No Guts No Glory

June 24, 2013

pirate-no-guts-no-glory-flag-1965-pLooking soulfully out of the train window on the way home from my half-ironman triathlon competition yesterday, I saw a No Guts No Glory pirate flag gusting in the wind and rain in someone’s garden.

I felt like they had put it up for me.

I dropped out during the swim. And I can’t even blame the jelly fish.

I struggled in the water in total panic for 15-20 minutes. I tried in vain to find a rythmn, get control of my breathing and to relax. I tried swimming breast stroke for a while, I tried having a rest hanging on to one of the kajaks. Nothing worked and in the end I just had to get out of that water. And you know what, I don’t regret it. I did the right thing. It felt like such a relief when I stopped.

But don’t worry, I’m not giving up! I’m still certain that I can do my ironman distance triathlon on 18th August! Yesterday gave me some good insight into things I need to focus on…..

  • I need to be better organised and have more peace and structure in the days up to the competition so that I get into the “zone” and have a positive mindset.
  • I need to use the next 8 weeks to get as much open water swimming practice as I can, particularly on the route for the triathlon (which I’m pleased to say is a lagoon and has much quieter water than the swim route in Øresund yesterday).
  • I need to find some techniques to help with my panic.

That’s all!

Luckily I have people around me who are experts, who believe in me and my “project” and who want to help me, help I’m more than happy to accept. And while I was dreading coming home and having to spread the news that I had flunked it, I ended up overwhelmed by all the support and encouragement I’ve been getting……seahorse

So maybe no glory this time around, but I’m feeling a lot of love!

And from today I’m back on the (sea)horse!

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This Ironman business seemed fine when it was months out on the horizon, but all of a sudden reality has struck!  On Sunday – in less than 4 days – I have my first “real” triathlon: the half-ironman distance Øresund Triathlon. That is 1.9 km swimming, 90 km cycling and 21.1 km running. I am actually really looking forward to the cycling/running part (apart from some underlying anxiety about the potential for punctures), but the swimming…. well, the swimming is an entirely different matter……………………………..

The swimming part takes place in the sea. And up until 2.5 weeks ago I had never swum outside…..

To get this swimming thing in perspective, you can read the background on my learn-to-swim project here. That post was written just over a year ago and at that point I was struggling just to stay afloat and was suffering major panic attacks. There has been significant progress since then, I’m glad to say! For the most part, the panic attacks are a thing of the past (unless anyone asks me to flip over in the water or such like) and I can swim crawl after a fashion at a steady pace for a while. But I’m the slowest swimmer I know. Like really slow. Like so slow that, at a mini-triathlon I did a couple of weeks ago (swimming in a pool), I was being overtaken by women doing breaststroke granny style (i.e. with their head up).  That is slow!

And then there is the open water thing. I have of course known all the time that the day would have to come. It has been a recurring nightmare I’ve been trying to push to the back of my mind all winter. And while the rest of the Danish triathlete community has been bemoaning the long cold winter which has meant that open water swimming season has been delayed, I have been rejoicing.

Isti and me after a 7am swim in the pouring rain!

Isti and me after a 7am swim in the pouring rain!

However with 3 weeks to go until Øresund triathlon it was verging on the irresponsible to postpone the evil moment any longer……. So along with my dear friend and training partner, Isti, I signed up for a 3 week intensive Open Water swimming class. It was also his open-water baptism, and I don’t think he would argue when I say that he isn’t crazy about swimming either, but he is generally cooler, braver and a MUCH better swimmer than me. And boy, was I glad that he was there too.  I honestly feel like my swimming personality is the opposite of my normal personality. Where I’m usually self-confident, willing to give anything a shot, always finding the positive in any situation, when it comes to swimming, I feel hopeless, scared, convinced that I can’t do it: very vulnerable and humble. Then it’s very nice to have a friend around, believe me!

I wish I could say I took to it like a duck to water, but I didn’t! It wasn’t as bad as I expected, which is the good thing about blowing your worries totally out of proportion! We started in a lake, Søndersø, where the temperature is marginally higher than in the sea, but where the visibility is zero. And while swimming in a wetsuit is great for those like me that have trouble staying afloat, I hadn’t anticipated how difficult it is to swim in a straight line and if you are as slow as me you don’t want to also be swimming double the distance! And the panic was back…..

So while, it wasn’t actually as bad as the horror story I had invented, I developed a new nightmare about whether I could actually manage to complete the swim on Sunday before the cut-off time (which is 1.5 hours after my start). Can you just imagine the disappointment, not to mention the humiliation, of not actually being allowed to continue with the cycling and running parts??? Ouch!

However, after a couple of days of running around totally stressed about that, I figured out that there is nothing I can do about it, except just go for it and do my best. In the meantime, my open-water swimming has improved quite a bit. The panic has receded, I’ve figured out how to swim in a more or less straight line, and while I’ll never be fast, I can swim at my own steady (slow) pace and am not in doubt that I can hold the distance. So I have been feeling a bit better about it….

At least, that was until I read a Facebook post this morning about the risk of being attacked by jelly-fish during the swim on Sunday. Hmm, attack of the Jelly Fish, oh for goodness sake, now I’m already busy with a whole new range of swimming nightmares!!