Today, the triathlon club at my Y sponsored a swim/spin brick workout (30 laps in the pool, followed by a 45 minute spin class).
I showed up having no idea how they planned to run things. As it turned out, it was set up like 2/3 of a triathlon: everyone enters the pool at the same time, swims his/her 30 laps, runs down the hall to a “transition area” to dry off and put on sneakers, and then up to the spinning room. Your 45 minute spin starts the minute you begin pedaling.
There were four of us – two men and another woman. The two men completed an indoor practice tri at the Y last month. They both swam 20 laps in 9 minutes. The woman was a swimmer – a real, competitive swimmer - with three triathlons under her belt.
I did my best to retain my composure as they negotiated for position in the pool.
“I’ll be the slowest,” I assured them.
We finally agreed to split two lanes four ways and just swim up and back in a straight line, which was ideal to me since that way I wouldn’t have to worry about slowing someone down behind me.
We entered the pool at the deep end. I quickly adjusted my goggles and swim cap and the volunteer said, “Ready? Set? GO!”
I pushed off the wall as hard as I could and instantly dislodged my goggles. The right side started slowly filling with water.
But I didn’t care, because I was keeping pace with the two people on either side of me. ”I am as fast as them,”
my delusional brain quipped. “I can swim faster than I thought.”
The confidence was short-lived.
As it turns out, to keep up with them, I was swimming erratically – too fast for my own good.
On the next stroke, I turned back into the water too quickly, gulping water instead of air.
I coughed underwater and came up on the next stroke gasping. I couldn’t catch my breath.
My heart started to race – a combination of panic and lack of oxygen. I felt like I was suffocating under the water. I couldn’t get enough air and my chest was starting to burn. Panic. I am panicking.
I haven’t had a good panic attack in the pool since the early days of my lessons this past fall
and all the bad feelings of failure, fatigue and terror came rushing back to me.
Plus, I still had that nagging little problem of my goggles filling with water.
Still, I reached the wall at the same time as the man and woman on either side of me. But the woman executed a perfect flip turn and was off like a shot. The two men turned quickly too. I pushed off from the wall hard again, this time completely dislodging my goggles. They hung off my face at an odd angle – one eye only partly covered (something that has NEVER happened before – what the hell?)
I stopped briefly to fix them, standing at just shy of the drop off in the pool. The three other swimmers were well ahead of me now.GO!
my brain shouted. Go! Go! Go!
So I went, still pushing too hard. I hated being so far behind and I was trying to swim way too fast.
I swallowed more water and the burning in my chest grew. What’s more, my right goggle was STILL filling with water. A few feet from the wall, I came up sputtering and actually dog paddled (DOG PADDLED, PEOPLE!) the rest of the way to the wall.
I clung there, chest heaving, gasping for air. I emptied and readjusted my goggles. My fellow swimmers were already half-way through their third lap. Calm down, Kim. Get a grip.
Taking a deep breath, I turned and swam away – trying desperately to regain my composure.
I adjusted my breathing from every third stroke to every second in an attempt to get more oxygen and bring my heart rate back to a normal level. I also – finally – slowed my stroke. With all three of my competitors nearly a full stroke ahead of me now, the need to keep up with them was fading. I was going to be last. But I was going to finish, and that was what was important.
I focused on swimming at the somewhat slow but steady pace I’ve worked so hard to achieve in the last few weeks.
And from there, it got better. Slowly, I felt my functions return to normal. I resumed breathing every third stroke. I focused on form and taking good, deep breaths when I came up.
On my 25th lap, I turned at the shallow end of the pool to see it was empty – my competitors had finished and were on their way to the spinning room. Back at the deep end, the volunteer yelled out, “four more laps, Kim,” and I shouted back “thanks” before pushing on. I gave the next four a little more gusto and finished in just over 18 minutes – four full minutes slower than the fastest swimmer (the woman –yay!).
The transition and spin were uneventful, but I kept replaying my inauspicious start in the pool in my head.
On the upside, I learned two important things:
1. Make sure that my goggles and swim cap are on securely before starting.
2. More importantly, don’t get too swept up in keeping up with those around me. It’s good to be competitive, but not to the point of foolishness.
And even more on the positive side: After the spin, I felt good. I could have easily run (and would have if I’d had my running shoes with me).
Bottom line: Don’t panic. Be confident in yourself. And practice, practice, practice.
Which is all pretty good advice for most things in life, actually.