Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Time I Almost Turned Back

This post originally appeared in the #TeamSelkie blog.

During the winter months, I am primarily focused on pool and dryland training. During these hours solitude, I very often find myself reflecting on my journey as an open water swimmer: the challenges, the triumphs, the countless bowls of oatmeal. The one story that I always find myself coming back to is that of my first open water race on May 27, 2012.
I returned to swimming in the fall of 2011 after a two year hiatus. I was now in a new job with more predictable hours, and was drawn to competing in long distance events after I watched a friend run the New York City Marathon. I joined a pool near my office, swam about 4 days a week, and found a great triathlon training group (Jersey Shore Triathlon Club) to swim with once the water warmed up. The group was hosting a 2K swim called the Lava Swim, and I decided to enter.
Full disclosure, I wore a wetsuit for this race! My marathon swimming friends may be quite shocked at this, but I was training with triathletes, and assumed that a wetsuit came with the territory. And full honesty, I LOVED swimming in it. I was lucky to get a suit that fit me like a glove and made me feel like a superhero! I now swim fully under English Channel apparel rules, but I did have fun with my suit.
After three Saturday open water sessions, it was time to actually race. It was one loop of a very well marked and monitored course in Barnegat Bay. I was very lucky that my mom, sister, and boyfriend all accompanied me to the beach to help cheer me on. After sitting in the rain, shimmying into my sleek Orca wetsuit, and studying the course, I got into the water with butterflies that felt like pterodactyls in my stomach. I had swam the distance in the pool and at my Saturday sessions before, but still could not imagine all of the swimming that lay ahead of me. Could I really do this? What if I got tired? What if I got lost in the scrum and someone whacked me in the face? What if my goggles leaked? When the start gun went off, I put my face in and began to swim, but immediately found myself hyperventilating. I could barely catch my breath. My heart was pounding. I questioned why I was not into a calm hobby like stamp collecting or knitting. I 100% wanted to cry and turn around and head back to the beach. But then, the faces of my mom, sister, and boyfriend came into my mind. What would I tell them if I chickened out and showed up on the beach only a few minutes after the start? They had all gotten up at the crack of dawn to watch the swim. My boyfriend had listened to me talk open water swimming for months. My mom made me an amazing oatmeal dinner the night before! I suddenly began to calm down. My breathing became easier, sighting became easier, my heart rate regulated, and I finally got into my swimming groove.
The rest of the swim was total bliss. I loved every minute of it, and gave it my all. When I finally got to the green buoy and could see the beach, I did my “butterfly dolphin dives,” and made my way up the beach and crossed the finish line. I met my family and savored every embrace. The Lava Swim helped me realize that I could swim through huge jitters, and also helped me discover out what mental games will help me through those tough first 400 meters. It is something that I think every endurance athlete has to figure out at some point in his or her own way. While I am swimming distances several times greater than 2K now, I can’t help but be thankful for the critical lessons learned that day in Barnegat Bay.
Hold Fast,

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