cycling · fitness · Guest Post · race report · racing · running · swimming · training · triathalon

A Triathlon and a Half Marathon with Imperfect Training (Guest Post)

by Şerife Tekin

As I have written on this blog before, I have not started engaging in athletic endeavors until later in my adulthood. So, when the pandemic first started and all my triathlon friends were really upset about all races being cancelled or postponed, I didn’t quite understand or empathize with the loss they were experiencing. I always thought I love training for training’s sake, for being able to get out of my head, and all the structure that regularly training brings to my life and writing.

Thanks to all these side effects, I was able to cope with the pandemic and the stress associated with being the partner of a frontline worker, by dedicating more time to triathlon training. I was able to continue to swim and run with my teammates outdoors (Thanks, amiable San Antonio weather). As the vaccinations spread and the impact of the pandemic lessened in severity, regional races started coming back, and I did a quarter triathlon in September (close to Olympic distance), and a half marathon in December.

Both of these races went a lot better than I expected, and I appreciated what people love so much about racing. Spoiler alert: For me, it wasn’t so much about my speed or how I ranked overall but being able to enjoy every minute of the race, seeing new sights, and experiencing all the rush that comes with pushing the body do something challenging, in the company of others.

My first race was at the 2021 Kerrville triathlon Festival.  Initially I was registered to do a sprint triathlon, but decided – with the push of my coach and teammates—that I could challenge myself to do a quarter distance. I was hesitant because I had not trained for it but I also knew that I have been active in all three sports consistently and that I could treat it as a little challenge. The distance was 1000m swim, 29-mile ride, and 6.4. mile run. The race morning was fun, always great to see that many high-energy people at 5 am in the morning. I knew I had to be on top of my nutrition throughout the race so I got some last-minute tips from my coach, Mark: Eat something every 20 minutes on the ride and hope for the best.

The first 5 minutes of the swim were a bit nerve-wrecking, I love swimming but I hate pushing through the crowds as I swim. Once I settled into a steady pace, I was able to distance myself from others by falling behind or cruising ahead. There were times I felt like I could try to go faster but I paced myself, I knew I needed the energy in bike and run. I got off the water in good spirits and ran to my bike. I took an extra couple of minutes in transition making sure I have my nutrition easily accessible.

Then on to the bike, which was my favorite part. The wind was on my side and I enjoyed the beautiful scenery of the rural Texas. I didn’t always feel like eating on the bike but I did, knowing that I would need it to not crash on the run. Once the bike course was over, I was in a good mood and felt like the race was just starting. I made friends along the course during the run, who were the same pace as I was and we chit-chatted supporting each other. I reminded myself to enjoy the course and not worry too much about the speed. It helped and I finished.

Overall, I was done in 3 hrs and 33 minutes, which was pretty good for a first quarter-tri without that much training. It felt so good to do the race, I had gotten the race bug. I registered for a half marathon in December thinking I would for sure be able to train for it and do well.

Turned out training for the half marathon in the Fall when we all got back to real-world ended up being tricky. I had more work responsibilities than anticipated, and was hard on myself for not training properly but I tried to do as much as I could. Some days I could not do the 5-mile run on my training plan but instead of doing none at all, I went for a quick 2-mile. When the half marathon day arrived, I said to myself ok I am not trained the best but I have tried consistently.

The race was fun. The weather was more humid than desirable but I enjoyed being able to run with a dear friend and enjoy exploring the areas of San Antonio that I had not seen before. I took regular walk breaks for about 10 miles as my friend and I had decided to do the race together and she needed to slow down a few times to catch her breath. At mile 10 she insisted that I go ahead and I gave all I got to the last three miles and went fast (for me). I finished it at 2:38. It was not a PR.

My last half marathon was 6 years ago, and I had run it with my students and had finished at 2.22. But I still felt great as a good come back half marathon. I left with feeling that I wanted to and could run another 10 miles. I was also happy that I did not let my feelings about my imperfect training to prevent me from racing. Perhaps I am one of those athletes who love racing now? I signed up for my next half, to take place January 8. I am going to try to perfect my training!!!

How about you, readers? Do you like racing or do you just like training with no particular race in mind? How do you feel about imperfect training?

Photos of our blogger on her bike (left) and after the race (right)

Şerife Tekin is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and the Director or Medical Humanities Program at UTSA. Her favorite exercise involves being chased by her cats Chicken and Ozzy. Her website is www.serifetekin.com.

fitness · swimming

First fall open water swim: Catherine gets her feet wet

I never realized that starting something new, whether tentatively or full-force, had so many aquatic metaphors or turns of phrase.

  • Getting your feet wet
  • Testing the waters
  • Dipping a toe in the water
  • Taking the plunge
  • Swan-diving in

This makes me very happy, as I get to be both literal and figurative at the same time. Yesterday I did my first solo pond swim during the fall. Ever. That’s right, I’ve never done any New England open water swimming after early-mid September. That’s not particularly shocking, of course: school is starting, temperatures are dropping (although they’ve been up and down and up again the past month), and our attention turns away from crisp blue water and toward crisp red apples. So it has been with me.

Until this year. Yes, I know: cold-water swimming is to pandemic outdoors as bread-baking is to pandemic indoors. But hey, whatever gets you in the water… We’ve blogged A LOT about swimming. If you’ve missed them, start out here, with some videos about wild swimming.

Some of our bloggers are bona fide all-season swimmers. Diane is our resident cold-water expert and the source of much wisdom on the subject, including her post with tips for avoiding a Darwin award while open-water swimming. Worth reading!

Back to me: Saturday was a lovely day, with air temperatures in the low 70sF/22-23C. Walden Pond, my swimming hole of choice, had water temps around 67F/19.5C. For me that’s a little on the brisk side, but easily manageable in just a swimsuit plus cap, goggles and trusty swim buoy.

It was around 4:15pm, and there were lots of open-water swimmers out there. A little more than half were in swimsuits, and the rest in wetsuits. It took me a few minutes to get used to the cold water, and I didn’t hurry (this is one of the tips I read most, even though this water isn’t cold… yet). Honestly, why hurry? I enjoy just hanging out, standing in the water, taking in the scene, getting used to my new aquatic environment.

Finally, I submerge myself up to the neck, squealing a little (I tried not to be too loud), and swimming to get warm. I swam along the shore for a bit, just checking things out. Once I felt comfortable and adjusted, I headed out to deeper water, enjoying the blue sky above me, the gently lapping waves (there was a bit of a breeze that day), and the distant sounds of people having a wonderful time on a Saturday afternoon.

This was my first wet run of the fall, and I discovered a few things:

  • Don’t forget ear plugs next time (to avoid swimmer’s ear and also for when the water gets colder);
  • Don’t try to adjust your goggles while in deep water; it can be done, but maybe on shore is better;
  • If you swim with the wind, your swim buoy will snuggle up to you and even try to pass you in the water
  • As a solo swimmer, I will need to come up with a plan to keep myself occupied; coming up with time goals or route plans seems like a good idea
  • I REALLY LIKE SWIMMING! I WANT TO KEEP SWIMMING THROUGH THE FALL!

I did manage to find a shortie wetsuit that fits (che miracolo!), which I will use at some point, along with neoprene booties. Maybe neoprene gloves will be purchased at some point, too. And I have my eye on this swim cap.

We shall see how things go, but I’m excited. I’ve broken the ice (even though it’s not that cold yet and I doubt I’ll be that hardcore, but you never know) and am going to try to swim every week for… a while…

Readers, how are your fall sports or activities transitions going? Have you said goodbye to some things, or are you shifting to fall-weather gear/clothing/etc.? I’d love to hear from you.

fitness · season transitions · swimming

Last summer swim: a post in photos

It’s officially fall now, and usually that means my swim season is over. However, inspired by fellow bloggers, the Book Why We Swim, and the FB group Boston Open Water Swimming, I’m going to see how far into the fall/winter I can continue heading into the water. Maybe I can just keep swimming, just keep swimming…

Our friend Dory the fish, saying "just keep swimming".
Our friend Dory the fish, saying “just keep swimming”.

Last week, Norah and I went to Walden for our last official summer swim. It was a gorgeous day, low-mid 70s/22-23C and sunny. For those of you who haven’t been to Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, it is a very beautiful place, well-designed and well-maintained. This is important, because it is hugely popular with locals and tourists. About 500,000 people visit each year, according to this article in Smithsonian. However, the capacity is strictly monitored, and the Pond closes to new visitors several times a day on busy days in the summer, reopening when the numbers drop.

Here you can see the well-maintained parking areas and walkways, accessible to lots of people.

With utility comes a definite New England aesthetic.

When Norah and I crossed the street (which has a huuuge set of pedestrian signs and lights), we walked down the wide concrete path to the main beach. In the summer there are lifeguards and ropes for the swimming areas.

Our favorite swim spot is on the other side of the pond. On the way there we pass other people in their favorite spots, and see lots of action on the water.

Here’s what our favorite swimming spot looks like.

After swimming, chatting, snacking and addressing the problems of the world, Norah and I return the way we came. The path goes all the way around the pond, in case you want to check out the other side. Lots of people swim from there, too.

I finally bought a wetsuit– a shorty one– and I’ve got neoprene booties when I need them (still have gloves to purchase). This fall will be my first foray into colder water swimming. But there’s nothing like heading into the water in summer, the cool water instantly changing your perspective on a hot (and possibly trying) day. This was my last one of those for while.

What about you, dear readers? What activities are you wrapping up or changing gear for this fall? We’d love to hear from you.

canoe · fitness · swimming

The great cover up of 2021

I’ve been worried about the sun and skin cancer for awhile now and I’ve written on the blog a fair bit about it. See here and here and here, for example. But I’ve also struggled with the push to have women dress more modestly, especially the idea that older women, and larger women, should just cover up our bodies and hide.

I’m a fan of bikinis and bike shorts and here on the blog I’ve worried about swim dresses and running skirts. But this year I hit a turning point. Another friend had a skin cancer scare. It’s also been a hotter than usual summer with blazing sun a lot of the time. There’s only so much sunscreen an active, outdoorsy person can wear.

I’ve decided I don’t care why people think I’m wearing them. I’m not ashamed of my body. I’m not trying to hide it from view. I just would like not die any earlier than I have to. Even aside from death, skin cancer isn’t much fun.

I broke down and bought two super, lightweight (very cool) outdoor active shirts and long pants for paddling. I’m wearing them in the pictures above on our recent family canoe trip. They also helped with the mosquito issue. Bonus!

I also bought a swim skirt and long sleeved rash guard shirt (spf 50) for hanging about in and around the outdoor swimming pool. They’re actually great for swimming in and for hanging around the pool having super soaker battles with a 7 year old.

I’m calling both purchases a success.

I’m also getting a mammogram on my birthday so I’m doing my bit for cancer prevention this month.

Sam and her new swimming duds
221 in 2021 · fitness · swimming

Morning swim in the real world (guest post)

I love the 221 workouts in 2021 group. They are active, honest, fun, and very good online companions to have along my way to 221. I’m at 145 or so now, and I think I’ll make 221 by the end of December.

Lydia– one of the 221ers– is already at 202, so she’s practically staring 221 in the face. Go, Lydia, go!

But you know, workouts aren’t all endorphins and triumphant Youtube coverage. She wrote an account of what her actual swim was like on Monday morning. I edited it lightly to fit the blog format. Read, enjoy and relate.

-catherine

Heeeere’s Lydia:

Great–I’ve been able to book swimming at 7.30 am, on Thursday. Tony (my patient husband), says “Good”.

The night before: Check I’ve got goggles, ear plugs, hat, underwear, towels, shampoo etc, car keys and 20p [pence, for those of us not in the UK] for the locker.

Next morning 6.30 a.m. : check the above, dress ready to swim, lose car keys, find them, drink tea. Oh no– its 6.50! Get in car, check purse and phone. Okay, I have them. Drive to baths.

7.10am: arrive, lock car, check car is locked.

7.15am: select locker, undress. But first lay out ear plugs, hat goggles, glasses case & 20p Put 20p in lock, put ear plugs in, put glasses in case, find hat. Close locker.

Can’t see the number, can’t see to do up the wrist band. Oh where are the goggles? “Hi”, says the guy about my age next to me. “Can you see my glasses?” “No”, I reply. “My glasses are in the locker.” “Nor can I”, says another gent.

We find the glasses. “What number is my locker?” I ask. We all peer at the door. “Number 23!” they say in triumph.

We join the queue waiting to swim. We swim, and then our 45 minutes is up. Now, which is my locker I think. I go to the showers and peer at the bottles of hair stuff. Now which is shampoo and which is the other stuff? Can’t see, so take pot luck. I need a rest by the time I’m dressed. But I wouldn’t miss my morning swim for the world.

Readers, does this approximate any of your workouts? What do you lose, need, get help with as you do what you do? Let us know.

p.s. The cover photo is Canadian Olympic swimmer Maggie MacNeil, who won a gold medal but had trouble seeing the results without her glasses. This makes me love her even more.

covid19 · kids and exercise · swimming

Starting them young, the pandemic swimming edition

One of the things I was most excited about when tiny human was born was eventually introducing him to water by means of baby swimming. What I had in mind was more or less what the cutie in this video is doing: splish splash!

Video of a baby splashing around in the water.

But alas, tiny human is a pandemic baby. For the longest time, pools were closed altogether, and even now many places that usually offer baby swimming courses still don’t. The few that do are ludicrously oversubscribed (or offer their classes during working hours, which – baby activities during working hours in general – pisses me off no end and is a topic for a separate rant). So, no baby swimming for us. Out of all the baby-related things the pandemic has deprived us of, this is the one that makes me really sad.

I’m still determined for this baby to be an aquatic baby. I watch the websites offering baby swimming courses like a hawk to see if they’re coming back on. We’ve taken Mini to the pool a few times (loved it until he got cold) and he tested the sea while on holiday (he was sceptical but loved messing around with his uncle and aunt in the water). We have a paddling pool on the terrace we were hoping to get a lot of use out of, but our summer has been horrible and it’s been too cold most of the time. So we still mostly splash around in the bath, which is… not quite the same.

Overall, introducing baby to water isn’t going as swimmingly (see what I did there?) as I’d hoped. Still, I’m not too worried yet, he’s tiny and will hopefully have plenty of opportunity to get wet. I do worry about older kids who haven’t been able to learn swimming or continue. From what I can tell with my lifesaving club, which cautiously started practice again in early summer, many of them aren’t coming back after such a long break. My colleague’s daughter, who used to swim regularly, became a body-conscious teenager during Covid and refuses to go back to the pool. My heart breaks for her. And all that’s without even thinking what it will mean for drowning incident numbers if several cohorts worth of kids aren’t learning to swim (properly).

I don’t quite know where this post is going, just that I’m sad for all the kids who don’t have the chance to enjoy the pleasure of getting in the water now. Ugh 😦

fitness · swimming

Slothful swimming is happy swimming

This has been the summer of swimming for me. Not just swimming aspiration (as every summer is), but actual swimming. In lakes and oceans, and today, in my friend Kay’s fancy apartment complex pool.

We’ve written a lot about swimming on the blog this year. I mean A LOT. Certainly a lot more than usual, and a lot more than I recall from previous years. Why? Partly it’s a function of what our bloggers are into. But I think there’s something more going on here.

For me, swimming during the pandemic has been one of the few times I’ve felt total respite, a complete break from the fear and worry and fussing about disease risk, physical fitness, mental health or isolation. Whether I swim alone or with others, I’m aware of being held by the water, of moving under my own power, of gliding and submerging and floating, of breathing and holding my breath and then breathing again.

I joined the Boston Open Water Swimming Facebook group this year to get tips on where and when to swim in fresh and salt water around here. Thanks to them I got my ISHOF swim buoy and have been using it happily.

But (there’s always a but, isn’t there): I’m not swimming long distances. I’m not swimming fast, either. I haven’t even donned my swim cap and goggles to do any serious swimming (yet). At the ocean, I’ve gone in with friends or family, jumping waves, diving, floating, laughing and letting the surf swirl me around. In lakes, I’ve been wading in, heading for deeper water (my swim buoy following right behind me), and floating, treading water, swimming, diving, and enjoying the feel of being between water and air.

Then I saw this video, posted by on my FB group. This sloth is my summer-of-2021 swim mascot. Watch at least a little bit and you’ll see what I mean.

Happy sloth swimming slothfully and happily.

Yes, I am a slothful swimmer. Slow and steady and cheery and grinning and untroubled and unhurried.

We can learn a lot from animals doing sports in a slow and jaunty way.

Check out our penguin yoga post here: Penguin yoga galore

Wanna see a post of a wombat running? We have one here. Run like a Wombat!

Readers, are doing engaging in slow sports this summer? Tell me about it. In the meantime, come on in, the water’s fine!

fitness · swimming

Swim buoys: good for safety and fun

Friday was a beautiful summer day in Boston– sunny, mid-70s F/24C– so my friend Norah and did what one must on a day like today– we went swimming.

Walden Pond (yes, that Walden Pond) is 11 miles from my house, and is a swimmer’s paradise. The pond is big, deep, clean, and has all sorts of half-hidden shoreline coves where you can set down your towel and snacks and head into the water.

We did just that, but with one added item: our brand-new swim buoys. They are now required for anyone who swims outside of the roped-off guarded swim areas at the pond. There was a big kerfuffle over open-water swimming at Walden this summer, and the current rule is the third iteration after the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation abruptly banned all open-water swimming there.

I don’t mind at all using a swim buoy. They’re not expensive, you can put car keys and a phone inside them (they’re part dry bag and part floatation device!), and they make swimmers super-visible to kayakers, fishing folks and anyone on shore.

Here’s Norah, setting hers up:

Norah, sealing up her swim buoy (an early birthday present from me).
Norah, sealing up her swim buoy (an early birthday present from me).

Once I got mine all set up, I got directions on which way the water was.

Catherine, with swim buoy, pointing to confirm the location of the pond.

All that remained was to go on in, as the water was fine.

Catherine, wading in with buoy, ready for some safe swimming bliss.

Turns out, lots of people who are casual but very comfortable open-water swimmers also purchased swim buoys. So, I had colorful company out in deep water before Norah joined me.

Is there anything lovelier than this? Blue sky, puffy clouds, clean fresh water, and day-glow swim buoy following you around while you swim? I’m on the right, btw.

Honestly, I don’t mind it at all, and it makes very good sense for those of us who swim in open water.

So readers, what about you? Do you use a swim buoy? Are they required where you live and swim? Have you been in the water yet this summer? Do you want to meet me there next Friday? Let me know.

racism · sexism · swimming

Dear Swimming, Bettina forgives you

Dear swimming,

you’ve been giving me a hard time these past few weeks. There was the news about swim caps designed for swimmers of colour’s hair being banned from the Olympics (the explanations were ridiculous). There was the woman who was attacked by a man in the pool for the audacity of being faster than him. And there was the former international competitive swimmer who still has to deal with men who can’t deal with her being faster.

An open air swimming pool glistening in the sunlight.

There was also the time I went to the pool to find three (!) less than mediocre male swimmers who were holding up all traffic in a highly populated pool because they thought they were entitled to being in the fast lane by virtue of being able to float (don’t get me wrong – it’s great that these guys are getting their movement in, but did they have to do it in the fast lane when they weren’t, I don’t know, fast?).

I mean, WTF? You, dear swimming, have been trying your hardest to ruin things. The racism and the sexism, it’s just not on. Get with the programme!

And yet, you somehow manage to redeem yourself every time I get in the water. You’re so meditative, splish splash, back and forth, breathe-two-three-breathe-two-three. You let my mind drift and get a fresh perspective on things. You’re exhausting in a good way. You make me feel free.

So these horrible things are not your fault, I suppose? They’re the fault of some people who are intent on ruining things for others, or who simply don’t care about the impact their behaviour has on their fellow humans. I forgive you, dear swimming, but I certainly will have a hard time forgiving those people.

With much love,
Bettina

gear · inclusiveness · normative bodies · swimming

All people vary in size? Really? Shocking!

No photo description available.
A photo of a women’s size guide on a wetsuit according to which XS is 5-5’2 and 95-110 lbs and XL is 5’9 + and over 155 lbs.

One of the things I love about our Facebook page is when people share things with us. Often it’s links for us to pass along on the page but sometimes it’s readers sharing their own experiences and observations. One reader, Sara Wabi Gould, was shopping for a wetsuit and was amused/horrified at this size chart and the accompanying text, “all people vary in size.”

She sent an image of the tag to us with the comment, “Wetsuit sizing strikes again. “Over 155”???”

According to this chart that variation tops out at 155 lbs. There’s also, according to this chart a strict correlation between weight and height.

Our bloggers had some reactions too:

Cate: “I remember reading once, in the 80s or 90s, some sort of “advice” in a women’s magazine that women who were 5.0 should weigh 100lbs, and for every inch after that you could add 5lbs. At the time, my not-quite-5.2 self weighed about 118lbs, the tiniest I’ve ever been — I think I was a size 4. I now weigh about 140 – 145 (haven’t weighed myself for a while) and I don’t THINK I’ve grown. I’m incredibly fit and strong and happy with my body. But I think I’ve carried that bullshit algorithm in the back of my mind for three and a half decades, with a flicker of shame every time I get on the scale that I am so much heavier than I “should” be. When I let it, that flicker of shame can outstrip the accomplishment of riding my bike 150 km in a day, running 8km comfortably on a hot day, deadlifting 200 lbs or being a super functional, fit, healthy 56 year old. These charts are dangerous bullshit.”

Tracy: “I feel oppressed by diet culture just looking at the chart and the way they assume height and weight correlate in just that way.”

Kim: “I’m 5’8 and just after I did the London to Paris challenge I was at my lightest at 155lb. This was me as endurance cyclist not lifting at the time. So does that mean I need to ride 450km in 24 hours and 14 minutes if I want to deserve a wetsuit? Bahahahaha!!!”

Sam: “Oh, FFS. I’m 5’7 and 155 lbs is a weight I haven’t seen on a scale since my early twenties. So I guess I’m an XL in a suit that’s too long for me. This brings me to one of my pet peeves about XL sizes. Sometimes they’re just a bit larger than L and other times they’re four times the size of L since they’re meant to fit everyone larger than that. It’s like the “one size fits everyone bigger than L.”

Diane: “By this sizing, my daughter (who is petite by almost any standard but very muscular) might need to get a medium as she is on the cusp for weight. What happens if you weigh 117 lb? Or 140? The answer if you weigh over 155 is generally that you learn to swim without a wetsuit. There are some slightly larger models out there, but most larger swimmers I have talked to simply gave up on trying to find one.”

You might want to also read Catherine’s post about choosing a wetsuit.

What would your reaction be to encountering this size tag on an item of clothes/sports gear while shopping?