On June 4, 2017 I did something that was so hard for me. Very scary. Very challenging. Very empowering. It’s hard to put into words how big this felt for me, but I’ll try…
Sunrise at Half Ironman start – June 4, 2017, Raleigh
For about a year now I’ve had this as a goal: to swim the 1.2 miles of the Half Ironman distance swim here in Raleigh, NC. When I first started this tri thing, I could barely swim a full lap without being completely exhausted. So my first tri events were usually 5 laps, which doesn’t sound too intimidating for someone who can swim comfortably, but 5 laps was almost impossible when I started. (Even two years ago it was totally impossible to think that in 2017 I’d be swimming long distances.) By the end of 2015 I was able to do the 5-lap-tri events doing only freestyle strokes, rather than including breast stroke or even walking in the shallow areas. And even then I would hold the wall for a second to catch my breath before starting the next length.
Somewhere in early 2016 I started thinking about what 2017 would bring and that’s when I started thinking seriously about setting a bigger and nearly impossible goal for myself. I love this quote below, about setting a goal so big you have to grow into it and become that person who can do it.
Most of the events I’ve done until this year are small and nearby, so the logistics and travel and transition area (single, not 2 transition areas) have been easy to easy to navigate and think through the details. Most Ironman events are spread out geographically with two separate and far away transition areas, so it makes everything more complicated. And it also makes it feel bigger emotionally. You feel the size of it. You feel the complexity of it. And when overlooking the lake and seeing the massive size between the buoys and the distance you’re supposed to swim, it feels like a punch in the gut. It’s a really, really big area to swim in. This was for the Half IM distance; can’t even grasp the Full IM distance for the swim.
The day before the event involves registration, reviewing the course, set up the bike in advance at transition by the water (husband was riding), last minute shopping needs, and checking out the swim course. By now all the buoys and markers were out in the water so you could see each one, the general start area, and where to finish the swim and start the bike. These pics below show just how far those buoys are out in the water! You can barely see them. I stood there, looking at them, and started crying real tears, not just wet eyes. I felt like I had made a huge, massive, complicated mistake that I was going to regret in less than 20 hours. But I was doing this as a team – with Jason & Heather – so this wasn’t MY race to screw up. It was our race. If I bailed or screwed up, it would reflect on the 3 of us – it wasn’t my race to screw up, it was our race. I was feeling the pressure earlier in this process, but to see the distance and feel that tangible doubt and fear was almost unbearable. It’s one thing to disappoint yourself, it’s another to do it as a team. It was too late to back out. I had no choice but to figure out how to be ok with this whole thing, knowing I was probably out of my league compared to the other Iron athletes and had bitten off more than I could chew.
There were almost 20 waves of athletes, totaling a couple thousand participants. My wave was literally the last one since it was a relay team. As we’re finally gathering into our group we go down the path into the water. At that point we have about a minute to get in the water to the start line. Music is playing but I can’t even hear it. They announce “20 seconds” or something similar. I look around at all the “real” athletes and hear this in my head: you are a F impostor in this group. What are you doing here!? I immediate had to turn that off and say, nope, just start moving when you hear the whistle. Get to the first marker.
I got to the first yellow one and it was ok. Then I just kept saying, get to the next yellow one. And the next one. And the next one. It was harder than I thought to get to the first turn. Seemed like more work than it should have been, but I knew I wasn’t even 1/3 of the way through at that point. Get to the next one. Next one.. Next one. Next one… Hey! There’s an orange one!! (In hindsight I now know that meant that I was half way there – not to the last buyoy which is what I thought had happened. Grrrrr.) I see another orange one. another orange one. another. THEY WOULD NOT END. Where the hell is the end? Is there NO end? Do they keep going forever? Next one. I’m in a good rhythm here, breathe left, sight front, breathe left, sight front breathe left, sight front. Next one. Next one. I start to visualize the finish line, me stepping out of the water knowing I did it! I can see it in my mind. I can see Jason getting the timing chip. I can see him hugging me and being excited for me. I can SEE and visualize the finish in my mind with every breath. OK, finally the last one and I turn towards the finish! I get a little closer and I can see it! I can see the IM flags, I can see the people. I’m starting to hear the people. Damn, it’s like I’m on a water treadmill and I can’t get closer. I’m swimming- but for the love of god it’s so slow. I can see it but I can’t get there. I have no idea about the time but I can see and hear the finish!
And then finally I’m at the last kayak of about 10 lined up at the finish before the boat dock. I know Jason is at the top waiting for me to pass off the timing chip to him. I can’t see him but I know he’s there. The second I was able to stand up I hit my watch to see the time which I haven’t looked at or even thought about. I had absolutely no idea how long it had been, but nobody pulled me out of the water so it HAD to be less than 1:10. IT WAS 57 MINUTES!! It was 13 minutes earlier than the cutoff limit! Thirteen minutes in the water can cover quite a good distance, so that’s a significant amount of time. I started screaming and cussing and yelling and could NOT believe that I had just done that swim.
Not only did I do better than I expected, I actually passed about 6-8 people out there! I never pass people. I was swimming with Ironman athletes and *passed* people. A few had to be pulled from the water due to having a hard time or not hitting the time limit. Some people used kayaks & resting boards to take a legal break, but I swam the entire time with NO breaks, 100% freestyle from the sound of the whistle. Just 57 minutes of intentional and strategic swimming with the sole purpose of finishing that race so my team could continue.
…but wait. The unicorn. My friend Melissa who recently did a 26mile hike for charity showed up at the swim finish as a surprise!! I’m loopy getting out of the water and it took me a minute to realize who was yelling at me. She’s there next to the corral for the relay teams – and she has a bright pink unicorn on a stick! We had called each other #unicornsisters – hence the unicorn. Turns out she barely made it in time to see me exit the water, after walking two miles due to a lack of parking, orange cones, race road blocks. She lives like 90 minutes away on top of that! I am not kidding when I say I thought I was hallucinating seeing/hearing her and this unicorn. Such a nice thing to do, and how easy it could have been for her to listen to others telling her it just wasn’t going to happen. Mmany detours, naysayers, and road blocks didn’t deter her! Of course, I learned all this after the fact. The unicorn, though!! I mean, look!
And then we got on a bus to shuttle back to the downtown transition area. And then Jason got on & off the bike. And then Heather started and finished the run.
And then after a long day of hoping for the best and our own individual version of success for the day, it was over. We had all finished in the times allowed with no major problems, crashes, issues, or getting pulled off the course. That’s a huge win all the way around. Really glad to represent Velocity Sportswear and the TriMafia team. And now I have a relay Ironman medal. And every time I look at it I’ll see a symbol of progress and proof that their motto is true: Anything Is Possible. Can’t wait for the next race =) These things are quite addictive.