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The slippery slope – 2015/16

April 26, 2016

Things have been quiet from me for over 12+ months and part of that was because I was having an internal debate about what I share on these updates. Should they be the sunshine, roses, rainbows and funny occurrences that I experience throughout my swimming journey or should they tell the deep down dirty uncomfortable stuff that even I have a hard time admitting let alone processing. It was a long debate and I’ve ultimately decided to share. You have been with me on this journey and supported me throughout so you should have some visibility into the whole crazy world regardless of how private I sometimes would like to be.

Back in June 2015,  I was diagnosed with bulging discs (3 in total) in my thoracic region of my back. Ultimately after 2 epidural shots in between my shoulder blades, I was receiving no relief from the pain. Living at a pain level of 6-8 constantly is amazingly dark and awful. I just didn’t know how dark it would become. It was decided that the best thing for me to do was to stop all activity. I think that bears repeating…STOP ALL ACTIVITY. For me that was like asking me to stop living. My life really focuses around my swimming, training and challenges. What the heck was I supposed to be doing now?

What I found out is that I started slipping…into darkness. I wanted to do and try anything to stop the pain or get even a moments rest, as sleep was nearly impossible. I tried a litany of healthy options: acupuncture, stretching, meditation, yoga, inversion boards, massage, float tanks, etc. you name it I probably tried it. Everything seemed to aggravate my symptoms more. Plus I knew some of these fell into the “doing activities” so I wasn’t supposed to be doing them in the first place. When none of these options were providing relief even for brief moments, mentally I started to crack. Late July 2015 was I believe the real breaking point for me. I was supposed to be on my trip to swim the North Sea between Northern Ireland and Scotland. Instead I was in Oregon, in pain and stuck in my head. The only place I could find quiet from the noises in my head and the pain from my body was in leveraging prescription pain killers and alcohol. Initially the dosages were nothing out of the normal, a glass of wine with dinner and a pain pill to sleep before bed. However, the story is probably as old as time, I started to build tolerance so it took more pain pills and more alcohol just to get those few hours of rest.

Now I’m not typically described as a sunshiny bubbly personality to start with, you can imagine that I became even less so during this time. I tried my best to keep my aggravation, frustration, and pain separated from my friends and work. Looking back now, that was a stupid thing. There is no hiding. My face is really transparent. I wasn’t functioning at my best. I wasn’t functioning even at good. I could still hit work deliverables, but I wasn’t a nice person to be around while I was doing it. I started to also notice the concern in my friend’s faces. Then I became concerned. I suppose the benefit was that I was still lucid enough to know that the direction I was heading was a dangerous one. And at the same time, I could only stop for a few days at a time before I just had to get some rest, which turned me back to pills and/or alcohol. My goal was to gut it out until I could get to my sabbatical in September 2015. 2 months of utter torture for me and probably a lot of people around me.

2 months is a LONG time in the world of chronic pain. I now have a better understanding of how seemingly perfectly happy, healthy people end up addicted to alcohol, pain meds and move onto more heavy options. I gained a lot of weight, which in turn did not help my painful back. I was questioning a lot about who would I be if I wasn’t a swimmer? When I close my eyes and imagine who I am, there is always water involved. My internal vision is some convoluted water creature that thrives on the sea. I like being the “marathon swimmer” around my friends and out and about. That label (if we have to live with labels) feels like me. What if I wasn’t a marathon swimmer anymore? What and more importantly who was I?

This mental anxiety and depression only added to my physical pain because there wasn’t an answer to the question. I could only see more darkness. Darkness that had more shades of black than I knew was possible and I’ve swum in the middle of the black sea on a moonless night. I know dark. But this darkness was inside of me, I wasn’t sure when or if the dawn would come.

And it was torture to be around people too. After a while it begins to feel like people’s advice and empathy were more irritating than helpful. This of course was my warped mental interpretation. I wanted to scream when people said things like: Everything happens for a reason, Maybe this is your body’s way of asking for a break, Why don’t you just try x, y, or z?, etc. Plus the worst question was always, what are you going to do now? With a big sigh and holding in tears I could only think – I have no idea. Rationally I know everyone was trying to be helpful. Emotionally I was in no place to accept this help. It felt like I was being berated for not being able to do what I’ve become knows for…marathon swimming. The one method that I feel I can change maybe even one person’s life to inspire them to get out of their comfort zone and GO DO. My way to contribute to the world something positive.

It really is amazing to think that I even made it to sabbatical without committing some irreparable career limiting move or completely alienating my friends and family (although in hindsight, I’ve alienated some and probably deeply hurt them without realizing it.  For this I’m incredibly sorry.). I’m sure some of you may be thinking “Why the heck didn’t you take a leave of absence?” It ultimately may come down to sheer stubbornness or lack of education. In reading through the options, it looked to me like I would have to surrender 2 weeks of PTO (which I needed for my sabbatical) before medical leave could kick in. Plus, the way I read the details is that you are only allocated a percentage of your salary. As the provider for my household, it was not an option for me to take a pay cut and still make the ends meet. Rock…hard place. I just kept thinking make it 2 months, Michelle, and you will have your sabbatical. Then you can really focus on getting better. You can get away, stop drinking, detox, and get your head on straight.

I made it to sabbatical, 6 weeks of break from mid-September to October. I took time to go back to the places that brought me joy. I watched two friends succeed in their goal to swim the English Channel, which was rewarding and super painful at the same time. I took an Oregon Walkabout to see the sights that I’ve never seen since moving here 10 years ago. I went on a Sedona AZ meditation and yoga retreat. I tried to find a way back to myself.

I’m not back to where I was before the injury. However, I have dipped my toes back into the water with various levels of success. I’m out of shape, heavier and much slower. I’m trying to be patient with myself and be kind (not always my forte). I’m trying to go slow…not my forte either.

My back pain is more frequently below a 5. My mental anxiety and depression….well these are going to be a work in progress. I have found some amazing health practitioners and trainers that are going to help me through. We have a plan and I’m fully scheduled to swim the North Channel in July 2016. I booked a plane, accommodations and my boat pilot, so now all I need is to find my way back. Each day I close my eyes and see the little water creature me, take a deep breath, and try.

After reading this, you may be wondering why I finally decided to share this part of the journey. For me it is raw and vulnerable. Emotions and feelings that I don’t like to share and I believe ones that society likes to sweep under the rug or describe as bad or weak. And that maybe part of the reason I decided to share, I shouldn’t feel ashamed by my struggle and yet I do. I shouldn’t feel the need to hide and yet I did (and still do). Being raw, vulnerable, angry, sad, etc. should not be viewed as bad or weak. This is part of what makes me whole and real. For the last few months, I feel like I’ve been a robot. Putting on a really bad happy face, when my world was not happy and I wasn’t sure if my foundation was salvageable. Some days I wasn’t sure if I wanted to salvage it and that is scary. Ultimately I know that this past 2015 and now 2016 journey will be a different one for me. It isn’t just about swimming from one shore to another. It is about finding my way back to me or who I want to be. People say it is all about the journey, not the destination. Well this year is looking to be a really interesting journey.

Thank you for coming along for the ride.

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Jackpot 7 – COMPLETE!

December 31, 2013

As Christmas week is about unwrapping and new experiences, I was wrapping up a 7 week personal challenge of new experiences.  I didn’t think that this Jackpot Challenge was going to be as hard as it was, but then again I don’t know why I thought I would create something easy. 

For review, what is the Jackpot 7 Challenge?  It is a 7 week ladder completed in the last 7 weeks of the year.  Each week I would add a new activity to the previous week’s activities.  For each activity, I had to complete 7 miles total with in the 7 day period by the end of week 7 I’d have to complete 49 miles of activities.  The week started at 12 am Sunday and ended at 11:59 pm on Saturday.   (more…)

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Jackpot 7 Challenge – The final two weeks and the last activity is revealed!

December 18, 2013

I find that starting where I left off the last update has been helpful for people to stay connected to the MacySwim story since the updates are sometimes sporadic and I can’t really expect you to think that my journeys are SO interesting that they should be stored for eternity into your long term memories.  I know my life is really ALL ABOUT ME, but perhaps that isn’t the way you view my life and that is A-OK.  

So the Jackpot 7 challenge, this year was shaping up to be the year of sevens.  I had completed the Ocean’s 7 becoming the first American to complete the challenge while setting a new overall record for the North Channel.  I completed my 7th – 8.2 mile Pennock Island Race in Ketchikan Alaska, which is where I started my marathon swimming career.  That left one more 7 event to give me three 7s for a jackpot year – 777.   I decided to create this 7 mile Activity Ladder to be completed in the last 7 weeks of the 2013 year.  Here is how it is shaping up.  (Special Note:  I have the entire week from 12am Sunday to 11:50pm Saturday to complete the mileage of each activity.  There was a misconception that I had to do the mileage every day for the 7 days of that week.  I’m crazy but not that crazy.  Plus I have a day job  :-D) 

Jackpot 7 week challenge (more…)

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Finishing the 2013 year strong with the final 7 in the Jackpot year

December 4, 2013

I’ve been quiet for a while and I bet you thought that meant that I was lying on my couch working on adding more weight. Quite the contrary! OK there was a little bit of that, but mostly I was busy coming up with my final 7 event to close out the Jackpot year.

What Jackpot you ask? As a reminder, this year was shaping up to be the year of sevens. I had completed the Ocean’s 7 becoming the first American to complete the challenge while setting a new overall record for the North Channel. I completed my 7th – 8.2 miles Pennock Island Race in Ketchikan Alaska. That left one more 7 event to give me three 7s for a jackpot year – 777. Some may argue that the first two 7’s may have been enough for the year especially when you consider I also did a double crossing of the Columbia Bar aka “The Graveyard”, set a new women’s record for the 12.7 mile Anacapa Swim between Anacapa Island and California (Side Note: I just realized that I never sent you all this update. SURPRISE!), and I’ve been nominated as World Open Water Swimming Association’s Woman Swimmer of the Year (vote here: https://www.worldopenwaterswimmingassociation.com/2013-wowsa-award-nominees-vote-here/. Voting is open until the end of December.)

Geez, even writing that and I’m beginning to question why I need another 7. I know the answer though. It’s because I’m a Type A overachiever that likes to round things out. Yes I’m the person that goes on a walk and sets a goal to get to “that” light post and then I have to touch the chosen light post or the walk doesn’t count. I think that I may be becoming a little OCD about the rules of open water swimming and the touching the start and end points.  (more…)

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Wheelchair Rugby and a woman possessed!

July 18, 2011

I've never claimed to be remotely talented at land sports.  In fact, I pretty much shun all land sports and only do them as they are a necessary evil for cross training.  Oh sure growing up, I played volleyball, softball, basketball and dabbled in track for 2 weeks until I understood that all you did was run.  Mostly I spent my time trying to find the most comfortable position on metal folding chairs or hard wooden/metal bleachers.  (Note:  my extensive research has lead me to believe that there is no such position and we should bow down to our parents, siblings, etc that endure these things all in the name of support)  All these memories came flooding back as I met the wheelchair rugby coaches.  (more…)

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If Michelle falls in the woods

March 12, 2011

As part of my training, I do cross training.  Not the best part of my day as I try to navigate the whole world of land sports.  There is pilates, which after 2 years I've sort of figured out without launching myself off the reformer, not that I haven't made some very valient attempts at these types of dismounts.  Then there is my functional training class.  My trainer for this class keeps switching things up every 6 months or so, which means that I can't quite ever get my footing.

It was just such a day last Thursday when Lynette pulled out the bosu balls.  I have an extreme distaste for these pieces of exercise equipment and of course the person that invented these torture devices.  Rather than using this as individual torture devices, Lynette had us put these into a fun circle of hell for the whole class.  Ok maybe it was only a circle of hell for me.  Now rather than my own personal discourse with the bosu ball, I would have to contend with one of my classmates chasing me from behind.  AWESOME!  (more…)

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VO2Max, Hydro weighing, and Running update

March 23, 2008

Three months have just flown by and I found myself back into the dunk tank for my hydrostatic weighing.  I have to say I was a little bit nervous as I wasn’t sure that I was still on point for converting to more lean muscle mass.  After going through all the testing the results were good.  I dropped from 26.7% body fat to 25.6%.  YEA!!!  I was super excited, as this was still working towards my goal.  Also surprising is that my weight is remaining the same.  My athletic trainer has me doing some more strength training for my shoulders and it seems to be adding on the muscle.  I’m guessing in another 3 months I may not be holding the same weight, as I’m not trying to bulk up in muscle mass.  Plus I’ll be meeting with a nutritionist this next week to help optimize my nutrition for increased swimming performance.  Somehow I’m guessing that boxed mac ‘n cheese will not be part of my nutrition plan nor is the half gallon of spumoni ice cream that I consumed last week.  Yep, thank goodness I ate that after the hydrostatic weighing.

Then I was back into the Wellness Center to test how my VO2Max has been doing over the past 6 months.  The thing with VO2Max testing is that you have to either choose running or cycling to test.  For a swimmer neither of these exercises are that easy at least not for me.  However, since I’ve been running for cross training I thought I might do much better than in October.  The test takes around 10 minutes of running and you have to wear this weird contraption on your head.  Don’t worry the pictures are below.  You have to breath through this tube with your nose plugged.  It is all a very strange experience.  Luckily I only have to do it every 6 months.  The results are in and…11% VO2Max improvement.  Again another positive sign on my training plan.  Oh and I also have to do flexibility, push ups and crunches as part of the testing.  Push ups went from 35 to 40 and flexibility was at 15″.  I’m not flexible at all, so the 15″ is pretty good for me.  Please see pictures of the running test below.  Please be kind if you are runners as I know my technique stinks.  I’m just lucky most days that I can stay upright and put one foot in front of the other.

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I’M RETIRED!!!!  Ok I’ve only retired from running, but I’m still very excited about this.  On the 16th, I ran my 3rd race ever.  It was the 5K Shamrock Run of Portland.  I was supposed to meet my friend Michelle down there, but with 16,000 people in downtown Portland we never connected.  And my other friends were running the later 15K race, so I was out on the course alone.  Ok yes there were a ton of people in the 5K, but I was running by myself.  I figured that with 3 year olds running past me as if they were connected to jet packs that I was moving at a glacial pace.  Frankly at this point, I just wanted to get through because then I was done with running.  After 6 months I still hadn’t fell in love with running.  In fact I think I still dislike it as much as I did before.  I will give a little and say that it has been great cross training and a huge help in my goal to lean down, but still those reasons didn’t overpower my dislike. 

I just checked my results on the web and good ol’ race number 7940 finished in 28:38.  A new PR baby.  And if I’m reading these race results right I finished 48th in my division.  Granted there were probably only 50 people in my division as everyone else was running the 8K or 15K because the 5K is a walk in the park for most runners.  Oh well.  I managed to run sub 10 minute miles and I’m happy with that.

Another friend just approached me the other day to run a race at the end of April.  This is a 10K.  Hmm…maybe. 

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Another addition to the Torture Team

January 28, 2008

By now most of you know that I have an extensive list of people helping me keep my body up and functioning through all the swimming.  Granted I’m still in the gearing up process of training, but I decided to add another team member.  Newest addition is an acupuncturist, Tiffany.  I was skeptical at first that being poked with needles was going to actually improve my shoulders, but after 3 sessions I’m now a believer.  My shoulders are becoming looser and don’t hurt nearly as much when training.  Plus Tiffany is trained in ART (Active Release Technique).  This is a new form of torture for me.  Basically Tiffany digs into the really sore muscles and I then have to move my arm.  It forces my shoulder muscles to do their own job and not rely on Mr. Lats and Mrs. Pecks to get the job done.  This too while painful is getting better every time.  Therefore I will be keeping Tiffany on the team.

Full Torture team roster:

  • Cathy – my athletic trainer who has now added her own new forms of exercise torture.  I now have stregthening work on top of the physical therapy.
  • Dr. Greenleaf – orthopedic surgeon.  Hopefully I don’t have to see him again for shots or x-rays.
  • Dr Kort – chiropractor.  He keeps everything in alignment and feeling like my joints have just been greased.
  • Dr. MacNeal – primary care physician.  Surprisingly she keeps signing and approving all my medical forms for my swims even if she thinks I’m completely nuts.  Gotta love her! 
  • Michelle – massage therapist.  This tiny woman can inflict some serious pain.  I believe that my muscles now have a permanent memory of her thumb.  I bet I even have a thumbprint or two permanently etched in those shoulder muscles.  She better keep that in mind.
  • Tiffany – acupuncturist.  I get to spend time every two weeks looking like a human pin cushion.  Very happy with the newest addition.  She did mention that about the only thing I’m missing is a naturopath.  Hmmm….
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First Run 5K

January 26, 2008

Whew it has been a whirlwind month. Here I thought I would get to updating my blog sooner and it is the end of January and I haven’t completed it at all! Man, I’m so behind.

I made good on the promise to my friends. I ran a race. I decided to start the New Year off right by running the First Run in Portland Oregon. The race starts at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Yep, midnight on New Year’s Eve. This would probably be the first time in 5 years that I actually saw midnight on New Year’s Eve. And I decided that I would be running at this time, I must be crazy. Actually I think crazy amounted to agreeing to this in the first place.

The evening started with a dinner at Randy’s place and plenty of time for me to think about backing out. However, my sister was in town and I had roped her into this run as well so it didn’t seem like I had a choice. The clock continued to tick closer to 10:30pm which was when we were planning to head downtown. We arrived on time…dang it and we got into our gear. Did I mention that we were running it in costume. Oh yes, my friends managed to get us all dresses from a thrift shop in Hawaii. My dress was kimono style down to my ankles with a fun Hawaiian print.

The run went off without a hitch. I made it through, but I didn’t feel very good. I had some stitch in my side, so I wanted in the worst way to stop. The race results state that there were 934 finishers and I was 564th. WOOO HOOO. Time = 32.46 which is a 10:33 mile pace. Yep there are a lot of things that I couldn’t outrun, so why even try. Needless to say I did have fun with my friends and I’m still running as it is good cross training for my swim events.

So here are the pictures.

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Welcome!

December 3, 2007

Hello All!  Welcome to the new website.  A special thanks to Courtney at Synthetic Kit for helping me get it all set up.  I know that I’m still in the learning process of actually owning a domain name and hosting stuff.  I also know that I still owe you all more photos from the swim.  Apparently I shouldn’t be as restricted anymore, which is great…but it means that I can’t procrastinate as much.  Dang it!

    

I’ve made it back into the pool and the shoulders have good days and bad days.  I’m thinking about naming them as they seem to have taken on their own personalities.  Last week was my first 3x/week swim training.  I made it through and I put up some good pace sets which is always encouraging.  However the pool is at a whopping 83.9 degrees which is like a hot tub for me.  This is making training a little bit more than difficult.  I may have to step down to a training bikini.  Not my ideal, but may be necessary. 

   

To continue my cold training, I’ve left my heat off on my house.  Somehow I think this will keep the bills down and help reduce my carbon footprint.  The little house on the hill is between 55-60 degrees.  My friends aren’t real appreciative of the temperature, but I think they will grow to love it as I do.  I’m still also taking those cold showers, but I do allow myself more luke warm showers than in the past. 

   

I continue to do 1.5 hours of physical therapy 3 times a week on my shoulders.  I still have to work on strengthening those rotator cuff muscles.  Every time I just feel like I’m settling into the plan, Cathy changes it up and makes it more challenging.  I suppose this is all for my own good, but it can be a pain.  I have a love/hate relationship with the Body Blade at this moment.  I’ve also added Pilates to do some core strengthening.

    

And now for the running part of my training, I’m now running for 20 minutes straight 3 times per week.  I manage to get in around 2 miles with my warm-up walk and cooldown walk.  I’m not very fast, but I’m consistent.  I like when it is raining while running.  In some ways, I trick myself into thinking I’m swimming.   I’ve also got the 5k that I promised my friends on the horizon.  We are doing the First Run in Portland at 12 am on New Year’s Eve/Day.  I figure it is a good way to start off the New Year.  I’ll keep you updated on the training.

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