Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hook 'Em, Bevo

If you're going to break the law, break it with enough conviction to end up in jail.

If you're going to get disowned for moving to Texas and abandoning the Big Ten, attend a Longhorns football game and wear school colors.

I pulled on my only burnt orange piece of clothing and prepared to meet Bevo Nation.  They did not disappoint.

We walked to the game from a friend's place to avoid the utter traffic nightmare, and the campus I see every day on the way to and from masters swimming was virtually unrecognizable.  I grab breakfast tacos here after practice in a pinch:


This is the view of the stadium I get every time I swim on campus.  People, move, you are ruining my shot!


The stadium is quite nice, accommodating 100+k without creating traffic jams.  This food court holds the most people I think I ever saw at a Harvard football when we weren't playing Yale.


The view from our nose-bleed seats, which I actually preferred.  We got to see the skyline and the sun, and everybody else got to see just a sea of burnt orange.


And quite a sea it was.

Less than one third of the stadium

It was the Veteran's Game so Airborne Rangers parachuted into the stadium and received a huge cheer when they hit the Longhorn emblem mid-field.  On game day, Bevo the mascot resides in that burnt orange bunker in the top right corner of the photo, just at the bottom of the bleachers.  Let me assure you, the rest of his life is just as posh. 


The UT marching band is HUGE.  They do really complicated figures because I think there would be no other way to incorporate the entire brass section.


It says "UT" - with people left over

What state is this again?  As if the number of unique or custom-made cowboy boots didn't give it away.



I have been following (and watching on TV when possible) the Longhorns the entire season, but I was reminded just how much being a fan of a team is only cemented by attending games.  I didn't know the fight songs, the dances, the cheers, the call-and-responses, the band's ditties, and the tradition of firing a cannon at nearly every single applicable opportunity.  I didn't even know what a Bevo was before entering the stadium.  The Big 12 might not be as keen to have me as the Big Ten was sad to lose me.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hopeful And Thankful

Here's hoping you had a comfortable and cozy Thanksgiving - and a cute place-card to boot.


Never knew I was something of a genius with candy corn, did ya?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Wood Anniversary

Five years ago today was the first day I ever swam laps with an eye toward swim training.  Aside from an ill-fated single day on a summer swim team, I had only ever tried to not drown before.

I had run the Philly Marathon the weekend prior and went home for the Thanksgiving holiday knowing that I needed to find some active recovery activity that wasn't running.  In the snow biking was out.  Swimming on the other hand...I had to borrow my mother's suit.

The YMCA in Madison charges outrageous day-pass fees, but over Thanksgiving they waive the charge if you donate to their food drive.  I went to the grocery store and bought four cans of the cheapest canned vegetable I could find: corn, at 25 cents per can.  A weekend of swimming that would have cost me $80 cost me $1 - and helped America's farmers. 

I decided to swim for an hour straight.  I promised myself that if I could raise my arms above my head the next day, I would go back and do it again.  I ended up "spending" all four cans.

Fiver years later things have really progressed - I have my own suit and don't pay for lane time with cheap canned vegetables.

What have I learned in the past five years?

It is still all about not drowning.

Oh, you mean seriously?  Will you settle for useful?

** Get into a masters group or workout as soon as you feel comfortable swimming for 2000 yards or so (not straight).  I ignorantly did exactly the right thing: I spent a winter building up distance (at the time I had no concept of bases and place clocks so if I was getting faster I had no idea) and then the following summer jumped into a masters group that I had no business swimming with.  But this masters group - and consistent attendance - took me from swimming 2000 yards a workout slow, to swimming 5000 meters a workout fast, in far less time than I would have been able to alone.

** Don't let "I don't know enough" or having poor form or doing open turns keep you from swimming with a masters group.  My first day ever of masters I didn't know the order of strokes in the individual medley (IM; it's fly, back, breast, free).  I got a guffaw and a serious eye-roll, but hey, they let me come back the next day.  If you have concerns, talk to the coach beforehand; they can put you in the correct lane or suggest an alternate group.  If you have unassailable concerns, swim with friends and form your own masters-esque group. 

** Never lead a lane unless you can use the pace clocks and correctly identify when to leave on the next interval.  Or else you will face the modern-day equivalent of a mutiny and marooning.

** Whether you swim with a masters group, with friends, or alone, don't always swim intervals of the same distance.  Occasionally get in and swim lap-after-lap-after-lap until you are thoroughly bored (or if you're me, lose count) then swim ten more laps.  Try to get up to 1500 to 2000 yds/m, during which a consistent pace is more important than a fast one.  Then try to swim that far with changes in pace - ex. a fast(er) 100 every 500 - so that you learn to recover while still swimming.  

** The "public lanes" at a pool sound all kumbaya and Kindergarten-y, I know.  But the public in the public lanes is best avoided.  Unless you bring with you a group of your own public and can #OccupyPublicLane.

** Urban legend, pursuant to the previous point:  The nicest pool in DC has lanes divided by speed - slow, medium, fast.  Inevitably slow people self-select themselves into the fast lane.  One day a fast swimmer told a slow swimmer that they were in the fast lane and should move to the slow lane.  The slow swimmer's reply?  "But I'm going as fast as I can."

** Swim all the strokes, occasionally, even if you feel awkward, tired, and/or slow.  The important part of the fly pull is the same as the free-style pull, except you do it with both arms at the same time.  Double the workout!  If fly really isn't your thing, try it with fins to get the rhythm down.

** Early on in your swimming, or heck, even late on in your swimming, write a technique-only workout and do it once a week, alone.  I found Sunday was a good lazy day to focus on form and not worry about speed.  The goal is not to go fast or far, the goal is to swim with correct technique as much as possible.  Once your form gets sloppy, stop, even if you are in the middle of an interval.  Rest, regain your focus, and start again from where you stopped.  2000 yards with good form is more valuable than 4000 yards with poor form.

** Swimming with a band can fix in 10 strokes what fixing with a stroke coach can take 10 hours.

** Never become too reliant on any one toy.  Pulling with a buoy but no paddles works on core stability, rotation in the water, and increasing awareness of the catch.  Pulling with paddles and no buoy works on synching your kick with your stroke and lifting your back-half while moving fast(er) through the water.  Pulling with paddles and buoy (and band) works on pure strength, but can encourage cheating at various parts of the stroke: dropping the elbow, ending the pull too early, not cocking the wrist for the catch.  Swimming fast with fins quickly highlights any point of the body or stroke that deviates from streamline, and naturally increase stroke rate.

** Give swim cords (Therabands also work) a try.  Separating the catch and pull, and repeating them over and over without the pesky concern of drowning - not to mention the ability to actually see a dropped elbow and feel what it takes to keep an elbow high - will cement in your mind and kinesthetic sense what swimming should feel like.

** Don't be the person at the pool with the see-through suit.   

** Buy polyester suits.  Figure out your size in a store, and then buy on-line from a reputable dealer (Speedo, TYR, etc) or buy a reputable brand from discount clearinghouse (swimoutlet.com).  Last season's prints get down to $20 and one poly suit lasts me 18 months, even when worn every time I swim. 

** Swim more.  Swim that more with people.

** Don't drown.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

S'UP ATX?

Just what I have been doing since I last posted?

Learning to walk on water, of course.


Water is such an integral part of Austin (despite it's marked absence falling from the sky these past 12 months).  Town Lake runs right through down town, not two blocks from my apartment, and is an outing or outlet for thousands of people each day.  It's a geographic divider like the Potomac in DC, but unlike the Potomac, Town Lake is easy to access and just another playground, open to anyone not swimming.  Madison is also defined by bodies of water - 4 lakes forming an isthmus - but I never really made use of them.  I decided that instead of just driving over Town Lake or running around it, I would go out on it.  So I picked up stand-up paddling (SUP). 

S'UP ATX?

It is disorienting how different things look from the water.  The traffic on a major highway artery vanishes.  The Loop 360 corridor is almost serene.


On the trail, a single tree is simply part of the larger canopy.  From the water, it is statuesque, its roots so perfectly veined as to look like a set piece in a play.




Those stairs lead up to the running trail, from which I have never noticed those stairs.

The bridges become legitimate art and architecture, providing shelter or a picnic spot.  Not to mention an optical illusion.

Under Lamar

On a wind-less day the waves not on the water show up elsewhere.  Huh. I've only ever run across Pflugerville Pedestrian Bridge in a straight line.

Pflugerville

Pearls of wisdom and works of art hang in galleries stories above the water.




No matter the perspective it's a lovely way to spend a late afternoon.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rev3 Cedar Point: Any Given Sunday

Time heals all wounds.  Distance makes the heart grow fonder.

Yet, more than two months on, I can dredge up a no more rosy-colored assessment of Rev3 Cedar Point than "meh."  Imagine how I felt the day after.

It wasn't the straw that broke the camel's back, nor was it the next deposit in the bank toward a larger, more meaningful goal.  At worst, Cedar Point was a race where I walked the last 10 of 140.6 miles in order to earn a paycheck.  At best, Cedar Point was the canary in the coal mine.  Of what?  I didn't know at the time, although two months has proven the length of time to figure it all out and do something about it.

I actually did start a more traditional Kelzie-style race report on the trip home from scenic Sandusky, Ohio.  Only it's title - Any Given Sunday - and opening stanza remain, as a tribute to what I thought at the time was the larger theme of my race.

"It's Ironman, it's a crapshoot."  - very astute observation by my rack mate 'round about 6 am on race morning

Betting big or betting conservatively, first-timer or Luis Alvarez (note: only person to complete every IM on the planet), we are all the same race morning: standing at a start line, facing something of a crapshoot.

From the first-timers perspective, I offer my athlete who this weekend completed her first Ironman.  Her stated goal this past winter: finish standing, with a minimal amount of suffering.  Well, she finished.  And not only standing, but with plenty of time to fall flat on her face and crawl the last 26.2 miles if need be.  Dare I say her experience and execution surpassed both of our expectations?  Her come out roll at the 'shoot was a straight up 11.  Her response: That was SO. MUCH. FUN.

From the betting big(ger) perpsective, I offer myself who this weekend completed the Rev3 Cedar Point Iron-distance race two weeks after taking a turn at the 'shoot and rolling snake eyes.  I rolled a Hard Deuce (note: that's a 4, which is horrible odds for a come out bet).  My response: meh.

The rest of what I wrote is inconsequential now.

The absolute highlight of the weekend was participating in my first Rev3 race.  From Charlie to Krista and Carole to Sean and Brady, this race organization goes out of their way to treat every single athlete like a rock-star by hosting big events with a family feel.  They gave a race-less girl a last minute destination, a hearty welcome, and more than a few laughs.

The swim was disgusting, both on my part and the part of Lake Erie.

The bike's scenery was far more beautiful than I expected.  The bike's chip-seal was just as painful as I expected.

Every run course should have a militantly religious drill instructor standing mid-way through each lap.  "G*d will be waiting for you on the second lap."  He was so up-beat and positive, not to mention hilarious, and at mile 23, truly a god-send.  Everyone at the awards banquet cheered when he was shown in the race video.

But even a messenger of G*d on the run course in wind pants and a sweat band, with a shiny bald head, can't top the bizarre of post-race.  While I ate a late dinner at a bar I got picked up by a guy on a blind date.  With the blind date sitting right next to him.  That's keepin' it sexy Sandusky.

The rest is pretty immemorable.  Case in point: I took not a single picture the entire trip, which is definitely the only PR I set that weekend.
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