Sunday, March 28, 2010

Open Water, Open Mind

So I just got back from my first open-water swim workout for my triathlon next weekend.

Yeah, I'm gonna die.

Man, that was hard. It was my first time swimming in an open lake, my first time in a wet suit, and my first time swimming in 64 degree water. But, I did it, I went the whole way, and I feel much more prepared for next weekend.

The triathlon club that I am a member of is so great and supportive; the people who organize the first-timers practices are such encouraging, giving people. About 50 of us first-timers gathered in the parking lot of the lake this morning, wrestling into wet suits, nervously talking strategy, and trying to make a game plan in our heads for the early-morning race just seven days away. A couple of the veterans gave us some tips for setting up our transition stations, getting in and out of our wet suits, and a quick run-down of the rules. I'm pretty sure I am going to forget most of that stuff come Saturday, but I listened like a good student nonetheless.

I went through a very scientific process to come up with my goal time (I logged into the finishing times for last year's race, scrolled to the bottom to see how long it took the slowest person, and decided I could be faster than that) so my goal is to finish all three events in 2 1/2 hours. Although, after today's workout, I am tacking on about 20 minutes per transition. :)

Okay, it wasn't that bad. Yeah, the lake was cold. Real cold. But that didn't bother me as much as the wet suit. I'm claustrophobic, and the wet suit was very constricting. When I started out swimming freestyle, the combination of the frigid water, the tightness around my chest from the wet suit, and the murky/dark/pretty freaking scary water of the lake really freaked me out. I couldn't get my breath, I was incredibly inefficient, and I just felt terrible. I flipped onto my back and started gliding, comforted by the fact that I could at least breathe consistently. I alternated between that and breast stroke so I could keep my head out of the water, but it was clear that I was, quite literally, in over my head.

I made it across the lake, about a quarter of a mile, and grabbed onto one of the kayaks that were monitoring us to catch my breath. It was then that I realized I was one of only three people still in the water. It was discouraging to think that I was that lame, but I also felt proud that I had made it across the lake. Then I felt dismayed that I had to swim back. I was tired, man. I wanted to climb into that kayak and take a nap. But I didn't know the person paddling it, so I thought that might be weird. Instead, I bid farewell to my fellow swimmers and plunged back in.

As I glided across the lake, listening to my ragged breaths and reminding myself that one of the constant themes of all the veteran tips I had heard was, "don't freak out." I tried to relax, slow down my breathing, and just enjoy swimming. I transitioned into a side stroke so I could see where I was going, and started to enjoy it. I felt pretty lame for being the last one still in the water, but then I heard someone in a kayak say that a lot of people had gone halfway across and turned around. Then, my hand hit the ground. I had done it. I was done. I stood up and started walking to the shore to join my friends.

As I stood on the landing and reflected on the swim, I felt optimistic. I knew that the distance we had covered today was longer than the actual 0.3 mile swim required in the race. But, I also knew that on race day, I would be in the company of 200 additional people and have to follow up that swim with a 15-mile hilly bike ride, instead of getting in my car and driving home like I did today.

But you know, I'm not too worried. Even if I do set the record for the longest triathlon ever, I'm ready. As a first-time triathlete, my only goal is to finish it, and I know I can do that.

This time next week, I will be a triathlete. Hopefully one taking a nap.


Robert said...

Mental toughness is just as important as the physical training and I believe that no matter how much you physically train, you can still have an unpleasant race if you don’t train mentally.

Fran G said...

You did great, Heather! It is very freaky--but you hung in there and finished the swim.

'Drea said...

Way to hang in there and get the job done. Good luck with your triathlon.

Anonymous said...

I think you might be the craziest person I know!!!!!!! LOL You are amazing!


Rachel said...

Congrats, Heather - great mind-over matter!

Carlos said...

hello my friend, could you tell me wich kind of wet suit did you use for that race? Also, what is the average speed in a open water competence?