Triathlon – Fear of swimming – OMG I did it

DC Triathlon 2011 - Water course

Who would  have thought a triathlon would be a good way to get over one’s fear of swimming!? But, it worked. Actually, my journey began with taking swimming lessons to see if I could master it enough to enter a triathlon, but after 3 months of lessons, I was better but not good enough. So my girlfriend and I decided to stop.

Then her daughter pushed, prodded, intimidated, cajoled and we got back to training. I should say I got back to worrying and experiencing extreme angst and anxiety. In fact, I can’t remember when I have ever experienced so much anxiety with the associated knots in my stomach right up to the morning of the event.

Then a funny thing happened. After I jumped into the water, I swam 200 meters and barely remember any of it. I stopped at the 200 meter mark to catch my breath and literally could not remember how I got there (fugue state?). All I remember was starting with the freestyle, then flipping into a backstroke and I had completed the first 200 meters.

This was a major turning point (literallly), because the first 200 meters was along the shore, but then  the course turned left towards

That’s me exiting water in orange bathing cap.

 the center of the river. When swimming along the shore, one has this belief that “worst case scenario”, I can always swim to the shoreline and get out, but once you turn left and head away from shore, it’s like there’s no turning back. Somewhere in my psyche, I found the nerve to “go for it”. Said thanks to the kayaker who let me hang on while I caught my breath and took off to the center of the river.

All the lessons slowly and gradually came back to me during the swim. I moved my thumb up the outer edge of my body to ensure that my stroke was right (as Megan taught me). I slowed my stroke so I would not get too winded (as Marsha taught me). I found my own pace (as Dennis taught me).  I relaxed and for the first time in 4 months of training, I was actually enjoying swimming. While doing the backstroke, I was looking up at the sky and noticing the birds, and felt they were accompanying me on this journey. Occasionally, I was bumped by other swimmers, and got water up my nose or in my mouth, but I kept going. Doing the backstroke made it harder to get my bearings, because I had to stop, turn, and look, but that was okay.  I was swimming and relaxing and enjoying.

I exited the water with a smile on my face and an  “OMG I did it” in my heart. What a rush.

Triathlon Swimming: God sent her to me

Couldn’t rest before the race for worrying. Can’t rest after the race for remembering. From the time I entered the water to the time I crossed the race finish line was a blur… Like being on Valium. For the swim event, we were herded like cattle through corrals in groups of hundreds and then we jumped into the water eight at a time. Thank goodness the water event was a quick start or I might have chickened out. As we left our corrals and approached the dock, at least six people were on deck directing us to “move quickly ladies….move….. move…stand on the edge of the platform….jump.”

I placed my hand over my nose, jumped in and swam freestyle until I got tired then flipped over to a backstroke for 200 meters… just like I had been taught by Megan. At the 2oo meter mark, I grabbed onto a kayak and rested without even remembering the 200 meter swim to get there. The kayaker told me and three others that we could stay and catch our breath as long as we needed. His comments and demeanor were so gentle and reassuring and I was bolstered in knowing that I could complete the race. I thanked him and took off for the next 200 meters. I visited two more kayakers during my 800 meter swim, and each one was as wonderful as the first. Wish I could thank them again.

Megan showed up in my life about a week-and-a half prior to the triathlon when I was still wavering and afraid of swimming in open water. She is a young lady staying with my neighbor and in conversation I found she was also a swim coach and she immediately offered to help. In one session, she bolstered my confidence in my backstroke and taught me to swim for 200 meters and rest followed by another 200 meters and rest. She explained that the first 200 meters meant I had completed 1/4 of the race. The second 200 meter mark meant I had completed 1/2 of the race and so on. That is what got me through! They say there are no coincidences, and I am absolutely certain that she was put on my path at just the right time.

Stay tuned

I am an Athlete

I walked into the Washington DC Convention center to pickup my “packet” for my first triathlon and saw these signs for “Athlete” packet pickup and realized they were talking about me. I was an “athlete”! Wow!

I’ve always been active and was once a tennis rat, racketball rat, and biker rat, but never considered myself an athlete nor did anyone call me an athlete. That term has always been saved to indicate someone who is a professional, not us amateur wannabes. So I was impressed by the moniker and hoped no one discovered I was a fake.

I never really intended to do a triathlon (wim 8k; Bike 20k; Run 7.5k) . I only planned on learning how to swim, and in case I actually learned, then I would consider doing the TRI. In fact, three weeks ago, my girlfriend, Maureen, and I did a practice open water swim and jointly decided we were not ready and stopped training. I felt such relief at getting my life back and not having to spend all my spare time training so I put my swim bag into the closet. Then her daughter, Pam (Miss Ironman) talked her back into the TRI, and she inturn talked me back into it.

So suddenly the clock was reset and I was busy trying to figure out, or convince myself, that I could/should do it. She got me hooked when she said “if not now… never”. So, today I ran my first triathlon. Today I am an athlete.

Really Bummed

Sometimes we covertly sabotage ourselves. Submitting college applications late or applying for an out of town job after the deadline or over exercising to injury just prior to a race are all ways to sabotage ourselves. But… I swear I didn’t do it.

I was getting anxious and excited about the possibility of doing a sprint triathlon and really ramped up my exercise routine. Went swimming Saturday, weight training on Monday and  walking on Tuesday. Shouldn’t have been a big deal, but I did too much weight on Monday causing back aches, but I got over that. It was the walking that got me. Now, you are asking why walking should be problematic. It’s because I’ve hooked up with two personal trainers who can’t run due to knee injuries, but walking for them is 1-click away from running. Runners average 7-8 minute miles, and we walk a mile in 10-11 minutes. Up until now, I’ve been able to keep up, but this week they added hills to the “walk”, and my knee complained very, very loudly. So, here I sit with a balloon-sized knee, which is preventing me from participating in my first practice triathlon. Oh well…

Really bummed…

Swim fins are like training wheels

Swim fins are like bicycle training wheels…. eventually you have to take them off. Friday was my first full hour without fins and guess what… I did it. There are many times in life analogous to training wheels like having a learners driving license, dating prior to marriage, or working as an intern. The bottom line is that eventually you have to do it for real.

I didn’t think I could swim without the fins, but I did it. I won’t say it was easy, but it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, and now that I’ve taken the first step… I know I can. I was so elated after my first try that I was determined to get back into the water as quickly as possible. So the next day, while on vacation, I went to the indoor pool, but found that a regular pool is too small for a “real” swimmer. Wow… I’m a real swimmer now! What that really means, is that I’ve progressed to the point that I need a pool with enough length (at least 25M) so I can stretch out and really practice my stroke and breathing.

Continuing the analogy… a marriage requires time. Dating is really practice and the first years are all about learning how to breath and stroke until two people are synchronized. One of my swim instructors said he put in 30 hours a week in the water when on a swim team for four (4) years in college. That really helped me put my little 3 hours a week in perspective.

So, my 3 hours a week is just enough to “begin” to learn how to swim. Like all Type A’s with inflated egos and “can do” attitudes, I knew I could learn to swim in a few months. Boy, was I wrong! Yes, I’ve come a long ways, but I have so much further to go. You may recall that I latched onto this idea of swimming, because I “might” do a sprint triathlon this summer. Instead of committing to the triathlon, I committed to learning how to swim (backdoor way of allowing myself to quit without quitting). The idea was that if I could learn how to swim, then I could commit to the triathlon. The triathlon is next month and next weekend, I will participate in a practice run.

Stay tuned… and see how she swims.

Just in Case

I tell them I might do or I’m thinking about doing a sprint marathon. Some are impressed… some are surprised… some jump right to “you’re not going to swim in the dirty Potomac?” But, I’m always careful to say might or maybe… never “I am”. The waffling is primarily for me, because I don’t want to start something unless I plan on finishing.

So far I signed up for the New Triathlete Program (NPT), because I didn’t want to miss the deadline just in case I decide to do the sprint triathlon. I signed up for the actual triathlon, because I didn’t want to miss the deadline just in case I actually decided to do the triathlon. I signed up for and have taken five weeks of swim lessons just in case I actually decided to do the triathlon.

The deal I’ve made with myself is that I will complete the swim lessons in the hopes of becoming a swimmer. (Note that being able to swim and being a swimmer are two totally different things.) Then and only then will I commit to doing the sprint triathlon… probably, maybe.

After three weeks of swim lessons I was feeling cocky and then I joined a group lesson for people training for triathlons, iron man events, and long distance swim events, which was a totally humbling experience that smashed my cockiness into the ground. These people are serious with a capital S. Some might say they are seriously wacky and should be committed. Apparently they do this stuff for fun. They love swimming miles of lonely, monotonous laps in the pool three, four or five days a week so they can swim miles in choppy, open water roiling by all the other folks swimming with them.

Some things I’ve learned so far 1- flippers are training wheels for swimmers; 2- I can drown in water that is over my head (but I was too stubborn/determined to call for help); 3) I can open my eyes under water because I’m wearing goggles; 4) since I can open my eyes under water, I should look where I’m going.  So, the adventure continues… just in case.

Stay tuned.

Who are these people?

I see them running on the mall in 35 degree weather and biking at dawn and golfing between the piles of snow. Who are these people? They’re like aliens. Not like the rest of us. What drives them to do what they do?

I recently re-started spinning classes (that’s stationery biking, not knitting), and I am now surrounded by these aliens. Not only do they participate in these extreme sports, but they do it at 6am in the morning! They’re morning people! How can they be so bright-eyed and bushy tailed so early in the morning! I, on the other hand, am dragging my butt out of bed and having major pep talks with myself just to get there. Then I play this game with myself, where I say I’ll only stay for 30 minutes. Then at the 30 minute mark, I figure if I’ve stayed that long then I can stay another 10 minutes, and eventually I’ve talked myself through the whole hour.

This is a backdoor way to say that I’m considering doing a Century (100-mile bike ride) this summer. My friends are doing a mini-triathlon, which I’d love to do but my brain can’t talk my ski-injured knee into it.  Pam, the youngest among us, said “you can do the aqua-velo”, which is the swim bike portion without the running. Oh great I say out loud, while in my head I’m trying to come up with another excuse.

I actually went to the briefing session for newbie’s who are considering their first mini-tri, and was inspired by the stories of those who did their first Tri last year or two years ago. They too were not swimmers and some didn’t even have a bike when they started. So, if they can do it, why not I.

Let me count the reasons why not… I am old enough to be the grandmother of most of the people at the newbie briefing. I am overweight. I got out of breath just climbing the stairs to get to the meeting, and did I mention that I am old enough to be their grandmother? I did gain inspiration from watching seniors (55 – 74) do an ironman on TV, but I’m still seriously wavering. I want to be smart and ease into this. I know I can handle the biking part, so I can’t really call that a stretch goal except that I’ve never done a Century. I really want to become a swimmer, which would truly be a stretch goal.

The good news is that I can only torture myself with this decision for two more days when, as my Dad would say, I have to p—- or get off the pot.

Stay tuned.