Tales from the Cabin
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Training at the Cabin

For this couple, weekends at their Arkansas retreat are for swimming, cycling and running

By Deb Spencer
Published: June 6, 2011
Jeff & Deb Spencer, after completing the Ozark Valley Triathlon, Fayetteville, Ark.
Okay, what do you call two people who spend their cabin weekends swimming, biking and running just for the fun of it? Crazy! But for my husband, Jeff, and me, our favorite pastime is to compete in triathlons in the summer months, which requires us to put in some serious miles to prepare. So, what are triathletes to do when they want to be at the cabin every weekend of the year, but still need to train? Train at the cabin!  
Now you may be thinking, “Are you nuts? Get off the porch and actually move around and break a sweat … on a weekend … at the cabin?” But for us, the cabin really is a great opportunity to spend some time being active and training for an event. We actually have time at the cabin. Time to sleep in and actually work out after the sun comes up. Time to walk a little to warm up before we run. Time to float in the water after a hard swim. To us, that’s relaxing!
A Man for all seasons – Jeff clowning around for the camera.
Our cabin is located in Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains, which is a great training ground for us. Biking is a little tricky, though. Cycling usually requires logging a lot of miles, but our area roads are extremely hazardous after about mile six, so to try to bike 20 or more miles at the cabin just isn’t safe. So, instead, we do hill repeats – bike hard and fast up a steep hill, coast back down for recovery and then repeat, many times. This is a way to get in some legwork without putting in the miles, and it does the trick.
We run these same roads and use it as an opportunity to shop the housing market. You know, leave nose prints on the neighbors windows! We purposely have the Sunday paper delivered down the road on top of the hill one mile from the cabin, so we have motivation to get moving in the morning.
Swimming is a no brainer. We just jump in the lake with a ski buoy tied around an ankle, and off we go. The ski buoy is a bright orange ball about the size of a volleyball that is used as a marker in ski competitions, but we use a string and a strap to secure it to an ankle. This makes us more visible in the water for those high-speed fishermen who might buzz up thinking we are just another carp splashing on the surface needing to be caught. Ski buoys also provide flotation to rest if needed.

A family AFFAIR – The Spencers' triathlon training can get very creative, even finding a way to bring their dog along during long-distance swims.
On crazier days, we like to each tie a kayak to our ankles and swim 1.8 miles out to an island in the middle of the main channel and then kayak back. This is most pleasing to our dog Sam, because this is one time he gets to go for a swim with us … head up high, riding the bow like the girl in the movie "Titanic."
At least one time a year we swim the island round trip during our informal “Firecracker 5K” with 40 of our equally crazy friends. (The distance is actually 3.7 miles, which I realize is longer than a 5K, but it just sounds catchier). It starts at 6:30 a.m. on the Fourth of July with a firecracker start (our sleeping neighbors especially appreciate that) under the watchful eye of our safety boaters, kayakers and Jet Ski riders. The goal is to return to the dock within two hours, all limbs accounted for, before the holiday crowd awakes. I have to say, by the time I return I am so glad to stop moving my arms!
But you know, there are times we feel like doing just the porch triathlon: We move from the porch swing, to the lounge chair and finish up with a trip to the fridge. This usually involves chai tea, snacks, our Cabin Life magazine and at least one, if not two, naps.
What does all this physical activity actually accomplish in the end? The result is good health, stress relief and a sense of accomplishment. But what we love the most is time together as a couple, sometimes followed by the reward of ice cream, and when we’re lucky – the most incredible naps! This makes training one of the most enjoyable things about being at the cabin … at least for us.

Jeff, Deb and Sam enjoy dogpaddle races at their lake cottage in the Ozarks.

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