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Friday, August 5, 2016

Face The Open Water! (Presque Isle Triathlon Here I Come)

Remember that scene in Harry Potter when the grindylows try to drag him down into the Black Lake?

photo credit Harry Potter wiki

Yeah, I know it's imaginary. But I've got a good imagination.

It's one of the things I picture when I swim in open water. And it freaks me out and makes me nervous.

You know what else makes me freak and feel nervous? Touching the gross gooey bottom of the lake. Or feeling lake weed brush against my arms or face. And not being able to see more than a foot in front of me or below me. But I also don't think I'd want to see what was below me.

So, pretty much the whole open water swim experience freaks me out. But it's good to be freaked out, right?

There's something magical about surviving something you're scared to do. Like, let's say, ropes courses. Or here's an example: paddle boarding.

For her birthday, my good friend wanted to try paddle boarding. Now paddle boarding is probably lots of fun when you're not worried about falling into clear, warm, tropical waters. But we had to do this North Park. And I did not want to fall in. Yes, I'm training for an open water swim, but not in North Park lake. Some woman caught a piranha in there. (OK, so I didn't know that until after we went paddle boarding, but it's still true. Sort of. My one friend thinks it's a pacu.)

(What is a pacu?)

Anyway, it was her birthday and she likes doing adventures. So we rented the boards from Kayak Pittsburgh North Park, donned our personal flotation devices, and pushed off the dock. I was not happy. I stayed on my knees for the entire way out to the little stone tower. It wasn't easy, but I went to Catholic school for eight years and my knees are tough. Of course my adventurous birthday friend stood up right away.  I was struggling just to keep my balance.

My friend asked why I was paddling so much faster than her, and I knew why.


I eventually did stand up, after several tries, on the way back. I regretted standing because I felt much less stable but I kept paddling and got back to shore. And when the experience was done, I felt great.

Post-Paddle Boarding Happiness!

But the Presque Ise triathlon is getting closer. And that means I will have to manage my anxiety about open water. When I attempted this triathlon two years ago, it was spur of the moment and I hadn't put any time in the open water. I was counting on my experience from the summer before, and that was a mistake. To handle something like the open water swim experience, I need help. But Professor Moody and Neville are nowhere to be found.

Luckily I have people like Joella Baker and Suzanne Atkinson. This summer they've each hosted open water swim clinics at Moraine State Park. And each time I've gotten my face in the water.

Yes it is still creepy. But I'm doing it.

The first one was a Monday night swim after coaching session with Suzanne. We talked about fears and managing our anxieties. She encouraged us to think about our feelings and focus on our senses to move from yellow to green on the anxiety stoplight. I chose some positive focus thoughts, like gratitude and people who loved me, and struggled into my wetsuit and oh good lord was the bottom of the lake disgusting. My feet sunk ankle deep in muck. The water was warm, thankfully, but ewwie green and there were sharp floating bits of lake weed drifting around and lightly scratching my bare arms. But I swam about 800m or so back and forth between the buoys. Suzanne cheered us on and took fun photos after the swim. I felt great.

The second time was on a Sunday morning and the clinic was run by Joella. She talked about safety stokes - something I've already been planning to use if needed!- and balance in the water. I got into the water quicker this time. The lake bottom was still GROSS and those creepy irritating lily pads were still EVERYWHERE but it was less unexpected. I swam a straight 800m and then Joella asked me to swim a little more so she could evaluate my stroke. She gave such positive feedback it felt great.

I'm always so nervous before each open water swim, and I'm not totally relaxed while I'm swimming, but I do admit I feel terrific when I've done it.

And I'm a 261Fearless Ambassador. Facing things that make us nervous is what we do.

Just like my middle son who's also scared of putting his face in the water. He recently decided he was going to try it, and he liked it. I'm keeping this image in my brain when I swim in the Presque Isle triathlon this August 20.

Open Water Swim Panic Managed.

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