So you guys, I finished my triathlon. It was fantastic.
The swim part was not fantastic. The swim part was moderately miserable, actually. I am super-nearsighted, and my anti-fogging measures (read: spit) didn't keep my goggles from fogging, so I was swimming blind. I could see vague shapes for about three or four feet, and nothing further. This race had swim buddies available for less confident swimmers, and I latched onto one while I was waiting for my wave to start. It didn't work out as well as I'd hoped. I was wearing earplugs (I don't think I told you about last week's nasty case of swimmer's ear, did I? the one where the nurse-practitioner took one look and said, "yeah, no wonder that hurts"? one more proof, if any more were needed, that humans were not meant to be aquatic) -- anyway, I had a hard time hearing my swim buddy's voice. She just did not seem to get my degree of sensory impairment. She kept telling me, "Just swim to the orange buoy" -- which was kind of like telling me to swim to the invisible unicorn. I couldn't hear what she was saying and I couldn't see where I was going and there were kicking feet all around me and there was more chop than I was expecting and the visibility underwater was pretty much zero.
I did not panic. About 200m in I hit a spot where I could stand up, and I thought I'd just catch my breath for a quick second. When I tried to stand up, though, I got a faceful of water. I had thought I was at a point in my swimming where I could deal with a faceful of water, but it turns out that pool water is easier for me to deal with than turbid water inhabited by invisible unicorns or perhaps krakens. Still, I did not panic. I had to pause by the lane line, not caring who might be behind me, and pull up my swim cap and goggles for a few seconds. My swim buddy had disappeared.
I was breaststroking like a little old lady, because going under the murky water and coming up to chop and splash rather than nice breathable air was stressing me out. There's a reason, though, that little old ladies don't breaststroke very quickly, and I knew I could move faster on my back. So I did. Even though I was yawing from side to side across my lane, one little bit of happy news was that I could sort of time myself by the horn signaling the starts for the remaining waves, and I could tell that I was making better time than I had expected. Faster than I had hoped, I was two-thirds of the way through the course.
At this point I had another opportunity to swim with a buddy. And OH YOU GUYS THIS BUDDY WAS THE BEST. THE BEST BEST PUFFY HEART BEST. His name was Don, and he was SO encouraging. Not in a false or a sappy way-- he was so genuine and helpful that I am leaking tears here at my keyboard as I try and fail to tell you about him with resorting to more capital letters. THE BEST BEST BEST. (Oops, my pinkie commandeered the caps lock key there. Don deserves some caps lock action, though.) Instead of telling me to swim toward an imaginary purple amphisbaena, he told me I'd be at the buoy in about 5 strokes. So helpful! He offered some gentle guidance on my technique, reminding me to take nice long strokes, and that made me more efficient and also calmer. I had been worried that I might get increasingly freaked out in the water, because there's a limit to the number of times I can push back panic. As it turned out, the last third of the swim was by far the most manageable. Oh, Don, wherever you are I am blowing you an appreciative kiss.
When I stood up at the end of the swim I looked at my watch and I was astonished to see that I had finished it faster than I'd ever hoped. (I feel certain that the course was shorter than advertised, because I was swimming slower than planned.) Wheee! I had been bracing myself for a first-percentile finish, but as things shook out I almost cracked the tenth percentile. (Oooh, within my wave I almost cracked the 20th percentile. Go me!) All that obsessive stressing about last year's results -- "WHY am I so much slower than all of these women?" -- and it never crossed my mind that the course wasn't measured accurately.
There on the sand I was suffused with relief: I hadn't needed to be pulled from the water, I hadn't been disqualified for hanging on the lane lines, I hadn't had a total freakout panic attack, I hadn't cried, and I hadn't been last!!! (I require every single one of those exclamation points to express my feelings at that moment.) I had a brief moment of distress at the special needs table, where it took me a minute to realize that someone had knocked my glasses onto the ground (eek!). But they were intact, so I headed on up to transition cheerfully. I could see! I could breathe! I had defeated the kraken! My family was cheering for me as I left the beach.
(Later when I learned that they could see my progress through the whole swim ("we could tell it was you by the green on your tri suit, Mom!"), I felt embarrassed. I did not look like much of a swimmer out there, you guys. But I think, on reflection, that I am willing to set an example for my children of doing hard things clumsily but willingly, and of being patient with myself.)
Oh, gosh, I am pushing a thousand words already. Maybe this post needs a sequel. Before I go, though, I want to write a bit about the bike. I don't have nearly as much to say about the bike leg because it was fun and easy. I love riding my bike, and it was really a joy to be out there on the course -- no need to worry about cars or pedestrians, glorious weather, plenty of companionship but no crowding. It was so lovely that at one point I was overwhelmed with gratitude, tearing up as I thought about the gift of a healthy body and a beating heart and a beautiful summer day. (Also, shallowly, one of the fun parts of having a slow swim leg is that then you get to pass a ton of people on the bike leg.) One of the benefits of training here on the prairie is that fierce winds are the norm. There were lots of complaints about the headwind on the uphill portion of the course, but it only slowed me down a little. I had hoped to average 15mph; I'm okay with 14.4. The time zipped by, and soon I was heading back to transition for the run.
To be continued! (The suspense is killing you, isn't it?)