One of my earliest memories takes place in a pool.
Unfortunately, it’s not a good memory.
I was about two years old, and my parents decided to sign me up for beginner swim lessons at the local YMCA.
While most of the details are fuzzy (I mean, I was two!), I can recall the swim instructor picking me up and saying, “1, 2, 3, DUCK!” (or maybe it was DUNK?!) and plunging me underwater. When she pulled me to the surface after what I assume was just a second or two, I was coughing and crying.
Shockingly, this was not an effective way to teach a toddler to swim, and my parents pulled me out of swim lessons soon after. But a lifelong fear and suspicion of the water took hold, and when they re-enrolled me in swimming lessons at a popular public pool in our town several years later, I refused to put my face in the water. Like, at all. Eventually, after MANY years of lessons, I did learn to get my face wet, and I learned to swim, though not with any real proficiency.
As an adult, most of the “swimming” I’ve done has consisted of splashing around in the shallow end of a pool, preferably with a drink in my hand.
Until now. Because I’m doing my first (maybe only?!) triathlon in a week!
What possessed me to sign up for such a thing when I’m kind of afraid of the water? Rip It Events is holding its inaugural Columbia Association Triathlon, which features a super sprint and a sprint option. The super sprint is four pool laps, followed by a 5-mile bike ride and a 1.75-mile run. Surely I can do four pool laps, I thought when I signed up at the beginning of the year. (Full disclosure: As a Rip It ambassador, I am doing this race for free. But I have a 15 percent discount code to share if you want to do it, too! Send me a message if so!)
I admit training for this most definitely took a backseat to Boston training, so by the time May rolled around, I knew I needed pool time stat. I recruited my friend Kree, swimmer extraordinare and two-time Ironman triathlon finisher, to help me during my first swim practice. I warned her that it would be rough, and she assured me she would be patient and we could get Mexican food and margaritas afterwards. (I can be easily bribed with food and drink.)
The day of my first practice, I was SO nervous and even questioned whether I really wanted to do this. I mean, I didn’t pay anything to enter the race — I could bail and it totally wouldn’t be a big deal. Except I’d told a bunch of friends I was doing it, and I knew they’d be disappointed if I chickened out. So, I sucked it up and met Kree at the North Arundel Aquatic Center for my first swim lesson in decades.
We walked in and the smell of chlorine took me right back to the 1980s. Anxiety washed over me immediately. Isn’t it crazy how smells can just do that to you? “Welcome to my happy place!” Kree said, totally serious. Get me the eff out of here, I thought to myself.
We suited up and walked out to the pool and I still wanted to run away, but I gingerly lowered myself into the pool and tried to acclimate to the water. “Want me to show you how I swim?” I asked Kree. “Sure,” she said.
I swam to the other end of the pool, head out of the water and freestyling the whole way. That’s not so bad, I thought. Then I swam back. OK, that was harder. But hey, I’m only swimming four laps, so I’m half done!
“Good job!” Kree said. “But let’s try getting your face in the water now.”
“Ugh, OK. But hey! I made it halfway!”
“Uh, no,” she said. “It’s four laps. That’s eight pool lengths.”
Kree showed me how to blow bubbles underwater and take a breath when I lifted my head up. Sounds simple, and I’m sure I learned this all those years ago in swimming lessons — and yet actually doing it was a huge mental hurdle for me. Honestly, if I had accomplished nothing else that day, I would have considered that a victory! But I actually did swim a few laps with my face in the water. It wasn’t perfect, and I wasn’t fast, but I did it. And man, I was TIRED afterwards.. So tired. How do people like Kree swim 2.4 MILES in Ironmans? I can’t fathom it. I guess a lot of people think that about marathons, though!
Since then, I’ve gone once or twice a week to the county’s other Olympic swim center that’s close to my home and work. It’s not easy, but it’s getting easier (I still get anxious when I smell the chlorine! It’s hard to undo all those years of believing that the pool is a scary place where someone is just going to dunk my head underwater suddenly.) I do need to take a breather in between laps, but because this is a pool swim, that shouldn’t be a problem on race day. I’m totally fine being a slow swimmer — as this is my first triathlon, I just want to finish without completely embarrassing myself!
I’ve even convinced my husband to do the triathlon, too. He claims he doesn’t need to train and that “swimming is like walking” to him. I joked that my only goal is to beat him because he’s not taking it seriously, but I might not be able to. In addition to being a very strong swimmer, he’s faster and more comfortable on the bike. I get nervous about going too fast and having an accident. My running race pace is about three minutes per mile faster than his, but I don’t know if that can make up for the swim and bike portions!
We went swimming together this morning and after I swam my first lap, he giggled (yes, actually giggled) and said, “Good job, sweetie! You are trying so hard!” He might as well have added a “bless your heart!” afterwards. Then later he said, “It will be nice to actually beat you in a race.”
Whatever. I’m just going to “tri” my best….. That’s all I can do, right?
A hilly Herald Harbor 5K
For the second year in a row, I ran the Herald Harbor 5K with my friend Cindy. Last year, I was the first female finisher, but didn’t get a medal because those went to the top three overall finishers, both male and female. I finished sixth. This year, I had heard that the top three finishers were getting trophies, so I was hopeful that I could run fast enough for a trophy! I’ve been doing a lot of speedwork this past month in hopes that I can get better at 5Ks, so I was optimistic.
No such luck. Even though I was about a minute faster than I was last year, I finished third female and eighth overall. There were some fast people this year, and I got passed early enough in the race that I knew within the first mile I would not be in the top three. Finish time was 21:34, but the course was short. My watch measured 2.9 miles, so if it had been a true 5K, I’m guessing I would have been in the high 22s. The hills of Herald Harbor got me, again! (I have not done a damn bit of hill training since Boston, although my neighborhood does have rolling hills.)
Cindy, who lives in Herald Harbor and runs on the hills regularly, did great, beating her time last year by about three minutes! The race raises money for a new pavilion at the community’s park. It’s a fun and low-key race, and I definitely recommend it as long as you aren’t going for a PR, since the course is short.