Race Report: Bay to Breakers 2015

Cloudy, drizzly day to run a 12k across the city–and yet, what fun! I enjoyed myself a great deal, despite relearning a lesson I really should have learned years ago: fitness does not fully translate across sports, and all the swimming and biking in the world does not prepare one for a run. My right knee gave in at Mile 5, and I continued the race with a shuffle. Finished, albeit slowly, and was happy to see all the costumes around me.

The best costume, in my opinion, was worn by this group of people, reminding me again of the wit, creativity, and talent for capturing the zeitgeist in my city. #dressgate

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Here’s hoping I can cycle tomorrow, and get a nice 3k in the Balboa Pool with no unpleasant kicking at all.


Ed Lee Doesn’t Want You to Swim This Summer

In putting together my swim schedule, I’m swimming in various San Francisco locations, including the community pools run by Parks and Recreation. The price per adult for a single entrance is now $6, which seems a bit steep. But what’s wrong here, even more than the price, is the mechanism by which it gets paid.

The cashier at the community pool, frequently the lifeguard doubling as a cashier, only takes exact change–no change offered at the window. Want to save yourself the need to stash a pile of $5 and $1 bills? You can buy a booklet of tickets (“scrip”), but those are not sold at the pool. You have to either buy them online and wait for them to arrive, or go physically to City Hall or Golden Gate Park. At the City Hall location, the cashier does not take credit cards.

The only conclusion I can draw from this is that Ed Lee does not want San Franciscans to swim this summer. Which is extremely disturbing, if you recall this incident from a few months ago:

Apparently, Parks and Rec was more than willing to set up a convenient online way to book the Mission Soccer Field, for a fee, contrary to neighborhood custom of playing pick-up soccer together. Public furor made that go away.

Pools differ from soccer fields, in that wealthy newcomers to the city can afford to get subscriptions to expensive gyms. And since typically they won’t be customers of community pools, there is no incentive to renovate them or make payment convenient and cheap. It also means that lap swimmers have to share meager opening hours with children, age-group swim teams, seniors, and aqua aerobics, a problem that could easily be solved with more efficient use of the pool. But the city is not interested in the welfare of old-time neighborhood residents; convenient apps and perks are on offer only for a particular demographic, and that’s shameful and infuriating.

Senior Confusion!

I went to the Balboa Pool again to swim this morning and picked the middle lane. This time, the two people sharing the lane with me were fairly slow, but they were lovely and we all got along just fine. After about 15 minutes, the lifeguard called me and said, “what gave you the idea of coming in this morning?”

Taken a bit aback, I said, “well, I had a free hour, lap swim was listed on the website, and I wanted to swim.”

The lifeguard said, “sorry about the confusion, but it’s Senior Swim hour.”

Then I noticed that everyone around me was fairly slow. I apologized, explained I had no idea, and since the lifeguard saw I was watching out for the other folks he let me stay.

What resulted was a 2.5k reminiscent of open water, because I had to constantly lift my eyes and sight for, well, marine life. 🙂 But it all went fine, and they handed me an updated schedule.

The first thing I thought was that many of the fastest, most accomplished swimmers I know could be counted as “seniors”, so age, especially in swimming, is not a great idea as a big divider. But devoting an hour to slow swimmers and allowing them to calmly do their workout without a lot of passes and splashing strikes me as a marvelous idea. It’s exactly what a community pool should do! So, no more late-morning swims for me. Instead, I’ll go in the afternoon, and work out at the Mission Pool when I want morning workouts.

As an aside, the way the community pools are managed almost suggests that the City of San Francisco doesn’t want us to swim. You have to have exact change going in–$6–and, if you want to buy a booklet with ten entrances, you’ll have to pay cash or check at City Hall. It’s a ridiculous way of doing things, and I wonder with whom I should speak to change it.

I swam today!!!

After a long hiatus, I swam today!

I went to our local pool, the Balboa pool, and put in a modest but industrious 3k. It’s an odd set, because the pool length is odd–33.3 yards:

600 warmup with focus points

400 (6×33) broken IM

9×200, build within each 200

200 cooldown

I talked to the lifeguard, and he was super nice to me. It was a funny interaction: “wow, you’ve been swimming for a long time!” “this is nothing for me; I used to swim marathons.” “Are you retired from the sport?” “sort of; not exactly; I’m still registered for Kingdom Swim.”

Our conversation made me realize that I actually am capable of completing Kingdom Swim–if I get serious about this and train until July. I’ve come back from periods of slacking before–my Sea of Galilee swim was the result of two months of concentrated training–and I can do it again.

While I’ve lost my appetite for swimming in the bay, I can swim in Tilden Park, at the Quarry Lake, and at Crown Beach on weekends if I want to. It’ll be fine!

Operation AquaLazarus

Hello, Folks – it’s been a while.

Some of the delay is down to non-swimming circumstances: my book, which has nothing to do with swimming, has come out, and I’ve been on book tour for  a couple of months. Also, the herniated disc is back, and as I was in a world of pain, every drop of energy I had went into writing, teaching, and book promotion.

But some of it is the effect of a shame spiral wrought by the vicious cycle of back pain-weight gain-pool avoidance. I haven’t been swimming regularly since January, and I’m still eating as if I’m training/racing, and that certainly has not improved matters re back pain, yada yada.

Today, for the first time in months, I woke up with a burning desire to address the physical discomfort and the sluggishness and went to the Mission Pool, where I put in about an hour of work, which at my new geriatric pace amounts to about 2.5k. I’m hereby declaring the festive beginning of Operation AquaLazarus, an operation designed to revive my physical wellbeing, muscle tone, flexibility, and cardio, and to help me support my back situation.

I have aborted the plan to do Gibraltar this summer – it’s too much pressure and it’s a race that requires minimal speed that I simply cannot deliver this year. I still have to make up my mind about Kingdom Swim.  But for now, I’m taking an extended break from racing so as to not put too much pressure on myself as I work to simply establish a daily swimming routine that will keep me in shape and hopefully help my spine recover without surgery.

Any comments, encouragement, and advice will be most welcome.

Swimming in Hotels with the Stationary Swimmer

Work has recently taken me away from my beloved Chinatown YMCA to business hotels with lovely but tiny pools. Two weeks ago I was at the Ayres Hotel in Costa Mesa, and yesterday I spent the night at the Hotel Angeleno in Los Angeles. Both hotels have beautiful pools, but, as is the case with almost every hotel in which I’ve stayed, the pools are much, much shorter than 25y. The Ayres has two pools; I swam in the square one, which is located in an internal patio. It is almost square-shaped, and my stroke measure puts the diagonal line at about 14y.

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The Angeleno has a rectangular pool near its concierge area, surrounded by lovely pool structures and close to a little gym. My stroke measure puts the length at 10y.

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Both times I did short daily workouts for the duration of my stay – I really couldn’t muster more than 40-45 minutes in tiny pools. It’s lovely to do a sunrise workout before a long workday, but there’s only so much flip turning one can do before getting nauseous. After my trip to the Ayres I decided t that my business travel plans for the year (which are really extensive; it’s turning out to be a massive year at work) require some solution to the tiny pool problem, and on a friend’s recommendation I bought this thing:

Stationary Swimmer

There’s nothing too sophisticated about the Stationary Swimmer. It’s basically a bungee cord attached to two sets of velcro straps, designed to go on your ankles and around your feet. There are similar contraptions that attach to your body as a belt, but the problem with those is that the bungee cord needs to be tied fairly high out of the water so that it’s not in your way. These straps, however, drag behind you as you swim.

It’s a very strange experience to swim in place, and completely unlike swimming in place against a current, as the case is with Endless Pools. I’ve swum against currents before–remember my hour-and-a-half treadmill experience in Tampa?–but this is different. It feels, unsurprisingly, as if someone is holding your legs. There is something about the way the water organizes itself around you that subtly changes your stroke; you don’t create the sort of wake you’re used to, and it changes breathing and other things.

Pros: Allows you to work out far away from home. Fairly easy to put together. Allows for stroke-centered workouts that focus on body rolling and subtle modifications, rather than speed.

Cons: Weird feeling. Velcro straps require adjustment every few minutes. Boring as hell.

The upshot: A stupid workout is better than no workout.

Race Report: Swim the Suck 2014

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Yesterday I swam ten miles in the Tennessee River Gorge and had an absolutely marvelous time!

I’m still in Chattanooga, and will write a detailed post about the race, the beautiful scenery, and the terrific people, but just wanted to take the time to thank a few people: Karah Nazor, our terrific and well-organized race director; Carl Jordan, my excellent kayaker and (hopefully) a new friend; and everyone who donated to my fundraiser, River of Hope, to benefit La Casa de las Madres. I’ll write the check for La Casa when I get home on Tue morning, so there is still time for you to chip in and help them help domestic violence survivors.

Now that my 2014 season is officially over, I’m going to spend my winter eating healthfully and getting back on a schedule of 3k workouts, 5 times a week, supplemented by some weight work 2-3 times a week. I’ll also do Pilates in the mornings, because it makes me feel wonderful for the rest of the day. I’m determined to reverse the icky physical feelings that resulted from my year of depression. Some of this may include weight loss, which will ease my chronic back pain and maybe lower the odds of inflammation, but mostly I’m focusing on getting flexibility and nimbleness back.

Event Report: WCRC’s Swim-A-Mile

Last Sunday at 5 a Hastings team I put together, called Laps of Judgment, swam the WCRC’s Swim-A-Mile for Women with Cancer.

I really like the Mills College pool, which, albeit chlorinated, is out in the open air. And the whole event exudes happiness and good will.

My dad, who swims approximately 1.5km in the pool once or twice a week, swam his longest race yet!

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And here’s the entire team, comprised of Hastings students, faculty, family and friends:

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Much as I love this event, which brings together people of all levels and abilities to enjoy the water in the sun together, I’m beginning to suffer from a bit of organizer fatigue. I think I may encourage the students to start a student organization that will put together this event, and others, and limit my energy to offering the students Alcatraz swims for our annual public interest auction.



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.