The swim course of the 2018 Ohio Half Ironman was accidentally set .3 miles longer than the standard 1.2 mile Half Ironman course, hence the title. I wrote this short story to inspire those chasing a dream, taking on a challenge or facing fears in this amazing ride we call life.
The Long Swim
Success rarely occurs with luck or miracles; it happens with learning, consistent practice and execution - Coach Amy.
Two summers ago, I did not know how to swim. I swam head above the water with T-rex like arm strokes and toes dragging on the bottom like a trawling net capturing used bandaids and hair. One 25 meter lap and I was hanging on the edge of the pool gasping for air. To successfully finish a Half Ironman Triathlon, professional intervention was required.
Enter Coach Liz Wielding, Josie Palmerin and David Mitchell who patiently transformed my feeble stroke to one with arms that actually lengthen, pull and propel me forward in an efficient way through open water. Oh, it’s far from perfect; some day I want to swim like my peers who seem to hover on the surface and glide effortlessly through the waves.
Swimming in a triathlon is not JUST about the swim stroke. One has to battle terrifying “monsters” that grab at ankles, swipe off goggles and knock out breathing with a kick to the chest. And the worst of the monsters in the water is Self Doubt.
When I walked up to the beach to scope out the swim course, I nearly buckled at the knees. It was the circumference of the lake cove I water skied and boated on for over 20 years. I never imagined swimming across it, let alone around it. It did not matter that I swam twice this distance in training. Looking at the distance laid out like this, a dread invaded my head and spread quickly to my heart and stomach!
I spent the rest of the day and night pressing back the panic with positive self talk, “trust the training”, “chip away at it”, “stay in your bubble” blah blah blah! This worked for a few minutes before Self Doubt crept back in.
In the early hours of race day morning at Delaware State Park, I sat in the car feeling sicker each minute and wondered, “Why I am I doing this? Why put myself through this torture? This isn’t fun. All the sacrifices over the last 6 months just to feel pain, anxiety, unhappy, and literally believe I might die out there? WTH!?"
I looked out at the cars around me and the thousands of bikes set up at T1 (the transition between swim and bike). “Why are there so many people here doing this to themselves? Are we all crazy?” A disembodied Yoda voice interceded, "TRUST THE TRAINING.” I recalled what my triathlete buddies told me, “Enjoy the day. The race is the celebration of all your hard work and training.” With trust in them and my coach, I dragged myself to the swim start.
When it was time for the spectators to leave the athletes at the start, I clung to my husband David like a child on his first day of preschool. Draped in a throwaway blanket to keep warm, I sulked and waited while my stomach turned increasingly sour. Eventually the stagnent mob of swimmers moved swiftly toward the water and like lemmings, we ran in 4 at a time, every 3 seconds.
Once in the lake and only a few meters out, I stopped in panic, unable to catch my breath. I whirled around to face the shore and back again to the tangle of limbs and churning water and I thought clearly, "I can quit. I can turn back now and it will all go away."
But that kind of relief is temporary. Failure would last and fester for however long it took me to try again. Failure became a greater fear than the fear of the swim itself. I resumed horizontal and took small, quick strokes with frequent breaths and listened to Liz’s coaching advice in my head, "you are trained for THIS. Just another swim. Keep moving forward.”
In the mayhem of kicking and slapping limbs my goggles were torn off my face and my breath was knocked out with a kick to the chest but I drew upon the memories of training with my son Spencer at the lake where I practiced staying relaxed and in my bubble while he pulled me down, hit and kicked me. Tapping into this past state of success helped me recover until eventually I fell into my practiced stroke: reach, pull, breathe, reach, pull, breathe.
As I rounded the second turn buoy, I felt a whirling sensation at my finger tips coming from the feet of swimmers in front of me. What’s this? I was gaining on other athlete’s? I began to sight for openings to pass. Before I knew it, the last buoy was in sight and I swam till my knuckles hit the sand. I felt energized exiting the water and was compelled to smile, wave and whoop as I ran up the hill to my bike.