Thursday, September 24, 2015

Just keep swimming...

I am learning that triathlon training with ALS is really not that much different from “normal” triathlon training, and most any excuse I tell myself to the contrary is really just that – an excuse, propagated by fear of failure (which, come to think of it, is just as ingrained in normal triathlon training).

Sure, I have some unique challenges – e.g. pushing the trike through the transition area is quite a balancing act and my “run” is actually a slow walk behind the walker.

But these challenges really just need to be dealt with head on, as any normal triathlete would do. Trouble clipping in? Practice. Trouble getting into aero? Practice.

My big challenge in preparation for Ramblin’ Rose Chapel Hill (2+ weeks away!) has been breathing while swimming. Many newbie swimmers make the mistake of not exhaling fully underwater, meaning that they’re either still exhaling as they come up to breathe and don’t have time to inhale, or they don’t have room in their lungs. Either way, by the end of the pool length, they’re gasping for air.

Not me, this is all the time I WISH I had.
Experiencing this panic-inducing phenomenon for weeks, I have focused almost exclusively on my breathing technique: exhaling fully underwater and making sure I’ve got good body position so I have time to take a full breath before plunging my face back in.

I realized something though. For some ALS-related reason, I can’t breathe out of my nose underwater with enough pressure to a) exhale fully and b) keep water out of my nose so I don’t suck it into my lungs when I go to take the next breath. Maybe it’s an excuse but I’ve never had this issue before. In addition to being panic-inducing, I worry that it’s especially dangerous given the threat of pneumonia, a major concern in ALS. At this point (miraculously, thankfully), my breathing is still testing within the normal range. But still not something I want to mess around with.

Oh you sexy, sexy nose plug :)
All that to say…we have spent a small fortune in nose plugs this summer. I finally found the Sinus Saver, which goes in the nose, requiring me to answer a question I never thought I’d be asked: what size are my nostrils, as measured in Q-Tip units? There is a pretty amusing discussion in the Amazon Q&A about the precise technique for jamming Q-Tips up your nose to figure out the correct size of nose plug. When I tried it, DP cracked up and, well, I snorted Q-Tip J

But I digress…

The nose plugs help, but I have still struggled with making it all the way across the pool without swallowing water or trying to suck in through my stoppered-up nose, inducing panic and causing me to abruptly abort mission, clinging to the side of the pool or thrashing around trying to control my leg muscles enough to stand up (I am sure I have freaked out lifeguards from here to Atlanta…)

As the race gets closer, my anxiety has gone up and so have these midstroke panic attacks. I rehearsed what I would say to the Ramblin’ Rose folks to let me do all five laps in one lane by the wall. I even started the email, but stopped in the middle and committed myself to one more swim before pulling the trigger.

I finally admitted that the remaining issue is the self-sabotaging mind tricks I’m playing on myself. What if I panic in the middle of the pool? What if everyone watches me fail? Which is totally a normal triathlete fear…especially as races loom on the horizon.

And so the answer, as always, is practice. I had a beautiful swim yesterday. Under self-threat of emailing the race officials, I focused harder. I swam smarter. I got out of my own way and swam a perfectly respectable 4 x 250 (four times the distance of the race) close to the wall, but not near enough that I could cling to it easily. I timed two of my sets and I swam them in 6-7 minutes. Not lightening speed by any means (oh, did I mention I swim with my arms only?) but last year, my official RR time was 12:43, ranking me 558 out of 564 competitors.

Am I cured? No. I’ve been through too many triathlon swims (9 of them, to be precise) to know how easy it is to panic at the start of a race as my heart rate spikes. But this is also what I love about triathlon. You have to work through the day challenge by challenge, loving the process and trusting yourself, with the glory of just feeling alive as the reward more precious than any medal or hardware.

…especially if you’re guaranteed to come in last ;). 

Friday, September 11, 2015


I have taken a semi-conscious break from my fledgling book project over the last few weeks, which any writer will tell you is like leaving a juicy peach on the tree to rot. I’m learning that the discipline of writing is a hard one to master, especially when the writing gets hard.

But as peach season gives way to apple season on this breathtakingly beautiful fall day, I am rededicating myself to my project with added reverence that today is September 11th.

A very interesting discussion I heard on NPR yesterday (Exhibit A of my mind-wandering hiatus: listening to the car radio instead of thinking about writing) was a Diane Rehm show interview with Daniel Levitin about his book, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight In The Age Of Information Overload.  He explains the brain science behind the myth of multi-tasking and what really gets lost when we succumb to the deluge of data in our noisy, information-driven world.

The noise is something DP has been struggling with at work, juggling cases, travel, an office move. But it’s the Reply All syndrome that seems to me to be the real culprit. In an office culture that survives by creating electronic paper trails and thrives on the spirit of “keeping everyone in the loop,” group email conversations ding and pop up constantly. Add to that marketing spam, phone calls, text messages, Facebook notifications…it all adds up to a lot of noise. And feeling productive when we’re not – or worse, admitting that we’re not being productive, just trapped by all the real-time dinging.

One thing Daniel Levitin said that stuck with me:

“I think having a quiet mind is absolutely very important. When I think about the great achievements of human history -- the Sistine Chapel, Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, Shakespeare, Moliere, and, you know, finding the cure for polio and sequencing the human genome -- these were not things done by people who spent five seconds thinking about them and then checked Twitter and Tumbler and vine and Instagram and Facebook and came back around for another five seconds. I think sustained attention is worth cultivating in the next generation.”

This generation, too.

Which is perfectly easy for me to say, as my disability affords me the luxury of sitting on the porch listening to church bells ringing in remembrance of the plane hitting the second tower.

You who move through the world at normal speed have to work harder to shut out the noise. Or at least filter to find the noise worth listening to.

Today, I humbly implore you, take a few moments of silence for your own remembrance of 9/11. Don’t just scroll through the news of someone else’s.

Take the time, and be grateful that you have it.

Photo cred: