Monday, September 28, 2009

Third tri's a charm

On Saturday, I completed my third sprint triathlon, but this time with a few twists:
- I was joined by two friends
- It was the Mainiac Tri all the way up in Maine
- The swim was in a 62-degree OCEAN

Now, before I go any further, I need to explain to what the ocean means to me. Its vastness and unpredictability, its swift currents and crashing waves, its odd and menacing marine life, represents a cornucopia of phobias.

It the mother of all phobias, because it is so many things wrapped into one: open water, drowning, sharks and jellyfish. Undertows, riptides that pull you out to sea and waves that knock you off your feet and crash over you with terrible force.

I have not been in the ocean past my upper thighs since I was about 10-years-old, flanked by my mom on one side and my step-father on the other, both gripping my hands and lifting me up and over each swell. Back then, the ocean was fun, but sometime after that, the joy of the ocean left and in seeped fear. It has never left.

I signed up for this tri under the promise that the waters of Biddeford Pool in Maine were fairly smooth and calm, but even so, the thought of swimming in the open ocean filled me with anxiety. For weeks, I dreamed of being swept out to sea and lost forever. I dreamed of swimming so dreadfully off course that I could no longer see land. I dreamed of waves of water pounding down on me, choking and suffocating me until I woke in my bed gripped in fear and unable to get back to sleep for hours.

So the most eventful part of this tri - for me - was the anxiety that I felt from the moment I woke up in my bed at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday until I rose from that water having completed the swim sometime after 11 a.m.

When I arrived on site with my friends Beckie and Michelle that morning, I could hear the breakers, but could not see them. My body seized and I felt instantly nauseous. Now, in reality, they were fairly mild, but still . . . breakers. There were not supposed to be breakers. The website said "calm and flat" waters. Breakers are neither calm nor flat.

I visited the water's edge several times before the race (we arrived onsite around 8:15, which was just Too. Much. Time. To. Think. And look).

The tide was going out and we were assured the waves would flatten out by the time the race started, but the buoys weren't up and it was hard to picture how far OUT we'd have to swim. How far in those waves? With a current or against it?

I stressed for hours, stomach tumbling, unable to eat. But oddly, when I slipped on my wetsuit, I felt a bit calmer. The buoys went up and most of the swim was parallel to the beach, which made me feel better for some reason. The waves did flatten out and watching each wave take off was a thrill. Beckie went in wave 3 and Michelle and I were in wave 4.

We hugged Beckie and off she went. Just minutes later it was our turn. I hugged Michelle and wished her luck and someone yelled, "GO!" and I went.

Start of my wave

The water was freezing, but I was so focused on just getting past the (admittedly very small breakers) I didn't even notice at first. I waded out, walking as far as I could and bobbing over the swells the way I did when I was 10.

When the water was around my ribcage, I started swimming a slow easy breaststroke, just trying to acclimate to the temp. I hyperventilated a bit from the cold, but only for a minute or two. Just before the first buoy, I started freestyle swimming - the correct way. Face in water, though I did breathe every two strokes for most of the course instead of my usual three. I sighted the way I'm supposed to. The portion parallel to the beach seemed long, and I kept getting logjammed behind groups of slower swimmers, but I did pass quite a few people and soon enough I was rounding the final buoy and heading back to the beach. I kept thinking the incoming waves would work in my favor and push me toward shore faster, but if they did I didn't notice.

However, suddenly, I could see the ocean floor (OCEAN FLOOR!) and the next time I looked ahead people were standing up, so I put in two more good strokes and stood myself and ran out of the ocean (OCEAN!), cold and very winded, but also ELATED to have done something that scared me so much!

End of the swim! Ocean swim? Check!

That's me in the front. You can't see my face, but I must have an ear-to-ear smile because I am just so happy in this picture.

Swim time: 11:37

NOTE: This is actually quite a bit slower than my 9:36 time from the quarter mile swim in August, but I'll take it. I swam in the OCEAN! That is bragging rights enough for me for now.

I had a really long T1. My feet were covered in sand ankle to toe and I struggled to pull my long-sleeved tech shirt on over my soaked arms and hands. This is definitely an area I need to improve.

T1: 4:32

The 14.85 bike was fairly uneventful. It was an almost entirely flat course, which is good and bad (good, because hills suck, but bad because you have to pedal constantly). I was passed a few times, but also passed several people, including a couple from the previous wave.

Start of the bike leg

Start of the bike leg.

Two things of note:
1. The scenery was amazing. I found myself wishing it wasn't a race so I could stop and enjoy it more.
2. This was my fastest race pace to date - I averaged 14.07 mph - which I know isn't fast, but I am happy to see my speed improving.

Bike: 1:03:20

This was a decent T2, but there's still lots of room to improve here. I basically ran in, racked the bike, dropped my helmet, hydrated, pulled off the tech shirt, grabbed an energy gel and ran out.

T2: 1:21

The first mile of the run was sheer torture. My legs were wobbly, my sore knee was acting up and there was a hill. Plus, there was a slew of runners on the other side of the road returning from the run and I found that pretty demoralizing. When I hit the first mile marker, I felt like I'd been running for-EVER and literally shouted out, "Are you freakin' kidding me?!"

Yet, I kept running. This is the first run leg that I actually RAN the whole time. I passed three people of the male persuasion, which made me happy because all the men took off two waves ahead of me.

Again, the course was beautiful. Parts of it ran right along the ocean and that was a nice diversion. Finally, I reached a volunteer who said there was a half mile left, so I tried to pick it up a little, though admittedly, I was drained. Regardless, I set a PR (personal record) for this run, and for that, I am extremely proud and happy.

Crossing the finish

Run: 32:20

So that is that - the last tri of the season for me (though I have to admit, today I found myself looking to see if there are any tris or duathlons (run-bike-run) in NJ in October, and there are, but really, I think I'm done for this season). I feel like that was a good race to end on - I conquered a fear, set a couple of PRs on pace and got to do it with two friends.

And I have a whole set of new training goals. Only seven months until next season!


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Blogger Julie Coppenrath said...

It seems that many of my friends in our age category are tackling these types of races - I'm very tempted. I'm not sure how well I would do but am starting to really consider it. I applaud you! Especially the ocean part - my swimming is horrible - not sure you could consider how I swim as swimming. I would probably have to get some lessons before considering such a challenge. What got you to decide to go for it?

7:36 PM  
Blogger ryssee said...

Kudos to you for facing those fears head-on. At least this time you weren't swimming in slime!
It must have been great to do this with a couple of friends, too.
Way to go!

7:50 PM  
Blogger Momisodes said...

CONGRATULATIONS! I loved reading your description of your fear of ocean water. I am the SAME way, and would have probably felt just as much anticipation.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Not Hannah said...

I'm so proud of you, lady. You rock. (And make me want to start training, myself.)

3:02 PM  
Blogger Maureen said...

Congrats on conquering your fears! Good job!!

9:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're awesome! I would never do the swimming part of a triathalon. Never. All my hats are off to you!

2:33 PM  
Blogger alejna said...

I'm so very impressed. Seriously. You rock!

10:59 PM  

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