My First Ironman 70.3 – The swim (4)
For most first time and new triathletes, it’s all about the swim. I am no different. By now, the local watering holes where the races take place–Decker Lake, Town Lake, Mansfield Dam and Lake Pflugerville, are fairly familiar to me but no matter how often I encounter them, there is still that feeling of forboding and regret. The Red Licorice Open Water Swim was at Mansfield Dam, where I train during tri season, but the water was almost a total stranger to me. The reception was quite chilly–even for this Barton Springs girl! Oh, the dread I felt when I saw all that water stretched out before me. It was as if I’d never done an open water swim. But at least Red Licorice was a wade in start, where you start from shore and walk or run into the water. Oftentimes, the swim starts in the water, in deep waters, where you have to jump in, very quickly, from a pier. We don’t love this!
It was 8:40 am and time for my wave, the final wave, to make it’s way to the edge of the pier. I remember hearing Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” blaring from the shore. I had a weird feeling about that. I wondered if John made it to the spectator area. Although we couldn’t see one another, I knew he was thinking about me. Tzatzil, my Tough Cookie coach, also in the 40 – 44 group, was still giving me instructions and trying to reassure me. I was amazed how she was able to focus on my race when hers was about to start in, “30 seconds, ladies!”, the announcer shouted with sadistic enthusiasm. I followed Tzatzil and Kara, another Tough Cookie in our age group, out to the edge of the pier. This was it. Some jumped in right away, others, like me, looked for the best possible place to get in. Once we found the best, most non-scary entry, a guy from the swim support crew said, “No, ladies, you must get in over here.” Ok, ok, ok. It’s time to get your mind right, Kinaya! There’s no way to finish the race if you don’t start the doggone race! I looked for an open spot, hoped for the best and stepped off the pier. Simply stepping off was enough to send me shooting straight down, despite my wetsuit. I extended my arms to my sides to stop my decent and prayed that no one jumped on top of me. I opened my eyes (wearing goggles) and could see no more than a few feet in front of me. Creepy! The salty water of Offats Bayou was the color of champagne and coffee. Anytime you see “bayou”, you can pretty much count on the murky water. The water was chilly but nothing compared to Barton Springs or the Red Licorice swim. I swam over to the start which was designated by two gigantic orange buoys. My coach was still giving me instructions up to 20 seconds before the start, “Kinaya, this is going to be great! You don’t even have to kick in this salt water! This is going to be an easy swim for you!” I tried to match her energy and managed a, “Yes, ok…sure!” The whistle, gun, whatever, went off, we said goodbye and I knew I wouldn’t see her again for a good long while.
I felt buyoant, literally, when I started to swim. I knew quite well I could swim 1.2 miles within an hour and ten minutes but hoped to go faster to have extra time on the bike. I knew the swim was just an appetizer. The swim was nothing compared to my first ever, 4 hour, nonstop bike ride, followed by a half marathon. There was no reason or time to panic. Just swim, just swim, swim. Right then, after a few minutes of “just swimming” in place, my goggles began to fill with Offats Bayou. Dread swept over me. I knew these damned goggles leaked. They leaked throughout training and they leaked at Red Licorice, so why in God’s name would I wear them on the most important swim of my life? I don’t know. I couldn’t ignore the water. I had to stop, empty them and readjust. This was an enormous waste of time because the salt water and my wetsuit worked together to keep me horizontal; I had to fight to get vertical. After precious seconds, I was ready to get going again. My goal was to make it to the red buoy. I had to hang a left there and it was where I’d be on the main straightaway. That’s generally where I get in the zone, not having to worry about the next turn for at least 40 minutes. Just keep heading for the red buoy. But once again, the goggles started to leak. I had to remain calm. If I panicked, my day would end right here at the swim. I struggled to get vertical. This time I tightened them even more. I was on my way again but it was short lived. It became painfully clear to me that my goggles were not going to cooperate. This was a moment of reckoning. Is this how it’s going to be? My day is going to end in the first 10 minutes of an 8 and a half hour race? Swim support came over to me on a paddle board. He knew that I needed to hurry it up and start making forward progress or I wouldn’t make the cut off. “Are your goggles fogging up?”, he asked. ”No! They keep leaking!” I could hear the terror in my own voice and did not like it. It sounded like defeat, like quitting, like giving up. I quick searched him with my eyes to see if he had any goggles. Nothing. Useless! I needed a solution and fast. “Sometimes your eyebrows get in the way and water seeps in”, he offered. Useful! I don’t know whether the eyebrows had anything to do with the leaky goggles but I made sure to avoid them this third time. I also said to myself and God/The Universe/Poseidon, “Ok, this cannot happen. I need these goggles to stop leaking. I did not come this far to lose right here. If I have to swim this thing with burning salt water in my eyes, I will. I don’t want to do it that way but I will, damn it!” And that’s how it went. My goggles leaked just enough to annoy me but not enough for me to stop to empty them a fourth time.
I was so wrapped up in my goggles leaking, I didn’t have any energy to focus on the incessant scratching on the back right side of my neck. Good God! My wetsuit began to scratch at my neck something fierce. Why?!!! I had already wasted so much time. There was no way I could afford the luxury of tugging at my wetsuit collar. But it continued to get worse and worse. With every stroke, I felt the scratch and visualized the rough side of the velcro flap ripping my skin. I thought about reaching back and unzipping it but there’s no telling where that would lead. I imagined the enormous drag that might occur from having an open wetsuit. I had to endure the scratching and burning. I told myself to ignore. When I couldn’t ignore it any longer, I had to embrace it. And when the other side started to scratch, I actually chuckled.
The swim became a struggle. The current kept pulling me way off course! It was incredible. I had to make dramatic, costly course corrections several times. I did so much course correcting that I was tempted to look at my watch but I really couldn’t waste the time. My Red Licorice swim gave me confidence, however, I adjusted my goggles at least twice and swam way off course a lot but still made it in 56 minutes. Maybe I’d finish this one on time. Also, when I turned to breathe on my right side, the slight chop in the water caused me to take in burning salt water. I couldn’t believe it.
I never got into a real groove. I could feel my bad strokes–an S-type motion on the right and a weak, virtually nonexistent stroke on the left. I knew I could be better. I vowed, once again, to focus on my swimming this season. Also, when a swimmer in my path yelled for help, of course, I had to look up. Swim support came over but stopped right in front of me on his paddle board to chat withe her! I thought, “So, you’re going to save her by sacrificing me? Not too bright!” I was forced to swim around the entire scene which didn’t look like an emergency to me! Eventually and miraculously, I was making progress again, still going off course but somehow forward. I passed a few people. I didn’t feel triumph as many do when they pass others, I felt compassion for them. “What kind of day are you having if I’m passing you?” Heck, I felt badly for them and sent over some positive energy which I could barely spare.
Finally, I saw the second red buoy, which meant I was turning toward the finish! The finish is always deceptively far, I wasn’t going to fall for that trick but at least I knew it was there. I could hear and see the shore and put my head down and kept going. I swam off course for the 20th time and had to correct again. Oh, God. Would it ever end?! I swam and swam and swam and sighted and swam. Then I swam and swam and swam. Finally, I swam up the ramp and there was no more swimming to do. It was over. I felt like a ton of bricks but I made it. I didn’t look at my watch. I stopped it but don’t remember looking at it. It didn’t matter–or so I thought.
Thank you for stopping by! I’ve got a bike, a run, and an Ironman 70.3 wrap-up. I hope you check them out!