My first triathlon was a lesson in humility. I’m fast in the pool, regularly turning out sub 3:00 minute 200s without a wetsuit. When people warned me about the anxiety and fears that would likely accompany my first open water swim, I laughed over confidently and told them how good of a swimmer I was. They reminded me that I would get kicked and hit, particularly at the start. I brushed it off. People told me that I the lack of lane lines and wind makes for a much choppier swim and I figured I wouldn’t really notice since I’d be swimming so fast. And when they reminded me that having the black line to follow in the pool was a big help, I just figured I’d lift my head every now and again and wouldn’t have any trouble steering a straight ship. And lastly when I read about the advantage that comes with the extra breath at each turn around I figured that race day adrenaline would take care of that and I’d be just fine.
What happened on race day was humbling. Nothing that I thought would happen in the water was true. As soon as the cannon went off, I was away swimming. Regularly logging 3000+ yds during my training I didn’t think that a sprint distance triathlon would be too tough, but within a minute or two I was feeling really fatigued. I got kicked, pushed down and swam over. As my anxiety increased, so did how tired I was feeling. The more tired I got, the more anxious I got.
The course was a counter-clockwise rectangle and I breath on my right side mostly and was having a lot of trouble sighting. Every time I lifted my head, I felt like I lost momentum. The distance between the buoys seemed like miles. I quickly realized that all the warnings I had received were very real. The though even passed through my head to give up on my goal of finishing competitively…. but I kept swimming.
As I made the turn for home, I began walking my way in much earlier than I probably should’ve. So much so that my legs were tired from walking when I got to the transition area. All in all, I still swam fast, my time was 9:46 which was faster than my goal time. But the anxiety, oh the anxiety. Thank God it was only a sprint triathlon. The idea of doing anything longer seemed impossible.
Even after the race, just thinking about the swim caused my heart rate to spike. Part of me was thinking that maybe I wasn’t meant to be a three sport athlete. But then again, I hadn’t lost all that weight and worked so hard for just one 60 minute race.
A couple of days removed from my race, I friend on dailymile suggested that I register for an open water swim this weekend. My first thought was “is he crazy?” But then it dawned on me that the only way to conquer these fears is to confront them head on. So I will do just that. I’m registered for a .6 mile open water swim this Sunday. It’s almost twice the distance that caused me to shake like dog crapping razor blades. Am I anxious? Hell yeah I am. But I don’t know what else to do… so I’ll swim!