30 October 2009

Into the fishbowl

For many, the idea of swimming laps brings about thoughts of dread and despair. Swimming back and forth is boring. Marginal yields of improvement over time. Never understanding why they don't have the speed in the water as others do. Never feeling the water. Only in the water to "survive" the swim in a race.

I'll never understand their mindset. And I can only hope that they can experience mine.

For me, there are very few things in life that top being in the pool. Often you'll hear a runner say the run to escape. I believe the pool is one of the ultimate escapes. Even in a crowded pool, it's difficult to be truly disturbed while swimming laps. No cell phone to worry about. There is nothing worth looking at on the bottom of the pool, so your attention doesnt wander. Sounds become nearly inaudible background noise as your eardrums become submersed and devoid of the outside world. To me, it's nice to have a small part of life that involves focused external stimulus of any kind. You're insulated in the pool, and have a completely clean slate allowing you to think quite clearly for the duration of the workout. There's no person on the treadmill chatting on his cell phone. No catching glimpses of the strange workouts people do in a gym. No SportsCenter blaring on the TV. No worries about changing to your next favorite song on your iPod. Its just you and you head, which is a rather rare and welcomed experience.

I've been cleared to swim, only with limited kicking. Sunday, I went back to the pool for the first time. It was just me and Sebastian in our lane.

I sat on the side of the pool, worried. What if I lost the feel for the water? How much muscle have I lost? What kind of toll has no cardio in 5 week taken on my abilities? What if my ankle hurts too bad to swim? My nerve endings jumped at the cool water on my skin as I slid in. Goggles adjusted and swim cap secure, I ducked under the surface and pushed off, awkwardly, with my left foot. I felt like a kid playing underwater again. Reaching the surface, I began the mechanical routine: catch it in the palm, pull back, rotate... you're gliding through the water. And then I struggled. Where are my feet? I can't roll.. my strokes off. whats happening to my form?

I'm dependant on my kick. Too dependant for a freestyler, and perfectly tuned for a backstroker. Explosive, tight kicks coming from the hips. Propelling the body forward as the arms assist. Feet pointed to make the lever as long as possible. It's what I know how to do. And suddenly, it's forced to be subsided. I struggled as I awkwardly tried to mimic those I've swam with that insist the legs need to be saved for the bike. Attempted a subdued two beat kick to facilitate roll. It just didn't feel right. The electric feeling of being in the water was slowing fading. Once back at the starting side, I grabbed my fingertip paddles and took another go. 25: Nothing. I couldn't catch the water right even with paddles. Somewhere between 25-50 meters in though, I felt it. Rocketing through the water, feeling the small twinges in the lats and triceps. I was back.

Last night I did a few threshold sets with the team. Feeling sheepish, I dropped down a lane because I didn't think I could keep up with my guys. I wasn't ready to commit to the testosterone driven sprints maintaining a paceline just yet. No paddles, no pull buoy, I grabbed onto the back of the lane beside me. I don't know where the speed came from, but I felt like I wasn't even completing pulls, yet I was running over these people. Convinced to go in the front for a 400 build, I pushed off the wall, again awkwardly with one leg.

A few small dolphin kicks later, I broke the water halfway down the pool and began the stroke. Smiling. It felt good... 3, sometimes 5 strokes before nonchalantly taking a breath. Still, dragging my feet in a paralyzed state behind my hips. 100 down, turn, pick it up. Alternating 1 to 3 stroke breathing. 200 down, turn, pick it up. Feel the arms burn, starting to kick a little. 300, down, turn, pick it up. Sprint. Slicing through the water, feet in a steady, tight 6 beat kick. turn, 50 left. make it hurt. It hurt. The rest of the lane was over a length behind me. I focused on increasing the speed of each passing rung on the ropes. Reaching the end of the set, my lungs were lit on fire from oxygen deprivation. It felt amazing. Submerged up to the neck while out of breath is an addiction. No need to lean against a wall or curl over onto the knees: The cool water lends its hand to support and keep the rest of the body relaxed, like a chilled omnipresent friend.

I've missed being in the fishbowl.

14 October 2009

Post-Surgery update

Considering I have been doing a whole lot of nothing for the past 3 weeks, you would think I would be more up to date with blogging. Sadly, I haven't had the energy to do much of anything (**including, if you've emailed me... I discovered a whole list of drafts in my gmail from where I apparently started to respond, and then ended up passed out from percocet. My apologies, and I'm catching up on those emails now!).

I had surgery on 9/28. I sent the following email out to my teammates to let them know how things went, in true race report fashion:

Woke up at 5:30 am Monday morning. Tossed on some clothes and mom drove me down to INOVA Fairfax. I hobbled in and received my wristband for the event and listened to the pre-race briefing. I signed off on some papers, took my pager (think restaurant pagers) and sat waiting to be taken back. Scoped out the competition - I was totally going to beat the little girl in a froggie onesie to the operating room. I'm a seasoned pro at surgery, afterall. To calm my nerves and pass some time, I brought along a book. My mom noted how pathetic I looked with my leg propped up on a crutch, wearing a race t-shirt (to be fair, thats about the only type of tshirt I own anymore) and reading "Once A Runner". My beeper finally went off, and I headed to transition to get ready. It's always nice passing Team Z faces with smiles and encouraging words. Kitty and Jeff were back in the pre-surgical room with patients of their own, but both stopped by to chat and see how I was. Some more body markings (doc signing the leg that was being operated on) and a few more pages later, I got the good stuff and was wheeled off for surgery. Had a great time of 2 hours in surgery, and woke up in the recovery room. After making some new friends there, and heading over to the second recovery room, I was ready to be done with the day. Came home and slept. Had some visits from some Z'ers, which are always nice.Tuesday was filled with by far the most excruciating pain I've ever been in... no amount of narcotics would help. I was warned it would hurt, but had no idea what I was in for.. so if you called or wrote yesterday, sorry for not getting back to you. Life is back to okay today

Okay, in all seriousness, the surgery went well - I think I have 2 plates in my ankle... I think they decided against the third but I cant remember what the doctors said to me as I came out of the anesthesia. I don't feel an incision on the back of my leg, but I guess I'll have to wait until my next appointment to find out whats up. I go back October 12th to have the cast removed, and will be put into an air cast at that time. No weight bearing for 6 weeks, so after my mom leaves this week, I'll be actively recruiting people to do a little grocery shopping for me... especially since I'm not "allowed" to drive right now (they doubt my mad left-footed driving skills).

Columbus day was spent getting xrays and having my cast taken off. I had to have the x-rays done first before my appointment, so I scoped them out in the elevator to see what they did to me:Suddenly my ankle began to hurt. Ouch.

Once in the doctors office, my cast came off. I'll spare you the extra gross pictures of my leg looking like it was jaundiced from the remaining betadyne. I didn't even want it to be part of my body when I first glaced down. 10 stages of bruising and discolorations, and two long lines gracing either side of my ankle, crusted over with blood. Ew. I snapped a quick picture of the x-rays once they had them up on the light box, and later pictures of my semi-cleaned surgery sites:

My leg looks huge... but thats just the cast.

Blurry pictures, but thats probably for the best.

I'm still not allowed to walk - no weight bearing until sometime around November 11th when I go back for my followup. They said if PT goes well and I can bear weight slightly beforehand, then I'll to go to IMFL to cheer on my teammates (being on the beach on crutches sounded pretty disasterous). My doc expects a full recovery with minimal side effects.

After some serious soaking in the bathtub, I have a lot of the dead skin off and removed the surgery tape. The lines look pretty clean, so I'm hoping for minimal scarring. As I was laying on my couch watching TV, I noticed how sad my leg looked. I've worked so hard for amazingly muscular calves... and in 3 weeks time - POOF.. gone.

Editors note: awkward flourescent lighting makes my legs look unnaturally colored.

Oh - I also had another surgery in the middle of all of this (of course...)! I had the implant done for the missing tooth FINALLY! My oral surgeon just shook his head when I came in on crutches.
Him: Please tell me this wasn't another biking accident.
Me: Nope. I was walking.
Him: Were you chewing gum?
Me: No need to be an ass... haha
At least he has a good sense of humor. Surgery went well, and now I just have to wait another two months for the post to fuse to the bone, and they'll add the crown on top so I have a tooth again. Horray!

Hope everyone is enjoying the end of the season/taper for the last big race!