I’ve completed 6 ironman swims and 8 half ironman swims well within their cut-off times since I started participating in triathlons almost 10 years ago. But when I enter a swim race, I prepare myself for frustration and even embarrassment as I exit the water behind almost everyone. Wouldn’t most people think that an “ironman” would be a decent swimmer? But I am consistently back-of-the-pack out of the water.
My performance in last Sunday’s Outrigger Canoe Club Invitational Swim, was even more than I had prepared myself for. I seeded myself behind most people at the Kaimana beach start and headed out into the channel with a nice, steady pace. I noted a typical strong current going out, enjoying the early speed and reminding myself that I would be fighting that same current coming back in. Because we were warned of a powerful current running parallel to the beach and towards Diamond Head, the advice was to aim far right of the first yellow turn buoy to ensure that we wouldn’t end up down-current and have to swim up-current to the first turn. I still ended up a little to the left of the buoy, but made it to that nice, big, bright yellow buoy pretty easily. I felt pretty positive about how the morning would go.
There was a bit of chop in the water after turning to swim towards the two orange buoys marking the next turns. No worries. I have swum in choppy water before. I made my strokes more purposeful, seeking that pulling feeling and effort from my lats. I thought I felt it and watched the ocean bottom looking for progress over the sand and reefs as I continued to focus on strong pulls. Hmmm. That reef below looks familiar, I thought. I would see myself make progress, but then a reef that looked very similar would be there again when I looked away for only a second. I would sometimes see the orange buoys getting closer and the yellow buoy falling farther behind me, but then moments later, that yellow buoy was almost right next to me and the orange buoys were as far away as ever. What the heck??? Am I truly not going anywhere? I started to hate that yellow buoy.
Going through my mind was the idea to stay positive and just keep swimming. I wasn’t overly tired and I wasn’t panicked at all even though the chop was pushing my goggles up on one side flooding them occasionally. After several minutes of this, I came upon another swimmer, my friend Michelle, who said she wasn’t making any progress either and was going to hang it up. Immediately, a race supporter on a surfboard paddled up and said he’d been observing us swimming in place for twenty minutes or so. Another friend, Angela, then popped her head up and the three of us hung onto the surfboard for a couple of minutes, deciding what to do. You see, we are not people who quit or give up. While deciding, the surfboard drifted well Diamond Head of the yellow buoy and at that point, our decision had been made. There was virtually no way we would be able to swim up current a further distance this late in the race.
A boat from the Outrigger came by, picked us up and dropped us at the windsock where we could swim in to the shore. On our ride in, I saw many other swimmers getting rides in on jet skis. I told myself that every race is an adventure and to enjoy the experience for what it was. Arriving at the beach, I was greeted with “great job”, “great swim” until I told people that I got a ride in. Then, I was consoled with “it was really tough out there” , “I got a ride in too” and “a lot of people got rides in”. What a great group of people I get to train and race with. They are always supportive, no matter what.
Discouraged? Yes. Embarrassed? A little bit. Giving up? Absolutely not! I am actually now on a mission to get this swimming mystery solved. Right after this Saturday’s Hawaii 70.3 Ironman, I’ll be spending a lot more time in the water and I will conquer this challenge even if I have to swim in place for many more years.
PS. Many thanks to the Outrigger Canoe Club for hosting the race; the race organizer, Stefan Reinke for adjusting the race course, providing plenty of support and generally making me feel safe; and the many race volunteers. And thanks to Felipe Rael for the photo here that makes me look so happy to be back at the shore!