Yesterday was my first open water race. Two weeks ago I went to the race site and participated in a clinic for the sole purpose of swimming the course once before race day. On that day the water temp was 63 degrees and I swam the 1/2 mile at a very leisurely pace, stopping to verify the course three or four times... and I finished in 24:19. I have been training, both in the pool and in open water, for nearly 2 months in preparation for this race, so I thought not only was I ready, but I felt sure I could beat my practice time. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.
What is it about triathlons and me? It seems that where a tri is concerned, everything that can go wrong will go wrong, and unlike my runs I just don't seem to be able to roll with it...
I couldn't sleep Saturday night, in spite of envisioning myself having a really good swim. I got up at 3 am instead of my planned 4:30 wake-up. I got thermos' ready with hot water to fill my wetsuit as the weather has been really cold this week. I ate my oatmeal and had my coffee. My car was loaded and I made sure not to forget anything. I took gloves for my hands pre/post race and reusable heat packs for everywhere else. I was totally ready.
I thought my coach had said to meet at registration at 6 a.m. so that my relay team could meet each other and all check in together... but I guess I misunderstood her as they didn't show up until after 7. I got to the race site at 5:45, parked, and walked to registration - in the dark. I checked out the transition area, tried to scope out the swim course (but the bouys weren't up yet) and basically hung around for 90 minutes doing nothing.
The tempurature was in the 40's, but I was dressed warmly.
Yes, that is snow on the mountain just north of the race site...
Once the others arrived and we checked in it was nearly 7:30 and the race started at 8, so I rushed back to my car to get into my wetsuit and booties. I was feeling rushed and somehow missed the course briefing... so at 7:50 we headed down to the shore. I got wet, swam a few yards and got out to talk to my coach for any last minute instructions. While she was chatting with me, the gun went off and my wave started without me!
For those who have never done a tri, your swim time starts when the gun goes off, since there are no mats to cross in the water.... By missing my wave start I was already behind the 8 ball, so to speak. I realized what had happened and took off running (I use that term loosely, but it was my best effort at a run) for the start, only to find my entrance blocked by fencing.
Up and around the fence, through the crowds of 20-25 year old men waiting for their wave to start and into the water I ran... the absolute last person to start my wave. Everyone else was way out ahead of me... and I was out of breath before I hit the estimated 57 degree water! The cold was a shock and I was already kind of stressed, so I had a real problem trying to get a stroke rhythm going. Notice how I'm the only swimmer in the picture? Yup, that's how far behind I was.
I swam about 100 yds and just couldn't get enough air into my lungs... I felt really asthmatic, and realized that the stress and the cold had caused me to have an asthma attack. I swam a head-up breaststroke for awhile trying to get my breathing under control when I realized that my scuba bootie had unzipped and was falling off! Its perfectly legal to hold onto a paddleboard during a tri so long as the boarder doesn't move you forward, so I got to the nearest board and fixed my bootie, and took a couple of minutes to do some deep breathing exercises in an attempt to relax and oxygenate myself. It didn't really work. Each time I put my face in the water I felt like my lungs were being squeezed... I know that this is a typical panic reaction for many people during open water swims. I know that people often think their wetsuit is too tight and that's why their chest is constricted. I know this and a lot more of these things, and I know that wasn't the case for me. I have NO fear of open water. I KNOW my wetsuit fits. For crying out loud, I'm a scuba instructor! I did a mental check and knew that what I was feeling was not panic. Stress, yes. But not panic. So I reduced my stress but my breathing never got any better.
I was frustrated. I was being passed by wave after wave of swimmers, and all I could do was alternate between head-up breaststroke (VERY slow) and backstroke the whole way in. I kept trying to freestyle but I just couldn't get it going. By the time I reached the beach I was wheezing like crazy and I had to walk up the beach, then up a hill to the transition area.
I handed off the chip to my teammate Raquel and while trying to catch my breath I burst into tears
I was so disappointed in myself. I worked so hard for this race and I just couldn't ever get it together. I felt like such a failure, and like I had let everyone down, although mostly myself. Why did I let other's interfere with my race prep? Why didn't I try to acclimate to the water sooner? Why didn't I use my inhaler before starting? Why didn't I swim more than a few yards before the race started to warm up? Why didn't I get into the corral with my wave? Why? Why? Why?
I guess these are all lessons to be learned for next time, but I felt just awful about this for most of the day. I put a smile on my face once I changed into warm clothes and used my inhaler, but I kept fighting my asthma for the rest of the day. My teammates were nothing but supportive - they are both accomplished triathletes already, and thanks to them we took 4th place for female relays. We didn't stick around for the awards ceremony, but that's ok as I don't feel like I deserved it anyway. I checked the race results last night and I was slower than all but about a dozen people for the swim. Not something to be proud of. Definitely something to improve upon.
I have a sprint reverse tri in two weeks and I'll be doing both the bike and the swim (in a heated pool) so I'm trying to look forward and prepare myself to do better next time.
I'm sorry to post such a "downer" blog, but the fact is that not every race goes well and for me, this was the worst swim of my life. I know my dear spark friends want to know how it went, so for you I'm baring my soul. Kind of ironic, isn't it, that my previous blog was about how nice it is to be an athlete? Go figure.