There’s something about racing in endurance events that puts everything into perspective. Whether it’s starting your day running through the stillness of the soft, early morning light or swimming in the ocean under the summer sun, my training sessions often illuminate more than I bargained for.
I’ve realized that my love for racing is two-fold. First, racing keeps me honest. It means facing the truth about myself: because during a race, you cannot lie about how much you trained or how healthy you’ve been eating. It shows. Secondly, it deepens friendships. I am closer to the people who I run, swim, and bike with than anyone else. A whole lot of honest conversation happens during time. And a strong connection forms when you spend an insane amount of time, side by side, chasing down those miles.
Since racing and traveling are two of my favorite things, competing in the Alcatraz Challenge this summer obviously seemed like a good decision. For those who are fuzzy on West Coast geography and history, Alcatraz is a small island off the coast of San Francisco that used to be a jail for America’s worst criminals. It also served a dual purpose of incarcerating public enemies, as it is a visible icon in the San Francisco Bay. Cold waters and hazardous currents naturally isolate the island. Criminals who tried to escape either turned back to be rescued due to the freezing cold waters, or drowned before they made it to the mainland. No criminal actually escaped. Alcatraz is no longer used today, but is a huge tourist attraction. And, naturally, it has become a popular destination race for endurance athletes. I am one of those.
This past summer, I – along with the six guys that I train with – competed in the Alcatraz Challenge, a duathlon race in which the athletes swim 1 mile from Alcatraz island to shore, then run 7 miles up and over the Golden Gate bridge and back to finish.
We arrived before the sun on morning of the race to set up and to mentally acclimate to the enormity of the task ahead… and then, along with 400 other athletes, we boarded the boat that would take us just outside of Alcatraz. They assured us that their had been no shark attacks for the better part of the century, and that all 400 of us would need to clear the boat within 5 minutes so that we didn’t get pulled into the strong, toilet-bowl current immediately around the island that is next to impossible to swim out of. Nervous energy filled the air as we waited. The yacht positioned itself just outside the current, the island looking especially eerie on this foggy morning, and here we were, in our wetsuits and swim caps, attempting to escape from Alcatraz.
After some final safety tips from the lifeguards and well wishes from the race directors, the whistle blew and the race had begun. We jumped off the boat in threes – one to the left, one to the right and one straight out in front – from a deck about 5 feet above the water. One group of three right after another, and you just start swimming as soon as you hit the water. The water is rough and cold and numbs your face instantly, but you put your head down and just swim. From the vantage point of water, you cannot even see the shore. You are supposed to navigate by sighting tall landmarks in the distance, but the heavy fog has them mostly hidden on this particular morning. The choppy sea continues tossing you around, but you remember how much you love the ocean and this sport…and before you know it, the shore is within reach. When your toes finally hit the sand, you smile as you hear the crowd cheer for you and know that the most daunting part of the race is over. I trade in my cap, goggles, and wetsuit, for my running shoes, and start heading for the bridge. From sea level to get up the bridge is a long, steep, humbling climb. I remember glancing at the athlete next to me and it’s like we both knew that there was no better way to get to know this city. Running along the Golden Gate bridge, I looked down at the Bay and at Alcatraz Island, impressed with myself at how faraway they looked from my current vantage point. With only 4 miles to go and knowing that it was all downhill from here (literally, as I was descending the bridge back to the shoreline), I started chasing down my competitors believing that I might actually do well in this race. And I did.
The exhaustion of racing for an hour and a half did not at all detract from the happiness I felt in that moment. The hours of training I put in to get here and the hours of dreaming about this race made it all the more special. Life is different during the race because you are finally inside your dream, looking out. As soon as I crossed the finish line, I was back out on the course cheering in my buddies that helped get me there. I remember standing on the beach with the six of them, more than half of us had medals around our neck, recounting our experiences of the race. We all had salt encrusted all over our bodies from the ocean and from our sweat, and I’m sure we smelled really bad too. But I was happy, the sun was shining, and it was all worth it. It’s worth the self-discipline, the 6am workouts, the 6pm workouts, the days that involved both am and pm workouts, the perpetual soreness, and the early bedtimes. It’s worth foregoing nights out with my friends who are still trying to soak up their youthfulness. They are sacrifices made to remember who I am: that I feel more like myself when I am running than when I am not.
Okay, I’m going to brag a little: I just made two recipes from Pinterest (like, when do those ever actually turn out the way they’re supposed to?!)
Let me tell you: they are exceptionally delicious and fairly easy to make!
My favorite part is that they make me seem way better at cooking than I actually am 🙂
I had been sure.
I had been so sure that three years in New England was enough, and I’d be heading back to California at the end of this school year. Then I spent the past 3 days on a solo adventure to Maine for the long weekend. I hiked along the shores, rode my bike from lighthouse to lighthouse, and watched the waves crash onto the rocky coastline. As the Atlantic ocean tried to win me over, I reminisced about my summer days swimming in the Pacific ocean. I’ve noticed that the Atlantic and the Pacific have been playing this tug-of-war with my heartstrings lately, but one thing remains clear: I’m a girl in need of the ocean.
Argonaut (noun). A person in quest of something dangerous but rewarding; adventurer.
[My Instagram; July 2012]
I took this picture during a summer weekend in San Francisco for the Alcatraz Challenge Duathlon to get used to my new smart phone and to get a feel for the Instagram app. I did not know the definition of an argonaut and didn’t really think much of it at the time. But the combination of a six-hour roadtrip and a dictionary.com app can lead one to look up said definition. It pleased my soul for about 3 seconds, and then I continued happily chatting away and daydreaming out the window.
My mind has come back to this picture – that definition, in particular – quite a few times since that whimsical moment. I’ve returned to this word – argonaut – so much so that I think it’ll be my one little word for 2013.
In my recent trip to Maine, I thought about how this definition was somewhat vague.
A person in quest of something dangerous but rewarding…
In quest of what?
I am a person in quest of love. Love is dangerous but rewarding. As I walked and biked and ran through the natural beauty of Maine, I thought a lot about how I am happy with who I am whether or not I end up a single woman or a married woman. I hope for that latter and I’d be a liar if I led you to believe I haven’t dreamt of having a husband and a family of my own for my entire life. But I learned on my solo adventure that I can be happy – giddy, even – as a single woman. I feared the weekend would be a hard lesson in loneliness, but found it to be a profound lesson of inner strength.
Flipping through my 2012 calendar served as motivation to make 2013 even better – filled with more traveling, more races, and more adventures!
I ran the Hyannis half marathon as my first race of the year – a good goal to keep me running through the winter! For February break, I traveled to New York City – walking the Highline was by far my favorite (pictured below).
In March, I performed “A Million Ways” by Okay Go in the teacher act of the talent show (simultaneously the most exciting and terrifying experience!)
May brought a fun trip to Martha’s Vineyard with my roommates, and I completed my first full marathon (!!!) in May – a lifelong goal – as I grew up watching my dad run marathons.
June reinvigorated my love for salsa dancing and the end of the school year allowed time for it! I also fell in love with the Hyannis Sound – the summer a cappella group on Cape Cod.
I returned to California for the summer, and won 1st place in my age group for July’s Alcatraz Challenge – a duathlon where athletes swim 1 mile from Alcatraz Island to the San Francisco shore, then run 7 miles over the Golden Gate bridge and back!
I had a strong racing season in August: Camp Pendleton Triathlon, San Diego’s Color Me Rad 5K Run, and the Providence Rock n Roll half marathon! I also started my dream job as head coach of the high school cross country team.
September brought the start of school and I ended my racing season with the Hyannis Sprint II Triathlon (and I went to a Jason Mraz concert the night before!)
In October, I joined Toastmasters (one of the best decisions I ever made), and gave me the confidence to deliver a killer Class Ring speech at school. Then I enjoyed Thanksgiving in Virginia.
I volunteered at the Pilot House in December, further inspiring my passion to help the homeless. Then I relaxed and enjoyed the blue skies with a California Christmas.
What were the highlights of your year?