Water Wings

Racing season is almost here!  YAY!

While I’ve done a few running races already this year, this weekend will be the return to the world of triathlons.  Running races are easy — strap on the shoes, power up the Garmin and RUN.  Sure, you think about pace and nutritional strategies and the like, but there’s nothing to be nervous about. 

But triathlons – those races really get the butterflies going in my stomach!

I’ve come a long way from the days of being absolutely panicked at the thought of any kind of open water swimming.  It used to be that just thinking about the swim portion of a triathlon would make me throw up in my mouth just a little (did I just share too much?) but now, I’ve got it down to a low rumble.

My first triathlon was, uh, well, let’s call it my very own “water adventure”.  It was all panic and limbs akimbo from almost the very beginning.  As soon as the bottom of the lake dropped out from under me, I was done.  As my mind raced and my breathing started sounding like something between an asthmatic having an attack and a crank caller, I tried to remember what they told me during the first-timer’s talk the day before.  Oh, yea:  raise your arm if you’re in trouble so the lifeguards will see you.  Ummm.  Yea.  Uh… what if you need both arms to simply stay afloat?  There’s a flaw in this plan somewhere….

Luckily, the lifeguards were top-notch and over to me before I went under and gave me a place to catch my breath.  And after a few minutes of calming myself down, I decided to start out again.  And again, within 20m, I was hyperventilating again and panicking.  So this time, I flipped on my back… got my breathing under control while I looked at the peaceful sky.  My meditation was suddenly interrupted, though:  “Ma’am!  Ma’am!! MA’AM!!!”  The lifeguard was frantically trying to get my attention:  “THAT WAY!” as he pointed me back to the course — I had back-floated a good 100m off line.  Oops.  At least I got some “me” time in.  Heh.

With the help of swim angels (the best part of doing a Danskin triathlon!  they have people out there who aren’t lifeguards, but are there to help calm down crazy people like me…) and a whole lotta doggy-paddle, I finally made it across.  As I walked up the beach, I was swearing like a trucker, vowing never EVER to do another triathlon again.  Ever.  Again.  Ever.  Really. 

Flash forward.  Now I’m starting my 4th full year of triathlons.  I’ve conquered the sprint, Olympic and Half Ironman distances.  I’m successfully completely the swim portion of tris in everything from easy (pool swim!) to difficult (Lake Michigan with 3ft. swells).  It’s taken this long, but I’m finally starting (almost) to get comfortable in the water.  Some of it has come with a couple of years of training — just knowing that I’m not the awful swimmer I used to be.  Some of it is just experience — the more races I do, the more confident I become in my ability to finish the first part and get to the fun parts. 

In the end, it’s a challenge.  If this were easy, if it didn’t make me nervous, if everything always went exactly the way I planned it, I’d stop doing it.  Where’s the fun in that?

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