My final report for The Dressage Foundation:
My final report for The Dressage Foundation:
My recent blog post about swim goggles splashed up several good questions from friends planning their first open water Triathlons, so I thought one more post about swim preparations would be refreshing. If you have absolutely no interest in open water adventures, you might want to skip this one.
Sooooooo, inquiring minds want to know, what’s in my swim bag? Here’s a little secret, I use the same swim bag for pool swims as I do for open water swims. My wetsuit came with its own bag, so it’s on its own. Once I get used to the contents in my swim bag, I change absolutely nothing during the season. I always workout and race with the same stuff. If something breaks, gets lost or I eat it, I replace it with the same stuff. For me, change equals the dreaded ‘p’ word. I like to avoid that.
What’s not in my swim bag? A swim buddy. Never ever, ever, ever Never (that could be a new jingle?) swim in open water without a swim buddy! You’ll need someone who is willing to swim beside you and not let you drift away (it happens!). Someone who will tell you with a straight face that the slimy matter twisted up in your toes is really weeds. Someone to remind you to breathe in and out slowly. That’s important. I enjoy swimming in pods (group swims) with my Tri club because we have experienced open water swimmers willing to offer tips and sometimes kayak support. Kayak support is the greatest! Someone to watch over the pod, the weather, and for motor boats/jet skis. There is also the matter of food. Eating with the pod after swimming is the best part especially if it turns in to a beach party!
I actually learned how to swim in open water at a golf course – before it opened and golfers started yelling, Fore! Crazy as that sounds, the small watering hole was comforting and it was easy to get from one side to the other while chatting with friends. Confidence builder! I believe I also attempted my first wetsuit swim here. Being close to the shoreline as my wetsuit (which was way too big) rapidly inflated with water and took on fishy was ideal. There was lots of water in that wetsuit. I could have swam inside of it.
The best advice I received before attempting open water was to achieve my skills and distance in the pool first. I find open water swimming to be completely different than pool swims, but confidence, good form and strength is transferable. Once that was established, I took the plunge. With my swim buddies, of course!
I was still a bit nervous, so I brought along my trusty yellow ‘duck feet’ aka short fins that I use for the pool. Sometimes too much. Beware, you can’t race with them and ideally you shouldn’t be able to hide them in your wetsuit. Not that I’ve tried. My experienced swimming friends say ‘do whatever makes you comfortable’. Comfortable also includes staying alert of ever changing conditions (environmental/physical) and sighting. I’ve never had an issue with sighting because I prefer to swim with my head up like a sea turtle. I am hoping that habit will dissolve this year. I’ve built up considerable core strength and have worked on my relaxation techniques. We shall sea. Ha!
The more time I spend in open water the more I acclimate, but I’ve improved my actual swimming by joining the pod, swimming in various watering holes, signing up for clinics and 1 mile open water races. I’ve also started swimming at the pool on Thursdays at 5:00 am with my super talented swim buddies. Why 5:00 am at dark o’clock? I think it’s a good idea to mimic race day situations. I don’t have Triathlons starting at noon. And if you have friends with lots of swimming experience who make swimming both fun and challenging, you’ll show up at 5:00 am.
So what’s in my swim bag? I’ll spill out the contents and the sand…
My loot includes swim caps collected from various races, my favorite tie dye cap (it’s good to be super visible when the top of your head is the only thing visible), a turtle towel, no drip sunscreen, fins, goggles – tinted and clear, anti-fog lens spray, dry ear drops, gels, hair ties, extra contact lenses, water resistant swim drills book (I also write out my workouts on sticky notes) in a Ziploc bag. Absent are my post workout clothes, bottled water and saltine crackers.
I am back in the swim of things!
I started my Triathlon Sprint/Olympic distance training plan last week. I was off to a swimmingly good start until wham, bam, pow the unexpected ice tornado of the century hits our small town overnight and suddenly we are without electricity (and upright trees with limbs!) for 2 very stressful days. Some people are still without electricity! I question how anyone exercised in the 1800’s, I am pretty sure they had absolutely zero time for such frills after hunting down their food (Bojangles) and washing their clothes by hand in (bath) tubs. Not to mention shivering through layers of blankets while they sat by their (gas) fire logs without a blower fan. I’ve seen photos of women swimming in their dresses and corsets. I wonder if corsets are similar to the constriction I feel in my wetsuit? The wetsuit is really just a modern day corset. Thought for your Tuesday.
I hit the pool yesterday and swam an easy (slow) 1400 yds. I was testing out some new equipment for this season. I own many pairs of swimming goggles more than my glasses and sunglasses combined. Why you ask? Because my goggle specifications for the pool are totally different than the ones I have for tackling the high maintenance of open water. If I have the wrong goggles for the occasion my swim becomes a beast. I have 3 tints for open water depending on how brightly the sun smiles and the water color which I won’t discuss here. Another consideration is whether or not I want to see fishy and snakes?
I recently purchased a pair of the most tranquil blue tinted swimming goggles EVER to make the water look similar to the Caribbean sea and it works! I was relaxed and sleepy. Sleepy is good for me in open water because I have less energy to freak the freak out. Magnificent after I figured out how to put them on properly so they would stop filling up rapidly with water. The lettering on the straps should not read upside down no matter how right that may look. Trust me.
And when someone in the lane beside you says ‘flip’, it’s possible they are not referring to your fancy flip turn. Just saying.
After much thought and some trepidation (ha!), here is my (un) official triathlon race lineup for 2014. Ah yes, I’ve left some time in transition for a few races of the non-triathlon variety – 5k/10k charity runs, a metric century (sure would be nice), and 1-2 open water nearly drowning swimming miles (around small islands, yachts, whales, you know the usual).
Mucho thanks to Mid-Carolina Multisport (www.midcarolinamultisport.com) for coming up with these focus races for us this year. Joining a local triathlon club makes everything better, seriously. At least I’ll go down (literally) in style while my supportive race friends cheer me back up on to my feet!
June 14 – The Three Little Pigs (honestly this race name intrigues me so much that I could not pass it up!)
July 26th – Buckner Mission Man (best race EVER hands down!)
August 2nd – Lake Logan International (what am I thinking here?!? crazy, crazy, crazy and crazy)
August 10th – UNC Wellness Super Sprint (over before I can blink the chlorine saturated pool water out of my eyes!)
A bit of a lighter schedule than originally planned, but I have a few specific goals in mind and I want to be super competitive with myself this year because you know, I still have that lingering Tri bike bet to win this year. Did you hear that hubby? I am going to win that bike! Yay, babe!
A river flows in the direction it most naturally wants to go. I find this imagery helpful with my riding. My horse is at the pinnacle of beauty when her natural movement is unrestrained. If I block her flow of energy momentarily for collection, I must allow the energy to release upon her response or I disrupt her balance which then creates tension. Tension takes a lot of effort to dissolve, as we know, so I like to avoid it as much as possible. Breathing helps. If I forget to breathe, so does my horse. She will hold her breath. This makes it nearly impossible to relax my seat and impedes her movement. A chain reaction. Two or three deep belly breaths and we are moving along nicely again.
Autumn in the mountains is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. I could stare at the foliage for hours. I wish I had that kind of time. Each leaf is uniquely colorful and exquisite. I don’t have favorites because in nature everything is weighted equally. Having just one leaf type wouldn’t work or capture my attention.
I recall a question I asked Steffen Peters a few years ago while auditing his clinic regarding my horse taking over during flying changes and becoming quite bossy with them. Steffen’s response was brilliant. He said that I should do flying changes at the very beginning of my ride, right after the walk warm-up. Steffen found that these flying changes were often the best. I wrote his advice on a slip of paper, put it in pocket and kept it.
I’ve often pondered why this theory works, whether it’s flying changes, trot half passes or really anything I seem to be challenged with. A well trained dressage horse should have the opportunity or really the freedom to be spontaneous. Have a go at running up a steep hill for yourself. The first time you run up that steep hill full of energy and with relaxed muscles, it’s fun. Really, really fun. The second time might be fun too, but by the third or forth time it is hard work and your heart rate is probably elevated. Hard work can be very gratifying and if done correctly build muscle and endurance, but it can also be taxing. It is important for my horse to understand what she is capable of producing and have the opportunity to discover her own unique natural gifts. Staying true to the words of the master, I have the best movement in first 20 minutes of my ride because I have trained my horse to produce quality over quantity. I keep work sessions short, lots of breaks and praise often. And if timed just right, I can see my horse smiling back at me as we leave the arena for a walk down the driveway or hack & snack.
Remember to look up and enjoy the ride! Nature’s simplicity is just awesome!
October is a favorite month for many of us. We all have our reasons. For me, it’s transitioning from a fast paced summer to a renewing autumn that intrigues. A time to take pause and discover life’s natural treasures and resources. I say discover rather than rediscover because just when I think I am too old or immune to have that same giddiness of a child discovering something for the first time in nature, I am proven wrong. So wrong. There seems to be an endless supply of laughter and teary-eyed provoking discoveries to fill my sensory system. For me, my husband, and our good friends this was our road trip weekend to the mountains. We jammed to Neil Young, over stuffed the jeep with orchard apples (some picked, some bought), hiked a forest that was location scenes for The Hunger Games and Last of the Mohicans, and enjoyed a cascading waterfall while snacking on boiled peanuts.
One of the most beautiful things about nature is that it does not care about your goals, strengths or weaknesses. It lets you decide. Nature provides the freedom to release ambitions or fears and permission to relax an overactive mind. To breathe and explore. I’ve learned to take what nature is willing to give me or rather what I need. Nature is so giving. If you want to get rid of tension, go for a hike and run up the hill, if you want to refresh your soul, go for a swim in an open body of water and if you are hungry, pick an apple from the tree. Nature’s simplicity providing so much opportunity.
Nature also motivates me more than anything artificially contrived. If you’ve followed my past posts, you already know that I’ve been experimenting with the less is more concept in my riding. I’ve improved my partnership with my horse as a result. As I prepare to attend the Spanish Riding School next year, thank you to The Dressage Foundation and The Heldenberg Training Center Fund, I’ve spent the past few months making holistic changes as a rider that are purely for the benefit my horse or any future horse I am lucky to ride.
With the exceptions of a few special rides, I use a simple snaffle bridle constructed of nice leather. This particular bridle has no flash attachment or dropped noseband. I personally appreciate a horse that will softly chew or mouth the bit and has the choice to move their jaw. I find that a relaxed jaw decreases tension through the neck, back and hips. Clamp your own teeth together, I find it difficult to relax unless I release the pressure. I’ve spent much time studying the anatomy and mechanics of my horse’s mouth and have finally found a high quality, well balanced, perfectly comfortable, simple yet precise eggbutt snaffle that we both immediately adored. A natural design that has improved our communication beyond description. Nothing more than a whisper with the intensity of a soft breeze.
I’ve also discovered that I don’t need spurs on my horse. I’ll wear them on occasion, but rarely ever need them. I’ve taught my horse to be more aware of my body and respond to the slightest of aid. I’ll think flying change, decide exactly where I want it, take a deep breath and she’ll produce the most amazing change. I know some horses are born more sensitive than others; however, all horses can become more aware or perhaps it is we who become more aware.