Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Mighty Merrimack Swim...I desperately wanted to be mighty

Ok, so this blog is entitled "Fueled by Iron" which in its origin (at least in my mind) was going to document my path to completing an Ironman Triathlon. Not just any mind you, I had planned on doing the Ironman in Kona Hawaii. I mean if you're going to go...go big! But...as you glance through past posts you'll notice that there aren't a lot of triathlons and still no 70.3 or 140.6 Ironman events. That is not just some crazy coincidence. I can put together a 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run (the Half Ironman distance) and I know I can do the 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run (the full Ironman distance) events. Before people start saying "you have to do that after the swim and put them together as a complete race"... I KNOW but that's not what I'm talking about here. I'm saying that I have full confidence and am capable of doing the aforementioned events/distances (and if you know me or read this blog, you know that once I start...I will finish those distance by either crossing the finish line or being carried off on a stretcher)...but the swim...well, that is a whole other story. I have had NO confidence that I could do a 1.2 or 2.4 mile swim needed for the half and full Ironman distances respectively. Subsequently, my fear (I say its hate but its really fear) has kept me from not doing triathlons, and without doing more triathlons I'm never gonna build the needed confidence to do the Ironman distances. See, see the circle here? So, I've been trying to get in the pool as often as I can and I've been singing up for everything triathlon I can find.
And this is when I got nervous

While I can find Sprint and Olympic distance races around here (more the former than the latter) and I do well in them, there is that magic number distance that sticks in my head... the1 mile swim. I have done a mile swim for time in the pool but that is not in a race. The stress, concern, conditions and field have nothing to do with a pool swim. I needed to do it in a race. Well the Mighty Merrimack swim seemed like a prime opportunity. I hemmed and hawed about registering right up until the last minute. I didn't really tell anybody I was gonna do it so if I chickened out no one would know. I didn't register because I knew it'd be open day of and it would give me one last chance to back out. I was going anyway to support J, and our friends Jen and PJ were racing too so I thought I'd just play it by ear. I'd pack up my stuff, see how I felt, what the conditions were like and make a game time decision. Standing in line with J for her to pick up her race packet our friend Jen said "you should race, you know you're just gonna regret it the whole way home if you don't". And...she was right. I had all my gear, I've swam a mile, there is no reason I shouldn't race. So I stepped up to the registration table and signed up. I was given my cap, timing chip, got my numbers on my hand and it was done. I had to walk back to my truck to get my wetsuit and goggles and glancing down at the race swim crap I had the "oh, crap...this really has to happen now..." moment.

Some nervous chatting, wetsuit and goggles on and then I could get in the water to swim a bit. Amazingly, swimming actually felt good. My stroke felt effortless, I calmed down and actually thought this would be no big deal. But...they were having issue with the buoys and then we were told that the 2 mile swim folks (yes, there was ALSO a 2 mile swim...screw that noise) would have to clear our turn buoy before we could start. This meant that we ended up starting 38 minutes late. That gave me LOTS of time to start doubting this choice. J and Jenn were just chatting and chilling since they both are legit swimmers and have numerous swim races and 70.3's under their belts and this is just another swim race for them but I was sweating bullets. I don't think I've ever been happier to hear the start countdown of a race! I tried to settle in, focus on a smooth stroke and full exhale-inhale breaths. I'm a unilateral breather that breathes to the right so I had the river wall to my right to help me as a boundary. It was kind of funny that I saw people sitting up on the wall, watching us swim by and realized that was me a year ago and now here I am doing the race. Well, trying to at least, it did just start. I knew I had an issue with "sighting" but it was made even worse at this race because there were no intermediate buoys. There was one at the 1/4 mile mark and one at the 1/2 mark/turn around. Swim in the water, and try to guide yourself on a buoy 1/4 of a mile away...and it feels like FOREVER until you get there. Smaller, intermediate buoys along the course at least give you something to focus on and keep you from going crazy when you're in the water for that long! I just kept looking for the damned green 1/2 mile/turn buoy. I tried to stay calm and smooth, focusing on a good kick and minimizing "extra effort" because muscling through the water does nothing but tire you out faster and I did have a mile to swim after all. And...and...and...I was passing people!!! For real?! I don't think I could've asked for a better push to get me to the turn. I hit the turn buoy at 17 minutes. Not bad, not great. I was a little concerned because I did a 1/2 mile swim the weekend prior as part of a triathlon and did it in around 15 minutes. I didn't think I was doing the swim any slower than the weekend before and I wasn't any more or less tired.

Maybe the course was long...maybe I read my watch wrong when I glanced at my watch...maybe I need to shut up and put my head back in the water because I had another 1/2 mile to go! I'm amazed that unlike running or cycling, once you get into a good swim groove you feel like you can swim  forever and with no intermediate buoys...it felt like I was swimming forever. I can't get over how I have no sense of time or speed in the water. I know time is going by and I know I'm moving forward (well, at times I was moving at a left or right diagonal because I couldn't seem to maintain a good line) and without the buoys to sight on I just felt like I was swimming out in space. I focused on 'dragging my fingertips" instead of wind-milling my arms around, getting full exhales under water and breathing deep from a shallow head turn and kicking strongly from my hips and not my knees. Finally I could see the final turn buoy and figured I needed to pick up the pace and give it all I had...while trying to stay as efficient as I could. I started kicking more, picked up my stroke count and even caught a few more people. I finished the swim in  38:37...16th overall and 4th in my age group. Not only had I finally done an "official" mile swim race but I had done pretty well in my first outing! Well enough to flash a thumbs up at the end (oh, and as much as I'd love to have had that cute girl in the background be checking me out...that was my friend Jen being happy for me and trying to get out of the photo!). Of course me being me, I was bummed at having missed the podium (really, I didn't even think I could do it and now I was expecting bling?!) and had to look up final times to see how close I was to being third. Nothing to worry about there, I was over 2 minutes behind the 3rd place guy! Oh and J won overall women and Jen won her AG!!! Kudos to those ladies. We celebrated the race by stuffing our faces at this great Paleo place in Lowell! Great race and a great day. Now all that's left is to pick my first Half Ironman event...

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