Author Archives: amyreinink

About amyreinink

I'm an award-winning writer and middle-of-the-pack runner who moved to the Washington area as a freelance journalist in October 2008. I'm also a marathon runner who recently signed up for the Marine Corps Marathon on Oct. 25, 2009. This blog, which I first started to chronicle my training for the National Half Marathon on March 21, 2009, is the story of my training for the MCM, and for many shorter races before it. I have run one full marathon and three half-marathons previously, and I'm looking to improve my time of 4:34 from the Nashville Country Music Marathon in April 2007. To avoid burnout and injuries, I'll be using the FIRST marathon-training method — running three hard days a week and cross-training hard two days a week. In this blog, I'll provide suggestions for running routes, training strategies, staying motivated, cross-training without boredom, injury prevention, playlists, sports nutrition and more. I live in a revamped Canada Dry bottling plant in Silver Spring, Md., that serves as a jumping-off point for running in Rock Creek Park, camping in Shenandoah National Park and skiing at Whitetail Resort, where my husband, Steve, and I are members of the Mountain Safety Team.

Race report: 2014 Lake George Open Water Swim 5K

At the end of every open-water swim, there’s a moment when I think: Do I have to do another lap? Is the finish straight ahead, or toward that other buoy? Is anything hanging out that I should put back in before running onto the shore?

The longer the swim, the greater the chance that things get a little weird in your head by the end. I was reminded of that in vivid detail at the Lake George Open Water Swim last Saturday. When I was standing on shore at the pre-race meeting for the 5K swim, the finish-line situation made perfect sense: During the first lap, swim around the red buoy to turn. After the second lap, swim to the finish chute instead. Easy-peasy.

It all seems so clear in the diagram.

It all seems so clear in the diagram.

But after three miles of swimming, that seemed anything but clear. As I rounded the corner of the green buoy, I picked up my head to sight. Seeing no obvious direction and no other swimmers to follow, I turned to a kayaker in confusion.

“Straight ahead?” I yelled.

She said something that sounded exactly like: “No, around the red.”

I realized my mistake as soon as I turned around that red buoy. I saw what seemed like dozens of swimmers proceeding in a straight and orderly swim line to the actual finish chute as I took what felt like forever (but was probably just a minute or two) to get there the long way around.

“Stupid,” I thought to myself. “So stupid.”

I ran onto shore sheepishly, then shuddered a little when I saw that my time, 1:30 and change, was two minutes slower than my time last year.

Outwardly, I joked about it and laughed at myself and said the truest thing possible about any mistake of any sort: “Stuff happens, right?” Inwardly, though, every time I thought about the race, the same soundtrack played in my head: So stupid. And I found myself obsessively searching for other open-water swims to end the season with, feeling a desperate need to prove I could do better.

This is maybe the best part of open-water swimming: The way it can provide a uniquely clear view of what’s happening in your head. When it’s just you and the water and your thoughts, you’re forced to listen to whatever noise pops up when all else is quiet. In this case, I discovered that my particular brand of noise on that particular day was rather unkind.

The beautiful thing is, once you get a peek at what’s happening in your head, you get a chance to change it. Every time the thought popped up, I switched my focus to the rest of the race: The hour and a half I spent immersed in cool, blue peace, gliding through clear, glassy water or charging through the occasional boat wake. When people asked how the race went, I stopped telling them about my mistake, and started telling them how I enjoyed every stroke—which is totally true. In fact, aside from a minute or two at the very end, my race was kind of perfect.

It’s a small mental shift, but it highlights something big: The way swimming and running and hiking and biking and skiing offer the opportunity to become a better, happier, healthier person.

When I first got home, I opted to not look up race results. But when I received an email from the race directors linking to those results, I changed my mind. No surprises on my time, but I was surprised to learn that on this particular day, the time I’d been so disappointed with was good enough for first in my age group. Is it wrong to think of this as an affirmation that no matter what my time, no matter what absurdities crept in, and, frankly, no matter what my age-group finish, my swim was not only good enough, but a gift?

 A funny side note: The next day, I saw a swimmer-friend who volunteered as a kayaker at the race. She joked: “There was a 2.5K, a 5K and a 10K race yesterday. Amy opted for the 6K.” Ha!

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Race report: Betsy Owens Memorial Swim

Earlier this summer, as I perused my race schedule, it occurred to me that I didn’t have anything on the calendar that would, by its very nature, challenge me to my core.

Sure, there are always PRs to seek and sprints to gut out. But those are optional challenges, not goals that promise to pull your guts out and show you what you’re made of.

Until Saturday, that is.

The Betsy Owens Memorial Swim in Lake Placid is a two-mile cable course in beautiful, calm Mirror Lake. Nothing inherently difficult about it—just four laps around a cable. I traveled up to the race with the group I swim with at Lake Desolation, and I was excited for a chance to enjoy the fellowship of my swimmer-friends and go for a nice dip in a beautiful lake.

Excited, until I learned that the water temperature was 67 degrees.

I once got hypothermic during a 2.5-mile ocean swim in Florida, where the water temperature was at least 70 degrees. Ever since then, I’ve happily told anyone who asks that I don’t swim in water below 70 degrees without a wetsuit. So when word started rippling through the crowd that the water temperature was significantly below that, I started to panic a bit. I walked down to the shore to confirm the temperature with the lifeguard.

“Yep, 67,” she said. “It was even colder a couple years ago. People were getting out after the first lap.”

“I might get out after the first lap today,” I said, laughing.

The thought lodged in my head immediately: I might get out after the first lap. If I need to, I can get out after the first lap. If I want to, I can get out after the first lap.

The water: Chilly, but so beautiful!

The water: Chilly, but so beautiful!

The thought stayed with me as my friends went to warm up (certainly an oxymoron, when warming up involves jumping in a cold lake). When they returned to the beach, shivering, they insisted the water wasn’t as bad as it sounded. I raised my eyebrows.

“OK, it’s bad,” said one friend. “It takes your breath away. You just have to tell yourself: ‘I’m fine. I just need to take deep breaths and stretch out my strokes.'”

How seriously did I take my swim? As seriously as a Wonder Woman bathing suit.

How seriously did I take my swim? As seriously as a Wonder Woman bathing suit.

I nodded. And before I knew it, I was lined up at the shoreline in my Wonder Woman bathing suit, feeling about as far away from a comic-book superheroine as I could get.

Here’s the really cruel part of this story: The start involved the dozen waves of swimmers to wade out to a buoy about 10 yards from shore, then tread water by the buoy for up to two minutes while waiting for the fastest waves to go.

My first step into the water was fine—just a little bit chilly. But lowering my torso into the water literally took my breath away. I thought about how the race director swam the English Channel last year, surviving 64-degree temperatures for 10 hours. And I thought one last time about how I could get out after one lap if I wanted. I dolphin-dived into the silver-gray water, whimpering to myself as I submerged.

Something funny: The next two minutes were among the most fun I’ve ever had swimming. There’s a special kind of camaraderie that forms between those doing the same absurd thing at the same time. I can’t even tell you what me and my other 10 wave-mates yammered about as we waited for our turn to start; I just know that if I saw those swimmers on the street, I’d hug them, and thank them for helping me to not feel so alone.

The first wave was a cold, gray blur. I tried to follow my swimmer-friend’s advice: You’re fine. Breathe. Fine. Breathe. By the time I finished the first lap, I was swimming alone, without knowing whether I’d passed my wave-mates or whether they passed me. I stayed that way for the rest of the race, seeing other swimmers only when they passed me on the opposite side of the cable course.

I kept it smooth and relaxed for the second and third laps. As I rounded the buoy to start the fourth and final lap, I got ready to sprint.

That’s when the cold really hit. My limbs felt numb and clumsy. My arms slapped the water; my kick felt out of rhythm. I actually wondered whether I was moving forward, or just splashing around in place. It felt like I was swimming for hours before I spotted the finish buoy.

As I ran onto shore, my feet felt like ice blocks. Someone grabbed me and wrapped me in a space blanket. It was done.

I finished in 56 minutes and change—a little slower than I’d hoped, but a victory nonetheless. As I sat under a blanket with my swim-buddies, my favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quote popped into my head: You must do the thing you think you cannot do. It doesn’t matter how long the swim took me, or that I doubted myself before I started. When faced with the thing I thought I could not do, I said: “I’ll try.”

 

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One of their own: When the rapids took the life of Shannon Christy, local kayakers refused to leave her behind.

WILL SEEBER wasn’t worried at first.

The 24-year-old Bethesda kayaker had made his way down the Potomac River with fellow paddler Shannon Christy, so together they could run Great Falls, some of the most treacherous white water in the world.

As Seeber weaved through whirlpools and waves on the way to the falls in C&O Canal National Historical Park on that July afternoon last year, he could see Christy, a 23-year-old kayaker from South Carolina, paddling straight ahead. Seeber assumed she would stop to wait for him before attempting the difficult “line,” or path of descent, down the falls.

“I realized at the last second, ‘Oh, she’s not even stopping,’ ” Seeber says. “I wasn’t worried at that point. She paddled into it with purpose, and hit the line perfectly.”

Photo of Will Seeber by Skip Brown, courtesy of Bethesda Magazine.

Photo of Will Seeber by Skip Brown, courtesy of Bethesda Magazine.

Seeber paddled quickly to catch up, running the first waterfall right behind Christy, but found no sign of her. Assuming that Christy had continued down the falls, he kept paddling. He glimpsed Christy’s red boat above a section of the rapids known as the Five Fingers.

Then Seeber spotted the young woman.

She was trying to swim in full paddling gear, but the current was sweeping her downstream toward a dangerous death trap of water and rock called the Subway. As Seeber began sprinting toward her, Christy disappeared beneath the churning water.

By the end of that day, Christy’s disappearance had sparked a search involving dozens of kayakers and highly trained swift-water rescuers from Montgomery and Fairfax counties who took to the water in heavy-duty inflatable boats as news helicopters buzzed overhead, broadcasting the drama to the entire nation. For the elite local kayakers who would risk their lives to recover Christy’s body, the day would forever change the way they viewed the sport they loved.

But at first, it was just Seeber, furiously back-paddling away from the deadly channel in shock, trying to figure out how to save his friend.

To read more of this story, please visit Bethesda Magazine’s website.

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Race report: Fourth Annual Summer Super Splash Open Water Swim

A funny thing happened at the Fourth Annual Summer Super Splash Open Water Swim last Saturday.

As I started the 1-mile race in Thirteenth Lake, in North River, N.Y., I found myself in the lead. Not in the lead pack, but in the lead. I looked around for feet to draft behind, and found none. I laughed to myself as I thought about the half-joking advice that Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky’s mom used to give her: “Just go out and take the lead and try to keep it.”

Would you believe that I did just that?

First, a word about the location: Thirteenth Lake is stunningly beautiful, with crystal-clear water surrounded by green mountain peaks. Every breath made me feel grateful for my ability to experience the world from such an amazing front-row seat.

Beautiful Thirteenth Lake the day of the Fourth Annual Super Summer Splash 1-mile Open Water Swim.

Thirteenth Lake the day of the Fourth Annual Super Summer Splash 1-mile Open Water Swim.

And a word about the race itself: I was supposed to be backpacking last weekend, so I prepared for the race as I would for a casual hiking trip: By undertaking a (not easy) lifting and rowing workout the afternoon before the race and by drinking two (not weak) margaritas post-workout. I drove up to the race, located about an hour north of Saratoga Springs, with a swimmer-friend from Saratoga. When we arrived, we both wondered aloud whether the dozen or so hard-core-looking swimmers gathered on the beach were as fast as they looked.

Now. Where was I? Oh, yes—in the lead!

I decided almost immediately to not freak about about the fact that I was out in front. I did wonder, in some secret corner of the back of my head, when (not if, but when) one of the wetsuit swimmers was going to pass me. Every time that thought popped into my head, I swam a little faster. Every time I swam a little faster, I reminded myself to hold back a bit until the second loop of the two-loop course.

In what felt like an instant later, I was done with the first loop. I tried to peek behind me as I breathed to gauge how much of a lead I had. The fact that I couldn’t see anyone didn’t help me lose the feeling that a pack of wetsuit-clad swimmers was on my heels, in some sort of weird lake-borne blind spot. So I swam faster. I wondered: Is it possible that someone passed me without my noticing?

Here’s the cool thing, though: I mostly just swam, not thinking anything at all. The thoughts popped into my head and flowed right back out, trailing behind my as if with my wake. If I could manage this level of Zen out of the water, I would be the happiest, most peaceful woman alive.

As I rounded the corner of the last buoy of the rectangular-shaped course, I thought to myself: “Here’s where you sprint.” And I did, in one of those cathartic, all-out efforts that feels like it is about more than just swimming, as if I could outpace every insecurity and heartache I’d ever felt by kicking a little harder.

I noticed a kayaker keeping pace with me, like the motorcycle leading a road race. I felt like a celebrity. Then, I heard the kayaker whistle loudly. I stopped short. She motioned that I was about to turn left too soon.

“Do I go over there?” I panted, treading water and nodding toward another set of buoys. The kayaker nodded, smiling.

“Thanks!” I shouted, pausing to look around before making a beeline for those buoys.

I ran across the finish line with glee, but also with the disorientation that accompanies every open-water swim.

“I’m first-first?” I said to the guys standing at the timing mat. “Like first of EVERYONE?”

They nodded. “By a lot,” said one of them, smiling.

I sat on a rock to catch my breath and turned toward the water. He was right—the next swimmer was a minute and a half behind me.

I remember rejoicing about breaking 30 minutes in the 1-mile GCBS Bay Challenge in 2009. On Saturday, I clocked in at 26:55. Although it’s hard to compare any one open-water swim to any other, this still feels like a bit of a milestone. As I told Steve later to explain my win: “I think it wasn’t because other people were slow; I think it was because I was kind fast!”

There are a lot of reasons we swim (and run, and bike, and ski, and otherwise play outside): For fun, for adventure, for mental clarity and peace. Last weekend was a reminder that we also swim as a reminder that we always have the capacity to surprise ourselves.

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Another day, another lake: Open-water swimming in Lake Desolation

The invitation came at the end of a swim workout at the YMCA, from a random guy I’d been sharing a lane with. I told him I swim at Moreau Lake with the Saratoga Triathlon Club on Thursday nights. He said he swims with a group at Lake Desolation every Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m. Did I want to join them?

I gave him my email address. Because when a man you don’t know invites you to a place called Lake Desolation, the right thing to do is accept. (Right?)

I was added to a distribution list of a couple dozen other swimmers, and on Saturday morning, I hopped in my car and drove to a lake house down a long dirt road for the swim.

I was relieved to arrive right after the woman who owns the lake house (I KNOW—women can be mass murderers, too). I felt even better when a gal I know from the ski patrol arrived shortly after. With my safety taken care of, I started thinking about warmth, and pulled my wetsuit out of its mesh storage bag. I asked the lake-house owner if she thought it was wetsuit weather.

“It’s whatever you’re comfortable with,” she said. “You’ll probably catch some flak for wearing one, but then, everyone will be jealous.”

Water temperature: 70 degrees. Air temperature: 50 degrees. How bad could this be? I put my wetsuit back in my bag, determined to fit in with the cool kids.

This action didn’t make me a cool kid so much as a freezing-cold kid. Note to self: The air temperature really is as important as the water temperature. I shivered my way through the first hundred yards or so, trying to will my muscles not to seize up. Making it bearable was the fact that this was one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Photo of Lake Desolation taken just before my morning swim.

Photo of Lake Desolation taken just before my morning swim.

I didn’t really warm up at any point; I also didn’t think much about the cold after the initial shock wore off. I think this is the purest definition of meditation: Being fully aware of your current reality; accepting that reality; and finding your bliss right then, right there.

And bliss it was: I could have stayed in for hours, swimming from dock to dock in that gorgeous, clear water. I got out with the rest of the group, and enjoyed coffee with them on a deck overlooking the lake. I joked about the cold (“I can’t feel my toes—but they’ll grow back, right?”). They joked about the sketchy way I found out about the group (“Honey, we need to have a conversation about stranger danger,” said one woman whose feet I followed throughout the swim). I told them I’d come back again and again, with a huge grin on my face.

“It never gets old, does it?” one guy said.

Nope. Never.

 

 

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Cool, green peace: First open-water swim of the season

A swimmer-friend once told me that every open-water swim begins in the same way: With confusion, crankiness and occasionally with a mad scramble of arms and legs during a pack start.

The confusion and crankiness were in full effect as I began my first open-water swim of the season at Moreau Lake last night. Crankiness because it was cold, and because my wetsuit felt tight in all the wrong places (swimmer rule: Your wetsuit always fit better last year. These things shrink a little every winter). Confused because the first buoy was farther away than I remembered, and because I couldn’t remember why I was doing this to begin with.

My mental dialogue for the first 300 meters of the 900-meter loop sounded like this:

Cold. Swim faster to get warm. Still cold. Swim faster. Aaaack. Stupid wetsuit. Too tight. Too fat. Don’t say that to yourself! Too cold. Swim faster. Aaaaack. I can get out after two loops.

Moreau

Moreau Lake was beautiful last night, my first open-water swim of the year with Saratoga Triathlon Club.

There must be something magical about that first buoy, because every time I pass it—in any swim, anywhere—I feel a beautiful sense of peace come over me. The thoughts bouncing around in my head disappear as quickly as they came. It’s just the rhythm of my arms pulling and the cool, green-blue water.

The wind started to whip up the lake into frothy mini-whitecaps after I swam two loops of the course, but there was no way I was getting out. It was too much fun—not just in spite of the waves, but because of them. In fact, I swam four laps of our triathlon club’s course in the hour-long swim. This is something I’ve only done once before. I wasn’t looking to swim long—I was just having too much fun playing to get out.

“I felt like a hero,” my friend Lisa said after the swim, and I knew exactly what she meant.

 

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Adventures in mindfulness: links, guided meditations, inspirations

I started this blog to share my adventures in running, swimming, skiing and other forms of playing outside. I feel happiest and most comfortable when I’m active, so my latest adventure is admittedly a bit of a departure.

I first stumbled across one of the guided meditations that I now listen to daily a few years ago, while I was researching a story about self compassion. Curious, I bookmarked one of the mp3s on self-compassion expert Kristin Neff’s website, and vowed to listen to it before I went to sleep that night.

Let me be clear: I had no illusions before that night that I was some calm-minded Zen master. Still, listening to Neff’s compassionate body-scan recording as I lay in bed, I was shocked to learn that a crazy, free-for-all parade of thoughts marches through my head before I fall asleep. As I followed Neff’s cues to tune in to the sensations in my body—as simple as the feeling of the back of my head meeting my pillow—I felt myself relaxing, almost against my will. And then it was morning, and I’d enjoyed the best night of sleep in recent memory.

At first, I thought of meditation as a bit of a one-night stand—something I tried once, but was uncertain I wanted to commit to. Listen to a guided meditation late at night when I can’t fall asleep? Sure! Sit on a cushion and find a way to keep my mind empty for a whole 20 minutes? I am waaay too Type-A for that. (I KNOW—you’re going to tell me the thing about that being like saying you’re too dirty to take a bath. I clearly had a lot to learn.)

It wasn’t until I talked about meditation with a grief counselor I spoke to after my dad died in 2012 that I began to understand that meditation isn’t necessarily about totally emptying your mind for 20 minutes, but about being present enough to observe what’s happening in your mind for any amount of time at all, whether that’s a weeklong silent-retreat or two minutes of focusing on your breath. I also began to understand that even if you spend two minutes focusing on your breath and a third minute watching thoughts pop up in your head like rabbits popping in and out of burrows in the ground, that’s still super, and still counts as meditating.

Fast-forward two years. I have taken meditation classes in which the instructor talks about the third eye, and in which I have been unfazed by mentions of the third eye. I’ve read and re-read (and re-read) The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I don’t like falling asleep without a recorded body-scan meditation—a practice I have since learned is referred to as “beditation.” And rather than shying away from meditation because I’m “not good at it,” I’m accepting the challenge of admitting that I am not, and will never be, perfect at this—that perfection isn’t even the goal.

I’m posting this today for a few reasons:

1. To explain where I’ve been. I’m still swimming and running and hiking and biking and skiing; I’m also just doing a lot more BEing, which isn’t such great blog-post fodder.

2. To set a public goal that I will meditate once a day in May. Since “beditating” is already part of my daily routine, my goal is to branch out and actually “sit” for at least five minutes daily.

3. To share what’s helped me in case any of you are looking to get started in mindfulness meditation. My two favorite sources of guided meditations are Self-Compassion.org, where you’ll find several wonderful guided meditations from Kristin Neff, the aforementioned self-compassion expert; and UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center.

Mindful.org is a also fabulous clearinghouse for all things mindfulness.

What role, if any, does meditation play in your life? Any links to guided meditations to share? Let me know by posting a comment below.

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