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.