Last year I did my first triathlon and really enjoyed it. It was the E.P. Tom Sawyer triathlon; great event for beginners in my opinion. The biggest thing about that race was the fact that the swim portion of the event was in a pool. I’ve been training in a pool and it really offers a comfort level that keeps the beginner at ease.
This past Saturday, June 15th, I participated in my first triathlon with an open water swim. It was a 500M swim, 10 mile bike, 5K run. These distances are all easily completed individually and I wasn’t too worried about the bike and run portion of the event. The swim, however, had me nervous from the moment I signed up. I have the most anxiety about being in water over my head with no flotation devices around. I know I could tread water for quite some time, but if I ever got into a state of panic, I wasn’t sure how I would react. All of that to say, my mind was my worst enemy in this event.
The day of the event arrived and I had been able to stay pretty calm and not be too nervous. Even running into the water, I was focused and staying calm and thinking about a relaxed stroke with good exhalation in the water. I did just fine, the first 50-75 meters. At this point, my goggles had fogged up to the point that I couldn’t see. I cleared my goggles and began to look for the turn buoy so I could begin to head for it again. Then, I let my mind tell me I was in deep water and I had a mild, bordering severe, panic episode. My breathing became fast and I even had mild arm tingle from panic. At that moment, I began to look for an escape. I saw a lifeguard on a paddle board and I began to head her way. As I reached the board, I stopped short as to not touch it. Then, another swimmer grabbed the board and asked to be taken out of the water. I was simply treading water trying to regain my composure.
The lifeguard asked me if I was okay. I let her know that I believed I was fine and just needed to calm down. I spent a good minute and a half there, in reach of the board, which gave me confidence and the ability to get my breathing under control. After having relaxed a bit, I decided to try to swim close to the next paddleboard, about 30 meters away. I made my way and had no issues. I had about another 60 meters before I got to the turn buoy, a mere 200 meters from short; it seemed like quite a long way to me. Once I made the first turn, I was able to really relax. It was only 100 meters till the turn back to shore. When I made the final turn, I couldn’t see the finish because the sun was coming up and shining in my eyes; well, rather shining on my fogged goggles.
I finished the swim, which was my entire goal for this triathlon, but I was quite shocked that I had spent 14:30 in the water for 500 meters. Finishing the swim was, and still is, something that I’m proud of doing; it was a big mental hurdle for me. Seeing the other swimmers being taken out of the water and put on a boat was the most motivating thing for me. I couldn’t imagine how I would feel not completing what I started. I do understand why they did it and I was merely seconds from doing the same thing myself.
In the end, I was shocked at how different it was to be in open water. I heard everyone tell me how different it was, but I just couldn’t get the idea until I was in the race, fogged goggles, panic stricken, unable to find direction, being kicked and knocked to and fro. It really is an environment that must be experienced to understand. Lord help me if I ever do a wave start.
I finished the triathlon in 1:18:12.8.
Finishing was great! Times were awful. Goal for the next triathlon: finish the open water swim. After that, I’ll work on my times for the run and bike.