"Where's Teresa?" Was a common phrase used at this last weekends Fat Salmon swim race. This was my 4th year in a row of participating. Coming off last weekends race with a fantastic swim for me I hadn't put much thought into this one. I am experienced at this event. I won the first two years, got 4th last year with little training and this year was wanting to get back on top.
I started out like any other swim race and 300 yards (thanks garmin 910 for the metrics) in something happened. I had been swimming comfortable right along side friend/coach Kainoa and a human flock came swimming at us from the side. Immediately it felt like my wetsuit was a cotton sweater in the dry cycle, my goggles magically had black masking tape over them, and the lake was boiling. I flipped to my back to try to end this frenzy when I saw the masses coming at me. I put pressure on myself that I had to regain my composure FAST, but it wasn't going away. Fellow lane mate at master workouts, Heather Bales, happened to stop and ask if I was okay. Panically or manically saying "no" she helped wave support over and went on her way when they were coming to help. Waiting for eternity for help I became a flailing fish alternating between tearing my wetsuit off and floating on my backside.
When the super-hero arrived I jumped on the surf board in tears of distress and endless words of trying to make this lifeguard somewhat believe that I "could" be normal. In surfer-style he chilled, with my composure regained I questioned "well, now what?".
Could I be paddled over to the one miler and try to do that? Or hop right back in the lake and finish up the event.....hmmm.... The lifeguard asked "Well, do you think you can catch up to the group?". Was that a challenge? :)
I tackled putting the wetsuit back on while balancing on a surfboard. Meanwhile, the head lifeguard guru came over to check on me. He knows me, I employed him at Seattle Athletic Club for years, he has been a kayak supporter for me and all the other triathletes for years. So it was a surprise to him to believe that I was the one absorbing his staff's time with my panic.
I plopped back in the water (10' later) and began my swim race. Going from 1st (or very close to that place) to dead last in the matter of 1' was an eye opener. I gave myself a few minutes to settle in and then decided I could start working hard, I felt safe, so off to pass as many orange hats in the remaining miles ahead.
I did a lot of "soul searching" during this time. Trying to figure out what went wrong. I wrapped my head around a few things:
1. I had not gone through my normal race planning/visualization. I had taken my swim for granted, never really thinking that the "race" could be over in the first 5'. Next time I will make sure I put myself in the most safe place for me and prepare my mind for the worst. Proper planning is key to success.
2. When in a panic I made it worse because I couldn't get back to swimming soon enough. The take-away- IF this ever happens again I will take my time, focus on my breathing and calming myself. The episode MAY not have lasted as long had I been patient with the process.
3. Stress. The day leading up my mind was occupied. I had not slept much either. And not that the sleep was the culprit, but the busy mind may have been a factor. When the panic set in my mind was literally telling my body "I will NOT but up with this stress the next hour of this race". It really did say that! It literally forced my body to stop racing. Moving forward- I will keep my mind calm and minimize unnecessary stress knowing that it WILL effect my race.
Open water swimming is stressful, it is challenging, and it takes a strong mind to get through the start, pace properly and deal with all the blows, bells, and whistles. My body showed up but mind was not in the game.
As the event continued I also was thankful for the episode, thankful I was capable of getting back in, thankful of the experience to make me stronger for next years event, and hoping that my experience will be a lesson to many.
Throughout the three miles I paid more attention to landmarks, to sighting, to finding direct paths to make me stronger in years to come. I searched for Webb and swam alongside him a bit. I swam into the finish as strong as ever and knew that today's event was a life-changer for me.
Athletes and friends were wondering "where" I had been, and "why" I was not in sooner. Let this be a lesson that on some days your game plan can change in an instant and crossing the line is sometimes the biggest accomplishment no matter what the clock reads.
Thank you to Liz Rosen at Fat Salmon for another amazing event, well organized, fun, supported and a sell-out each year! And congratulations to all the fish out there.
Fat Salmon....I will be back!