Getting Out Of My Own Way & Getting Back Into A Pool

By the time I was old enough to be at the pool by myself, I was swimming a mile a day. I LOVED being in the pool and it was always my happy place on many a military base when I was growing up. Then, everything changed. I went from looking like a little kid to having large breasted D’s in less than three months, and the young guys on the base suddenly started to treat me very differently. In my swimsuit, I suddenly felt exposed and uncomfortable, so I just stopped swimming, put on a bunch of weight, and hoped people would just stop paying attention to my body. It took me years to shake that weight hiding mentality… but the swimming avoidance has stuck around. When I was training for the NYC Triathlon a few years ago, I had to get over being in the pool but it just didn’t stick. The moment the race ended, I was back to coming up with a million reasons why I couldn’t swim. You know what that is? A whole LOT of bullshit.

Dodge YMCA pool

 

I was recently asked to be a Dare to Bare Ambassador for the Movemeant Foundation, a foundation that focuses on fostering body positivity (especially for young women) through physical activity. I am a firm believer in that for everyone but recently when I signed up for a summer membership at the YMCA which has an amazing pool, I realized I didn’t really have it for myself when it comes to swimming. I’m usually so good about not caring about being bad at something (It’s fun to learn! Getting out of your comfort zone rocks!) but not in this one thing that I used to love.

So, last week, I packed my gym bag and ONLY packed my very plain lap swimsuit, goggles and cap. There would be no back up plan “in case the pool is too busy.” I felt a little panicky about it. What if I had to circle swim? People would be so mad. I’d be too slow and they’d be pissed to have to share the lane with the fat, slow girl. Which is just silly. NO one cares, and that is just some seriously mean made-up story in my head that’s hung out there for far too long. I got there and every lane was full but I still suited up and sucked it up, it was time to stop being mean to myself in the pool. And it was fine. I shared a lane, then some came to join and we circle swam…. and no one cared. I wasn’t fast but I swam and swam and swam. And as I finished my last lap of the ½ mile swim, I let out a long breath underwater and felt like I’d reclaimed my happy space.

Each time it gets a little easier. I may be slow and out of practice but that mile of zen will happen again this summer.  But I really do have to get a cuter lap suit, I mean there is no reason to be completely stoic about not caring how I look while I swim…

 

 

 

 

Catching A Wave: Locals Surf School

At the beginning of this summer, the Fella started surfing almost every weekend.  He was immediately hooked on the sport, but I was otherwise occupied in full Triathlon training, so I never tagged along. Then last weekend, the fella announced: “I have signed you up for a surf lesson with the Locals Surf School on Sunday.”  I was beyond excited – learning to surf has been on my list of things I have wanted to do far longer than anything else and here was my chance to make that happen, happily dropped in my lap as a present.

On Sunday morning, we walked down to the A-train for our trek out to 67th Street in Far Rockaway. The coolest thing about it is that it is really a straight shot out to that beach, no switching of trains needed. The fella brought his board of course, (yes, a surfboard now lives in the living room of our Brooklyn apartment), so that he could surf too, while I was in my class.  I don’t know why but I LOVE seeing surfboards on the subway – it makes the fact that we really are close to a beach seam so real!  40 minutes after getting on the train in Brooklyn, we were making our way down the beach to the Locals Surf School tent.

Started by Michael Kololyan and Michael Reinhardt, two Rockaway locals who want to share their love of the NY surfing community, Locals Surf School aims to make every student feel the rush of actually riding a wave.  They actually even say during the first few minutes of class that they will get everyone able to stand up on the board during the first class! Their classes are small, with no more than 3 students per instructor, to help guarantee that everyone gets a lot of chances at catching and riding as many waves as possible during the 2 hour class. As we all started to gather for our first class, we were each given thicker, long-sleeve rash guards to wear during class, which I was really grateful for, since it was a little chilly that day and my short sleeve light rash guard (really just a glorified t-shirt) just wasn’t going to cut it!

The first part of class is held on the beach, going over safety tips and technique before we actually went out into the water. We learned where we were supposed to be on the board – which was much farther back than I would have guessed, how to successfully paddle in the water and how you were supposed to land from your pop-up to have the right balance to actually ride the wave and not topple over. It’s funny, it turns out that all of my SurfSet classes actually meant that I had a pretty good handle on doing the pop-up right! Nice. The Mikes kept a watchful eye on all of us as we practiced and corrected everyone’s form as we worked on the basics. Then right before we went out, they went over the most important thing we needed to remember while we were out in the water: the acroymn CRAL – Cover your head when you fall (so you don’t get whacked by your board or another surfer), Relax – really you will just be under for a few seconds (don’t panic), Air – breathe when you come up, don’t gasp or you might end up with a mouth of water but DO breathe, you’re fine,and Look where you are so you don’t get hit by another surfer. A good solid acronym and easy to remember. Of course, in my first fall, I didn’t and got hit in the mouth with my board because I am smooth like that – from there on out I fully remembered CRAL every time.

While we were on our boards, the Mikes stood in the water chest deep and we paddled to meet them.  They would hold our boards and watch for waves behind us.  When they spotted one, they would start telling us to paddle and give us a shove and at the right moment would yell “POP-UP!” It was amazing how effective this method was in actually getting you into position to ride the wave into shore. The first few times, I fell off almost immediately.  I would then grab my board, hop back on and paddle out to wait my turn to try again. Since my fella was also surfing in the same area, even the time between going for a wave was fun since he would paddle over to me and chat while I waited. I really loved bobbing on the surfboard out in the ocean – it was just so ridiculously relaxing to be out on the water on the board. When I would get flagged to come in, each time I had a moment of “Oh, yeah, I am supposed to be SURFING!” and then would haul ass back to the guys – lucky for me I am a really strong paddler!

There were a few guys in my class, but it was funny…the women (myself included) really spent more time trying to catch the waves and paddling back to the Mikes as soon as one of them opened up. We had a third guy helping us too, somehow I missed his name but he was great too. The instructors all were just cool, relaxed guys, who love surfing and want to help make every student love being on that board too. They were super supportive on each attempt, telling us what went wrong and that next time we’d get it.  It took a few tries but I did finally start catching waves and riding them all the way to shore…and really there isn’t a better feeling in the world! I LOVED it. Thanks to Locals Surf School, I managed to ride multiple waves all the way to shore! Although I thought they were full of it when they said they could get me there at the beginning of class, they did.  I totally caught the surfing bug… I can’t wait to go again.

Top photo from Locals Surf School’s website. Rest of the images taken by Eric C Stafford of my first successful ride in!

Just Keep Going : The Aquaphor New York City Triathlon

I need to get one thing clear right off the bat. I didn’t “crush” or “kill” the Aquaphor New York City Triathlon, but what I did do was finish and I have never been prouder of anything in my entire life.

On Sunday morning, when my alarm went off at 3 am, I woke up feeling calm and ready that it was finally time for the big day. I felt just glad that it was actually time to do the race. I made my protein shake, drank some coffee and checked my bag one last time. The fella got up a few minutes later and by 3:50, we were in a car heading to the transition area. I had decided to spring for a car service since getting from Brooklyn to the UWS takes at least an hour –on a good day- and I thought being stuck underground in the subway would do my nerves in! It is so weird to be getting up to GO somewhere at that time in the morning since the streets were filled with people just wrapping up their Saturday night.  As we got closer to 72nd and Riverside drive, we started to see more people with their telltale numbers on their arms in the cars around us.

By 4:30, we were heading into the park with a huge swarm of athletes to the yellow transition area where I had left my bike the day before. The fella sat on the risers outside & I headed into the athletes-only bike transition to set up my stuff for the race at the front wheel of my bike. I grabbed my wetsuit, flagged the fella down, and we slowly made our way down to the swim start.  It was so amazing to be walking with so many others that early in the morning, dark when we started but as we neared the start, the sun was starting to rise behind the platform we would soon be jumping off of.  It was beautiful and inspiring to be surrounded by so many athletes of all ages, who had all come to test themselves. I shimmed into my wetsuit as we sat on the benches watching everyone arrive. At 5:30am, my phone buzzed in my hand with the calendar reminder “NYC TRI – oh my fucking god” which really about summed it all up.

The first wave was scheduled to start at 5:50, so by 5:40, most of us had moved into our corrals by the railing and were watching the very murky river and waiting so see the pros go. There had been a storm the night before that had really churned up the sediment in the river and that morning, the river had gone from the dark green of the day before to a muddy brown, with far too many dead fish in the river for comfort. I love the group of women I was surrounded by, most of whom had done this before and were ready to get this thing started, but even the veterans around me were slightly skivved out by all of the dead fish. During the hour it took from the moment the pros launched till my wave made it into the water, I heard for the first time the phrase that would define my day: “No matter what happens, just keep going.”

As we finally made our way down the launch ramp and stood at the pier, I was excited. I didn’t feel especially nervous, I felt strong and ready to swim hard and get out of that river as soon as humanly possible. As soon as I got in the water, I realized that the brown murk meant you couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face. I don’t need to see the bottom (I loved the open water swim I had done before) but a couple of inches of visibility apparently makes a world of difference. Then, I hit a dead fish with my hand and freaked. I did the sidestroke for a few minutes to calm myself down but unfortunately, after that, I couldn’t will myself to put my face back in the water no matter how hard I tried. As soon as I would feel calm and try for the crawl & sticking my face in the water, my back would spasm, arch and pop my face right back out. It would have been comical if it weren’t so annoyingly unhelpful! At every moment of the swim, we were surrounded by kayakers and people on surfboards asking us if we were ok, so I knew I wasn’t going to drown, but I also new that I had 1000m left to go so I damn well better figure out a solution. I wasn’t going to have jumped in the Hudson for nothing. My solution? I backstroked almost the whole thing. I would site something I could see on my back, go until I saw it, roll over, site again – over and over. At one point a kayaker asked me how I was doing – I told him that I knew I was the slowest person out there, but I was ok. His response? “Slow doesn’t matter. You are still moving and that is what counts. You just have to keep going.”  It wasn’t the fast solution but it worked and 27 minutes after I jumped in, I was out.

I ran part of the way between the swim exit and the bike transition but it hurt my feet so I ended up just walking there, determinedly. After spending a few (far too many really) minutes cleaning up and spraying myself with sunscreen, I hopped on my bike and was off. The first 8 miles felt great. I was ROLLING and making up time and feeling super strong. Apparently, a little too strong because midway up the final hill in Manhattan, my pedal twisted right out of the crank and fell off. For the life of me I couldn’t get it back in, I tried for 10 minutes before I was spotted by the amazing Toga bike mechanics that were zipping around the course on a moped– hollering up the hill at me “Do you need help?” – YES, please! After moving my bike and I to the middle lane to look it over, the driver who spoke English said “Ok, we don’t have the tool to fix this, but he says we can go back to his store on 79th and get it. Then, we will come back and fix it, ok?” I must have looked a little dumbfounded because he put his hand on my shoulder and said “it is that or you have about 14 miles on foot to do, I think that would take longer. We will be back. BUT this is important. YOU CAN’T move from here, any further up that hill and we can’t help you. That bridge up there is off limits to us. Ok?” I just nodded and sat down next to my flipped over bike and thanked them for helping me and offering to go so far out of their way for me. “That is why we are here! See you soon!” and they took off.

As I sat in the middle of the road, watching everyone whiz by me, the most amazing thing started to happen – hundreds of people asked me if I was ok, if I needed anything, if they could help… and all of them sincerely would have helped if they could. It was such an awe inspiring show of sportsmanship and I got pretty good at answering everyone quickly that help was coming back for me and I was ok. More often than not their response was: “Ok, once you are fixed, JUST KEEP GOING.” It took about 35-40 minutes for the mechanics to make their way back to me but I was so grateful when they got there. When I exclaimed on seeing them “OH MY GOD you came back! I LOVE you!” they just laughed.  Apparently, that isn’t the reaction they usually get during the race. Seriously though, I have never been more grateful and shocked to see someone. I didn’t really believe they would make it back. The mechanic got my pedal back on quickly and put some more air in my tire because it felt a little flat and pushed me off on my way. Five feet later my tire exploded. “SERIOUSLY??” and I just had to start laughing – I walked my bike back to the guys who were just staring at me trying not to laugh too. He whipped though changing my flat and a minute later I was off again, this time with a slightly less full tire! The thing I didn’t realize at the time was that I must have hit my derailleur when my pedal came off because from that moment on, my bike didn’t really want to stay in any mid-range gear, so for the rest of the ride I was a little over or under where I wanted to be. But I was moving, and if I had learned anything during that almost hour of downtime, it was that to keep moving is all I really wanted.  By that point, I was one of the few women left on the road. The guys who would pass me as I occasionally struggled up a hill when my gear would slip again, would yell: “Just keep going, you are doing good!” When I finally made it to the last mile of the ride with the awesome volunteers shouting out encouragement and directions, I was so proud of the fact that I had just kept going. I might have been one of the last back to the yellow transition, but I had made it. I stashed my bike in it’s spot and took off as quickly as possible. As I came out of transition there was a wall of volunteers, since the red transition was in full gear by that point and came through in the same direction. I was handed a cup of water  -which I slugged – then a stick with a big glob of Aquaphor with the instructions “don’t eat it! rub it!” – and I happily slathered it on under the leg seam of my bike shorts, which was starting to rub hard into my thighs. I had meant to do that in transition, but had forgotten in my desperate desire to keep moving. Once again that day, the race had taken care of me.

By the time I made it out onto the run course, my legs felt like lead, my back hurt and it was blazing hot. 6 miles sounded daunting but I tried to think about it in short stages. One mile to the park… and during that first mile, as I was slowly plugging along, the fella popped out of the crowd and into the middle of the street snapping pictures. I was so happy to see him, but also really confused as to why he wasn’t getting yelled at by the police. I told him about my bike drama and then was like “ok, bye” and ran off. Because really, you just have to keep moving. The next 4 miles consisted of me trying to keep going and talking to myself about needing to keep moving. It was so hot and there weren’t a lot of water stations, so at each one, I drank one electrolyte drink fast, then took two cups of water, walking and drinking them, then running again. The run was filled with such support and encouragement from the kick-ass amazing volunteers who would shout awesome supportive stuff at us as we passed – unlike some of the random Central Park runners who occasionally would shout at you to “pick up the pace! Don’t start slacking now!” Seriously, people. NOT ok. I really had to talk myself out of hitting people who said that stuff. Thankfully, those people were few and far between.

That last mile seemed the longest as I ran but as the volunteers began shouting at me how little was left to go, I got so amazed that I had almost made it to the end. As I approached the line, there was the fella, smack dab behind it and beaming. I think he was almost as proud of me as I was for crossing that line. First words out of his mouth: “Holy shit, you did it! You are a Triathlete!!!”

Turns out my actual time was 4:32 – when I went into the race I wanted a “good time”, by the end, I wanted nothing more than to finish. When I was on that bike course, actually finishing felt like it was slipping through my fingers but everyone was right, you just had to keep going. In some ways, I am glad it wasn’t a smooth race, because then I wouldn’t have gotten to experience the generous sportsmanship of my fellow Triathletes or seen firsthand how dedicated all of the volunteers of the NYC Triathlon are – or maybe most importantly, realized that I really can persevere when a race gets hard. One of my favorite sayings is “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful”.  My race was just that, not perfect but wonderful. When I finally crossed the line, I have never been prouder of any single thing in my life. It was a hard, challenging test but I did it and I really AM a Triathlete. I never thought I would be able to say that but it is truly AMAZING.  Every morning, I touch my finisher’s medal and remind myself that it wasn’t a dream.

All photos by Eric C Stafford.

The Only Possible Answer Was Yes: The Aquaphor Tri Team

About a month ago, I received an email that totally turned my life upside down – in the best possible way. The email was titled “Invitation: NYC Triathlon – Aquaphor Tri Team” and I gasped as I read it what it was offering me. I have wanted to do a Triathlon for YEARS – for me, it has always been that “I will really be an athlete if I can do that” thing. These days, I feel like an athlete but that thing in the back of my head has remained. To have the chance dropped in my lap to compete in one of the premiere Triathlons in the country, and one that I had completely written off because I couldn’t remotely afford the entry fee, was shockingly awesome. It honestly never occurred to me to not snap up the opportunity. I immediately wrote back to say yes.

In some ways, it is great to not have time to really freak out about it – really, because there is too much to make happen before the race that there isn’t a window of time to panic. Head down and get prepared -mostly what that has involved has been LOTS AND LOTS of swimming. It’s funny, when I was little, swimming was the one thing that I loved.  At every Navy base, there was always a large, magical place of escapism for me at the pool and I would swim laps forever, easily doing a mile a day. However, it has been years since I even had access to a pool, so the very first thing I did was figure out how to change that. To that end, I have been at the amazingly beautiful Reebok Sports Center/NY’s pool 3-4 times per week. The pool is amazing and seemingly never overrun but always filled with serious swimmers of all shape and stripe. There are a lot of people who are obviously training for the Tri too, which is inspiring to see… and has incidentally provided me with swimming tips.  I don’t think swimming is “like riding a bike”, but I have been shocked at how quickly it has come back to feeling natural. I am back up to mile swims and have loved every moment I have gotten to be back in the water. The swim was really the only part that worried me and while a mile swim in the Hudson still seems slightly scary, it no long sounds so daunting. Plus, my wetsuit has been ordered and really, how can you not feel like a superhero getting to race in one of those??

I really can’t wait for the Aquaphor New York City Triathlon and I almost can’t believe it is happening, but as everything starts to fall into place, it doesn’t just feel like a crazy dream. I am so grateful for the exciting and truly amazing opportunity to be part of something so special and when July 8th rolls around, I am going to be ready. Until then, I will be swimming as often as possible…and biking…and running….. so there may be a few weeks before I get back to lots of class reviews!

Top & bottom photos from Aquaphor New York City Triathlon’s Facebook page and the quote in the middle just a really good thing to remember.