July 19 – the second open water swim with my Team in Training (TNT) crew. We all know about the first one and how that went, so – even though I swam great in the Hudson a few weeks ago – I started the trek to Coney Island that morning with an uneasy feeling in my stomach and nerves that were acting like I was on my way to the guillotine. I originally planned to meet some TNT folks and ride my bike to the beach with them, but decided not to at the last second because I wanted to just concentrate on the swim and not worry about being tired from the ride, where to stash the bike while I swam, and the logistics of getting back to the city after the morning at the beach was over. Instead, I met other team members at the last car of the Q at Union Square at 6:30am. One of the guys on the train with me was in the tapering phase of training for an Ironman that he was doing in 8 days in Lake Placid. I guess his 2.4 mile swim was a bit more intimidating than my 0.93 mile swim. What a show-off. (Seriously though – that is so impressive and I hope to get there one day, too!)
When we got to Coney Island, I immediately wished that I had a sweater and was glad to put on my wetsuit. It was 7:20am, cloudy and chilly and I was shivering from either the air temperature or my nerves. Or both.
Such a little drama queen, right?
We pulled on our wetsuits on the boardwalk and then headed onto the beach for a Mission Moment – a reminder of why we are doing this in the first place. A team member gave a bit of background about her battle with cancer and chemo as a kid, and then talked about how she had run into her hospital roommate years later on a subway in Boston. Both were doing well, working impressive jobs and living. She emphasized living, saying that it’s not all about the money and effort that goes into treating and finding cures for cancer, it’s also about the lives that are given back when the cancer goes into remission. The lives that can then live to do great things and potentially change the world – which is something that they may not have been able to to without organizations like the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) and donations through Team in Training. And how every penny is valuable, useful and appreciated. (Don’t forget to visit my fundraising page and read more about my story: http://pages.teamintraining.org/nyc/nyctri14/meredith)
Then it was time for the water. It was a bit warmer than last time, and this time around we just swam on our own within the group – no buddies to swim with. I high-fived one of my friends while we told each other than we would be fine and we ventured into the water, just after one of the coaches gave us all a warning that there were tons of jellyfish lurking about.
For some reason it is hard for me to breathe out at first when I put my face in the open water. Maybe it’s the cold or the movement of the current or something, but I have to really force myself to breathe that air out for the first 3-5 times before I settle into it. But I think it could also be some kind of natural response to something – I find that I hold my breath way more often than I should when I am punching in Muay Thai, lifting at the gym, or even hitting a tennis ball.
We jumped right into swimming – no acclimating to the water or slow warmups like last time. We swam in a rectangle – out pretty far, then parallel to the shore, then down toward the shore and back parallel in the shallow part until we got to where we started. To be honest, I kept my head above the water for a lot of this drill. But I concentrated on my form, specfically my arms, and slowed myself down when I felt myself overdoing it Otherwise I would be totally exhausted by the time I finished. “Keep your head down, little girl!” I heard a friend yell out to me. Oops, I had been spotted and called out. Couldn’t let that happen again! We did a few more drills in that rectangle and broke into smaller groups so that we could start in 15-second intervals like we would do on triathlon day. I was feeling alright. Still nervous, still a little anxious, but good. (And proud of myself, too.)
Then the coach told us that we would swim the rectangle for 40 minutes straight and that at no time were we to be in water where our feet could touch the bottom. I can’t imagine what the expression on my face must’ve looked like when he said that, but a wave of panic swept over me. 40 minutes? In the ocean. With the waves. In a place where I couldn’t touch the bottom. With the jellyfish. And the tons of other swimmers all around me. Ok. Maybe triathlons aren’t my thing. Maybe I got a little overzealous with this whole idea and am just not ready. Maybe I’m a duathlon girl. Let me run a marathon instead. An ultramarathon, even. Is it too late to bow out gracefully? Tell everyone that I was just kidding about this whole thing? Admit defeat and move on?
I swear I’m not always such a drama queen, but the thought of 40 minutes nonstop in the ocean brought out a 6 year old scaredy cat and I felt stuck between fight or flight. Luckily I am not one to admit defeat easily and was definitely not going to be the person to bow out. No way. I’ll fight over flight any day. The mantra that the coaches have been telling us since day one, drilling into our minds and repeating over and over again in weekly training emails came into my head. I am strong. I am alive. I will thrive. Not just survive.
I took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. I am strong. I am alive. I will thrive. Not just survive.
I had this.
There’s nothing scary about the water. When I was a kid I would’ve given anything to be Ariel from the Little Mermaid and could spend days in the water. Maybe I didn’t have the cool mermaid tail but I had an awesome wetsuit. Lycra superhero (as one of the coaches put it). I got to the beginning of one of the lines and was in the 3rd group to enter the water. We swam out to where one of the coaches was treading water and acting as a buoy and went around him. Then all the way to the other side of the embayment where another coach was also treading water making sure that no one cut any corners. Back down the short side of the rectangle and then all the way back to where we had started. And repeat. I settled into a calm rhythm of stroke, breathe, stroke, breathe – turning my head for a breath on every left stroke. I passed some people, others passed me, but at no time did I try to compete with anyone. As far as I was concerned it was just me in there. (At one point though a family began their day at the beach and I had to swim around the grandma as she waded or did her Silver Sneakers water exercises or whatever she was doing.)
I loved being a little mermaid, but after some time I wondered how much longer until those forty minutes were up. I had done several rectangles and had no idea if 8 minutes had passed or 38. I was also a little nauseous from all the movement of the waves combined with continuously turning my head to breathe. I started the short leg of the rectangle and heard the coach whistle and yell that 40 mins were up – time to get out of the water!
I got out of the water, quickly tried to turn my water legs back into land legs, reunited with my crew and got out of my wetsuit. I was freezing and shivering and my head was a bit dizzy, but I was smiling and ready for the 5 mile boardwalk run. I threw on my shoes, turned on the Nike+ app on my phone and ran. Since most of us had our race gear on under our wetsuits so that we could practice swimming in what we would be wearing on the actual day, the boardwalk was covered with purple LLS and TNT race tops, shorts, headbands, you name it. It was pretty amazing actually. I can only imagine how many more of us will be there on the actual day.
So – the swim was a success, the run was great, and all that was left was fries from Nathan’s and a cold Coney Island Mermaid pilsner. Done and done.
Triathlon day is less than 2 weeks away and I feel ready. I am so excited to wear my purple, to jump into the Hudson, to get the adrenaline rush that comes with races (which I can only imagine is intensified for triathlons), to be a part of something bigger than I am, to swim, bike and run for my grandma, for the fighters, survivors and victims of cancer. To be able to say, after months of training, that I am a triathlete.