Friday, June 1, 2007

My Nemesis & My First DNF

I have met my nemesis, and it's name is "Cold Water". Yes, I am absolutely horrible in the cold water. No, I don't swim at Barton Springs. Hell, I don't even do Deep Eddie. It's just not me.

So normally, given that we live in fabulous Austin, it isn't an issue....except for CapTex and the newly added Austin Triathlon in September.

I recorded my first ever DNF in an event at the first Rogue Open Water Swim on May 5th. After "swimming" the first 200m or so, I just could not deal. The cold water just took my breath away. I felt like my wetsuit was strangling me and all I wanted to do was to get the hell out of the water. It got to a point where I couldn't even put my face in the water to swim 2 strokes. Couldn't even breast stroke!!! All I could think about was how quickly I could get out of the water and quit. So I did..after 1 lap. Terrible. Pitiful really. There were plenty of folks swimming along their merry way....some even without wetsuits. So it wasn't like it was THAT cold!! I got out of the water and stood at the finish and watched all the TRUE triathletes and swimmers finish. I felt like I needed to stand there with a scarlet Q on my wetsuit and take my punishment like a big girl.

I was in disbelief of myself. I can't remember the last time I quit on something or backed down from a challenge (that was within reason of course....). Am I turning soft in my old age? Has motherhood weakened my resolve? What the hell?? Very, very discouraging...or perhaps humbling? Hmmmmm....

So following that debacle, I had to put a plan in place to address my nemesis. (I always have a PofA -- Plan of Action).

Step 1: Identify the issue (or sub-issues)
Was it really a cold water issue? Or was it a wetsuit issue? Or maybe even an open water issue?
I didn't think it was open water, because I've done several of those and never thought twice about it. Hell, my goggles usually fog up so quickly in the pool or open water, I can never see anything anyway -- so murky waters make no difference.

Wetsuit? Definitely felt a little constrained by my suit when I was trying to catch my breath from the cold, so that may have contributed...need to verify.


Step 2: Make a plan with specific goals to address each issue
2.1 Wetsuit Issue - isolate the wetsuit issue, I'm gonna have to swim in my wetsuit in warmer temps to make sure I'm cool with the suit
2.2 Cold Water - in a non-race environment, I'll need to swim in increasing cooler temp waters

Step 3: Execute in controlled conditions
2.1 Wetsuit - So, I headed down to the outdoor pool at the neighborhood pool. The water temp was respectable, so I could isolate my sub-issue nicely. I'm sure I looked like a dork swimming in my wetsuit there at 10am, but what the hell - I've got issues to be resolved!

So I get suited up and proceed to swim. My suit is a little tight (which I'm sure it is supposed to be)...but I discovered that if I focus on breathing from my diaphragm, there seems to be a little more give in the suit. When I tried to take big breaths my really expanding my lungs and opening up the chest, I could really feel the restriction of the wetsuit. But belly breathing -- just like they teach you in cheerleading (see, it's not all just about looking cute), I could really pull some good air in. Cool. Mental note: when freaking out in cold water and feeling like wetsuit is strangling me -- breathe from the belly.

2.2 Cold Water - Barton Springs, here I come! So I coerced/recruited/begged some gals to go swim with me after our morning run workout with Carolyn. I was in desperate need of moral support and thankfully Malinda was gracious enough to oblige.

So we go down there after our run and I'm doing mental gymnastics trying to psych myself into this craziness. Reminding myself how many Austinites swim in the frigid temps on a regular basis. As I'm standing at the water's edge in my wetsuit, this 60+ year old lady in her grandma bathing suit, snorkel and mask gingerly wades into the water, pauses momentarily to adjust her snorkel and then simply slides into the water and swims away. And there I stood....on dry land....willing my feet to take me into the water. Another swimmer comes walking by, a gentleman in some tight swimming shorts, with just his goggles in his hand. He calmly walks to the ramp, straps his goggles on, takes a couple of deep breaths, wades a few steps into the water and then quickly dives in...submerging everything. He stands up after gliding under water briefly and gives a blustery exhale and states, "wooo! That's cold!". (Great.) Then dives in again and swims off. And there I stood....on dry land...willing my feet to take me into the water.

"C'mon Dionn" Malinda says, "it's not gonna be that bad." Of course it isn't. And I've got CapTex in a few weeks, so I have to get this done. So, I wade into the water. F*CK. It's cold. I keep wading. Now the water is trickling through the zipper in the back of the wetsuit. Oy. That's cold. But as I stand there and kinda wander around in the shallows, my body slowly starts to adjust to the temp. I splash some water on my exposed arms...goose bumps immediately rise....but it isn't too terrible. I squat down in the water some more and feel more of the water seeping through the zipper... a little chilly, but I'm still breathing normally. That's good. I splash some water on my face...feels a little refreshing actually. Splash some more...becoming one with the with the coldness. I can do this.

Some people count down when they are getting ready to go, like "3--2--1--GO!" Or if you have kids, you count up before someone really gets in trouble like "1----2----". The thing that makes me move is the 8 count -- something engraved in my soul from my dancing days. When I hear "5, 6, 7, 8", I know I have to go on the next beat. So, I said a silent prayer and then mentally heard the 8-count without even knowing I was doing, "5,6,7,8" and then I was streamlining under the water. I surfaced for my first breathe on the left, put my face back in the water, pulled four long strokes, breathed again, pulled 6 and what do you know, I was swimming!!!! Hooray!!! No rapid increase of the heartrate. No constricting of the chest muscles. No feeling like my suit was suffocating me. I was swimming!! Made it all the way down to the end (I did experience a momentary heartrate increase when I started swimming through all those crazy plants...but I quickly moved to the center of the springs so I didn't have to touch that stuff or wonder what was moving around down in there.....), turned around and came back. Voila!

It felt good. Felt good to swim. Felt even better to swim in cold water without panicking! After two more laps, I got out having met my main goal for the adventure.

Step 4: Execute in Race Condition
Fortunately, prior to CapTex, I would have another chance at swimming at Mansfield at the Austin Triathletes Open Water swim on May 20th. I arrived early with partner in crime, Shorey so that I could make my traditional 3-5 bathroom breaks prior to the swim start.
Shorey does the right thing and gets in a does a warmup in the water. I chose not to...I didn't want to give myself any wiggle room to get in and get out and potentially not get back in again. Plus, I never warm up...I know I should...but I just don't. Additionally, there wasn't going to be any "racing" for me....I just wanted to actually do the distance without having to be pulled from the lake cause I was having a mental breakdown. oy.

So, our wave gets in for the wet start. Surprisingly, the water temp felt like it had warmed up considerably in the last few weeks. (There IS a higher power!) The water actually felt good! I scooch over to the outside --- I thought if I was farther from shore, I'd be less tempted to bug out. They start us off and we're all swimming away.

I could tell I was still a little bit ancy and so I chose to breathe every 2 vs. my usual every 4...I figured the more oxygen the better. In the beginning, I could feel my wetsuit closing in on me, so I remembered to belly breathe and I felt like that gave me more room. I picked a nice pace that wasn't going to bring my heartrate up, but I also didn't want to have to stay in the water any longer than necessary, so I didn't dawdle.

I tagged along to the bubbles of someone in front of me, because as usual, I couldn't see crap. The buoys were visible every now and again through a small, unfogged, speck of a spot on my right lens. So between the bubbles and the orange blob, I seemed to make my way around the one mile loop. I had definitely felt the pack thinning, but I wasn't sure if that was because I was ahead or behind.

Turns out, I was kinda ahead! Go figure! Ended up 2nd in my age group. BONUS! I was just thankful that I made it in and out!! On to CapTex!!!

I have to apologize to all the CapTex participants and volunteers out there because I actually prayed for rain on Monday morning. I even verbally disclosed it to my husband, so the idea was out there floating in space just waiting for Karma to come grab it up....and it did. So while I was kinda bummed that the race was cancelled, I was somewhat relieved that I didn't have to brave the chilliness of Town Lake after all. But I guess there is always September. Ugh.


Shorey said...

Will the water still be cold enough in September to be wetsuit-legal?!?! Just kidding, you'll do fine, you fast swimmer, you!

Kris said...

I can completely relate to this post. Everything you described about the cold, the wetsuit, the cold, the creepy plant thingies, oh, and the cold...yup, that's me. What a relief to know it can be overcome!! :)