Tomorrow is the big race and I hope I’ve saved the best story for last. Swimming. When I decided to do this triathlon, I knew from the start that the biggest challenge for me would be the swim. I didn’t learn to float swim until I was 10 years old. I had never had any childhood swimming lessons, and I didn’t really even like swimming. I like floating on an air mattress in the water. So, with this challenge ahead, I had to heavily rely on my trainer, Danielle. If you recall, she was the one who convinced me to do the triathlon in the first place. She kindly agreed to meet me at the pool in her apartment building at the end of March 2012. On our first meeting, she asked me to jump in and swim the way I normally would so she could see my skills. I carefully climbed into the pool down the ladder, being careful not to get my hair wet, and then dog-paddled half way across her 20m pool. She called me back and said “Ok, I can see we have some work to do here”. That’s when I knew I was in trouble. The last time she said those words, I couldn’t walk for a few days with muscle aches in places I didn’t know had muscles. “First,” she said, “you are going to have you get your hair wet”. She tossed me a swim cap and some goggles and said, “put these on, hang on to the side of the pool, and blow bubbles. When you need a breath, tilt your head while keeping your cheek and ear in the water and do it again”. We did that for 45 minutes. I was exhausted and light headed after that session. The next several weeks, we met 2 or 3 times per week to work on basic skills. The first few times I couldn’t even make it to the end of the pool without panicking and grasping for the edge of the pool. But, as I’ve learned over the past year of training, anything can be done with perseverance and practice. So, by the start of the summer, I was regularly at my local community pool swimming laps. Now, I can comfortably swim a kilometre or more. It’s almost become therapy. Deep rhythmic breathing and your mind can go blank. I have to say I’m really enjoying it.
During one of my sessions in the pool with Danielle, she suggested that I visit her and her boyfriend in Port Elgin where they were spending a lot of time this summer. Once again, in her chipper and positive way, she said “It will be fun! You bring your husband and the boys and they can go to the beach while we do a mini triathlon”. Again, I’m not sure she’s getting me, I’m more of the sit on the beach type than the mini triathlon type but, with the event not even a month away, I agreed. So, off we went the following week to Port Elgin. The morning of the mini tri came. First hurdle: jump off the 15 foot wake wall into Lake Huron. What!? No Way!! I like to ease in on the ladder. But, after she counted me down, I jumped into the cold water and had overcome my first challenge. We swam around some rocks and she pointed to some buoys which seemed tremendously far away out in the very deep water. She began to swim and so I followed. Then, came the dreaded sentence I knew was coming. “We are going to swim around those buoys and then back into the beach. It’s 400 metres” My eyes bugged out, knowing that with all my practice in hand, I had the skills to do this but I was scared, very scared. It was cold, dark and deep. There was no edge to swim to if I got into trouble. What if I swallowed water, or got a bunch up my nose like I usually do? I usually go to the side and cough and sputter and then continue. I had to do it, I had come all this way and my husband had agreed to use a precious long weekend in the summer to spend with people he’d never met and watch the kids so I could do this. She counted me down again and started her stop watch. Off I went. I was overwhelmed at first, and I kept thinking inside my head “I’m not going to be able to finish this distance. What if I can’t finish, I’m in deep water“. But, slowly I found my rhythm and kept swimming. Then I started to think, “the faster I’m done this, I’m out of the water”. Before long, she told me to turn into the beach and finally the water got shallow and I could see the bottom clearly and knew it was almost done. When we got out of the water and began running up the beach toward our bikes which were waiting on the beach, she told me I did it in 11 minutes and 30 seconds. A very good time. We biked 8 km after that. I did okay, except for going a little too hard and not having enough juice for the run. I blame the 40 degree temperature. I did it all in 55 minutes.
When we got back to her place, I was on a high. I felt so good about completing it. Mostly, it felt great doing the swim which I had been dreading. It was my first lake swim ever, and I did okay. Now, I discovered that my challenge would be the run. It sounds like a short distance but, after the swim and bike portion, it’s really tough, especially in the heat. But, running is one foot in front of the other and can be done with determination mixed with a little dizziness and nausea.
So, where are the stories of suffering that my previous posts have had that make you laugh, you ask? Well, after lunch and a rest Danielle suggested that we walk back to the beach and do just a bit of swimming. It was the main purpose of my visit after all. Off we went with swim caps and goggles in hand on a sunny afternoon, among kids licking ice cream cones and families packing up their beach toys. When we got in the water, it was a slightly better temperature than it was in the morning, but the water was choppy. So choppy that it was white capping. Anxiety set in when I was chest deep. I started to swim to the buoys as instructed. She knew I was scared this time because I made no jokes about it. I was very clear that she should be right beside me. After about 20 strokes out, I saw a man in a rubber dingy with his daughter. I heard him say to Danielle “she can hold on the boat if she needs to”. That made my heart sink, because now he had confirmed what I was feeling. I wasn’t doing well, I was panicking. I had no timing, water was splashing all around me and I was sucking in water and coughing. And now, it was beyond the point where I could stop and stand up and turn back to the beach. I was about 50m from the buoy. It was deep here and the panic was sucking all my energy. After what seemed like an eternity, I got to the buoy and I couldn’t believe my eyes for a few reasons. First, there was a dude out there, just hanging out in the water with these waves all around, throwing us back and forth. (Now remember, this is a recollection from a gal who thought she was going to drown. Danielle assures me it wasn’t quite as bad as my description, but agrees it was very choppy water). Second, I was now clutching this buoy for dear life that was 100m or more from the shore and all I could see were waves. This part is hard to admit, especially for public reading but, I was in tears. I was gripped with fear and panic and didn’t know how I was going to get out of the situation. Kindly, the man and Danielle pried me off the buoy and took me by the underarms and swam with me for a bit. Once we started back, it was a lot easier swimming because the waves were at my back instead of my face and I began to calm down and swim on my own. I thanked the man and he went off, probably to tell his friends about the girl he saved in the lake. We walked back to the house and I was really worrying. Now, I had no confidence and all I could think was “what if it’s like that on race day”. When we got home, I spoke with Matthew, who, as always, calmed me down and told me that I needed more lake practice. He said “you have the swimming skills now, all you need is a bit more lake practice to be able to overcome the fears you have in your mind about it”. Once again, he was right. So, since then, I’ve been back in the lake 3 more times. Twice it was pretty wavy, so I didn’t go in the deep water, but got a better sense of what it feels like to be in rough water.
Yesterday, I went to the spot on Toronto Island where the triathlon is being held and did a big swim. The water was calm and fairly warm, so I’m feeling okay. I still have moments of panic when I think about the swim and huge race before me. It usually sneaks up when I’m on the couch watching TV or sitting rocking my little guy to sleep. I’m working on putting those fears to rest so that I can feel excited and proud of all that I’ve achieved this year.
I truly never thought I would do anything like this and now the time has come. The race is August 25 at 8am. I need to do a 400m swim, a 10km bike and a 2.5km run. I have no idea what my time will be, and even though the race isn’t over, I have done what I set out to do. I trained for a triathlon and put it to good use by raising money for wonderful cause. If you have enjoyed my stories and found an ounce of inspiration, and would like to donate, please click the link and donate what you can.
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