Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Just Keep Swimming

The last two posts were about running and biking so swimming it is.

When I started in triathlon I had no background in any of the three disciplines.  However, swimming came the easiest to me.  I get asked all the time what my favorite is and usually respond "Swimming, it's the only time I'm not in pain"

Unfortunately I have hit a road block right between my ears.  Last spring I participated in the Kemah Olympic distance race for the third time.  This year the start was different.  All the athletes were on the same boat and there were no designated wave start times.  It was pretty much a mass start ala Escape from Alcatraz

When you arrive in Kemah you set up your transition in the dark.  Joking with friends helps cut the tension.  The announcement comes that all athletes need to move towards the boat, the boat will leave with or without you.  Going potty is important, not really an option on the boat.  We say goodbye to loved ones, don our wetsuit and walk toward the boat like zombie lemmings.  Once on the boat I try to get near the top where I can get fresh air. Palms are sweaty, breathing is quickening, heart is beating.  I try to enjoy the fresh air and make new friends.  The sky is just starting to get lighter the sun is coming but not up yet.  The boat stops.  It gets real.  I have to jump off this boat.  Your head is dizzy trying to remember what you should do - Jump far so you don't get jumped on, start swimming right away, don't forget to sight, stay calm.

It all goes to hell when you jump in and go deeper than you thought you would. Fighting to get to the surface and when you get there you get punched in the head.  Start swimming Keri!  And so it begins.  On this day we had some chop and current.  I am a left side breather which does not do me any favors in Kemah.  200 or so into my 1500 meters I go to breathe and get a chest full of gulf water.  I have a coughing fit that won't stop, my heart rate skyrockets and I have my first full on panic attack.  I tell myself it is hard to drown in a wetsuit.  I look for and find a kayak, he is not far so I swim to him.  I thank him over and over for being there and helping.  I ask his name.  Hi Dennis, I'm Keri.  I tell both of us I will be fine once I get my heart rate down, I have done this swim twice before.  Dennis tells me to take it one buoy at a time and I go.  As I swim I count every other stroke, I get to 100 and count the buoys, same number as before.  I feel like I am swimming in place, getting pulled into the gulf.  I start swimming again, go to breathe get a wave instead, coughing again, panic again, WHERE is Dennis?  I look behind me and see nothing but water forever, no Dennis, no other kayaks, no big boat.  I look ahead of me and see colorful caps bobbing, the shore is too far to see.  I get angry with myself 'they are leaving you!' 'THIS is where you are supposed to gain time, you are giving this race away!'  Being angry at myself doesn't help, at all.   To my far right I see a motor boat plucking athletes from the water.  I think about swimming the 150 or so yards but that is across, not forward.  If I get in the boat I have to surrender my chip, my day is done and I have to tell my kids I quit.  Pep talk time "Keri, nobody is going to finish this for you, just swim."  I reminded myself I am looking forward to this bike ride and even the run.  I finish the swim and the race.
After the race there were tears.  My wonderful husband allowed me the luxury of processing the very real fear I had in that water.  Just because the race was over and I made it didn't mean the feelings weren't there.

Here I am a year later and the thought of jumping off that boat is really freaking me out.  Which is why I have to do it again.  In working through my anxiety I remind myself the conditions were rough last year and I finished it!  I didn't quit.  I did it.  I will do it again.  I hope Dennis is out there but I hope I don't stop for a visit.

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