I was riding high after a decent 70.3 race on June 15th. I shaved 6 minutes off my swim, 20 off my ride and 7 minutes off my run compared to the 2013 showing. Of course, I’m still not where I want to be – but I finished the Boulder Half Ironman with gas still left in the tank. It was a testament that my training thus far seems to be on track.
I jumped right back into training with strong workouts – no time needed for recovery – and I continued to feel good. I employed my run-walk strategy on a 2.5 hour run on Sunday with lots of climbing and still maintained a pace 30 seconds faster than my goal race pace. Dare I say, I was feeling confident.
All that, though, can be destroyed by your mind in one small training session.
An open water swim on Tuesday night at a local reservoir was nearly my downfall. I went in feeling pretty confident. I planned a 2-mile swim – 4 loops of the course. I was anxious about the swim most of the day, and I will confess that I secretly hoped the forecast calling for thunderstorms would come true; but, we made it to Aurora under blue skies.
As I helped people check in for the race, I chatted nervously – recounting the episode from last summer in which I was sure I was going to die during the swim due to the choppy waters. Mistake #1.
Wetsuits donned, we headed down to the water’s edge. I waded in, let water into my suit and walked around a bit. I don’t recall swimming a stroke as warmup. Mistake #2.
I started to think about my pace at Boulder 70.3 – which was not rockstar fast, but felt decent for me. However, the folks around me looked fast and confident. I began to wonder – would I be last? Mistake #3.
The event coordinators told us to go – I hung back a bit to let others get ahead, already losing confidence. Mistake #4.
Then it all went downhill. I started to swim – swallowed some water and immediately went into doggy paddle mode. If you ever wondered - you don’t get far fast when doggy-ing. I was not even 100 yards out and the kayaker let out a plaintive “M’aam, are you alright?” I said “yes,” but meant no. For some reason, I couldn’t feel myself moving forward. Every breath felt like it was impossible, I considered back stroking – then realized I can’t backstroke. I considered bailing – jumping on the kayak. Visions of last summer’s choppy waters reared. I started to think, “what if the chop gets worse?” I doubted my ability to swim. There was no way I was getting on that kayak though, that’s too much of a let down. Besides, the volunteer was afraid for me, so he looked like he was going to follow me anyway. I decided to swim.
That was a long 750 meters. I finally found a rhythm in the last 300 meters or so, but it was too late. When I came onto shore to do the next round, I thought long and hard. I paused, I waded in, I waded out – and then I went up on shore. I felt defeated, but I didn’t have the mental fortitude to go farther.
Mind matters so much. That’s my lesson. I let myself believe it wasn’t possible. And, then, it wasn’t.
I’ve got 4 more open water swims before race day. That’s valuable training time – to overcome.