“Because I can”

PAIN in the Alleganies ½ Ironman
June 21, 2014
My alarm rang at 4:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 21st. It took me a second (ok, several) to realize that alarm was meant for my husband, Mike, and me to wake up because I was participating in a ½ Ironman event that morning. First test passed….we actually get out of bed…4:00 a.m. is the middle of the night to me. Was I excited or nervous? Probably a little bit of both as this was my first long endurance event in 7 years!
We are able to get in the car rather quickly as we had the car packed the night before. As we drove 80 miles, Mike helped me put things into perspective by saying I was more prepared than I ever had been due to the well thought out plans Francois had me follow so diligently. I don’t listen to many people but Francois is the exception to this rule. I always tried to come up with my own training plans and much to my dismay I would always end up injured! So I “listened” to Mike and told him I knew I did what I needed to do because of the plans Francois had me follow….huge thanks, Francois!

The smile before the storm

The smile before the storm

As we entered into the state park, at 5:30 a.m.. my stomach got a little queasy as we drove past the volunteers setting up the run course. My first thought was, “We have to run up THAT?” I did not have time to dwell on that negative thought as Mike parked the car and whisked me to the packet pick up. After getting body marked, I set my transition area up and proceeded back to the car to warm up as the air temperature was only 50 degrees. (Sorry Francois, I know that not what you meant when you told me to warm up!) I realized I still had the butterflies in my stomach as I tried to eat a bagel. Uh oh….I am nervous.
After the prerace meeting, I put my wetsuit on and headed to the lake to visualize the line I wanted to take. I took a few warm up strokes and got back out so I could be counted into the corral. The sprint race took off 10 minutes before us and it was exciting to see them start. A sense of calm came over me as we were asked to stand at the shore. 30 second count down, 15 second count down, backwards from 10 to 0 and we were off. I usually start toward the middle of the pack but decided to go up front and to my surprise, I was able to take the first 25 yards rather quick (for me) to break away from the mass start and was able to get into my rhythm rather quickly. We swam a two loop course and the most difficult part (beside not being able to see through the murky water) was having to exit the water after the first loop and running to enter back in for the second loop. As I was entering into the second loop I looked at the girl next to me and said, “Round 2”. The second loop felt just as good as the first loop. Finally seeing the land, I heard Francois in my head telling me to kick a little harder in order to get the blood going in my legs to make the run transition easier. As I exited the water, I heard Mike say my split of 29 something.” I kinda looked at him like he was crazy because my goal was 35 minutes. Off to a good start. First leg done☺

On the bike

On the bike

I was looking forward to the bike leg as this is my favorite part of the triathlon. I was rather disappointed that the course was shortened to 48 miles due to road conditions but appreciated the race director’s concern for safety. On my way out of transition Mike told me there were 2 girls ahead of me. Another sense of calm enveloped me as I thought to myself, “Not a problem.” This was a two loop bike course that is known for climbing.” My goal was to ride the pace I should. I also wanted to make sure I consumed enough liquid and calories before the run. (I knew swallowing the lake water several times didn’t account for hydration!) I found the proper gearing and off I went. I knew there was a 6 mile climb 2 miles into the bike leg so planned accordingly. Amazingly enough, my legs felt fresh and I had a blast spinning up the hill, past “2 girls” and also some guys. However, even though my legs were fresh, nutrition wasn’t as good as I still had a problem drinking let alone taking in a gel. No problem, I thought, I will do what I can do. After a bumpy 3 mile descent it was back to another 5 mile climb. Was able to drink some liquid but still knew it wasn’t enough. I rode through the transition area onto loop 2 and was excited to see Mike cheering me on. My goal was to ride the second loop the same time as the first loop and to my surprise, my splits were pretty dead on. Fortunately, the last 2 miles of the bike were downhill and flat as I was able to follow Francois’ instructions of getting my RPM to around 90 to match my run cadence. As I dismounted from the bike, I saw a total time of 2:32 and 3800 feet of climbing. 2nd leg done☺
Run leg….hmmmmm…..I was a little, ok, majorly, worried because of my lack of nutrition. As I exited the transition area I realized I forgot my Garmin watch but realized there was nothing I could do about it at that point. A cyclist named Greg who was in a bright green shirt rode up to me and said, “Looks like you need a hand.” At first I thought he knew I was worried about my nutrition then realized he was leading me out on the run course because I was the first overall female. I was grateful for Greg as he led me through a windy, hilly course that was much more difficult than the map on the website made it look. I took a defizzed Coke at mile one because I had heard of this helping. Well, I also heard you shouldn’t try something on race day that you didn’t practice in training. At that point, though, I needed a little jolt. I realized I wish I would have had my Garmin because I had no idea where the mile markers were nor did I have any idea what my pace was. At the halfway point, I saw Mike and when I looked at him I said, “This hurts.” The cheerleader that he is he said, “It’s supposed to!” Ok, second loop….off I went. I used every aid station to pour water over my head or drink Heed and swallow some enduralytes. It wasn’t a pretty run, but who said anything needs to be pretty? I was told by Greg that this course was created to help people train for the Lake Placid Ironman. Well that’s great, I thought, but I’m not the Lake Placid! I got a burst of energy on the last ½ mile because I knew the finish line was ahead. I rounded the corner and vaguely heard, “And here is the woman’s first female ½ Ironman finisher Megan Collins.” Third test passed….I finished. What stood out to me more than hearing that announcement, though, was seeing Mike at the finish line waiting for me with a big smile on his face. ☺ Being the first overall female finisher was not my goal. It really was icing on the cake.

1st woman!

1st woman!

Why was this my first endurance event in 7 years? As important as it is to physically take care of your body, it is also essential we are mentally able to handle that challenges that catch us by surprise. I say this because I am a 43 year old breast cancer survivor. I was thankful that I was so physically in tune with my body because I insisted to find answers to the lump I felt even though it did not show up on a mammogram and the doctors insisted it was nothing. The surgeries and treatments were physically demanding, so I put my triathlon experience to the test by breaking it into 3 legs: The swim (surgeries), the bike (chemotherapy) and the run (radiation). The finish line was when I was able to accompany Mike to his first ironman event in Louisville 1 month after my final radiation treatment.

The smile says it all!

The smile says it all!

I look at my diagnosis as a blessing in disguise because it stopped me in my tracks of life and I was able to mentally, emotionally, and spiritually reflect on what truly was important to me. I realized I took a lot for granted in all realms of my life. Prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer, people would ask me why I ‘do triathlons’ or competitions and I would come up with a million different reasons, which made me wonder if I even knew why I was “competing.” Now when anyone asks why I would put my body through something so physically demanding, I simply smile and say, “Because I can.”

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Trail running and triathlon

A few months ago, Maya and I decided that it would be pretty cool to celebrate our anniversary running a 30km (18.6mi) trail race in the Bay area. It seemed like a great idea at the time, until we realized that there was close to 4,000ft of climbing announced in just 30km (my Garmin reported 4,700ft after correction). And for good measure, Lil’ G would run his first trail run also. A nice 5mi with 1,000ft of climbing, with absolutely zero training aside from hurdles in the spring. To make sure that none of this happens without a significant amount of pain, we added an easy 5mi run along the Bay followed with nearly 12mi of walking and strolling in San Francisco, the day before. Oops.

Course around the Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Course around the Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Some serious climbing

Some serious climbing

We showed up a bit late (as usual), no real time to warm up (as usual). Last recommendations for Lil’ G: pace yourself! A kiss to Maya, and boom, it was on. The first couple of miles were uphill, and fairly steep, with some sections with stairs, some rocky sections, and all this in pretty chilly and wet weather. That said, the scenery was absolutely amazing:

(from projectheadlands.gov)

(from projectheadlands.gov)

The first 4.1mi went rather smoothly, taking the lead despite barely hitting 9min/mi (racing trails forces you to rethink what decent pace means). As soon as the downhill started, 2 guys caught back to me. I expected that since I can’t run downhill to save my life. And this little going away on the climbs, getting caught on the downhills lasted until mile 14. At this stage, one dude passed me when we bumped into a large group of runners racing the half, and with the single track trail he was able to run away. That’s my excuse anyway, but my legs were dead anyway. I just settled down, enjoyed the scenery for the final 4.6mi with enough of a gap to hold my position for a 2.28.54, a minute behind the winner, and with 30secs or so ahead of 3rd.

300yds to go

300yds to go

Despite being really cold, and not really prepared or even in good shape for that matter, I really enjoyed the race. Friendly chats after the run, people congratulating each other regardless of time and placing, just for lining up, and doing it. People happy for others, rather than people comparing times. It made me think of triathlons a few years back, when the atmosphere was friendlier (in my opinion), there was less fluff and more oomph. When it was about doing it the best we could, given the conditions, with or without a wetsuit, and without riding in a group of 200. That definitely makes me think that a trip to Celtman or Norseman is needed soon!

Maya was a little bit less fortunate. She got lost in a tricky area, added some extra running, and after realizing this, decided to just cruise back over the course, and enjoy it as much as possible. And Lil’ G scored his first AG win (13-19) and 16th overall. Not bad for a hurdler!

First climb of the 5mi

First climb of the 5mi

This same weekend: Stefan improved his Half IM time by 12 minutes. Owen shaved another 5 minutes off his Half IM time. Both at Victoria Half. And Corey went 2.16 and change at NYC Tri, a solid 5min improvement. A very satisfactory weekend I must say!

Some more results

First, a big congrats to Owen S. who improved by a solid 20min over the Half IM distance, last weekend, at the Shawnigan Lake Half Ironman, dropping to a 4h55 personal best. After a somewhat slow start this season, and a couple of setbacks, this is going in the right direction at last.

This weekend, Mike C. decided to race against coach’s advice, but still did pretty good. Nowhere near where he should be, but after some unexplainable health issues, straight out of the X-Files, it’s good to have him back racing and moving. Jeff B. took 14th OA at the ripe age of 65, and managed to improve by 4min40 over a sprint distance, 11min minutes from the 25yo winner. That’s pretty impressive if you ask me! Little disappointment for always consistent Kristoph who tackled Quassy Rev3 Half Ironman, and just had an off day. It happens, yet, it’s very difficult as a coach to take this as anything else but a failure on our end. Was there too much work done, not enough rest? Did I overlook something important? Surely, Kristoph and I will talk in the coming week to figure out what happened. Finally, Corey took 6th OA at the Great South Bay Sprint Tri, with a very solid run, as usual this season.

All in all, a pretty good coaching week.

IMTX and Zofingen

Two big races this week: Ironman Texas and American Zofingen, and definitely not the same conditions.
Arnaud was tackling Ironman Texas for the 3rd time this year with very realistic goals to break the 10hr mark by a handful or minutes. However, Ironman racing doesn’t let you always do what you want. After a swim 4min faster than last year, Arnaud posted a solid 5.12 bike split, despite a flat costing him about 7min. A bit faster than last year without a flat. Unfortunately, a uncooperating diaphragm made the run much slower than anticipated, and despite big improvements on the run this year and a low 2.50 marathon in Houston, Arnaud was reduced to slow running and walking, in very hot conditions. Nonetheless, he still clocked a 10:30 for 19th in his AG (same as last year). It’s only a matter of time before he can smash the 10hr mark, without breathing issues, and in cooler conditions. The quote of the day post race was this: “Thanks for everything, François. I’m a little disappointed by the run, as I don’t think it reflects all the progress we made this year, but it’s been a lot of fun getting here.”

A couple of thousand miles away, Corey was recovered from a 2.53 Boston Marathon, and ready to tackle the middle distance of American Zofingen. For those who’ve never raced a duathlon, 2 things: 1) they are much tougher on the legs than triathlons. 2) American Zofingen is a classic and a must-do, in New Paltz, NY. Hilly on the bike, hilly on both runs. Cold. Corey raced conservatively, and went a full 40min faster than last year, despite just starting more tri specific training, versus the more run oriented training of the past few months. Very promising with IMAZ coming in November. Good enough for 6th OA and 3rd AG.

More early season racing

The last few weeks have seen some pretty solid racing.
Corey who is gearing up for Boston Marathon is just 8 days ran a very solid 25km at the Caumsett Park race, with a 1:38:23. This was good enough for 4th overall: http://jms.racetecresults.com/Results.aspx?CId=16370&RId=14
Very solid hopes for a low 2:50s in Boston.

After posting a solid 1:35 Half Marathon in Fort Langley, BC, Stefan went on with a 2:41 Olympic distance, also in BC on March 11. 41st overall, 3rd AG, 1st podium finish, and 15min improvement. Although you could ask for more (you always can), that is very promising for the rest of the season, especially now that Stefan spends more time swimming/biking/running, than playing football (soccer, for you Americans…)

Shane G. goes on with the Irish duathlon season and took a 6th place with a strong field, just 3min behind the winner. He will just have to work on making sure the battery of the powertap is ready to race also.

Dan T. went 40:17 for 10km on March 16, in rather horrendous conditions, with the end of the race turning into holiday on ice, and followed this with a 1:25:23 at Cook’s forest half marathon, in the 45-49 AG. His email started by ‘HELL YES!!!!’ so I guess he was pretty stoked.

Owen S. went 1:34 at the Comox Half Marathon in BC. 11th in his AG. A bit disappointing, but in pretty tough conditions. Let’s see how a cure of sushi, beef, and riding on a trainer in a tiny Japanese apartment for a month works out for him.

Chris D. took 5th overall and 1st AG at the Vistancia Sprint in AZ, while preparing for Ironman CDA, and is gearing up for Leadman Arizona next weekend. Let’s see if he can actually taper, and not add training sessions here and there all week…(I got spies Chris…)

Eventually, Arnaud dropped the guitar and his Kirby sur Seine partner, both pictured there:

to post a 4:35 Half Ironman at Galveston 70.3 in windy conditions. Arnaud is steadily improving his swim, and then clocked a really nice 2:25/1:27 bike/run combo to take 11th in his stacked AG. We can already smell the sub 10hrs in The Woodlands next Month.

Coming next week, Chris tackles Leadman, Octavio heads to HITS Napa (which is a triathlon, not a drinking contest), and the week after Tona is racing a half marathon, and will probably send me a bunch of hate messages at some stage.

Early season racing

The last few weeks have been pretty busy for everyone. This past weekend, Chris raced Ragnar in the Phoenix area. Here is a very brief summary: “Ragnar was good. In short, I had a great time and put in solid runs on all 3 legs(7.1, 7.2, 9.0 miles). My quads are sore as can be today and I can’t do a squat to save my life.” The response to these types of races is overwhelmingly positive. They offer a really fun racing environment, in great locations. I really hope the race series thrives. This http://trail.ragnarrelay.com/locations/tahoe-ca/course is probably on the menu for later this summer.

Maya and I ran the El Paso Half Marathon yesterday. I was doing the pacing, and let’s face it: I did a horrible job. Running without a watch was not a good idea. Anyhow, still a PB, and a 3min improvement over last year.

For the record, just as last year, she beat me to the finish by squeezing her chip just ahead.

Owen was a bit frustrated with a slower than planned 10km (43.23). And that is a good time to remind folks that training is a process. You get a new coach, the training methods change, you are more tired than usual for a bit, and it sometimes takes longer than expected to get the results corresponding to your hard work. Bobby McGee wrote about the process of training recently. And it’s extremely simple: http://bobbymcgee.com/3-things-you-can-do-mentally-thatll-make-you-a-better-runnertriathlete/

Over the pond, in Ireland, Shane is enjoying a ‘sunny Irish winter’ to do some really serious work and reap the benefits in races. He took 13th out of 160 or so in a short distance duathlon (4k-14k-4k), averaging 300W on the bike, and a second run within 18secs of the first.

Last, but not least, Arnaud shaved another 3min at Houston Marathon. Last year he improved by close to 30min from 3.27 to 2.56, so it was hard to reiterate. But despite a slightly subpar preparation, Arnaud ran a 2.53.50. That is some very serious running, and there is hope for a 3.10 run off the bike comes Ironman Texas.

Next to race are Corey, running a 25km as a preparation for Boston, Stefan (racing an Olympic Distance in BC — yes, the swim is indoor), and Shane will be racing another duathlon in Sunny Ireland.

2013 Season

After a somewhat disappointing end of my season, sidelined, sick for 3 weeks, I’m getting ready for a pretty solid season for 2013:

1. Lubbock 70.3, June 30. Not an exciting course, but guaranteed to not be cold.

2. Leadman Bend 250, September 21. An exciting course, but guaranteed to be cold. Hmmm…

3. PumpkinMan, late October. Henderson, NV.

4. Ironman Arizona, November 17. The race filled up in record time. Apparently, after on site registration was over, the race filled up in 40 seconds! Somehow, I got in, and so did Jeff and Corey, two new recruit for 2013. Definitely a less scenic course than Los Cabos, or even Embrun, or Canada, but probably one of the most spectator friendly WTC races out there.

As Arizona filled up, I also filled up all my coaching slots for 2013.

On the calendar:

Ironman Mont Tremblant in August: Kristoph, Dan, and Mike will all be racing, with a clear goal for Kristoph: Kona!

Ironman Canada moved from Penticton to Whistler: Stefan and Owen will be racing.

Although there are no Ironman plans in the work for Maya, Shane, and Jon right now, I still have Rob (for whom I’ve kept a coaching slot, just in case), and Tona on the fence about Ironman next season. All I have to say is: you’ll be ready! Just sign up!

As the season concludes…

I have to say, as a coach, this was an amazing season, and my athletes made me really proud. These guys are awesome. Every weekend, I sit down for a couple of hours, on Saturday and Sunday, and wonder ‘what in the world could I do to make their lives totally miserable?’ Usually, I don’t lack ideas, so I just write that, send it to them, and off we go. Sunday evening is usually when I get most of my hate mail. So, I don’t check my email anymore on Sunday night. I have better things to do than read all that whining and all. By Wednesday, they are too tired to send emails anymore, so it’s pretty safe, and I can go back to my usual online activities, which resolve around sarcasm and correcting grammar and spelling. Anyhow, all joking aside, they did fantastically.

Arnaud Chevallier reached all his goals. Started by improving his marathon time by about 30min, in January with a solid 2h56 run, untapered. It was followed by a strong 10h15 at Ironman Texas, over an hour faster than 2011 on the same course, and finally this past weekend, a 4h45 Half Ironman at Oilman, for 3rd AG in the very competitive 35-39 AG.
Ironman Texas Swim

Jon D. started with me last year. He could barely run because of a foot injury. We built up progressively, and despite difficult family and work constraints, he turned a good performance at Ironman Mont Tremblant with a 14.22, 30min faster than his previous Ironman (Arizona). And needless to say that flat Florida isn’t ideal to get ready for a course such as Tremblant.

Kristoph Kocan also had a stellar season. I don’t think any of my athletes race anywhere near as much as he does. He’s pretty much the Petr Vabrousek of age groupers. Since there are just too many races to list, and with an age group podium at pretty much all of them, I’ll just mention the finale of his season: a 9h56, at Rev3 Cedar Point, on a tough course, over 90min faster than his previous Ironman time, beating the next 40-44 age grouper by 29min, followed 2 weeks later with a 5.10 Half on a course hard enough that this gave him 4th overall. And let’s not forget the main goal: top Brian Stover aka Desert Dude in the National rankings!

About to finish Rev3 Full in Cedar Point

I didn’t coach Rob for the entire year. But what started as a bet, became something a bit more serious. Rob is relatively new to the sport, and has a blog titled ‘Tales of a Wannabe Triathlete’. Well, with a 5h47 Half at Soma, his first half Ironman, entered pretty much as a bet, I think it’s time his blog gets renamed! Soma Half was a few weeks after a PB over the Olympic Distance, under 2h30 in San Diego, and was followed with a 7min PR over the Half Marathon, the following week!

Unlike Jan Ullrich, Rob learned that Xentis wheels have a trailing edge.

Gretchen McElroy is a long time triathlete. And pretty much like Rob, she entered Ironman Texas as a bet. Despite many years of racing, this was her first full Ironman distance. And she just killed it. With 35 seconds to spare, she broke 12hrs, and went straight from the finish line to the medical tent. One tough lady, who I think has a sub-11hrs in her legs without the medical issues.

Tona Mendoza asked me to coach him about a year ago. I haven’t seen Tona since he was taking one of the classes I taught in Computer Science at UTEP. So it was a unique opportunity to make him suffer physically after torturing him with ridiculous questions about how to build a context-free grammar for a language, and how to apply the pumping lemma, or Rice theorem. As a matter of fact, as a testament of how much Tona likes me, here is our discussion a couple of days ago when he heard I was out of Ironman Arizona, because I was seriously sick:

You feel the love

You feel the love?

Anyhow, Tona’s main goals were Pigman Half and Hy-Vee triathlon (OD). 40min improvement with a 5.03 at Pigman. And a 10min improvement at Hy-Vee! Amazing season, and we’re far from maxing out his abilities!

Brooks Vandivort had a relatively short season for a variety of reasons. Life getting in the way being one of them. But he steadily improved, had a solid showing at the Duathlon Nationals in Tucson, made Team USA, and also had a strong sub 1.35 Half Marathon just a week ago at the Flying Horse Half in El Paso.

Maya…Ahhh…this one is special. Well, she had a really solid season too. Her first duathlon, at the Nationals mind you. A 1h44 Half Marathon at the El Paso Half (good enough for second in her AG). She managed to squeeze in a wedding and a honeymoon in the middle, a 3h ride on the trainer, a 2h run on the treadmill, mixed in with a lot of smiles, laughter, food, and love!

Enjoying Hapuna Beach

Octavio is last. Not that he doesn’t matter, but he hasn’t raced yet. His goal is the HITS half Ironman in California early December. Last I heard, he was scared. He doesn’t know yet that he is doing plenty enough training to get this done and more!

So, thank you to all of you for putting your confidence in me for this season, even if for a punctual event. I truly appreciate. Many of you are continuing for the next season, and several have jumped on board: Mike, Dan, Shane in Ireland (I’m not sure he realizes I don’t coach rugby), Jeff who is incredibly unlucky and will have to race in Whistler, BC, a terrible desination, Corey, and Stefan. I’m looking forward to seeing you all improving next season, train and race hard, and enjoy our sport.

PS An apology to all those whose Facebooks were robbed of a picture!

Big Racing

Two of my athletes were racing this weekend. Rob was heading out to San Diego for the SD Tri, following a strong showing at the Eagle In The Sun Sprint Triathlon in El Paso. Rob was a tad disappointed with the racing there because, despite some very solid training, he finished in the same time as 2011. Given the amount of training done lately, and no taper to speak of for EITS, I was expecting this, but was still glad with his performance. We followed this race with a real taper, that will be used for the SOMA half in October. A few weeks after the NYC Tri, Rob shaved a total of 15min to his OD time, improving his run by 7min, and taking 3rd overall in the clydesdale division (Rob is about 3 feet taller than me, and around 50lbs heavier…I’d rather take him in a triathlon than in football)! That is some serious butt kicking, and suggests a very strong performance to come next Month in Tempe, AZ. I am guessing he might be starting to believe that indeed, an Ironman in 2013 is a definite possibility…(no pressure mate).

The other athlete, Kristoph was racing the Ironman Distance, Rev3 in Cedar Point. That was a decision made later in the year after some serious improvement during the season. A very solid preparation, a fair amount of suffering in training yielded a finish time of 9h56, a whole 1h31 faster than Kristoph’s fastest Ironman thus far, 40min faster on the run, 50min faster on the bike, in very windy conditions! I felt very proud, in particular when I read ‘I kept thinking that it was still easier than one of François’ workouts’ on his Facebook.

The season that was

That’s not really the end of the season, far from it. However, I haven’t written anything in ages, and it’s time to update a bit. I have to say that as a coach, this season has been extremely satisfying.

Jonathan went from not being able to run at all because of an injury, to finisher at Ironman Mont-Tremblant. He didn’t go fast. But he got the job done.

Tona slashed all his times: over 40min in a half-Ironman, with a close to sub-5h performance. Here he is with a big smile on his face 😉

He followed that with a 12min improvement at Hy-Vee. Now, I just have to convince him to race an Ironman next season.

Arnaud started the season in style with a sub-3h marathon, and followed this with solid 10h15 at Ironman Texas; an improvement of 1h06′ compared to 2011. The sub-10hrs is getting closer, and I’m expecting this for next year. Gretchen was there too. I tricked her into doing Ironman Texas, and she put a very solid performance for her first Ironman ever, breaking the 12hr mark, despite suffering a lot on the run.

Then Kristoph…well, let’s leave him out of this for the moment, and let’s go back to him Sunday evening. Others are racing soon too. Rob is racing his first Half in Soma next month. Maya is racing her first Olympic distance shortly as well. Brooks has improved a lot this season, but had to cut the season short. And I will be racing Ironman Arizona in a couple of months. I can’t wait to swim in beautiful Tempe Town Lake 😉