Lifeguard On Duty


I haven’t been a lifeguard since 1992 when I was in high school and worked at a local city pool from noon to seven at night. It was the best job ever: I was at a pool and outside all day long. And, I rescued a few people from drowning too. Sometimes things come full circle in life because about two weeks ago, I took the lifeguarding class at the Y and got certified as a Red Cross Lifeguard.

So now when you see me on the pool deck, I might be sporting a red swimsuit and rescue tube. Come and swim on Thursdays at the Haverford Y from 5am-6am and 6:50pm-7:30pm and on Saturdays from 8am-9am.


Open Water Panic


Panic attacks are no joke. I am the anxiety queen after all, and I’ve had my share of panic attacks on the swim despite being a strong swimmer. I have also seen panic attacks prevent swimmers from even starting their race. So, this is something everyone needs to consider, even if there is no history of panic attacks or panic disorder.

I, however, have a history of anxiety and panic disorder, which means I have had my share of panic attacks that have landed me in the hospital many times. Before I fully understood what was going on, I attributed my racing heart and panic to my heart murmur. I called 911, rode in many an ambulance, and was even hospitalized for my anxiety. I saw a cardiologist, got an ultrasound of my heart, and was told that absolutely nothing was wrong with my heart and to have fun training for my first marathon. Still, panic attacks would strike when I would least expect to be anxious: while watching TV or reading a book at night, while on my morning run, while driving a car, while on vacation, while doing dishes. You name it, and I’ve probably had a panic attack during that event.

Think of a panic attack as your body’s way of releasing built up stress. When you are relaxed, your body thinks that it’s a fabulous time to release all of this worry and anxiety in the form of a panic attack. This all makes sense as it pertains to triathlon. You’ve trained and prepared for months to race, you know you can do it, and then, BOOM! panic on the swim–you suddenly can’t get enough air, your heart is racing, and you feel like you’re going to die and slip below the water’s surface, unseen by a lifeguard.

It’s scary, right? And the worst part about panic attacks is that you don’t have to have a history of them to have one. So, what should you do? Well, if you’re like me and panic attacks are affecting your life and ability to be a regular human being, go and see your doctor, psychiatrist, or health care professional for counseling and/or medication if necessary.

Once you get help, one thing that prevents some panic attacks for me is identifying my fears and making a plan. Be specific. And I mean “be specific” (this is the English teacher coming out in me). Don’t just say, “I’m afraid of drowning” and instead think of what would cause you to drown: is it the lifeguard not seeing you? Is it someone swimming over you? Is it someone pulling your ankles? Is it getting a cramp?

For example, one of my fears on the swim is being able to see the bottom of whatever body of water I am swimming in. I know, I know, some people like to be able to see, but I’m happy in the murkiest of waters because if anything touches me, I can just tell myself it’s another person’s feet or hands even if it’s not true. Yet, I have a coping plan in place if I do see the bottom: study the contours and shapes like it’s an opportunity to visit another planet. Additionally, I bring my focus to my breath: with each exhale, I say, “Relax” in my head. It all seems silly, but it works.

Another fear I have on the swim is having a panic attack and not being able to breathe because of it. So, my plan if this happens is to turn over on my back and bring my focus to my breath. I tell myself that I have trained for this and am a strong swimmer, and if necessary, I flip over on my back and scull. I actually repeat the following phrases: “I am a strong swimmer. I trained for this. Relax.” And you know what? It works. Have a plan. Be specific. And get ready to use it.

So, when your feet ache from the hard concrete, your body is sweating underneath your wetsuit, and you are packed tightly with swimmers like a bunch of sea lions on a solitary rock before the start of the swim, review how you will take action and be in control of the situation.

How to Improve Your Kick

I’m a weirdo and love swimming. I keep my fingers crossed for a wetsuit illegal swim. Crazy, right? However, most triathletes dream of the wetsuit legal swims because you’re more buoyant, your legs are popped up in alignment, making your kick more efficient with your heels breaking the surface, and you practically surf on top on the water.

To improve your kick without the added help of a wetsuit or extra buoyant jammers, try the following exercises and drills:

1. A powerful kick comes from flexible ankles, so stretch your ankles by trying to sit on your heels for a few minutes each day. Start with 10-20 seconds four times, and then increase the duration and decrease the reps. You should be able to sit on your heels with your feet flat under you for a full minute or more.

2. If you have an exercise band, practice pointing and flexing your ankle with the exercise band in the arch of your foot. Do this for one minute for each ankle.

3. Do ankle rotations. These are called ABC ankles because you rotate your ankles clockwise for the duration of the ABC song, and then counter clockwise for the length of the song again. Repeat with your other ankle. (It’s an old track stretching drill, but works for swimming too).

4. Get some fins. If they are split in the middle, your legs will work harder, but this is not necessary. If the fins are longer, your ankles will be stretched out more versus a shorter fin. However, the shorter fin mimics a fast and strong swimming kick, so a shorter fin might work best. Kick on your back without a kick board (this increases flexibility in your ankle) and on your front with a kick board. Also, my favorite kicking drill is to take three strokes, do six kicks, and repeat for 50s. Do at least 300 yards kicking per workout.

5. Try this drill in the deep end. Do 3×10 seconds with 30 seconds rest. Build up to 3×20 seconds with 30 seconds rest, and then do 3×30 seconds with 30 seconds rest. You cannot use your hands, and you need to keep your head up and out of the water. If your head goes under, start again.
Upright Flutter Kick Drill

That’s it! If you try all of these drills for over a month, leave a comment below and let me know how it helped improve your flutter kick. Happy swimming!

Go Ahead: Talk to the Guy in the Speedo


Very few guys wear the real deal Speedo to the local pool anymore. Maybe they’re scared of what others will say? I don’t know. Recently, I have noticed more board shorts for the less serious athletes and more jammers for many of the guys. Women’s swimwear hasn’t changed much over the years in contrast. No matter what the swim attire, pool etiquette associated with who wears what creates a pecking order for lane preference. Seeking an open pool lane can be a challenge when swimmers don’t want to stop their workout to talk to you, but I muscle my way in anyway and cheerfully say, “Let’s circle swim!” Not everyone likes that.

I don’t care. No one should have to wait more than a few minutes to swim just because swimmers insist on splitting the lane. Splitting the lane is when two swimmers share a lane by only swimming on one side instead of the usual counter-clockwise swim around the black line. Swimming is the same as driving: stay to the right of the line. And, I always offer to circle swim. When circle swimming, give each swimmer at least half a pool length before starting to swim, and if you have to pass, pass on the left.

In addition to circle swimming, I also talk to everyone: the woman in the two-piece, the old man barely staying afloat but somehow doing laps to spite gravity, the eight-months pregnant woman who is crushing her laps, and the guy who wants to learn how to swim. There is one guy at my local YMCA who does actually wear a real deal Speedo. Shocking, right? I have seen him a few times at the pool since I recognize many of the regulars. He’s a super fast swimmer who laps me during my workout. I wanted to talk to him to see if he was a coach, if he had a coach, how long he has been swimming, and, well, just to talk to another serious athlete. He was wearing a Speedo after all. We finished our workouts at about the same time. I walked by him and asked if he had a good workout.

“I got 2600 in,” he said.

“Nice! I just finished 3000, but you were lapping me the whole time,” I replied. I didn’t mean to brag that I swam more than he did, but sometimes my mouth is faster than my brain. By chatting with him poolside, I found out lots of information about how often he coaches and what his triathlon coach is like. Winning!

I also spoke with the woman swimming in the lane next to me who was recovering from a basketball injury, and I briefly spoke to the woman sharing my lane—she noticed that I had my Atlantic City 70.3 cap since she was wearing the same one. I wanted to talk to her more, but she was intent on swimming for an hour nonstop. Bummer. We were wearing the same watch too! Twinsies!

So, go and talk to that guy in the Speedo, the 90 year old from India, and the mom just getting a few laps done because you never know what you’ll learn.

Richmond Marathon

Four years in a row one of us has run the Richmond Marathon. I sat this year out since I recently ran Chicago, but Phil had another go at this family marathon favorite. He usually runs this race with me, and we talk the whole time. I know, it seems weird that my husband and I love to run a marathon and talk in order to spend time with each other, but we’re strange.

Anyway, I wrote all of Phil’s training plans, and throughout training he doubted my methodology of more slow running with fast running saved for the track workouts and tempo runs. Ha, ha! My plan worked! He cruised through this marathon at his 8:39 per mile pace like it was easy and finished in 3:52:51, a PR for him. Sophia and I cheered him on at miles 7 and 19, missed him at mile 10 because he was so fast and already at mile 12 when we arrived. Sophia chatted about her recent races and how she wants to actually train for a 5K and see how high up the podium she can get. She already got 1st and 2nd in her age group for the 5K. She’s such a stinker.

One of us will run this marathon again next year–maybe Phil will run the full once more, and I’ll run the half since I have a full Ironman at the end of September on the race calendar for 2018 and know what happens when I try to do too many hard races too close together. Either way, we’ll enjoy the never-ending block party that is the Richmond Marathon and Half Marathon and get another one of those nice fleece blankets at the finish line. Because I like to run for freebies too.

Congratulations, Phil! And thanks for getting our family yet another fleece blanket!

Cycling Around Valley Forge


Often on Saturday mornings as a kid, I heard the bike pump heaving asthmatic sighs into the knobby tires. My mom knelt by the rear tire of her bike to secure the tube cap before packing the pump in the car. Three bikes waited patiently for their riders in the driveway before breakfast: we were going for a bike ride today.  As I got my cereal, my sister and I hoped we were going to the trail with the ford, so we could ride our bikes through the river, back and forth, splashing the kids trying to fish.

Now, I’m the one kneeling near the bikes, screwing the caps back on the tires, and packing the pump before finishing coffee with my mom, discussing what we will see today from our bikes.

We loaded the hybrids to the back of my car and set off for Valley Forge to ride the hills and visit historic houses and forts along the way. It was a slow ride through the blowing leaves on a spring-like day in November, but all rides are good rides. Especially ones with my mom.