It’s Monday, May 23rd… which means May 22nd weekend came and went without major incident mind you (all Armageddon jokes aside) and the date that loomed so heavily in my mental and emotional scope is now in my past. The fact that I’m writing this means I did not drown or get eaten by some freak monster fish while swimming in Mission Viejo Lake for my first real triathlon. Yes, I survived the 1500 meter open water swim… but not without a few hiccups…
5:00am - I had terrible sleep the entire weekend, so my mind and body were not sharp when I woke up race morning… (note to self: do not allow a group of 10 year olds hopped up on soda and cup cakes to sleep over the weekend of a race). But I was still excited to get to the race, so I quickly got myself out of bed, grabbed my gear and headed out of the house with some uncertainty. I was anxious and nervous… my wife knowing this, she came out to the driveway just as I was about to leave with a hug, a kiss and a “you’ll do great!”… I loved the gesture and found myself smiling with a little more confidence driving away from the house.
5:35am - I arrived at Mission Viejo Lake and the streets were already swarming with the energy of hundreds of athletes ready to take on the day… and I was one of them, just not as slim and athletic looking. After parking, I made my way to the body marking station and then to the bike transition area where I found very little space to set up my gear. After walking by bike after bike I squeezed my way in between two unattended bikes and set up my spot. I was anxious and nervous, so after placing my bike I kind of fumbled around my gear bag not entirely mindful of what I should have been doing. After a few deep breaths I tried to focus. I began to set up my area… helmet, bike shoes, glasses, race bib… all being set in order. After my transition was set I began soaking in the morning. “I’m here… I’m really doing this!” I thought to myself. I checked my watch and my 7am wave start was coming up, just like my breakfast… yes, I felt a little sick to my stomach. I kept having to take deep breaths to calm myself. My friend Brad was there, who I got into this mess with, but he seemed much less nervous than I was. So we chatted briefly… but I can’t remember anything we talked about, except that he pointed out we were the only ones that didn’t quite look like we belonged… made me feel awesome because sadly… he was right.
6:35am - After fumbling to get my wet suit on, I made my way down to the swim start. My stomach turned with nervous anticipation at what I was about to take on. In a matter of minutes I would do something that just a few weeks earlier seemed a far off dream. “Oh man… why did I think this was a good idea?!” I thought to myself as my stomach tried to claw its way to my throat. I eventually made my way to the shoreline where hundreds of neoprene clad “triathletes” were all taking in the site of the water in the early morning gray. I stared out toward the first buoy and fear suddenly struck… “Holy crap… how am I going to do this!?” The first buoy marker seemed an impossible distance for me to swim. I looked around to see whether or not anyone else looked as scared as I felt… Nope, it was just me. So I said a quick prayer… and made my way in the water for a quick dip before the race started to help get me comfortable. I swam out about 100 meters and came back… I felt okay. It started to seem less impossible... after all, it's just swimming... right?
7:00am - The call from the announcer, “Wave 1… All silver caps to the start area… 3…2…1…BBBAAAHHHH!”… Frantic rush to the water. The splash of 64 bodies simultaneously hitting the water made for confusion and chaos… but I was there in the thick of it, mindlessly rushing in. I began to stroke through the water to get some rhythm, but bodies were hitting me from all sides… I felt arms on my legs and legs on my arms… but I kept trying to press on. I started to go through everything I had read and everything I had been taught to try and ease my growing panic … “easy stroke, relaxed breathing, strong catch and sight”. After a few strokes I lifted my head to sight but took in water, Gag! Cough!... didn’t work… so I decided to follow the feet in front of me. I kept a steady even stroke and kept following my guide. After what seemed like eternity, which I’m sure was only 2 or 3 minutes, I decided to make another effort at sighting… this time perfect, eyes just above the water… “Wait! I’m going the wrong way!” I followed the wrong guy, because we both ended up what seemed like 100 meters off course. I was stricken by panic. I took a quick look back at shore and although it seemed like I was swimming for an eternity, I was only about 200 meters from where I started. Fear immediately began to creep in… in that moment I thought about giving up… I’m off course and I’ve barely made a dent in the swim. In that brief moment I began seriously doubting my ability to finish the swim… But then Phillipians 4:13 then crept into my fear stricken mind… “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me…” My doubt began to fade… and the thought of my wife and kids waiting at the finish line began to erase the fear… Determination began to take over. So I started swimming again. My stroke and catch began to take shape. I hit the first buoy and I was overjoyed… “I’m doing this!!!” I thought to myself in near disbelief. I felt great… I pressed on… I sighted the last buoy marker to the turn out and I smiled because in the weeks leading up to this, I thought, “if I could just finish the swim I’ll be able to finish the race…” and here I was, about to complete the swim.
7:38am - I hit the shore after swimming for 38 minutes! Not fast by any means… in fact, I think you can consider that pretty slow, but I still felt great… Heck, I finished and I kept my dignity intact… can’t ask for much more.
I won’t bore you with any more details because the remainder of the day is not as important. It was just biking and running, both of which I love… but not worth giving a blow by blow. But the rest of the race flew by and I finished blissfully. In fact, I did it with all smiles and a few “wwwoooohhhoooo!!!” along the way. I rode and ran through the hills of Lake Forest and Mission Viejo feeling like I accomplished something on this Sunday morning… Oh wait! I did accomplish something dang it! I just finished my first Olympic distance triathlon and faced some fears along the way… so yeah, that explains why I was all smiles… Like so many things in life, starting something unfamiliar is always toughest in the beginning… and on this Sunday the last 31 miles of my day was not nearly as difficult as the first .93 miles…