Should I tri? (Half Ironman style?)

Half Ironman Triathlon. Last year, in the pouring rain, my friends and I went downtown to watch the finish (of course, we were pleasantly drinking cocktails beneath shelter while doing so). The finish was exciting – two of the best triathletes in the world, racing to the tape.

Immediately when it was over, my running partner, Jodi, looked at me and said, “I gotta do this next year.” And I answered, “Yeah, me, too.” (You might wonder why by the looks of the champions after they crossed the line).

A half ironman is not so much daunting from the sheer distance of the events. For those of you not familar with the specifics, the race comprises: 1.2 mi. swim • 56 mi. bike • 13.1 mi. run. At the race date, I will have recently completed the Boston marathon, so the run should be doable; and I am a pretty decent cyclist, so I can probably grind out this portion of the race without too much drama. But the clincher for me would be the swim. I was a fish when I was a little girl – couldn’t stay out of the pool.  By the look on Luke’s face, I think he has inherited by water genes.

In high school, I was a lifeguard, and even taught college kids at Carolina how to swim as part of a water safety instruction class I took. Taking my love for water a step further, I entered an Olympic length triathlon in Wilmington when I was 25. (And I finished middle of the pack after the swim.) Fast forward to age 38, when I decided to enter a Danskin sprint triathlon in Seattle, Washington. I can’t explain what happened, but when I entered the water for the relatively short swim, I started hyperventilating. I was panic stricken and thinking I might actually drown if I didn’t get to one of the patrol boats out on the course. I’m not sure how I actually managed to finish it, but I can tell you it was one of the most frightening things I have ever done (ranks up there with the fall down the double black diamond chutes in Crested Butte). Here’s a shot of the 2009 race in Lake Washington, to give you an idea: So what has caused this? Is it another one of those darn old age things that sneaks up on us unexpectedly or is it the cold water one is destined to find in Northwest lakes? After all, I grew up in the wondrous bathwater of the South, and I loved it! Now, I can barely jump in a pool in Boise it’s so darn cold. Not to mention, swimming in a pool is nothing like the bottomless pit of a lake or ocean. Especially not when throngs of people are kicking you in the head. One of the hard things about the Danskin race, in particular, is having to wait around in the water (beneath the cloudy sky, at least the year I did it) before starting. And I (brain fart) did not wear a wet suit. So maybe that was part of the problem, too. Anyway, fast forward to last Saturday, when I decided to go to the pool and swim for the first time since that dreadful triathlon. And I’ll tell ya (I’ve been watching too many Sarah Palin videos lately), after the first 10 minutes, I was breathing hard and thinking there’s no way I can swim 1.2 miles in a race. But I made myself swim another 20 minutes, and calmed down. In fact, after my workout, I wasn’t tired at all. The boredom of lap swimming reminded me of a long, grueling run when I simply have to get through it. So, I’m still debating. The bad news is that the Boise 70.3 swim is held in Lucky Peak Lake, made from glacial run-off. Think that will be cold? If I get up and run 30 minutes before the rest of my family is out of bed in the mornings, say 2-3 times/week,  I can otherwise proceed with my usual workouts. By March, I’ll be able to make a decision. And of course, at some point in time, I’d need to start cycling. But at least I can breathe on a bicycle. And if I can do this darn race, I will have accomplished a fitness goal that Chris Lopez recommends: stepping out of my comfort zone.

Melinda Hinson