Monthly Archives: June 2018

Operation swim-confidence week 1

I ended the last blog with the question of whether or not to continue with swimming, specifically open water and triathlon. As much as I would like to walk away, I just can’t quit. I know if I quit now I will regret it and, if truth be told, I have dreams of going further. So with that in mind the next few blogs will be about the tears, triumphs and tantrums that come with facing my swimming fears.

Tuesday nights are TriBB’s swim session, an hour of attempting to transform my “swimming” into something that resembles front crawl. I’m in lane one, it’s relatively safe, the wall is right there and there is no crazy long sets. We work on technique, well we’re supposed to, I work on trying to relax with occasional snippets of technique. It’s tough, the sessions break down aspects of breathing, kicking and arm stroke whilst building our fitness and speed. I’m often at the front, though I prefer not to be, for this makes me panic more and more, I try and relax, I remind myself of the coaching point – Popeye breathing, turning your head just enough to breathe keeping one eye in the water – I try it, 20% air, 80% water, not enough air, I’m panicking! 3 strike breathing is quickly failing as anxiety levels rise, I need more air and resort to 2 stroke breathing, this achieves nothing, I’m shaking my head trying to refocus only to forget to breathe. I’m 34, how do I forget to breathe? Then the wall of safety appears, I grasp it quickly, stand on the steps, “1 minute until you go again”….I smile trying to fake enjoyment, trying to trick my head into relaxing, trying to believe I’ll get it right next time: 3,2,1 go… the cycle restarts.

Don’t get me wrong, everyone at TriBB is ace, supporting each other’s journeys whether it be to your first sprint or to an Ironman. It’s good to see other people on that journey working hard to make progress, pushing each other along.

The weekend brings the dreaded open water session. The lake (Blue Lagoon, Darlington) is lovely but that doesn’t stop the nerves from kicking in as soon as I’ve left the house. They build as the drive progresses, why am I doing this? We arrive get our safety red wrist band, get changed into our neoprene coffins and slowly wade into the water. The water seeps into the wetsuit, I wait for my body to warm the water between suit and skin, I tell myself to work on my breathing, 1 small lap focusing on relaxed breathing! I set off the first marker never gets closer, in my head I’m panicking, arguing with myself to relax. At the first buoy I take a moment to talk to myself, set a new target and then get moving. Breathing every 2 is my go-to strategy but makes swimming straight tough. Second buoy down I wait for a large pack to pass, then set off, 1 lap is only 200m but might as well be 200 miles, I’m knackered as I reach the final buoy, breathing is all over the place and I feel sick. It takes all my resolve to set off for lap 2, I try and focus on 3 stroke breathing, it’s tough, a head battle but it’s almost working, occasionally I realise I’m actually swimming, not relaxed but swimming. Second lap done and I’m out of there! First week of operation swim confidence done, water is definitely winning but I’m still in the battle.

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Leeds Triathlon – yes I’m still scared of water.

Last week I raced, well participated, in the AJ Bell Leeds Triathlon, an Olympic distance triathlon consisting of a 1500m swim, 36km bike and 10km run. Having completed the Rutland half marathon and Rat Race Dirty Weekend recently I knew that physically I can push myself over the bike and run legs. However what hadn’t been tested so far was my ability, or lack of, to remain relaxed and swim, specifically swim in open water. I knew this would be a stumbling block of epic proportions and yet it still took me by surprise and having survived it I’m now considering whether triathlons and open water swimming is something I want to continue.

Swimming has never made sense to me, as humans we have lungs and limbs, not gills and fins, we have invented boats to safely travel on/through water and yet a proportion of our population still think it’s appropriate to flap around in a semi-coordinated fashion called “swimming”. I avoided this activity until my mid twenties when love and romance took over; Yes I fancied a swimming teacher! For the most part I can swim in a pool relatively comfortably(ish), occasionally though a completely irrational fear of the water takes over as my brain tries to convince my body it can’t swim and can’t breath, I’m in desperate need of air as I panic and lose all sense of calm and technique. I’m drowning, not literally but drowning in a wave of self doubt and negativity.

Can I swim? Yes. Do wetsuits aid buoyancy? Yes. And yet before we had even arrived at Roundhay the fear was eating away at me like some kind of parasite (probably one picked up swimming in lakes!). As we set up in transition the organisers announced that for safety reasons the swim had been shortened, relieve flooded through my veins temporarily relieving me of the fear. However in a cruel twist of fate the mist lifted as we entered the swim start area and the announcers announced excitedly that it was now “safe” to swim the full distance. Psychologically this really threw me and I never really recovered my senses.

As the hooter sounded I stayed back avoiding the rough and tumble of a triathlon start. All this succeeded in was putting me further behind than I already would have been. Each and every time I lifted my head the sea of pink swim caps moved farther away, until they were replaced by the blue caps of the wave behind. So there I was flapping about in a state of fear and disappointment as people 10 years my senior made it look easy. The physical energy it takes to panic and argue with yourself to keep going for 45 minutes took a lot out of me and as I left the water, announcing to everyone that I would “never do that again” I was feeling less than fresh.

The bike leg was all about staying with Beck, which also meant a not-so-quick tyre change thanks to the obligatory puncture. The bike leg was over far too quickly for my liking and we were off running up the hill out of Roundhay before settling into a steady downhill to the City Centre. Leeds has some nice uphill sections that tested energy supplies and leg strength. Whoever decided the split for Olympic Distance for the final 2.5km should be 100m from the finish line is one evil soul, it took so much not to just ignore the man with the foam finger and run straight through the finish area, our time would come. The final 2.5km was the longest 2.5km ever, as Beck was really pushing herself further than I’ve ever seen her do before, I noticed Barburritos was closed (my motivation for finishing was a burrito bowl – thankfully it opened a short time later) and the road just continued. As we rounded the finishing straight we knew we’d both had tough times but we had kept going, we ran along the blue carpet and over the finish line together. We had done it, we had completed our first Olympic Distance Triathlon.

So where to no? With no more challenges booked in I need to get looking. Firstly though I need to decide where I stand with swimming. Two years of open water and I still break out in hot sweats just thinking about it. Part of me wants to walk away and never place another foot inside the neoprene coffin that is a wetsuit, the other part doesn’t want to give in. Who knows where this journey will take me.