“Why did I bother training for the swim leg at all?” I think to myself, standing in one corner of the lane at the wall. All I knew was all my training did not prepare me for what’s to come. I have no way to replicate these conditions except to take mental notes and keep going: swimming with six other people is not fun; encountering a wake from both left and right messes with breathing and swimming technique; not all walls are created equal; some pools are apparently one-depth-only the entire length, good thing I’m tall and I can stand with my mouth above the water, everyone else has to hold the wall, the rope, or tread water.
The damn tiled wall is slippery, like it had a layer of algae growing on top of it. But it was a chlorinated indoor pool! My feet could not get a grip on the wall, and all my pushes ended up being wasted energy. Oh, and I get to go first in the wave of 7, no biggie.
The volunteer yells out, “Go!” I attempt to push off but my feet slip, I get dunked under water, and then have to go as quickly as possible because the next person is going to be 3 seconds behind me.
It’s only been 10 meters and I get a tap on my foot which distracts me. I lose my rhythm, I slow to almost a halt to let whoever it is just pass me, and now my stroke is all messed up and I have to try to get moving from almost a complete stop. I let that person pass me, didn’t I? But they didn’t pass!
I realize I’m in a peloton of 6 other swimmers and we are drafting off each other. They were swimming a faster pace than what we all signed up for: 20-22 minutes. The whole thing is throwing me off. I lost count of the number of laps I’ve done, let’s just hope the volunteers are keeping accurate count. I feel like I’m playing real life this:
I need to think quickly about this situation I am in. I did go out pretty hard for the first few laps, so I can afford to slow down. If I slow down, then the peloton can be one length ahead of me and I’ll be flying solo the rest of the way. Seems like a sound idea.
I hit the wall and let the group go. I take a couple of breaths and instead of freestyle I switch over to breaststroke. My strategy works! I am swimming my own swim! Or am I? This older fella had the same idea. We weren’t going to get trapped into racing with others. This was our race and we’re going to swim our own swim.
A new problem develops from this strategy, though: every time I take a breath during my freestyle, no matter what side, I am met with a wake from the group going one way, and the other group of swimmers in the other lane going the other way. Each time I try to take a breath I swallow water; no, that’s not right, I breathe in water and that, in turn, aggravates my asthma and now conspires against me! I’m not going to get passed the swim leg! I’ll be hit with a big DNF by my name in my first triathlon! No way that is going to happen!
Time to throw out the technique I’ve trained and developed out the window and make adjustments on the fly so I don’t suffocate. My streamlined freestyle with just enough body and head roll for each breath is now a full twist of my torso and head. My mouth resembles a blowhole on a whale: pointing straight up! This causes my legs to dip down creating a lot of drag.
My legs scissor-kick as a result of having to twist so much; my arms overreach; my energy is draining fast. That increase in drag is very noticeable. This is what I must have looked like from the observation deck, just not as severely sunburnt:
I have to play the interval game if I’m to make it out alive: Freestyle one length, breast stroke the other length coming back. The new technique is robbing me of energy and leaves me with little choice but to apply that strategy. It works. I even end up passing a few folks who didn’t stick to their pacing. Wonder what that looked like, some guy doing breaststroke passing others doing freestyle?
Oh wow, one guy just quit and is heading to the change rooms. Damn, that could be me!
“Four laps to go!” The volunteer kindly informs me. I didn’t believe her. But what was I to go on? I lost count pretty much at the beginning. Hey, I’m not arguing or complaining. I’m glad it’s only 200 meters.
All of a sudden I have a new found rush of energy and I go freestyle the entire time while hitting my anerobic threshold, passing the peloton and lapping this poor guy – twice. My shoulders start to burn just as my breathing rate is about to rise, I crash the wall and with relief I climb the ladder and leave the swim behind me.
My swim time: 21 minutes to complete 750m.
I walk the catwalk towards the transition area, yank off my cap, googles, and earplugs and take the time to go through, in my head, the process I need to do in Transition 1 (T1).
My asthma is lingering, but it’s very mild. On the way out I see someone’s towel on the ground with his or her inhaler lying right on top. Just one puff, hope they won’t mind. I sweep that ridiculous thought aside. What a crazy thought! I’ll live through it on the bike ride.