I just completed my first half Ironman triathlon – the Boise 70.3. Though I had to overcome a few injuries, a horrible crick in the neck and even a sinus infection that came to visit the day prior to the race, I somehow managed to go the distance. And that included conquering of one of my greatest fears – swimming in open water. This is the first in a two part series which reveals the good, the bad and the ugly.
Just before I started the race, sore throat and all, I was literally about to throw up. Not only did I have a hard time getting food down me that morning, but I was scared to death I might drown in the upcoming swim. I was comforted when I met three nice women from Jackson, Wyoming, one of whom (named Charlotte) was as nervous as I about the swim. And another who said, “Look at us. We’re just a bunch of moms, about to compete in a race.” Karen Evans, who writes at Fitness a Journey Not a Destination, often eloquently reminds me of the parallels between life and running; and this sweet lady from Jackson had summed it up succinctly as well. Whether we’re about to participate in a crazy race or simply staying afloat in today’s fast-paced world, it’s all about fighting through adversity, finding our inner strength and getting to the finish line. And so the story goes. Scenic Setting Fortunately, after a spring of rain and cold, the weather is nice. It is about 70 degrees and sunny. Backdrop is Lucky Peak Lake – gorgeous setting but COLD water. To combat the frigid temps, I have a full wetsuit, as did everyone else.
A Little Good While walking to the start, I accidentally drop an attachment to my wetsuit that keeps water out at the chest. Guess I’ll have to make do without. Darn!
Talking to Myself
40+ women are the first wave to start behind the pros (there are some benefits to being old). This group of women in green caps waits together on a dock, gradually wades in and then treads water a minute or so before officially starting the race. My self-talk kicks in as we’re treading water, in my efforts to avoid hyperventilating.
“Dangit, I forgot to put on my goggles when I could still touch the ground.”
“Well, I can’t see anything through the fog but at least water’s not leaking in.”
“Wow, without a neck attachment, that cold water really moves down your suit fast. Oh what a feeling!”
“Try to keep your head above water and breathe. Don’t think about everyone kicking you in the face. Keep breathing. There now. Take it slow.”
“Who cares if every person in the wave is in front of you?”
“Oh, don’t pay attention to that woman over there who looks like she is drowning. I’m sure a boater will be over here to help her in a minute. Maybe I should help her. Heck, I’d go with her.”
“What was that? Oh Lordy, swallowing a mouthful of phlegm in the middle of the swim is far from appetizing.”
“Ooops, that person who just grabbed my foot wasn’t really trying to drown me. It was an accident I’m sure.”
“I doubt a doctor would prescribe a 1.2 mile swim in 60 degree water to cure a sore throat. But what’s a girl to do?”
“You know, it’s not so cold. I can’t believe I was worried about the cold water. I can still feel my hands.”
“Oh, here comes the second wave of swimmers passing me. Watch out! There’s another leg, foot, arm. Looks like they have red caps. I think these are the old men. Boy do they swim fast.”
“Why is my mouth so dry? Is that my sinus drainage or nerves? Does this happen to everyone else?”
“There now, it may look those waves belong to the ocean, but it’s really a lake I’m swimming in.”
“Oh, here comes the third wave of swimmers passing me. Watch out! There’s another leg, foot, arm. How cute, these swimmers are wearing blue caps. Who are these folks?”
“Where is that dang buoy for the first turn? I know it was only a ½ mile out.”
“Oh dear God am I ever going to reach that buoy?”
“Remember NOT to take the inside lane at the next buoy unless you really want fifteen swimmers on your back — again.”
“Here here comes the fourth wave of swimmers passing me. And I’ve only been out here for less than half the course. Dang I’m slow. There’s another leg, foot, arm. Oh who gives a crap what color cap they’re wearing?
“Everyone is passing me. This is very demoralizing.”
“It’s not about being fast. It’s about finishing. Just keep breathing.”
“Remember when Charlotte said she got pulled off the course two years ago? I can’t get pulled off the course.”
“You know, there’s no way those kayakers would notice if I were to drown.”
“Hum, is that a cramp I’m feeling in my side? Didn’t they say kids who get cramps after eating are likely to drown? Maybe I better find those boats, just in case.”
“I’m ok. I am getting close to the second turn. Where are those boats again?”
“Whew, made the final turn. I can actually see the finish line. Thank God.”
“Hum…I’m starting to feel really cold. Like usually different cold. I still have feeling in my hands but my body’s not right.”
“Wonder if I’m finishing ahead of anybody in my wave? I don’t see any green caps. Whatever.”
“I’m really cold. Something really weird is happening. I need to get out of this water fast. But I’ve got at least .3 mile to go.”
“Is that a boat pedaling over to me? He’s asking if I’m ok. I must really look bad.”
“I’m really cold.”
“I see the dock. Nothing has ever looked better.”
“The dock is getting closer but I’m getting colder.”
“Am I ever going to reach the dock?”
“Something is not right.”
“I’m at the dock but still can’t touch the bottom.”
“Bottom where are you?”
“Thank God. I made it.”
Out of Water
The next few moments are bit foggy. I am shivering almost as if I were having an epileptic fit. I thought I would feel so elated when I got out of the lake, but instead, I can’t really think at all. I realize I am weaving in out of people, unable to walk a straight line. I see Rob and Luke, and say something like, “alkjdfpiovpaoena;lkn mapoinea afopinfpea dizzy zpoineariep paoind dizzy jailnefpoain fampoine dizzy.” (This they tell me later).
The Real Deal
Turns out, because of all that water that went down my wetsuit at the start, I started developing hypothermia with about 15’ left in the swim.
The Good News
I didn’t drown. I swam the breast stroke the entire way to avoid an anxiety attack and it worked (my friend Terri later told me that a man standing next to her on the bank was laughing at the lady “who is actually swimming the breast stroke the whole way. It’s going to take her forever.” (Yep. That was me.)
The Bad News
I could not stop shivering, even after a 15 minute transition (probably the slowest of anyone in the race). At least I got my helmet on right, even if I did forget Advil and that heat patch for my back. And so the bike began, dizziness, shivering and all. Not sure it’s a good sign to start a 56 mile bike ride while still recovering from hypothermic shock. Stay tuned for Part II next Monday to read about the rest of the race.
All Photos Courtesy of Idaho Statesman.