May 31, 2011

First Open Water Swim: The Great Freak-out

Over Memorial Day weekend I went with the family to the In-Law's house on a lake in mid-Michigan. We'll be there frequently over the summer, which, as it turns out, will be very good and therapeutic for me. Over the winter as I planned my training schedule for the Steelhead 70.3 I added several brick workouts with open water swims at the lake house. Until then I had done lots of 'swimming' in lakes and lots of purposeful swimming in pools. I figured I'd need a few sessions of purposeful swimming in a real lake to help get ready. I've swum long distances (in pools) and I've swum in lakes, all I had to do was combine the two, right? Easy. Right?

The weekend started off with me forgetting my triathlon bag, which contained everything I needed for swimming except for my tri-suit which was packed in our main bag (don't ask, it made sense at the time). I didn't have my wet suit, goggles, swimming cap, or earplugs with me. I was really disappointed because I had been looking forward to trying out my wet suit for some time. I thought that swimming was going to be off the agenda for this weekend. More disappointment. But then I got some earplugs (the foam type like you'd use at a rock concert) and my wife offered me the use of her goggles. Things were starting to look better. I could swim in my tri-suit, I thought.

So, on Monday morning me and my wife lined up at the dock. I'm wearing my tri-suit and her pink goggles. "where are we swimming to?" my wife asked. "That dock over there" I say, as I point in the general direction of the opposite shore. I put in the earplugs and everything goes eerily silent. My swimming earplugs don't filter out sound nearly as much.

We step out from the safety of the dock and the water approaches my belly button. My feet sink down past their ankles in muck. At this moment I remember a story from last year of my niece removing a leech from her toe. At this point I have a choice. I can either keep walking out deeper and deeper in the muck getting acclimated to the water temperature a little more slowly, or I can just start swimming. Earlier in the day someone mentioned that some neighbor talked to some other neighbor who had a thermometer in the lake that read somewhere in the 60's. My wife takes off in a full swim. Deciding that I'd rather be cold than mucky I dive forward.

The lake is 1/4 mile across, so there and back is a half mile. In the pool I usually do half a mile in about 20 minutes going full tilt boogie and 30 minutes at an easy pace. I'm not sure how long it took us to swim across the lake and back but it seemed like it took far less time than I anticipated it would. Along the way my brain and body were pummeled in a sensory overload. What follows is a transcript from inside my head.

****** it's cold!!
Why am I so out of breath after only a few strokes??
Didn't I read somewhere that humans naturally react to cold water with a gasping reflex? Is that why I'm out of breath. Did I not get enough sleep? Did I eat too much junk food?
Everything sounds funny - Oh, yeah, construction grade earplugs!
Those waves of cold and warm water feel very weird
OMG! a ****ing seaweed forest!
ick, ick, ick!!! try not to look!
Ewwww, it feels like fingers running down me!! I wonder if I wouldn't feel it in my wet suit? Don't think about it, don't think about it...
Oh, maybe I should see if I'm still on target - I'm way off, where's that ****ing dock?!
The wife is way ahead of me. I'll never hear the end of this.
****, it's difficult to look ahead while swimming. Better change to breast stroke.
Wow, I'm still out of breath
Ow, my eyes hurt from these super tight goggles. I should have remembered my stuff!
Wow, that's a long way down.
Whoa! That water from below is even ******ing colder!
****, I'm way off course!
I need to calm down, I'm way too tense...
AAAAAAAAAAH, more seaweed!
There's a dock, not the one I was aiming for, but it's a dock on the other side of the lake. Good enough, turn around!
MUCK!
******!
Seaweed!
*****!
I'm so out of breath, this never happens in the pool, ****! I gotta change my pool exercises!
I'm so ****ing tense, just relax...
Just follow the wife.
She's so far ahead...
These tiny waves are horrible! ****ing jet skis. Time for side stroke.
Oh man, I feel something on the bottom of my foot, it better not be a leech. Don't think about it, don't think about it....
Seaweed!
Almost there, better make a good showing, lets try freestyle again.
****, I'm so out of breath! Must breath after each ****ing stroke!
Almost there- ooooh, man there's going to be muck...
How am I going to do this for 1.2 miles?
**** that, how am I going to do this next week when we come up here again?!
Muck!
DOCK!!!
Yes!!!
****!

I drag myself onto the dock and collapse next to my wife. She has a good excuse for being exhausted, having run 5 miles before the swim. I, however, had done absolutely nothing that day, nor the day before since that was my rest day. I check my feet for leeches so my paranoid brain could stop racing around panicking. There are, of course, no leeches. I take out the earplugs, suddenly the world comes back. I start to calm down. The wife and I figure it took us about 20 minutes. Neither of us timed it, of course. As the day goes on I have time to decompress all the sensory overload and process it in smaller more manageable chunks. I'm far less freaked out now. I'm also very glad I got the Great Freak-out over with early on in the season.

Next week I'll be more prepared.

May 23, 2011

The snow is gone and it is time for new tires!

Having a cyclocross bike has been great for commuting. It's tough, built for foul weather, and fits my more versatile needs better than a standard road bike. Mine came with Kenda small block 700x35 'cross tires, which were great in the slushy conditions of fall and spring. But the Michigan weather seems to be breaking and I think it's unlikely we'll see frozen precipitation for a while. Since I'm training for some long road miles I thought it was time to get some real road tires. Over the weekend I went to the spring sale at Tree Fort Bikes and picked up some new Michelin Krylion Carbon tires. They fit my four needs:
  1. Suited for road riding (low rolling resistance)
  2. Highly durable (puncture resistance) 
  3. Must look sweet (notice the yellow stripe to match the bar tape)
  4. Must not break the bank

I also looked at some Continental Grand Prix 4000's. The non-cosmetic differences between the Grand Prix and Krylion were hard to discern, so I went with price. It happened that the Krylion's were on sale with a deeper discount.


May 16, 2011

The Commute to Work: Taunting Hill

It's difficult to get the full context from the picture below, but on my ride home I have a series of hills that culminates in one long gradual and then slightly steep hill. It is the hill that taunts me every time I ride it. It sneers at me, daring me to climb fast. It's not a short hill that you can just power through and then laugh at between gasping breaths. It goes on for a long time, making it more of an endurance hill. It's the sort of hill that requires a plan before you aggressively attack it. It's also a bit of a benchmark hill for me to measure how in or out of shape I am. For example, last summer I was able to maintain 10 MPH while not resorting to my lowest gear and not feeling like I was going to puncture a lung doing so. Some days I take it easy on this hill. Some days I greet it as a personal challenge to see how fast I can top it. But every day it remains consistently as my taunting hill. 

The top portion of "The Hill That Taunts Me"