Race Report: See Jane Run Triathlon 2014

Last year’s women’s triathlon was so enjoyable that I immediately registered for this year’s race. And promptly forgot about it, and spent no time running or cycling. I suppose I thought I’d coast on swim fitness, or perhaps didn’t think at all. My cheap used hybrid, purchased on Craigslist, was in all likelihood the most ridiculous bike in this morning’s race–and I could tell, because by the time we got to the transition area, everyone was already lined up.

We got back into town from a family trip last night and, while we woke up in time, had several mishaps getting out of the house, not the least of which was a panicked search for the bike rack. By the time we got on the road I figured I’d have no more than 5 minutes from the time we’d park the car to the starting horn.

Unfortunately, I was right. I wore my race onesie suit in the car, which meant I needed to go to the bathroom but had no time to deal with my wardrobe, and by the time I finished laying out my transition station and ran to the water, all the people in my wave were all ready to start. Then the horn started, and I was literally the last person to get in the water.

Since the swim is the weakest leg for most amateur triathletes, I had to contend with hordes of people flailing in mud and slime. The water was thick with plants and muck and it was throwing people off their game left and right. It seemed like no one was sighting. I cut through much of that bullshit and cornered the buoys around the critical mass of people to finish third in my wave. I could’ve easily finished first, but the two people in front of me tried to stand up in the mud and exit the water walking. Big, big mistake; their legs sank in a foot deep and there was no way to swim around them without getting kicked in the face. I swam as far as I could before sinking in the mud, then got up and tried to run through the sticky slime to the transition area.

After this stressful swim, which was no more than 400y, the bike and run legs were that much harder. I enjoyed the view of the wineries from the bike, as I did last year, but the run course depressed me; the drought turned the whole park brown and the little bubbling brooks that crossed the run course were gone, their creeks arid and depressing.

I finished in 2:01, which I suppose is not bad for someone who didn’t train and almost didn’t show up on time to start with her wave. Better prep (and possibly, a better bike than my malfunctioning $50 Craigslist purchase) next time.

Visiting the Weight Room

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This morning I paid a visit to the Y to have a “fitness consultation” with one of the coaches.  Deanna, a tough-talking, funny lady, discussed my swimming, my injuries, and my plans for the season with me with a healthy dosage of common sense.

When we talked about cross training, I confessed to laziness and fear, and also to an intense dislike of the blazing music and rampant machismo. It turns out I found a kindred spirit: Deanna is on a one-woman mission to make women comfortable reclaiming the weight room and using it to get stronger and healthier.

Without further ado, she took me over there and proceeded to show me a workout flow through the machines. She prefers machines to free weights for people with injuries, as they isolate the injured parts. We went through a sequence of ten machines and put together a short but useful workout I could do on my own before getting in the pool.

Also, Deanna is teaching a fitness class to women of all ages, starting next week. I’m thinking of joining, because having pals who are on a journey might be helpful. I also find that, as I come close to turning 40, talking to women of different ages about their sports and fitness experience is illuminating and helpful, and I think that this sort of class will be a great catalyst toward getting stronger and supporting my swim schedule in a healthy way.

Race Report: Alcatraz Invitational

Remarkable day today in the water! A bit of a late start, but very much worth it. I woke up early, having managed to creak my neck during the night, and briefly considered passing; the impulse quelled and I put on my bikini and sweats and rode off into the sunrise.

By 7am, there was already quite a scene at Aquatic Park. Registration lines were wild! The bay looked beautiful and serene as ever. And it was big fun to run into Dave Conners and Sarah Mehl, two of my favorite people, who were both volunteering for the event.

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Gary Emich, who gave us the briefing before the swim, mentioned that “Mother Nature threw us a curveball” and that the current was actually flowing from the west. He advised us, therefore, to aim west, so the current would take us in as we approach the entrance to Aquatic Park. This sort of situation has never happened to me in an Alcatraz swim; I always have to aim conservatively to the East to make it. A kind South-Ender named Christine, who sat in the ferry next to me, helped me figure out that I’d probably need to aim at the pumphouse or at the top of the “wedding cake” at the Western entrance.

Two things became evident as soon as I jumped out: first, the temps were perfect (circa 65-66, Gary had said), and second, I couldn’t feel any current at all. For a few minutes I did aim conservatively west, but I realized I wasn’t being pulled or pushed in any direction. So, I started stroking pretty vigorously straight at the entrance, slightly toward the right side.

This was one of the quickest Alcatraz swims I’d ever done. I felt strong all the way; my neck was bothering me, but not too much, and I compensating by breathing more to the side that hurt less. I didn’t even need to be on anyone’s feet, because the sheer volume of swimmers (800 souls, two ferries’ worth of people!) created its own momentum toward the finish line. I was even kicking almost all the way, which I almost never do!

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I ended up finishing in 50:54 mins, which is a nice time considering the injuries etc and quite possibly my best result in recent years, and happily enjoying the sun and excited chatter of my fellow swimmers until the last people arrived safely to shore.

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Pool Explorer: Chinatown YMCA

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This is the beautiful gate of the Chinatown YMCA, my new gym, located on Sacramento Street between Stockton and Grant. I joined on Wednesday and today swam my third workout on three consecutive days–I like it so much there that I can’t wait to show up every morning!

The facility is fairly new, having been recently renovated, and it’s a bustling community center for Chinatown. Folks from the neighborhood, from all walks of life, run around, chattering excitedly in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese, and take delightful and fun classes. You can see grandparents playing mah jong with their families, folks doing health consultations, neighborhood women showing up to yoga class… it’s a place where people come not to see and be seen, but to do, with others.

Let’s talk about the most important thing:

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25y salinated facility, almost brand new. Five lanes, whose usage varies by hour. On the three days I was there, I had a lane to myself almost all the time; at maximum, I was joined by one other swimmer. From the reception area, the pool looks busy, but it actually isn’t; the lifeguards do an excellent and proactive job assigning people to lanes that fit them and everyone is kind and happy and complies without complaint. Sometimes, even though there’s a lane allocation for something else (rec swim or a lesson), if it doesn’t happen, they immediately free the lane and help you out. Every conceivable pool toy is available on deck, as are racing clocks on both sides of the pool and a convenient shelf for your stuff.

There is a masters team, Dragon Masters, which I haven’t tried out yet, but I’m not sure it’ll be a good solution for me; today I arrived in the pool half an hour after they finished and saw their workout still on the whiteboard. It was methodical and well planned, but the intervals were brutal! I asked the lifeguards if the swimmers could really make the intervals. They said that some could, but the coach adapted the program to those that couldn’t and would work to put me in a lane with slower people if need be. I hear good things about the coach; one of these days I may show up at lunchtime and give it a try. If nothing else, how can you not try out a team called Dragon Masters?

The fees are on a sliding scale, going up to a maximum of $62 per month, which includes towel service, reasonable (albeit not fancy) locker rooms with swimsuit dryer. It takes me 25 mins to get there from home and approximately 10 mins from my office, and the way there takes me through the spectacular streets of Chinatown, North Beach, and Pac Heights. Overall, a lovely change that has made me more enthusiastic about swimming.




Moved to Chinatown Y!

Hello! I’m happy to announce that, as of today, I’m a happy member of the Chinatown YMCA, where I’ll be doing the bulk of my training for Swim the Suck. I’m quitting USF Masters, and will also be quitting the South End Rowing Club.

As I feel happier and more energized, I’m walking away from situations that are unpleasant and discouraging for me. The masters team was getting to be very frustrating, what with the faster people getting in my lane and changing the intervals from ones I can make to ones I can’t. It’s not realistic to sort this out with the coach without feeling like some sort of snitch, and it seems like the “old timers” already have their routines in place. I’d rather work out alone, which allows me the space to drill, work with my tempo trainer, and carefully choose focus points without being concerned about bumping into an impatient lanemate.

South End isn’t going to work out either, which is very unfortunate, because I was very much looking forward to the company of fellow open water swimmers and marathoners. But yesterday marks the second time this season–and the second time since I was in junior high, come to think of it–that I was verbally attacked in the shower by a perfect stranger who was entirely unprovoked by me. The first person was someone who had read about my Catalina issues and, when she found out who I was, started screaming at me in the shower, denigrating my swimming record and trashing me, with several people just standing there doing nothing. Yesterday’s person, also a stranger, went into the sauna as I was showering (all I said to her was “hi” and a kind compliment on her jewelry), and after a few minutes shrieked, “get out of the shower! Don’t you know there’s a water shortage?” She continued sermonizing in the sauna, to other people who also just stood by and did not intervene, and only after they left she said “I’m sorry for barking at you.” I didn’t reply, and when she repeated this statement, I said, “I heard you” and left.

One verbal attack can be excused as coming from a deranged person; two, with several passive bystanders, are an indication of a toxic, sick culture, that enables abusers and discourages newcomers from feeling comfortable in the club.  Verbal violence is on a continuum toward other types of violence, and I’ve heard from a reputable source that someone was, indeed, physically assaulted at the South End showers and the perpetrator was not expelled. I’d much rather shiver in my car and change on deck than sit in the sauna with strangers who berate and abuse me with no provocation.

So, I might try the Dolphin Club, or just change on deck and head home after my swims. The bay belongs to everyone, not only to the abusive “in crowd”.

By comparison, the Chinatown Y is a delightful, welcoming and warm community facility, lacking any sort of snobbery, and full of community members excitedly chatting and enjoying the water. I’ll post more about the swimming experience there, with pictures, soon.

Looking for a New Pool

So, the other shoe is finally dropping: I got an email from USF Masters asking me why I haven’t been showing up to practices and reminding me that the condition for keeping my Koret membership is showing up twice a week for practice.

Or course, the reason I haven’t been showing up is that masters workout stress me out because the faster people get into the slow lane and dictate intervals that I can’t make.  That’s why I’ve been swimming on my own and testing different pools around the city. But now that the Powers That Be have wizened up to my tricks, I have to find a solution. Absent a masters membership, I’m not eligible to swim at Koret, so I’ll have to find myself another workout venue. I’m leaning toward Chinatown, which has a flexible schedule, a salinated pool, and a beautiful location not far from my office. Stay tuned!



Paper about the MSF Rules Accepted for Publication!

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I’m happy to inform everyone that my paper, Troubled Waters: Diana Nyad and the Birth of the Global Rules of Marathon Swimming, has received an offer of publication from the Mississippi Sports Law Review, which I have just accepted. I really appreciate the fact that the journal publishes a considerable number of pieces about “sports without balls” and that they’re willing to take a chance on an out-of-the-box piece like this one.

I’ll have an opportunity for some revisions, so if anyone has comments about the piece, please feel free to reach out and let me know.

Next on my agenda: joining the Chinatown YMCA, putting in more yards for Swim the Suck, swimming the Alcatraz Invitational on Sunday, and considering whether my disc will allow me to do the See Jane Run Women’s Triahtlon on the 21st.

Race Report: Alcatraz to Angel Island

What a beautiful morning I’ve had! I swam with Pedro Ordenes’ Water World Swim from Alcatraz to Angel Island.

I had a late night last night; my seminar students came en masse for dinner and a movie and, I hope, a great time was had by all. A lot of prep went into the event; I cooked for more than three hours, and there was much chair-hauling and setup stuff. My back, which flared up this week as a result of a truly tragicomic, Buster Keatonesque fall off my office chair, gave me so much grief, that at the end of the evening, even though it was delightful, I felt like crying. And of course, I started thinking negatively about racing the following morning, and decided I would make up my mind the following morning.

I woke up just in time to put on some clothes and rush out the door with my swim bag, and I’m so glad I did. We had absolutely marvelous conditions. The bay was at an unprecedented 67 degrees, the water was glassy, and everyone was in great spirits, including my friends John and Sarah. We were the only ones, save for one of the coaches, who swam in skins. I expected more people sans neoprene, given the high temps. But to each their own.

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The boat ride to Alcatraz was gorgeous. The sky was gray, but visibility was not too bad. Pedro asked us to aim at the west side of the island, explaining that the current would carry us east, and asking us to aim at the finish line–a beach on the east of the island–only when we got very close to shore. I took his words literally and set on a very conservative course aiming at the very end of the island’s west corner. An occasional wave would impede my sight, but for the most part I was able to stay on course, with the Beatles’ Get Back humming in my head in infinite loop.

After a while, a kind SUP surfer in a kilt instructed me to aim at the middle of the island, and later, to aim at the end point. I am delighted that he talked to me, because my idea of how the swim would turn out (I would aim west and then, suddenly, swept with a lovely current to the end) ended up not materializing. So, with some navigation tips I managed to ride the 4-knot flood to the end. The water was glassy and peaceful and the majestic rocks near the beach were beautiful to behold. After a minute or two on shore, during which I got a chance to high-five one of my fellow swimmers–a ten-year-old girl!–I swam back to the boat and got on to celebrate my tenth successful Alcatraz escape.

We all got to the boat in one piece!

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Now I’m resting up and enjoying the rest of my weekend, happy to be back in the water, and excited about next week’s Alcatraz Invitational and more prep swims for Swim the Suck.

There are two other news tidbits:

1) I heard from my kayaker, Carl, who is a really fabulous dude, and am even more excited about the trip to Tennessee than I was when i registered.

2) My paper, Troubled Waters: Diana Nyad and the Birth of the Global Rules of Marathon Swimming, is out, and has had three publication offers so far. I’ll keep you posted when I accept one of them.