Sunday, August 21, 2011

Race Report: Donner Lake Chill 1 Mile Open Water Swim

This is hard to write. In fact, I've been dreading this post all day because I know I will disappoint you (all of you who happen to read this) just as much as I've disappointed myself. Athletics, you know, is founded on the notion of triumph, of overcoming incredible odds and most importantly, sports are about WINNING. I competed today in my first race of the season-- and my first race since I was injured months and months ago-- and I wish I could say I overcame everything and did something extraordinary in that mile-long swim.

But, I didn't. In fact, I didn't even do reasonably well. Pitted against some inanimate object-- a rock or a turd, perhaps-- I might have come in behind that, too. 

I panicked. Badly. Really, really badly. I have a fear of water I thought I conquered in the pool and the triathlon I did back in 2009. But the fear came back and perhaps a dozen strokes into the race I felt as though I couldn't breathe. I was sure I was going to suffocate to death.

And so, I stopped. I turned and looked at the shore as everyone swam past me. I watched them go, their splashes becoming smaller. A support kayak piloted by a lovely woman with an Aussie accent asked me if I was OK. She said I could hold onto the boat if I wanted and I would not be disqualified.

I remember saying "No." But I also remember looking at that shore and wanting nothing more than to be back on solid land again. I thought about eating pancakes (I hate pancakes) and how much better that would be than swimming in open water.

The Aussie asked me again to hold on to her boat.

Again, the "No."

And then a voice inside my head said: "Put your f***ing head back in the water and swim. You look stupid, hanging out here like a ninny."

I did. I swam. With my wetsuit trying to strangle me to death the entire way. And, everyone so far ahead of me. I don't know how I did it, honestly. It was pathetic and awful and I knew it. I had wanted to swim a mile in under thirty minutes and I knew there was no way I was going to do that.  I counted the rhythm of my strokes: the 1-2-3-breathe-cadence. I saw flashes of feet and torsos. Not many, but a few.

The panic lay beneath the precarious breath. One missed beat and there I was again, feeling as though death's grip was around my neck. I wanted shore. I stopped after the first buoy and the second seemed so incredibly far. Again, the shaking and the lizard part of my brain wired to survival. Again, I put my head in the water. "Just f***ing swim." On any other day, in any other place, I could. I would. But now, I prayed, not now. Not now.

No matter what, I told myself, I was going to swim this stupid mile in this stupid wetsuit that was trying to kill me even if it took me over an hour and they had to drag my lifeless body behind a paddleboard. I was going to finish. Period. 

And, without pancakes.

I did. I finished. I rounded the final buoy and pointed myself toward shore. But I'm not proud of today. I feel just awful, if you want to know the truth. I'm not sure what I learned other than I am terrified of water and if I'm going to try and compete in triathlons in the future, I'm going to have to train in open water on a consistent basis to get over this fear. I suppose there is value in not giving up despite wanting to very badly. I suppose, too, I ought to be proud that this was my fastest open water swim ever despite the many times I stopped. Despite the fact that, for thirty-one minutes, I felt as though I was going to die like some big gigantic sissy.

But I suppose this is all apart of this athletic life: along with good days, there will be bad ones. Extraordinarily bad ones, if you are me.

I have set the bar extremely low. I have to focus on what lies ahead; on what I can do to be better. I am not going to give up. I'm going to run 12 miles and go to swim practice tomorrow. I am going to be patient with myself. And when it's time, I will try again.

I wish I could feel good about that; but for today, that is all I can do.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great story. Keep it up. Keep on trying.