MY SWIMMING BACKGROUND
It was over a year ago that I took my first trip to the New York Sports Club pool to attempt swimming as exercise. I grew up on the water – swimming at the beach, in the ocean, on my boat, in friends’ pools - but was never enrolled in swim classes. I was a professional doggy paddler/breast stroker/water treader/noodle floater. And that was fine with me.
While most kids and teenagers enjoyed somersaulting in the water and having handstand contests, I was petrified of going under water after several painful experiences with swimmer’s ear. At water parks I exclusively went on rides that involved tubes of some sort. On a trip to Hawaii my family marveled at the sea creatures they saw snorkeling while I felt claustrophobic near the coral reefs.
Getting My Feet Wet
If You Want to Tri, You've Got to Try
That first attempt at swimming laps had me all sorts of nervous about putting my face in and head under. I was frustrated but not all that surprised by the fact that I struggled. But I had gotten the idea in my head that I was going to be a triathlete and so – I signed up for lessons. I learned a ton about technique and form but my practice sessions were few and far between as I lacked the motivation to partake in exercise that I was a) awful at b) didn’t enjoy whatsoever. I even wrote a post about all the things I had learned from my swimming workouts – you smell the rest of the day, your eyes are sleepy, my hair doesn’t fit under swim caps, the list of excuses I had to do any workout BUT swimming went on and on.
BECOMING MICHAEL PHELPS
But then I was injured and not running and was more seriously looking into my first triathlon. I began going to the pool once a week on a consistent basis. It was just a few weeks ago that I started to actually look forward to these workouts and feel just a tad more confident. I was swimming over a mile in a workout and while my pace was slow I felt I was improving.
When I read about NYC Parks summer lap program, I was so excited. I could swim outside at a pool that was 63 YARDS LONG instead of the 18 yard pool I had been stuck in. I was convinced that this would be an amazing experience, perfect practice, and I set off on Monday morning ready to rock and roll.
It was a gorgeous morning and when we ran up to the pool through Central Park, the water was shimmering in the sun. We talked to an Ironman while waiting for the gate to open which made my even more excited for this next step in my training.
We hopped in the pool and it wasn’t a disgusting 90 degrees like New York Sports Club but a beautiful, crisp temperature that warmed up immediately when you started moving. I clung to the edge and looked across the pool thinking, “Shit this is long. There are no lines. There are a lot of people swimming near me.” I quieted the voice in my head reminding myself that all of those things were what made this great practice for my triathlon. I took a deep breath, pushed off and set out for my first uninterrupted 63 yard swim.
Absolutely Not Michael Phelps
I was immediately uncomfortable with the lack of line to follow below me and I was thinking on repeat, “Where’s the other side, where’s the other side.” I was so uptight and anxious that I couldn’t relax into my stroke whatsoever.
I stopped and stood up in the 3 foot deep water as my eyes pricked with tears. I was one second away from a full-blown panic attack. I took a deep breath and plunged myself back in – hard to get going without a wall to kick off of. When I finally made it to the other side my roommate was there and we both gave each other a look that said, “Oh my God what have we done?” Then we said to each other, “OMG THAT WAS SO HARD!”
At least I knew I wasn’t alone in the fact that 63 yards had felt like an eternity.
Eventually, we figured out the circle swim pattern that everyone was following and I started to flip onto my back when I got tired which is what I’ve read to do during the open water swim portion of a triathlon. But during 45 minutes and over 1200 yards, I didn’t once successfully make it across the pool without stopping to stand. I felt like a complete failure.
I’m still unsure how much of a mental thing this was vs. a physical thing – all I know is it was a huge wake up call to the challenges of open water swimming vs. lap swimming in a pool where you reach a wall every 18 yards.
WHAT HAVE I DONE
Am I Cut Out for Triathlons?
Monday completely knocked me down. All the work and progress I thought I had achieved in swimming came crashing down and the worst part was how excited I had been before I pushed off from the wall for the first time. My pride was bruised and I was embarrassed for everyone at the pool to see how much I was struggling.
I had been feeling confident about doing a triathlon at the end of the summer and now I was seriously questioning paying $135 to not even make it through the first leg. I was convinced there was no way I could complete a half mile open water swim after that complete and utter failure.
TURN YOUR FROWN UPSIDE DOWN
Why This Was A #Blessing
I got home and I looked at the pictures I had taken from the pool and realized what an amazing opportunity I had been given.
I swam outside in one of the most iconic parks in the world.
I woke up, rolled out of bed, and ran there in less than 10 minutes.
It was a beautiful, sunny Monday morning.
It was completely free.
I had realized at a perfect time that there is a lot more work for me to do before I’m ready for a triathlon – while I’m training, not while I was in the middle of the Long Island Sound.
I now have the chance to suck it up and get myself to the pool twice a week instead of once – three if I need to - and slowly but surely 63 yards won’t seem so impossible.
And so when I got home, I posted my atrocious 3+ minutes per yard pace on Strava and promised myself that I would make it official by shouting out to the internet –
I am training for my first triathlon on August 28. The TOBAY Sprint Triathlon will be my first attempt at becoming a triathlete – something I’ve been wanting to do for over a year now but was too scared to officially sign up for.
While practice makes perfect, I do know that there is a lot I need to overcome mentally to get myself through an open water swim. People who know I grew up tubing, boating, water-skiing and kayaking are shocked to hear how panicked the idea makes me. But it’s a physical reaction when I think about it – my chest tightens, I get nauseous, and I want to break down and cry.
But my friend Sarah, an amazing inspiration and Ironman, reminded me that to be afraid means that I am challenging myself and that I am respecting the challenge of a triathlon.
August 28 is terrifying to me. But I know that overcoming the crushing fear will make the finish line that much sweeter.