake front cabin with nice views and a hot tub. I found a property online that seemed right, and although I knew nothing about the lake, I'm always up for an adventure.

The cabin was off on one of the smaller "arms" of the lake. We planned to hang out on the water in our inflatables, canoe, play games, cook over the fire pit, and just unplug.

Our lakefront "cabin" which was quite sizable.

I figured I'd swim a little, but I'm usually pretty nervous (very) about swimming in open water outside of races and organized training in our home quarry. 

But something about this lake just called to me. 

Can you fall in love with a lake? Because I surely did. 

I knew I could swim it and feel safe and feel free. 


First, there were almost no powerboats. It was mainly canoes, quiet fishing boats, and the occasional pontoon. I think there were two reasons for this -- first, it's a smaller area and near the mouth of the Watauga River. It's like a cul-de-sac and not a thoroughfare. Secondly, the area had major storms recently that led to flooding up the riverbanks that washed a lot of logs and debris into the lake. I don't think it's the kind of thing you want to take your powerboat through. 

Some of the larger logs in the lake post-storm.

Second, the water temperature was about perfect, even for wimpy me.

Third, it just felt right. I guess it's like the way you fall in love with a person and can't necessarily explain the nuances of why. But I liked the shoreline, the size, the fact that I could swim across it pretty quickly, the availability of docks just for reassurance. There were enough people out on the water that I didn't feel alone. And it was interesting and had character!

I hopped in the water for my first swim Friday morning (while the boys slept) intent on swimming to the furthest dock that I was able to see through our binoculars from the cabin deck. I had my tow-behind inflatable visibility buoy, a bright cap, and I generally tracked along the shore - maybe 30-40m away. 

As I swam, I felt any sense of nervousness just fall away. I felt amazing - capable and relaxed. 

I know what you are thinking - don't swim alone!! And generally, YES, I agree. But for all the times I have looked longingly at a lake, wishing I could swim across or just explore on my own, THIS was the most ideal situation to finally do it!  I took precautions, I had studied the lake, and if something is going to happen, so be it. There are far riskier things a person can do. 

So I swam to that distant dock, along towering rock walls and thick forest. I had to negotiate around floating logs and had the best real-world reason to practice "alligator eyes" of sighting. My hand would come down on small twigs and I would feel it vibrate as my hand began to catch. None of it bothered me. I felt protected by and supported by the water. I thought of nothing but my stroke, my body position, the sights around me. My confidence grew. 

I reached the distant dock and climbed upon it. I could hear a family outside of the house through the trees. I considered whether I should get back into the water quietly as not to disturb them. I decided against it, and I jumped boldly in for my return swim!

After the hour swim I returned to the cabin to make breakfast for the boys. Priorities! 

That afternoon we had a rainstorm. We watched and heard as it rolled in over the mountain and across the lake. As the clouds disappeared and the fog lifted (and with the boys playing Mahjong), I headed out for a second swim, this time "down river."  Between the two swims I'd gone about 3 miles. 

I did not swim on the grass!

The second day I decided to swim about a mile toward the mouth of the Watauga (same direction as my first swim but further). The lake narrowed and began to resemble a (quiet) river. I could absolutely see the appeal of wanting to swim the length of a river or across a lake. 

I wasn't breaking any speed records but the swim had taken me to a different head space - away from pace clocks and lane lines and buoys. 

Garmin crapped out after the turnaround

This shows the teeny tiny bit I swam on Saturday. How I would LOVE to swim the whole thing!!!!!

It was absolutely magical. MAGICAL. I swam 5 miles in two days, easy-peasy. (Thank you Coach Judy for recent stroke improvements that helped with that!!). There was never a moment I thought of this as training or something I had to do. It was something I could not believe that I got to do! 

In running and cycling we allow ourselves easy sessions - on scenic trails and back roads. But it's so seldom that we get the same in swimming!

Although this was not intended to be a swimcation, those sessions were a wonderful and unexpected addition to a fantastic weekend with four wonderful young men. 

P.S. No online pics of the boys at their request. SIGH! 

This is a selfie from canoeing though:

Unnamed people from the vacation witness protection program ;-)
They explored while their "Uber-canoe" with yours truly waited for them.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Tour de Floyd Metric Century

I've been eyeing the Tour de Floyd metric century ride for a few years. (You know, you hate to rush into that sort of thing, lol.) Well, this was the year!!

It's one county over from us and includes part of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the 62 miles includes 5000+ feet of climbing. In other words, it sounded like a lot of fun!

We pushed off at 8:30 and, despite days of rain preceding this and an iffy forecast, it turned out to be quite a nice morning to ride. We had some misting rain but not much wind and we finished under blue skies.

One of the cool things about these rides is how you group up and pair up with people you don't even know and you look out for one another. There's a connection and common interest without even saying a word!

Also there's a lot of yummy food. This ride is known for the homemade cookies at the Parkway stop - they are amazing. I will be having dreams about the lemon cookies!

I met the ride founder and organizer, Paul Lacoste (below), at a rest stop. I asked him how the ride came to be. He said it was a favorite ride route of his and for probably 10 years he thought about creating a ride to share it with others. Good thing he finally did! This is the 11th year of the Tour de Floyd. The support, food, and route are fantastic! Even though it's a good bit of total elevation gain, there's nothing monstrously long or steep.

I rode much of the ~30 mile Parkway stretch solo because I knew that section (and there was no way to really get lost there - always my fear!!). I grouped up for the back roads as I could, even though the turns were very well marked. The probability of getting lost was really quite low (even for me).

There's one part I could have done without -- At one point I was part of a group and I had just gone to the front on a downhill stretch when a very large dog bolted onto the road in front of me. I just managed to avoid him but he took down the rider behind me. I knew the dog would claim a victim. I heard it before I looked back and saw the rider on the ground. Erring on the side of caution, the cyclist got a ride back with a SAG driver. I saw him post-ride and he was in good spirits, albeit with some road rash.

I really REALLY enjoyed this ride. Cycling never gets old. I appreciate new routes, new scenes, and new people now and again!


Sunday, May 6, 2018

8th go at the Smith Mountain Lake Triathlon

One-on-One Endurance athletes: Me, Kristin, Chris, Coach Jim, Rebecca, Kirk, Kimberley

Yesterday was my 8th time racing the Appalachian Power Smith Mountain Triathlon, and my 9th year going (one year volunteering). When I started I was just a youngster in the 40-44 age group!

I love this race because it's our local season opener, a time to reconnect with friends, and Smith Mountain Lake State Park is so tranquil and beautiful. 

BUT the water is usually so cold in early May. BRRR! Guess what?? This year it was actually OK! The morning air temps were in the mid-60's and the water was near 70. 

My oldest son Spencer came with me to the state park cabin. He was ready for some much needed R&R and sleep after an especially tough week of school with many deadlines.

Spencer is 6" taller than me, not 14" as it appears in this photo. 

Race night I slept horribly. In fact, the week prior I had not been feeling great at all. I'd pulled the plug on two runs and had very low energy. I blame/credit hormones for most things. At my "age group" I"m allowed to do that, lol.

Race morning I did not feel well. Emotionally I felt frazzled. I leaned on friends and pulled myself together. I was thankful for good race conditions and didn't want to squander that. I knew in my head that you don't have to feel good to race well, so at least I should give myself the opportunity to do my best. 

The air horn went off. I made a decision to swim steady and not exhaust myself. I drafted as I could to conserve energy. I was the 11th female out.

photo credit: Christopher Davis

I had the quickest T1 of the women with credit given to the fact that my wetsuit came off fast! SCORE!

On the bike, I have to try to chase down all the fast swimmers. I didn't know it at the time, but I was 3 minutes down from the front runners which I knew would include my speedy friend Rebecca. I found my strength on the bike and let myself enjoy the hunt. I came off the bike in second but with a quicker T2 than the leader, I led off the run with Laurie Grant on my heels. (Transitions matter!!)

Competition on my heels!!
photo credit: Christopher Davis

I didn't know where I stood but I heard encouraging news from spectators and other racers. I felt OK enough on the run but it was one of those efforts where I was afraid to even talk, afraid to break my concentration. Sweat and snot gathered on my face and I didn't even care. At the turnaround I saw Laurie and Kristin not far behind which strengthened my resolve. And scared me a little!!

But I found my way to the finish and was proud of myself for keeping my head in the game. I had pulled myself together and found focus and a mental calmness.

And as a bonus, I finished first (results here). This was my fourth overall win at this race and meant a lot to me. At age 51, with a life that can feel pretty overwhelming at times...yeah, this meant a lot. 

Thanks to Coach Jim McGehee of One-on-One Endurance, master's swim coach Judy Wolfe, sponsor Solar Connexion, and my friends and family :-)

photo credit: Jim McGehee

Monday, April 30, 2018

Trans-American Cyclists: Naomi and Maya

This weekend we hosted, with great delight, two trans-American cyclists, Naomi (from Maryland) and Maya (from Lexington, Virginia).

I met them along Blacksburg Road, where I was doing the ride part of a brick workout. I ride there almost weekly and it's part of a popular coast-to-coast route for cyclists. I saw quite a few riders with the telltale panniers.

These two riders were pulled up on the side of the road so I stopped and asked if they needed anything. It turned out Maya's knee was bothering her so they were looking for a place to camp in Blacksburg. I offered our home - we have tons of room. And given ALL the times we have the kids' friends over, it was my turn!

I gave them the address, and called ahead to let my kids know.

I finished my workout and returned home to find their bikes in the garage. I was happy they had made it safely!

I was intrigued to learn more about these two and their journey.

They are both just a few years out from their undergraduate years at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Naomi graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering and is beginning medical school at George Washington in August (she JUST got her acceptance the day prior - yay!). Maya has been working as a chemical engineer. They've been talking about this journey for a few years and decided this summer was the time to do it. Maya got a leave of absence from work, and here they are!

Spencer brought food home. Maya iced her knee. We all refueled and the pair napped, woke briefly, then went to bed early. They were going to take a rest day the following day. I convinced them to stay at our house and we made plans for them to get to our LBS, East Coasters, for some help with bike fit. They needed more comfortable positions for the long journey - which would also reduce injury risk.

They had 12 hours of sleep and a good breakfast, then we loaded up the bikes (it was a rest day). I took them on a short driving tour of campus and the town and then dropped them at the bike shop. They were in good hands with Nate at East Coasters (thank you so much!!).

Naomi, who had been having shoulder issues, got a much shorter stem and some recommendations for riding more comfortably. Maya got a new saddle to better support her seat bones and her seat was raised.

Then they rode to Gillies for lunch and enjoyed the nice descent down Harding to our house!

After one more night of sleep, they left this morning, off again on their journey to the Oregon coast.

I hope this brief stop-off will, in a small way, contribute to their success. They are quietly, humbly courageous and I have every reason to believe they will be successful. I reminded Maya - it's one pedal stroke, one mile, one day at a time. I'm definitely rooting for them!!

I'm so happy I crossed paths with these two.

If you'd like to follow their adventure, they are on Instagram @twotired.

Monday, April 2, 2018

OH. So that's what I signed up for.

Last April I did the USAT Long Course Duathlon Nationals in nearby Cary, NC. I did it because it wasn't far away and it was something different. It was my first duathlon.

There wasn't much "long course" about it with a 5 mile run, 31 mile bike, and 5 mile run. It was a small field (I think we had two waves), had a local race feel (less than 200 people in the race), and I won my age group, out of 9 people. It was very laid back.

Our little race kind of flew under the radar.

I noticed later in the season - in June - there was a much bigger USAT Duathlon Nationals in Bend Oregon that got a lot of press.

Fast forward to this year.

I see something that says USAT and Duathlon and Nationals, again in April, a little further south in Greenville, SC. I figure it's basically the same race that I did.

So I signed up.

The race is this coming weekend. Yesterday I finally took a few minutes to look at the race website. My first clue that it's not the same race is that I see an official Pre-Race webinar and full Athlete Guide. I see they are closing the roads for the race. Then I realize over 1000 people are expected for the three races. This year there is just ONE Duathlon Nationals and this is it.

It's the biggie!

It is attracting top athletes from across the country. There are 28 in my age group for Standard Distance Non-Drafting coming from Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Among them are names I see routinely on the podium at Age Group Nationals.

Not that this changes anything, but suddenly I'm feeling like oh $hit maybe I should have been working harder or running further or just giving the prep a bit more of the respect it deserved!

So I'm wrapping my head around the vision of a slightly different experience for the coming weekend!!

LOL. I am preparing to be humbled!

Coach Jim of course has just the right words to give me the proper perspective: "Just go run, ride and run like you enjoy doing…and then you can look at the results once you are done. I’m excited that you are healthy and enjoying your training and hopefully looking forward to racing again!"

Yes! I am looking forward to running and riding on closed courses and seeing what I can do at this point. It's still very early in the season and it's fun to feel my strength and fitness building back again.

My goal through the efforts of this race are to find FLOW, and as always, to stay positive!!

Run-Bike-Run, here I come!