Sunday, July 24, 2016

Back to the Black Line

Remember this?
I took a few days off after my cold-water revelation last weekend to decompress and to abuse myself by doing a 180 - running in a Midwest heatwave marked by several "heat advisory" days this week. (Note, running is my other zen sport, it's my self-medication.)

When I DID get back in the water, I was reminded of two things: (1) the task at hand, oh so long ago, before the Glastonbury festival, before whipping myself into endurance-racing mode - i.e., re-learning proper technique - and (2) teaching my body how to survive, or thrive, in cold water. Now that I think about it, one of these things may benefit the other.

Here's my thought: if I learn how to swim better, I should be faster, right? And if I'm faster, I will be out of the cold water quicker - right? Yeah yeah, I know I still need to learn how to SWIM in cold water because I certainly haven't forgotten how quickly hypothermia sets in... I'm sure there's an equation for conduction or convection I probably (should have) learned in heat transfer class when I got my engineering degree.

I survived for more than 5 minutes.
I was reminded of my crazy English swimming compadres in London in December (remember that?). They were able to swim in sub-50 degree F water for long periods of time because their bodies had been slowly acclimated to it as the temperatures dropped. If you remember my blog posts about that experience, I noticed a difference in my own ability to withstand cold water even after the second time. And in my previous post, I told you about the advice from Ocean Games race director and open-water swimmer Corey Davis - his recommendations were to take cold showers and extend my open-water swim season into the colder months.

So, that's the plan. But in the meantime, while the water is still warm, I need to determine how to perfect my swim stroke so that I spend less time in that cold water. 

The last thing I did with respect to THIS goal was to get video of my swim stroke underwater. Here it is:

And, whoa, talk about revelations! There's a LOT to improve on. I may have the high-elbow thing going for me, but my underwater pull is ridiculously wide. There's not nearly enough water being grabbed and pulled back. Ineed to get my forearm under my body so I'm moving through a smaller area. I have also recently realized that I swim faster when using a pull-buoy, which I think might have something to do with my right arm not going as wide and breathing on the left.

But I needed more than hunch. I needed data. I'm a scientist after all.

So... here's my (pseudo-)scientific analysis...

I first noted that if I don't think about it, I breathe naturally on my right without a pull-buoy but naturally on my left WITH one. I've been baffled by this for years (since I started swimming again after more than 15 years away from the sport). When I was a competitive pool-swimmer, I could bilateral breathe with no change in my stroke. But now, it's a struggle to breathe on my left. WITHOUT a pull-buoy. I am convinced this means something - like one whole side of my body is weak. 

I started experimenting in the pool in the past several weeks. At the end of my workouts, I swim 50s with and without a pull-buoy and concentrate on what my arms and legs are doing. Here's what I've found (and it's extremely annoying): without a pull-buoy breathing naturally on my right working very hard to keep my body and kick streamlined, my 50-yard time is within one second of my time with a pull-buoy breathing naturally on my left. The difference (i.e., the annoying thing) is the very little amount of effort I have to put in while swimming with a pull-buoy. 

What could possibly be going on here? Are my legs or my kick causing massive drag? It's hard to believe that I'm not getting at least a tiny bit of propulsion from my kick. Is my pull different when breathing on different sides? Am I in a different position in the water?

After studying it the best I can (it's not easy to study with detachment from an internal state), it does, indeed, feel like I'm getting more from my pull when I breathe on my left. I come up with two pieces of evidence: being right-handed/right-dominant, my right arm is stronger, and when breathing on my left, I rotate in a way that keeps my right arm under my body instead of way-wide like in the video. Further study Also revealed to me that I turn my head to breathe at a different point in the stroke cycle on each side. Breathing right, although it "feels" natural, it's more awkward to the stroke and there's an obvious momentary lapse in my kick.

And therefore, this week, while I recover mentally from the failed race finish, I've begun doing drills to fix my bilateral breathing and sync my kick. It's not natural just yet, and it probably won't be for a while, but hopefully I'll have something to show in a month or two.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Playing Ocean Games (a.k.a. "Finding Corey")

Post-swim with race director
and living-testament to the human spirit, Corey Davis
It's not often we have the opportunity to be truly inspired by a another human being. But there are miracles (there's that word again) all around us and many of us will live our entire lives and never notice them. If you've been reading my blog, you know I've undergone many changes in attitude and the choices I make and that I have been fortunate to witness the power of the human spirit - mostly through music and friends.

But since this blog focuses mostly on my athletic pursuits, I will post about my latest swim event at the Ocean Games, a nine-mile swim in Ocean City, MD, where I witnessed what could be viewed as a lapse into my "disaster magnet" (read: negative) luck of old, but I was rescued this time by amazing humans and my new-found ability to see miracles all around me.

Most endurance athletes spend many years training to perfect their race performances. Very few people are born with bodies that can sustain high levels of activity over long periods of time. And even if someone is athletically-gifted at birth, it takes years of training and experience to get to the top of their sport. For us non-elite athletes, it's even harder and requires many more of those years and experience just to finish well and accomplish goals.

Knowing this, it was surprising to me when I experienced a high level of success very early in my "careers" as both a marathon runner and a triathlete: I qualified for Boston in my first marathon, and I qualified for Kona in my first Ironman (which, I might add, was only my fourth triathlon).

Go big or go home, right? There was no reason for me to start out "small" in my latest sporting pursuit, open-water swimming. My previous early-success pattern gave me a false sense of security, and eight years of competitive swimming from age 14 through 22 did nothing to deter me. I believed I had the ability to accomplish big things right away.

But I'm 51 and we all know trends don't last, and my first year of open-water swimming, although fun, has already become both a curse and a blessing.

And I don't mean curse in a bad way - more like a curse in an uncomfortable way. Because I have to make mistakes first this time. Early success is actually the curse. It always resulted in the devastating mental process of setting unreachable goals for future races, and for years I interpreted less-than-stellar performances as failures.

Now, even though I've given up the stress of Ironman by choosing to do the thing I enjoy most - swimming - I still chose a nine-mile ocean swim as my second open-water event. Live and learn, right? And I was about to find out how stupid... or ridiculous... or utterly hilarious... that was.

And it started out in classic Disaster Magnet fashion.

The kayak is almost bigger than their car.
The reasons I chose to swim in Ocean City had as much to do with the race support and travel as the distance. First of all, my great friend Doug (who lives near DC) agreed to be my support kayaker. He would feed me and guide me and get me through this thing. His wife and two daughters and my husband Jim would all be there, and I looked forward to spending time with them as much as I did having them as race support. They were a few of the true blessings of this weekend. It was like gaining a loving sister and brother and a two wonderful nieces for three days.

But the Disaster Magnet curse was not about to go down without a fight.

The day before the race (Friday), Doug and I decided to practice a bit to determine how kayaker support worked for us: which side he would be on, how close I could swim to him, etc. Jim also came out for a kayak lesson. We put the kayak in very shallow - and hot! - water on the bay side of Ocean City. During the swim, I caught some seaweed on my legs and arms. And shortly after, I felt some itchy stinging pain on my arm and my ankle and had to stop for a moment.

It wasn't seaweed. It was JELLYFISH! I panicked. I grabbed onto the kayak, terrified. I think I almost flipped Doug and Jim into the water trying to get away from the stinging jellyfish. GET ME OUT OF HERE. We turned around, but on the way back, I swam face-first into a jellyfish, and completely flipped out, grabbed onto the back of the kayak and had Doug just paddle me in. Fortunately, the face-sting was so quick and light that it never even registered as a rash. My arm sting was so superficial that after I swam in the ocean water a little, it wasn't even noticeable.

Disaster #1, averted!

Pre-race with Doug, all smiles.
That night, Doug, Jim, and I went to the race meeting, got briefed on the next day's event and how it would work, and then went back to the house we were all sharing for a very nice dinner. Everyone was happy, calm, and ready for the next day.

Until 5:00 am.

I had been sleeping well - again, most of my readers know about my anxiety issues that keep me up all night, so this was sort of a miracle (I owe my new-found ability to relax to my friend Olly). Something woke me up. It was still dark. I heard Jim come into the room and sit on the bed.

"I'm sick."

I shook off the sleep.. what? Did he have a cold?

"I'm vomiting."

Disaster #2 hit. Jim - and Doug's daughter Erika - had food poisoning. This was NOT GOOD. Doug's wife was also feeling ill and may have a touch of the same thing. Panic. I frantically searched for answers... was I next? Was Doug next? We all ate the same food last night. But we also had sandwiches for lunch. Jim and Erika were the only ones that ate ham, so I concluded that to be the culprit. But it didn't matter, Doug and I were going it ALONE. All of our transportation plans for the next day were washed out, and it would be the first big race in 14 years that Jim would miss. For a few minutes, I considered not swimming that day, but Jim urged me to go saying it would make him feel even worse. I understood - for him, I needed to start this race.

Me 'n Doug race morning, still smiling:

That morning, the conditions were announced on the Ocean Games Facebook page. The current was north-to-south and the race would swim down the shoreline in that direction. The water temperature was 74 degrees F. Perfect - I felt relief as I had already decided not to wear a wetsuit for two reasons:
  1. In the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, I overheated in my wetsuit in 74 degrees F.
  2. If I'm going to continue these open-water challenges, I need to swim without a wetsuit because that's usually the rule.

It looks friendly enough.
Fast-forwarding to the start of the race. I remember two things at the starting line. One was that Jim was noticeably absent. The other was I talked to a surfer named Drew who was questioning the decision to swim north-to-south because everything pointed to difficulty in this direction: the wind was coming from the south and the waves were coming from the southwest. But to me, the surf looked almost non-existent. All I could think of was how awesome it will be to finish a nine-mile ocean swim.

And my feelings were validated when I hit the water at the start and swam out to meet Doug in his kayak. The water temperature was ideal and I was smiling to myself for at least the first two miles. I stopped to feed mostly on schedule and I didn't feel at all taxed through the first three miles.

But then something changed. The surf got a little rougher and my hands started going numb. It happened pretty quickly. I tried swimming harder to warm up. It worked a little. I tried stopping and drinking warm fluids. I asked Doug to get me closer to the shore where the water was warmer (but rougher). I kept swimming, but I kept losing more feeling in my hands. I also started to shiver. It was discouraging when Doug said most of the swimmers were in front of me.

Around four miles, I stopped and tried to warm up, but the sun had gone behind the clouds. My teeth were chattering, and I was starting to shiver uncontrollably. I didn't want to quit, but Doug saw the writing on the wall and signaled to the lifeguard on shore.

The lifeguard came out and towed me in. All I could think about was getting warm (although Doug said I kept turning around saying I wanted to finish, but I don't remember that). When I was finally out of the water, the lifeguard and a bunch of beach-goers came over to warm me up. My whole body was shaking and I couldn't make it stop. A man gave me some gatorade, and a woman named Ashley (I'm surprised I even remember her name) and her two children put their towels over me and she held me while I shook uncontrollably waiting for EMS. It was a small thing, but the best of humanity was embodied in those people, and I don't think I ever thanked them.

Miracles all around.

The EMS guys took my temperature at 93 degrees F (not my personal Disaster Magnet record, but close). They gave me a warm IV and took me to the ER where I was covered with warm blankets and my temperature returned to almost-normal. I called Jim, who was laid up in bed with some of the worst digestive issues of his life, and he actually came to the hospital to pick me up. I don't know which one of us looked worse, me or him, but it was nothing short of miraculous.

I actually felt ok, but tired. I drove him back to the house and picked up Doug's wife Kaz to go to the finish line to collect Doug, their car, and the kayak (kayakers were required to stay on the water for race support even if their swimmer dropped out).

I had no idea how much time had passed, but Jim said my iPhone (in Doug's possession) was registering him still out on the water. Ocean city traffic was horrendous and it seemed like forever before Kaz and I got to the finish line. We (miraculously) found parking and walked onto the beach where she immediately spotted the kayak. Doug was exhausted but he looked good. He told us he was able to help another swimmer complete the three-mile race that day. That made me so so happy.

Miracles, I say.

As for me? Was this Disaster #3?

Not by a long-shot. For the record, I'm sad that Jim and Erika got sick - that was the biggest bummer of the weekend. And, I'm sad about having to abandon my race. In fact, I cried A LOT at the hospital. But, surprisingly, the fallout from this event is very different than other races I've DNFed. I don't think I'm a crap athlete this time. I got hypothermia. It wasn't something I had any control over (this time). I'm glad I started this race, and I wouldn't have done anything differently. I had the strength to finish, just not the ability to withstand the cold. I have none of my usual regrets.

Curious, I asked one of the race officials if anyone else got hypothermia. She said at least one other swimmer dropped out but for unknown reasons. I talked to a few others at the finish and was told the water temperature definitely dropped from the starting line. It may have been due to the wind ushering in colder water. And then the biggest miracle of the weekend happened.

Looking for stats on finishers, I approached the announcers table. The race director, Corey Davis, was there. He asked how it went, I told him I had to drop and just left the ER after being treated with hypothermia. His biggest concern was if I was ok. Then, he thanked me a million times for supporting the race (I think I told him we came from Cleveland). We had the most amazing conversation. Corey imparted a huge amount of his knowledge to me about open-water swimming (especially in cold water) and gave me some tips on training for next time.

Corey isn't just anyone. He's actually a huge inspiration to all who know him and I would have felt very fortunate to have had just a moment of his time. He is the survivor of a horrific accident that left him unable to walk due to a traumatic brain injury. The doctors and his determination in rehabbing have allowed him not only to stand on his own two feet again but to return to a very active lifestyle. He founded the Ocean Games to give back to the program that helped him and give hope to people who suffer similar injuries. You can read his story here (or watch the short video below, his recovery is quite remarkable).

Talking to Corey changed me. I have been able to put the entire thing in perspective and learn my lessons thanks to my new attitude and our conversation. One of Corey's most recent accomplishments was completing a 17-mile paddleboard race. Seriously, I can't even STAND UP on a paddleboard without falling down! Corey did 17 miles after being told he would never even walk again!

I am determined to enter this race again next year with the goal of finishing and doing it as a fundraiser.

And I have been able to look at all the blessings of this race instead of the curses.

So, what if I finished? Then, I might have a lot more open-water miles under my belt. I might have a lot more confidence in myself going into my next open-water challenge. I might be jumping up and down and patting myself on the back right now. And I might have impressed some people.

But, I wouldn't have learned the lessons I learned this weekend. I wouldn't know how unprepared my body was for cold water. I wouldn't have a plan for dealing with the cold water in the future. I wouldn't have been treated to the best of humanity in the form of Good Samaritans. And I wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet Corey Davis, one of the most extraordinary humans I've ever known.

And so, let the miracles continue...

Monday, July 11, 2016

Good Pain, Open-Water Zen, and the Stupidest Idea Ever.

Everything hurts today. It's that good kind of hurt. The kind of overall pain that lets me know I pushed myself through something unusually difficult yesterday.

And that's because I did. Yesterday I did my longest-ever open-water swim. And it was my first solo open-water swim in Lake Erie. It wasn't completely "solo," but I'll explain in a moment.

If you read my previous blog, you know what I'm up against. I needed to do a swim before this weekend that was long enough to prove (to myself only) I could push through something longer than my last race at 4.4 miles. And I didn't want to swim that long in the pool because, frankly, when I'm in the pool for longer than 2.5 hours, I have been getting sick of the chlorine and the monotony of the lane-lines. I've never needed to train in open water for experience because, as I've said many times in this blog, I've always been at home in the open water.

But I WANT to swim in open water. My soul has been longing for it ever since I conquered the fear in La Jolla cove. And yesterday, I had several soul-affirming moments in the water, and I felt compelled to write something.

This weekend, I knew two things: (1) I wanted to swim in open water and (2) for at least as long as I've swam in the pool. But I had no idea WHERE to swim.

Don't laugh. Even though we have a Great Lake on our doorstep, the conditions in Lake Erie are not always conducive to swimming. On Saturday, I checked the USGS Ohio Nowcast to find that almost all the Lake Erie beaches within an hour drive of my house were considered "unsafe for swimming" due to high levels of bacterial contamination. This was not a good sign. I started looking for other swimming holes all over Northeast Ohio. I had all but resigned myself to swimming "laps" in one of a few small lakes south of where I live.

The dogs here like swimming
almost more than I do.
Then, another one of those miracles happened. Sunday morning, I checked the Lake Erie conditions again to find that several west-side beaches had been given the green light! And I was off, dragging my overly-obliging husband Jim with me just in case something happened (it was my first time doing this alone).

I decided to do several out-and-back swims in order to stop and get fuel and hydration regularly - and also to get an idea of how much and how often I needed to consume during a long-distance swim of more than two hours. The water was perfect temperature (maybe in the upper 70s F?) so I didn't need a wetsuit. I took along a orange New Wave Swim Buoy so I was visible to boaters and jet-skiers (first time using this) and could carry my phone and nutrition in it.

My goal was to swim at a pace I could maintain for three hours. I swam east along the shoreline - which I eventually realized was with the current - for just over a mile and then turned around and swam back to the beach. The first two miles were steady and I never felt taxed at all. The water was beautiful, the sky was blue, the sun was out, people were jet-skiing and speed-boating and what-not, and I was able to get into a rhythm and just forget about everything. It went by pretty fast. When I got back to the beach, I drank about 250 liquid calories (Carbo Pro mixed with SkratchLabs hydration). Jim confirmed that the Find-My-iPhone app was working and he could see where I was during the swim.

Somewhere between the boats and the shore.
For the next hour, I decided to set out in the opposite direction. Here's where I was no longer alone. As I started swimming out, I saw another orange buoy in my peripheral vision. I swam toward it thinking it might be fun to swim with somebody for a bit. Maybe he/she could help me, maybe I could help him/her. When we got closer, we stopped and discussed it. Although he had planned on swimming for 1.5 miles, I told him I was going 2 miles, and he decided to go with me - we set off.

I lost him in my sights about five minutes later and figured it wasn't meant to be. But after about 20 minutes, I stopped and looked around and realized he was still with me, only about 50 yards closer to shore. I smiled to myself at how far out I was and kept swimming. When my GPS said I had gone a mile, I stopped and looked around. I saw my fellow-swimmer's orange buoy and waved to him when he looked up. He swam over.

"That's about a mile," I said and we stopped to talk. We both bobbed away on our buoys and talked for about 10 minutes. About why we were out there - his name is Jeff, he was training for an Ironman and getting back into athletics after a divorce. We talked about our jobs. We talked about art (I am NOT making this up). Then we talked about swimming. He summed it up better than I could in one phrase: "Swimming gives you that zen feeling."

He was right. Zen. That's what it is. It's similar to the feeling you get from running. It's peaceful, reflective, and gives me a feeling of one-ness with the world. I find this to be especially true in the water. I met a woman on the beach yesterday who doesn't know how to swim but she also had this indescribable sense of wholeness near water. Maybe our souls have a deep connection to the place from whence they came. I don't know, but I feel something intensely spiritual when I'm in open water.

We turned around and swam back to the beach. The surf got a little rougher on the way back even though we were with the current. I had an easier time with it than Jeff did, but I waited for him when I got back. He was done, I was going back out. We said our goodbyes, but not before I found out he and I are connected through his sister's marriage to a good friend of mine. And thus, Cleveland continues to be the largest "small town" ever.

My GPS had me just over four miles in just over two hours. Jim helped me fuel up once more, let me know he was ok waiting yet another hour (he's a saint) - and I headed back out toward the east. I decided to swim until I hit five miles then turn around. My arms were starting to feel very heavy (especially right after the stops), and I had to work to stretch them out to take long strokes. But I never got the "I really want to stop" feeling like I did in Chesapeake Bay. I was happy, I was "in it," but I was tired.

I pushed through to five miles. And then decided to do the stupidest thing EVER. I can't even blame it on delirium or water-logged-brained-ness because I was totally conscious and aware of what I was doing.

I'm so NOT a selfie person, but I wanted a selfie. So I wrestled with my buoy to pull out my phone. I had to deflate it almost half-way just to get the phone dislodged. I didn't even know if it would work because the phone was in a plastic bag. I may be stupid, but not stupid enough to take my phone out of the plastic bag. I bobbled on my half-inflated buoy and took a picture.

Then it happened. As I was treading water, trying to open the buoy, I dropped my bagged-phone in the water.

My heart stopped as it sank downward out of sight.

Panic came in a split-second. All I can articulate are the instantaneous thoughts that went through my head. Oh my God! Jim is going to KILL ME! What was I THINKING? The buoy instructions clearly state "NEVER TAKE YOUR PHONE OUT WHILE SWIMMING." Oh my God! Can I dive down to the bottom to retrieve it?? How deep is this water anyway? How much will a new iPhone cost?? Oh my God! What have I done?!?!?

And just like that, my fingers miraculously caught the phone, and I pulled it out of the water.

Here it the photo, never to be repeated:

Relief swept over me. I turned toward the beach and swam back. Perhaps due to the adrenaline rush, I swam back much faster than I swam out. The whole time I thanked God for my quick reflexes and spent the rest of the zen moments wondering if I should tell Jim what happened.

When I finally crawled out of the water, my GPS said: 6 miles, 3 hours.

I was done. I felt good (for many reasons), but my arms were sore and my neck was badly chafed from my cap. But my pace was steady. And I have enough confidence to start the nine-mile swim, now only five days away.

Here's the Garmin plot of my course - apparently, I can't swim a straight line:

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Swimming and Racing in the Grand Scheme

A week from today, I'll be toeing the line in my longest swim ever - a nine-mile race in Ocean City, Maryland. I don't know what I was thinking when I registered for such a long distance as my second open-water swim race. Well, yes I do. I was thinking: no problem, I'll have plenty of time to train. Go big or go home, right?

However, at the time of registration, I had no way of knowing I would be going to the Glastonbury Festival only three weeks before the race. I didn't factor in the eight-day hiatus from training - or the jet lag. Now, I find myself up against the wall and not at all confident in my current ability to finish nine miles.

Swim first,
ask questions later.
The difference this time is that I don't lack the confidence in myself. I don't have that fear anymore. I'm actually looking forward to this race even if I cannot finish. I'll be doing the thing I love - swimming in the ocean - where I feel most at home. If I don't finish because I don't have the training or racing experience behind me, then I don't finish. It will be because I didn't do what I needed to do to get to the finish line. And it will not define me. I've sloughed off the burden of assuming I'm a crap swimmer or a crap athlete because I don't finish a race.

What I WILL do is kick myself for not thinking ahead. (Obviously, I'm already doing that, but not as an excuse.) In fact, I'm laughing at myself because of how ridiculously unprepared I am for a potentially grueling experience. It's just that it's not the ultimate goal.

One thing is for sure - I would never have missed Glastonbury for all the training in the world. I will happily live with that. The lessons I learned there were more powerful than those training or racing could have taught me.

In fact, the only reason I'm writing this particular blog post is to put it "out there" so that when the going gets tough, I can remind myself I wrote this. It's a commitment for me to honor. To not give up. To tell the story of the struggle. If I don't get to the finish line, I will have to be dragged out of the water unconscious.. or injured.. or sick because of nutrition mistakes. It will NOT be due to lack of will.

I want to finish, but most of all, I want to enjoy the process. I want to make mistakes. I want to learn. Swim races are not the goal for me. Swimming is. The act of swimming, that is. Open water swimming gives me a high and a challenge no other sport has given me. It's me against myself. When I'm out there, I don't feel competition around me. I only feel the water.

And that's what sport should be.

Hopefully I'll look this happy after 9 miles but I'm not expecting to.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Never Underestimate Natural Alternatives to Working Out

At least two of us got a workout at
Glastonbury has become the gift that keeps on giving. I have learned more about life, love, community, friendship, and spirituality in the last two weeks than in the last two years. But there was another offshoot I never expected.

I learned about exercise.

Before we left for our trip, I was in the midst of heavy swim training. My options were to stop all training for eight days or figure out how to train without a pool in the middle of 200,000 people. Without looking like a complete fool.

I thought about bringing my running shoes. I even found a video of a Glastonbury 5K run that takes place every year. In retrospect, I'm glad I didn't attempt it. I can't imagine how anyone could have run in that mud.

I did, however, bring rubber resistance cords I use to simulate the arm motions of swimming in the absence of a pool. I actually told Andy I planned to do some kind of workout while we were at Glastonbury. 

Not good for running shoes unless you
want to leave them behind.
His answer? "Hahahahahahaha!"

He laughed not because he thought I wouldn't have time to workout, but because he knew I wouldn't need to.

And I now know getting around the Glastonbury Festival is a workout in and of itself. The place is huge! When I said there was a 5K run, I meant: there's a 5K run that takes place completely within the festival grounds. (And it isn't a looping course.)

The truth is that when we were at the tent, I never once had the energy or the desire to pull out my cords. That opening-day multi-mile trek from the car to the campground with heavy bags and deep mud was one of the hardest workouts I've ever done. I was sore for days. In fact, I was surprised people weren't keeling over with heart attacks from the exertion. I suspect everyone goes home in better physical shape than they arrived - well, unless they just parked themselves in front of one stage. (Although, this year, even THOSE people probably got a workout trying to stay un-stuck in the mud.)

Mud in the walkways
Mud in the fields
Mud everywhere
The rest of the days weren't as bad as the first, but they WERE exhausting just getting around in the mud and walking in heavy mud-covered boots. By the time we were in our sleeping bags (1-2 am?), no amount of loud dance music and people talking all around us was able to keep my usually-restless soul awake.

It was a daily physical workout, but I wasn't convinced it would keep me in shape for my sport of choice - swimming (or running, even). I guessed I would find out when I got home.

The first workout I did when I got home was short because I ran out of time - 2500 yards of swimming. In was surprised it didn't feel like I had taken  nine days off. The next day I did 7100 yards. Another surprise - I hadn't lost much speed. Maybe there was something TO those "workouts" we inadvertently got at the festival.

But the biggest surprise came yesterday when I went for a run. I had run only once, five miles, in the week following the festival and only once, three miles, the week before. Yesterday, I ran ten (!) miles. In less than 80 minutes! My hamstrings are only a tiny bit sore today and my quads don't even feel like I ran yesterday. I'm still wondering how this happened. Is it possible all that hard work, especially on the uphills, worked just as good as running and swimming for fitness?

I think it's safe to say it doesn't matter how you get your fitness. Just get it.