Thursday, November 17, 2011

5 of 30: Joining a Triathlon - But Not Quite A Triathlete

I participated in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon back in September 2007 as a swimmer, so technically, I just did a second take of what I’ve already done 4 years ago. But back then, I only did it because I thought it was going to be fun. I had just moved to the states then, and was yearning to make friends (which I did!). This time, I was doing it because I wanted to see if swimming or doing triathlons is something I could really get into as a sport. Four years ago, I was just too happy to be part of a team, I didn’t care about my form, my swim time or my technique. This time around, I did! 

I was part of a relay team. I was the swimmer, and my coworkers, A and R were my biker and runner, respectively. The whole race course wasn’t so bad --- a half a mile swim, 18 mile bike ride and 4 mile run. Honestly, if it weren’t for my bum knees, I probably would have trained to do the whole thing. But back in 2008 when I trained  to do the bike portion of the race, I injured myself and ended up using crutches for 3 weeks. I would’ve blamed it entirely on my granny knees, but if you’ve seen the hills of Malibu where the bike course was laid out, then you’d probably have a little more sympathy for me.

Anyway, I was happy to do the swim again. It’s easy to train for it because there are so many public pools in and around my area. I’d just jump in the water straight after work! And when it got colder, I went to the indoor heated pools! I was swimming so often, my hair turned blonde from the chlorine. Ugh. But it wasn’t so bad. It had its perks too… like meeting Julia Stiles!!!

Like you, I did wonder what a B list actor was doing in a public pool. It stunned me. But then I thought about it… The pools are really clean. And Miss Stiles is from New York, not LA… Her hotel probably didn’t have a pool long enough for her to do laps… And maybe she really is just that cool to hang out with the masses – like me! And as it turns out, she really was! Ahhh Julia… My public pool bestie… I’ll tell you more about our encounter some other time.

So OK. Swimming is hard work. And because I started paying attention to everything, my stroke, my time, etc… I realized I was on the slow side. You see, I was one of those kids that just knew how to swim. I never took any lessons because I’ve been floating since I was three! I’m really buoyant. As in --- I don’t tread in water. I can just stay perfectly still and I won’t sink. It’s a weird anomaly, I know, but it’s true. And as for the strokes, I’m pretty good at mimmicking people, so that’s all I did. I never learned any proper techniques. That’s probably why when I started timing myself, I realized I wasn’t such a strong swimmer after all. I was just someone who wasn’t afraid of the water, because she wouldn’t ever sink!

And so I asked for help. Our team captain, S, is one of those guys who does Iron Man and stuff. He’s a legit superhero. He gave me videos to watch to help improve my stroke. Gave me tips and drills and exercises I could use in the pool… I did them all! Zipper Drills, Superman Drills, etc… We also did several group swims out in the ocean. If you’re doing an ocean swim, practicing in the pool will get your endurance up, but swimming in the ocean is still a dfferent ballgame. The waves are pretty strong, and not to mention the ‘friendly’ animals you might come across that could distract you. There’s a certain fear factor you have to get over when you’re out there, because you’re literally at nature’s mercy. You never know what could happen. Strong waves, baby seals, sharks… But once you get over that, you’re fine. :)

I personally take dramamine (bonamine) before I swim in the ocean. I get sea sick – literally --  because the current sort of sways you while you’re swimming. To me – it feels like I’m swimming in a big boat that’s swaying to the Viennese Waltz. Oh, and even though the waters of Malibu are pretty clean, it’s really dark down there. So you don’t have 100% visibility when you’re swimming… and every now and then, you see seaweeds, stingrays, and seals. One time, there were even dolphins that swam with us, which sounds completely COOL, but when you’re out there, you see a fin, you think – SHARK. So what I do to remedy that is just close my eyes. My mantra is, what I don’t see, won’t hurt me. :)

At the transition area, 5:00am
Of course the problem with that is poor navigation. I usually end up swimming in circles, and my teammates end up exhasperated from trying to look for me all the time.
See? I told you. Hard work.
After a few months of kick ass training, we finally made it to race day. You can’t really explain the feeling of getting to the location at 5 in the morning. The place was buzzing with energy, anxiety and excitement. The swimmer is the first one to go, so I was feeling ALL of that! If you guys ever decide to participate in a triathlon, I can give you one sound advice I wish someone had told me before race day… Here it is… You must pee before you get into your wetsuit.


A, Me and R
Poseidon was in a particularly good mood that day because the waves were almost flat! It definitely calmed my nerves a little bit, that’s for sure. A, R and my sister were all in the shore with me, waiting for me to get started. I was advised to take this energy goo thingie about 20 minutes before I swam. Apparently it gives you an energy boost… makes you super hyper! Honestly, if you’re that nervous, whether that were true or if it’s just a placebo effect, you’ll believe whatever you want just to get you through! I gobbled up that chocolate goo in seconds. 
I ran up to the shore, took my place in the ‘assembly line’, heard the gunshot signaling us to charge, and off I went! First task – swim out into the ocean and reach the first big orange buoy! After that has been  accomplished, make a 45 degree turn to the right and look for the second big orange buoy! And after that has been accomplished, just keep swimming, until you reach the third big orange buoy! And after you do all of that, make another 45 degree turn to the right towards the shore, and swim! Swim! Just keep swimming! And when you get to the shore, you have to make a hundred yard dash to the transition area to tag your biker!
Yep. That's me on the left.

I did pretty well reaching the second buoy. It was trying to get to the third buoy that I encountered some “challenges.” I had forgotten to take my dramamine so I was getting a little queasy. I closed my eyes and just swam through the quease… Then after a few minutes, I noticed that I was swimming alone. My goggles were fogged up so I couldn’t really tell where I was. Could it be? Did I really outswim all the other triathletes? Did I really get THAT good at swimming? I thought to myself.
And just as I was about to give myself a pat on the back, I heard a couple girls yelling – “HEY! Hey you! Other way!! Other waaaay!!!”

The look of pain.
I looked behind me and saw a line of swimmers headed towards the third buoy. I was about 20 meters out further into the ocean, swimming in the wrong direction. 
I started giggling. This is so typical, I thought.
I swam back and thanked my good samaritans (who were giggling also) and headed for the third buoy, eyes opened!

After that little hiccup, everything else went fine. Except maybe for the hundred yard dash you have to make when you get to the shore. That – I think is the hardest part of the swim leg. It’s just you’re so tired from the swim, your legs feel like jelly and you just want to collapse. But no. You have to DASH to the transition area to tag your biker! And it was painful… The only thing that got me through it was the encouraging screams from the crowd. They’re all up there cheering you on… “You can do it! Just keep going! You’re almost there! You’re awesome!”
I don’t know about you guys, but affirmation and positive reinforcement works big time for me. I thought it was really great that people did that! It was sweet! And it did pump me up! It was all that prevented me from collapsing on the sand. 

Then I spotted my sister taking pictures of me.
Collapsing definitely wasn’t an option anymore! I didn’t want proof of me being a weak sauce! So I kept going until I found my biker, gave her the ankle tracker I had, and off she went! I WAS DONE!

Everything else that happened that day was a blur. I was so exhausted from the swim, I wondered how the real triathletes did it – swim, bike AND run… Craaazyyy…
But I guess with proper training, you can do anything. 

Happy teammates!
After doing this for the second time, I realized I really do like participating in triathlons. First of all, it’s for a good cause - we raised money for the Los Angeles Children’s Hospital. That in itself is already rewarding. But then it’s also a good way to promote a healthy lifestyle. I was swimming almost everyday when I was training for it, and it felt good to be that active. And the best part about it – to me at least – is the feeling of being part of a team. It’s fun training with co-workers, and it’s no chore driving to the breathtaking shores of Malibu… (except for that one time I got a speeding ticket).

I’ve signed up to do it again next year, and since I’ve already proved that biking is fatal for me, I’m going to try and do both the swim AND the run. Who knows… maybe I can talk my knee into healing, and I can do the whole thing one day! Anything is possible… 

Conquering the Buoys