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Training

Winter Swimming is for Masochists

I’ve never doubted that I’m a masochist. Between being a gymnast, going to law school, getting 14 piercings, and now being a triathlete, I’ve put a lot of time and money into torturing myself for fun.

Winter swimming is definitely in the category of being an act of masochism.

This is my pool – steam coming off the water at 6am.

I live in the desert. Compared to the rest of the U.S., it usually doesn’t get that cold here in the winter. As a result, my blood has thinned since I lived in the Pacific Northwest. When it gets cold here, I feel extra cold. When I walk my dog on these chilly mornings, I’m bundled in running tights, jeans, socks, long sleeves, a sweatshirt, and a hat. I don’t wear that many layers to the pool, instead opting for sweatpants, a long sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, and a hat over my swim suit, and only flip flops on my feet.

When it’s 45 degrees outside, going to the outdoor pool is chilly experience. When the temperature is in the low 30s, it’s almost painful. It’s basically a reverse polar plunge to strip off my outer layers and jump in the water.

Recently, I went to the pool when it was 36 degrees outside. As I waited for the staff to open the door at 6am, I shot a quick video to send to my coach:

It’s 36 degrees outside.

I’m wearing flip flops.

My lips are blue.

I’m going swimming.

Fuck you, David.

Don’t worry it’s not offensive. My coach has a not-so-secret goal of making his athletes curse his name. I enjoy the challenge of training, so it’s rare that he gets me to curse. I’m sure a giant grin spread across his face when he saw this. (Every masochist needs a sadist.)

Coach David and Athlete, Post Swim at the Atlantic Ocean (July 2018)

The pool itself is heated, but it’s not hot. Typically, when it’s this cold, it takes about a lap before I can fully feel my hands and get used to the temperature. The other day, a fellow masochistic swimmer jumped in the water before me.

“Is it warm?” I asked.

“It’s refreshing,” he responded.

That means “No.” I put on my goggles and jumped in, submerging my whole body. When I resurfaced, I looked him and said, “It’s infuriating.”

By the time I finished my first two laps, the water felt fine, but the experience of getting to that level of comfort shows how much we really want to be there.

Of course, getting out of the pool is the reverse experience – going from the comfortable heated water back onto the freezing cold pool deck, this time soaking wet. I stay outside only long enough to step into my flip flop, throw my towel around myself, and head inside to the family bathroom.

In the summer, when I get out of the water, I pull on my short over my wet bathing suit and sit on my towel to drive home. That is not happening in the winter. I want to get out of that wet swim suit and dry as soon as possible. I usually peel of my swim suit and throw it across the room to the sink before toweling off and pulling on my warm sweats. I wrap my wet suit in my towel and drive home with the heat blowing through the vents.

Why do I go swimming outside in the winter (besides being a masochist)? I’m training for my first Half Ironman, and training doesn’t take a day off because it’s cold. Seeing consistent improvement in my time and technique makes it all worth it.

Still Don’t Officially Know What’s Wrong with Me – and I Don’t Care Anymore

I love my running shoes.

I love my running shoes.

I am officially over my medical mystery. I don’t even want to think how much time I’ve spent in doctor’s offices and hospitals or how much money I’ve spent on medical tests related to my chest pains, dizziness, fatigue, and night sweats. And we still have no idea what’s wrong with me.

My cardiologists (all three of them) determined I have a hole in my heart but it’s a congenital defect that shouldn’t be causing my symptoms. My primary care doctor drew nine vials of blood and ran every test he could think of – CBC, thyroid, hormones, Epstein-Barr, other random illnesses – and everything came out negative or normal.

I’m annoyed that trying to do the right thing and take care of myself yielded no actionable results. It disrupted my marathon training and left me unprepared so I couldn’t finish the race. I feel like I wasted my time and I am frustrated that I don’t have any answers except what’s not wrong with me. I’m done doing this process of elimination. I’m ready to call it and apply Occam’s Razor. I say I have reoccurring costochondritis, fatigue from the fact that I work myself into the ground on a regular basis and have depression, dizziness from low blood sugar from my eating disorder, and night sweats caused by anxiety. I changed my linens and took the blanket off my bed so I’m cold when I tuck myself into bed at night, but it seems to be decreasing my night sweats so that’s good enough for me.

My Race Shirt for Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon 2015

My Race Shirt for Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon 2015

I’m ready to say “fuck it” and get back into cycling and running. When I go on The Undeniable Tour for two weeks, I plan to go running in every city I stay in. I am a much more balanced person when I work out on a regular basis.

Just in case some things really wrong with me and they just haven’t found it yet, I still don’t leave the house without my Road ID strapped to my left wrist. That way, if I collapse or something, my bracelet will contain the information the emergency medical team should know about my medical history.

Will I try to train for another marathon? I’m not sure. I workout more consistently when I have a race on my calendar and a training program to follow, so I’m looking for a race to train for – either a 10K or a half marathon. I’m contemplating doing a half marathon trail run in June. That could be really fun. We’ll see what happens.

Will 2013 Be My Last Half Marathon?

I’m starting to give serious consideration to hanging up my running shoes after the 2013 Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon. This will be my 4th time doing the race and it seems like every time I train for a half marathon, I run a personal best, but I also go into the race more injured than the previous race. Here’s the breakdown of all my half marathons to date.

Photo by Crystal O’Hara

2010:  No major injuries during training (Race time: 2:09)
2011: Shin splints – left leg (2:06)
2012: Shin splints – left leg, Left foot pain (1:52)
2013: Expect to run with pain in both shins and feet

For the 2011 race, I was barely able to train because of my shin pain. That was my most painful race ever. I started hurting during mile 2 and it got worse the more I ran. By the end of the race, you couldn’t hug me because everything hurt – including my internal organs hurt. I started using KT Tape when I was training for the 2012 race. I spent the last month of training with my leg taped up. By race day, I needed tape jobs on my leg and foot. This year I practically started training with my leg taped up and I added a foot tape job last week. I pulled back on the intensity of my training to let my legs rest a bit. My left leg did fine with last weekend’s 6-mile run/walk but now my right leg and foot are starting to hurt too. It makes me wonder if it’s time for new sport.

Before getting into running, I was a gymnast for 17 years. I love being athletic. I was a competitive gymnast for 8 years and I had a plethora of injuries – shin splints, knee problems, back problems, and chronic foot problems. When I retired from competition, I was recovering from a stress fractured lower back. My doctor suggested I take up yoga. I joined a regular gym and I tried it. I found weight lifting to be boring and yoga was challenging, but it gave me no sense of accomplishment. I missed the pounding of my hands and feet against the ground and doing flips. I haven’t found a suitable substitute for gymnastics – there’s nothing like it.

I’ve tried a few other sports but nothing’s clicked for me. I fenced for 1.5 years in college and that was pretty fun. On the advice of my coaches, I took swimming as a PE class when I was in college. I really tried to like it but it did nothing for me. I really didn’t like that I couldn’t tell when I was sweating. When I moved to Phoenix, I got into hiking because I didn’t think running was an option given my history with injuries. I enjoy getting out on the mountain trails, but it doesn’t give the sense of satisfaction I want.

I openly admit that I don’t like running – I like being a size 4. I’ve learned that I won’t work out unless I’m training for something. With running, there’s always a race I could sign up for. I appreciate that training for a half marathon puts me on a 12-week structured training program so I have to work out 6 day a week. But now I’m wondering if it’s worth it to do it again after this race. If I give up running, I’ll need to replace it with something…and I have no idea what that would be.

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