Wednesday, June 27, 2012



She greets me  in public 
places, wearing
my scent,
the same keys.

We get lost on the way to the same parties, where she drinks
my amber ale before I can nibble her Gorgonzola 
with rice crackers.

We both stare at the same 
actor entering
the room, 
entourage in tow.

She gets there first, but it's all the same.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

New York, New York--Stars and Stripes Aquathlon!

These are the first few images of my visit to New York (thanks to my cousin Janet for the use of her apartment for the weekend!) to participate in the Stars and Stripes Aquathlon, June 16.

After arriving Friday and having some time with Janet's daughter, Becky, and her son Max, I took a walk to buy food and enjoy Central Park--which is across from Janet's building.

New York has an energy that no other city in the U.S. can match. On one block, a sidewalk sale, on another a luxury high rise. On another, music performers. In Harlem (Janet lives between 109th and 110th), there's an international feel--people of all backgrounds, colors, languages mix in the neighborhood grocery store.

It's a city of sirens, music, ice cream trucks--and Central Park, where a person can feel, however briefly, transported to the Adirondacks or Catskills, then return to the jumble of colors and noises that the city offers.

And the next day, another retreat--to Randalls Island, the scene of the Stars and Stripes Aquathlon, consisting of a 1500 meter swim and a 5k run.

One route to Randall's Island, the closest one to Janet's apartment, was across a footbridge, where I couldn't resist stopping to look down at the traffic and also to take some pictures. Many times I've ridden in a car under that bridge, wondered where it led--and now I was on it and would experience New York City in a whole new way--from the water as well as on land. I was not alone. Other swimmers/runners were arriving. Conversation was sparse at that point, but people began chatting as they drew closer to the check-in, lined up at the porta-potties (only two of them, which led to a later race start, as one might guess).

The footbridge

Looking out at the early morning sun from the bridge

Another shot from the bridge

Check-in tent

Written on a blog or on paper, the distances don't seem imposing--after all, this isn't the 5.25 mile Great South Bay Swim, and my racing season so far has included a hilly half-marathon and a ten-miler.

Although not at all a fast swimmer, I thought that about 45-50 minutes would get me through the swim. I even dared to be so optimistic as to think the swim time could be under 40 minutes. This would leave a transition and a 5k run, and in the latter my times have hovered around 28 minutes give or take some seconds. So I figured 70-80 minutes would be about right.

Not quite. Approaching the run finish, I saw the clock reading about 1:58, and even with the chip timing, I doubt the actual time was much less.

But I'd underestimated the power of a current. The event web site stressed that the current was at most 1 knot per hour either way, and that it would not give us much resistance--or much assist. 

It might be true for faster swimmers. And setting out on the swim, I must say I didn't think too much about the current. Unlike other open water swimmers, I find it reassuring to have other swimmers bump into me or vice versa. At least this means I haven't fallen so far behind that there's no one around but me. Yes, that has happened in past swims. I was near other swimmers most of the way. Now I will say that in the slow wave, we're probably a gentler breed--less confident in our swimming speed, we are more likely not to view swimming as a contact sport, in quite the same way as our faster brothers and sisters have been known to do (or so I've heard, no personal experience to back it up).

Starting out, the nervousness of a new race in a new setting distracted me from being as mindful of technique as I could have been. Breathed every stroke and only on the left side, didn't lengthen my stroke or keep my elbows high or my head down as instructed. The water temperature, while not outrageously cold--69 degrees--was colder than I'd experienced for a while, and with a cool morning, it was a mild shock. But I'd told myself to expect that and allow myself to get used to it. I knew I'd fall into a rhythm soon enough, and I did.

After two or three buoys (which, I noticed, seemed to be about 100-200 yards apart), I felt comfortable, began my bilateral breathing, lengthened my stroke--and after a while, noticed that the turn-around buoy didn't seem to be getting any closer. What was going on with that?

After what seemed an interminable swim, I spotted the turn-around, which was easy enough to see, because of the kayaks gathered there, I still seemed to be swimming in an endless pool, until finally I reached and circled the buoy. The kayak volunteers then kept urging me to aim to the right because the current was pushing me sideways. Oh. That would explain the slow progress to get there. And there I had to move into sprint mode (well, such as my sprint mode is) to reach the next buoy which was the first on the way back. 

After that resistance workout, though, I perhaps could have gotten into streamline position and let the current push me--in what seemed like moments, I was making the turn for home--and once again warned about the current.

After the turn-around, I noticed more power boats nearby: no ships, but some cabin cruisers large enough for me to wonder if the pilots could see me--I could certainly smell the fuel, and began to want very much to be finished with the swim. After another sprint effort against the current, I was finally closing in on the shore, but as sometimes happens with my swims, the transition from sea animal to land animal challenged my balance. Thankfully, the volunteers did a nice job coaching/helping me through the finish and up onto the timing mat.

While I was wearing my watch, I didn't think to start it when the swim started, so I can't even guess my time (results now posted show 1:10 and change, quite slow, even for me!). However, based on the number of people milling around with finishers' medals, I more or less got the picture. Still, I shoved my body into running shorts, shoes, and socks, then grabbed my baseball hat (why should the world see my hair being a wreck!) and set off.

Oh--and this is where I realize that the aquathlon I did in 2005, a 1/4 mile swim and a 5k run, didn't prepare me for swimming close to a mile and then running 5k. I've done many stand-alone runs and enough open water swims for them to hold no terror for me, but the only other aquathlon I did was the Marlton Lakes Splash and Dash, and there I think my 11something minutes in a lake (albeit not too clean a lake) with no real current at all was just a cool-off swim, which launched me easily into the 5k which turned out to be my fastest that year.

Not so this time. My body felt peculiarly tight, wound up, and for a moment, I worried something was so wrong with me that I'd collapse in mid-run. Fortunately, the water fountain at the NYC Swim tent helped (note to self: If you are going to bring gels to have in the transition, it might be nice to actually eat them). And within about five minutes, my breathing and stride settled down and I passed a couple of women. They were the only ones I'd pass, but I noticed that I was by no means the last runner. After the turn-around, I saw quite a few runners, which also reassured me that I was not the last person out of the water.

One thing for which I'm beyond grateful: the knee I hurt in a fall a week ago Thursday was not an issue. I'd taken some Tylenol before the race, and although range of motion still isn't what it should be, it didn't interfere with my run--I never had to slow down to walk because of it--but yes, I was slower than I'd normally like for a 5k, around 30 minutes, which will show up even slower in the results because the transition is included in the run time. C'est la vie!--still under 10 minute pace (not including transition), so I'll take it, given the workout I got during the swim.

After some schmoozing and seeing if I had an award, I returned to the tent for water and "race schwag"--quality t-shirt and goody bag. Apparently they didn't have all the results for my age group and I think there will be only one award, since there were only two of us... no big deal. I like getting awards, but I'd heard that they sometimes reduce the number in smaller age groups, and I always think of awards as extra bonuses anyway--nice mementos but I have the finisher's medal for that). In addition, I have a "bragging rights" t-shirt to wear after the next Bryn Mawr Running Club beer and relaxation. Further, the goody bags were nice looking backpacks, not just cheap plastic bags--and they contained a generous number of samples, including snacks, Ultra-Swim shampoo, and other items I haven't gone through yet.

And here is my happy self upon completing the race.

My happy self
Afterward, as a result of taking the wrong way to the footbridge I crossed earlier, I had a lovely walk and took a bunch of pictures, then walked back to Janet's and added the photo of the church with its Spanish greeting--for the international feel of the area.

So, enjoy the photos--and try new things. Probably, this is what keeps me lively at 61!


Loved the wildflowers--so many on the island--couldn't resist--no need to caption them all!

Kayak clinic followed race

Along the shore of the swim route

More of swim route

Kayaker practicing swimmer escorting

Riding stable near race (next pic also)

Time to return to civilization

But not before some more photos from bridge

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