Sunday, April 20, 2014

Why I Ended Things With My Swim Coach

A few reasons, actually. Now, I don't want to say bad things about this girl. (Although, how old was she, anyway? 16?) But it just wasn't working out for me and her.

First, and worst, she argued with me when I told her I sucked.

Am I alone in preferring an honest assessment of my skills or lack thereof? If I say, "I suck at swimming," it's not a global statement of all of my abilities. Swimming is just ONE of my abilities. Agreeing with me that I suck at swimming is not the same thing as telling me I suck at life or am a terrible person. My conclusion that I suck at swimming has been reached by considering all available evidence: 1) absolute lack of improvement over the past several years, 2) comparison of my swim times with Ironman and 1/2 Ironman swim times, and 3) my observations of the way that I feel when swimming (expending huge amounts of energy but barely moving at all). Those are pretty objective pieces of evidence, in my opinion. When someone says, "You don't suck! You're good!" after observing a sucky swim, both that person's knowledge and my ability to trust him or her are in jeopardy. If I can't trust her to validate what's right under her nose, how can I trust her to make me better?

Second, she never gave me an actual plan to follow, or any explanation of how I was going to improve, or even any drills. When I asked her for a plan, she gave me a flyer for the Master's Swimming program and told me I should go there. (Well, maybe I should. But it's at 7:30 at night and there is no way I'm staying out that late after a day of work.) Is it irrational of me to expect to get a plan or a schedule or SOMETHING from a coach who's being paid to help me?

Third, she told me that there probably wasn't anything to do to improve my kick so I probably just shouldn't worry about it. This was after watching me kick two lengths and telling me I kicked too hard with my right leg and not hard enough with my left, and that I should try to kick equally with both. When I tried to do that, I literally stopped moving forward at all in the water, and just floundered, kicking increasingly harder but getting nowhere, which caused her to give up. She also told me I needed to be kicking from my hips, not my legs. I understand this academically but have no sense of how to actually do it.

Fourth, I know that I would need thousands of dollars of lessons to make any kind of improvement. $400 in Tucson brought me marginal improvement which promptly disappeared when I moved away from Tucson and quit swimming. I don't have that kind of money and wouldn't spend it on swim lessons if I did. (These lessons were free. Well, they were not exactly free, but I paid for them with "Lifetime bucks", which is imaginary money good only at Lifetime and earned by referring friends to join.)

I remember my swim coach in Tucson. I don't remember his name, but I remember how good-looking he was, all tan and blond. He agreed with me that I sucked. He had a systematic plan for improvement. He was confident in his ability to make me get better. He was a grown-up, not a kid. He had actual workouts that he designed just for me. He cared about whether I improved or not, and if he was checking out the other lifeguards during my lesson he wasn't obvious about it. All of these are things I aim for in my own teaching. Being a teacher myself, I know crappy teaching when I see it.

I have decided that it is okay to be a crappy swimmer and still do the 1/2 Ironman. I will just accept that my finishing time will be worse than it would be if I weren't a crappy swimmer. Shrug. There are worse things. And luckily, the sport that I am the worst at is also the smallest percentage of the overall course, so it's much better to be a lousy swimmer than a lousy cyclist or a lousy runner.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Miles on Stationary Bike ≠ Miles On Real Bike, On Road

Here are the good things about today's ride, my first outside ride on my bike since October:

1) I did remember how to clip in. (I wasn't sure, going into it.)
2) I had 30 miles scheduled and was able to finish the whole thing.
3) I got to explore a new (to me) Metropark, Kensington, and it was beautiful! (Love our Metroparks!)
4) The weather. 70 degrees, sunny, perfect shorts and short-sleeve weather.

Here are the bad things: 

1) Remembering how to unclip when needed is not a skill that comes right back after not using it for months.
2) Hills on a real bike are not the same as "hills" on a stationary bike.
3) Wind in the real world happens. It doesn't happen in the gym, so I forgot how to ride in it.
4) I was too afraid to ride on the road in the park because, this being the first nice weekend day of the year, there were too many cars. Too many cars + too many potholes + road bike reflexes atrophied due to lack of use = having to ride on the paved path instead, where every adult tricycle rider, large family who likes to walk four or five abreast on the path (thus blocking the entire path) and person with little, nervous, ill-mannered dog on a Flexilead was also out, enjoying the spring weather.

So maybe I can blame my time of 2 hours and 14 minutes for 30 miles on the crowded bike path. But in reality I don't think that's entirely true. Refer back to previous blog entry on "fat". Those extra pounds make the bike harder. Also, while it is true that I have gone to spin class, which is a real workout, on and off throughout the winter... it may, or may not, be true that lots of times instead of going to spin I have just gone to ride the stationary bike at Lifetime, where I may or may not have set the difficulty level to "1" and watched episodes of Parks and Rec on Netflix while "working out". So maybe I am just a little fat and out of shape, too, and that is why I was so slow? 

Anyway, Kensington was a beautiful place to ride, and Island Lake, just on the other side of the freeway from Kensington, was even more beautiful. Island Lake is another park, and the bike path there was in perfect shape -- no cracks, just smooth pavement -- and nearly deserted. Too bad I missed the turnoff to Island Lake on my first loop around Kensington, but I'm glad I caught it on my second. 

I was actually hot at the end of my ride and had a sweat glaze on my skin. It felt amazing. I am very excited about spring but then again there is a snowflake on the forecast for Tuesday and a high only in the 30's. Sigh. Michigan, you be crazy!

Friday, April 11, 2014

White, So White. And Also Fat.

One thing I remember hating about the East Coast was how pale everyone became during the winter, fish-white and weak-looking. And one thing I loved about Arizona was how people were brown all year round. If I could pick the one look I wanted to achieve, it would be Arizona leather-skin ranch woman. I pictured myself at 60 with brown skin, maps of wrinkles around my eyes from squinting into the sun, long grey hair probably always tangled from being outside in the wind, and maybe a couple of melanomas to go along with all that sun. Well, here in Michigan after this brutal winter I have reached the stage where my legs and my ass are exactly the same color. It is depressing. This week is the first week of shorts and T-shirts (for running, anyway), and while I am very excited about that, the sickly, unhealthy pale skin is the opposite of exciting. Even when I'm out in the sun, I suspect that the sun in Michigan just doesn't have the strength to "toast" me properly. The sun is weak too. Yes, I know that sun exposure is bad and dangerous, but... but... but... I want to be tan and strong-looking like I was in Tucson! Maybe it's time for a tanning salon?

Or maybe it's time for a diet. I had my phsyical a couple days ago, and, while I actually feel about the healthiest I've ever been in my whole life, I was pretty horrified at the number on the scale. I am going to say it just because no one ever seems to post their weight when they are fat -- only when they are skinny and proud of it -- 167 pounds! A good weight for me is 150; a good, lean, racing weight is 145; my Boston-qualifying weight was 133. So I am now 34 pounds heavier than I was when I finished the San Diego Rock-n-Roll Marathon and qualified for Boston. This is the same weight I was at my fattest in recent memory, when I ran the St. George Marathon in 2008 and my weight was high enough to put me in the Clydesdale category! (I also got a time of 3:51 in that marathon -- not impressive, but respectable -- so, maybe, who cares?)

The actual effects of being fat are not so bad. I'm running pretty well, surprisingly, 8:00-8:15 pace most of the time, which makes me wonder how fast I'd be running if I were 30 or even 15 pounds lighter. Do my clothes still fit? Well, define "fit". I still wear all the same clothes, but I can't exactly put things in my pockets comfortably while wearing them, and I admit that the need to wear layers ended just in time. I don't look at myself and think I look terrible (unless I tried to squeeze into my skinny jeans, which I would not do). I think I look pretty good, actually. So if my clothes still fit, I'm running well, I like how I look, and all the important numbers from my physical are what they should be, do I really have a reason to stop eating at Tim Horton's and making a regular practice of having two dinners every night (the one post-workout, and the other right before I go to bed)? Maybe not! Everyone I run with has also got a good layer of winter fat on, and they don't ever seem inclined to skip the post-run beers, so maybe I should just accept that people in cold climates get fat in the winter?

I am two weeks into an 18-week training schedule for the half-Ironman in August, and it's going well so far, so maybe the increased activity by itself will burn off the fat. And eventually it will be warm here, supposedly. (I have seen 70 in the forecast; that's a good sign!)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

I Did It... I Registered.

I signed up for Ironman 70.3 Steelhead, and now I'm committed.

I have just embarked on an 18-week training plan for this race, which takes place on August 10, and already my body is sore and achy. I'm telling myself this is because I have essentially been idle all winter and the soreness comes from my body grinding itself back into shape.

It also doesn't help that I screwed up the first week of training by mangling the schedule. The schedule includes a total of nine workouts per week (three swim, three bike, three run) until, I think, Week Nine, when it adds one more swim. This means that three days a week are double workouts -- swim in the morning and run or bike in the afternoon. Those three days are supposed to be Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, with Friday being a rest day. I managed the Monday morning swim but not the Monday afternoon bike. (I had to take both of my bikes to the bike shop for tune-ups, and by the time I was done with that I felt too guilty about leaving my dogs in the kennel for too long and couldn't bring myself to leave them longer.) Tuesday I screwed up again, the same way, made the a.m. swim but not the p.m. run because I had a dentist appointment. Wednesday afternoon I finally got to the bike for the first time since October other than a couple spin classes here and there. Because both bikes are still in the shop, I had no choice but to do my bike miles at Lifetime. So, so tedious. Thank God for Netflix on my iPhone. Thursday was a double-workout day with swim in the morning and run in the afternoon. I have been slacking on running too for the past couple weeks. I was pleased to see I can still do close to 8:00 pace despite all my fat and lack of training, but sad too because it is now undeniable that my feet have expanded a size. The five miles I ran in the brand-new Newtons I bought in January gave me two black toenails. I am now positive that my feet have grown a size. I mean, I hadn't run a quarter-mile before they started hurting, so I can't even blame it on swelling. (I will not think about how I bought close to $500 worth of new shoes, including Merrells for work and two pairs of Mizunos and one pair of Newtons in January and now NONE of them fit and I walk around with toes curled up inside my shoes every day.) Anyway, Friday was supposed to be my rest day but because I had slacked on Monday and Tuesday, it now became a double workout day with 20 miles on the bike in the morning and four miles of running in the afternoon. My legs were toast and my toenails were throbbing as I headed out the door (in a pair of old, stretched-out but totally dead Mizunos) and I wondered if I would even get through the run at all. I did, and even stayed pretty close to 8:00 pace, but this morning I am so sore that walking the dogs hurt. And I have 25 miles on the bike to look forward to today and six miles  of running at Stoney with the triathletes tomorrow, and then back to double workouts on Monday and hopefully I will remember the pain of cramming bike and run into the same day and follow the schedule next week so that doesn't happen again.

Anyway! About the race. Steelhead is in Benton Harbor, which is a town in western Michigan. The swim is in Lake Michigan, which honestly looks just like the ocean to me when I'm standing on the shore. I have been to Benton Harbor once and wasn't very impressed with it -- I have vague memories of shabby neighborhoods and the nicest restaurant being the IHOP -- but at least I know there is a Red Roof Inn there so I have somewhere to stay with the dogs. Benton Harbor is not really a nice town, but it is close enough that I can drive out there to practice on the course before the race. Also, I don't have to fly so don't have to worry about shipping my bike. It takes place at a time far enough away from class at Leader that I won't have to worry about being distracted in my training, and it is an Ironman-brand race. That is important to me and I don't exactly know why.

The way I understand it -- triathlon people, feel free to correct me on this -- is that iron distance in a triathlon is 140.6 and half-iron distance is 70.3, but only races put on by Ironman can call themselves Ironman races. There are lots of other race companies that put on triathlons of the same distances, and I would never minimize the accomplishments of anyone who completed an off-brand 70.3 or 140.6, but for myself I want the name-brand. If that's shallow, I don't care!

This race has gotten generally good reviews with the exception being that the swim has been cancelled two years out of the past seven or eight due to rough waters on Lake Michigan. When that happens, the event becomes a duathlon. So there is somewhere around a 25% chance that I will finish all my training and still not be able to say that I finished 70.3. I decided that was an acceptable risk given all the logistical advantages of this race. (Plus, there is no denying that a part of me wouldn't be all that upset if the swim were cancelled. Hey, it wouldn't be my fault!)  

So, no marathons for a while and lots of pool and bike time. (As I look out the window at a new dusting of snow that was NOT in the forecast and think to myself, will it EVER be warm again?)