The Calm Before the Storm (Entry #15)

[Note:  Like a triathlon, the post about my race will be divided into 3 parts.  A triathlon trilogy]

Since 1995, I’ve watched Lynne do triathlons of varying lengths.  I still remember navigating (pre-GPS) up to Bear Mountain for one of her first races and wondering why anyone would do such a thing.

In all the years that I’ve watched her, my thoughts were never “I don’t want to do that.”  They were always, I “I CAN’T do that.”  The entire enterprise seemed more than I could ever imagine doing (the training itself, much less the race).  The early wake up call was pretty much the only portion that seemed within my grasp.  The swim seemed especially daunting.

One small piece of long-ago Leland history.  When I was 5, I was pushed backward, headfirst into a swimming pool.  My father fished me out, but not before I sucked water up my nose and generally freaked out.  Hysteria followed.

After that, I wouldn’t go into a pool above my waist or put my face in the water.  No matter how much candy or how many coins my camp counselors tossed into the pool, I wouldn’t fetch it.

It wasn’t until I was 13 that I finally learned to swim thanks to a steady stream of swim lessons.  Even after all that, I didn’t like water polo or people hanging on me while swimming.   Even synchronized swimming fired off all the old panicked memories.  As you can probably imagine, my contemplation of swim portion of the triathlon was loaded down with a lot of baggage.

Ok, enough of the reading selections from “Leland’s Sad Childhood Chronicles.” Honestly, it wasn’t all-bad.  And, these stories just slay the ladies (just ask Lynne!).

Lynne and I spent two days in New York City prior to the race.  We had a good time relaxing, playing Scrabble with my mother (my father was on-hand for color commentary), seeing movies (thumbs up to the “Way Way Back”) and a play (a hilarious farce called “The Explorers Club”).  All of this was a fine distraction to what lay ahead.

We drove to Norwalk, CT to meet up with several teammates for registration and to go for a practice swim.  After figuring out my number, I got on line to get my race packet.
Talking with Elise, a workout leader, about what wave I was in, she mentioned that there was something fishy about my wave, mostly because it was a women’s wave.  Now, I’m in touch with my feminine side, but I don’t think that qualifies me for the women’s wave.  Some quick scrambling with the race organizers and I was moved from wave 5 to wave 3.  I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing.

My race number!

My race number! #436

A group of 15 TTNE members gathered at the beach for a practice swim.  It was 4pm and the Long Island Sound wasn’t in a good mood.  The water was choppy, with a constant rolling surf.  We walked approximately a half-mile to the location of the swim start.

Our race would require us to swim out into the sound, turn right a giant, candy-corn shaped buoy and then swim a looooong way to the next candy-corn before turning right toward the beach.

The water was cold, the waves were making their presence felt and my wetsuit was nowhere to be seen.  I had decided not to wear it, thinking it wouldn’t dry in time for the race.  Not my best idea.

As we ran out into the waves, the old panic song began to play in my head.  “What are you doing?  You are out of your depth (literally) and you don’t have the buoyancy of the wet suit to fall back on.  Isn’t the salt water salty?”

I couldn’t swim freestyle.  The waves kept hitting me in the face.  I couldn’t put my face in the water, just breast-stroke.  Power-sapping, totally inefficient breast-stroke.  But, it kept me moving forward against the infinite onslaught of the waves.

I made the turn and the waves weren’t in my face, instead they rolled over me, pushing me around like a floating log.  I did five strokes of freestyle and it was ok.  I was way behind, with one of my teammates nearby.  She and I shared a few moments of gallows humor and I relaxed a bit more.  It was a long way to my finish point, but I tried to just keep swimming.  One-two-three-four-five, I counted my strokes.  I’d pop my head up, look to make sure I wasn’t headed to Havana and then counted another five strokes.

Eventually, I staggered out of the water, thinking that if the swim on Sunday was anything like that I might be in for a spot of trouble.  Luckily, no one else seemed to enjoy the swim either, so I had that going for me.  Survival was half the battle for me.  Choppy surf had rattled my cage, but my training (mentally and physically) had pulled me though.

We headed to our hotel, rinsed off the salt water and I went to hunt for my breakfast options since finding anything open at 5:00 a.m. on Sunday as unlikely.  Later, we had a team meal, which was a great opportunity to see everyone in a fabric other than spandex, meet the spouses, and have any last minute questions answered.

The end of the evening was a guided meditation/visualizeation led by Laurie Silverman, a workout leader and therapist.

With the lights dimmed, she played a CD of ocean sounds, while she calmly led us through some relaxation exercises and then visualized the hours before and during the race.  Luckily, Lynne’s snoring wasn’t terribly distracting and the ocean sounds didn’t make me have to urinate.

It was a good time to quietly focus on the race to come, to mentally arrange my race plan.  Here were a few things I added to my list:

• Eat bagel before leaving the hotel.
• Use the bathroom before putting on wetsuit
• Remember ear plugs for the swim
• Tear open my race snacks as I set up my transition area.  Those little buggers are tough enough when I not rushing
• Pray for calm waters

We ended the visualization and headed off to bed.  I set 3 alarms and arranged for a wake up call.  You can never have too many wake-up options when you are trying to get up at 4:30 a.m.  I focused on my last job for the night, getting some rest.  Oddly, falling asleep wasn’t too bad.  I’d anticipated a rough night of nerves, but managed to drift off without too much effort.  My 4:30 wake-up call lay ahead as did the race –  a day that I thought would never come.

[To be continued]

Published on July 14, 2013