the pause that refreshes

It has not escaped my attention that it been a while since my last post.  My season came to a premature end.  No Leadman Bend for me.  That’s life.  Which meant that I enjoyed a particularly long and relaxed rest period before training for next season.   Guilty pleasure.  Does everyone else feel this during rest periods, or is it just me?   It was so rewarding to do workouts just for the sheer fun of it without having a particular goal in mind.  Although I’m generally pretty good at keeping myself in the moment during workouts,  as we all know it can be a challenge at 5:00 a.m. when you’re dead tired, everything aches, and you have your hands full just pushing yourself through a training session.

So I have to admit that this unplanned break has been great.  With no goal in mind, workouts were just plain fun.   I found that slipping into a  Zen-like (as if I had a clue about the basic tenets of Zen Bhuddhism) meditative state was effortless.  For me, at least, Garmin is the enemy of living in the moment.

In August I drove to the small town where I grew up.   There’s a road  just out of town that I’ve been running on since I was sixteen.  Running is many things to me.  One is an emotional release.   If I start a run with a head full of negative feelings I can usually work through them fairly quickly and then settle in.  One minute I’m raging.   The next I’m in rhythm, taking in the warm evening air surrounded by the scent of alfalfa, ponderosa pine trees, my own sweat and dusty silence punctuated by the occasional call of a raven.

My neighbourhood has an old 25 m outdoor pool (you know the type – unheated changing rooms and cold showers) that opens up at 5:30 am between the beginning of September and the 2nd week of October during the annual maintenance closure of the large indoor aquatic facility.  Usually populated by young children in the summer.   Although we had spectacular weather this fall here on the west coast of Canada, it was a wee bit chilly on the deck in the mornings.   But, oh, the rewards.  There were usually no more than 4 or 5 of us in the pool.  Never had to share a lane (in fact there was no need for lane ropes).  Slipping into the water in the dark when the moon is out and putting down the laps into the dawn.   These sessions were  sublime.  I’d often take extra time between sets just to watch the early morning sky and the steam rising off of the water.

My unscheduled rest period was punctuated by an equally unplanned trip to Hawaii earlier this month.   Which allowed me to attack the pile of books I’d accumulated but not yet read.  It also allowed me to get in some early evening runs on one of my favourite “road” routes, the coast highway to Hawi on the Big Island (which also happens to be the middle section of the bike segment for Ironman).

the road out

the turn around point

So, now.  I’ve picked most of my races for next year.  I’ve got some mileage in the new shoes.  The vacation is over.  The rest period is ending….and I can’t wait.  To everyone who is finished for the season, be proud of y0ur accomplishments.  Dream big for next year.  And for those who have races left in the calendar, you’ve done the hard work….enjoy.

Making a Splash

It was always an impossible task, and that was precisely the point.  The attempt was all. – Ian McEwan

It’s been some time since my last real post in which I anticipated my first half-iron.  Well, it didn’t happen.  One of my family members was hospitalized a few days before the race with complications from a chronic illness.   Easy call.   There’s always another race.

But I’d be less than honest if I claimed that I wasn’t in a funk for a few weeks as I tried to reset myself for another target.

Which was why I so desperately needed my first true open water swim last weekend.  True, I’d done a lake swim in the wetsuit in late May.  But I was hugging the shore.  And I was pretty much solo.  and I was wearing waterwings.

So, when one of the guys in my morning swim group suggested we head out on Saturday morning for a swim in Sasamat Lake, I said “sure”.  Shoot first, ask questions later.  That’s me.

Anyone who’s read this blog knows that I can be counted upon to accomplish feats of incredible stupidity when I first attempt to do anything associated with Ironman-ish activities.  Once again, I fail to disappoint.  In the unlikely event that someone who has yet to do an OWS reads this post I feel compelled to offer some advice and reassurance.

If you are contemplating doing your first open water swim, do the following:

1.  DO NOT spend time with people who have done the Escape from Alcatraz race.  Because they’ll all tell you about the pre-race meeting in which the athletes are told that San Francisco Bay has only “baby” sharks.  Which NEVER swim within 12′ of the surface.   Because YOU know (from your faithful Shark Week viewing) that Great Whites have bad eyesight.  And they attack from below.  And you, the flailing human in a black wetsuit, bear more than a passing resemblance to a seal in distress.

2. DO NOT watch an episode of River Monsters which features the Goliath Tiger Fish.  or think about the weird effects of climate change.  Because, sure, your brain knows that sharks are not fresh water fish (generally).  and there probably aren’t fish with big teeth in smallish lakes in coastal British Columbia.  But just try convincing yourself of THAT when you’re practically alone in the middle of wilderness lake with 2′ of visibility.

3. DO walk away when someone starts telling you the story of the fisherman some years back who drowned in the lake you’re going  to swim in and they never found his body just his empty boat floating in the middle of the lake but strangely some guy found a fishing rod in the middle of the lake was it last year or maybe the year before but anyway the thinking is that it was this missing fisherman’s rod and someday soon perhaps maybe his body will float to the surface or you’ll see it when you’re swimming.   Word of advice.  just….walk…away.

4. DO NOT drink a quad shot about 30 minutes before entering the water.  First, your heart rate will be about 200 bpm…before you enter the water.  Guaranteeing that you’ll be gasping like a one lunged chain smoker for the first 500 metres.  Second, you will no longer be preoccupied with an immediate attack from below by the Goliath Tiger Fish (see above).  You will be preoccupied with a cost/benefit analysis of peeing in your wetsuit.

So, how did it go?

In a word, it was sublime.  Sasamat Lake is tucked away about 10 minutes up the mountain from the nearest habitation.  It’s surrounded by Pacific Northwest rainforest.  The two of us hit the water at 9 am, just as it stopped raining.    I’d read a number of ‘my first open water swim’ blogs.  I was expecting some anxiety about the lack of visibility, cold water and the ‘can’t see the bottom’ thing.   Honestly, after 200m or so my reaction was awestruck joy.  We had the entire lake to ourselves.  It was perfectly calm.  As I was sighting I watched the mist spilling off of the trees above the lake (this was after I figured out that if I sighted more often I’d cease to swim in a zig zag fashion).  It was a perfect, cloudy, moody, westcoast morning.   Got into a nice easy rhythm early on and it was pretty much pure bliss for the entire 2K.  I’m sure it will be quite a different story during the first group open water swim.  But, hey, at least I got my feet wet….

And first one to shore takes the photo.  Although I may not look it, I’m happy with swim.  Not so much with the prospect of walking onto a beach full of geese feces.

On the reading front I’m feeling like a complete fraud.  It’s not that I haven’t been reading.  It is that I haven’t been writing about what I’ve read. Take Atonement by Ian McEwan.

Cover of "Atonement"

I read it months ago.  I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about it.  I think that I’m finally beginning to get there.  But I’m not quite at the point where I am ready to commit my thoughts to a post.  I will say that this is a thought-provoking book which is well worth a careful reading.   When I finally collect my thoughts into something close to coherence I’ll post about it.