Week nine: The war on water.
This was my week to get acquainted with open water while battling dehydration, over-hydration, and maintaining hydration. The battle is not over. In fact, it has just begun…and I am currently losing.
The previous Saturday’s heat exhaustion episode at Runapalooza took its toll on my body for the next few days. I tried going on a walk Sunday afternoon and, upon immediately feeling as though my body was on fire, promptly stopped and spent the day indoors watching the Tour de France on my DVR to stay out of the sun. I tried jogging slowly Monday morning, made it about a mile, and then became instantly light headed and felt close to passing out. I gave myself Monday as my last recovery day. I took a trip to the produce section at Wegmans, bought one of everything, and went home to eat one of everything with about a gallon of water to follow. Hmm…DVR, fresh fruit, and plenty of ice water while lounging on the couch and reading? Tough life. It’s hard being me.
Tuesday I was prepared to get back in action. It was an open water swim night for our group, and I assumed being in the water could only be helpful in my quest to be cool (both literally and figuratively). I failed to remember the oppressive and suffocating feeling of a wetsuit, a feeling strangely identical to heat exhaustion. I put on my suit, immediately started pouring sweat (a positive sign of hydration!), and felt that lovely “ball of fire” feeling. I pulled my suit down to my waist and frantically fanned myself off. My head coach, Brendan, took his weekly stab at me: “Well what did you expect? Are you putting on a wetsuit or a sundress?” Ah, the toughness of the experienced versus the whininess of the rookie.
Our swimmers, however, have become tough as nails. We had them swimming out to buoys 100 m away and, upon reaching shore, begging for more. They were laughing, splashing around and gliding through the seaweed. They were fearless. Maybe it was the buoyancy of the wetsuits, perhaps it was all of our training and encouragement, but we have a batch of swimmers on our hands and they are thirsty for more. 700 meters or so later, we transitioned out of the water, stripped off our suits, hopped on our bikes, and quickly rounded back to transition to get our running shoes on. The transitions as a whole were rocky and awkward as our athletes “excuse me” and “pardon me” themselves around everyone. We joke that in a few weeks, they will be throwing fists and elbows. It’s a joke, yes, but I have a feeling they will be seeing blood on race day.
The battle with my wetsuit continues. I once thought it was too big for me, but now I am convinced. The woman who went with me to help fit me in the suit swears up and down it is a women’s large, but I am 99.9999% certain it is a men’s large. Putting on a men’s suit is bad enough on the ego, let alone thinking you are the shape of a “large man.” Ouch. Ego aside, the suit was enormous on me as soon as I entered the water. The giant bulge of water and air as I stood up should not have been present around my waistline. Unfortunately, I wrote my name on the tag of the suit so I can’t return it. I can, however, sell it to one of the thousand members of our program and CNY Tri. As for me, back to the store I go to put on actual women’s wetsuits…or smaller men’s. One of the two.
Wednesday was SUPPOSED to be a gorgeous 56 mile ride with my coaches, but I had run out of a medication I take every night to control my asthma and didn’t realize my error until it was too late. One day of missing the pill and any inhaler I take will do next to nothing in assisting my breathing. I was so sad to miss the ride, but making the decision to not wheeze my way through was the smart move. Luckily for me, asthma does not effect eating and I met my coaches for a lovely 4th of July barbeque after they completed the ride.
A few of the coaches and I met at one of the girls’ camps on Lake Ontario to bike and swim. The ride was beautiful and filled with hills just challenging enough to help me learn to climb, but not challenging enough to ruin the rest of my ride. I continue to be in love with flying downhill. As I watch riders on The Tour de Cure, I see men coasting down the hill close to their frame, their feet waiting for the end of the hill to start pedaling. I, however, get greedy. I love the speed. I love the thrill of danger. I love the wind blowing past my face. I love seeing the world swirl by. I am addicted to this feeling. Granted, I would never go 35+mph in a neighborhood out of respect for cars and little children who believe they can get hit by large moving objects and be just fine. But if I am on a closed course or a hill without any intersecting streets, it’s on. Is this a wise move for my legs? Possibly not, but my rookie mind tells me that it’s good to let your legs spin quickly downhill to get rid of the built up muck (lactic acid) in the muscles before hitting a flat or hilly course.
After riding, we went swimming in the lake. Did I mention the waves? Oh my goodness… My only swimming experience has been the pool and the flat waters of Jamesville Beach. I have never done any sort of waves, especially aggressive waves. We decided to swim along the shoreline for safety due to our lack of lifeguards and the condition of the water. Once I got in, it was a now or never situation. As we say, “Goggles on, face in the water.”
I learned a very important lesson, immediately: you can not bilateral breathe when you are swimming parallel to waves or you will choke on water very, very quickly. I thought I was being a good little swimmer (“Look at me, mom! Look what I can do!”). In triathlons, you are at the mercy of Mother Nature. What you did yesterday may not be a smart game plan for today. I went back to my happy place of breathing every stroke on my right side. About 200 m in, my body was getting rocked. I felt like I was in a car accident that would never end as I was tossed up and down, up and down, back and forth, up and down. I do not get motion sickness, but I wish I had some Dramamine during these moments. I finally reached our destination point some time later and stood up to catch my breath while waiting for the other coaches. I was dizzy and disoriented, and it was nearly impossible to get my bearings with the continuous rush of waves hitting me. The swim back made me nervous. Breathing on my left side was never my strong suit, but again—we are at the mercy of Mother Nature.
I swam back as calmly as possible, making sure I focused on fully rotating my body to get a full breath of air. I started doing some strange breathing pattern of breathing every stroke followed by every other stroke. It seemed to match the pattern of the waves, so I went with it. And then I got crushed. As I turned to breath, a massive wave devoured my face. I don’t know if my face ever even made it to open air, but when I took a deep breath, water and seaweed came in. Ahhhh, there it is. The panic.
Thankfully I was in an area where I could stand. I was not in a wetsuit so the open water made me nervous. It’s different being a strong swimmer in the deep end of a pool when surrounded by walls and lane markers than it is when you are surrounded by water, water, and more water. My feet shot down to the ground as I sputtered and choked my way towards air. My friend walking on the shore to keep an eye on us couldn’t help but laugh as she said, “Dude…I saw that one coming. You never stood a chance.”
She then taught me to “listen to the waves.” If you feel it roll over you, let the wave pass and then breathe or you will be choking and sputtering an awful lot. I tried to follow her advice. It worked well overall, but the waves were too predictable at times and I became choked up two or three more times before I made it back. When we finished our 650 m, I wanted to try swimming straight into the waves rather than along the shore. This proved much more difficult for momentum since the water would literally stop me in my tracks. The breathing was a bit easier to predict, but I still preferred my flat, calm little pool at the gym. Getting out of the water was the hardest part of all. My land legs were destroyed and I fell every time I stood about halfway up. It was pathetic, but we got a good laugh out of it. A mini barbeque followed as we celebrated our war with the waves.
I missed our group ride on the Iron Girl course Saturday as I was out of town, but I went out Sunday afternoon for a solo ride to make up for my losses. I have been discouraged on the bike as of late. Ever since my ride with Syracuse’s speed demons of the world, the one where I tanked out completely halfway through, I have seemed to have lost my legs and my stamina. I used to be able to maintain 20 mph at a 90 cadence without much trouble. Now it seems like I am fighting to leave the 82 mark consistently, sometimes dropping as low as 75, and creeping between the 15-18 mph mark. While the speed isn’t unheard of, there is no reason for my cadence to be crawling along. My legs just haven’t wanted to spin. One thing I have noticed is a direct correlation between my “hitting the wall” with my legs and my hydration levels. As soon as my levels feel down, I am worthless. Lately, my hydration has been horrible. I am drinking plenty, almost too much at times, but my body continues to show obvious signs of low hydration levels. I am eating fruit, drinking water, drinking small amounts of sports drinks, adding tablets to my water that are supposed to replenish every level under the sun as I work out, but nothing seems to be working. I guess this is all part of the journey: experimenting until you find what works for you.
My ride, while slower than I had hoped, went relatively well overall. I got in about 22.5 miles and had bursts of speed and cadence while allowing myself to properly spin and recover, something I don’t like to do often as my mind told me it was “lazy”. Now I’ve realized that recovery spins are essential to your ride. The children of Onondaga Lake Parkway made sure to run in my path whenever possible, forcing me to screech to a halt from 26.5 mph down to about 4 mph within moments. It was difficult bouncing back after those types of sudden stops. While good practice for unexpected events that occur ahead of me in a race, my legs cursed those little children every time.
Dorey from Finding Nemo got it wrong. The song should say, “Just keep spinning, just keep spinning, just keep spinning, spinning, spinning. What do we do? We spin, spin…”
Next week, I hope to even out the score card with my war on water, particularly with my hydration levels. Hydration- 1, Rhiannon- 0. I think I am at least tied with open water at this point. Tune in next week.