PART I: PANIC:
Forty-three degrees outside this morning. Sixty-two degrees in the lake. The Expert and I head out early. We stop at the gate to Lake Lanier’s Mary Alice Park. Time for the Inaugural Swim Bike Mom’s Swim Bike Run Event (a/k/a two weeks to race day).
The old guy waiting at the guard stand says, “You swimming today?” And I say, “Yep. Where’s the beach?”
He whistles and shakes his head, “Oh, you’re the one he was talking about.”
Oh. Coach Monster. Coach Monster beat us to the park and had already warned the guard stand and the Coast Guard about me.
“This will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. If you can survive this water, this cold, you can survive anything,” he says.
I’m so geared up. I know the open swim is going to be hard. I know it’s going to be cold. We pull up to the park, and see Coach Monster and others. ”Oh no, I’m thinking. Others. More real triathletes. And me. And the Expert. No. No no no.”
The Expert and I get our wetsuits out of the car, and Coach Monster spots us. We all chit chat while putting on the suits, and CM helps the Expert into his.
After awhile, we are all suited up and ready to go. And looking mighty Orca-y. Well, I guess you all can figure out which ones we are. And who the coach is. Don’t you like the fact that the Expert and I have matching suits? How endearing. Two little love whales.
Oh, I must rewind….
Before this picture, as I am suiting up, Coach Monster pulls the Expert up and into his suit. As many of you know, the goal is (much like pantyhose) to have the thing as “high” up as possible. This reduces the pressure on the shoulders/chest and makes for better fit. I will get to this later.
The Expert, in turn, helps yank me into mine. Yank!
Rip! I gasp. ”Did you just rip my wetsuit?!”
“No,” he says.
“Did you rip my wetsuit?!”
“Yes. Oh no. I’m sorry!!” he pleads.
Oh for the love. I’m not mad. I’m horror stricken, thinking of tales I have heard of wetsuits being filled with water, followed by sinking. Fortunately, my suit fits like a spray-on tan, so I am not too worried about it. (Panic #1).
Walking towards the beach, I am nervous, but I am okay. Toes in the water. Yes, that’s cold. Okay. I’ve been cold before. Legs, torso in the water. Lawd. That’s cold. I am remembering weightlifting days and ice baths.
Face in the water.
The instant my face hits the water, I inhale the entire lake into my lungs. The shock of sixty degree water on my face floored me. I immediately panic. I put my face back into the water. More water in my lungs. My body is fighting me. I try not to inhale the water, but the reaction is automatic. Crap crap crap, I am thinking.
Coach Monster is saying, “We’re going to swim out to that first buoy and then take a left and swim past the four bouys and circle back.” I can’t breathe.
What shocks me most is the pressure on my shoulders and chest from the wetsuit. I heard it would be heavy. But the weight is huge. Here is where the pulling up the wetsuit fully in the crotch would have come in handy. The suit was already weighted at the shoulders from my faulty put-on. And now? I can’t believe it. (Panic #2).
I am severely claustrophobic. With my face in the dark water, I suddenly have the distinct feeling that I am burying myself alive. (Panic #3).
I can’t seem to freestyle. I can’t seem to breastroke, sidestroke, float. I am paralyzed. I see Coach Monster about 100 meters away, saying “Just come to the buoy.” I’m thinking, “If only.” I make it to the buoy, and I tell him, “I can’t breathe.” I can’t imagine how much surface pollen scum I swallowed. (Panic #4 = anaphylaxtic shock).
I flash to that scene from “Sex and the City” where Carrie tries on the wedding gown and immediately breaks out into hives and rips the wedding gown from her body, deciding that she can’t possibly get married. I am deciding that I can’t possibly do triathlon, and I want to rip the freaking wetsuit from my body. (Panic #5). The pressure on my chest. The allergic/asthma that was triggered from either panic/pollen/fear in general.
Coach Monster makes me stop. “Lay on your back,” he says. I float on my back, but the pressure is almost worse that way. (Panic #6). So I just float, upright, bob around. I am nodding at CM, looking at the Expert, and not breathing. We swim to the next bouy. And the next. And the next. I am panicking less… and then, wham… back to total meltdown of fear. I am wheezing. And breathing shallow. (Panic #s 6-11).
At the end of thirty minutes, I have made one complete circle of the bouys. Thirty minutes. Because I am down in the water for about 50 meters, and then popping up, stopping, wheezing and freaking out for the next 50 meters. Finally, I breaststroke back to the beach, just praying I can make it back to the sand.
I am deflated. Scared. Sad.
I really thought the swim was going to be my game. The blasted wetsuit. The cold water. The compression coupled with some sort of crazy allergic reaction. I am blown away by the ridiculousness of myself.
Onward and upward. Time to bike.
PART 2: BIKE
I experienced some sort of histamine reaction during the swim. I am wheezing like a seventy-five year old smoker. After a fifteen minute T1 time (yeah, I’m breaking records over here)… Three’s Company is heading out on the bike. I still can’t breathe, even though my heartrate is floating around in Zone 2. I am sucking wind like I am pounding out a maximum heartrate ride. I start to see spots across my eyes, and I am slowing down Coach Monster and the Expert. We go out a total of ten miles. It’s no fun riding with a three-hundred pound, old emphysema-ridden man (me).
So much for the planned 20 miles.
PART 3: WALK
A ten minute T2 time, and we take off on the run. Coach Monster asks, “Do you think you can handle the run? Are you still breathing through a straw?” I nod, affirmatively to both questions. “I can do it.”
I run 100 yards. I can’t do it. I am back in a wheezing state. I look at my Garmin. My heartrate is 118. Low, low, low. Clearly, if I can’t breathe when I am pressing a high Zone 1 heartrate, I am done. I tell the Expert to take off, go, run.
Coach Monster says, “We’ll walk.” And we do. He is the most compassionate, patient person. I am embarrassed. He won’t let me be shamed. We work through some facts, some details. He tells me stories. I pick the Expert up forty-five minutes later. He successfully completed a 3-4 mile run. I walked 1.7 miles.
I feel about six inches tall. And six feet wide.
PART 4: REFLECTION
As we drove home, I was (for the lack of a better word) devastated. The day was beautiful. I was prepared. Everything was set up for a great day. I have put in the work. And I totally crashed. I crashed from the water, the cold, the pollen, the panic. I’m not sure what exactly happened. But I know it did. Today happened, and it was not good.
And two weeks before the race.
I told the Expert that this is the first time in my life I have experienced this feeling of sheer-I-can’t-get-out-of-this panic. I birthed two babies, and I never felt this sense of panic, fear and death. Death, maybe. But not the fear. I couldn’t breathe and the weight of the wetsuit…
As Coach Monster and I walked, we talked about what I learned. He sent me home with the task of figuring out what I learned from this experience.
2) Turn the fear factor into something positive.
Anyone who has read my blog knows of my innate tendency to mentally defeat myself. I am working through this big-time with triathlon. Even though this swim experience was like a slice and dice to my heart, something in me has changed. Five years ago, I would have declared this experience something I “can’t do” and scream “F it” and quit. ”Guess I’ll never be able to do an open water triathlon. Guess I’m a loser. Guess that’s it.” While I was panicking in the water, I was batting around these thoughts.
But now, all that is truly running through my head is: I can’t wait to get back out to that lake and figure this out.
And I think of the individuals who have beat (serious) odds. Real physical challenges. Tragic accidents. Missing limbs. Cancer. Serious adversity.
Not asthma, wetsuit and cold water. Therefore, “I can, I will, and kiss my ass.”
Two weeks from today, I intend to finish the swim at St. Anthony’s. And that’s that. I may be wearing my wetsuit to the pool every night for the next two weeks. Floating around in my big bathtub, wearing said wetsuit, and filling the water with ice. But yes, I can.
3) Calm Down.
Enough said. My chicken little-ness is a little less each workout, each time. So I need to calm down.
4) Give Myself a Break.
Similar to “calm down,” this is self-explanatory. Today was a big bump in my mental road. But my legs were strong. My arms were strong. My mind was actually pretty strong too. Just my lungs failed me. And that could have been avoided with a little forethought. So I’m giving myself a break.
Today was a big wake up call. I know triathlon is difficult. I had no idea of the perils of an open water, wetsuit swim for myself. The Expert struggled with the swim as well, but didn’t seem to experience the same reaction. So it’s a personal issue I have to grab by the horns and wrestle down.
There’s one thing about me. I like to wrestle. So here we go… Have a great week, friends.