I can remember my first triathlon experience. My brother and I decided to complete one together the summer after my senior year of high school (in 2005). I remember us being pretty stoked for it – but also nervous as all get out for the swim. I really don’t think we knew what we were doing. I went to the local YMCA once before the triathlon to practice swimming and quickly discovered that I really didn’t know how to swim…I could doggy paddle and backstroke, but those were the extent of my swimming skills. I thought “eh, I’ll just wing it.” Bad decision. Bad decision to “wing” a half mile swim. I got out of the water feeling grateful that I avoided drowning. Looking back I really have no clue how I made it…I truly don’t. I used my sister’s mountain bike…it was too small for me, but the gears worked which was more than I could say of the bike I owned. That was pretty horrible. However, I excelled in the run! Although last in my age group in both the swim and the bike, I was first in the run…after all, I was going to college on a cross country scholarship. And so my first triathlon went. I came out of the water saying “I will never do that again” but when I crossed the finish line, I somehow knew I would.
Fast forward four years to the summer of ’09, the summer after I graduated college. Somehow I got it in my head that I would like to do another triathlon. I had somewhat learned how to swim freestyle. Running injuries forced me to hit the pool and I quickly tired of pool running so I started to try to imitate the swimmers and thus learning how to swim in a way. I thought I would do significantly better in the swim and the four years since my first triathlon had largely erased the horrors of the first tri swim in my mind. I was wrong. I didn’t do much better (okay, I took four minutes off my time, but taking into consideration the fact that most people swim it in half my time wasn’t much consolation) and all the memories came flooding back of feeling like I would never make it out of the water. I saw life guards in this triathlon handing out noodles to swimmers for support…I was determined that I would NOT be one of those people…I would do it on my own, thank you. The bike went significantly better, however. I still had a mountain bike, but it was a nicer one, properly fitted to my height…I think I landed somewhere in the middle for that bike. It was a fast bike too…flat and fast. The run went just was well – I passed people and felt good. If only I didn’t have that swim to mar the memories. It started pouring as I got out of the water…how appropriate. The swim became my nemesis.
Two years passed…summer of 2011. Yesterday morning to be exact. My third triathlon. It was kind of on a whim, but somewhat pre-meditated. I’ve been swimming. I even learned how to breaststroke a few months ago and a friend had been giving me some pointers and tips. I had planned on one earlier in the week, but the drive to get there coupled with the entry fee discouraged me so I started looking for another one. I found one on the same lake that I would be staying on for the weekend as I threw a friend a bachelorette party. Bingo. I didn’t have to drive but to the other side of the lake, I still had to pay the entry fee, but the swim was shorter. Instead of swimming 800 meters I’d only have to swim 500. Jackpot…that sealed the deal for me. Sunday morning came and I had surprisingly gotten a decent amount of sleep. I was nervous as usual, but I knew I had been swimming so the swim would go much better than my previous two. The horn sounded and I was off in the water. The first 200 meters…not so bad and then it hit. I couldn’t see the bottom like I could in the pool, the shifting water threw me off and I was tired from keeping my head out to see where I was going. I felt like it was the longest swim in the world. The last half of the swim I fell off my intended pace like you would not believe. It wasn’t fun. I hated it, why did I sign up for it….I was on my back again because to put my face in the water would mean I couldn’t see anything. I didn’t understand how I could swim so horribly when clearly I am a better swimmer than I was for the first two. I finally made it out of the water and onto my bike. No problem…except my bike is in desperate need of a tune up and my hardest gears were grinding and causing some problems. It probably slowed me down a bit. And the bike ride…that hill in the last two or three miles…it was big. I had bike it before, oddly enough, with a friend the summer before so I knew it was coming. It gave me confidence that I needed to power up it a bit better than some fared. I even felt great on the run…aside from desperately having to go to the bathroom! Haha! I finished and the girls from the party cheered me on.
That swim…my nemesis. I finished the tri thinking that maybe I should give it up. I would never conquer the swim and I should just quit with the triathlons and stick to road races and duathlons. I can’t swim well…I can’t afford a tri or road bike, it just isn’t my cup of tea…but then I look at the results. Second in my age group with that kind of swim time? Granted most triathletesare over the age of 30 and so my competition isn’t as stiff…but it is still competition. I think about how challenging it is mentally and physically…what 5k or even 10k would give me that kind of mental and physical challenge? The simple fact is…they can’t. So I’ll tri again…and I’ll keep tri-ing…until someday I conquer my nemesis.