Are the three sports in a triathlon -1. getting sick, 2. crying and 3. running away? Because that’s what it felt like leading up to my first triathlon.
Let me fill you in. But where do I begin?
As most of you know I was SO freaking nervous leading up to race weekend. And man, let’s just say my nerves did not subside once I got to Chicago. Actually they escalated and were at an all time high. They were so bad that I was physically making myself sick. My anxiety was compounded every time I saw the water.
Let me walk you through the nerves and the tears. Yes, there were tears. Many, many tears.
We got to downtown Chicago late Saturday morning. We checked into our hotel, had a quick-lunch and then headed to the expo and the mandatory course talk. It’s at the course talk the first tears emerged. Just seeing photos of the water and thinking ahead to the race were troublesome for me. I few tears escaped. I tried to be cool and brush away the stray tears before anyone noticed, but I’m guessing Jolene and Brian noticed.
Trying to play it cool at the Expo. I failed!
Praying to the swimming gods.
After we left the expo Brian and I went to rack our bikes in transition and walking along the water to and from transition sent me over the edge for the first time that weekend. The water was so choppy – I was not expecting it to be so rough. Brian had been assuring me for months that because we were swimming in a harbor that the water would be calm. The water was not calm and neither was I.
OMG! What was I going to do? I couldn’t swim in that water! This seemed like just as good of a time as any to cry once again!
The afternoon slowly slid into the evening and my nerves slid into an uncomfortable bout of nausea. Yep, I was making myself ill. Literally.
By the end of the night I was truly sick to my stomach. I just wanted to lie in the fetal position until the waters of Lake Michigan turned into the calm waters of the YMCA pool. But knowing that was extremely unlikely, I decided to take some Pepto and go to bed.
And then the next thing you know it’s Race Day!
Oh lord I was sick to my stomach.
I was trying to compare my feelings on this particular day to the morning of my ultra and while I was nervous and anxious for both, the feelings and worries were completely different. Before my ultra I was overwhelmed at the magnitude of having to run 50 miles. I had never run that far and I didn’t know if I could complete the task. I was worried about the physical aspect of the adventure – how I’d feel, if there would be pain, etc. But before the tri, I didn’t have those type of worries and concerns. It was not a concern for the physical act of swimming, it was fear. Athentic and irrational fear. Keyword is irrational. I knew it wasn’t rational, yet I couldn’t do anything about it. I just had to go with it.
As I stared out my hotel window and looked at Buckingham Fountain, Grant Park and Lake Michigan I willed both my nerves and the waters to be calm.
Race Morning. Willing myself and the waters of Lake Michigan to be calm.
We left the hotel to start our day. As we were walking I was doing “okay”, and “okay” can be left up to interpretation at this point. We headed to transition to finish getting ready before it closed. It wasn’t until we left transition – when I saw the sailboats in the marina rocking back and forth – that I panicked. And no, Brian saying it wasn’t too bad and that the wind will be at my back did nothing to ease my mind. I was now officially “in my head” and I wasn’t leaving anytime soon. And prior to a race, being in my head is NEVER a good place to be.
As we left transition, we walked along the water to meet up with my sister Jolene. We were going to meet up and then we’d find a place to chill and wait for our waves. At this point I had over an hour and a half before my start time and Brian had about an hour. As we walked along the water, I got more and more sick. And the tears came. At first there were two or three stray tears that rolled down my cheek. And then those two or three turned to twenty or thirty. I was trying to keep it together, but it wasn’t working. As I walked, I brushed more and more tears aside.
And then I saw Jolene and my friend Jody – who I wasn’t expecting to see – and who was in costume and really rockin’ “Race Day”. Literally. They were literally rocking out – they were channeling their inner Run DMC – with Jody in costume and all, they had a blow up boom box, gold chains and were playing “It’s Tricky” for me (It’s Tricky was my 2017 inaugural triathlon theme).
When I saw them, I could no longer hold it together. I lost it. I cried uncontrollably and I couldn’t stop. I wanted to. But I couldn’t.
I was crying for so many reasons I understood and for many that I didn’t. I was completely taken off guard by my crying and more shockingly, by my lack of ability to stop crying! Eventually I brought my cry down to a more manageable slow stream of tears. Once my crying slowed to a trickle, I was finally able to say hi to Jody and appreciate her and Jolene’s efforts to rock Race Day for me! It was impressive.
But as impressive as it was, I still couldn’t find “happy”. I was stuck smack dab in the middle of fear and happy was nowhere to be found.
Notice the uncomfortable and forced smile? I had just stopped crying and was not very happy.
We found a place to pop a squat and we watched more waves go off. And as we watched, much to my horror, I saw many people get pulled out of the water. Out of all the years I’ve been heading to Chicago for this event to watch Brian, NEVER ONCE have we seen anyone get pulled out of the water. This day we saw the jet ski zoom in to help many swimmers, we saw lifeguards jump in from the break wall to help swimmers and we saw others swimmers flagging down help for their fellow participants.
What. The. Fuck.
Seriously, what the fuck? Really, of all the days to have this happen, it was happening right before I had to get in the water???!! That’s not good timing!
As I watched other people swim I was filled with so much dread and fear. I was also pissed. I was pissed that I had worked so hard to learn how to swim a 1/2 mile and I was going to have to get into crappy, swell-filled water and I was going to have a horrible swim. I didn’t want to panic, stop, gasp for breath but I knew it was going to be inevitable. And that pissed me off.
It came time for Brian to head into his corral. Once Brian left I decided to start putting my wet-suit on and get ready. I had plenty of time, but I also had plenty of nervous energy and just sitting and waiting wasn’t cutting it any longer, I needed to do something – so putting on my wet-suit was a good distraction.
Once I got my wet-suit on, I was able to see Brian for a few seconds as he swam past. It wasn’t long after he was out of sight, that I decided to go and get into my corral. Again, I had nothing else to do but be nervous, so I figured the act of getting ready and getting in the corral was another good distraction.
As I was standing in my corral I was still watching the other swimmers go off in their waves and I was watching more swimmers struggle. While I could have looked elsewhere, I found myself drawn to the water. I felt a strong attraction – I had to watch. I was a bit transfixed by it. I felt as if looking away would cause me to be less prepared for what was about to happen.
While I was in the corral and moving closer and closer to my start time, I wasn’t as sick as I had been earlier in the day and I was no longer crying. I wasn’t calm and I wasn’t freaked. I was numb. There was no turning back and backing out, so the only way to get through this was to get in the water and swim. So that was what I was prepared to do.
It was just about go time.
Wave 48 is next up.
Now it’s our time.
Wave 48 enters the water.
I was among the last in the water.
Looking at the swim out – 1/2 mile ahead of me.
It’s about to happen.
Everyone starts to swim.
Everyone except for me.
I didn’t freeze or panic, it was a strategic decision to hold back and let everyone get ahead of me. My coach told me to count to 10 and then start swimming.
I didn’t make it to 10, I was too anxious and had to start swimming.
As I started swimming, I was just thinking about moving. Moving forward. Just do what I’ve trained for… stroke, kick and breathe.
My heart rate was starting to accelerate.
My breathing was labored.
Oh shit, panic… here we come.
At this point I started having a hard and forceful conversation… with myself! I kid you not, I had a major internal dialogue – actually it was more like an internal fight -happening.
“Don’t fucking panic. Just calm down”. ~Me
“Fuck you, you know telling me to calm down doesn’t work, it actually has the exact opposite effect, so thank you for fucking with me and making things worse.” ~Also Me
“Well, you better get control or do something because you’ve gone about 10 yards and it’s going to be a really long and difficult fucking swim if you can’t settle your ass down.” ~Me
“Seriously, shut the fuck up, I’m trying.” ~Also me
“You’re doing fine, so just fucking settle down. Just swim. Don’t think. Just swim.” ~Me
“Good lord, shut the fuck up, I beg of you.” ~Also Me
“Not until you calm down.” ~Me
“Fine, I’m calm. I’m swimming. Are you happy?” ~Also Me
“Well, well, well…. look who’s stopped panicking. You’re welcome!” ~Me
“Holy crap, I am swimming. Oh. My. God. I’m swimming.” ~Also Me
“I think I deserve a thank you for calming you down.” ~Me
“Fuck off and go away, I’ve got me some swimming to do!” ~Also Me
So much to my surprise, I had managed to calm down and swim. I wouldn’t say it was easy, but I was doing it. Stroke, stroke, breathe. Repeat.
I sighted about every 8 strokes. How do I know it was every 8 strokes? Because I counted. I needed the distraction. And I also started running through my rather large and extended family and started naming my aunts and cousins. I needed to think of something to keep my mind occupied. I tried to do this between counting my strokes. I couldn’t give up on counting because I desperately needed to stop and sight more often than not, as I typically swim off course. And this race was no exception.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Sight
Alice, Bernice, Corrine, Donnie Sight
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Sight
Linda, Barb, Jeff, Kathy Sight
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Sight
At some point, I think it was after the half way mark, and may even have been closer to the 2/3 mark when I realized I was doing it and I was surviving. I was swimming. Holy shit I was swimming.
Whenever I stopped to sight (and yes, I know I’m not actually supposed to stop and sight, but I haven’t mastered moving and sighting at the same time!) and brought my head out of the water I could hear Jolene and Jody as they were following along on shore. It was just after I realized, “holy shit – I’m swimming”, that I heard them so I knew they were near. This is when I lifted my head out of the water, I looked to shore and I yelled… “I’M SWIMMING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
I hadn’t planned on shouting the obvious for all to hear. It was spontaneous and authentic. At that moment my fear had turned to glee and I wanted to scream it from the rooftops. Or at least shout it from sea level!
Jolene told me later that at that moment, a weight was lifted from her shoulders. She knew I’d be fine and I’d get out of the water and finish my swim.
And finish I did.
I got out of the water with a sense of relief. I was so happy, yet I felt like I couldn’t truly enjoy my accomplishment because I had 2 more sports to do before I could really enjoy my achievement.
Crap…. no time to celebrate – time to get to transition and figure out how the hell to ride on Lake Shore Drive with thousands of other bikers.
Until next time,
Gotta Run (and swim and bike)
**Stay Tuned for Part 2 of my Chicago Triathlon Recap