Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My First Swim Meet

I have a reoccurring nightmare that I am late to a triathlon and I miss the start. Sometimes I am stuck in transition or I forget something. Maybe that’s why I always show up several hours early to a triathlon.

That nightmare came true at my first swim meet when I missed one of my races! More on that later…I had my first race of the year at the Freezefest 5K on Feb. 26. Dressed in a MWX green running shirt and Ninja Turtle boxers, I ran with fellow club member Brita. I told her I was going to run “marathon pace”—slow and steady. My run training had been sporadic over the winter and I knew I wasn’t in running condition.

About mile two Brita wanted to kick it to the finish. I told her to go on alone. As I reached the parking lot I passed several people in one last burst of energy. A young girl came up behind me, trying to beat me. “Come on! Let’s finish strong!” I yelled to her as we sprinted to the line, my long legs just edging her. She thanked me for pushing her and I felt 2011’s first spark of competitive juice.

I signed up for the March 26 Masters State Swim Meet, knowing I would finish last, knowing I would be out there swimming by myself at the end. I had to get over my fears and I knew I needed some type of competition to push my swim training.

The final week before the meet our club practiced diving off the blocks. I had never done any diving before. Coaches Nick and John tried to teach me, but I felt such fear as I stood at the pool’s edge. My heart raced and I felt on the verge of a panic attack. I knew it was mental, but my dives turned into belly flops. We decided it would be best if I started my races in the water.

The meet was held at the University of Iowa pool. They had two 8-lane pools and this incredible facility. Even the water felt warm! We did warm-up swims and I tried to calm my nerves. I was doing the 400-Meter Relay, the very first race of the day! I guess it was for the best so I didn’t have to sit around and get more nervous.

I was racing with Dottie Gierut from MWX and swimmers Barb and Pat. They were all older than me but superior swimmers. I hoped I wouldn’t let them down. I got in the water. The buzzer went off and the other swimmers dove in. I hesitated a second…oh, the buzzer means I’m supposed to start swimming!

I swam as hard as I could, but I felt fatigue quickly. Where were the other swimmers? Oh, here they come. They had already turned around. Pretty much everything that could go wrong did…I swallowed some water and I misjudged the wall so when I reached out, I wasn’t quite there and had to make another lunge. I felt slightly disoriented; I could hear yelling. “You know you’re going to finish last,” a voice told me, “so just relax, have good form and swim hard.” I reached the end, Dottie jumped in (not landing on my head as I feared) and my teammates helped me out of the pool. “Good job,” they said. They didn’t seem mad that I put us in last place. It was all good.

I had my first swim-meet swim under my belt. I felt a sense of joy. Mentor Jody Rausch told me to stay warm, but the shaking in my legs wasn’t due to the cold. I was used to the long, steady triathlon swims. This was fast and frenzied. I could still feel the adrenaline pumping through me.

I had a wait until my next race, the 50 meters. This was the race I was looking forward to; this was going to be MY race. I knew I was in the first heat, but I wasn’t used to how quickly the races start. I was walking towards the start when I heard them announce the 50 meters. I looked up and saw everyone was already on the blocks. I started running, a voice in my head screaming “No! Wait!” I thought about just throwing on my goggles and diving into the pool (wouldn’t that have been dramatic?), but I knew I had to accept that I had screwed up. I wanted to cry, but I knew my 200 Meter Relay was coming up soon so I had to shake it off.

I was racing with Chris O’Hara, Jenny Lorenz and Ron Gierut, some of the top triathletes I know. The only thing we had in common was that we were all over the age of 40. Okay, I told myself, this will be your 50. I waited as they announced the lane assignments, but they never said our names. Ron checked with the desk, but they didn’t have us listed. Another race I wouldn’t get to do. I went and sat down, feeling utterly defeated.

I was mad at myself for missing my race, but I had to chalk it up to a learning experience. I needed to stop the pity party and go cheer on my teammates. (I found out later that another team member had missed a race so I felt a little better).

My last race was the 100 meters. I did another warm-up and made sure I was at the start in plenty of time. “Swim hard or go home,” I told myself, using the saying I had adopted from the Kennedy H.S. Swim Team. As I swam that last 25 I thought “leave it all in the pool,” just like I would do if this was a tri. Jody was there to help me out. I was a little disappointed at my time, but Jody reminded me of the “smiley face” she had drawn on her hand…this day was about having fun.

I only did two races, but I enjoyed being part of the team and I had fun. Everyone was so supportive! No one cared how fast you swam. It made me want to come back next year, stronger and faster. The more I get knocked down, the more I want to get up and be better.

I heard Ironwoman Jenny Lorenz talking to one of the coaches about how she used to only swim during tri season and now she swims year-round. I decided in that moment that I would start swimming year-round. No quitting in August or September. I didn’t just want to swim in a triathlon; I wanted to be a swimmer.