Thursday, September 22, 2011

Paddle Boarding Excursion

My boyfriend bought me a paddle board for my birthday a couple of months ago.  So, when my co-worker invited me to do a paddle boarding excursion for charity over the weekend, I decided to put my new found skills to the test for a good cause and join her.
Now for those of you that don’t know what paddle boarding is, it’s basically like getting on a surfboard, standing up and paddling through the water.  You can find pictures of trendy people like Jennifer Aniston and Rachel Bilson doing this in the latest pop culture magazines, as it’s becoming quite the fad.  However, there is actually some technique to this sport, which I’m still trying to figure out, and it’s a great core work-out that makes you feel much more physically tired once you’re done doing it rather than while you’re doing it.
Anyway, the course for this event seemed longer and a bit more challenging than what I was used to.  After all, I had simply taken my board out on a few calm evenings to a quiet bay, leisurely paddling around to find some sea creatures before heading back to the beach.  However, the charity event was having boarders paddle from one bay, around a point of land - exposed to the open ocean - then back into another bay.  Technically, the entire race was round trip, but I was only signing myself up to do half.  This was a 3 mile excursion for me, 6 miles for mostly everyone else.
The first challenge of the morning was getting my board from my bedroom to the car and strapping it on top tightly enough for me to make it down to the beach.  This is no easy task considering my board is over 11 feet long and about 30 pounds.  So, I huffed it down the hall and made every effort not to bang into anything as I turned the corner and got it out the front door.  Once at the car, I slid it on top and used about 5 bungee chords to secure this monstrosity to the car.  After 30 minutes I finally had it on without feeling like it was going to slide right off.  I started the car and drove down to the beach.
I got there early so I could register and be ready to go.  Coming from the city, I’m used to these charity type of sporting events consisting of swarms of women decked out in the latest Lululemon gear, pop music pumping on huge speakers, people handing out tons of freebies and a ridiculous amount of sponsorship.  However, when I got to the beach, I had to strain myself to find the check-in tent.  Granted, most people had already checked in at the starting point of the event in the other bay, but still…where were all half-assers like me?     
When I finally found the tent to register, it was pretty simple.  I introduced myself, signed a waiver, handed them my $25 entry fee and bought a raffle ticket for $20.  Typically, I don’t buy raffle tickets, but by the looks of things, I was really liking my odds.  I considered buying two.    
Anyway, my friend joined me shortly thereafter, and we waited for the over-achievers from the other bay to arrive so we could start our journey.  Once it looked like most of the paddlers had made it, people simply began to put their paddles in the water and paddled off back to the other bay.  I wasn’t sure that there was any warning or signal for us to start, but I decided to follow suit. 
The beginning of this trek was pretty enjoyable.  It was a beautiful sunny morning, the water was calm and there was a nice breeze.  I took a moment to take it all in.  As I looked behind me, I realized that I was ahead of about 30 boarders and there were probably 40 ahead of me, including my friend who had quickly made it up to the front and wasn’t to be seen again until the end of the race. 
However, after about 20 minutes of paddling I was getting pretty close to the point of land.  This was where I was exiting one bay, but not quite in the next bay so I was approaching open water.  Since I had to go around the point, this was the closest I got to the rocky coast, and I couldn’t help but notice the waves crashing down hard on the shoreline.   It was at this time that I realized how choppy the water was getting.  The wind and current had picked up and my board was catching some waves.  I could feel myself getting a little nervous and tense, but tried to distract myself by looking at all the nice homes right along the water.  I couldn’t help but wonder how everyone else was staying so calm and balanced on their boards.  I reassuringly reminded myself that this was an event for charity, so they would never put us in harms way.  Regardless, the further out I got into the open water, the harder it was to keep stable on my board.  Out of nowhere, I lost balance and nearly fell off my board.  Slightly terrified, I kneeled down on the board and paddled ahead until I felt comfortable standing up again.  Needless to say, I kneeled down, shaking, for some time.
Now, for those of you that have never paddled before, I’m here to say that when you’re standing, or kneeling in my case, on a board with a paddle in the middle of rocky ocean water, it takes some physical strength to get to your destination.  Since I have very limited physical strength, by the time I got around the point I was exhausted.  Now, there were probably 15 boarders behind me and 55 ahead of me.  However, what really broke me was the sight of a 60-something woman in a lemon-lime green bikini come from behind me out of nowhere, kick it into high gear and blow right by me.  At first I tried to stay ahead of her, but after battling all those waves, I didn’t have it in me.  ‘Good for her’, I thought to myself as I gave up racing her and let her pass by me.     
Alas, after an hour and a half of paddling I made it to the beach and hopped off my board to meet up with my friend, who clearly had done this several times before.  She commented on how well I had done, and I made every effort to pretend like I hadn’t feared for my life at all.  I spent the rest of the day at home, exhausted but feeling accomplished. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Hill – A Follow Up

On May 24th I wrote a posting called “The Hill”, which was dedicated to me feeling sorry for myself as I bitched and complained about how difficult it was to adapt to jogging in the Virgin Islands after being here only 11 days.  If you didn’t read that post, then I recommend you take a look at it prior to reading this posting so you have a frame of reference.  However, a simple recap of that posting is me agonizing over how hard it was to run in the heat, the hills and the blazing sun. 

Looking back, it seems silly for me to have wanted to quit running after only 11 short days of being on the island.  After all, I had hardly given it a chance, yet I was convinced that I was done with jogging - the conditions were too extreme.  However, I quickly realized that without my main form of exercise, I found it difficult to sleep, so I was often very tired and moody.  After several weeks of tolerating this, my boyfriend suggested that I try running once again, and convinced me to do so by starting with a short run. 
Since nobody can motivate me more than my boyfriend and a new playlist on my iPod, I decided to suck it up and go with him on a short, but difficult jog.  I won’t sugar coat this - that first run after several weeks off hurt like hell.  I’m not even sure I made it all the way without stopping to catch my breath countless times.  Keep in mind that a year before, I ran a half marathon at a 8:26/mile pace with a stress fracture in my femur, so I’m used to moving at a decent pace, running long distances and dealing with pain.  Yet, this 2 miler felt like I was running in a steam room, with a 100 pound weight on my chest, after smoking an entire pack of cigarettes the night before.  What had become of me - ugh.   

However, somehow I managed to go on another run a few days later, and I continued to stick with it.  I’m happy to say that one slow-moving, grueling run at a time I have lengthened my courses and, to keep my interest I’ve found different routes with even more hills.  Still, my attitude isn’t great right afterwards.  Almost every time I'm finished, I find myself saying things like, ‘brutal’, ‘I’m done with running ’ and, my personal favorite, ‘kill me now’.  And, I often yearn for a cool, crisp and flat autumn run up in Chicago.  So, I’m unclear as to why I continue with this self-masochistic behavior. 
Of course, I understand the obvious benefits of this type of exercise.  It does help me sleep, and I feel accomplished and more relaxed throughout the day.  I feel fit (my ass is, indeed, firmer!) and running boosts my confidence.  It also keeps me in shape for the other physical things I enjoy doing.  But, when most people experience such pain, they don’t go back for more – especially when the positive effects aren’t immediate.  I don’t get it.
As I write this post I, like you probably, really am not sure what the point is – truly a sign of a terrible posting and an ammatuer writer.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that while I have a love/hate relationship with running, it is a passion that I’ve had for most of my life.  Some of my best, most proud moments and memories have been made exploring my surroundings and my physical potential through the sport of running.  With this in mind, I find it disappointing that I was so apt to quickly quit on something that had brought me such gratification for so long.  Another life lesson, I suppose.  And, without this blog I never would have realized how inpatient I was with the situation.  So, I guess I’ll keep running, and I’ll keep writing.  Hopefully, you’ll keep reading.  
Finishing my last half marathon.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Status Report

I’ve been here on St. Thomas for 3 ½ months now, so I figured I was due to express my honest feelings about some of the things I’ve learned in addition to some of the hardships and hopes that I have for my new found home. 

I’ll start with what I’ve learned up to this point.  I’m happy to say that most things have been positive, small and simple.  For example, I’ve learned that one of the best moments of my day is watching the sunrise when it’s coming up over the ocean and the islands in the distance (see pic below).  I realize that the highlight of swimming or paddle boarding is spotting a sting ray or sea turtle glide right by.  Every day, I can appreciate how carefree it is to take my dogs outside without needing a leash to walk them.  I’ve learned that Birkenstocks are more comfortable than flip flops, calamine lotion is better for mosquito bites than hydro cortisone, too much saltwater will give my dog diarrhea and olive oil will protect my hair from drying out from the ocean and sun. 

Since the cable goes out often, I’ve found that a good book or card game is much more gratifying than TV.  I’ve learned that a warmer, sunnier climate can make me want to be more active, and I now know that my favorite meal is fresh seafood that was just picked up from our usual fish market by the marina.  By now, I’m starting to understand the dialect down here, which is in fact English.  However, the best and most important thing that I’ve learned is how much stronger a relationship can get when you both move away together to a very foreign place.
Of course it hasn’t all been sunny days and beach balls, as there have been plenty of tough moments and tears.  More than anything, it’s been incredibly difficult for me to let go of a career that I unfortunately allowed myself to be defined by for 10 years.  And, I miss the life in Chicago that enabled me to catch a Cubs game on a weeknight with my friends, eat junk food at a summer street festival, head out for a concert or meet up with a friend for Happy Hour or lunch. I miss jogging and biking through Lincoln Park and making a quick coffee run to Starbucks.  In general, I miss how nice things are in the States.  I took it for granted how pleasing, efficient and accommodating everything is up there…smooth and well-marked roads, big shiny department stores and fancy grocery stores that are fully stocked with fresh, non-moldy food.  Things up there are well maintained and taken care of - I miss that.
Anyhow, since I haven’t been down here for very long, there’s no question that I still look forward to the many experiences and memories to come.  In particular, I’m most excited about finding some new passions – something that I probably haven’t focused on enough in my life.  At the top of my long checklist, I’m most enthusiastic about sailing, scuba diving and traveling.  And, I'm eager to continue down this path here since it has allowed me to redirect my attention to what’s important in life.  I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that at times it’s been tough for me to understand that life isn’t about the latest leather boots that I want to buy, or the next big-time sale that would make my year at work.  However, when you live a fast-paced life in a big city, it can be extremely easy to get caught up in superficial things.  It is for this reason that I am most thankful for making this choice to change my course in life.  
However, I’m still going to try to search for a place that can serve a non-fat, no foam, one shot, extra hot, grande, latte…please!