Saturday, June 06, 2009

Barely Surviving my First Open Water Swim of the Season

For someone who has a blog mostly as a diary of my racing, writing a post like this, where I reveal a truly asshat embarrassing moment, is probably not what I had in mind. But if anyone can take anything away from me being a complete and total jackass, please do.

My swimming has come a long way, and I spent a decent amount of time swimming this winter, although as always when the spring comes and duathlon season starts it takes a back seat to running and biking.

Margit encouraged me to join the team for an open water swim at Lake Quannapaug (sp) last Monday night. I hadn't been in the water for three weeks, was the last person to get there, the water was way too cold for my tastes, and I started out chasing everyone. Also, I'd done upper-body strength training that morning.

I have a real mental block about chasing people in the water. My overall lack of experience swimming with other people- I never swim with anyone else in the pool- makes for a real exaggeration in my mind as to how far behind I am, and I have a tendency to start to panic. I'm usually able to settle down in races, where there are always people around me, but when I'm all alone and last, I start looking up, which is not a good thing for me to do.

I do most of my swimming at LA Fitness. The pool is full-length, but it's 3.5 feet deep, warm, and the water is crystal clear. Lake Q is about 8 feet deep (well, I think about 15 feet at it's deepest point) and almost as dark as night. On the rare occasions when you can see the plants tickling your hands and feet, you wish you couldn't.

The first few strokes I took were great. They felt really good, my breathing, which always seems to suffer in the late spring when we have bad pollen since that time I had the ammonia poisoning, felt good.

And then bam, it all hit me. I started thinking. About how they think it's the cold water that kills most triathletes in the swim, some weird-electromechanical fartup with the human heart- for frak's sake people, please stop re-tweeting this same goddamned reheated article, it was one study but I've read ten articles based on it. Thinking about how far behind I am. About how my first open-water swim is always a total disaster and I have to turn around, head back to shore, and start over a second time.

The bottom line in all this is that while I'm not claustrophobic- I'm the guy that will crawl under a coach that's 3 millimeters higher than my ass sticks up and wait twenty minutes just to put a good scare it someone when they sit down (and the couch sags to zero millimeters above my backside)- I'm clearly claustrophobic in the water. I can't hear, I can't see, I have no sense of distance. Oh, my googles fogged up and I could not see anything, did I mention that ?

I get over it. I've been trapped on the wrong side of the same lake in thunderstorms. I've been out in the ocean when the tailbits of the hurricane starting rolling into the bay and I'ms up against the rockwall.

I've done seven ironmans. Margit reminded me of that later.

I wouldn't stop. I was lifeguard swimming to the group, but i wouldn't stop, wouldn't just turn around. However, when we reached our first stopping point, I was one of two people who'd had enough and starting swimming back.

And that's when it all fell apart.

I'm not going to go into the blow-by-blow of it, but even though I was wearing a wetsuit, I wasn't sure I was going to make it back. I felt like I was on the edge of drowning out there, impossibly far from any shore. I kept fighting to get to the beach, stopping every thirty seconds or so. I was as panicked as a wild animal and I couldn't control it. My heart rate was about 200 hundred, my breathing was burning and painful. My legs were on the verge of cramping the entire time. Finally, I did make it far enough to stand up waist deep in water, seeing stars, and I stumbled onto the shore and sat down on the beach, my feet in the water.

I waited about five minutes. I even closed my eyes and just listened to the water, trying to find a calm place inside myself, my center. Anyone who knows me is probably laughing. I have no calm center. Or I do, but I'll never admit it.

I got back in and started swimming. I knew if I went back to the car, threw my wetsuit in the trunk, and went home angry, it would be like this again the next time. I got a decent seven or eight minutes of swimming in, even got passed by a couple of teammates that were swimming back in and held on to a steady breathing pace, a good stroke.

I was spent like never before when I got out, and I was embarrassed enough not to say anything.

Worst first open water swim ever.

I'm over it. I think psychiatrists are great people, but I don't think talking about my claustrophobia in the water would help me. There's no a-ha moment where I realise why I'm afraid of the water and the feeling melts away. I am uncomfortable in the water because things like this happen to me. The flip side ? It's stupid. I've done seven ironmans. I even did a few of them well. I can swim. And Monday night proved to me that even at my most self-challenged, my stubbornness is much stronger than my fear. I was insane with panic, no question. I also am still here (thanks, wetsuit).

It was a disappointing low in what otherwise has been two weeks of great training...

Once again, the first chance for me to swim in the open water and I make the least of it. As I said, jackass. I am so much better of a swimmer than my first ironman, when I literally was not sure I would survive the swim. Literally. Wasn't sure I was going to survive.

I'm a way better swimmer than that guy.

Just not last Monday night.

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