Thursday, July 27, 2006

From Flounder to Flipper

There is an interesting drama that unfolds as people pursue their dreams of becoming an Ironman. We all have different reasons for chasing this rabbit, and we all have different fears and challenges as we get closer to race day. As I've become more familiar with those around the triblog community (TBC), one concern continues to crop up.

The swim.

From my perspective, this is odd. The run is a full marathon, tacked on at the end of a VERY long day. A marathon starting at 7 a.m. is tough, and I can only begin to imagine a marathon after the swim and bike. And the bike is a good bit longer than a century. Having completed a century ride many moons back, that is no easy feat. It also comes after a good bit of exercise.

The swim. It's "only" (used in the loosest of terms) 2.4 miles, and is the first task of the day. It comes right after a hopefully good night's sleep, a good pre-race breakfast, and before any other activity. And as many an expert will point out, it is the least physically demanding of the three disciplines. Finally, it occurs in water, which helps prevent overheating.

Oh, wait, there it is. It. Takes. Place. In. Water. That's the big hitch.

Despite all the mental gymnastics to detail why the swim should be the least of our concerns, the swim in any race is the most daunting task, for me. A quick review of many triblogs will confirm that many of us are gravely concerned about the swim portion of our events.

When training for a marathon, 20 miles is the absolute longest training run I complete. I have quickly ratcheted my bike distance up to 70 miles, and have few concerns about completing a century, despite not having done so in ages. And a century is likely the furthest I would ever consider biking in preparation for an Ironman race. Why, then, am I so insistent upon putting in huge yardage in the pool? My next race has a 3/4 mile swim. I have been training with 1, 1.2, and 1.5 mile swims. And I saw nothing odd with Iron Wil completing a 4000 yard swim to train for Ironman Wisconsin.

When this crazy journey started, I felt like a flounder in the water. A co-worker aptly defined it as "swimming like a barge." After several months, I am less awkward and far less concerned with my ability. Still, my pace averages right around 2:30/100 yards, and I have a lot of work to do on breathing. The ultimate goal? To be more like Flipper than a flounder. At some point, I want swimming to be like biking and running. "You want to go how far? I'm in." Instead of, "Are you off your rocker. Drowning isn't on the agenda for the weekend."

Swimming is unnatural for people. We don't have gills, flippers, or a strong desire to chase that worm hanging from that shiny metal object. We like air, solid surfaces, and spaghetti hanging from that shiny metal object. Ironman demands that we manage to overcome our fears, learn to trust in ourselves, and complete a task that most consider insane.

All we have to do is meet Ironman's demands.


Bolder said...

it's all about the bike.

Iron Pol said...

Not if I drown. Luckily, I now place that in the "not really likely" category. Which is far better than the "fairly good chance" category it was in.

tri-mama said...

Ah the swim. It's all you said-it's the first event-it can set the stage for the balance of the race. In sprints it can make the difference between those few minutes that separate podium from outside top ten AG. In the longer events it's drowning :( and the worse case-not finishing in time. Ironically- I love swimming. I love floating along in the water-I do some of my best thinking in the water.

Mister P. said...

The swim has an unfair reputation. For me, if the bike was first I'd be most nervous about that. It'a all about pre-race jitters, and the swim just happens to be on the front line. It's the shortest of the events and place you're least likely to get injured. (not counting shark attacks.)

Iron Pol said...

Thanks, Mr. P. I was just getting to the point of being okay with the swim, and you bring up sharks.

And don't try to calm me with discussions about this being an inland lake in Wisconsin. There could be an odd species of shark that gets into the lake.

Just watch Sci-Fi, they probably have a movie about it.

mishele k said...

Actually, bull sharks can live in fresh water for years, and they're very ferocious. Some have been spotted along the Mississippi and Amazon Rivers. Acquisition of such knowledge comes after staying up too late watching the Discovery Channel.

But don't let the sharks scare you... just assume the pros have scared away anything interested in eating you. That's why they go first, right? To preserve the AG masses?

Nice blog btw.

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