Blogs tagged with "fear"
Swimming is the most "mental" sport I know. Distance swimming even more so. And I've been struggling to wrap my mind around the really long training sessions I've planned in the next few months (not to mention the swim events). After reading a little article on SwimSwam about the lessons we learn from our swim coaches, I began thinking about all the things I've learned, not only from my swim coach, but from swimming itself.
Swimming is the great teacher. In the pool. With teammates. And especially in open water - where we are always only one breath away from drowning.
I now believe most of my mental control in long distance events like marathons and Ironman races can be traced back to my swimming roots. And having been a competitive swimmer before anything else is likely what influenced me to (prefer to) do most of my long training sessions alone. For many, many years, people have asked me how and why I do it alone: "How do you handle 6-7 hours on the bike all by yourself every weekend?" I have no idea. I set my mind to it, and do it. After all, running alone had always been therapy. It cleared my mind. It made me less anxious. When I started doing longer triathlons, it never occurred to me to subject people I knew to MY long rides (even people who DO long rides). OK, so I'm an introvert. But don't get me wrong. I've truly enjoyed running and riding with others. It's just that I never actively seek out company. And it never bothered me to be alone hammering away for all that time.
How did I get this way?
Swimming. Every day. Swimming twice a day three times a week. At times, swimming more than ten-thousand yards a day. Swimmers remain swimmers because they don't flinch when the coach says we're doing 10x1000s for a single workout. Surviving those workouts in college made me mentally tougher than that week I had four final exams in two days.
From the moment I walked onto the swim team at 14 years old in high school, never having been coached, never having experienced a single swim workout in my life, everything in the pool was a progressively harder thing to do. After every workout of my freshman year I vowed I would quit. But I didn't. And by sophomore year, I was swimming in Lane 1. With the fast kids. And I had great friends in my teammates. But, unless you're at a swim meet, swimming is not a social sport. You get a few moments to commune (or commiserate) with your lane-mates before the next interval. There's no time to talk, or laugh, or enjoy the scenery (what little of it there is on a pool deck).
It's all mental. Some people compare its boredom to treadmill running.
I remember my first 1650. In practice. I was terrified. I didn't think I could swim that long without stopping. One of the swimmers on the boys team told me something I would never forget. He told me to detach my brain from my body. To imagine I was a machine. And that's what I did. And, whoa! It worked. No pain. Three years later, I would be swimming the 1650 in competition. And loving it. It WAS all mental.
But swimming long distances is also a very, very lonely thing. It's quiet. Like I said earlier, you can't have conversations. You can't even smile if you're enjoying yourself. (To be fair, I HAVE smiled "inside.") Losing focus for a second means you'll suck down water, ram into the wall, or, if you're like me in open water, swim in circles. That's another reason swimming is a mental sport. It's not natural. We were born walkers. Runners. Bikers. Air-breathers. Surrounded by air, not needing to "think" when we breathe. When we're swimming, we're surrounded by water and have to consciously take a breath. We battle an element we're not built to thrive in. Yeah, our bodies may be 90% water, but we don't have fins and/or gills. There's a reason more people have climbed Mount Everest than swum the English Channel. Humans are not made to be swimmers.
But some of us are drawn to water. And that's where I find myself now. Trying to conquer the water again. Trying to rekindle the mind-control I once had. Once again, I'm learning to appreciate the quiet. To nurture the solitude of longer and longer sessions in the water. I'm learning to rein in my enthusiasm at the start and prepare myself mentally for spending more than three hours in the water. I KNOW I can do it. And most of the time I really enjoy it. But, like my younger days, my mind gets in the way when I think too much about it.
And the quiet in a pool is one thing. The quiet in open water... well, that's something entirely different. It can be deafening if the fear seeps in. Fear of currents. Fear of the cold. Fear of weather changes. When I go back to the lake in the next month or so, I'll face a whole new set of conditions under which to practice mind-control. And I will need to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. It's all mental.
I find that the best way is the old way. Each time I conquer a goal, it's one more thing to convince my mind of the next time. Just don't give up, and eventually, all the mental obstacles will give way to knowledge - knowledge that anything is possible. You just have to train for it.
Swimming is the most "mental" sport I know. Distance swimming even more so. And I've been struggling to wrap my mind around the really long training sessions I've planned in the next few months (not to mention the swim events).
Everything hurts today. It's that good kind of hurt. The kind of overall pain that lets me know I pushed myself through something unusually difficult yesterday.
And that's because I did. Yesterday I did my longest-ever open-water swim. And it was my first solo open-water swim in Lake Erie. It wasn't completely "solo," but I'll explain in a moment.
If you read my previous blog, you know what I'm up against. I needed to do a swim before this weekend that was long enough to prove (to myself only) I could push through something longer than my last race at 4.4 miles. And I didn't want to swim that long in the pool because, frankly, when I'm in the pool for longer than 2.5 hours, I have been getting sick of the chlorine and the monotony of the lane-lines. I've never needed to train in open water for experience because, as I've said many times in this blog, I've always been at home in the open water.
But I WANT to swim in open water. My soul has been longing for it ever since I conquered the fear in La Jolla cove. And yesterday, I had several soul-affirming moments in the water, and I felt compelled to write something.
This weekend, I knew two things: (1) I wanted to swim in open water and (2) for at least as long as I've swam in the pool. But I had no idea WHERE to swim.
Don't laugh. Even though we have a Great Lake on our doorstep, the conditions in Lake Erie are not always conducive to swimming. On Saturday, I checked the USGS Ohio Nowcast to find that almost all the Lake Erie beaches within an hour drive of my house were considered "unsafe for swimming" due to high levels of bacterial contamination. This was not a good sign. I started looking for other swimming holes all over Northeast Ohio. I had all but resigned myself to swimming "laps" in one of a few small lakes south of where I live.
|The dogs here like swimming
almost more than I do.
Then, another one of those miracles happened. Sunday morning, I checked the Lake Erie conditions again to find that several west-side beaches had been given the green light! And I was off, dragging my overly-obliging husband Jim with me just in case something happened (it was my first time doing this alone).
I decided to do several out-and-back swims in order to stop and get fuel and hydration regularly - and also to get an idea of how much and how often I needed to consume during a long-distance swim of more than two hours. The water was perfect temperature (maybe in the upper 70s F?) so I didn't need a wetsuit. I took along a orange New Wave Swim Buoy so I was visible to boaters and jet-skiers (first time using this) and could carry my phone and nutrition in it.
My goal was to swim at a pace I could maintain for three hours. I swam east along the shoreline - which I eventually realized was with the current - for just over a mile and then turned around and swam back to the beach. The first two miles were steady and I never felt taxed at all. The water was beautiful, the sky was blue, the sun was out, people were jet-skiing and speed-boating and what-not, and I was able to get into a rhythm and just forget about everything. It went by pretty fast. When I got back to the beach, I drank about 250 liquid calories (Carbo Pro mixed with SkratchLabs hydration). Jim confirmed that the Find-My-iPhone app was working and he could see where I was during the swim.
|Somewhere between the boats and the shore.|
For the next hour, I decided to set out in the opposite direction. Here's where I was no longer alone. As I started swimming out, I saw another orange buoy in my peripheral vision. I swam toward it thinking it might be fun to swim with somebody for a bit. Maybe he/she could help me, maybe I could help him/her. When we got closer, we stopped and discussed it. Although he had planned on swimming for 1.5 miles, I told him I was going 2 miles, and he decided to go with me - we set off.
I lost him in my sights about five minutes later and figured it wasn't meant to be. But after about 20 minutes, I stopped and looked around and realized he was still with me, only about 50 yards closer to shore. I smiled to myself at how far out I was and kept swimming. When my GPS said I had gone a mile, I stopped and looked around. I saw my fellow-swimmer's orange buoy and waved to him when he looked up. He swam over.
"That's about a mile," I said and we stopped to talk. We both bobbed away on our buoys and talked for about 10 minutes. About why we were out there - his name is Jeff, he was training for an Ironman and getting back into athletics after a divorce. We talked about our jobs. We talked about art (I am NOT making this up). Then we talked about swimming. He summed it up better than I could in one phrase: "Swimming gives you that zen feeling."
He was right. Zen. That's what it is. It's similar to the feeling you get from running. It's peaceful, reflective, and gives me a feeling of one-ness with the world. I find this to be especially true in the water. I met a woman on the beach yesterday who doesn't know how to swim but she also had this indescribable sense of wholeness near water. Maybe our souls have a deep connection to the place from whence they came. I don't know, but I feel something intensely spiritual when I'm in open water.
We turned around and swam back to the beach. The surf got a little rougher on the way back even though we were with the current. I had an easier time with it than Jeff did, but I waited for him when I got back. He was done, I was going back out. We said our goodbyes, but not before I found out he and I are connected through his sister's marriage to a good friend of mine. And thus, Cleveland continues to be the largest "small town" ever.
My GPS had me just over four miles in just over two hours. Jim helped me fuel up once more, let me know he was ok waiting yet another hour (he's a saint) - and I headed back out toward the east. I decided to swim until I hit five miles then turn around. My arms were starting to feel very heavy (especially right after the stops), and I had to work to stretch them out to take long strokes. But I never got the "I really want to stop" feeling like I did in Chesapeake Bay. I was happy, I was "in it," but I was tired.
I pushed through to five miles. And then decided to do the stupidest thing EVER. I can't even blame it on delirium or water-logged-brained-ness because I was totally conscious and aware of what I was doing.
I'm so NOT a selfie person, but I wanted a selfie. So I wrestled with my buoy to pull out my phone. I had to deflate it almost half-way just to get the phone dislodged. I didn't even know if it would work because the phone was in a plastic bag. I may be stupid, but not stupid enough to take my phone out of the plastic bag. I bobbled on my half-inflated buoy and took a picture.
Then it happened. As I was treading water, trying to open the buoy, I dropped my bagged-phone in the water.
My heart stopped as it sank downward out of sight.
Panic came in a split-second. All I can articulate are the instantaneous thoughts that went through my head. Oh my God! Jim is going to KILL ME! What was I THINKING? The buoy instructions clearly state "NEVER TAKE YOUR PHONE OUT WHILE SWIMMING." Oh my God! Can I dive down to the bottom to retrieve it?? How deep is this water anyway? How much will a new iPhone cost?? Oh my God! What have I done?!?!?
And just like that, my fingers miraculously caught the phone, and I pulled it out of the water.
Here it the photo, never to be repeated:
Relief swept over me. I turned toward the beach and swam back. Perhaps due to the adrenaline rush, I swam back much faster than I swam out. The whole time I thanked God for my quick reflexes and spent the rest of the zen moments wondering if I should tell Jim what happened.
When I finally crawled out of the water, my GPS said: 6 miles, 3 hours.
I was done. I felt good (for many reasons), but my arms were sore and my neck was badly chafed from my cap. But my pace was steady. And I have enough confidence to start the nine-mile swim, now only five days away.
Here's the Garmin plot of my course - apparently, I can't swim a straight line:
Everything hurts today. It's that good kind of hurt. The kind of overall pain that lets me know I pushed myself through something unusually difficult yesterday.
Last Saturday, I decided to attempt my first real solo open water swim - from La Jolla Cove to La Jolla Shores in southern California.
It wasn't significant because it was open water. I've swum many open water swims before - in triathlon races and in triathlon training.
It wasn't significant because it was in the ocean. I've swum in oceans all over - the atlantic coast, the gulf coast, the pacific coast, the Hawaii coast.
It wasn't significant because the water temperature was 57 degrees F. If you read my last blog post, you know I've swum in water more than 10 degrees colder.
It wasn't even significant because of the waves. I've survived swimming in chop so bad that other people drowned the same day.
No. It was significant for ONE reason. I wanted to conquer an irrational fear of swimming alone in the ocean and prove to myself that I would not have an irrational moment of panic.
You see, I grew up in the water. I may have swam before I could walk. My childhood friends called me a fish because I never got out of the pool. On summer days at ocean beaches, I would rebel when my parents dragged me out of the water to eat lunch, or rest, or (God forbid) go home. And I've never been afraid of open water. Well,... except for a little while after I saw Jaws at age 10. During that time, I wouldn't even put my feet in a wading pool lest there be sharks that were somehow transported there (and survived). In my defense, I was 10! And I was not allowed to see scary movies after that.
But, to get back to my story - it's true, swimming in open water, especially the ocean, was something that did not strike fear into my heart as it does many triathletes who stand on the beach in their first ocean swim triathlon. Many times at race starts, I've even found myself talking people through their fear of the ocean and the waves and everything that goes with it. Don't worry, have fun, dive through the waves not over them, try to swim with the swells, and capitalize on the current when you can. But mostly, HAVE FUN.
Because - that's what I always do when I get to swim in the ocean.
But to be fair, I've never really swum in the ocean - or open water for that matter - alone. By myself. I've always been with other people in races or in training groups. If I needed to swim alone, I would parallel the shoreline under the watchful eye of my parents or my husband.
The only time I remember being in open water completely alone, I had a bizarre experience. I was in Utah Lake during the ill-fated inaugural Ironman Utah in 2002. It was my first Ironman. A freak morning windstorm came up and blew swimmers all over the lake - and suddenly I found myself completely alone in the water. When I realized this, I was dumbstruck with panic for about half-a-second. That momentary lapse into fear has never completely left me. Mostly because it baffled me. Seriously, it made no sense whatsoever. I'm one of those people who feels more at ease in water than on land. I even dream about being able to breathe underwater. Why, then, was I so scared?
I've processed this so many times, it's burned into my brain. Was it the cold water? Was it the being alone? Was it the fact that my first Ironman would be a complete fail? What. Was. It? Even weirder, I recovered from it so quickly that the moment became a mere blip on the radar that day. However, lately there's a nagging feeling that somehow, that moment of time would eventually hold me back from the solo open water swimming that I'm hoping to do in the future.
I had to conquer it. Clear and simple. I chose to attempt that in La Jolla last Saturday.
The reason I was there was to meet up with my husband Jim on the tail end of his business trip to San Diego. Before the trip, I told him I wanted to swim in La Jolla Cove because it's a well-known open water training and racing location. So, we booked a the weekend at a hotel only a few miles away.
Saturday morning, I got up and went on a running reconnaissance mission, hoping to find some swimmers at the cove that day that might answer any questions I had. As luck would have it, there was a guy in a full wetsuit just finishing his swim when I got there. I asked him about the water and if he could tell me something about distances. Here's what he told me: the water was about 57 degrees F, lots of people swim in the cove and they swim all day long. He was surprised there were only a few there at the moment, but it could have been due to rough surf. Then he pointed to two tall cylindrical buoys to the left - he called them the A and B targets - and said they were about .25 miles and .45 miles respectively. To the right of them was a round buoy - also at .25 miles - and off in the distance was another stick-like buoy at .75 miles. The far beach past that buoy (La Jolla Shores) was a mile. Here are two photos that Jim took:
|Here's a view of La Jolla Cove from the other direction.
La Jolla Shores beach is behind the trees in the front.
My mind was instantly made up. I wanted to swim to the beach, point to point. I decided to run there and scout out a place for Jim to pick me up. On the way back, I saw a lifeguard/fire-rescue guy and asked him about safety. To summarize answers to my questions: it's the ocean, so (1) it's cold, (2) it's rough water and (3) yes, there are sharks "out there" - but there have been no shark attacks in La Jolla. I did a little googling on my phone and found out that in 2015, the beaches were closed after a kayaker had a close encounter with a hammerhead shark. I stopped reading. No Fear.
When I got back, I told Jim my plan. Surprisingly, he didn't even flinch. (I think he's beginning to accept how serious I am about this swimming thing, and, between you and me, I think he's being a saint about letting me drag him to pools and lakes and coves on our trips.) To save space in my luggage, I only packed my wetsuit top, but I wasn't sure I needed it. I saw a guy go in that morning with only a jammer-type suit. We prepped and then drove up to the cove.
The first thing I did was look for other swimmers for final advice. To my relief, there were three swimmers - members of the La Jolla Cove Swim Club - getting ready to swim. They confirmed what I had been told about the distances and the temperature. They also advised me to wear a wetsuit if I wasn't sure about the cold. Then they gave me a quick review of the dangers and told me how to get "out there" (you know, out past the waves without dying):
- Know the stages of hypothermia. (got it - I told them I had been through those stages once in 2009)
- Swim out towards the left so that you don't get caught up in the current and smashed to pieces on the rocks to the right.
- Don't swim too far left because there's another set of rocks there. However, stay close to those.
- If you have a neoprene cap, wear it. (I didn't. But I had two latex caps and was told to wear them both.)
I noticed they were all putting on swim fins. Did I need fins? The woman said "do you HAVE fins?" like it was a matter of life and death. I said no. They said some people can make it just fine without fins.
Like I needed something ELSE to worry about.
The two men were wearing full wetsuits. The woman was wearing what looked like a neoprene (or thick material) swimsuit and a neoprene cap. After a mental debate, I decided to wear my wetsuit top, only to avoid hypothermia because Jim would be waiting for me at the beach and I'd have no way to contact him if I was going into shock from the cold. I didn't want to ruin our vacation by being stubborn and doing something stupid just to prove a point. Besides, there will be plenty more opportunities for me to tempt hypothermic fate.
The last words I was told by one of the swimmers: "We're spoiled. Once you swim here, you'll never want to go back to pool swimming."
|Making our way down to the cove - I'm in the yellow cap.|
I walked down to the water with them, and just followed the first one out into the water. It was nothing short of amazing, and actually, surprisingly easy. The waves were not scary - they were fun! I didn't really feel much of a current pulling me to the right, and once I was out in the cove, all I noticed was how great the water felt and how sunny and blue the sky was. I said thanks and goodbye to my new friends and aimed for the beach.
The cold water was a non-issue. This still surprises me as I had once gone swimming in 56-degree water with a wetsuit in the Outer Banks, and I remember it being painfully cold. I expected 57 degrees to feel the same. It makes me wonder if (hope?) I'm starting to get more comfortable in cold water. I reached the .25-mile buoy and signaled to Jim that I was, indeed, good to go and would make my way to our meet-up on the beach.
And then I just swam. And it was good. And there was no panic. None. I even did some backstroke to appreciate the sky.
When I got closer to the beach, I swam into a group of kayakers and waved, and then started to feel the current and the waves pushing me ahead. I was disappointed it ended so soon, but it was time to body-surf my way in. Amusingly, surfing the waves was the only point that I got myself in trouble - I got caught up inside a wave and struggled for few seconds to reorient myself and come up to breathe. It would have been ironic if I made it all the way to the beach and then drowned in standing water.
When I finally stood up on the beach sand, I heard the following (very geeky) thing in my head:
"You've taken your first step into a larger world."
Here's the video. I swear the waves on the way out didn't look as big to me as they do in the vid. (Again, I'm the one in the yellow cap.)
Last Saturday, I decided to attempt my first real solo open water swim - from La Jolla Cove to La Jolla Shores in southern California.
Two major Ironman training-related things happened this week: (1) I saw a promotional video of Ironman St. George that scared the living daylights out of me and (2) I did a retest of my cycling FTP (Functional Threshold Power). These two things seem unrelated, but people like my husband Jim would have you believe that they are cosmically intertwined. Let's just say it was a random coincidence that they occurred within 24 hours of each other.
First, the scary thing. I got the link for this video from one of the athletes I follow on Twitter - he blogged it. I am now blogging it because, in it, Ironman St. George looks like the perfect follow up to the series of race disasters that has been my Ironman quest. The CompuTrainer real-time video makes the bike course look easy compared to this video. And I've been told the run course is even worse. This video was supposedly shown at the pre-race banquet at last year's inaugural race - can you imagine seeing this for the first time knowing race morning is almost upon you? This video may have been directly responsible for the Ironman race nightmare I had the night after watching it:
Two major Ironman training-related things happened this week: (1) I saw a promotional video of Ironman St. George that scared the living daylights out of me and (2) I did a retest of my cycling FTP (Functional Threshold Power).
T-minus 13 days to go to Ironman Lake Placid. This past weekend of workouts was the last opportunity to significantly effect my race (the age-old 14-day rule). Now it's taper, taper, taper, and rest up. We leave for Lake Placid in nine days. Tomorrow night is the first pre-race logistics meeting of Team J (Jim has suggested we change the name to "The J-Team").
I have several race concerns, but only one real fear -- the Ironman swim. It usually hits me before the race, and yesterday was the day, when I went for an open-water swim. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I will NEVER get used to the mass chaos of the Ironman swim. I don't know if I'm the only one who feels this way, but there's something really terrifying about being in the water with over 2000 people all swimming for the same point, like we're all one microsecond away from drowning. I am deathly afraid of getting clobbered by all those arms and legs, especially when it seems like most people around me are not very good swimmers.
Here's an idea: people who don't stand a chance of swimming between 50 minutes and 1:10, stay out of the front lines. You know who you are. My goggles don't stand a chance with your flailing arms and legs. Please don't force me to kick you in the face when your hand "accidentally" wraps itself around my ankle. And what's up with that? Why do you GRAB my ankle? I may have lost weight this year, but I am NOT a lane-line. (Besides, you shouldn't be grabbing the lane-lanes anyway!) Just the thought of the trouncing I'll suffer sends chills down my spine.
And yet, amazingly enough, nobody drowns.
Now that I've declared my swimming fear, I can say that I am looking forward to swimming in the pre-race warm-ups that week. It's where the reuniting of Team J really hits home. Julie and Jim take it upon themselves to babysit me and my stuff and work out registration details and logistics while all I have to do is get in the water and swim. And they do it all while both carrying cameras to catch all those Disaster Magnet moments. They're my lifeline. When I see them standing on the shore, they're like two great beacons or lighthouses keeping me safe (it helps that they're both tall). This year, in addition to surviving the swim, I'm setting some goals with Team J in mind. I'll write more about that in an upcoming blog.
About the taper: all the little aches and pains are subsiding, I'm feeling rested, taper is doing exactly what it's supposed to do. About the race: I'm getting a grip on my mental race strategy, thinking about it regularly. About nutrition: I've been practicing all my race nutrition regularly and not overindulging socially -- much to my surprise, I even declined the offer of a lifetime last night: a chocolate vodka pudding shot (it looked like heaven in a cup, *cry*).
So, I've done it, I made it to Week One and I'm still relatively intact, both mentally and physically. What could I possibly be afraid of? Again, the voice of my former track coach, John Klarman, echoes in my mind: "What are the three D's that runners need to beware of?" The answer? "Dogs, drivers, and...... doctors." The punchline was: "DOCTORS."
For me, the punchline is: "DRIVERS." Although it took a while to physically recover, I don't think I ever fully recovered mentally from being hit by a truck in 2003. It was the end of my athletic motivation for five years. It happened six days before Half-Ironman Utah. I was on my last long ride before the race, feeling great, very excited, and WHAMMO! An 82-year-old man with very poor eyesight took a left turn and slammed right into me from the side. In broad daylight. I went over the hood of his truck and landed on my head. Twice. (I bounced.) The only thing I remember from impact to impact was praying that I would survive.
I learned quite a bit in the days and years that would follow. What's important in life. Who my friends are. How to appreciate all the little things. How great it is to be alive. Corny, I know, but all the cliches about a near-death experience are true. And I can't say enough about how important it is to wear a helmet while biking. (I became a great advocate of that as well.)
But, to get back to my race... and my training... I never shook that fear, that the same thing could happen every time I ride my bike. I am deathly afraid of cars and trucks and DRIVERS. It's not as bad as it was the first year back, but I certainly slow down every time I see a driver at an intersection. Even if I have the right-of-way, I do not trust the person behind the wheel, knowing that in bike vs. car, bike always loses.
But today, I have to get out on my bike and conquer the fear. On the bike that replaced the bike I lost (see photo). To end on a lighthearted note... when I bought my first bike, the Cannondale R600, one of the things I loved most about it was the color. It was a black matte finish with black glossy letters. We used to call it "run-me-over-black." All I can say about that is: live and learn.
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