Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fuel For My Fire!

Lizzard's View of Lake Ponchartrain - Sunrise
It won't be long now. The beginning of another long five months of intensive training. I said I wouldn't do it, then I said I'd consider it, and finally I committed. What I was calling another "attempt" at the New Orleans Half Ironman, I will now call my plan to not only finish officially, but also in doing so I plan to destroy my pitiful time from last season's race.

I'll be honest. I was starting to get cold feet. Even after having such a good end of season open water race in Santa Rosa, there was still some lingering reservations about getting back into Lake Ponchartrain.

It's been kind of interesting really. About a week ago I had the sudden realization that I was no longer "afraid" of the water. Had my fear finally been conquered? It just hit me out of the blue. I actually looked forward to our open water training swims. I actually enjoyed swimming in the ocean in Florida. The panic I used to feel...the dread that came even before arriving at the swim site...was suddenly not there. And I hadn't even noticed at first! My anxiety "scale" wasn't being used anymore and I wasn't thrashing to get out of the water. I was even starting to feel confident in my swimming abilities (I realize I still have a long way to go with my technique, but I am light years from where I started).

With my new-found realization, I told my Coach my fear was gone. I told everyone. And then I saw a picture of the swim at the Big Cajun Triathlon in New Roades, LA (during which I was , thankfully, out of town) that some teammates were competing in. I felt sick. It was still there - that panicky, queasy, sick feeling I used to get. I couldn't imagine being able to swim in water in which I couldn't even see the buoy much less two feet in front of me. My confidence started to shake.

Big Cajun Swim - Fog City
Add to that the stress of a new job, an active family, a husband that will be taking the brunt of the childcare, and the guilt of again doing something for myself, and I began to question my ability to undergo the training required to meet my goals for New Orleans.

Subconsciously I think, I picked up my running hours these past few weeks to see if I still had the longer distances in me. I did. I even got motivated by a dream I had in which I slayed the swim and the bike during the 70.3, and at mile seven on the run I felt great. I was so psyched by the dream that I went out and ran 6 miles the next day with no problem. Check that off the list. Thirteen miles - doable.

My bike has been sitting dormant since Santa Rosa. I've been on my mountain bike some, but I've been skipping out on spin classes in order to claim a little extra sleep - as I know sleeping late will be coming to an end very soon. I questioned whether I could still make myself wake up at 4:15 in the morning to go exercise, especially with a new job that has different hours and is not convenient to where I work-out anymore. Even with the poor focus on my cycling, I know that I can get it back. It is one of my limiters, but I still continue to improve and am sure I will get plenty of time to do so. Fifty-six miles - tiring, but doable.

So the swim. Let's admit it. I have been completely ignoring it. I haven't been back in the pool once since Santa Rosa Tri. I depend on my groupies and they are either in specialized classes, or get up too early for me to be motivated to join them (that sleep maximization thing again). I could find time if I really wanted to. But I'd rather run. Or pluck my eyebrows.

So this weekend I planted my flag with some of my training buddies for a six mile lake run. Instead of getting offers to join me, I got an offer from Lizzard to join her in New Orleans to run. Sounded like a nice change of scenery so I agreed. And in zealousness I suggested that we could throw in an open water swim in Lake P for good measure...and if we got there and decided it was too cold (or I wussed out) then we would travel with our bikes and ride instead (ahead of choosing to pluck eyebrows, but behind swimming).

I accomplished many things today. I managed to get out of bed at 4:20am. It's been a while since I've had to do that. It wasn't as painful as I thought it would be. I even started a fire in the fireplace for the kids on the way out the door. I drove solo to New Orleans and felt great. Motivated even. I crossed the Ponchartrain and looked at the water. No worries. (I did have to make an extremely urgent stop at McD's as I neared the city limits, but admitted to myself I was a little nervous - understandable as I hadn't been back in that body of water since that day.)

Coach and I were communicating some during the ride via text, and she offered up some recommendations for the swim - a "workout" of sorts if I wanted one. I started feeling anxious as I thought about a long swim in that water. By the time I got within a few blocks of the swim hole I was having a pretty severe anxiety attack and couldn't control the tears from running down my face. I rated myself as an 8/10 to Coach. She calmed me down and re-focused my panic - I wasn't afraid of the water anymore. I had a bad experience. It was bad conditions that day. I could swim. It was just a bad experience and I could overcome it.

I arrived at the hole and met Lizzard and her sherpa Kevin who was kindly going to remain on shore and watch us as we swam. I glanced at the water and was disappointed to see that it no longer looked like the calm body of water that Lizzard's early am picture portrayed. It was choppy. White-cap choppy. Subconsciously I was so nervous I brought my running shoes down to the water's edge and didn't even realize it. I donned my wetsuit and shared my anxiety with Lizzard because I figured she would think I was depressed over something when she noticed the tears streaming down my face. In true Lizzard fashion she took charge of me and slowed the pace down, allowing me to acclimatize with the water before getting in.

Choppy Lake P - At Swim Hole
Coach had instructed me to swim 1-2 warmup laps, rest, and then swim 3 laps as a main set. Down and back is a 1/2 mile. I'd never swum more than that distance in my training last year because my anxiety and panic prevented me from doing so. Kind of funny looking back considering that the race distance is more than double that.  Now I was supposed to swim 1.25 miles. And do it within my 1:26 minute New Orleans 70.3 disaster worst-case-scenario time. The goal was for me to just keep moving. Backstroke was even allowed (backstroke is never allowed).

I finally got the courage to jump off of the steps and breast stroke out to the first pile-on, where I proceeded to tread water while trying to figure out what to do next. Lizzard came to my rescue again and helped me make the swim more manageable.

"Let's just swim to the first pile-on. Can you do that?" she asked.

"Yes, I think so." I managed to get through the heavy chop to the first pile-on.

"How was that?" she asked. "Can you do it again?"

And so we slowly made our way, leaping 1 at a time, then 2 at a time, then 3. I came up to the next pile-on and couldn't express my thoughts to her because I am choked with emotion. "I think I'm doing okay and then I flash back to that day and it makes me panic and I get upset - which makes me panic." I started to get tearful. "The thoughts just creep in."

"Okay. Let's count strokes. See who can get to 2 pile-ons from here with the least strokes. Ready? Go." I swam and counted and the thoughts stayed away.

"Your turn, " she said when we got to our mark. "You name the game." I thought for a second. "I am breathing every stroke. I won't be able to do that the whole time. Let's see if I can still breathe to the right but do it every fourth breath." I did fairly well but veered off course and reverted to single stroke breathing. We got halfway to the end of the first lap and paused to talk. "I think I can do it. Let's go all the way to the end." I swam, freestyle, focused on counting and breathing and trying to stay straight. We made it and I felt encouraged.

Lizzard encouraged me to swim back to the start. "Do you think you can go to the half-way point?" We tried, and I did. I made it back to the start and decided that it felt good and my goals were met (even though Coach's plan for my swim wasn't) - and I was fine with getting out of the water. We treaded water and talked about it for a few minutes.

Suddenly we realized that Kevin (GNO-Tri Coach) was on the shore yelling to us - coaching us. Apparently I was not reaching out far enough and was not pulling efficiently with my stroke. I should let my wetsuit do more of the work, and rotate more. He explained how to adjust my arm position from what I do in the pool to a different position for open water swimming and it would help block the waves in my face as I breathe. Keep them in closer to me, don't reach up so much. He encouraged us to keep swimming. At least to go a few more pile-ons and try the different approach.

So with both Lizzard and Kevin's encouragement, I kept going. This time with a new sense of calm and confidence. If I made it around once, I could do it again and do it better. I thought about my technique and found myself riding the swells, not fighting them so much. I watched myself speed by some of the pile-ons and it felt good. My shoulder's burned just as Coach told me they would from the wetsuit and my not having been in the water for a while. I was glad she warned me of that because it would have made me panic, afraid that was getting exhausted and might not make it back.

I swam that lap without stopping, caught a breath at the end, and swam back without rest. It took me about an hour to do that mile workout. Far from great, but way better than I expected. Overall I was thrilled that by the end I felt relaxed in the water and was without the fear that had crept in when I had started. When we got out I was surprised to hear that Kevin (sherpa), who had been at the New Orleans race, felt that the water today was worse than it had been the day of that race. It didn't feel that bad, and if that was true then things really had improved. That boosted my confidence immensely. So much so that Liz and I changed clothes and ran seven miles along the water as a reward (?) for our work-out.

Lizzard, Coach Kevin, Coug
I am in. One hundred percent in. I will find a way to make the training fit into my hectic schedule. I will figure out how to get organized. I will have to make sacrifices, as will my family. This race is so important to me. I have something to prove to myself now. When I come out of that water on race day it's going to be with a different mind-set because I will have squashed that bad experience to death. It will be the end of my fear once and for all. It will be the proof that I need that I can do anything I set my mind to. I will race New Orleans and do it right this time.

Hold on readers because you are in for a ride.

Training starts November 29, 2010...


  1. My seat belt is fastened and tray table in the upright position.

  2. Congrats on taking the plunge! You will do great!

  3. so glad some other crazy person is getting up at 4:15.:) Go get em....