My blogging habits are the stuff of great mystery… and will remain so because it is a very boring mystery that no one would care about. But today I can reveal that I usually follow a fairly un-magical blogging routine.
Knowing what training sessions I have lined up each week, I generally have an awareness of what to expect in each of them: what challenges will be playing on my mind; how I am feeling towards the session; etc etc. So I lay down the ‘skeleton’ of a blog post in draft form a few days (sometimes weeks) before I am going to post it. I write in my calendar which post will go live on which day, and make a mental note of what pictures to take when the time comes, to accompany my verbal spewage.
These opening sentences you’re reading now, where I set a scene or give you the background info to help you understand what craziness I have landed myself in, are the best bits to get down early in order to ensure I’ll be off and typing at lightening speed when I get the time.
Even with ‘surprises’ like getting my first flat tyre, I had known in advance that I was going for a long ride that morning, so I had some of the information already written down as a jumping-off point when the big day arrived (although the nitty-gritty turned out very different from what I had anticipated writing the day before)
What I mean is, each day I have the bare bones of a post ready for details to be added after the event.
But today’s post on Grimsey’s Adult Swimfit is different.
I sat staring at the blank page on my computer screen about three days before the dreaded session, with absolutely no idea of what to write. Not one word. And yes, it was dreaded. As much as it was a miracle life-saver bestowed upon me by the Triathlon Gods undeservedly, there is no way I actually wanted to rock up to Redcliffe beach and jump in the water with people watching.
I wondered if I could excuse myself from it on grounds that I was sick (I had been battling a sore throat and runny nose all week) and when I saw the weather forecast I was very optimistic that a storm would cause the session to be cancelled anyway.
On Saturday, with less than 24 hours to go, I again attempted to lay down some thoughts and details about my preparation for the big day. I had nothing. How could I write that I was convinced I had made a huge mistake? That I had no semblance of hope in my heart that I was going to do anything other than make a complete fool of myself in front of many onlookers?
Even now, more than 24 hours after the clinic finished, I don’t know that I am sure of what to write.
I had attempted to fit in as many pool sessions as possible, leading up to the clinic, to try and ensure it wouldn’t be a dismal flop. But unfortunately each and every practice session… was a dismal flop. And the closer we got, the floppier they became.
With only a week to go, I died of embarrassment. Then in the next session, I realised that my new googles seemed to have broken and wouldn’t tighten, which resulted in me freaking out that water was getting into them every 4 metres. Also, my new swimming cap started popping off my head every 75 metres. Basically I had some pathetic gear malfunctions which felt very serious to my pathetic ego.
I tried again in a final session on Friday, where I suffered more goggle failure and swimming cap falling off and (for the first time in a month) I had a mini panic in the pool followed by an electrocuted starfish moment.
I lost all confidence in my ability to swim, and knowing that I couldn’t do it in the pool made me very afraid for what would happen in the ocean.
Why did I still go? I didn’t know at the time; I just went through the motions like a zombie. But I think I had decided that if I could prove myself right – that there was absolutely no hope for me to ever improve at swimming in the ocean – then I needed to know that information prior to the race at Bribie. Because maybe I needed to make an informed decision as to whether to continue with this rubbish or not.
Saturday night, I dutifully laid out my swimming gear and forced myself to pack a bag with a towel and money and whatnot. I set my alarm and quietly whispered that I would totally understand if it chose the next morning to stop working forever.
I hoped for one thing, and one thing only: that I would not be the worst one there.
I arrived at Redcliffe nice and early, which always makes me feel better. I hate being late to things, which is why Shane and I should actually be mortal enemies. As I looked out across the ocean contemplating my fate I saw two dolphins jump out of the water. I didn’t know what the message of this was, but in my state of mind I was sure it was not just the lovely, magical sight it seemed to be. Maybe the dolphins were mocking me.
I couldn’t see where I was supposed to go, but it was clear My People were in the vicinity. There were cars with bike mounts everywhere. The park had a bike chained to every tree. There were people running up and down the esplanade in swimsuits.
Meanwhile I was very aware that I looked like a German tourist with my backpack, general aura of being very lost, and my plaited pigtails ready to stuff into my swimming cap.
The Surf Life Saving Club was visible in the far distance and I set off for it, remembering vaguely that the registration form had mentioned something about it. Eventually I came upon a little market stand with a registration desk underneath it and about 50 people milling around. A very friendly man asked if I was there to swim, and found my name and gave me a free swimming cap and leaflets on other lessons they provide. I drifted over to where everyone else was standing, some in groups and some by themselves, and stripped off to my swimming costume feeling very, very out of place.
By the time it was 7am (kick-off time) there were about 100 people waiting for the clinic to start. There were all shapes and sizes of people, but no one else who looked afraid. I was so relieved when a friendly Kiwi lady started yapping to me and took my mind off it all.
My new friend told me that she attends every clinic Grimsey runs, as well as some other local squads. She is in training to do an 8km race next month. I balked at the mention of 8km. I cannot yet run 8km. I told her that I am training for the Noosa Tri (I get a better reaction on that than Bribie, or Straddie which no one has heard of) and that I was very nervous about the morning’s swim.
She was encouraging and kind, and explained that the group would be split into three smaller groups depending on ability (you nominate your own ability) and that because she had suffered a slight shoulder injury a couple of days before, she was going to swim in the slow group. She said she’d stick with me for a while, and after our coach had explained the first drill (a warm-up swim consisting of a longer swim in the ocean than I had ever completed in my life) I followed her blindly into the water.
I didn’t see her again for the rest of the session.
It took about 20 metres for me to realise that yes, I was going to panic and there was nothing I could tell myself to stop. I swam as far as I could, then turned onto my back and floated for a while, to reassure myself I wasn’t actually drowning. When the continuation of life had been established, I turned to start treading water and get focused. I gulped in some air, glared at the rest of the pack swimming away, and looked at the buoy. Then I made myself believe that I could get there.
So I did the worst mixture you’ll ever see of breaststroke, doggy paddle, treading water, front crawl and electrocuted starfish. I’ve never sucked in air with such desperation. One other person, a man a few years older than me, was also having a panic attack. I was determined to beat him. We took it in turns to gasp at air, but neither one of us called the lifeguards or gave up. After a long while we had a few more join our stragglers pack, as a couple of people swam off-course and had to turn and come back, or had to stop and have a breather. The man and I both made it back to shore, and didn’t even come last. I beat him by about a metre.
As I waded out of the water, the leaders of our ‘slow group’ had already received the next set of instructions from Coach Grimsey and were heading back in to the water. He downloaded the information to us stragglers, and we dutifully headed back out as well, this time to ‘do two more laps of the ‘warm-up’ swim but faster’. This made me laugh, a lot.
Still, off I went. I was already behind the main pack but just in front of the stragglers, so the real challenge with this part was sighting because I had no one around me that I could follow. Every time I looked up to check on my position in relation to the buoy, a wave was blocking the view. I have terrible timing, apparently. I swam off course quite a lot which slowed me down.
Than suddenly, I was stung by a jellyfish as I went around the second buoy all by myself. On my shoulder. It was sharp but over before I knew it and just left a bit of a burn. As I continued, I felt another sting on my legs. I wanted to fist-pump the air and yell to everyone that I had survived a jellyfish attack! One of my greatest fears of swimming in the open water had just happened, and I didn’t care! I kept swimming!
ANNOUNCEMENT: I did not panic at all in this drill. Not when I swam off course, not when I got stung by jellyfish, not when seaweed touched me, not when I was all by myself with no one to follow.
NOTE: I did not go fast, but I was faster than my previous time purely because I didn’t have to stop and try not to die. Success? I’ll take it.
Next up, we practiced race starts and finishes. Coach Grimsey showed us how to run into the water like a pro, then dolphin dive, then swim. After which, he showed us how to swim out, dolphin diving until you couldn’t dive anymore, and then run out. We had to practice both directions 3 times and it was exhausting, but oh boy did I feel like a real triathlete. Wow.
We had one more big swim around the buoys, practicing keeping tight to the ropes. I set off with the rest of the pack and was amazed to find that I kept up and even overtook some of them. It was fantastic. I didn’t have to sight because I was right in the middle, just following the splashes in front of me. I swam and swam and then BOOF someone kicked me in the face and my goggles came off.
The saltwater stung my eyes immediately, and I had to stop right there and tread water to empty my face and googles, then reapply my gear. I watched the pack swimming away and felt a bit disheartened that once again I would be finishing with the stragglers. But the incident hadn’t phased me other than that; I still didn’t panic. My old friend, the man from the beginning was busy having another panic attack beside me. It was like a reminder from the Triathlon Gods – that could be you, Lauren.
I ducked my head back under and swam on, full of confidence. Wanting to stop, wishing it was over, hoping it was time to go home, but suddenly confident that I could swim.
The jellyfish stings continued – I felt more and more burning me on the last big lap as I pulled myself through the water. But I made it back to shore feeling like a survivor and I beat one other lady (and the man who panicked) so I was officially NOT THE WORST ONE THERE.
And then the best news of the day – the clinic was over. ‘Just do one more cool-down swim, out to the big buoy and straight back’ said Grimsey. I considered telling Coach G some lie about going off to do some more swimming elsewhere, so not needing to cool down. But I decided to suck it up and do it when I saw Panic Man getting back into the water. If he could do it so could I.
It seemed like the longest swim, but I made it and kept to the course quite well, even though the rest of the pack had started their cool-down swim well before I had even finished the last lap, so I had no pack to follow.
The relief as I climbed out of the water was incredible. I felt almost annoyed at how relieved I was. It made me cranky that I’d had to go through such an awful experience.
I managed to mumble a thank you and express my admiration to the Kiwi lady that had tricked me into getting into the water in the first place, and then I took a quick selfie and set off to the car as fast as my little legs could carry me. I was tired, unsure of my success and very itchy.
But lo and behold, on the drive back home, the fact that I had survived sort of set in. And I had actually made improvements while I was out there. And I wasn’t quite the worst one. I even survived the jellyfish. And best of all, I could go home and eat birthday cake for breakfast. I didn’t feel too bad.
Whether I am ready for Bribie or not, I still don’t know. I can’t tell you for sure that I wont panic. I hope that the race adrenaline kicks in and staves off my fear of the water. Or maybe, now that I have been stung and survived, I genuinely wont be as afraid of the water. There are still no guarantees, I guess. But no regrets, either. Because I have given myself the best shot I can. What a great opportunity Grimsey’s clinic was.
Less than two weeks to go!