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Could 2017 also be the year I decide to blog more regulary? Is twice a month considered "regular"? Well, whatever - I just needed to vent.

In a year of environmental, political, social, and economic uncertainty and my second year focusing on open-water swimming, I already committed (read: paid entry) to two races, both in Maryland and both I've done (well, started) before: the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim 4.4-mile and the Ocean Games 9-mile. Neither was a resounding success last year, and thus, I have two goals so far for this year, i.e., do better than last year.

Speaking of goals, the more I delve into the realm of open-water swimming, the more interested I get and the more pie-in-the-sky goals I tentatively set for myself. I've even become interested in this crazy sport called ice swimming (Google it). But I'm currently struggling with a big mental setback: coping with the physical changes (and challenges) of going from a runner/triathlete to just a swimmer (who runs and bikes occasionally).

With football-player shoulders (30 yrs ago)
With runner shoulders (2 yrs ago)

Let's get the first one out there: the weight gain. Yep, I know, I know. It's muscle (for now - it may very well be fat when I start back into cold water swimming). But I've been longingly staring into my closet afraid to even attempt putting on clothes that might be tight on me. Back in high school and college, I weighed 20 pounds more and the only shirts I could wear were large - I had this crazy, unwieldy, oversized upper body. All my long sleeves were short. I always felt like a freak even though I probably wasn't as freaky-looking as I imagined.

Surprisingly, I'm really struggling to accept that this is what it will take - these body changes - to do what I want as an open water swimmer. My former runner body will not last long in 55-60 degree open water. After all these years and all the positive body image messages out there, why does this still bother me? Why am I struggling to rise above it? Obviously, I have a LOT of work to do before I can look into the mirror and say that I like myself no matter what I look like. But I'm trying. And hopefully, my passion for swimming and drive to achieve far-reaching goals as an open-water swimmer will win out over something as petty as body image.

But I do love this new sport and I can't wait to get back into lake swimming once the water warms to at least 50 degrees. In the meantime, I'm taking cold showers after my pool swims and reading Becoming the Iceman by Wim Hof and Justin Rosales.

I've also been doing a lot of drawing lately, some realistic, some not-so-realistic:

Could 2017 also be the year I decide to blog more regulary? Is twice a month considered "regular"? Well, whatever - I just needed to vent.

When I qualified to race in the 2014 ITU Age Group World Championship in Edmonton, Alberta, I decided to go for two reasons. At the time (August 2013), I thought my long-distance racing days were over and Olympic-distance would be my future - that is, if I could run without pain. The other reason, perhaps even more important to me, was that it would finally put me in striking distance of the Canadian Rockies and Jasper National Park.
Why was this so important? You ask..

It's a proverbial bucket-list location for me. A dream more than 40 years in the making. There was a photograph I had cut out of a calendar, framed, and hung on my wall when I was a little kid. It was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. There was an emerald-colored lake, evergreen trees, and a mountain in the background with diagonal stripes of snow. And I dreamed big. I declared to everyone that I would one day find this place and take my own photo of it. If it really existed. Seriously. Corny? Yep. It was sort of my Shangri-La, paradise on earth.

Over the years, I spent many days dreaming of this place. Eventually, the thought it faded into the background, a distant memory in my busy no-time-to-smell-the-flowers existence. And the photo found its way into a storage box somewhere (my husband Jim swears I've shown it to him). But the day I found out the ITU World Championship was in Edmonton, the image returned instantly - and the dream had now become a distinct reality.
I knew EXACTLY where it was. I had done my research as a kid - with maps and road atlases and books - long before the internet existed. The snowy peak was Mt. Edith Cavell. It was considered one of the "50 classic climbs" in North America (I found THAT information browsing a book store - This photo shows the hanging Angel Glacier (top right)
which spills over an almost 1000-foot cliff.
This photo shows Cavell Glacier and Cavell Pond.
In 2012, the trail to the pond was completely washed away
by a mini-tsunami caused by the fall of a glacier above this one.
Then, we went to find my lake. It was there. In fact, with the weather conditions, it was ALL you actually could see. I can't say I wasn't disappointed. But there was absolutely nothing we could do. We decided to hike the trail a bit in hopes it would clear up. But instead, it got much colder and we hurried our way back to the car.

Jim's words to me? "I'm sorry sweetie, but this might be the. best. we. can. do."

Mt. Edith Cavell is behind the fog.

My heart sank. I begged him to wait a half hour, even though it was almost 6 pm and the sun was on its way down.

And you know what happened? A miracle! The first of two. The time-zone difference was two hours from Ohio, and when we got in the car to warm up, satellite radio was airing the Cleveland Indians game. We (especially my Indians-season-ticket-holder husband) could pass that half hour with no worries. We listened. And waited. And the rain eased a bit. We made a final trek down the trail and I prayed that the low clouds had lifted.
And we got our second miracle. No, I didn't get the perfect shot. But the weather had cleared enough to show Mt. Edith Cavell's characteristic snow bands. The lake was choppy and not nearly as green as the original photo, but it was just as magical. And it acted a little like Shangri-La - I felt young, like a kid again. With big dreams - dreams big as mountains:
This is what it's supposed to look like except the summit is missing.
Proof that I made it there.

Taking the iPhone version.
And later it really cleared up and you could
see the summit from the town of Jasper as the light was fading.
More from the Canadian Rockies once the sky cleared up
in the waning daylight.
On the way back to Edmonton, the sky cleared up completely. It was so dark you could see the Milky Way winding its way through the stars. And then, we got a third miracle.

Midnight was approaching and I looked out Jim's car window to the north. I knew what I was looking for because our airplane pilot had pointed it out two days earlier on our flight in: the green glowing sheets of the Northern Lights. They once again appeared in the northern sky - an extremely rare sight in summer. And I caught it just in time, before light pollution would have snuffed it out. I immediately urged Jim to stop the car. We took a quick detour off the highway, pulled over to the side of a dark road, and scrambled to get the camera out. Jim played around with the shutter speed and managed to capture the final amazing event from this miracle of days:

The Northern Lights (aurora borealis), 30 August 2014

The next day would be a difficult one. We got to bed at 1:30 am but would need to take a train and a shuttle down to the race site - Hawrelek Park - at 9 am to check in my bike. I did final race prepping, and that evening, we visited the West Edmonton Mall - a huge indoor wonderland that contains a hockey rink, a water park (wave pool and zip lines included), and an amusement park with a full-size roller coaster:

The Mindbender coaster in Galaxyland inside the
West Edmonton Mall. The ride is much longer than you think
with three loops and many spiral turns.

The only thing left to do was race the next morning. AND, be ok with the fact that I had probably used up all our miracles. I thought it would be easy, but it turned out to be the hardest part of the entire trip.

Race morning brought very low temperatures - 6-7 C (low 40s F). Most of the athletes were losing the battle to keep warm. Last year's ITU World Championship in London was cold, but this seemed much colder. I was shivering even with five layers of clothing. My wave started at 9:40 but we had to be there before 7am to set up transition. We were late to the party, but we finally found the warm indoor area near the swim start in which athletes were relaxing and getting into their wetsuits.
They lined us up just after 9 am, so we still had a long cold wait. The 1500m swim was two loops in a chlorinated man-made lake. The start was fun - we all lined up with one foot on a platform, then ran and dove into the water. It was my first time diving head first in a triathlon swim (usually it's a deep-water start or a beach sprint into shallow water). I was relieved to start swimming because the water temperature (at 19 C/66 F) was balmy compared to the air.
Hurry and start this thing before we freeze.

My swim was the one thing that did go well. I felt strong - no back pain, no problems staying on course. Going into the second loop, I was able to drop the two women flanking me for most of the first lap (usually not the case). I think many made the mistake of going out too hard.

The run from swim exit to transition was ridiculously long as they sent us past screaming spectators in the grandstand. A long run makes it harder to get out of a (partially dry) wetsuit, but surprisingly, I had very little trouble. Surprisingly I stayed on my feet despite my disc problem, and I was on my bike pretty quickly.
The 40K bike course was also a double loop with a steep climb at the beginning. The course was very fast, but the cold was an issue for everyone. My legs were not burning like usual, and I thought I rode really strong, but my time was the same as Nationals in Milwaukee. It was extremely disappointing to say the least.
Coming around for the second loop.
At least I had my homemade custom Toothless helmet.

Thus, when I saw the time as I pulled into transition, I started to mentally unravel. Then things went really wrong. After racking my bike, I couldn't get my helmet strap unclipped because my hands had gotten so cold my fingers didn't work. They were frozen. I struggled and struggled with it and then tried to pull my helmet off while it was still strapped. In retrospect, it must have looked quite hilarious. But then I started to panic as other women came in and start the run while I was still struggling to get my helmet off. I finally yelled for help and an ITU official came over, but right before she got to me, I actually managed to unclip the strap myself. I took off running as fast as I could.

The run transition was also ridiculously long, and my legs felt fried before I even got out on the run course. I saw Jim on the way out and just shook my head in frustration. I knew right away that I had nothing. This, combined with the cold, the disappointing bike split, and the helmet disaster had rattled me beyond recovery. And instead of reminding myself this was a "C" race, I ran frustrated and discouraged. It shouldn't have mattered that much, but it was a world championship and spectators were acting like it. I was getting my butt kicked by women I've beaten in the past and all I could do was "run through it." I had mentally checked out.
First loop of the run.

The 10K course was two loops, partially on a gravel trail. The second time I saw Jim, he told me to back off and not hurt myself. I was probably hurting myself more mentally than physically at that point. By the time it was over, the only positive thing I could glean from my run was that I actually started to feel good around mile 5 or 6. Unfortunately, I had no speed, and that was when the race was just about over.

I grabbed a flag for my run to finish anyway, and I didn't complain or sulk until I was out of sight, showered, and had lunch. Lying in the hotel room was when the uncontrollable tears came. And the fear and worry has come back. And I have about six weeks to work through it so that I can toe that line in Kona with the confidence and killer instinct I need to get through it.

Writing this has helped me put the whole thing in perspective. Sometimes I need to stop and smell the flowers and appreciate the journey. I guess that's why I keep writing - to step out of the momentary and consider the enduring. And perhaps tell a race story that might save someone else's race. And add things to that "bucket list." While I can. Because there is no Shangri-La. It just looks that way in pictures.

When I qualified to race in the 2014 ITU Age Group World Championship in Edmonton, Alberta, I decided to go for two reasons. At the time (August 2013), I thought my long-distance racing days were over and Olympic-distance would be my future - that is, if I could run without pain.

The Kona fallout is in full swing. The crying. The insomnia. The questions. The search for answers. The kicking myself. The hating myself. The wondering about the future. The doubts. The fear of getting back into training just to fail again.

I've also had doubts about continuing to blog. I don't get much feedback here so I assume few people are at all interested. I guess I just write for myself. Of late, I've reconnected with a very good friend with whom I hope to run over the winter. He is a scientist and philosopher and I've been encouraging him to write a blog because, selfishly, I want reference material for our future running conversations. I told him my thoughts on whether I should continue writing despite having little impact. He gave me the following huge compliment: "Your stuff is interesting because you dare to try to do stuff that is big and then you 'break.' And you make the breaks sound so interesting."

So I decided to channel my negative energy into something productive involving this blog - a new goal to include in it. My thoughts went directly to the other great (creative) passion in my life - the thing I neglect when I'm training and racing - my art.

My new (and I admit, lofty) goal is to do a drawing a day for one year. Starting today.

I've given myself a little leeway. The drawings can be quick incomplete sketches or large-scale manifestaions in color. On anything from barmats or napkins to acid-free 100% cotton paper.

And so it begins... my first drawing is in a sketchbook, and it is a continuation of a group of drawings that I recently renamed "Catharsis" (at the suggestion of a friend) because it involves working through pain and injury.

And here it is, my first drawing in the series, a representation of how my shoulder feels since I fell on it while running this summer:

The Kona fallout is in full swing. The crying. The insomnia. The questions. The search for answers. The kicking myself. The hating myself. The wondering about the future. The doubts. The fear of getting back into training just to fail again.

The two things I love most in the world -- besides my husband and my cat -- are music and run/tri training. If I find something out there that combines those two things, what could possibly be better? Not much.

So when I found that something, it seems to be the ultimate irony that its primary product is something I really DON'T get excited about: clothing (no, seriously). Basically, for me to get excited about clothing, it has to be way cooler or way more functional than anything I already have. And that goes doubly if it's a t-shirt. Because I have more t-shirts than you can shake a stick at. And I have given away more t-shirts than you can shake a stick at (where does that expression come from anyway?). I have boxes of t-shirts that have never been worn. And here's the deal: I don't WANT any more.
Until I saw my new t-shirt. To understand why I had to have it, I have to tell you about my first obsession. This is the obsession that came before all the other ones. The one that came before my college obsession with being a fast swimmer. The one that preceded my marathon running OCD of the 1990s. And yes, this is the one before Punk Rock Tri Guy" and it's written by Ron. Ron does marathons, ironmans, you name it -- if it's an endurance event, he'll eventually do it -- and blog about it. And he's a brilliant writer who makes everything sound fun and funny. I routinely laugh (yes, out loud) at his articles (remember the way you USED to laugh at early Seinfeld episodes?).
But before I read a single word of Punk Rock Tri Guy's blog, I was hooked instantly by the t-shirt he was wearing in a photo. It was my Cheap Trick t-shirt! Except, no, wait! It was the iconic Cheap Trick logo with the band name replaced by the word "Runner." In another photo, he was wearing the t-shirt of another past favorite band of mine, the Ramones. I think the first or second comment I ever wrote on his blog was something about having the "same Ramones shirt" he had. Except... again, it WASN'T a Ramones t-shirt!! it was the Ramones logo with the "Johnny Joey Dee Dee" replaced with "Swim Bike Run" -- a triathlon shirt masquerading as the coolest punk band of all time.
That's when I saw it: Ron was the founder of a clothing company called "Punk Rock Racing" (duh, that's why he's "Punk Rock Tri Guy"), and they have even more cool t-shirts, not to mention other stuff. I may be only one person, but I will bring the "athletes disguised as punk rockers" revolution to Cleveland, the "birthplace of rock and roll." And, then I'll take on a new cause. Like, if the Ramones can make it into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, why not Cheap Trick?
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