Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Alive and (mostly) well.

Oh. Holy. Cow.


I knew it would be rough, when yesterday I was envious of an elderly person with a walker. Nope, I'm NOT prone to violent behavior, but that walker looked pretty darned good...

The GREAT news - is that I'm alive and well. YEA! Yesterday afternoon, Mom, Dad, and I made the journey from Coeur d'Alene to Bainbridge Island, WA via car, while Nathaniel got to fly. Yes, he spent 3+ hours in the Spokane International Airport and yes, many beers were consumed on his part. But as he cheerfully stated as we picked him up from the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge, "What else is there to do in the Spokane airport?"

Bainbridge Island is stunning, though. The lack of wireless is a little tough for Nathaniel and me - but (mostly) we're adapting beautifully. There WILL be a race report in a few days - I just need to finish writing it. And NO - it will NOT take me 10:49 to write - that much I can promise.

48 hours after finishing my first Ironman and, well.... it still seems a bit surreal. The distance STILL seems daunting, but during the race it really wasn't all that bad. So many people had warned me about the "time warp" - how time passes so quickly during the race. And I couldn't agree more.

I WOULD like to add that the training is (mostly) much more difficult than the race. If you can get through the training, you can (mostly) get through the race. Those last 10 miles on the run, though... Holy Quad Malfunction Batman! Suffice to say, I'm happy that I stuck with my regular (and mostly heavy) training shoes. That support really helped towards the end... but enough about that.

The other thing that I didn't realize - was how much fluid my body would retain. Post race, and the cankles that I'm sporting would make any Grandmother proud. The compression socks help to a certain extent - but let's be honest folks. A little bit of fabric has nothing on my body at this point. The fluid (I'm assuming) is the result from the injured and damaged tissues, and it'll only be a matter of time before it goes away.

At least that's what I'm telling myself.

Until then, I'll stick with jeans. And compression hosen. No shorts, skirts, capris, OR heels for me, thank you very much. Luckily we've got another 5 days until we set sail. So all is (mostly) safe.

I hope that everyone else - spectathletes and athletes alike - are recovering well from the past weekend's events. Thank you to EVERYONE for your kind comments and wonderful support. I will never forget my first Ironman - even though my inability to walk "normally" has people giving my sympathetic glances from across the street. I swear, that I'm walking slower than I did post-surgery last year.

But hey - I'm still over the moon about my race. So there you go.

And with that, I'm (mostly) done. Washington State is beautiful, and I'm enjoying my time with Nathaniel and the parents. Our host has been most gracious and I'm getting the itch to explore the island via rented bike or through wooded trails.

Unfortunately my legs have other ideas.

The kayaks though...we may go out tomorrow and explore. Good enough for me. And the cankles.

Until the next time...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Quick update from IM CDA



It happened, and I survived! :)

First - it must be noted that EVERY timing mat that I crossed, I thought about all the support I've received and people tracking me online. It got to be so bad during the run - that I had to STOP thinking about it, because I got emotional. When times were tough, I made an effort to think of friends and family who have helped me along the way. A lot of the time it worked - but during other points I just got too choked up.

Yes, I race on a lot of emotion. That because clear quite quickly.

Where to begin?

Frist - OUCH. Everything, and I mean everything is sore. And that would explain my run split for my last 4 miles. It FELT like I was running the same pace as I had before - except I dropped about 3:00 per mile. Some of that was walking through aid stations and taking my time - but a lot of that was my quads.

Holy Cow.

Um - 10 miles to go and my legs were done. Toasted. Fried. Whatever. They were clearly not happy with me - but I willed myself forward. Mind over matter: if I don't mind, then it just won't matter.

Be warned, though - I'm paying for it now. Boy am I ever.

It was wonderful hearing my name from spectators and friends in the crowd - I really looked forward to the times biking and running through town - as I knew I would see family and friends.

And guess what? I ran my second ever marathon today - how cool is that?

My recap will be in my race report - so not much to add. The swim was ROUGH and really really wavy/windy. I consider myself a strong and pretty decent swimmer - but this was unlike anything that I have ever experienced before. The wind and waves (2+ foot swells) wouldn't have seemed so bad ALONE. But add in 2200+ athletes, and, well - survival became the name of the game.

The bike was windy as well - but I was REALLY conservative - sticking to my heart rate zones. Whenever the effort was too high - I immediately backed off. No questions asked - until the last 5 or 10 miles. Then I pushed a little more and made an effort to pass some people.

My run felt great - until abut mile 22 or 23. Then, well, then my legs decided they had OTHER things in mind - and the focus was (once again) on survival.

The last 1/2 mile run down towards the finish was really emotional. I could feel myself getting choked up, and didn't even bother to hold back tears. Yes - some were from the pain (ouch!) - but most were from the overwhelming sense of accomplishment that accompanies one's first Ironman finish.

THANK YOU for YOUR support and well wishes - it meant the world and I thought about my friends - many of whom I have never met - during the race. How incredibly touching.

And now... I'm going to go tend to my legs. They seem to be twitching in a weird way. Thankfully the haven't locked up on my for the past 2 hours...but I'm just waiting for that delightful moment the minute I stand up.

A special thanks to Ludi - before the start she calmed down and literally held my hand until the cannon fired.

OH - and also to Mom, Dad, and Nathaniel. On my first loop I stopped to give him a kiss - and it was worth every second! AND...before I forget - Happy Father's Day Dad! :) Let's celebrate tomorrow. Today, I'm toast.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

What they don't discuss: The night before Ironman

No one ever really talks about the night before Ironman. Or if they do, well, the time is overshadowed by the emotions of race day. A few hours ago, I felt cool, calm, collected. I was on my way to the airport to pick up Nathaniel - resigned to the fate of tomorrow's race day.

During my swim and run - everything was great. A-okay.

During the packing - everything was super. A-okay.

During the bike check-in and gear bag check - same. A-okay.

During the expo tour (where I didn't buy ANYTHING) - all excellent. A-okay


Somewhere, somehow - things all changed.

I became a sobbing, crying, emotional, tearful pre-race ball of nerves. Yes, it finally kicked in and no, its not something I've really ever experienced before. Well, excpet before this year's Oceanside race. At the time - packing my bag the night before with Cat, Nathaniel, and my Mom in attendance - I burst into tears. Today - not much was different, except the people. Switch Cat out with my Dad... and the fact that the four of us were driving back from a lovely dinner with Angelina and Shaun (ADC on my blog roll), and I just burst into tears.

The pure emotion - the raw upheaval that we push aside - came bursting forth, and I just sobbed. I don't really know what it was - maybe I've been waiting so long for my first Ironman race...or perhaps the training...or even the fear of the unknown. It was scary and I felt overwhelmed. Not in the sense that I WON'T be able to do the race (because physically I know I can: I'm confident in my ability and I trust my training. Period). I'm scared of the unknown -

And racing is VERY DIFFERENT from the night before. Now - right now as I write - I am totally helpless against what lies ahead. Tomorrow, though - tomorrow after that cannon fires (do they fire a cannon in CDA?) - things will be different. I WILL be out there, actually DOING something about it. The fear, the anxiety, the jitters, and MOST of the emotions will (hopefully) be replaced by my race-face and focus.

And yes, I'll be repeating my mantras of - Strong, Steady, Solid - to myself all day. Rest assured - that will be a focus.

Thanks to Deirdre - a special thanks. For reassuring me that this IS normal. No one talks about it, though. 'Hello - my name is Marit, and I randomly burst into tears the night before Ironman.'

As of now - well, I've slathered myself in suncreen (spf 70 by neutrogina), hoping that it will absorb into my pores and I won't have horrible sun burn. Nathaniel and my Dad are hanging out in the hotel lobby, probably discussing politics, current world affiars, and history. Mom is reading on the other side of the room - and I'm, well, I'm just here. Ready, waiting, and keeping my eyes as dry as possible.

But this is what it's all about: life at its finest, life at its fullest. I feel this way - because I care. Because of all the hard work, training, effort, and sacrifice I've put into this race. And in the end, I KNOW it will be worth it - its just scary now...looking (and thinking) about it from this perspective. The night before.

So with that, I'm signing off. Thanks to everyone (AGAIN!) for all of the support. There are simply too many to name.

See you on the other side (knock on wood).

#2059, signing off.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Busy in Coeur d'Alene


I'm here.


And... OH. MY. GOSH!

I'm doing an Ironman in....well....a little over 32 hours. (Not that I'm counting or anything....)

And because of the late hour, this post will definitely NOT do my experience thus far any justice.

Coeur d'Alene is beautiful - a little rainy and stunning - but absolutely beautiful. While being pelted with rain and some wind during my 30 minute bike ride today, I thought that my Chicago counterparts would fit RIGHT in. Jen - with all the weather she's raced in this past season - in particular. But hey - it's a race and we ALL deal with the elements, right?

So far, the chips are falling into place. I've had a chance to meet some great people and make new friends - HELLO Blog world! You DO infact exist! And then my parents arrived from Minnesota earlier - so its been one thing after another. I'm happy to say that I've never felt alone. Which is great, and I'm sure will be vastly different from how I'm feeling while lining up race morning.

Other things? I met Sister Madona Buder, and to HER great surprise, insisted on giving her a hug. I think I blabbed incoherently about how incredible she is (and I truly believe that), and what an inspiration she is to ALL atheltes. And then - without permission - I gave her a hug. Wonderful. But you can't help but smile when you meet someone like that - she's just wonderful. And no - she's not racing. Instead, she informed me, she would be volunteering - helping out with the wetsuit stripping, at some of the aid stations, and then in the medical tent. "So I'll have all the bases covered!" she assured me.

And I had to hug her again.

I'm sure everyone else around me thought I was nuts, but oh well.

And in the BEST bit of news... NATHANIEL IS FLYING IN ON SATURDAY!!!! He finished his FINAL 2 flights of helicopter training and is OFFICIALLY done with flight school. YEA! So Saturday afternoon, he'll be arriving in Spokane - and I just can't wait.

I think that's everything from my end (for now). I'm sure there will be more later... plenty more.

I DO want to say thank you to everyone who has sent emails, texts, calls, and face book messages - they are all touching and it makes me feel incredibly fortunate and lucky to have the support from so many whom I have never had the pleasure of meething. Things should hopefully calm down a little tomorrow - but I am grateful to you all. THANK YOU!

Hope that wherever you are, you're happy and doing what you love. Because I know that I am.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Off on a new adventure!

Well, as Tweety Bird would say, "Th- Th- Th-That's all folks!"

I think its Tweety Bird...hhhhhhmmmm.

I'm headed to the airport in about 20 minutes - just finishing the last of my cereal and peppermint tea. My bags are packed and hopefully I didn't forget too much. It never ceases to amaze me how much "stuff" I take along on these things.

At least this time I've got the post-race week in Seattle and Alaskan cruise to look forward to. This is a first - but I've got MORE heeled shoes that I do running shoes. Shocker! Throw in a ball gown, some skirts, a few dresses, and um, yeah. Never really realized how much room four pairs of heels could take up. Silly, really.

It would be so much easier if the cruise allowed flip flops and running shorts. I would be so totally in. My pink compression socks would only make it that much better.

Things are still up in the air about Nathaniel being at the race. As of now he's got two more flights to complete - luckily he's scheduled for today. I won't find out until tonight sometime. So that's still left up in the air. Nothing like waiting until the last minute, right? (Kind of like my packing).

I just want him to be there - because I know how emotional of a day it will be. I want for him to experience it all...he's been there so much for me - through the tough times last year, my training, and then as things got A LOT better. Race day is a celebration, and I want him to enjoy the "celebration". (Somehow during mile 21 or 18 or whatever of the run, I have a feeling I'll be thinking differently). You never know.

And with that, I'm off. To the airport! And a new adventure.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Monday, June 15, 2009

B.O.R.E.D (by the letters!)

This has nothing to do with the post, except that my bike is somewhere between me and Idaho. Oh yeah - and the gear bag as well. See you on Thursday (fingers crossed and knock on wood!)

In addition to everything else, I think its safe to say I'm becoming a bit more superstitious the closer I get to the actual race...

But back to the real post. BORED! (Anyone on a taper knows the feeling...enjoy!)

B: Bored, what else can I say. This taper "thingy" is getting real old, real fast. I am feeling the itch to go out and ride, run, swim MORE...heck, even a kick-butt core session sounds good right about now. Funny how our bodies get used to the heavy volume workload...apparently so too does my mind! But I am being a good girl, behaving myself, and sticking to the plan. I promise! As for the bored thing. I am convinced that this will be both the l-o-n-g-e-s-t week, but also the fastest of my life. Before I know it, I'll be walking down to the water...

O: Often times hungry. Yes, I feel like the carnivorous plant in "Little Shop of Horrors". Two hours after eating not one, but two turkey burgers, and I could use another. Then again, they were turkey burgers... Regardless, I'm trying to strike a balance between eating enough but not eating too much. Then again, I am racing an Ironman later this week ( knock on wood! ). So...when in doubt... EAT!

R: Ready. There is absolutely nothing more I can do to physically prepare for my race. The training is done, so to speak. Pain tokens have been deposited (thanks Ben!), early morning rides, endless swims, and runs that took me all the way to Cardiff and back have been completed. Now, I just need to... Relax!

E: Energy. I've got it! FINALLY! My emails are longer...I'm reading more blogs...I'm making jokes...dancing around the house...cleaning like I do during a good taper...and even jumping Nathaniel in order to tickle him. Yes, it feels great to be alive AND have the gusto to enjoy life. In never ceases to amaze me what the body is capable of when rested.

D: Dreaming. Hey - it's important! I've spent the past year - through the ups and downs and ups again, dreaming of this race. It means a lot to me - and the support of family, friends, of people I've never met has been spectacular. Thank you to everyone for being a part of mine!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Well, I said....

Well, I said I wouldn't get nervous until the Ironman race "popped up" on my Training Peaks schedule. Sure enough, three weeks ago when the monthly calendar changed to include my June 21 race date, I felt a few butterflies. But there was still plenty of time to go...No need to be alarmed yet!

Well, I said I wouldn't get nervous until after the Encinitas Sprint Triathlon. And that race was so short, so close, and over with so quickly, that I really didn't think about it. Though I did remind myself that the next race on the schedule was Ironman Coeur d'Alene. But there was still plenty of time to go...

Well, I said I wouldn't get nervous after my LAST LONG RIDE. Somehow my legs, lungs, and (mostly) everything survived and I lived to tell the tale. I still had my taper to get through, though - so nothing to worry about! So there was still plenty of time to go...

Well, I said I wouldn't get nervous last weekend, because really when you think about it - 14 days is a long time to go. So much planning to do, people to see, stuff to pack up... Still, plenty of time to go.

Well, I said I wouldn't get nervous this past week because I still had nearly fifteen hours of training on my schedule. Yes, it was most certainly busier in the beginning than it was in the end, but the rest did me good and I got a chance to catch up on housework. Still, plenty of time to go.

Well, I said I wouldn't get nervous until I started folding the laundry and doing extra cleaning in the kitchen. That day came and went and the house (and our closets) look so much better for it. But at thirteen days out, there was STILL plenty of time to go.

Well, I said I wouldn't get nervous until I made my packing list. But I realized that was a necessity eleven days out from the race, as I was shipping my bike. Best to wait until after the bike shipped. There was still plenty of time to go.

Well, I said I wouldn't be nervous until after I dropped off my bike and gear back to be shipped. But the Friday nine days before a race looks so far away on the calendar. Still, plenty of time to go.

Well, I said I would wait to be nervous until after all the races this weekend. It was incredible to (virtually) support all my friends and fellow bloggers via Ironmanlive.com and the Book of Face. And I know I hit the "refresh" button more than I could count...And Nathaniel knew exactly when my friends would cross the line, by the HUGE CHEERS that would erupt from my person.

But now the races are over. My hat goes off to everyone out there who raced AND spectated (because we all know that is hard work as well!) - thank you for the lovely distraction. And congratulations on your race and wonderful accomplishment!

Because now...well, now there's no hiding. Rebecca summed it up best, in my opinion. I kept looking at the clock today, thinking (knock on wood!) that, "In this time next week I'll be swimming...I'll be on the bike... I'll probably be running the 'Ironman shuffle'...hopefully be finished and enjoying many tasty treats..."

But it struck me as I was prepping the turkey burgers for tonight's dinner...I contemplated briefly weather or not I would want to jump ahead exactly one week. It would be 8 pm local time, and I would (hopefully) be finished with my race... Would I trade where I was now for the future?

And just as soon as I had the thought, I struck it down. Absolutely not. I would NOT trade the pre-race experience, the travel, spending time with new friends, seeing my family, and my FIRST IRONMAN for anything. I rationalized that right where I was, is exactly where I'm supposed to be. And one week from today, I'm supposed to be doing my first Ironman.

But I'll still be nervous and jittery and...you get the idea.

Here's to the unexpected joys and pre-race jitters, and all that other madness associated with my first Ironman Taper! Cheers!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Donut Run!

Nothing like starting your day off with hot, fresh, donuts, right? All week I've been looking forward to Saturday's workout - as it ONLY entailed a 60 minute run. Cue: me jumping up and down for joy. Oh wiat, and also cue: Nathaniel jumping up and down for joy.

I think this is the FIRST time in recent memory where my derriere hasn't been planted firmly on my bike seat for gobs of time. And that's saying a lot. But with eight (yes EIGHT) days out from Ironman Coeur d'Alene (knock on wood!), I'm supposed to be kicking back and taking it easy. So believe me when I say that I am.

But I still had to complete today's prescribed run.

I don't really know where I got the idea...maybe it was Nathaniel mentioning donuts yesterday...or perhaps I recalled all the point-to-point runs that Charisa has done...or maybe I was just tired of the same out-and-back loop. But two minutes after checking my schedule, the plan was hatched.

I would run 60 minutes towards the donut shop (looping back, if necessary to add extra time on the off chance that I arrived before my hour was complete), and Nathaniel would meet me promptly 60 minutes later at said donut shop, after I walked out the door. PERFECT! I would be (literally!): running for donuts.

I can not tell you how many times I've run or rode past that shop - hoping for a freak thunderstorm or a flat tire... But today it was my destination! YES!

I threw together a few things for myself post-run (dry, warm clothes, water, chocolate milk...the necessities), bid Nathaniel farewell, grabbed the camera, and headed out the door. This is what I saw...

Rain clouds between the condos near where we live. Hello "June Gloom!"

Looking down the tracks from where I came. No trains - not right now anyway.

One of the little "bumps" on my way out to the coast. I think the condo to the left near the lady and her dog is still for sale... Any takers?

Ah yes! That FIRST Ocean View of the run. Brilliant!

Okay - officially on the 101 and headed south! Note the power plant and lovely ocean view. I LOVE living out here, in spite of the May Grey and June Gloom.

I'm always amazed at the Bouganvalia bush across from the power plant. Oops - beware of puddles!

Couldn't resist this shot. The ocean was a bit choppy today, but waves weren't all that big. Just a little wishy-washy, I suppose. Than again, my vantage point was much different from that of a surfer.

Great little path, bordered by succulents. FYI: succulents are NOT cacti, but cacti are a type of succulents. I bet you were wondering about that... And I know this because Nathaniel informed me of it - he thinks the little buggers are fascinating. Bet you didn't know that either.

Looking south towards South Carlsbad State Beach, and then further towards Encinitas (and the donut shop!)

Wall of succulents on 101 for Nathaniel.

Another ocean shot near South Carlsbad State Beach. I took it across the street from the above succulent shot. I *think* the motorists and other runners though I was nuts - stopping every few minutes to take a picture. Well sheesh! Its not often that I run with a camera - OR give myself permission TO STOP and take pictures, so there you go.

Back on the 101 with a GREAT shoulder for biking (and running). I always smell campfires and hear laughter while running past this spot - the camping grounds are just to my right on the other side of the brush.

US and USMC flag. Need I say more?

A very weird plant "thingy" between Ponto State Beach and South Carlsbad State Beach (you can see the lifeguard tower in the back ground). I thought about taking a picture, but then kept going. About five seconds down the road I reasoned that I had already taken a zillion pictures and what's one more picture? Besides, it wasn't an ocean shot or US 101 shot.

Looking to the East, towards the hills I ride through. La Costa bluffs are on the far right...

Okay - finally leaving Carlsbad. Although I'm not very impressed with the sign. Especially when you compare it to....

Leucadia! Well, actually - Leucadia, a community of Encinitas! What does this mean? In 1986, the communities of Encinitas, Leucadia, Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Olivenhain, and Village Park incorporated into once city (Encinitas), but still maintained their distinct individuality. I think it had a lot to do with voting for local issues and the development of coastal towns between LA and San Diego...but don't quote me on that one...

First glimpse of the donut shop! YEA!! It looks busy, though. Good think I've still got a few minutes left to run...

Turn around at the tiki. I think he could most DEFINITELY use a donut!

Done! View from the other side of the donut shop, looking north. I like the south view more...

What a picturesque shop - complete with the token police car. I swear it was there when I arrived.

There he is! I don't know if he was as excited to see me as he was to eat donuts. Actually, I think I could say the same. But it was a FUN date we shared :)

Nathaniel eating his Maple Donut. YUM!

And me, with my favorite white-frosting-with-rainbow-sprinkles donut. Worth the run. Totally.

Can't forget about the post-run recovery drink, right? Chocolate milk to the rescue (with donut, of course).

It was great to mix things up a bit today...and in the end, the sun even came out. Perfect!

Good luck to EVERYONE racing, spectating, and doing all things (sports and non-sports) related. Hope that you kicked it off in a great way! Cheers!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

My NEW lucky number!

Well, things are just trucking along right now. I feel oddly detached from reality - on the one hand I want race day to arrive NOW! (because its been more than two years since I signed up to do an ironman initially...and gosh darn it, I've been doing ALL my training and I'm just ready ready ready!), but on the other hand I feel like I'm in a slow moving train wreck. I know the crash is going to happen, I'm bracing for impact, and...

Your guess is as good as mine.

Other happenings? Well, race numbers were posted, and I'm number 2059. Can you guess what my NEW lucky number is? You would be correct if you guessed #2059. Oddly enough, when I learned they had been posted, I went to the Coeur d'Alene website and...searched...and searched...and searched. No numbers. I thought about sending in a question to the help desk or something - but what does one say, exactly?

Um, hello? I'm looking for my race number...can you help me...?

Yeah. Somehow I didn't think that would fly. Eventually I remembered that numbers were listed on the participant page. Brilliant. I felt just brilliant. Yes, even though I've been racing for a few years, I still make mistakes and forget stuff.

In other news, my passport arrived! YEA! And FYI for those of you leaving the country to Canada...getting OUT isn't the problem. Its getting back IN where the passport is necessary. Actually, this is a big deal, as I'm going on a post-Ironman cruise up to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest with the family.

Now that was a trip down memory lane.... A few weeks ago I dug out my old passport, figuring that it was still good. Nope - expired this past January. But I got to see my 17-year old self a la passport photo.

One word: ouch!

You know when you go through that phase...that socially awkward, nerdy, pimple-faced, coke-glasses, fat, double-chinned, weird phase that lasts from about 11-18...? Yeah, well - my old passport photo captured the worst of those years. I remember taking off my glasses for the shot - thinking it would help. Um, not so much.

But looking back - it DID remind me of a lot of the tough times I went through in high school (who didn't?), and how GRATEFUL I am for who I have become. Because if I could give the girl I once was any advice from her future self - I would tell her to hang in there, stay strong. Ignore the cliques, embrace the inner dork, and never loose that creative individuality or compassion for others. Times will be tough...but they'll make you strong, make you a better person, and ultimately, make you happier. And you'll be so much ahead of the game for having gone through it all.

Oh - but I would tell her to lay off the open faced peanut butter sandwiches late at night.... those certainly didn't help...

Fast forward ten years (or so) to the present day. The girl who once was is (mostly) grown up - and yes, the chubby cheeks have (mostly) gone away, but the inner dork still remains (proudly!). I was quite proud of my new passport photo, though. No blinking, my teeth aren't weird, the hair is (mostly) in place...

It was interesting to compare the two, though. Upon return home from the post office, I showed Nathaniel. His comment?

"Wow. You look tired in the new one."

Well thanks, Sweetheart.

Nothing about wow, you look great! now or gee, you've really grown up and aged well, or holy cow - you've only got one chin! Nope. He thinks I look tired.

Note to self: take passport photo when NOT training for Ironman.

Oh well. At least my drivers license is decent. And I whip that thing out a lot more often than I'm planning on using the passport - so there you go.

For now, that's where its at.

My big gets shipped out tomorrow...but I'll save that for...tomorrow. Right now, I'll just focus on the present. Today. And try not to think too much about what's around the corner. But whenever I do - I'll just think about how #2059 is my new lucky number.

And THAT is a good thing.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Signs that it has begun!

Well, its been an interesting day or two around here. Nothing too exciting, mind you. But just enough to get me wondering... And thinking... Always a dangerous combination, if you ask me.

The big news, is that I've officially started a packing list for Coeur d'Alene. Not packing itself, mind you. Just the list... But its enough to get my hurrying from one end of the house to the other.

Yes, the race wheels are okay (knock on wood), no, my clothes most definitely aren't clean, yes I have plenty of salt tablets (knock on wood), and no, I don't have enough little plastic containers to hold them in. Stuff like that... little stuff that if I wait until next week when I fly out, well, I'll be screwed.

So in order to avoid my usual pre-race packing frenzy, I've started now.

On top of that, I'm SUPER EXCITED!!! to see my folks, sister, and head out on a cruise from Seattle to Alaska a week after the race. Perfect timing, if you ask me! Fingers crossed, knock on wood, throw salt over the shoulder and all that other good stuff - Nathaniel may join us as well (its a military thing. We rarely plan vacations because we're just never sure if/when/where/how he can ever get time off. Its complicated by the fact that he's got four flights in flight school left).

IF the stars are really aligned, Nathaniel may even be there for my race. But I don't dare whisper or even wish that... because (as experience has unfortunately taught me) things with him and time off from his work rarely turn out as we plan. So that's still up in the air...so good vibes our way would be greatly appreciated.

But in effort to prepare for the cruise, I tried on my sleek and elegant (as opposed to the high-school-like-prom-looking) ball gown. Good news: it fits - yea! AND the straps stay in place, unlike the last time I wore it.

When I bought the dress (2006), I was a little bigger than I am now...and when I wore it a year later (2007), I was pretty much the same size that I am now. EXCEPT for my lats. Today (as opposed to how I was circa 2007) they have morphed. And if you think I'm joking - well, I'm not. Those suckers are a lot bigger than they used to be, and I blame 1) Masters swimming and 2) Ironman training. But not to worry - as long as 1) I swim faster and 2) the dress still fits, everything is okay.

We've got to get our priorities in order, right? Swim fast THEN fashion sense...

But getting my gear together for the race inspired me to start cleaning.


Hold the presses! This is a biggie.

Normally we try to keep stuff neat, but, well - that's not always the case. Inevitable the dishes stack up, random bike stuff gets thrown everywhere, flight manuals end up in the weirdest places, and laundry is more often than not - piled on the futon, chair, desk or any of the above three (at the same time). Today, and I'm not sure if its because my ride last weekend was shorter than I'm used to, I was inspired to do laundry and FOLD and PUT AWAY clothes.

If that wasn't enough - I changed the sheets on the bed!

Yeah, I know. Riveting. Yep, Monday night at my place... I have to say, though, that the smell of fresh sheets IS nice.

I guess its the signs that I'm on the verge of getting antsy. Hello taper! Oddly enough, this Ironman taper is very different from what I'm used to. When Jen mentioned that it was about to begin, I was ALL about the "easy" week(s) with little or no work. Um, yeah. I was wrong.

The reduction in volume IS nice and I definitely appreciate it (and so will Nathaniel when he sees the clean sheets, folded laundry, and no piles on the futon/chair/desk). But there's still quite a bit of "meat" on the schedule. And that's okay - I'll take it. Because it's the only thing from keeping me going at the grout on the bathroom counter (ick).

Next week - when the volume is cut by 2/3...well...that should be interesting. I'll keep you posted. Trust me.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Perspective. It's an interesting thing, you know. A few years ago, as a young college kid in Madison, Wisconsin, I got a chance to witness this "Ironman Thing" first hand. I was amazed at all the equipment, the physiology of the athletes, but even more so, what in the world would possess people to do something like this...?

It just goes to show that you should never say never. Because here I am, two weeks out from my first Ironman. EVERYONE PLEASE KNOCK ON WOOD! (Not having a panic attack, not having a panic attack, not having a panic attack, lalalalalalalalala!)

The same thing could be said for my bike ride this weekend.

Perspective. It's an interesting thing, you know. When I saw my training schedule from Jen, my first thought after viewing Saturday's four hour bike was, "Oh wow! A short ride!! I can be done before 10 am! I've got the weekend!"

Rationally, I realize that four hours of anything is quite a bit. Sheesh! I don't even like sitting in the car for four hours. But after surviving nearly all the Ironman training (save the taper), I'll grudgingly admit that its not all that bad.

The best part?

Getting home in time to go out for pancakes! Now THAT is worth riding (nearly) any distance for.

Perspective. Perspective, it's an interesting thing, you know. About three minutes into my Saturday ride I hit something big and got not one, but two flat tires. Suffice to say - that was a first for me. But it could have been worse - much worse. The rock I hit (yes, in the pre-dawn light I swerved to avoid a ton of glass on the road, only to ride OVER a fist-sized hunk of concrete. Classic).

My rear tire blew out almost instantly. I thought briefly that I could fix the flat right here on the side of the road. But the 'pft! pft! pft!" of the front tire indicated that the first one had gone as well. Yes, I carried two spares, but I was definitely NOT up to biking another 3:57 with no spares. Especially given my stellar start to the morning.

A year ago I would have gone home, tossed aside the bike that would make even Normal blush, and hop back into bed. Not today. Two not-quick-but-faster-than-normal tire changes, and I was rolling out the door. Grateful that it was only the two tires that blew and nothing else.

Perspective. It's an interesting thing. Last year when I rode (one!) ride with the Swami's I got spat out the back as soon as they hit Elfin Forest. It was ugly, and I cried. But I finished out the ride and was stronger for it. Yesterday while riding on my own through Elfin Forest, I was passed by the Swami's Ride that resembled a tidal wave. I sat up and stopped pedaling, figuring I would enjoy the breeze that a pelaton passing at 27 mph makes.

"Jump on the back!" one guy yelled as he whizzed by.

The next thing I knew, someone put a hand on my back and pushed me with all their might. My speed jumped and before I knew it, I was hanging on the back of their train. I took one glace at my watts, and vowed to NOT look again. And I didn't.

But this time though - I lasted a total of three minutes. And that was exactly two minutes and forty five seconds MORE than last time. Suffice to say, I was stoked. And I spent the next few miles, time trialing and picking off as many riders who had been spat out the back as possible. Okay, so it was only three. But there were a few more up ahead that I couldn't quite catch.

Perspective. Perspective, it's an interesting thing, you know. As a young whipper snapper raising h e double el and riding my pink and gray bike around the neighborhood, I hated to wear a helmet. But I did so because my parents refused to let me ride without one.

I was much more concerned about how my hair looked. I know, I know: twelve year old's have their priorities all mixed up.

Nowaday's I would NEVER ride without a helmet. I think its stupid. And dumb. And...well... you just never know when your noggin is going to hit the deck. So be prepared, in spite of what it may do to your hair.

With about twenty minutes to go, I coasted to a stop light that took seemingly fo-r-ev-er. There was a lot of traffic, so I just waited. And waited. A few minutes later two riders pulled up behind me.

"Now, make sure that you're in your small right - that way when the light turns red you'll be able to finish biking up this hill..." one guy told another.

I looked behind me at the young kid, who couldn't have been more than twelve. And then down at my own gears. Sure enough, I was in my big ring. Oops. I knew I forgot to do something as I coasted to a stop. My legs would pay once I got moving.

Perhaps sensing my thoughts, the older gentleman addressed me, "I'm just out for the day, teaching my son about the importance of bike safety and bike riding..."

I turned around ready to comment about HOW COOL!, and what a GREAT DAY! it was, when I stopped completely. The adult figure - Dad, Father, Uncle, who knows - intent on teaching his son about "bike safety" was NOT WEARING A HELMET.

So much for lead by example.

Before I knew it, the light changed and I was off - big ring and all. Luckily I manged to NOT fall over on the hill and ride up without shifting too much.

Perspective - it's an interesting thing. And it makes me wonder what will change two weeks from today. I can't wait to find out!

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Conclusion of Unmentionables, part 3

One of my favorite movies of all time. And sharks aren't all bad! "Fish are friends, not food!"

So, where does this leave us? And more importantly, what have I learned?

Well, for starters (and I've said it before, but it takes on a new meaning when conquering one's fears), I'm grateful for friends and their support. Yes, I'll swim in open water, and most definitely, I'm willing to run with all might and gusto into the open ocean during a race. BUT (and that's purposefully a big butt), if it weren't for Shannon and Stephen and their incredible support, I don't know if I could have done it. To them - I am grateful.

Unfortunately, two days after our swim, they moved to Berkley. Now what does that tell you?

Just kidding. Actually, they are off to pursue their post doctorate, and while I'm extremely sad that they've left, I know the move is GREAT for them.

Sharks are definitely out there - they are in the water and every time we go in, we risk an encounter.

However. With the hundreds of thousands of beach goers and swimmers each year, the number of attacks pale in comparison. I mentioned the statistics in the previous post (part 2), but they are worth repeating again. According to the International Shark Attack File, there were 59 unprovoked shark attacks world-wide in 2008, down from 71 in 2007. Four of those were fatal, including local San Diego triathlete and retired veterinarian, David Martin.

And while the loss of life is incredibly tragic, and my heart goes out to the victims family and friends, statistically we are in more danger driving to the beach than being in the water.

And in all actuality, sharks have much more to fear from humans than we do from them. According to CNN.com "Planet in Peril" in 2008, an excess of 100 million sharks are killed by humans each year.

Worldwide, shark populations - especially those living near shore - are in serious decline. Over-fishing (largely due to the high demand of shark's fins for Shark Fin soup, a high priced Chines and Asian delicacy), game fishing for trophy/sport (example can be found here), coupled with the fact that sharks take years to reach sexual maturity and (in many cases), only give birth to a small amount of well-developed pups (young), has lead to an alarming drop in the world's shark population.

"This loss of top predators could hold serious implications for the entire marine ecosystem, greatly affecting food webs throughout this region,” Francesco Ferretti, a doctoral student in marine biology at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, and lead author for a study of which charted the population decline of five pelagic Atlantic Shark species.

From a statistical standpoint, I feel sorry for the shark. Heck - from a nature-loving standpoint, I feel sorry for sharks.

Killed only for its fins or to become a trophy on someone's wall. How sad. How truly tragic. This amazing animal, evolving over millions of years and developing incredible senses and sensory organs to match, most definitely does not deserve a fate such as this.

And really, they've gotten a bad wrap. In part, because they are misunderstood. Though I joke about it (and yes, I'm still nervous when I go in the water), they are NOT mindless eating machines, but instead, highly evolved and complex predators that - according to Peter Klimley in "The Secret Life of Sharks" - find human beings unpalatable (usually), instead preferring a diet of blubbery, calorie-rich pinnipeds.

Bottom line: sharks aren't out to get us, and in the off chance that we ARE bitten (especially with The Great White), its often times a case of mistaken identity.

(I won't go into the human factor, ie adventure seekers paying large sums of money to dive with sharks. That's an entirely different kitten and caboodle. But, in my mind, there is little difference between these people and other individuals with little or no climbing experience, willing to pay upwards of $65,000 to be guided to the top of Mt. Everest. Where do we cross the line? Is there a line that should NOT be crossed? How much are YOU willing to pay and is it worth it? How many risks are people willing to take? I'm definitely not promoting a life in which we stay at home doing nothing - but I believe that many individuals are so enamored to DO something, they don't stop to think if they SHOULD be doing it in the first place. Ah yes, morals and personal ethics can be a slippery slope... Too many questions for this small post...)

Back to the sharks.

Why so scary?

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the JAWS phenomenon.

Peter Benchley published JAWS in 1974, a time when little was know about the apex predator. Inspired by a string of fatal shark attacks off the New Jersey Coast in 1916 coupled with the 1964 news story of a Great White Shark caught by Frank Mundus off Long Island weighing an estimated 4,550 pounds. During a taped interview for "A Look Inside Jaws", Benchley noted he began thinking about, "a story about a shark that attacks people and what would happen if it came in and wouldn't go away."

The novel, and the movie to a greater extent opened to critical acclaim, and forever changed how people viewed the ocean. In fact, beach attendance was down in the summer of 1975 due to the film's incredible impact.

But this isn't the only time in recent history that beach goers were scared through sensationalism of the media or through the entertainment industry. In 2001, Time magazine dubbed that summer as, "The Summer of The Shark" after several shark attacks, ranging from Florida, to Hawaii, to California, up to New York, and North Carolina.

I believe that Benchley himself accurately summarized our fear of sharks when he wrote that, "Shark attacks on human beings generate a tremendous amount of media coverage partly because they occur so rarely, but mostly, I think, because people are, and always have been, simultaneously intrigued and terrified by sharks. Sharks come from a wing of the dark castle where our nightmares live—deep water beyond our sight and understanding—and so they stimulate our fears and fantasies and imaginations.”

So we return to our own perceptions, fears, and insecurities. Statistics, knowing that there are only a few shark species out of the nearly 400 total that have attacked humans do little to deter our fears.

To quote the great Yoda of Star Wars (and because Nathaniel does this impersonation all the time), "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." In this case, suffering for the sharks (over fished to the point of dangerous decline and misunderstood and pursued as a trophy prize) and suffering for humans who are terrified to swim past the breakers.

Okay, the last one is a stretch. Humans do not suffer because they don't swim past the breakers; let's be serious. But the shark, having evolved for 400 million years, is on a serious decline due to human beings.

Which creature should really be afraid?

I know that I often write about my fear of sharks - or Unmentionables. Will I ever be truly comfortable in the Open Ocean? Perhaps not. But I'm working hard to overcome that fear. And deep down I know that the fear itself has little to do with the shark. The shark is representative of something at a much deeper, at a much more primal level: fear of being out of my element in unfamiliar territory without having control of my surroundings. And I'm working on that...believe me, I am.

Swimming in The Cove last week and writing about sharks has been really great for me. They are a subject that I'm truly passionate about - to my detriment at times (knowing HOW most Great Whites attack and then staring straight down for the first part of my swim convinced that I would be rushed at from below...) In the end though, its the shark that I fear for.

Thanks for reading my series.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Cove Swim OR Unmentionables, Part 2

Even though I had agreed to meet Shannon and Stephen by 7:30 am at The Cove, I had already been up for hours. Thoughts of Great White Sharks, scenes from JAWS, and a seemingly untimely death later in the morning during my swim kept me from sleeping much. Even Nathaniel wasn't spared: the poor guy was curious about The Cove, but I - thinking he was about to say the "S" word (whispered - shark) - prevented him from opening his mouth.

And it wasn't even 6 am.

To say that I was a little nervous, would be a gross understatement.

I was convinced that I was about to die. Was going to be consumed by a ravenous shark, end of story. My mouth was dry as I gathered my things to leave the house. When I kissed Nathaniel good bye, I made sure to tell him that I loved him. Even though I was mad that he almost said the "S" word. We didn't even talk Unmentionables or anything.

And if you think I'm joking - rest assured, I'm not.

40 minutes later, I was pulling up right next to Shannon and Stephen. After a few exchanges and nervous laughter, we walked towards the concrete steps that lead down to The Cove. (You can see the concrete steps built into the side of the cliff, leading down towards the water.)

Despite the early morning time, I could already see several groups of swimmers in the water. They didn't seem to be flailing, screaming, yelling, "SHARK!" or acting eradically. They were just - swimming.

And truth be told, looked pretty peaceful.

No one was sprinting to make the send off, or worrying about the pace clock or the antics of fellow lane mates. It looked absolutely relaxing - like they were just out enjoying the morning by taking a leisurely swim.

It helped to calm my nerves - we wouldn't be the only poor fools out there. Well, that and Stephens bright pink and orange Speedos. Yes, those were enough to take my mind off teeth and thoughts of dying, if only for a few moments.

Add the plethora of scuba divers, and I realized that we most definitely would NOT be alone. There were plenty of other sorry idiots, errr, people who would be in the water and enjoying the clear views.

Shannon and Stephen could tell how nervous I was, so they proceeded to chat as though nothing out of the ordinary was happening. Me - well I was struck silent. As though on autopilot, I pulled on my wetsuit (although there were many people swimming without wetsuits - just thought I would mention it), applied plenty of body glide to the back of my neck to prevent wetsuit "bite", debated briefly over which swim cap to wear (trusty silver that blends in OR bright pink race cap? Hhhmmmm.....the silver isn't very visible in case people are searching for my body. On the other hand, sharks are attracted to BRIGHT colors, and if BRIGHT PINK isn't florescent enough, I don't know what is. Definitely the silver...), grabbed my goggles and headed towards the water.

Stephen doubled back to pick up my spare goggles - his strap had broken - so it was just me and Shannon at the water's edge. Well, us and two SCUBA divers who were checking their valves and testing their equipment before descending below the surface.

"Take your time," Shannon said. "Whenever you're ready..."

I stood. And waited... and waited....and waited some more....

"Don't look so excited!" one of the divers shouted towards me.

I couldn't even smile. Actually, I had been trying to pee - but for the FIRST time in my life, was too nervous to go. I guess I looked a little constipated? Who knows.

"It's her FIRST time swimming in the Open Water without racing!" called Shannon, being the uber-supportive friend that she is.

"I don't know how you swimmers do it!" One of the SCUBA guys remarked. "Staying on the top of the water ALL the time like that...Now me - I would MUCH rather prefer to be on the bottom where you can SEE everything that's heading towards you and -"

But he was cut off by Shannon's shout.

I have no idea what she said, because I was too fixated and horrified by his comment. "No idea how you swim at the surface....bottom where you can see...." But I was grateful at how quickly her yell stopped the guy off mid-sentence.

Regardless, I felt like such a wimp.

But at a deeper level, I felt small and very insignificant. It was as though I teetered on the personal brink of something great. Here I stood: trembling at the edge of my biggest fear - swimming in the Open Pacific Ocean. And I was stuck, paralyzed by fear yet unwilling to back down from this personal obstacle.

There's not much that rattles me - okay a few things. But they involve people I love and my family. This was somehow very different - this was my personal fear for myself. Other scary things, well, I hate to admit it - I have no control over them. But plunging into the open ocean...that's simply a choice that I have to make.

I don't know how long I stood on the edge of the shore - the place where the sand and water meet. I could feel the cool water at my feet, the hard and reassuring sand a few paces behind. How grateful I was for the shore! The water stretched out ahead of me, and I knew that if I ever wanted to tackle my fear - THIS would be my chance.

I heard myself babbling, discussing (more to myself, but the SCUBA guys overheard, as did Shannon and Stephen, returned from retrieving intact goggles) how in a RACE situation I would SPRINT headlong into the water without a second thought. Sometimes even I amaze myself.

"So by that rational, all I need to do is blow an air horn and you'll run in?" asked Stephen.

I didn't know weather to laugh or cry. But he was right - and I gave him a big grin.

Rationally, I KNEW the statistics... according to the International Shark Attack File, there were 4 fatal shark attacks in 2008 and only 59 unprovoked attacks, down from 71 the year before (that were reported). And how many thousands of swimmers entered the world's oceans (and rivers...remember our bull shark friends) in the previous year? Furthermore, I know that in the waters of the United States, there's an average of one fatal shark attack every two years.

But what good did this do me? Really? Standing in The Cove, and on the very edge of my fears.

I liken it to airplane statistics and crashes. I used to be afraid of flying, but learning about flight, flight systems, and the science of flight with Nathaniel has really helped. And while I'm still wary of the plane crashing, I'm no longer overly anxious to fly.

Besides, I've never heard of anyone getting eaten mid-flight by a charging plane.

Plus, after all of my reading, all of my study - I can rattle off random bits of shark information and science like any good zoology student. But what good does this knowledge do for me if I'm too afraid to enter the water?

It was now or never.

I took a deep breath, pushing aside my thoughts of TEETH and ATTACKS and RED BLOOD IN THE WATER WHILE THE SHARKS CIRCLE and calmly told Shannon, "I think I'm ready to go."

"Okay then!" she replied and started fearlessly wading out.

I followed her, determined to stay asclose! as possible. I didn't want to draft in her wake; instead I aimed to swim right at her side.

Very quickly the sand turned to rock and kelp beds and soon we were breast stroking towards deeper water. OHMYGOD OHMYGOD OHMYGOD! I'm IN THE OPEN OCEAN!

Immediately I tensed, waiting for the attack. One, two, three seconds passed - and I was still alive. I could feel the cold water in my wetsuit, see Shannon's right ahead...and I was still...alive? NOT consumed by hungry man-eating sharks???

Before I knew it, Shannon started swimming and I instinctively switched to freestyle to keep up. On shore (because God knows, we had spent plenty of time looking out towards the water), we had discussed where we would head to first. One of the many wonderful things about swimming at The Cove, are the 1/4 and 1/2 mile buoys, spaced accordingly out from shore.

I glanced up every few strokes towards the buoy, convinced that A HUGE FIN would obscure my view at any point.

Or, better yet: knowing that Great Whites generally attack from below by rushing UP towards their intended victim, I would see this:
Instead...it was...simply nothing.

Shannon wasn't panicked, and Stephen was right behind me. And we were swimming. We were swimming...

Naturally, when one isn't on the breakfast menu right away, one is able to settle down quite a bit. Even though it felt like an eternity, only a few seconds (or minutes) had passed. When I realized I wasn't dead, my focus gradually turned to the other amazing things in my near vicinity.

Almost instantly, I saw a bright flash of orange - and another and another! The kelp beds were thick at times, but the water was extremely clear. One, two, and then three bright Garibaldi fish darted directly under me, and I was captivated by their beauty and the simplicity of their movements.

I had never had the pleasure of seeing such marvelous fish up close. Until that moment, my vantage had always been from the other side of an aquarium - most definitely not in the open water.

I kept my eyes peeled, looking not for sharks like I thought I would, but instead for other brightly colored fish. Yes, I was still extremely fearful, and the thought of BIG SHARKS was ever present. But I pushed it to the far back of my brain and instead, focused on the beauty of the moment.

Flashes of sand, a mere 30-foot below, was interspersed with rocky formations. Beds of Kelp waved their slimy leaves towards the surface, and I was amazed at how they felt gliding past my body. Some were completely smooth, while others left a slight stinging sensation against my hands and exposed skin.

Ever present were my bright orange fish friends, and I found myself sighting and looking out of the water less, and instead enjoying the view below more. The Kelp rose in forests from the ocean's floor - and for the first time in hours, I wasn't convinced that I was about to die.

Shannon stopped swimming and we paused for a moment, waiting for Stephen to catch up.

A few second's later, we were swimming again, the 1/4 mile buoy drawing closer and closer.

As the water grew deeper, flashes of sand and the bottom were less and less. However, there were plenty of fish present. I still thought about a shark rushing from below - but the probability seemed smaller at this point.

And then I saw one. Not the shark from my fears, not the Great White that had scared me so much that I couldn't even speak its name - but instead, a baby leopard shark. He (or she) was a good distance below me, but I could still clearly make out the outlines and patterns on its small body.
I knew that this time of year was the pupping season for Baby Leopard Sharks, as the female leopard sharks will swim into coves and/or protected areas to give birth to live young.

I knew this. But it was just amazing to actually see it. To be here in this moment, actually experiencing it. It was definitely NOT what I had expected.

Sooner than I realized, Shannon and I had reached our buoy marker, and we chatted away and kept afloat by treading water. The surrounding cliffs looked imposing and I could see sea lions asleep at their bottoms.

The fear of sharks still haunted me, and I figured that it would be present as long as I was in the water. But it wasn't stopping me from doing something I loved - swimming. It wasn't keeping me from the water and experiencing the waves, fish, and other sights and sounds.

Yes, I had a healthy respect for sharks, and I am totally in awe of their ability to adapt and evolve as apex predators. But it wasn't keeping me from tackling my biggest fear and swimming in the open Pacific Ocean.

And I think that's really what this was all about, why this was such a big deal to me. Its not often that we face our biggest fear, that we do the (seemingly) impossible and tackle our own personal demons.

Its one thing to hit a specific heart rate or pace or power output - when you know that the workout will hurt and your body and mind scream at you to stop. I understand that. But - to move forward and, after being terrified of sharks for nearly all my life - swim in the open ocean in a non-race situation...? That was huge for me. It's not every day that we face our biggest fear head on.

Shannon, Stephen, and I turned around at the 1/2 mile buoy and headed back to shore. I'll admit - as we got closer my panic increased, and I quickly moved from the Ocean-side of Shannon to the Shore-side. (As though that would make a difference).

Somewhere on the way back, I was mesmerized by the HUGE Bat Ray that drifted slowly past. The eyes were lage and reminded me of a trantula, protruding at the top of its head. I caught a glimpse of the long barb-like tail, and hoped that the not-so-little guy would drift any higher. Finally I focused on its enormous wings, finding peace and solace in the way they moved with the current.

I thought briefly of Steve Irwin, how he lived his life to the fullest, doing exactly what he loved. Though his death was untimely and tragic, he can certainly teach us a lot about living and wildlife conservation (crocs rule!) If he were swimming in the cove, I'm sure he would be sporting his traditional khaki outfit, a snorkel, and swim fins while chasing after fish and other curious wildlife. The thought made me smile.

The towering cliffs grew ever-more present and suddenly the sea floor was within reach. Countless numbers of bright fish darted between rock and bits of kelp, and before I knew it, the three of us had slowed considerably in order to view the marine life. At the point - when I knew I was safe, as the shore was a mere 10-feet away and large rocks would prevent big sharks from getting close - my fear seemed silly.

But that would be another post, for another day.

Eventually, Shannon and I made our way up to the sand, sitting down half in the water, half out. The tide tugged at our toes and I was captivated by the beauty of it all. The cliffs in the distance, the seals barking a few rocks away, the feel of the silky sand under my fingers... And I was grateful for it all, the emotions and feelings, doing something I never thought I would possibly do, experiencing it with close friends, and surviving to tell my story.

Well - we made it.

Stay tuned to Part III...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Unmentionables, Part 1

It's only fitting that they day I embarked on my first (non-race) Pacific Ocean swim, was the 56th anniversary of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's successful ascent of Mt. Everest. Undoubtedly, swimming in the open ocean is minute when compared to scaling the world's largest peak. But for me, on May 29, 2009, the two were one in the same. Voluntarily swimming in the Pacific Ocean in a non-race situation, was my Everest.

And for the first time in my life, I did it.

We all know my fear of sharks, errr, Unmentionables With Really Big Teeth. They are there. Always.

And I know that - trust me, I do.

However, rationally, I also know that I'm more likely to get struck by lightning while riding my lawn mower, than to get eaten by a shark. I know this. And while I don't own a lawn mower, and I certainly wouldn't ever intentionally ride one during a thunderstorm, well, shit can always happen. You just never know.

So what is it with me an The Unmentionables?

Good question.

Well - first, I'd like to admit that I've got a wild imagination. I always have, and always will. I still take a flying leap into bed at night, for fear of whatever lies beneath reaching it's scabby, dead hand out from under and grabbing my ankle. See? Vivid imagination.

So while that's great for some things, its awful for others.

Case in point - I'm fascinated by Ghost Hunters, mostly because I used to be terrified of ghosts. Correction: I still am. But I have a better understanding of the supernatural and while I hope to never ever come across one, I'm no longer afraid to venture down to my parent's kitchen in the middle of the night.

Okay - I'll go down. But I'll still thunder up the stairs as though being chased. You just never know.

Back to sharks.

Imagine this: a seven-year-old spending the night at her best friend's house, watching JAWS for the first time, while getting ready to embark on a summer full of swimming lessons and other fun...
And then, over the next few days, watching JAWS 2, JAWS 3, and JAWS 4 in mixture of horror-induced fascination. Thank you Gina! Nothing could tear me away from the television, and I spent the rest of the summer convinced that sharks were just on the other side of the drain in the local pool.

Hence, pool sharks.

But, according to my Dad, my fear of sharks began well before my seventh year. As a spry three-year-old, I was afraid of taking a bath, claiming that, "sharks will come up through the drain."

Well, it wasn't exactly how Samuel L. Jackson's character in Deep Blue Sea was taken out, but a shark did in fact defy every law of physics and eat him while leaping through a drain hole. His last words? "First, we're going to SEAL OFF THIS PORTAL!"

And BOOM! He was gone. Shark bait. I nearly wet my pants in the theater when witnessing this spectacle. Hell, I nearly wet my pants NOW while re-watching the clip. Luckily, the only damage happened to the lady sitting directly in front of me. To this day, I'm not sure if her ear drums have recovered from my piercing screams.

See. It can happen. Drains...pools... they lurk...

As I got older, my fear turned to fascination. I read as many books as I could, devouring the pages and processing the information faster than I could RUN out of the water. If it was about sharks, I would read it. I learned about the history or sharks, their biology, their incredible sensory systems...Rationally, I knew that Lake Phalen, where I spent time life guarding, and the Mississippi River, where I could be found rowing many an early mornings and afternoons, did NOT have sharks. Not even the Great White - the BIG one that JAWS was based off. But others, well, I stood corrected.

Enter: bull sharks.

After reading as much as I could about Carcharodon carcharias or the Great White Shark, I went on to learn about others. Tigers, bull, nurse, grey nurse, whale, cookie cutter, seven gill, lemon, leopard, and endless other types that have little or no interest in human consumption. But bull sharks piqued my interest.


Because they can swim in fresh water!
This map shows the waters in which Carcharhinus leucas (bull shark) is found.

They have been found 2,220 miles up the Amazon River in Peru, in the fresh waters of Lake Nicaragua, up the Ghanges River in India, after Hurricane Katrina in Lake Ponchatrain, and more recently in Lake Michigan. Yes, my friends, there was a bull shark encounter near Chicago, Illinois (gained entry through the Illinois River), and verified by a University of Illinois biologist as a female bull shark, between 6 and 9 feet, and weighing up to 300 pounds.

And, just while looking up information for this post, I cam across this article about Minnehaha Creek and the Mississippi River. My old stomping grounds. Ahem. Now are you curious?

Okay, I'll admit - that's a little overkill.

Remember: You're more likely to get struck by lightning while riding a lawn mower than to get eaten by a shark....

For me - and trust me when I say this - it comes down to being out of my element. Yes, I love swimming and even better, I LOVE swimming in clear water. But wondering what lies beneath...what I can't see under me...that's a different story. Yes, I was still nervous while swimming in The Gulf of Mexico, but more often than not - the water was clear. So clear, that I could see the ripples that the currents made on the sand under the surface, so clear that every little fish, every bit of sea weed seemed so close that you could touch it.

Plus, while bull sharks were present in The Gulf and even off the shores of North Carolina, I reminded myself that the REALLY big sharks, the sharks that I had feared in my youth and had imagined would "get me" through the bath tub drain - the Great White Sharks - were all in far-away places like Australia, South Africa, and California. I would worry about them only when I swam in those waters.

And THAT, my friends, was on my mind as I walked down the concrete stairs towards the soft sand of The Cove. The Pacific Ocean water spread out invitingly ahead of me, but it was all I could do to keep from sprinting back up the stairs from whence I had just come. Luckily, Shannon and Stephen were there to keep me calm...

Stay tuned to Part II!