June 23, 2009

It Ain't Easy Being Green

I've heard stories of the blue-green algae outbreaks in Wisconsin lakes and recall Lake Monona being closed for a series of weeks right before the Ironman last year. I encountered some algae yesterday and while it was gross, it was bearable. That was not the case today. I arrived at the lake for my one-hour swim and was horrified by what I saw. The water looked like pea soup. Overnight it had turned into a festering, green, hot, still mass of water that looked virtually unswimmable. Temperatures barely dipped into the lower 80s overnight and the wind was low, creating a perfect environment for the nasty bacteria to flourish. So what did I do? I got in and swam, of course.

I thought if I got far enough from the shore it would get better so I sort of tarzan swam out and when it wasn't getting better I decided to start my watch and just go. What other choice did I have? There is a saying in triathlon - HTFU, which means Harden the F#@% Up. It took a hefty dose of HTFU to put my face in the foul, green water and swim. I was a little panicked but managed to calm myself down even as giant clumps of algae slid along my face and the seaweedy/grassy stuff clustered on the surface of the water repeatedly became tangled on my arms and stuck on my forehead. I kept my mouth as tightly closed as possible, not the best way to be for swimming. I was just about at yesterday's short swim turnaround point when I swam into an algae minefield. It was so dense I swear I could have stood up and rested on it. I realized then that this swim had to be over. If I could have been airlifted out it would have been ideal, but instead I had the pleasure of fighting my way back through the grime to where I started. When I finally escaped the water, I was coated in little specks of green. I smelled and looked like something that was pulled out of a sewer drain. I don't know how I didn't throw up.

I later read that this blue-green algae has killed cattle, dogs and waterfowl that ingest large quantities. They should add stubborn triathletes to the list of endangered species. I also learned that the nearest beach on the lake was closed. I guess that's what I get for being the clueless out-of-towner.

I redeemed the day with a nice evening ride. I had an easy 1-1.5 hours on the schedule and got to extend it a bit to make up for the aborted swim. I rode on the Capital City Trail that starts just a couple blocks from where I'm staying. It's a dream to be able to walk out the door and start a ride without having to cross two bridges and ride through hell to get there. Once the trail leaves the city it is amazing. It was mostly wooded and really scenic the entire way except for a few major intersections and one small residential area. It was peaceful and I was happy despite the fact it was still over 90 degrees. If I lived here I'd be on my bike all the time.

Tomorrow will be my first time on the Ironman Wisconsin course. My friend Amy took the day off to ride a loop with me and I can't thank her enough. I'm excited to see what it's like and get an idea of what race day will be like. I'm also planning to run a loop of the course as well assuming I can keep all the directions straight. We're under a heat advisory so I'll have to take it all slowly, but I'm not here to race, I'm just here to train and get familiar before the big day.

Distance - 900 yards
Time - 17:28

Distance - 26.85 miles
Time - 1:51:07

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