Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lessons in Not Flying Off a Bike

We've discussed my lessons in not drowning, aka swimming. Lets move on to Lessons in Not Flying off a Lightweight Deathtrap while going very fast down a hill with lots of holes and obstacles.

Just like swimming, I approached biking with many misconceptions and naivety.
Yes, I knew how to ride a bike. I learned at a early age. It was a lot more fun at that early age. Kids ride bikes with reckless abandon. That same reckless abandon that terrifies parents and drivers. There are no speed limits. Helmets are lame but you have to wear them. It's fun and there is nothing more awesome than going downhill on bike. When you're a child....

When you're an adult, it's the cars on the road you're trying to share that apparently obey no speed limits. Helmets serve as the only line of defense between the pavement and your brain. In my opinion--there is nothing more terrifying than going downhill. My first experience with a decline  was in Tyler Park in Newtown. I've run in Tyler Park for three years and never EVER do I recall going downhill on foot. That park has served as a geographic anomaly to me because there were no downhills. I always assumed that if you go up a hill, you would eventually go down a hill. Unless you're in Tyler Park.

This is me running in Tyler Park. Repeat this scene over and over and over again and
you have my life for the past three years.

Until that windy day in early April when I took my pretty new bike to Tyler and learned that there are in fact downhills in Tyler Park. They simply only exist when one is going way too fast and cannot rely on their own devices to stop. Oh yes, Tyler has downhills. And I hate them. I can climb the hills fairly well. It's a good time. I grunt. I feel triumphant at the top. I sweat with pride. Then, I realize in this landscape of terror that is Tyler Park, there is no flat stretch to catch my breath or gather speed. I have reached the top of a hill which can only mean....

And this is me riding my bike in Tyler Park.  And counting the ways to wipe out.

I am not a praying person. I do not have any known crazy anxiety disorder. I maintain an acceptable amount of awareness of what I can and cannot control in this world. Until the moment when I have go down a hill on my bike. In the 30 seconds it will take me to reach the bottom, I will have said a full Rosary, imagined twelve difference scenarios of ways my body could be removed from the bike, and the 100 different injuries I could substain. I count seconds. I count trees. I count breaths. I count the moments it will be until I feel some resemblence of control and comfort on the two-wheels below me. I thank whomever invented helmets. I thank the people ahead for moving. I thank whatever powers that be for getting me down that damn hill. 

I've heard people call this freeing. I've heard it called liberating. I call it insanity. I internally freak out when I realize that I could have to face this same situation in the race and will be surronded by other cyclists. They will be going much faster than me. It adds another level of terror to this irrational reasoning. I may be the only person one two wheels who would prefer to go up hill. Please, challenge my quads. Make my thighs burn. I will take on the hill. I do not want to become part of the hill. 

I had to conquer my fear of public pools and speedos to learn swimming. Chlorine may dry out my skin, but it will never tear skin off like a road rash. Other people's germs will simply make me stink or a little sick. Other people's pets may cause me to crash.

Uphills and downhills  are an inevitable part of life. I cannot avoid either. I need to find a way to slow down and gain a sense of control on the downhill part. I'll be ok then.   And that is a pretty significant methaphor for life, my friends. And a really good time to wrap up this post.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Lessons in Not Drowning

Hey! Look. I have a blog. I totally forgot.

I didn't actually forget. I have been training for a triathlon.

I had a lot of misconceptions about swimming, biking, running, and the process of learning them all when I started on this adventure.

 I thought the hardest part of swimming would be appearing in public in a Speedo followed by getting into a public pool. False. The hardest part about swimming is almost everything. Swimming is not a pretty sport, nor is it easy. Forty minutes in the pool and I'm more sore, exhausted, and hungry than sixty minutes of running.

I have changed my definition from swimming to 'not drowning'.  A coworker recently asked if I had conquered the swim part yet. Conquered swimming? Never. I replied that I have conquered not drowning and am somewhat sure that I would make it out of the Hudson River unassisted. It's the best I can do right now. 

There is a lot of technique and skill involved with something that looks so easy. I also believed that my running and martial arts experiences would give me an edge when it comes to kicking and strength. False. No matter how many miles my legs can push forward on a run, it is a struggle to keep them moving in the water. There are many groups of muscles in the legs and those that are used for swimming are not neccesarily used for running. At least not in the same motions. Running muscles make for good running--not necessarily good swimming.

 I also have what my friend and coach, Laura, call 'marathoner's lungs'. I am used to getting air into my lungs whenever I want to. This is problem when swimming with your head in the water. (Unless you're an amphibion. Which I'm not--but my skin feels like it because chlorine is the anti-christ.) I panic when my breathing is messed up and it took me a few weeks to figure out that blowing bubbles = breathing.

 Despite all of the frustration and anxiety from swimming, I really am enjoying it. It is a full body workout that leaves you with a "I definitely worked out but am still able to function" feeling. Long runs take an hour or so to recover from and cycling is still a mystery to me.  I like just turning my mind of and focusing on counting laps and practicing new skills. The pool can be calming and quiet at times. Or a creeptastic adventure. I'm not confident YET in my ability to conquer an open water swim but at least I can outswim a 70 y/o dude with water weights and a comb-over asking me to lunch from the opposite end of the pool. I can also keep going long enough to let the weird guy who followed me in from the treadmills at sat at the top of my lane for 20 minutes that I'm not interested.

 *Lane rules should be followed like treadmill rules. Never take the lane immediately next to a person if another is available. Actual swimmers would argue this point and say the waves or turbulance create good resistance and speed. But I am not a swimmer; I am an unfriendly, trying-not-to-drown-er and need my space.

Learning to swim/not drown has been a very humbling experience--but in a very good way. I had become complacent with running, accepting a 10 minute-mile and justifying laziness. Swimming has reminded me why I once loved running so much. It's taking something you've never done before and never thought you could do and then actually doing it. It's about setting small goals and establishing milestones to achieve them.

 Every stroke, every lap, every breath, every accidental chlorine inhalation, is another step outside my comfort zone and another yard closer to accomplishment. I step out of the pool with arms that feel like Jello and a burning sensation down the back of my legs and a secret smile.