Beginning Ocean Swimming Is Not As Scary As Previously Imagined

After a lot of reticence and procrastinating, I finally attended my first ever open water swimming clinic. I have pretty much been terrified of the water since I started training for the LA Triathlon and since it’s coming down to crunch time, I started doing my research about a month ago.

I was unsuccessful at cajoling some of my friends to join me in an open water swim, since they were unavailable. I met someone at a running store who recommended an open swim training group but it turned out to be incredibly expensive (over $100 a session). Lastly, I went onto Meetup and luckily I came across the Beginning Ocean Swimmers clinic. Sessions were only $10 a pop and they had clinics nearby that introduced newbies like me to the ocean. I RSVPd and I was in.

When I’m super nervous about something, I do two things: I eat (a LOT) and, if it’s an appointment, I leave/arrive obscenely early for it. So, bright and early on this Sunday morning, I loaded up my brand spanking new wetsuit and gear out to Seal Beach to meet with the group. I was so nervous and scared when I first arrived at the beach since I was the only one there. I found a secret hidden nook in the parking lot (yeah, they exist) and tugged on my new wetsuit. I had put on my wetsuit for the first time that morning, and since it took me so long, I wanted to save myself the embarrassment of feeling slow again later in front of the group while getting dressed (and again while swimming)…so, I dodged that bullet by getting dressed early.

When I arrived, I was the only one wearing a wetsuit (totally noob move). Plus, I awkwardly didn’t talk to anybody and cracked open some trail mix and begin munching away (reference above nervous tendency). The instructor arrived, cool as a cucumber, and reminded me a lot of Jeff Bridge’s character in The Big Lebowski…except without the hair. Cool!

He briefed us on the conditions and coached a bit on what to look for when getting in and out of the water. Before I knew it we were lining up to swim out and in a few times. The first swim out there was scary. I waited for most of the pack to go before heading in to the water. In an effort to make it through the clinic I tried not to expend too much energy, thus taking the swim in a really calm, relaxing, and slow manner. It could have been compared to the swimming version of a Sunday stroll, which I guess at that time it was exactly that.

The first few times I tried to swim out I was greeted with breaking waves. Luckily, no saltwater was snorted yet. I eventually made it out to what felt like the middle of the ocean but about 50 yards from the Seal Beach Pier. We caught our breath and waded around a bit. I was surprised at how I was holding up, given that I hadn’t done much pool training. Whenever I get really tired in the pool I have a tendency to just stop swimming and stand up in the pool, or hang on to the side, but in the ocean none of that exists. All I could do was wade it out…and that I did.

The instructor then had us swim back to land and repeat the exercises a few times. Before I knew it things were looking rosy. I was actually keeping up with the pack and was swimming. I suppose what was scary to me before was the depth of the water. When swimming though, it’s easy to forget how deep the water actually gets, since you’re always swimming near the surface of the water. For all I knew the floor was right underneath me…but at the time, it didn’t matter. I was in the moment.

It then came time for us to swim parallel to the beach, from one lifeguard tower to the next. This was more of a long haul for me. After all the outs and ins, I was beginning to feel taxed. My stroke weakened and got rather sloppy (it had been progressively gotten sloppier over the course of the morning) and I was feeling out of breath. Something I learned from a friend who once completed an Olympic-distance triathlon was that since there were no limits to the swim strokes you could use, the backstroke was completely acceptable. I rolled over and paddled as much as I could without expending too much extra energy and when I caught my breath, I rolled over and continued swimming. I knew that if I spent too much time on my back that eventually a wave would crash over me and that I’d get saltwater inside my nose, mouth, eyes, etc., so I really had to keep it to a minimum.

The swim back to home base was the most difficult. By the time I was a few minutes in I was already pretty much tapped out. I slowed down considerably and strayed pretty far from the group. The idea was to swim back in to shore in the L formation in which we came in, but I ended up doing some sort of cut around that ended up being the same distance to begin with.

By the end we all met up at our original starting point. Everyone seemed very accomplished and the newbies (like me!) were getting all of the attention. It felt nice to finally overcome something that I had previously deemed incredibly scary! By the time I got to my car I was super elated that I couldn’t wait until the next swim clinic. I’m hoping to catch some ocean swimming sessions (either solo or with a partner) quite a few times before the BIG DAY.

When we were all done, I was incredibly thirsty. I drank and drank and drank but my thirst was insatiable. I couldn’t figure if it was because of my perceived exertion or if it was because of all the saltwater that I probably ingested! All in all I had a great time, I felt accomplished, and I can honestly say that I can’t wait to do it again.

In retrospect, it was such an amazing experience. Being around other triathletes and people who have trained in the water was incredibly inspirational. Being in the middle of the water with no land underneath my feet, surrounded by people who were sort of like me was great. It was like my own little place on earth that no one could touch. And, even though I was surrounded by other people in wet suits, it still felt like one-on-one time with nature. I was finally opening myself up to what the Earth has to offer…and it felt great.

A Saturday of Personal Bests

My Saturday = 4 + 0.5 + 19.39

Needless to say, my Saturday was pretty intense. It started off slowly enough with a steady 4 mile run, which 1) was a catch-up from from the other day and 2) served as a warm up for the rest of the day. I took it at a nice pace, down the street and back to my friend’s house where I retrieved my newly constructed but ill-fitting bicycle. The run was a little more difficult than usual. I’m not sure what happened but something on my run triggered some flashbacks from some prior events in my life and I suddenly started crying. It wasn’t the feeling of sadness, anger, or release. It seemed to be an autonomic reaction to the psychological stimuli. Despite the disappointment from having purchased a bike that I really liked but couldn’t use, I tried not to let it get me down.

But it did.

After I got home from my “walk of shame” I felt super lazy. I ate breakfast, read a little bit, laid around and did nothing, clicked around online, and mentally procrastinated on dealing with anything remotely important. I was feeling a little bit demotivated and mopey and still a bit teary for reasons beyond me. It was a strange funk to be in, but awhile ago I figured out that the time you should be training most is when you feel like doing it least.

So, I lathered up the sunscreen and headed down to the pool for my double session with my swim instructor. I was a bit tense from the day already, and compounding it with not really wanting to be in the water wasn’t good. The two shallow ends were taken and since she noticed me at the open lap swim earlier that week, she deemed me ready for the deep end. (My heart was pounding so loud I could hear it in my ears!!)

We worked on diving today: diving from the seated position, the track runner dive, and the jumping-into-the-pool dive. I struggled with it a lot since I wasn’t as confident in my abilities in the water. My swim instructor does it so effortlessly. Her freestyle stroke is so deliberative. She never seems to gasp for air. Again, that’s years of training staring me back in the face, but she is gently encouraging and only slightly pushy. After our session was over, she went to write out a workout plan for my swimming component and I made nice conversation with another swimmer who thought I was with a team. She complimented me on the strengths of my stroke.

It’s interesting to see how much of your perception of yourself is really all in your head. Things are never as bad as they appear to other people compared to what it looks like in our minds. I’m positive that I’m the belly flopping adult attempting to dive into the 8 foot section as 10 year olds are cannon-balling around me. I’m pretty sure my Coney Island Crawl looks ridiculous. I’m pretty sure I’m overextending my stroke to a point where I’m exerting twice the effort…yet this other person who swam in high school and college thought that I was doing a great job. When I told her I was working on obliterating a list of fears and that swimming was on the list, she seemed impressed. Strange how that works!

When I returned home from my swim session, I was feeling a little better about my training. Even though I feel that I’m behind with my swimming, that’s something I have complete control of. I can always add more swimming and detract something else. I prepped my bike for the long ride and took off.

The ride down Fairfax was smooth. I took it all the way to Venice Blvd and then headed west towards the beach. It was a gorgeous ride — started off in the early evening and ended with the beginning stages of sunset. The ride was very smooth. When available, it feels like riding the bike lanes is a whole lot safer than riding sidewalks. On sidewalks you have to deal with people walking around and getting in the way. You also have to deal with driveways which are pretty dangerous. However, on a bike lane, you have the right to that lane. You get to use it as you would a car lane. By being reasonable and following the laws I got to Venice Beach in one piece!

When I got to my friend’s place we completed another short bike ride around Venice and Marina Del Rey. Biking along the beach bike paths were gorgeous. I’d love to go back and get some riding done there since it’s continuous and scenic.

So, all in all, this Saturday I completed a 4 mile run, a half mile swim, and nearly 20 miles of biking. No day like today!

The Feeling of Liberation on a Bicycle

There’s something really amazing about being able to experience the city on two wheels instead of four.

The weather has been absolutely great for riding lately. Even if it’s a bit on the warm side, there’s nothing like the feeling of wind in your hair to keep you cool. I’m riding a mountain bike and most of the time I ride on the sidewalks. Hop, skip, dodge a pedestrian, stop for a car, ride, repeat. There’s a feeling of liberation — freedom from the tether of a desk or a car, escalating gas prices, parking tickets, worries. Instead of contributing to a problem I’m trying to fix it. Instead of worrying about the minutiae I’m focusing on my journey and my destination.

I go up and down sidewalks and, in my mind, I imagine trail switchbacks that I hope to one day ride. I see the Hollywood sign but all around me I see evidence of real life, not the contrived or imagined that is so typical of Los Angeles. I see faces, people walking to and from work, excited tourists from all over the world visiting Tinsel Town hoping to catch a glance of the next up and coming starlet. I see homeless people pushing their carts and huddling together in the evenings. I hear international exchanges everywhere. I ride through quietly privileged neighborhoods and bask in the foliage, ample sunshine, and impossibly wide streets.

Every so often I end up riding on a major street. Most of the time I’m cruising around sidewalks and residential neighborhoods. The whistles and cat calls come…it’s pretty much expected. What’s nice is when I pull up to a stop sign or crosswalk and catch eyes with a driver. They’re usually surprised by a bicyclist, for one. Two, they’re usually surprised that I’m a girl. (The males here seem to outnumber the females quite a bit.) So, I might get a few choice words or a silent acknowledgement, but then I’m back in my world again.

It’s not very often that I get to catch a ride with someone. When I do, I honestly feel like I connect with them on a different level. There’s almost a silent understanding, some sort of positive waves being exchanged. The feeling of being able to experience something so liberating and so joyous with someone else is indescribable. It’s like a new invisible bond is formed and sealed between you and them in that space and in that time. It’s irreplaceable. It’s not the same feeling that I get when I’m walking with someone, sitting next to or across from them, running, or even swimming. It’s a feeling I only get when I’m on a bike.

It seems as though when I want to let off some steam or think, I go for a run. When I want to challenge myself, I go for a swim. But, when I’m looking to return to a “happy place,” I go for a bike ride.

Then there’s the feeling of coming home safe…that always makes me happiest.

Recent Read: Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul – How to Create a New You

I’m currently working through an amazing book by Deepak Chopra on how people can essentially reincarnate in real time by making small adjustments to their thinking and being. It’s something I’ve believed is completely possible (see previous blog: My Theory on Reincarnation) but it was great to actually read it from someone else!

Change is difficult. The body fights for stasis, whether or not it’s bad or good. By humming along at the status quo, people don’t achieve what they aspire to. Just know that you can take small steps and change your thinking to achieve this.

Here’s a great snippet on the connection between mental activity and ability:

The researchers were elated with their findings, because this was the first time anyone had shown that mental activity alone can alter the brain. It was already known that the brain could be trained in its physical performance — athletes, for example, get better the more they practice. We praise them for having talent, will, and courage. All of that may be true. But, to a neurologist, the greatest runners, swimmers, and tennis players have highly trained their motor cortex, which is responsible for coordinating the complicated movements needed in any difficult sport. Now it could be shown that the mere whip of desire — in this case, the desire to be compassionate — trains the brain to adapt in the same way.

Early in the book, Deepak discusses that the nonphysical aspect of life is stronger than the physical. “Once you stop clinging to the idea that your body is a thing, you realize what should have been obvious: your body is the junction between the visible and invisible worlds.” The way to affect change is to take subtle actions. He lists five ways for people to make this happen:

  1. You go inside and make your intention known.
    i.e. I’m going to swim/bike/run the LA Triathlon…and survive. 
  2. You believe in getting results.
    i.e. I will make a tri training schedule and hold myself accountable. 
  3. You don’t resist the process of change.
    i.e. Everyone in my life gets annoyed that I can’t hang out as much because I train in my spare time. I deal with it. 
  4. Your body shifts effortlessly at the physical level.
    i.e. My sleep regulates itself. I have more energy and am overall more cognizant and alert of my physical being.
  5. You repeat your subtle action until you have mastered the change you desire.
    i.e. D-Day (well, I suppose it’s really T-Day) is only 72 days away!

By quietly encouraging the change you really want, you are able to achieve it.

How are you trying to change your life with subtle action? Is it working?

Giving Blood as an Athlete

A friend invited me to donate blood sometime this week. If you’ve ever been curious about donating blood and how long you’ll need to scale back and for how long, here’s a pretty reasonable answer I found after doing some quick research.

A healthy athlete should be able to recover completely from donating blood in eight weeks, but he may lose some of his ability to train for a few days. Following a donation of one pint, blood volume is reduced by about ten percent and returns to normal in 48 hours. For two days after donating, you should drink lots of fluids and probably exercise at a reduced intensity or not at all. Donating blood markedly reduces competitive performance for three to four weeks as it takes that long for blood hemoglobin levels to return to normal.

You should not donate blood more often than every eight weeks because it takes that long to replace lost nutrients. If you donate blood frequently, you need to make sure to replace the B vitamins and possibly the iron that you lose with the blood. You can meet your needs for iron by eating meat, fish or chicken or by taking iron supplements; and you can meet your needs for the B vitamins with whole grains and diary products. Donating blood at least four times a year may help to prevent heart attacks by lowering blood cholesterol levels significantly and reducing iron levels. Iron in the bloodstream converts LDL cholesterol to oxidized LDL which forms plaques in arteries.

-Dr. Gabe Mirkin
I’ll have to give it some serious thought. I’m on a pretty tight schedule right now! I don’t have any races until September so it shouldn’t effect me too much, but I’m just starting to ramp up my running for my marathon training class so I guess we shall see.

Going Through The Motions of Bricks

Every few weeks or so I get motivated enough to try my hand at a brick workout. (Brick workouts consist of back-to-back training exercises to prepare you for multi-sport competing.) This is my second full brick workout where I’ve done the swim-bike-run combination. The first time was actually 2 weeks ago: I did half distances of the sprint triathlon I’ll be participating in. That means that I only did a 0.25 mile swim, 6 mile bike ride, and a 1.6 mile run.

Today I was completing my first week of scheduled training (instead of fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants training) and I had some make-up work to do, so it ended up being a brick workout of complete sprint triathlon distances. I started off with the half mile swim, progressed to the 12 mile bike ride, and ended with a 4 mile run.

Needless to say I was pretty exhausted! With 14 days in between the complete brick workouts it seemed as though I was spending my time in-between well. There was a marked improvement in endurance. I’m getting smarter about hydration and fueling. It all really just comes down to listening to your body! Fortunately I’ve been doing these brick workouts at the gym so everything’s pretty convenient. I realize that I’ll eventually have to move this outside to the real world, but I just want to make sure I’m ready first! For now I can be that crazy lady who jumps out of the pool, rips off her swim cap and googles, and heads to the bike with a funky tan lines and marks on her face! My times are still pretty slow, but hey, I finish fairly strong! Here’s an awesome video of Julie Moss, a college senior who crawled to the finish line of the full-blown Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run).

I’m working on the endurance aspect right now…when I get more comfortable with the transitions and the bricks I’ll work on my speed. But, for now, I’m strictly focused on just finishing the swim-bike-run trio!

 

Prepare to Fail if You Fail to Prepare

My boyfriend never lets me forget that I’m a J. (First search result: “ISFJs tend to plan their activities and make decisions early. They derive a sense of control through predictability.”)

I have a pretty set routine when it comes to my running. Not necessarily with routes, although I have a tendency to run the same one again and again out of habit. My routine of preparation has been key to my success. In this case, success is loosely defined as: “showing up on time and running my personal best” and is not locked to a timed performance.

Last week I failed to prepare for my 15K. Hence I essentially prepared to fail. My nutrition and hydration the days leading up to it were off. I was exerting myself in ways that were foreign to me. I didn’t sleep well, nor did I sleep in my own bed. (Aside from traveling to races, which I’ll be doing towards the end of the year, that has been my cardinal rule!) I wasn’t sticking to any semblance of a training schedule but really just training whenever I felt like it and whatever I felt like doing. A ton of no-nos!

I didn’t have anyone to blame but myself. I showed up just a few minutes after the race started. It was a small race, so there weren’t any route signs nor were there street closures. I was half a mile in to the course (or at least what I thought was the course) and couldn’t find any of the runners. I stopped, on a residential street somewhere in Santa Barbara, after a long weekend of anticipation, and started jogging back the way I came in with tears streaming down my face. I was completely disappointed in myself that I hadn’t prepared fully and that I had allowed myself to come that close to a race start again. That’s right, again. I’ve done it a few times before but lucked out. Not this time!

I was very disappointed and disheartened. Spent a few moments that morning with my boyfriend moping around and tearing up but for the most part I’m now over it. He bought me these little silver eagle earrings from a little knick knack shop somewhere on State Street in Santa Barbara and I’ve been wearing them ever since. They remind me that I can be as fast and on top of my game as much as I want to be. All I need to do is take a bird’s eye view and assess the situation.

So, if I must disclose…this is my pre-race routine. I’ll have to be pretty flexible when I go abroad or travel for races but it’s pretty much solid and has worked for me so far.

My 12 steps to successful race/long run preparation:

1. Sleep in my own bed, the night before. Try to sleep for a whole eight hours. I usually only manage 6 since I get nervous and I wake up a few times before the alarm is set to go off.

2. Sleep in some of my race clothes. That way all I have to do is pull on a few items and head out the door.

3. Prepare only 1 serving of Muscle Milk. If I drink 2 I generally have an upset stomach early on in the race.

4. For runs longer than 6 miles, I’ll consume half or one packet of Power Bar Energy Gel Blasts. I’ll also pack out a full Camelbak of water with another energy gel and a bar, just in case I get hungry en route.

5. For runs longer than 6 miles, I wear cushioned running socks. For anything shorter, I’ll wear thin running socks.

6. My hair must be out of my face. One strong elastic band and two bobby pins. Nothing more or my head hurts!

7. Fully charge my iPod shuffle the night before so I’m not bummed if my music quits out halfway. (I’m trying to wean off of the iPod but for now it’s a necessary evil.)

8. Do a very small morning warmup. I usually park a few blocks away from my apartment so the jog to my car is about 3/10ths of a mile. It’s a nice jaunt in the morning before things get hot.

9. Charge my phone during the car ride to the race. Nothing bums me out more than not being able to use RunKeeper while I run!!

10. Wear running clothes that I feel comfortable in running in that day. Being a woman means having to deal with fluctuating sizes during different times of the month, so I make a point not to squeeze into anything too constricting. Function over form prevails.

11. Hydrate on the way to my race…but always making a point to go to the bathroom before the race starts! (Otherwise it’s a disaster…)

12. Never mess with the lacing on my shoes. (I never untie/retie my shoelaces once I get the right fit.) If I find that my shins start hurting the week of the race I’ll order a replacement pair from Zappos since they’ll overnight them to me.

What’s your routine? How do you prepare for your long runs or an important race? Let’s swap some tips!

Q+A: Why Tri?

The other day, a friend of mine asked me — “Why triathlon?”

Good question…and deserving of a blog post.

The simple and short of it all is that I’m trying to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Training for a triathlon takes a lot of time and dedication. It takes a certain amount of willpower to commit to a training and nutrition plan. It cuts into things like lazy weekends, roadtrips home, going to dinners and sometimes going to happy hour…and I’ve learned from first-hand experience that even your closest friends and family won’t be okay with this. (Most friends and family feel threatened by newfound willpower/commitment and actually try to sabotage your efforts.) In this case, being comfortable with change means that you’ll learn to back off at the appropriate times and do what’s best for you, no matter who is barking up your tree.

Most of my training is done alone, which is conducive to a lot of self-reflection, pushing, and thinking. About 10% of conscious thought is focused on technique. Another 10% is focused on intention. The rest of it is really in a state of meditation. It doesn’t mean that my mind is empty, but I’m generally concentrating on something that’s been bothering me, a problem I want to solve, or some uncomfortable part of my day that I’m trying to dissect. I spend anywhere between 5 and 10+ hours a week training, so admittedly that’s been a lot of time for me to work through those issues. In that time I’ve been able to make difficult decisions and come to terms with a lot of things that have happened to me in my life.

I’m fairly young but have lived through a lot of difficult instances — some that should have killed me, some that should’ve scarred me for life, and some that should have left me questioning my existence. Living through those experiences really just means that I’ve managed to survive and thrive despite them. I think that focusing my energy and efforts on something that requires more commitment than I’ve ever really put forth towards anything else will help me build character and gives me the chance to help others along the way. (I truly believe that the best way to improve yourself or your condition is to focus on helping other people.) I don’t think I’ve ever done anything this consistently for this long, but I’m very motivated.

If that answer didn’t suffice, here are some that I usually blurt out depending on my mood:

  • I want to prove to myself that I could achieve what I used to think was impossible.
  • I want to show other people that they can commit and achieve their goals too.
  • I want to eat as many burritos, pizzas, and hot dogs as I feel like and never feel guilty.
  • I need an energy outlet that doesn’t require me to think (too much).
  • I don’t want to die a fat, unhealthy, technological sloth.
  • I decided I needed a hobby outside of my career.
  • It was something new that I haven’t tried before.
  • I wanted to travel to different places, but with a purpose.
  • I wanted to stop worrying about how I looked and focus more on how I feel.
  • I wanted to save money on “lazy” entertainment, like booze and movies.
  • I’m taking a break from grad school and needed something worthwhile to do.

Everyone has different motivations. It doesn’t make you any more or less an athlete…but it sure will effect how sustainable your goals and methodologies really are.

Only 92 days to go until the LA Triathlon!

Back in the Saddle, Back in the Water

This was definitely a week of firsts!

 

I got on my bike three days this week — and if you count the two roundtrip courses I had to do, it was five! Even though I am still relearning a lot of the basics I thought that I’d manipulate myself into riding it a bit more seriously — so, I decided that I would ride to work on those few occasions. It was a bit tough — one of the locations I work at is only a mile or so from my apartment and the roads are relatively smooth, so the ride was fantastic. The sidewalks were wide open, there weren’t very many cars on the road, and overall it was a relatively simple ride. There is even a private lot that I get to park in so I don’t have to worry about locking it up. The other place, unfortunately, is in downtown Hollywood…and the ride there is incredibly intimidating, not to mention bumpy. The roads are poorly maintained, the drivers are pretty much insane, and pedestrians are slow, so I feel bottlenecked everywhere. I have to chain the bike to a fence on the ground level and my office is on the 9th floor, so every so often I’d have to peek out of the window to check to see if my bike was still there.

Overall I feel a little more comfortable on it. I still get pretty scared if a car gets too close to comfort. I have my instances where I just get off of my bike and walk it. Bumps in the sidewalk and street seem a little less insurmountable now that I’ve gone over them quite a few times. The starting and stopping is definitely getting better too, and I’m finally getting the hang of my handbrakes. (Thanks for the tip, Gabe!) Both days I was nervous (not to mention sweaty and icky!) as heck but in both instances I made it back safe and sound. This week I also bought a helmet and a bike pump. My next purchase will probably be a bell (although a fog horn would be pretty fun)…I’m noticing that people aren’t really getting out of the way, mainly because they don’t see or hear me…and frankly, I’d feel a bit rude saying “Hey! Get out of my way!” I’m definitely a bit sore so I stayed off my bike today, but hopefully my body will adapt to it as I ride a bit more and stay off those bumpy Hollywood streets. (It probably didn’t help that I biked in leggings on both days!)

As for swimming, it was also my first time back in the pool for awhile. A few months ago I did a late night swim with Shant but that was leisurely, so I don’t really count that. I’m trying to get over my dislike of water in my face…and up my nostrils…and into my goggles. Timing my breathing has been difficult and I seem to be gasping for air with every stroke, which I’ve calculated tires me out 3 times faster than the average person who is swimming in the pool with me at any given time. Today I was lucky enough to eavesdrop on a private swim instruction a few lanes down, so as the swimmer was being coached, I was trying to pick up on it and implement it at the same time while remaining cognizant of my abilities. For instance, today I began breathing out INTO the water…a start, I suppose. Since swimming seems to be my weakest link I think I may consider a class at UCLA, LACC, or SMC to help me become more proficient and confident. Then I can progress comfortably to open water swimming. Despite all of that, I still made it in the water twice this week so it’s a victory which ever way you slice it.

Adding bicycling and swimming to my routine has been quite interesting. Running seems so easy compared to these other two sports. In running, all I have to do is put one foot in front of the other. It requires very little official training, equipment, variables, and constraints. It seems natural. I feel like these other two are pulling me in different directions. I overthink every action and I’m slow as heck because of it! The more I concentrate on it, the less confident I become. But, the more I practice, the more comfortable I feel with my progression.

It’s interesting switching from one sport to the next — and although I haven’t done them in rapid sequence or anything — I can feel the muscle fatigue hit me like a ton of bricks. One day this week I ran 4 miles before work, biked 4 miles to/from work, and then did a 0.2 mile swim at the gym. After my run, I felt energetic. After my first ride, I felt confident but a little tired. After my second ride I felt great but a little tense. Then, during the swim, I felt like I had weights tied to all of my extremities as I was flopping about in the water. I am sure it gets better with time and practice.

Relearning a lot of these basic skills has been an interesting journey thus far. I feel giddy every time I sharpen yet another skill set that helps me feel more comfortable on my bike or in the water. I’m trying to make it a point to switch up my routine a bit from all running to include these other sports so that I exercise all of the parts of me that’ll be needed for the triathlon. With all of the hurdles I’ve jumped through — and all of the future ones I’ll be dealing with — this is going to be one of the most challenging tasks I take on yet. In comparison to the Athens marathon I feel that the triathlon will be a lot harder, since it’s testing not only endurance but multiple skill sets and the transitions thereof. Eek!

For my marathon training class tomorrow, I have a 13 mile run that I’ve dutifully plotted this evening. I try to set courses with as little turns as possible since I tend to forget. I hate listening to instructions and most of the time I have my earphones in — bad, I know — but I am notorious for missing turns on my runs. This one is simple enough and the only road diversion I’ll have to deal with is turning south on Cloverdale in Santa Monica. It won’t be too hard to forget since it’s one of the major streets that stick out in my mind. (I think it’s because it’s the street I can take to get to my acupuncturist’s office…)

I’m still feeling relatively enthusiastic about everything. I’m definitely a smidge tired, but a few days ago I bought a foam roller and have been using it on my legs and my back. It’s been helping with loosening up any tension and keeping me relaxed and out of the acupressurist’s office. Those usually run me about $40 a session with tip included, so this has definitely helped me save some money. That, and I don’t have to do any of the travel! For those of you who are curious about the types of massages I’ve been doing, here’s a video I watched to help guide me.

All in all, the alone time has been great. It’s been nice being able to focus on something outside of my silly worries, insecurities, school, business, etc. Everything feels so cathartic. Just a few months ago I was wondering how, at the age of 27, I could ever feel so low, sluggish, chained, and drained. Now I feel like a completely different person — happier, energetic, and a ton more sociable. To you I might be the same Amara, but in between these ears is a completely new environment. I love it!

More news soon…I’ve got to get some rest for my long run tomorrow. Broke in my new shoes this morning so I’m excited to do away with sore legs and feet for the second time. (Does anyone know where to recycle running shoes?)

Setting My Sights on Athens Marathon, LA Triathlon

This week marked a number of momentous occasions for me personally.

I finally had the guts to commit to a marathon…the Athens marathon, nonetheless. I’ve registered for the event and I’ve booked my flight. I will be in Greece for 10 days and in Turkey for 1. I have a 24-hour layover that will permit me to leave the airport so I am excited to get to enter another country during my stay. If things work out I might try to add Cairo or Alexandria via ferry during my time there.

I also made the decision to begin training for the LA Triathlon in September. I finally bought some swim gear as well as a bike today, so I’m super stoked to get this show on the road! The last time I rode a bike I was only able to make it one block before falling down. Today was a little different…I made it five blocks (not consecutively) but I didn’t fall down. Apparently when you lower the seat far enough you can still stop with your feet on the ground.

For those of you who don’t follow my tweets or don’t know me very well, I haven’t been able to bike for longer than a city block at a time and I dislike water in my face when swimming…so yeah, this is going to be pretty challenging!

* * *

It took me a long time to get to this point. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately as to why I’ve been on this weird health/wellness kick for the past few months. As with most things in life, there has been a number of things that have happened to me that’s affected me more than I thought it would and patterns in behavior that, in hindsight, are clear.

I used to be a pretty decent swimmer as a child. I took classes at the local YMCA and competed a little bit. I can remember the last time I swam as a child…it was some sort of final round of something related to my swim class, and our test was to jump off of the high board, dive into the pool, and swim to the other end. It seemed simple enough, but as I climbed up that ladder all alone as a wee child I tried to keep my cool. I’d been training for an entire summer for this moment. For some reason I froze on the dive board, petrified of the height and my swim-mates, my instructor, and the pressure of having to perform up to some external expectation rather than just enjoying swimming. (Strange concept, right?) I figured that it was my time to spend anyhow so I took my time getting up the ladder, and took my time getting across the dive board. I stood there for a bit just taking the moment in but apparently that was a bit too slow for my instructor, because it was at that moment that I was ready to dive that she took it upon herself to push me in. Feeling rather demoralized and shocked, not to mention scared, I quit swimming and didn’t start again until I got accepted into the Coast Guard Academy. I’ve since gone swimming here and there with no real consistency. As with the bike riding, I really only rode in circles in my backyard and in my driveway. Plenty of negative reinforcements were there to ensure that I stayed on my bike — cacti in the backyard, a rather steep hill and T intersection near my driveway. I rode for a summer or two and stopped because I outgrew my bike but my parents really couldn’t afford to get me another one.

After dropping out of grad school a few months ago I fell into a pretty bad spell of self-doubt and disappointment. It was a lifelong goal for me to go to grad school and I practically set myself up for failure by packing my schedule and making it impossible for me to complete any of the work. Despite all of the roadblocks I faced — difficult classmates, tedious assignments — there are a lot of things I could’ve done differently. Academia never came easy to me, and juggling my own business with another startup business and a crumbling personal relationship didn’t help. I’m hoping to go back in the near future and finish strong. But for now, I’ve decided to take up these new goals — finishing a marathon and a triathlon — hoping to convince myself that I still have the drive in me to set goals and to see them all the way through.

Here’s to a second wind!