I know the experts say to not radically change your training plans based on race results. But if you don’t adjust training after poor race results, when would you? After Webster, I have five weeks until my next race, which happens to be at the same location with the same course. I know exactly what to expect. I set three goals: improve open water swimming, improve biking, particularly hills, and take better pictures. In the last race pictures, I am either sullen or look to be in need of medical care. I know my swimming has vastly improved in the past year. I took a swim clinic run by pro triathletes Candy and Andy to discover exactly how many things I was doing wrong. It was a wonder that I could get from one end of the pool to the other. I diligently went to master’s swim every week, listening to and trying to implement Candy’s stroke suggestions. I also swam on my own a couple of times a week. In a pool, I was measurably faster. But my Webster race time was just negligibly less than my race times from last year. How could that be? Open water swims are different! I had fit in two open water swims prior to the Webster race and realized that it was so different from pool swimming as to almost be a different sport. So for the rest of the race season, I would skip master’s swim and spend the time, hopefully more profitably, at Walden Pond. Some of you, perhaps, have read Thoreau’s book of the same name and have a vision of Walden as a tranquil, navel-gazing kind of place. Not so. In the early season, when the water is cold, it is jock central. Wetsuit-clad frogmen stroke across the lake. Sleek, spandex-clad cyclists streak by on their bikes. Sweaty folks run. As the season gets warmer, they are joined by young mothers with babies, screaming kids, and retirees in beach chairs. I arrive late one Wednesday morning planning on swimming the triangle route I had done in last year’s early season training. The swim would keep me fairly close to shore, within sight of the lifeguards. Although an adequate swimmer, I have a healthy respect for the water and want to swim where others will see me. The two beaches that flank the triangle route are mobbed. To do an adequate swim, I would need to do the route four times, plowing through the crowds at the beaches. As I put on my wetsuit, I consider my other options. Yes, I’ll do it. I’ll swim across, take a short breather, and then swim back. It is about a half mile, but I swim over a mile in the pool, so I’m not concerned about the distance. I’ll skirt the shore to stay safe. A man admires my wetsuit and asks earnestly, “Did you just one day decide to become a fast swimmer?” I laugh. “You haven’t seen me swim” But I feel somewhat like a superhero, Cat-woman maybe, as I stride to the water.I start to swim and, without the distractions of a race, think through my stroke. What am I doing differently than what I do successfully in a pool? For starters, I have reverted to belly swimming so I focus on reaching forward with my arm and pulling the other shoulder free of the water while also adding some hip rotation. I remember to keep my feet up, gently kicking so that my legs don’t turn to anchors. I can feel a stall when I sight. I work on incorporating a quick glance when I exhale without picking my head up too much. I am sighting about every five strokes and force myself to go longer between sightings. It’s not like the shore is going anywhere fast. I go back the following Wednesday. The water had been quite warm the week before. I’m ready for another big step. I left the wetsuit at home. The way I feel about my wetsuit is the way Linus feels about his blanket. It gives me confidence, strength, and security. In the pool, I use a pull buoy. It is in my head that I don’t have the endurance to do a long swim without help. Well, I need to get over that. My Olympic distance race later in the season stipulates that wetsuits will not be allowed if the water is over a certain temperature, a USAT rule. I’d best get used to swimming without it now, just in case. Instead of a wetsuit, I have my new trisuit. It makes me feel like Wonder Woman. If I can’t be fast, I might as well look good. I go to Walden every Wednesday and my times start to drop. It’s working. We will not be having another bike ride like I had at Webster, slow on the flats and stalled on the hills. More cycling is in order.
I email Phil, “Going spinning tonight.”“Spinning? Didn’t you say it wasn’t like cycling? Get on your bike!” Phil writes.Ride my bike? What an interesting concept! But where to ride? Boston motorists deserve their reputation as impatient, aggressive, lousy drivers, and they only get worse at rush hour. My neighborhood is bordered by major highways, so I can’t cycle far without hitting intense traffic. I never bike in my town. I always throw the bike in the car and drive someplace sane. So where can I go on a weeknight that won’t be too far? Of course, the Blue Hills. I biked there a few years ago. It’s only a seven mile loop, but I can do it more than once. Would not expect a lot of commuter traffic. There’s a hellish hill. Perfect. I’m in the second half of my ride, starting the two mile uphill climb. I see a cyclist up ahead. I remember the many cyclists who passed me in the race, and start to pedal hard. The gap closes and I pass him, triumphant. I pant up the rest of the hill and do the loop again. Partway up the second hill climb, there are two cyclists in my sights. Again, I pass them. I can do this. Two loops are enough for this night. I glow with happy effort. The Blue Hills loop becomes a weekly staple of my training. When they start road construction on my new course, instead of deserting it, I bring my mountain bike, which cranks up the intensity. Coming back from a ride, I realize my tire is a little flat. I pump it up, hoping it will feel better. It’s flat again the next day. I head down to my local bike shop.
“I will pay you to walk me through changing my own tire”. “Well, I can show you, but we also have a bike repair clinic. You do hands-on flats and other road repair stuff” he says.“Sign me up.”He patiently leads me through taking my back wheel off, and has me do it solo a few times. I carefully watch the rest of the operation and return for the clinic later in the week for hands-on work. I am aces in the class for taking off the back wheel but do struggle a bit on wrenching the tire free from the rim. I finally get it, and now I can feel confident. It’s nice to have a friendly bike shop, but that doesn’t do you much good if you get a flat during a 25 mile ride.I continue my run training with the only modification being a weekly increase in distance. I signed up for my first Olympic distance triathlon in late August so I need to consider that training in addition to the next race. The Olympic distance is double the distance of a sprint, and a 10K run is still a challenge for me. Soon enough, it is race weekend. We’ll see if the training paid off at the Danskin race.