Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Monongahela

Here I am.

I wonder if my wedding will be like this. Or the birth of my first child. So fast -- smeared lines and peripheral edges. The turning point to life's most important experiences where you are no longer simply planning for life, rather life is happening to you. It congers up words like 'whisked' and 'flurry' and 'blur.' It's the happening. It's the verb, the action. The authentic moment.

There's no more time to contemplate the inevitable, only time for the movement. Goggles on -- check. Swim cap -- check. Don't forget to smooth the fold so it doesn't roll up. I find my way down the long ramp to the smaller dock area where the first waves are already in the water, starting out one by one.

It's stunningly beautiful out. The sun is shining and the air is perfect. A fellow yellow cap approaches me -- where do we go? Will someone tell us? We walk together. She tells me how nervous she is and it lifts a heavy weight from my shoulders. She's nervous? Well that makes two of us. Perhaps things would be alright after all.

First the toes go in and then a graceless splash. For once, the wetsuit feels familiar -- warm and like a second skin. I drift over to the right edge of the group, where we were starting to form our own colored cluster of caps. We laugh nervously and float. I have a hard time catching my breath. I focus on the in and out.

And wait.

"90 seconds until you're off!" The announcer stands there will a bullhorn and enthusiasm to spare.

"45 seconds..."

"30 seconds..."

Beeeeeeeeeep!

And, magically, I start swimming. First a crawl to get my bearings, and then freestyle. No panic getting my face in the water. No freaking out about not seeing the bottom or seeing too much of the bottom. Stroke. Stroke. Breathe. Stroke. Stroke. Breathe.

My poor ticker is going a mile a minute -- it's not used to this anxiety. I'm breathing every other stroke, which is odd -- so different from the pool, so different from everything. It'll all smooth itself out soon, I think, so long as I can steer my way back to the buoy without adding too many yards.

Whew, buoy number one down -- now heading away from shore for a little and then it's time to turn it on. Turn what on? I can't remember exactly what, but I know it has something to do with that second turn. That long straight away, carefully scoped out the night before. Something is supposed to happen then.

Stroke. Stroke. Breathe. Stroke. Stroke. Breathe.

Buoy number two -- check.

Now, time to swim. And I do, at least for a little. Twenty yards along I try to sight, with little success -- switch to breast stroke. Okay, you're on track. Back to free for a while. Getting a little tired, but almost half way there.

Stroke. Stroke. Breathe. Stroke. Stroke. Breathe.

Goodness I'm getting tired. Where am I? Am I close? Half way? Half way?

Oh good lord. I can't even see the yellow buoy in the distance and unfamiliar caps are at my heels. Someone starts tugging at my right ankle. Tugging! Lay off, buster. I'm trying to not drown here, alright?!

Stroke. Stroke. Breathe. Stroke. Stroke. Breathe.

Breaks for breaststroke become more frequent, yet the puffy yellow goal seems impossibly far away. I start looking for yellow caps to my left. None. In front of me. Only some. And behind? None. I barter down my expectations. Now it's about getting to the next marker. Forget the bike. There will be no bike. I think about everyone's disappointment. How will I explain? It's an indulgent distraction -- first I have to just finish the swim.

Oh god, I'm last. I'm last in my group. I can't do this.

Stroke. Stroke. Breathe. Stroke. Stroke. Breathe.

The distance feels like miles and miles, but I slowly make my way to the buoy. As it grows in size, I realize that a current has somehow pulled us into the middle, slightly off course. It takes a little time to correct, but we do and I make it around the buoy.

I promised myself I wouldn't stop.

I want to stop.

The last buoy is easily forgettable -- I'm so closed to the end that I want out of the water now. This wasn't strong. This wasn't part of The Plan. This was slower than molasses and I eyed the flat bottom barge that waits in the wings for the swimmers in distress.

But I wasn't in distress. I was fatigued and surprised. I was blown away at how far away one single point in the distance could feel. I concluded my powers of estimation were gone and the only plan was to get to that damnable dock. But I wasn't distressed. No, I was swimming.

Stroke. Stroke. Breathe. Stroke. Stroke. Breathe.

Swallow.

Blech -- river water.

I look around again for another yellow cap -- this time to feel as if I'm not the very, very last person in the water from the HIM distance. Something to grab onto for these last 200 yards. There was one I could see, to the left of me, and she was motoring. Apparently, she liked less the idea of being dead last. I was just pleased to not be dead.

100 more yards. Felt like a 1000.

50 more yards. Ten minutes go by, or is it 20?

No concept of time anymore. No concept of distance. Only "in the water" and "out of the water."

Soon my arms are reaching out to the two volunteers, who pull me to dock like a drunkin fish. "Graceful," I laugh. They laugh, too. I push forward and shakily stand. Ha, sea legs.

Relief. A brief moment of relief.

One foot in front of the other, I manage to shuffle up the dock ramp and search the crowd for Mighty M. Was he looking for me in transition? On the bike? I must have been in the water over an hour. He's worried about me. Where is he?

The towpath by the river is magically under my feet and something in my brain says STRIP. Shuffle and pull, yank and move forward. The top of the wetsuit is off and I'm running. A 100-yard dash for transition and I'm running. Strangers are cheering and I'm running.

Wait,

I'm running!

It dawns on me. I'm doing a triathlon. I'm doing a half iron triathlon. Me. Right now, this very moment.

I am actually doing this.

__________________

Swim time: 0:43:06
Pace: 2 min 14 sec/100 m
Overall Rank: 283/305
No. yellow swim caps actually behind me: 4

18 comments:

JenC said...

I remember that swim well. It does seem a long way to that last turn buoy. Your time is faster than my last half-Ironman. Can't wait to read the rest of your report!

ShirleyPerly said...

WAY faster swim time than mine. Good job!

Look forward to your next installment.

Krista said...

You go, girl!!

I've decided a HALF ironman is my next goal. For next year.

Krista said...

OK, hi. That just made me laugh. We were SERIOUSLY leaving comments on each other's blogs at the EXACT same moment.

We has ESP. Or something.

Krista said...

And I just said "has."

We "has" ESP.

Now that I think about it, and say that out loud, that's kind of funny.

We has ESP, yo.

Alright, I'm going to leave your blog alone now.

Jeremy said...

Seriously, that is an awesome swim split! Your training has clearly paid huge dividends. Can't wait to hear more of this story!

21stCenturyMom said...

That was AWESOME! Both the writing and the split. I must say, though I just KNEW you were in front, not in back on that swim.

Can't wait to read the rest of the report.

Thanks for responding to my poll. I plan is being to formulate.

21stCenturyMom said...

I meant "a plan" not "I plan". I think I've made it clear that planning is NOT something I do.

TxTriSkatemom said...

GREAT report! You are awesome, I know you know that!

um, and yeah, I spent more time than that in the water for a SPRINT!!!

Wes said...

Nicely written, nicely done! That ain't shabby. Or as Wil likes to say, "It doesn't suck!!" More, more, more! please :-)

Laurie said...

I love the internal dialogue. I can't believe you can remember all the stuff that went through your head.

Great job on the swim. You have nothing to be embarrassed about. You should be proud!

Spokane Al said...

Great inner talk and a solid swim. I am looking forward to reading your next chapter.

Charlie said...

just keep swimming,
just keep swimming,
just keep swimming swimming swimming,
what do we do we swim swim swim

Sounds like a good swim to me.

My 1st half IM Scared the bleep out of me.
Looking forward to the bike.

JohnnyTri said...

nice swim time.. faster than you thought..?...

whens the next series..

rockon`

JohnnyTri said...

nice swim time.. faster than you thought..?...

whens the next series..

rockon`

Brent Buckner said...

Well done!

Mallie said...

Way to go! I think the open water swimming is the thing that keeps me from doing tris. Most swims in an AR require the PFD. So WOO HOO for getting it done. Can't wait to read the rest, but take your time. Savor the race report process!

Lesser is More said...

You did great on the swim. It always seems like ages in the water, but when you get out, you realize it wasn't THAT bad...until the next time.