Monday, July 22, 2013

Race Strategy: Don't Drown

Leading up to the Governors Island Swim, I was decidedly nervous. Before this race, I don't think I had ever under trained for anything. Overtrained, yes. Slept inadequately, yes. Eaten the wrong foods, drunk the wrong drinks, or failed to eat or drink anything at all, yes. But I had never gone into a race knowing for certain that I had not put in the appropriate amount of work. Until Sunday.

To give you a more complete picture of my lack of preparation, in the month leading up to the race, I completed no more than five swims, each consisting of 2,500 yards or less. The race around the island would be 2 miles--or 3,520 yards--long. Furthermore, all of my "training" was done in a 25-yard chlorinated pool whereas these 2 miles would be swum in the salty, murky, turbulent waters of the East River.

But never mind all that.

Fortunately for me, instead of making me panic, nervousness makes me talk. And because I knew how poorly prepared I was, I started talking at least before the race. "Boy I sure hope I don't drown," was my favorite mantra, even though I knew full well that, as a lifelong swimmer, my chances of drowning were about slim-to-none. I just needed to remind myself (and everyone around me) that I wasn't prepared to race this swim, so merely finishing should be achievement enough.

Meaning, shut up and swim.

By the time I stood, burning the soles of my feet on the concrete sidewalk leading up to the starting dock, I had successfully managed to quash my competitive spirit. I wasn't ready for this race. I wouldn't be winning any awards. And frankly, I should be satisfied if I could get to the finish without too much trouble. And I was pretty happy with that outlook.

That is, until I hit the water.

What I like best about open water swimming is how it can become a bit hypnotic. With no walls, no flip turns, and no lane lines, you fall into this rhythm of stroking, breathing, and sighting that makes swimming seem easier than it ever feels in a pool. Sure, the waves tossing your body around like a rag doll and occasionally smashing you right in the face when you were about to take a breath. But you can ignore most of that, eventually, and just count. One, two three, breathe. One, two three, head up.

The start, however, is this whole other scenario. First you're in line, waiting and waiting, and then suddenly your feet are at the edge and some guy is screaming and waving his arms frantically, indicating that you need to jump in! Now! You launch yourself into midair, and when your sweaty body hits the water, your heart rate goes through the roof. You can't see a thing, and you come up sputtering, trying to get your body horizontal, looking around wildly for any feet that might be aimed directly at your head. Race organizers might call this a "staggered start," but there's nothing staggered about taking ten strokes and finding yourself forced to swim overtop two six-foot men in wetsuits, an old guy doing breaststroke, and a skinny lady whose zig-zagging elbows indicate that she probably never raced competitively before.

God I love open water swimming.

Long story short, I finished the race without too much trouble. The worst part was probably the fact that I couldn't see the final "finishing line" dock in time, so I didn't finish with an "empty tank." Swimmers were already lounging around on the grass beyond the finish chute by the time I got there, but not too many, so I figured I might not have finished at the very front of the pack, but at least I wasn't last!

Here's how the race panned out:

Race Length Finishing TimeOverall Place Gender Place (All Women) Age Group Place (F20-30)
2 miles 39:23 31/210 14/82 4/19

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the HedgehogThe Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Honestly, this book made me feel smart to be reading it. It started out on the very first page using vocabulary words I--a decidedly voracious reader--didn't recognize, and persisted in this style until the end. However, being the persistent and somewhat proud English major I am, I returned the book to the library when it was due and then checked it out again.

Honestly, I have to say that I didn't like the primary narrator, Renée. She seemed stuck up, self-absorbed by her own refinement in spite of her lowly societal class as a concierge in an apartment building, and therefore pretty boring. What really kept me reading were the chapters by Paloma, the twelve-year-old genius who decides at the very beginning of the book to kill herself on her 13th birthday and then spends the rest of the book writing observations about the world that will convince her otherwise. Maybe it's because I could relate to her scorn of the world around her--I was a fairly mature twelve-year-old myself--but even when I did not agree with her condescension, I understood and respected it. The difference between Paloma and Renée is that Paloma's observations seemed fresh and genuine, while Renée's seemed tired and repetitive.

Nevertheless, I did become increasingly engaged as both characters began to interact with the new Japanese tenant, Ozu. And then, just as I finally felt as though I had overcome the stodgy vocabulary and was actually enjoying the narrative, the book comes to an abrupt and disappointing end! (I won't reveal it here, because if I had known how the book would end, I'd never have persisted past the first chapter. So I don't want to ruin anyone else's experience with an unwanted spoiler.)

If I had to do it over again, I probably wouldn't read this book. However, having successfully finished it, I feel as though I have finally read something scholarly for perhaps the first or second time since graduating from college, and I won't complain about that!

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