Sunday, July 9, 2017

Facing Fears & Chasing Goals

It's amazing what we can accomplish when we get out of our own way.

"Are we swimming Friday or Saturday?" Julie texted me this annoying question on Wednesday of last week. Crap, I thought. She never forgets anything. A couple weeks before I had told her that I wanted to work on curing the fear and terror with which I associated open water swimming and asked her if that is something that she could work on with me. I knew that Julie, and her husband Mike, have done many triathlons and that it is part of the palette of training services that they provide. That said - even though I posed the question, it wasn't something I was actually anxious to do...

In June of 2016 I participated in my first triathlon. I didn't write about it because I wasn't blogging at the time, but it was an eventful, and fairly traumatic, experience. The race was a short, sprint triathlon in my mother's hometown of Fairmont, MN. I hadn't ever swum in open water before - and had only truly learned how to swim laps in a pool in 2012 - but it was only 400 yards, so I figured I could muscle through. I was wrong. It was 90 degrees, so I wasn't wearing a wetsuit. And I couldn't have worn one if I wanted to. (More on that below). Anyway, about 15 yards into the race, I started to have a total panic/asthma attack. I couldn't breathe. I was terrified. I had no idea what I was supposed to do. Thankfully, there was a kayak nearby and I grabbed on and tried to pull myself together. Long story short, that kayak followed me the entire length of the swim and I made it back to shore by alternating breast stroke with breaks while hanging onto the kayak. Needless to say, I was dead last - by a long shot - when I exited the water. But I still enjoyed the day. I got on my bike and was able to pass a lot of people, which helped me feel like slightly less of a moron. But I was completely shaken. I had intended to do several more triathlons throughout the summer. I scrapped those plans.

Fast forward to last week, when I am texting Julie about having a lesson. "Listen, I told her. I don't think my wetsuit fits. I bought it in 2012 when I was 25 pounds lighter. I tried putting it on last summer, by myself in my living room, couldn't get it on, and cried." The lakes are warming up here in Northern Minnesota, but they are still pretty cold. "Bring it anyway," she said. "You may just need some help."

Anyway, yesterday morning I found myself up at Pike Lake, standing in the parking lot, spraying myself with lubricant, and preparing to stretch a tight piece of rubber over my not-so-tight body. While Julie pumped up her inflatable stand up paddleboard (or SUP, as I was informed) I prepared to face my first demon of the day: putting on my wetsuit.

Now, it's not just the cold water that made me want the wetsuit. (Remember, I considered using it on that 90 degree day last summer before I realized that it no longer fit.) I am a weak, and fairly new, swimmer and I've been told over and over again how much the wetsuit helps. I desperately wanted to be able to try this out and see if I could face my open water swim demons head on with the help of little bit of buoyancy. While the prospect of trying, and possibly failing, to get my wetsuit on was scary and rather humiliating, the thought of swimming in the lake without it might have been an outright deal breaker.

Much to my surprise and delight: WE GOT IT ON! And it wasn't even that terrible! Following the crying/wrestling-with-my-wetsuit-by-myself-in-my-living-room-incident-of-2016, Coach Wendy had told me that her husband Tim, an experienced triathlete, couldn't get his wetsuit on without help. But when I initially purchased mine five years ago, I could. So instead of just finding help and trying, I shamed and blamed and hated myself and my extra 25 pounds for an entire year and simply abstained from pursuing my goal of not only swimming in a lake, but also participating in triathlon at all.

She's in!

Now, as pleased as I was to get into the wetsuit, I still had no idea if I'd be able to swim. I assumed there was still a strong possibility that I would have a panic and/or asthma attack and call it a day. Both Julie and I went into the session knowing that it may be a total bust. But I also knew that I had to at least try.

As I waded into the lake and crunched my toes on zebra mussels, I told myself to just stay calm and not get ahead of myself. What I wanted most to get from the day was to get in there, to move around a bit, and to know that with practice and effort, I'd be able to do it some day. Well, it turned out that some day was yesterday. First, it's true what they say about the wetsuit: it's basically cheating. It keeps you afloat so you can truly just focus on your stroke (as opposed to having to focus on surviving and not dying). But second, I was for some reason in the right head space, with the right instructor, at the right time, to just keep my wits about myself, go after it, and succeed. And there I was. Swimming across a lake.
First steps

She swims!

Thanks as always to Julie for the encouragement and the lesson. Destination Fitness indeed. 

I was feeling so empowered that I went home, threw my road bike in my car, and took it for a 17-mile spin up the north shore. I hadn't been on my road bike since last July due to another silly, debilitating mental block. More on that one next time. 

Just past Brighton Beach on the side of scenic hwy 61 - ready to head out

It's amazing what we can accomplish when we get out of our own way.