Sink or Swim — My first triathlon
Firsts are always exciting. Like a first blog post. And sometimes scary. In the case of my first triathlon June 2015, it was both.
This had been a dream of mine for a few years. How many I'm not really sure, because for a few years I did nothing about it, other than dream. I remember seeing the brochure at a local rec centre for the Subaru Western Triathlon Series. Races in Victoria, Vancouver, Shawnigan Lake, Banff and Saskatoon. How cool was that? Not just a race, but a series. I think I had only the vaguest idea of what triathlon even was, but I wanted to do it. It would be a first, it would be an accomplishment. Something to be proud of. One minor detail: I couldn't swim.
Oh sure I'd taken lessons as a kid and got my starfish and salamander badges etc. I could get around in the pool and basically keep myself from drowning (for a while, anyway). But that was about it. Forget about putting my face in the water, bilateral breathing or having good "technique." So as I said, all I did was dream for the time being. But I tucked that image of the brochure, and the feeling of excitement that came with it, away in my subconscious for a while.
Until one day I decided to do something about that dream. By this time I had already caught the running bug and I had spent many afternoons riding my bike on the Galloping Goose and Lochside Trails. So what the heck? Why not sign up for some swimming lessons? And for those of you wondering, YES, they have lessons for adults. For me swimming is mostly about conquering fear. There are a lot things to distract you while you're swimming, if you let them. Little thoughts that creep into your mind. Like swimming into things, getting kicked in the head, kicking someone else in the head, wondering what exactly is in this lake because something just brushed against my leg. And behind all these unwanted thoughts is that lurking fear of sucking in a lung full of water and going under. It's very unlikely, but it could happen. The three biggest things I've learned about open water swimming are
1. Get the wetsuit! Totally worth the money. NO way you're going under with that sucker on. It also decreases drag, helps buoyancy, and, if you're like me, helps keep your legs up.
2. Relax. If you're uptight, fighting for each breath, and worrying the whole time, things will only get worse if you're tense. Practice pushing aside those fears.
3. Learn to love it. I'm a runner who does triathlon. Not a swimmer who runs. So though it's my least favourite part of the race, it's a big personal challenge and through all the hours at the pool and lake I'm... starting to like it. (Don't tell the other runners.)
So in 2015 (after recovering from a surgery), I signed up for my first sprint triathlon (750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run). Not only did I want to prove that I had recovered from my surgery, but that I could conquer new things and keep pushing my limits. I knew if I could get through the swim I could easily handle the other distances. At the time I signed up for the race I could not swim 750m. But being committed to the race now was a big motivator. All of a sudden I was at the pool three to four times a week and open-water swimming once a week. Challenge yourself. Sign up for something you can't do (yet), or don't think you can do (you can). You will surprise yourself.
In the end, I swam my 750m in just a little over 19 minutes (I never said I was good at it) and finished my first triathlon a few days after my 30th birthday. And now that I've done that? This year I'm aiming for a standard distance triathlon (1500m swim, 40km bike, and 10km run). 2017? Goal = Half Ironman. Fear? What fear?
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Stephen Woollard is a personal trainer and triathlete in Victoria, British Columbia.