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I accomplished my goals — I placed within my division, I finished with a time I was (mostly) happy with, and I was not eaten or even nibbled by an alligator. Overall, I’m calling it a success.

Kristen and Patrick at Moss Park tri

With Patrick, sweaty, dirty and smiling big.

One of the biggest challenges of this race, for me, was the fact that it was a 7:15 start in a location more than two hours away, and I had to drive down the morning of the race. Honestly, I never would have done that myself — that 3:30 wake up was pretty unkind, and, while a single (albeit very large) cup of coffee was just fine, I know that drinking too much coffee does Very Bad Things to my tummy, and when you pair that with nerves and then biking and running and no bathrooms nearby, it’s, uhhh, problematic. So a single cup of coffee it is!

Fortunately, I didn’t have to do it alone. In fact, the main reason I signed up for the race is because my good friend (and coach, and inspiration, really), Patrick, had signed up for it and was moving to New York a few days later, so although we’ve done plenty of workouts together and talked extensively about races, we’d never actually done one together.

Of course, by “together” I mean he did it in half the time. He did win the damn thing last year, after all, and despite doing basically no tri training at all in recent months, he still placed 3rd in his age group and 12th overall. See? Inspiration.

As for me, I honestly did just fine. We ran a little late, so I had to rush through setting up my transition area in order to have time to hit the bathroom before the pre-race meeting. (Tangent — who else believes that a pre-race bathroom break is a non-negotiable? I mean, I would actually start the race a minute or two late rather than stop during the race.)

Unlike other tris I’ve done, this swim took place in a lake (hence my alligatorly concerns), and although the water was, like, black, and I couldn’t sight the buoys for the life of me (which turned out to be a common problem) it was a nice swim. Pretty smooth, and I love that half-mile distance. I was 12th out of the water in the women’s wave, which was a bit of a disappointment, but, hey, that’s what you get for not training, I suppose.

The bike took a challenging but interesting route, through neighborhoods and with lots of twists and turns. My bike computer broke during St. Anthony’s, so I had no idea how far I’d gone, which, honestly, was kind of fun. I just pushed hard without totally blowing my legs for the run and finished the bike right around the middle of the pack.

And the run. Oh, the run. I was actually really excited because it’s just a 2.8 mile run, but I hadn’t taken into account the fact that some of it was on trail, and all of it was on packed dirt, which is great for the knees (it’s softer), but tough on weak ankles. I might’ve aroused a bird or two with my near-constant shrieks of, “Oooh! Woooo!” as I nearly fell over from stepping on a rock or in a shallow hole. I kept something around a 11 minute mile pace — far from great, but nothing I’m going to be embarrassed about.

About 10 minutes after I finished, as Patrick and I were loading up the bikes, I got the best surprise. Jared (who was working in Orlando that day) called, which he said he would do around 9. Here’s the conversation:

J: “Hey, where are you?”

Me: “Still at the race, packing up.”

J: “No, where are you?”

Me: “Ummm, Moss Park? You know, at the race?”

J: “NO. Where in the park are you?”

Me: “Shut up. Shut up shut up! Are you here? No way, you’re not here. Wait, are you here?”

Spoiler alert — he was there. It had been a few days since I’d seen him anyway since he’d been traveling, and then, having him surprise me by showing up at the end of the race was just … well, if you ever hear me complain about him, just remind me of this, okay? It was really freaking cool.

Also, just a note about the race itself — definitely a good one to do. Swimming in a lake is a bit of a novelty when you’re used to swimming in the ocean, and the park itself is lovely, if a bit buggy, so pack bug spray with your sunscreen. It’s not a huge race, but there were multiple events (aqua bike, etc.) which really lent to a bigger feel. And it’s a great one for first timers — they even have a My First Triathlon division with shorter distances (or a shorter swim, anyway, not sure about the rest). I definitely see myself coming back to do this one next year!

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Most gym etiquette is really just common sense. If you get up from a machine and leave a sweaty ass print, wipe it down with a towel. If a lady is running vigorously on the treadmill, it is inappropriate to stare, no matter the bounciness of her breasts or cut of her shirt.

But, this winter has found me in the pool, which, due to a long streak of chilly weather, has seen at least two to a lane almost every time I’ve gone. And while most poolside rules of etiquette are either A) posted B) ridiculously obvious, there seem to be a lot of people who ignore them, so I thought I’d list a few ways not to be a tool at the pool.

Wardrobe

Every couple of months (or more, if you swim really frequently), enlist a pal to look at you in your suit while wet, front and back. If it’s see-through, it’s inappropriate. Go shopping. That especially goes for the 65-year-old man with the flesh colored Speedo. You all, I really wish I was joking. You have no idea.

Boxers are not pants. Guys, I understand that the locker room attaches to the pool area, and if you forgot something, it seems like it should be fine to walk out in your boxers — they cover about the same amount as a bathing suit, right? WRONG. We know what could come swinging out of there at any moment, and we don’t want to look — believe me, we do not want to look — but we can’t look away. Just put on some damn pants, man.

Ladies, before you haul yourselves out of the water, take a quick second to make sure everything is in place. You know what I mean.

Manners

The sign on the wall states that you must share your lane if someone is waiting, and if more than two people are sharing the lane, you circle swim. So, dude, share your lane. You were stopping at the end of every 50 before I walked up, and I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that you suddenly had to start a super long set, swimming right down the middle, just as soon as I approached.

That being said, if you’re the one walking up to the lane, make an effort to catch the swimmer’s eye before you jump in and almost land on my the swimmer’s head you jerkass. If the swimmer is clearly in the middle of a long set and not looking up, sit on the edge and try dangling your feet for a second to get their attention. If you just jump in and start swimming at me, at best I’ll be startled (and pissed), and, at worst, we will crash, I will be furious, and both of us will be hurt. But especially you. You will definitely be hurt.

If you’re a seasoned swimmer and you see someone who looks completely clueless trying to find a lane, for the love of Pete, throw them a bone and share your lane — it’s scary to be the new kid, and the pool can be intimidating.

And I have one parting word of advice. It’s not really etiquette, I guess, but it’s something I’m ashamed to say I need to remind myself of more often than I should. Your workout is not more important than someone else’s. Yes, it’s annoying that the Gentle Joints Zumba Party for Centenarians (and Beyond!) takes up three of the five pool lanes and the fluff from someone’s Depends is floating by your face. It’s frustrating that you’re having to share a lane with Splashy McDrownerson and you’re choking on the wake he’s creating. But everyone is there to work out, get a little fitter, and feel good about themselves, so just mind your own business, knock out a few laps, and remember that you were probably once a Splashy, and one day, god willing, you’ll join that Swimming for Seniors class.

(Also, don’t pee in the pool. EWWW.)

A big part of why I work out is because I like how it makes me feel. I also like that it lets me get away with eating a few slices of pizza now and again without having to buy all new pants — don’t get me wrong.

And I’m not just talking about the runner’s high, although that’s very nice. No, I mean the way working out makes me feel about myself. I feel proud that I’m out there, working hard, pushing myself. I feel proud of what my body can do. But there’s more.

I’ve been noticing more and more that different exercises provoke very different feelings. Running makes me feel powerful, for example. I feel the way all the muscles in my legs work together to push me forward. When I pick up the pace, I feel the way the muscles in my core and shoulders respond — and it’s with strength.

Swimming makes me feel graceful and sleek, which is funny, because I feel so far from graceful or sleek or pretty when in my bathing suit before I get in the water. But, once I slip below the surface, I’m a different person. Everything from the sensation of the water gliding over my body to the way the bubbles and sunshine create patterns on the bottom of the pool is pretty much perfect — in the water, I feel exactly like the person I want to be, if that makes sense.

Dance workouts, like Zumba, make me feel kind of sexy. Something about dancing in a room full of women  (and maybe a few men), all of whom are shaking and shimmying with abandon, is really beautiful. In my head, I know my hips don’t move like Shakira’s, and I know my abs don’t look quite like the 20-year-old instructor’s, but my heart doesn’t give a damn. It’s just joyful — sweaty and out of breath, yes, but joyful, and I think that’s pretty sexy.

Biking, on the other hand, just makes me feel sorry for Jared because all I can think about is how cyclists must never — never — have sex. Good god I hate cycling. It’s just painful. Yeah, no redeeming qualities there.

Am I nuts? Or do other people get totally different feelings from different workouts? Come on, dish!

Hey, remember when I told you about that swim test I was a little hand-wringy over? And then for the last month and a half you’ve been dying — DYING — to know how it went?

(Oh, what’s that you say? You neither remember it nor do you give two shits? Eh, to each his own, I suppose. I mean, if I can’t be bothered to post regularly, I probably can’t really expect you to wait with bated breath, can I?)

Anyway, it happened and … well, it was good. I kind of set two goals, as I usually do for a race, the first being what I’d be perfectly happy with, but not elated over, and the second being my true, shoot-for-the-stars goal. And I kind of blew them both out of the water (get it? swimming and water? har, har, har)

I’m still really, really enjoying my swim classes, and honestly miss hitting the pool when I’m unable to go. But the fact that my swim test went well got me thinking that, if I can improve rapidly and do that well in the pool, maybe I should look into getting some coaching in the other individual sport I spend a lot of time on — running. Since the guy teaching swim class had just won a triathlon (like, as in, won the whole damn thing. Yeah, I know.), I thought I’d ask him if he’d be interested in helping me out with some running. So, for the last three weeks, I’ve been getting lessons on how to run.

Oh, you guys. You think running is just something that, like, you go out and do, right? I assure you it is not. The first lesson, we completely changed my form. The way I land, the way I kick back, the way I hold my arms … all changed. I have to think about all this stuff, all the time. Since then, he’s been doing drills with me in an attempt to make running a little more interesting and — dare I say it? — fun.

(Except for last week, when we did hills, and the first thing he said was, “You know, it’s okay if you puke.” Umm, okay with him, maybe …)

((There was no puking, but I might’ve said a few words that probably would’ve made the fellas hanging around my dad’s bait shop blush.))

(((Sorry, Mom. And yes Dad, I’ll teach you those words next time I see you.)))

Here’s the thing with me and running. I’ve done a lot of it. I’ve run for basketball and I’ve run fairly long distances and I’ve run lots and lots of short distances. And, for the most part, you can just about set a watch by the time it takes me to run a mile. (You know, if you don’t mind your watch being off by 30 seconds or so.) I’m a 10-minute miler, and while I don’t think that’s anything to feel bad about, I definitely feel like, for the amount of time I’ve put into running, I should probably be able to pick up the pace, you know?

I don’t have any delusions of winning a half marathon or anything; I truly don’t. But, when I run 5ks, especially the little local ones, I want to be closer to the front than to the back. I don’t want to come in behind the middle of the pack. I want to finish with a time that I’m not only not embarrassed by, but a time that I want to shout from the rooftops. I want to go out to brunch afterward and have to hold myself back from telling the server how I did.

I just signed up for a four-mile race on October 1. It’s an evening race (I’m far better in the evenings than in the early mornings) with a beer festival afterward, which seems like a nice thing to run toward. My coach will be running, and since he’ll probably finish in about half the time it’ll take me (seriously, I’m probably only exaggerating the tiniest amount) as well as another pal who runs at a good clip (hi, Kevin), I’ll have at least a couple of people cheering for me at the finish line, hopefully with a nice Belgian wheat beer ready for me.

So, the goal — I feel very … naked putting this out in public, but I think I need the accountability — the first goal is to keep a 9:30 pace, which would bring me in at 38 minutes. The shoot-for-the-stars goal is to keep it at 9 minutes, meaning a finish at 36 minutes. It’s absolutely NUTS to me that it’s going to mean pushing myself so much harder just to win those two or four minutes, but those of you who’ve shot for a time in a race will understand. And those of you who haven’t, well, I hope you’ll at least have a beer with me that night, in spirit!

I know that a lot of people have test anxiety. I, however, do not. I’ve always been pretty good at tests, which is a good thing, because tomorrow, I have a swimming test.

Da da DAAAAAAH.

Now, the last time I took a swimming test, I was nine and at camp and I kicked that swimming test’s ass. I mean, swim the length of the dock and then tread water? Piece of cake. I can do that in my sleep, easy. (I’m not saying this to brag — I just learned to swim when I was a baby, grew up with a pool in my back yard and a lake across the street, and I’ve just always been a strong swimmer. I’m bad at plenty of other things, trust me.)

I’ve been taking swimming classes over the last couple of months, which has been a huge eye opener. As it turns out, I can swim fairly well, but I’m a TERRIBLE breather. Who knew? For the past 30 years, I thought I’d been breathing pretty well, the occasional asthma attack aside, but no! It’s been totally fascinating to learn the proper technique and learn drills and find myself getting better. When do the qualifiers for London 2012 take place? I could be a 30-year-old prodigy, y’all.

Ok, no, I couldn’t. Still, it’s exciting to learn how to actually swim well. But I am totally nervous for this test tomorrow. It’s 20 minutes, and I just swim as far as I can. I mean, I’m not nervous about, like, not being able to do it. Oh, I will do it, don’t you worry. And it’s not like there are prizes for doing it well. But I really, really want to do it really, really well. Even though it doesn’t count for anything.

Go ahead. Call me a tool. I can take it.

In other workout-y news, Jared and I have been doing the Insanity workouts. This is kind of huge, because, well, we’ve never worked out together. We’ve gone to the gym together (at which point he does his thing and I do mine), we’ve gone running together (for about five minutes, before he gets sick of going at my pace and takes off), and we’ve played basketball and volleyball together. But when it comes to, like, working out for working out’s sake, this is a total first. A total first that’s kicking our asses, but it’s been really fun to actually do this together. Fun, and hard, especially since today was both a Fit Test (test! again) which tracks our progress, and a new, longer, harder workout we’d never done. It’s nice to be able to swear at the TV and have somebody else appreciate the fact that I can be witty while gasping for air, is all I’m saying. (Plus he looks pretty cute all sweaty. What can I say?)

Yep, I’m still a tool. Whatever.

Final testing news — I’ve had some projects come up lately that have been testing my patience, which is a large part of why I haven’t update poor ol’ Jeez-o-petes lately. I’ll do better about this in the coming weeks, I promise.

So, fill me in — have you been doing any cool workouts lately? Keep me inspired and share!

I remember swimming in Lake Michigan one summer as a teenager. The waves were bigger than I’d ever seen them, and the warning flag was flapping brightly in the breeze. I went in the water and felt the undertow pull me down, and it was strong. Really, really strong. I was stronger. I pulled myself out of the water, but ended up probably 400 yards down the beach from where I’d entered the lake.

I remember thinking about how easy it would be for someone smaller than me, or someone who was a weaker swimmer, to just be swept up and away. It would be easy for someone to get tired, and, if nobody was watching or helping, they might eventually give up.

There has been a lot going on here. Some sad things, some scary things, some things that will improve and others that simply are what they are, and there’s nothing to be done. When I can look beyond these things, there are a million wonderful, beautiful things, too — amazing things are on the horizon. I’m lucky. We’re lucky. I know this.

But sometimes, it’s hard. Sometimes, if I didn’t have somebody watching or helping, I can see where it could drag me down beyond where I could pull myself back up. But I do have people. I have family and friends and a whole incredible support system. Plus, I’m tough. I am strong. On a good day, I might even be a bit of a bad ass, if I do say so myself.

Being strong doesn’t mean things are easy, but it means I can do it. In fact, right now, I’m not just pulling myself out of the waves; I’m swimming. It might be hard, but I’m moving in the right direction.

In many parts of Florida, holidays are spent at the beach or at an amusement park. In North Central Florida, one is likely to go to the Springs. It’s hard to describe going to the Springs, other than, obviously, they’re freshwater springs leading to a river. At many of the Springs you can take a tube all the way down the river –yes, there are alligators, but they pretty much leave you alone — and you can bring a cooler of beer with you. The bad news is that you can’t bring dogs.

Fortunately, our friends had friends who own their own spring (how one gets to own their own spring, I have no idea), and they were totally fine with us bringing our dogs. All of us. All of our dogs. We ended up with six dogs there, three of whom had just turned a year old.

We had a ball, even though we cut the hell out of our feet and bruised our legs, and the dogs are so tired today they didn’t even drag me on a walk. Which was completely fine with me.

Also, on the way home, we saw this:

Yep, that’s a cow. In the back of a pickup.