Sunday, August 25, 2013

Like a Fish on a Bicycle

My long swim was in the form of a metric century bike ride on Saturday in Kansas City. It was the inaugural ride of the event organized by Paul's boss and my former Burke High classmate, Matthew Mellor. Matthew was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia 3 years ago, and thanks to research that developed a new pharmaceutical, he is cancer free. So this ride was a fundraiser for cancer research and to show support for those who have been affected by cancer in one way or another -- basically, everyone.

I've been looking forward to a long ride this summer, but also dreading it because I haven't been on my bike much. I've either been swimming or recovering from swimming. All the way down there, Paul and I had a recurring conversation:
Me: I really haven't put in much bike time this summer.
Paul: Well, just do the 30 miler then. That's still a good workout
Me: Yeah, I should probably do that. 
Paul: Sure, that way we can sleep in a little too.
Me: Nah, I'll do the 62-miler.

Paul booked a nice room - on the "preferred guest" floor of the Sheraton, which used to be a Hyatt-Regency. The last time we were there was our honeymoon -- a scant 25 years ago. It's still beautiful and our room had a gorgeous view of the downtown skyline. I wished we'd had more time to enjoy it.

We brought the bike and our stuff to the room, then set off to the Plaza to see what we could find for dinner. We had planned on Figlio's, our favorite Italian restaurant on the corner by the big fountain and park. But, sadly, it's being remodeled. I hope it's not another chain. The world has plenty of PF Chang's. 
We took in the sights of the Plaza as we walked to the Classic Cup for dinner -- people enjoying a horse-drawn carriage ride, a talented singer belting out some R&B tunes, window shoppers and couples and families checking everything out. I love the Country Club Plaza and it'll always be a special place to me even though there are now trendy little shopping centers all around KC. I don't think I've ever actually purchased anything there, but it has a charming atmosphere that I enjoy.

After a delicious dinner of roast chicken and risotto with kale (I love kale. I really do.) and Paul's spicy shrimp dish, we headed back to our hotel room and had lights out by 10 p.m. 

The next morning, fortified with a Starbucks latte and a big slab of lemon poppyseed cake, I loaded up my gear and we drove to the start of the ride, just a couple of blocks away.

I'm not sure how many cyclists there were, but it was a good sized crowd. I love the sound of cycling shoes clipping into pedals (even though I am still a hopeless dork when it comes to the ironically named "clipless" pedals. It always takes me a few tries to get the stupid cleat in place... which will come to haunt me later).

The route took us through some cool areas of Kansas City before turning south toward the rural hinterlands. I was surprised to find that I was with a group in the middle of the pack. I'm usually the last straggler. 

At the first sag stop, I met one of Paul's co-worker's whose name escapes me. We ended up chatting longer than I intended and I missed my group's departure, so I just left on my own a little while later. About a mile from the sag stop, there was a round-about, but I couldn't see any markers indicating which way to go. It was like the yellow brick road .... lots of options, but I had no clue which direction to head. Eventually I saw a small group of cyclists take the western turn, so I followed and joined up with them. After a couple miles of riding and chatting about our jobs and stuff, I asked the guy next to me if he was riding in support of someone or if he knew Matthew Mellor. He said, "Um, no, this is the route we usually ride on Saturday." Shit. Turns out, I biked about 6 miles off the route, but these folks kindly road with me to the point where I could get back on track.

The scenery along the south part of the route was gorgeous - lots of hills, trees and farmland. Cycling is so much more scenic than swimming. I was soaking it up and having fun - especially riding downhill. I'm not a very good hill climber, but I must have some sort of low center of gravity or maybe it's my swimmer's padding that helps me sail downhill faster than a Jamaican bobsledder. 

Finally, after a couple more phone calls to Paul to see if he could help me navigate, I landed at the next rest stop. Let me tell you, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is as heavenly as wedding cake when you've been riding 3 hours increasing heat.

I was watching for the small, dark red "62" marks at every intersection. Sometimes they were there, sometimes they weren't. I frequently zipped through an intersection and would see that little circle as I rolled over it, then have to curve back and make a turn. The day was getting hotter and so was I.

Cycling back into town wasn't as much fun as cycling out of it. There was a lot of traffic, stop signs and relentless sun and heat coming off the pavement. I got lost again and called Paul, sharing my exasperation and frustration with some colorful commentary on his voice mail. I told him I was getting a little dizzy, but would keep going unless I felt it was unsafe.

Finally, I got onto the right street again and headed into some neighborhoods with tree shade. The cool patches brought some much needed perspective. Getting all pissy about the heat and my inability to find and follow the way markers was a choice. Deciding that it was a beautiful day for a bike adventure was a better choice. So I cooled my heels, decided to be grateful for the opportunity and focused on the lovely homes I was riding by.

That worked for a good while, until the last 5 miles or so, when I had to descend a black diamond level hill full of traffic pulling out into the street. I was surprised smoke wasn't billowing from my brakes as I tried to slow my freefall down the mile-long hill. And when I finally made it to the turn onto Southwest Parkway, the road was being resurfaced. Really? I'm melting into my seat and I have to deal with cobblestones? Arrrrrgh.

But wait, it gets even better. After surviving a couple miles of riding over a cheese grater, I'm huffing and puffing, with sweat in places I didn't think possible, up a small hill to an intersection. When I get there, I see a lady in a car in the opposite direction. I get to the intersection first and look her in the eye as I start pedaling to make sure she sees me. She looks right back at me, then turns left right in front of me. I had to brake hard to stop and didn't have time to get my foot out of my pedal, so took a dive to my left, landing on my left knee and elbow. I was so, so, so pissed off. How could she have done such a stupid thing? She was looking right at me! And I was too exhausted to get my foot out of my pedal. I was trying to twist it out, but I couldn't get it. I was willing myself not to cry, somewhat successfully. Fortunately, Paul was right behind me and helped me get my feet unstuck, along with another good Samaritan who was kind enough to stop. 
So now I'm hot, covered in sticky salty sweat and street grit, I have a big bleeding knot on my knee and I'm all shaky from the fall. 

No way in hell I'm stopping now. 

I got back on the bike, clipped in after a dozen tries, and headed toward the finish.  I made it through the center of Kansas city traffic to the finish zone and felt fantastic. I do love the finish of a race - or event. And I wasn't even the last one! Total time was 5:45.

As soon as I slid off my bike, Matthew was there and I kindly let him know that I'd checked this off my list. And, as these things always go, after 15 minutes with an ice bag on my knee, I was thinking of what I'd do differently next year. That's the way these things tend to go and how I get myself sucked into bigger and crazier events. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

In and on the lake

I had a long swim at Branched Oak Lake on Saturday - 6.3 miles in a little over 3 and a half hours, which isn't all that fast, but I felt good about it. The day was absolutely gorgeous -- little fluffy clouds floating in the blue summer sky, sunshine and flat water. I couldn't have ordered a swim any better from a catalog.

I have a route that I follow at Branched Oak. I swim from the beach at area one to the buoy line and then swim along the line to the point and back to the beach, which is roughly a mile. This is convenient to get a feed about every 35 minutes, which works well for me, but by the 3rd or 4th feed, I turn from a mere curiosity to something alien and perhaps a little monstrous from the looks I get. "How far are you going?", "Why are you swimming away from the beach?" "Are you afraid of the boats?" "What are you doing?" and then, inevitably, the stories about the friend of a friend who drowned at a lake, or got some flesh-eating bacteria, or was hit by a jet ski, or some other tragic tidbit that I suppose is a way of making conversation. I try to be a good ambassador for open water swimming and I always like chatting with people, but I'm relieved to slosh back into the lake and get on with my next lap.

Swimming gives me time to think, which is how I decided that we'd be better off buying a kayak than taking a trip to a beautiful coastal beach area this fall for some sight-seeing, great seafood, museums and - oh yeah - a 6-hour qualifying swim in 60 degree ocean waves. There will be plenty of nippy lake water around here and with Paul in a kayak, I'm less likely to get hit by one of those boats the beach humans are so worried about.

Paul bought this idea for some reason, so Sunday afternoon we went out and picked out our new kayak: the Pongo 120 by Wilderness in mango. Isn't she pretty? 

We took the kayak out to Wagon Train Lake, met up with my friend Tony and his kids, and took a practice ride/swim in the lake. I think we did pretty good. I told Paul I liked having us even and he did a good job of kayaking slowly enough for us to stay right next to each other for the most part. I'm looking forward to more supported swims in the next couple of months, which is about all we'll have left for lake swimming in Nebraska. I'm curious to see how quickly the temps plummet. Too fast, I'm sure.

Knowing me, I'll probably figure out a way to justify that trip in my next long swim. :-)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

One Year From Now...

My English Channel window is July 19-29, 2014. One year from now. Shit just got real, as they say. Having read a kabillion blogs and everything in print on English Channel swimming, I devised a training plan that should ensure appropriate conditioning for my swim. And on top of swimming pretty much non-stop for the next year, there's still the enormous challenge of acclimating to cold water. I sure wish there was a cold pill that I could take that would make me impervious to the frigid temps. As if swimming that far, that long, in choppy waves, through jellyfish and seaweed and dashing between ocean tankers weren't enough -- it's in 60 degree water.

Well, one thing at a time. For now, I'm focused on kicking up my training - both in volume and in quality (ie - swimming sprints to the point of regurgitation). This week I put in 6 days of swimming. I don't think I've done that since high school. Let's not dwell on the decades that have swum along since then.

I had a nice swim at Branched Oak lake on Saturday with not one, but TWO fabulous kayakers, Ashley and Tammy, from the Sheclismo cycling group.  I felt like a celebrity swimmer with a kayak driving entourage. Very cool. The water was pretty choppy at first, but then settled down about an hour into my swim. I put in 4.8 miles in about 2 and a half hours. We enjoyed a fantastic lunch at the marina restaurant afterward. A burger tastes so much better after a long swim!

Today was a sprint workout at the Y. I'm pleasantly surprised at how well I did. It was HARD to swim as fast as possible for a whole mess of 50s and 100s. I was wheezing like a 6-pack a day smoker. But, I did them all and I beat the guy in the lane next to me -- the ironman triathlete :-)

My shoulders are whining a bit. I'll put on icepack shoulder pads this evening. Rest day tomorrow - ahhh.