When the shit goes down, pink nails are not going to save your ass.
I picked up my rental wetsuit today, and headed to the lake for a practice open water swim before Sunday’s triathlon.
Last evening, I painted my toes and fingernails a garish hot pink with a silver glitter on top. I reasoned that if I started to panic in the water, I could focus on my cute nails. I felt a little silly about it, but I also thought it would be a fun anecdote if someone should happen to comment on the outrageous color.
The last few weeks, my confidence in finishing the course has been growing. My workouts have been going well. I could complete all the legs of the event with relative ease. Yes, I am slow- especially at the swimming. But I am ok with being slow. I just wanted to finish the tri, and I felt positive I could do that.
But seeds of doubt have been creeping in. I spoke with a friend who is a seasoned triathlete, and she asked if I had done any open water swims. I advised that I had one scheduled before the event. She impressed upon me the importance of the practice swim. She told me about her first tri and how she freaked out during the swim when she realized all she could see was green.
My sister-in-law is the person who got me interested in completing a tri. I saw her finish and it inspired me to think I could do one too. At lunch a few days ago, she told me the story of her first tri. She remembered that there were people panicking all around her, trying to signal for boats to take them out of the water. She just stayed calm and continued to swim.
Why were they panicking? I didn’t know- until today.
I should say that my confidence was bordering on cockiness. Not because I anticipated doing well, but I did not think it would be a serious challenge.
I had trained. I was ready. My swimming was markedly improved. Since I grew up playing in pools but not seriously swimming, I assumed once I could swim, I would no longer have a reason to fear the water.
I went snorkeling in Maui last summer. That water was deep. There were creatures in it. And I loved it. Why should a lake send my heart racing?
Remember what my friend said about seeing only green? Bingo. Once I got out thirty yards or so, I couldn’t see the bottom of the lake. I couldn’t see anything but a green fog surrounding me. I began to wonder what was below me, what couldn’t I see. Of course I knew the answer- rocks, plants, maybe a couple of fish. But my heart was racing.
I flipped over on my back, and the panic receded- a little. I pepped talk my way through it- stay calm, keep swimming, and it will all be over soon. I turned on to my stomach, and put my face in the water.
The fear swarmed back. I managed four strokes in the green film before I had to take my head out of the water. I kept on that way for a few minutes- head in for a stroke or two, then out to try to regain my composure. Flip on my back for a few seconds, turn to my stomach, panic, flip back over. I made it to the first buoy of seven before turning back.
I walked on to shore and tried to mask my fear. In truth, it really hadn’t set in yet. I was just so happy to be out of the water. After five minutes, the shame kicked in. How stupid, to become so overcome with unrealistic fear that I had to leave the water. I was stronger than this. I wanted to meet the challenge.
I zipped my wet suit up, put on my cap and googles and returned to the water. I swam for about fifteen yards before I felt someone pinch my toe.
“What the fuck!”
The words escaped my mouth before I could stop them. I whipped around to see who was messing with me. No one was there. I held out for a couple more minutes, then retreated to the shore. I made one final attempt before leaving the lake. It ended even more miserably than the first two.
I don’t think any of my companions realized how upset I was. I attempted to clue them in, wondering aloud how I was going to make it through the race.
“You’ll be ok won’t you? Ben will be there. That will make it ok, right?”
Tears welled up in my eyes behind my sunglasses. I excused myself to change out of my swimsuit.
I had advised my husband that he didn’t need to swim with me a few weeks earlier. I am such a slow swimmer. He shouldn’t be held back because of me. But on the ride home today, I let my tears flow and asked him to swim by me. Maybe another person along side would let me know I would be ok.
I began to dream up other strategies. Ben looked up the depth of the lake. It is a manmade lake, only thirteen feet deep. Even if I can’t see the bottom, maybe knowing it is not that far down will help.
My original plan was to wait for the other swimmers to go in before heading in myself so I wouldn’t worry about bumping into anyone. Now, I want to be right in the mix of things, swimmers all around, keeping me safe, pushing me to move ahead.
Childish pink fingernails are not enough. Maybe I need to write slogans on my hands, messages to stay calm and swim on. Anything to keep from giving in to the green fog. I know it sounds silly. But at this very moment, I am seriously contemplating how I am going to make it through this event. I don’t want these months of training to be a waste. I want to rise to the challenge.
As I sat on the lake shore today, Liam drew a heart in the sand and wrote the word “Mom” next to it. I reminded myself that if I can’t do it, if I am beaten by the water, this guy still loves me no matter what. I take comfort in that.
However, if you have any great tricks for this type of scenario, feel free to send them my way. Think good thoughts for me.