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Turkey Tri Open Water Swim Recap

Monday, November 29, 2010

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.

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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
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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.
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  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

2WHEELER 1/14/2011 5:43PM

    Wow!! What a great blog. It was exciting, exhilarating and inspiring. Just think--4th place with everything that went wrong. Just imagine where you will be when all goes right. emoticon

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TRIATHLONBABE 1/1/2011 10:38PM

    Wow....I just saw your current blog come across some status's on my main page and when I went to your page saw this blog. You ARE an amazing triathlete and athlete! Just the fact that you continued the swim through all of that turmoil in such frigid waters is an amazing feat in itself! Way to go gal! The coldest open water I've ever done was 69 degrees and I hyperventilated on our practice swim the day before....eeek!

Good job in finishing the swim!!!

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TEACHERMOMFIVE 12/23/2010 9:15AM

    Tammy I just read your blog (a month behind!). I am not an athlete or ever pretended to be one. I'm an exerciser. :) BUT... in spite of all that went wrong, you finished; and after having surgery. So to me, the non-athlete, you are a winner any way you look at it. It's people like you who inspire me to keep coming back to Spark, keep trying to be a healthier person.

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SLEEPYDEAN 12/2/2010 2:12PM

    Well, you definitely have the right attitude about making it a learning experience. I would have liked to participate in that tri, but an open water swim like that for my first was pretty daunting.

My first tri will be in Pasadena at the Rose Bowl in March. That one is in a pool and seems pretty managable.

You probably went to the swim clinic hosted by Coach Tony who started the Triathlon Connection that I've recently hooked up with in my area. I plan to use his resources as much as possible during my training.

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NUTRIGIRL08 11/30/2010 5:54PM

    You finished it! I've been there done that with my swims. That is my weakest link! But I learned a lot from my past seasons and I'm determined to make this season count!

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JENNIFER124 11/30/2010 5:09PM

    Tammy- this race is a notch in your belt.. a tough one but still something to be proud of... two of the most upsetting and "degrading" races for me turned out to be godsends..the first one i got lost on the course i was so slow.. (led me to look into a coach) and the half marathon in which my coach had trained with me for months and was waiting at the finish line i ended coming almost in last with a time both of us didnt expect (led to my getting my anemia under control) there is nothing you can do about this race besides learn and call yourself what you are -- a beginner -- a newbie.. i am wearing that title happily-- a total beginner at this tri stuff with A LOT to learn.. but i am not giving up and i know you arent either!! you already have your next event planned-- right on!! emoticon hugs!! Jen

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NAVYMOM133 11/30/2010 10:08AM

    Winners never quit!!

I would have been seriously panicked by the asthma attack. You never lost your head, or your drive or your competitive spirit. You knew the other gals were counting on you to come in and you DID!!

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EVETROY 11/29/2010 10:57PM

    But you did it!!!! How many people would have quit in the midst of all that? Not you!!! emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon

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SORGIN 11/29/2010 10:21PM

    Oh, and you look pretty hot in that last photo.

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SORGIN 11/29/2010 10:20PM

    I don't think I could have said it any better than Deej4. Wow, she hit the nail on the head. It was a horrible race with hurdles at every turn. And you still did it. And you did it because you were committed. And that kind of tenacity inspires all of us. That's a testament to your spirit! That's the Tammy I know and love! Stand proud, friend.

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ACTIVE_AT_60 11/29/2010 9:01PM

    Tammy - this was not a 'downer' blog at all. This was a very inspiring blog, and congratulations to all three of you. Well done - and thanks for sharing.

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DEEJ4FITNESS 11/29/2010 8:41PM

    Thank you Tammy for sharing!! You honor your friends when you do that!! With tear filled eyes and ENORMOUS sincerity, my hat goes off to Tammy, the ATHLETE, who swam and swam in the midst of an asthma attack and a bad morning. And I suspect a huge part of why you did was because you made a commitment to yourself and to your friends!!

No competition we ever enter is about "time" or even "bling" truth be told!! It's about using what we have and doing the best we can with it regardless of what's going on around us!! Life is stressful, crap happens (now there's one for the book of profound wisdom); it's our reaction to it that counts!!

You did yourself, your family & your friends proud just for getting out there considering all you've been through!! No wonder your team was supportive; you'd be my 1st pick in any line-up, any time!!!!

Wish you the best as you prep for your next :) lessons are always positive when we learn from them & we can use them to propel us forward toward our goals!!!

Tight HUG!!! ~Deej

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JUSTTRIING 11/29/2010 8:25PM

    You are so right though, not every race is going to be a good one (remember my blog about my first tri). It is disappointing. You fight being mad, angry, upset, disappointed, let down, discouraged, etc.

BUT you are right, there are lessons to be learned and you will have better tri's in your future. You are an athlete and that being said, all you can do is train. You KNOW that. There is never a guarantee about what your body will give you on race day. I remember passing one of our running coach's during this year's Columbus marathon. She was only doing the half and was hoping for a PR. Instead she was walking and fighting her asthma every step of the way. I could see how disappointed she was but she kept on going. She still wanted to finish even though she knew it was going to be one of her worst races. Sometimes finishing is all we can do.

Hold your head up high and good luck on your reverse sprint in a couple weeks emoticon

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LIGHTNINGRUNNER 11/29/2010 5:18PM

    It wasn't your day that is all - you were prepared, but nothing seem to go your way - waking too early, getting there too early,- next time it will be just fine. Chalk this one up to learning

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HARRINGTON5 11/29/2010 5:06PM

    I am in awe of anyone that even considers a tri! You are right, not all races go well and we have all had our share of "bummer" events. You got out there, you didn't quit and you finished. That is a lot to be proud of. You are one fantastic person and even when you don't do well, you write one heck of a blog. I love the pictures too. Keep the faith, you ARE an athlete!

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PEGGYO 11/29/2010 4:29PM

    You are my heroine. You tire me out reading all that you do.

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ALYFITN 11/29/2010 4:13PM

    Great pictures!! What a fantastic thing to be able to participate in an event of this scope. God bless you for sharing. May you look back on it with more fondness after time. Good luck to you next time! emoticon emoticon

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