Blogs tagged with "London"

I have several friends in England and find myself journeying there on a regular basis, especially around Christmastime when London streets are festive and brightly lit. This year, my husband Jim and I needed to use the airfare we banked when our trip to Sweden was canceled after my surgery. We chose to use it on a trip to the UK in December.

Besides experiencing the holiday season in London, the other reason for this trip was to see my favorite band, Turin Brakes, play in Liverpool December 4. It was also a reason to visit Liverpool - birthplace of the Beatles - a city we have never been to.
Before the trip, I had been swimming regularly. I didn't want to lose all my swimming fitness while in the UK, so I started researching potential swimming locations. During this research, I learned something I didn't know about British culture.
There are a lot of swimmers. Many of them swim year round. Outdoors.
If I really wanted to "make like a Brit" while in England, I would have to learn how to swim in cold water. How cold? All I knew was that I once saw people swimming without wetsuits in the Serpentine while I was running in Hyde Park in December. Having raced a triathlon there in 2013, I already knew the Serpentine could be frigid even in September. My research also taught me swimming in cold water required acclimating your body over time. Since proper acclimation was not possible, my swimming plans would need modification. I wanted to get a couple real workouts in, but I also wanted at least one attempt to swim in cold water. I would pack my wetsuit just in case I needed it. 
Another thing I learned was that England has recently undergone a sort-of outdoor pool-culture renaissance with the refurbishing of a large number of huge outdoor swimming pools, called "lidos." The "lido culture" was enormously popular in the 1930s, and many of the pools were updated before reopening in the 90s and 00s. Mostly popular in summer, some of the lidos are open all year. A select few of them are even heated. It would be nice - and my plan was - to experience both types while in the UK.

My goal (or hope), then, was to swim in five different locations on this trip. Before we left, I made a list of possibilities. Of course, as both a swimmer and a lover of the sport, I also included the pool built for the 2012 Summer Olympics, located in London's Olympic Park complex (after learning it is open to the public).

On to the trip.

Monday, 7 December was the first day we had no specific plans in London after arriving from Liverpool. After some thought, the location and time available made the Olympic pool the one to do first. It required no acclimation and Jim also viewed it as a tourist destination. We did laundry that afternoon and then headed to the Olympic Park.

The 2012 Olympics took place all over London, but the pool and the stadium complex were in one location, now called Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. When we arrived via the Underground, we were surrounded by shops and restaurants. Walking to the pool, we were surrounded by construction areas with billboards heralding a coming active residential and working community.

The pool building - the London Aquatics Centre - was expectedly grand - it was dark, but we tried to get some photos (below). The cost to swim was £5.20. Swimmers had their choice of the warm-up pool - 50m in length but split into 25m lap swimming - or the competition pool - 50m long by 25m wide by 3m deep, with ten lanes.
Which one would you choose?

The competition pool was quite busy, but not as busy as I expected. (The clerk at the entry DID say they get approximately 20,000 people weekly). There were five or six swimmers per lane with three occupied by a youth swim team and another reserved for a group. The first thing I noticed was the lanes were circle-swimming in the other direction - clockwise. Whoa! So it's not just driving on the left! But after closer inspection, I realized each lane was alternating direction: even lanes were swimming counter-clockwise (here, it's "anti-clockwise"), odd lanes - clockwise. There were marked "slow" lanes and unmarked (fast?) lanes. I wanted to circle-swim clockwise since I've never done that, and Jim told me to get in one of the faster lanes. So I jumped in lane 5 and started swimming. To my surprise, I was one of the faster swimmers in my lane - and in the pool. The swimmers around me were incredibly friendly and polite and slowed down or stopped to let me pass when necessary. It was one of the nicest, cleanest, and fastest pools I ever swam in.

I swam for about 40 minutes - about 2500 meters. I want to note that above the diving well at the far end of the pool were two huge digital pace clocks - not with numbers but with digital clock "hands" - it was all.. just.. so.. state of the art. When I jumped out, I told a fellow swimmer in lane 5 that I was visiting from the USA and would love to dive off the blocks just once. Another swimmer heard me and suggested I do it even thought it was against the rules - he said the lifeguards may yell at me but what's done would be done. They egged me on, so I climbed up on the block and instantly drew a whistle from the lifeguard. I pleaded my case but was denied. Thus endeth my quest for the Olympic starting blocks. (I was also told the pool has never been drained, and it's entirely possible that Michael Phelps' DNA is still floating around in it.)

Pool swim 1 accomplished. Afterwards, I was buzzing for the entire evening. Jim kept asking me what made this pool so great? I guess you'd have to be a swimmer to understand.

Here are a video and some photos that Jim took:

Check out the digital pace clocks!
In there is the warm-up pool, also 50 meters but set up for 25-meter lengths.
Check it!
Michael Phelps might have stood here too.

Diving well
London Aquatics Centre from the outside - looks wavy.
The Olympic stadium.

The next day - Tuesday, 8 December - I set my sights on a second pool. I didn't want Jim to have to spend our entire vacation on a swim search, so I found one near the day's planned events and carried my swim stuff with me. That day, we had a late-morning reservation for the Crime Museum Uncovered at the London Museum. It was a fascinating exhibit of crime history, noteworthy criminal cases, and the Metropolitan police, and by the time we got out, it was well after 2pm. We grabbed a late lunch and hurried to take photos at St. Paul's Cathedral before it got dark.

It was still early, and even though I still planned to swim, we were very close to a pub recommended to us in Liverpool - The Old Bank of England. The interior was beautiful and their menu looked amazing. But I promised myself only one pint, and then we made our way to one of the best-rated outdoor pools in London - the Oasis Sports Centre in Covent Garden. Jim could hang out and/or shop in Covent Garden while I was swimming.

The Oasis Sports Centre was about an eight-minute walk from the pub. It was cold and rainy, and the closer I got to it, the less I wanted to swim. The thing that kept me going was the knowledge that this pool was heated. The Oasis pool cost £5 to swim, and there are TWO pools - one inside and one out. Both were a good size with three lanes each.

I gathered my strength and walked outside in my swimsuit. The outdoor pool - 27.5 meters in length - was busy with four or five people per lane. I noticed swimmers were huddling down in the shallow end to stay warm. When I got in, I understood. It was warm water! I swam laps in the middle lane - they were also alternating circle-swim direction per lane. Again, I was one of the fastest people in the pool. I swam for about 40 minutes and found I was never conscious about the water or air temperature. About halfway through my swim, a new lifeguard came out and started shouting and moving people into different lanes. I got moved to the "fast lane."

Overall, the swimmers in Covent Garden were not nearly as aware of other swimmers' speeds as they were in the Olympic pool. One male swimmer with a horrible stroke refused to back off every time I tried to pass him. He would just clobber me until I could get in front of him. It seemed a bit rude, but everyone was speaking different languages in this pool, so maybe I was having a bit of a culture clash.

Getting out of the water was a shock. The air was in the 50s but it felt frigid - thank heavens for hot showers! I changed quickly, and before I left, I took a quick photo of the pool from inside the building (Note: the lifeguard yelled at me for taking this photo but no-one in it is recognizable.)

It doesn't look big, but this pool in Covent Garden is 27.5m in length.

Pool swim 2: done. My hands and feet took a while to warm up after getting chilled from the air after my swim. Jim and I ducked into several bookstores before I could feel my fingers again. I now started to question whether I really wanted to swim outdoors in an unheated pool.

Wednesday, 9 December, we planned to visit the British Library - a place Jim has been promising to take me ever since he went there a couple years ago on a business trip. Our good friends Andy and Caroline would also be arriving in London that day so we made plans to meet them at the Library at noon. Thus, I would have to swim that morning. And, it just so happens that there is a unique swimming location just up the street from the Library.

This next swim would be so much more than just a swim. It was an opportunity to be part of a living art installation. It's called King's Cross Pond Club, and it's a temporary man-made pond in the middle of a very busy construction zone. When I first googled "winter swimming in London," this place came up at the top of the list. As a location, a work of art, and a swimming destination, it didn't disappoint.

We arrived shortly after 10am, but no one had been swimming yet. I asked the ticket-taker/lifeguard if people really swim in December - he said they did. The cost was £3.50. The water temperature was 7 degrees C. I looked at Jim - he did the calculation in his head (one of his many talents): "45 degrees F." I looked at the lifeguard again: "Can I wear a wetsuit?" He said "Sure. I recommend it." He also said all I would need was a five-minute dip to get the "full effect."

(Whatever THAT meant.)

I paid my entry and went to the changing rooms. While putting my wetsuit on, I heard someone in the changing room next to me. The person was there for only a few seconds and then left. I yelled to Jim, waiting outside the door, "Is there someone else here?" Jim said "Yes, there's a guy." He changed pretty quickly, so I asked: "Is he wearing a wetsuit?" Jim said "No, he's just in swim trunks." Yikes! My first encounter with one of these crazy cold-water-loving English people. I thought about it for a second... and then remembered the lifeguard's recommendation to wear a wetsuit. I, for one, certainly wasn't going to question his expert opinion. That other guy wouldn't last more than a couple minutes.

At least five minutes had passed by the time I walked up to the pond. I even put on two swim caps to avoid head freeze (remembering how bad my face hurt when I swam in 56-degree Atlantic water). When I got up there, the crazy English guy was actually swimming - in 45-degree water without a wetsuit. He wasn't just in for a dip. He swam around and around and around... moving normally - you know, as though he WEREN'T actually submerged in icy water. Was I a complete wimp? I put my foot in. Yep, it was an ice bath. Wait, no it wasn't. It was MUCH COLDER than an ice bath. I rethought the wimp statement and climbed in.

The first thing I noticed - besides the unbelievable cold - was that this was THE cleanest, clearest water I've EVER swam in. Even now, I can still taste it. It was extraordinary. I swam around a little, not quite ready to put my head in (just a note: crazy-English-guy was not submerging his head either). I had to work up to it... and then I was able to swim for a bit. The pond is oval-shaped - 10m wide by 40m long - with plants on one side and a main swimming area. We asked a lot of questions, impressed with the lifeguard's knowledge of how it all works (more information online). The plants actually act as a filter for the pond, and there's a limit on the number of swimmers daily so that this small ecosystem continues to work. I imagine it will attract crowds next summer, and I really hope it becomes a permanent fixture. Despite the cold, this place is a treasure, and I'm unable to conjure up the words to fully describe how completely amazing it was to swim there. The water was so so SO beautiful.

The cold eventually started to get to me - my fingers and feet were not going to last long. I was determined to stay in at least as long as crazy-English-guy-without-a-wetsuit. I can say that after being in the water for a bit, my body didn't go into shock. In fact, I started to get used to it. It hurts for the first couple minutes and then everything starts to feel ok. Numb fingers and toes were the biggest issue for me and I lasted about 12 minutes - for the record, I'm saying I got out because we needed to get to the Library.

While changing, I saw another swimmer on her way to the pond - she wore swimming gloves and booties and a neoprene vest over a regular bathing suit. Now THAT was a SMART crazy-English-swimmer. Surely, I could have been in there for HOURS had it not been for my extremities. Anyway, Jim took some photos and video at King's Cross Pond Club. I highly recommend going there before it closes if you get the chance. Maybe wait until it warms up... like in February, perhaps?

The water was ridiculously clean and clear.

The plants are not only filters, they provide natural beauty to the installation.
From the observation deck.
Zoomed out to show the entire set-up
I like the striped motif on the temporary buildings too.

There it was: three swims in three days. We spent the rest of the day catching up with Andy and Caroline and visited the Natural History Museum. I didn't even TRY explaining to the bag inspector at the museum what I was doing with a wet wetsuit in my backpack.

Thursday would be difficult to get in a swim. We met Andy at the Imperial War Museum while Caroline had a work meeting, and by the time we said our goodbyes and saw them off on a train back to Exeter, both Jim and I were exhausted from being on our feet for so long for two days. We had plans to have dinner with another great friend - Sam - who lives in London (she writes a very interesting blog about London cemetery residents). Thus, my goal of five swims in five days came to an end. I wasn't too disappointed after a four pints and two pubs and great conversation with Sam.

But Friday morning, I was determined to do the one thing that would haunt me if I didn't do it: act like a proper Brit and swim outside in an unheated pool in December. I had to find the right place - something within walking distance from anywhere we needed to go that day. Friday had been set aside for shopping and the National Gallery. But my swim was first priority.

There were three places I had in mind, but only one of them would actually be feasible. The first was the Serpentine Lido in Hyde Park. It wasn't possible because I was not a member of the Serpentine Swim Club (and it took more than a morning to join). The second was the Tooting Bec Lido - the most historic (built in 1906) and second-largest (91m long by 30m wide) of the outdoor pools in the UK. Again, not possible - besides being over an hour away, in the winter it was only open to the South London Swim Club. The third was Parliament Hill Fields Lido on the outskirts of Hampstead Heath. Score! This one was possible - less than an hour away and I could swim for a measly £2.50.

Jim figured out how to get me there in 40 minutes: the Tube and a bus to Parliament Hill, then walk to the Lido. I packed my wetsuit but on the way, I told Jim I made a decision: "If just ONE person is not wearing a wetsuit, I'm going in without it." My fate was sealed, because... you KNOW there would be at least one crazy-English-swimmer. In fact, there were several. And yes, some were men in only Speedos.

Parliament Hill Fields has the true "Lido" experience. It's a huge outdoor pool surrounded by a concrete deck with a cafe. The lifeguard told us the pool is 61m long and 27m wide. This is what we saw when we arrived:

Chilly and rainy. Not really swimming weather - but this is England.
That's Celsius - pool temp in Fahrenheit was 48 degrees.

This experience would be one for the ages. In the change room, I met a girl who was donning a full wetsuit. She told me she swims for 30 minutes and just a week ago she switched to a wetsuit because she couldn't take the cold anymore. I put on my bathing suit (here they call them "swimming costumes") and walked outside to meet Jim on the deck. The air was chilly enough.

The lifeguards at Parliament Hill Lido were the friendliest of all - they were all smiles and gave me tips on how to get in the water. In a nutshell: "start at the shallow end and do it very gradually." They also told me not to overdo it since I had not acclimated yet. The lifeguards were dressed more for winter than for pool weather, and they stayed inside. They were definitely the smart ones, I noted, as I began to doubt my intelligence - or maybe my sanity - when I stepped into the water.

The water was ice-cold, but the pool was gorgeous and really clean and clear. It had a stainless steel liner with little perforations so you didn't slip. I got in up to my knees at the shallow end, and slowly walked towards the deep end. It hurt. Once I waded in up to my thighs, I had to wait for about a minute for the pain in my legs to go away. Then, I took the plunge.

I was in up to my neck for a split second before I lost my breath. It was like having the wind knocked out of me - like being punched in the chest. I remembered the same feeling when I jumped in the reservoir at Ironman St. George in 2011. That water had been in the high 50s - and I was wearing a wetsuit. This was MUCH colder. And there was no neoprene to save me. It took a bit of time, but I was finally able to swim - actually SWIM - for six laps before my fingers (yep, fingers again) had enough. I was actually getting used to it, and, surprisingly, my face didn't hurt this time. While getting out, I looked around. There were women and men in only bathing suits, some with neoprene gloves and booties, the girl in just a wetsuit, and an elderly lady with a full wetsuit, neoprene cap, gloves, and booties. All types. All crazy English swimmers. I loved them all. And I was one of them.

I swam. In London. Outdoors. In December. In an unheated pool. Without a wetsuit. Mission accomplished. Jim took a few photos and video at Parliament Hill Fields Lido.

It's hard to see, but that is me in the shallow end.
Yep, I'm swimming.
I can't talk because my lips are frozen.
I can only gesture. This means "I have NO feeling in my hands."

After my London swimming experience, I understand how people who swim in winter can do it. They swim year-round and slowly acclimate their bodies to colder and colder water. I like to believe they do it because they love swimming. But there may be some benefit to this cold-water life. I found this notice on the way into the locker/changing room at Parliament Hill Fields Lido:

Maybe the winter swimmers are not crazy after all. Maybe, just maybe, they're the smartest ones among us.

I have several friends in England and find myself journeying there on a regular basis, especially around Christmastime when London streets are festive and brightly lit. This year, my husband Jim and I needed to use the airfare we banked when our trip to Sweden was canceled after my surgery.

It's over. My triathlon season, that is. It ended with a race in my favorite urban green space: Hyde Park in London, England.

It wasn't the fairy tale ending I dreamed about last year when I qualified to race in London. In fact, on another day in another time, I would have considered it a disaster. But based on the situation I found myself in race morning, my last event of the season was actually bittersweet.

The bitter part came in the form of my thoughts of what could have been. What could have been if I wasn't training and racing injured all year. What could have been if they hadn't shortened the swim leg. What could have been if our travel had gone smoother with less stress. And, most importantly, what could have been if I had known in October what I found out the day we left for London: an MRI showed a labral tear in my left hip and a chronic torn hamstring. Had I known THAT, things might have been different in London.

But after I spew out all the things that conspired against me in London, none of them would take from me the thing I was determined to take back - my love for my sport and my love for the city of London - specifically my very favorite running spot in the whole world: Hyde Park. This was the "sweet."

I can't count how many times I've wished to swim in the Serpentine. Or how many times I've run circles in the park and wondered what it would be like to race there. When I watched the Olympics in 2012, biking along the approach to Buckingham Palace looked almost too good to be true. When I got my chance to race in London, I would take it all in and enjoy it - seriously, this WAS a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

I will say that it was easy to adopt that attitude with an injury. My physical therapist said I should have no expectations besides "just finishing." Of course I had expectations. I haven't been working hard while injured for nothing. I hoped for miracle podium finishes just like anyone else out there. And I have friends in England to impress. I also wanted to race well for my team - Team USA.

In the end, I had to settle for smiles and small victories.

It was my first time racing an ITU race. There were endless rules and rigamarole to follow. Uniform rules. Bike helmet rules. Bike racking rules. Transition area rules. Even wetsuit rules. Bike check-in for me was Saturday at 6pm where they read us all the aforementioned rules and went over the transition area layout.

The transitions included 1.8K of running - this was an official measurement made by someone on the Canadian team. We were told not to do anything stupid - i.e., get hurt or injure someone else just for an extra ten seconds - that we would NOT get a personal best time on this course. We were informed of crashes and where to slow down on the bike course. Slippery spots in transition were pointed out - including the place where a competitor fell and broke his hip the day before.

In my mind, the biggest issue facing us was the weather. Several days of rain wreaked havoc on the sprint race (20 people ended up in the hospital from bike crashes) and the women's pro race (top contender Gwen Jorgensen crashed and had to withdraw). In addition to the rain, we would also have to endure the cold (air temperatures in the 40s and water near 60 degrees F). Thank heavens the USA uniform included an ITU-approved jacket (the uniform rules are very strict).

In transition, we were not allowed to have anything except race equipment. All towels and transition mats (including rags to wipe your feet) are outlawed in ITU racing because they are regarded as "markers" for your location. This was hardcore stuff - no unfair advantages allowed.

I racked my bike, walked through the transition routes, and then my husband Jim and I made our way back to our hotel. I didn't get much sleep - travel woes and jet lag were screwing up my entire system. In what seemed like a few moments, we found ourselves hustling to make the half-hour jaunt in the dark down to transition on race morning. Transition closed promptly at 6:30 am for waves starts at 7:00. With about 2.5 hours to wait for my start, the key would be keeping warm as I foolishly forgot gloves and a winter hat. Many athletes were donning their wetsuits early to stay warm.

Keeping warm pre-race

While we waited, we found out the swim leg had been shortened to 750m because of cold water and concerns for hypothermia, and wetsuits were no longer optional. After an icy swim in the serpentine the day before, I was not looking forward to even colder water. But this year, swimming has been my strongest leg, and the shortened swim would likely cost me several places.

By the time my wave was called, I had given up trying to wake up my digestive system in the (flushable with sinks and soap and an endless supply of toilet paper) porta-johns. I grabbed a shower room (did I mention they had portable showers on-site?) to squeezed my huge body into my abnormally-small womens-medium-size Tyr Team-USA tri-suit. On the flip-side, because it was cold, I didn't have to struggle with a sweaty body getting into my wetsuit.

Jim and I said our goodbyes, he told me to have fun, and I joined my age group in the queue.

Time gaps between waves were very generous, but we were able to pass the time by watching finishers (the race was over for some before it even started for others) and talking about how it was "warming up." Miraculously, the sun had stayed out and it was burning bright in a clear sky... in London! We were hustled onto the start dock in what I later learned was (in proper English lingo) "two shakes of a donkey's tail." The in-water start was as fair as could be - everyone held onto the dock until we got the horn.


I started my watch with "take your mark," and we were off. As soon as I started swimming, it felt just like every other Olympic-distance race - i.e., everyone was relatively civil (unlike Ironman where I get viciously clobbered by non-swimmers). Except something wasn't right - I felt the athlete wristband wrapping around the "heel" of my left hand. The same wristband had been on the opposite side of my watch about ten seconds earlier (when I hit the start button).

Trying not to get distracted, I assumed my watch had slipped a notch and slid down. I felt good in the water (surprisingly the cold was a non-issue) and was mostly alone with no feet to draft. Spotting the very tall buoys was easy even with the sun in our eyes for the longest stretch of water. When I rounded the second-to-last buoy, I almost slammed into the stragglers from the previous wave. I took a second of breaststroke to regroup - and used that second to inspect my left wrist.

Swim exit, sans watch

Horrified, I noticed my watch was gone. In true Disaster Magnet fashion, my new touch-screen watch - a birthday present from Jim - had become a victim of the Serpentine. (My extreme reaction would have much more light-hearted had I known the watch sacrifice would become a running joke for everyone in my circle of English friends for days to come.)

The swim exit was about 20 yards away and there was nothing I could do - short of panic. On the long run to T1, I heard Jim yell "nice swim," to which I replied "I LOST MY WATCH!" Like he could do anything about it.

I kept running. And running. And running. I had no idea what my swim time was, but I found solace in the fact that my bike time didn't require the watch as it would be firmly registered on my bike computer. My wetsuit came off in record time, and I saved more time by deciding it was warm enough to ride without my jacket. Then I foolishly lost time to OCD while trying to tidy up my ground space. The run to bike-out was thankfully short.

The two-loop 40K bike course was nothing short of spectacular. It did a quick out and back through Hyde Park then exited via Hyde Park corner, through Green Park, past Buckingham Palace, along St. James Park, then loosely followed the Thames river to a turnaround near the Tower of London. It was flat as an English pancake (more like a crepe), and the only thing that slowed us down was the wind that kicked up on the second loop.

During the bike leg, several near-crashes kept me alert. A wind gust reminiscent of Kona nearly blew my bike out from under me near Hyde Park Corner, and when I swerved to avoid another competitor who cut me off in Hyde Park, my back wheel caught air. There was also woman with a death wish who disregarded a crossing and had to be pulled out of the way by a crossing guard just in the nick of time - with two female cyclists traveling 25 mph bearing down on her and screaming for her to get out of the way (I was one of them).

Yeah, I'd have to say she was drafting.

A funny thing that happened on the bike was when another competitor passed me near the end of the leg and turned around to yell to a German woman behind me to stop hanging in my slipstream... then she said "you're cheating" in a very matter-of-fact tone. What cracked me up was how politely she said it. I think I might like this ITU thing after all.

The bike course was awesome for spectators - I saw Jim no less than three times, and he never had to leave Hyde Park. It's also worth mentioning that crowd support was phenomenal on the streets of London. The throngs lining the streets cheering was comparable to those of the New York City Marathon.

My bike time was slower than expected - based on speeds I was clocking - but I felt I rode as hard as I could without aggravating my hip. A couple of severe twinges of pain made me step back a bit so that I could (hopefully) run without limping.

I pulled into T2 slightly downtrodden at my slowness but happy only a 10K remained between me and the pub. Again, the run was quite long to the bike racks, and by the time I reached mine, I understood my earlier OCD folly. The transition zone had become a war zone, with equipment carnage everywhere. My running shoes were not where I left them - thankfully they were close by. I was able to get into them despite having muddy frozen blocks of ice where my feet used to be.

During the long trek to run-out, I gave the slip to the draft-guilty German girl - she obviously didn't pay attention to the course talk about the hairpin turn in T2 and tried to cut the course by exiting at bike-out. Some people never learn!

The 10K run was comprised of three loops completely within Hyde Park. The crowd support would blow my mind - people were constantly yelling my name and "U-S-A!" It didn't matter what country we were from - we got cheered.

Now came the real problem of being without my watch - taking run splits. Jim to the rescue! On the back stretch of the first loop, he held out HIS watch and I grabbed it. I was feeling relatively good compared to other races this year. But it was almost useless because there were no distance markers on the run course. Without mile markers, I was forced to do math - I assumed a loop was about two miles, and after the first loop, I started the watch.

The run passed the finish line three times

On the second loop, I stopped trying to figure out who was in my age group - no body marking and numbers worn on front. A British woman who looked about my age passed me at a decent pace, and I decided to hang behind her.

I struggled to stay with her and took a split at the second loop - 14:44. I was doing 7:20s. Not great, but my hip was still working and I actually still felt pretty strong. So I decided I wanted to run down the British chick.

Half way through the second lap I caught her on an uphill and maintained my lead for about 30 seconds, then she re-passed me. I noticed her breathing was more labored than mine, so I hung back for a minute and then made my move. With about a mile to go, the mantra of an old running friend came back to spur me on. He used to tell himself: "You can do anything for a mile.. you can hop on one leg for a mile if you have to."

It was the final mile of my final race, and if I had to go down, I would go down fighting. I passed the Brit and ran with everything I had. I never saw her again. I completely forgot about my time, and as I came to the turn into the finish chute, I was handed an American flag from a spectator. I sprinted for the finish line.

My first race on international soil had ended. It wasn't my best. It wasn't my worst. But it WAS the most fun I've had in years.

By the time I found Jim, the weather had turned foul (rain, cold, and wind), and I quickly packed up my stuff as soon as we could get into transition. Then Jim bought me the coolest new Timex watch ever - it's white with the Union Jack on it.

Monday night we attended an intimate gig with my favorite musicians: Turin Brakes. After they played a brilliant gig showcasing their amazing new album (check 'em out at, we spent time catching up. It's been an agonizingly-long three years. The biggest story of the night? How hilarious it was that I would be leaving my watch in London at the bottom of the Serpentine.

As of yesterday, eight weeks stand between me and toeing the line at the ITU Age Group World Championship in London. The spring and early summer have not been kind in terms of injury and training. I have been trying to make up for my lack of run training with harder swim and bike training, but I can't say I'm ecstatic with it. I'm now on the flip side of my usual race situation. I find myself looking over my shoulder in fear of being chased down by faster runners.

To be brutally honest, I hate it. I hate that I no longer possess my former secret weapon - my running speed. I actually don't like to be leading races - I secretly enjoy coming off the bike behind the leaders with the knowledge my run can and has (in the past) erased up to a 7-minute lead in a 10K.

But eight weeks won't afford me the gains I've lost while recovering from a stress fracture and I must adjust my goals going into London - I must put together the best swim and bike legs I can. And I MUST speed up my painfully-slow transitions.

I was able to gather more data in my second Olympic-distance race of the season, the Tri del Sol in Grand Rapids Michigan. There were several reasons for choosing this race, none of which involved the travel situation (more on that in a bit). I thought the competition would be good because the top three awards involved cash. I also had a prior commitment on Sunday so I needed a Saturday race. And, last of all, my husband Jim has always wanted to visit a famous guitar shop in Lansing called Elderly Instruments that is never open on Sunday (usual race day).

But as mentioned, I was facing a travel "situation." The race was Saturday, June 20, and Jim was flying home from a business trip at 2:00 pm Friday. I would pick him up and make the five-hour trip to Grand Rapids Friday night. If his plane was late, we would deal with it. Guess what! Mechanical problems delayed his flight, and we ended up leaving Cleveland around 5:30 pm. It was going to be a late one.

We managed to find a decent meal at a rest area and rolled into the hotel close to 10:30 pm. I was pretty wound up and unable to relax that night, thus my usual anxiety coupled with a lack of pre-race wine resulted in a completely sleepless night.

But this was not an Ironman - or even a half. It was a short do-able-on-no-sleep race - so I shook it off and focused on what needed to be done. The plan was to hammer the bike and see what happens (this is a theme of late). Mentally, I'm still a slow biker, so "hammering" the bike is a difficult concept. All I knew is my legs had to hurt (bad) coming off the bike.

As recommended in a pre-race email, we arrived at the race site 2.5 hours early. I checked in and quickly grabbed the end spot on the transition rack (this was one of the rare races where "first come first served" actually mattered) - by the time transition closed, people were begging for space on the racks and many of us had to be vigilant to make sure our bikes were not moved or flipped around.

This was one sign of an inexperienced race staff. The bike racks were not numbered and no one was helping people properly stagger bikes. I noticed many people racking adjacent bikes in the same direction. Jim recommended I baby-sit my bike until transition closed to make sure things stayed put (I've been at races where helmets end up on the ground and transition areas disrespected).

No wetsuits at this race - the water was a whopping
84 degrees F. Here we were discussing
the buoys (or lack there-of).

Right before 8 a.m., we walked down to the swim start for the pre-race meeting. The swim start was the second - and biggest - indicator of an unprepared race staff. There was no "pre-race meeting." Despite maps of what the swim would look like, it looked completely different (read: rectangular course with only three turn buoys), and no one could explain to us the exact swim course. There were two distances - the sprint consisted of one loop, the Oly-distance, two. We watched in horror as the sprint triathlon began and the buoys started moving. This was not good. There was a speedboat racing around the outskirts of the swim course repositioning buoys WHILE WE WERE SWIMMING.

Swim start - that's my elbow you see.

My race started out fine - within a few hundred yards, I knew I was leading the women in the 1500-meter swim. I suspect an advantage came in the fact that I'm very good at spotting buoys because of my slightly heads-up swimming technique. By the time I reached the far end of the swim course, the two triangular turn buoys had come together, making the course more of a triangle. Swimmers were scattered all over the place, and I was alone for most of the swim. During the second lap, I was hit by rough water from the speedboat, making me swallow a couple gulps before turning toward the finish. Not seeing any other women and dealing with unreliable buoys, I lost focus and slacked off during the swim. I was surprised (and upset at myself) when another woman came out of the water right behind me going into T1. My watch time showed 25 minutes at the chip mat.

That other woman beat me out of transition (did I mention how painfully slow my transitions are?), and now I knew this would be a race. Why? Because I recognized her - three weeks earlier, this competitor had beaten me by about four minutes (but lost her second-place finish after being docked time for drafting - TWICE).

Within the first few minutes of the bike leg, I noticed she was on the sidelines spinning her bike wheel (mechanical problems) but appeared to be getting right back on her bike. I used the opportunity to make the pass and hope I could hold her off. I already knew she could run faster than me (from the previous race).

T2: Oh no, don't forget the helmet.

I hammered the 40K bike course as I had planned. Despite some issues with traffic control, the bike course was beautiful - with rolling hills and only a few rough areas. The biggest surprise was that it was marked MILE BY MILE - and very accurately too. I rode as hard as I could and with tired legs but holding my lead in the women's race, I pulled into transition only to see the same time on my bike computer as my last race (1:07 - 1:08). It was a harder course, but I was still disappointed. (I later found out that other bike course was more than a mile short according to a race report by an athlete who had GPS on it).

Proof that I ran with my sunglasses in hand.

My T2 was also slow because I still struggle getting into my running shoes faster than a snail. Being OCD, I also have to reposition and adjust the tongue, which usually ends up at my toes (yes, despite the laces going through the tongue lace "holder"). I usually also take time to pull the laces tighter. It IS a disaster. At least I remembered to take off my helmet. AND to put my hat, sunglasses, and number belt ON while running.

Having ridden hard, I was surprised how good my legs felt out of transition, but the 10K run starts on dirt and wood chips and then features a pretty formidable hill. I was shocked to see 6:38 on my watch when I went through the first mile (it HAD to be a short mile). I tried to hang with a guy named Mark who was running a great pace (we were trading greetings when he passed me near the end of the bike leg, but I beat him out of transition).

Yay, finish line.

In the second mile, I had to back off to avoid a serious blow-up on the run. Mile 2 also showed a sub-7-minute pace, and I found myself wondering what WAS going on. Were the markers wrong? I certainly didn't expect to hold a pace like that with only a few weeks of run training.

At the turn-around I realized I never got a split at mile 3, but I looked down at my watch, noted the time, and started my lookout for the second woman. I finally saw her just over one minute from the turn. This meant I was about two minutes ahead with about three miles to go. But I was feeling it. The run course was rolling and I was crawling on the uphills. I tried to run the downhills hard to get as much speed as I could. My splits at miles 4 and 5 were well over eight minutes - prompting the hope that they were marked wrong. If they weren't, I was in trouble. But somehow I managed to hold on to my lead and was relieved to see the finish line (and Jim) after another stint on a wooded trail.

Yeah, I was pretty happy knowing I could still win
a tri at 48 years old - and that I would be $200 richer.

My new friend Mark confirmed that his GPS on the run course measured 6.5 miles, so my final time of 46:13 landed me a mile-pace of about 7:06 (overall time 2:20:49). My progress in the run has me feeling encouraged at the possibility of a half-way decent run in London.

But as they say, my work will be cut out for me.

Yeah, I'm up for it.

As of yesterday, eight weeks stand between me and toeing the line at the ITU Age Group World Championship in London. The spring and early summer have not been kind in terms of injury and training.

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