The nasty laundry is done, the suburban is unpacked, and most of the big stuff is scratched off of the post-race list, so I wanted to capture some of my race recollections before I forget them. I’m sure some additional suppressed memories will surface during the coming week, and I’ll add them as they do. This installment will focus on the biggest challenge of the triathlon for me – the swim.
First and foremost, the race was a great experience; certainly because it capped of a year of constantly changing physical challenges, but mostly because it was a fairly small scale operation with a kind of home town feel to it. While I didn’t know any of the other participants, it was clear that lots of them knew each other. So, even though there were a fair number of the steely-eyed, finish first at all cost competitors there, there were a lot of folks offering advice to newbies, helping others set up transition areas, etc. Nice to see.
The biggest “disappointment” of the day was the swim. I use the term “disappointment” hesitantly, because I finished, and there was a point when I wasn’t sure I would. But still, after all the preparation and practice, I really hoped it would be this bright, shining moment. Instead, it was just tough. I got a few minutes to do some warmup strokes and check the seal on my goggles before the start, and that was the first real “eye opener”. The water was almost pitch black. I wasn’t expecting pool clear, but I literally couldn’t see my hand 6 inches in front of my face. This was going to be a different experience.
Within seconds of hitting the water after the start, I knew this would be rough. First, I took a glancing blow to the arm and head from another swimmer. My “Road ID” bracelet disappeared immediately, and my goggles were off shortly after that. I rolled over on my back and tried to get them back on and sealed. As soon as I started swimming, they filled with black water. This is not good. Headed into the sun, goggles full of murky water, I could sense more than feel the pack leaving me in their wake. I started a modified “Tarzan” swim, trying to keep my face out of the water while making forward motion. The harder I swam , the more exhausted I got. Not even 1/4 way to the first buoy, and it looked like the race was over. This can’t be happening.
Without trying to be too melodramatic, I could feel a sort of panic rising inside of me… engulfing me. I can’t fail this quickly. I can’t fail. I can’t let this happen. Once again, I rolled over onto my back and did a few backstrokes to calm down. I fooled with the goggles a bit more, and finally got what felt like it might be a decent seal. A few more kicks, and I rolled over onto my stomach and started swimming.
It still wasn’t pretty. I could feel myself gasping for air. “This is just like when I first learned to swim!”, I thought. How can I be this bad? Just like when I first learned to swim. When I thrashed in the pool with no purpose. When I had to force myself to slow down, relax, and focus on technique. Slow down. Relax. Just swim. I saw a picture the other day of a young girl standing in a garbage dump holding a puppy, grinning from ear to ear. Her clothes were tattered, and there was raw sewage all around her, but she had her puppy, and she was happy. The caption read, “Right now, there are millions of people around the world who are happy with a lot less than you have.” At that moment, there were millions of people who wished they could swim. And I can. Just swim. So I swam.
It would be nice to say that the clouds parted, the angels sang, and the rest of the swim was glorious. Life rarely works that way, and it didn’t here either. My goggles were still leaking badly, and I could barely see 5 feet in front of me. My inability to sight on anything in the distance meant that I swam way outside of course after one of the turn buoys, adding even more time to the already long time in the water. By the halfway point in the swim, I’d finally settled into something that resembled a rhythm (which anyone who has ever seen me dance will tell you is definitely a stretch), and climbed out of the water in nearly last place. But I climbed out of the water. After finishing the swim.
I have to say, that moment made all the training worthwhile. I choked back the panic, followed a fellow blogger’s advice to “let the training take over”, and finished the swim. That event joins a short list of times in my life when I truly believed, “There is no way I can do this”, and then, by the grace of God, dug deep inside to find something that I didn’t know was there, and did it anyway. And just like in those other few times, I am a different, and better, person than I was before. Maybe this whole thing wasn’t such a vain attempt after all.