Emmett’s Excellent Triathlon was definitely a big step outside my comfort zone. It’s a full sprint distance (500 meter swim, 13 mile bike, 5k/3.1 mi run). And while that’s the shortest of all the “official” triathlon distances, it’s the longest I’ve ever done. Also, this is not a race designed for beginners. Most people out there are experienced, and fast, athletes. Many of them are using it as a training race for much bigger races and longer distances. So while I might be reaching the point where I can possibly be competitive in my little local beginner friendly race, I had no such illusions at Emmett. My goal was to simply complete the course, and see where I stood.
Swim – 500 meters – 19:24
The swim posed my biggest mental challenge. This was my first time racing with in a wet suit. I had only swam two practice swims in it and neither had gone particularly well. The wind was brisk and the water was choppy. I’ve been nervous before swims but Saturday morning I understood, I felt, the concept of “quaking with fear”. My friend Michele was out there to support me and commented that she could she me shaking. I had been relatively calm before but watching the first wave took off sent me over the edge to jittery. I moved into the water a few minutes before the start and took a few strokes to make sure my goggles were seated and sealed well. Then they counted us down and we took off.
I started out well. I felt good, was breathing good. And then…I don’t know what happened. I didn’t get kicked or swamped. But suddenly I couldn’t get a good breath. I started FEELING the color red. My entire perception was like looking at the world through a fire alarm. I’ve had panic attacks before (years ago) (on dry land) but nothing compared to this. Everything in me clanged “danger”. I couldn’t see well. We weren’t even to the first buoy yet but I had switched to the side stroke and was trying to focus on a kayaker to tell them to take me back to shore. This whole race was a mistake. I couldn’t do this.
And then, I heard someone behind me gasp out “I need help. I can’t do this.”
Please understand, I don’t know her circumstances. There are innumerable elements to the day that no one can predict and no one else can make a judgement call on what’s going on except the athlete affected (except perhaps medical personnel). But hearing my thoughts vocalized snapped something for me. I was able to clarify a thought. I was fine and the tiniest part of my brain knew that. If I could get to my bike, I would be okay. And a little seed of anger sprouted…anger that I would give up so easily when I had swam this distance before. Anger that I would let an emotional state overtake my physical state. I decided I was going to get to the first buoy. And once I was there, the second. And then I could see better and knew I was going to finish before the 25 minute cut off.
I did the entire 500 meters on my side. The. Entire. Thing. I think I tried to do a weird breast stroke/front crawl/doggie paddle thing at one point but my face WAS NOT going in the water. Why? I have no idea. Physically I had the capability. But I never did totally silence that panic. Nineteen minutes of alarm bells and shallow breathing. But I finished that damn swim.
T1 – 3:27
Ironically this is not a bad time for me, especially considering I was trying to peel the wet suit off my legs and feet (the feet are especially challenging). I took more than a few seconds to clip my race belt. I had one side twisted the wrong way. At the Y Not Tri I watched an elite racer just step into his pre-clasped belt and pull it up like a waistband. I considered that technique. I even practiced it a few times in the comfort of my own home. And I realized I had a very good chance of tripping over the darn thing. I opted to take the few extra seconds to figure out to just buckle it around me. I also realized I had dropped my sunglasses into the backpack that my friend was holding instead of putting them in my helmet. She was standing just outside of transition so I told her and she was able to pull them out and hand them to me as I was leaving T1.