Sunday, September 21, 2008


Photo by Darrell Cavey at

So after wanting for 2 years to do this world's most difficult half-IM, being excited about it for months, registering in February, being devastated to be out of training with tendonitis for the summer.... the race was today. I'd tried to put together relay teams with myself as the swimmer, but two attempts fizzled out. I did the swim anyway, and turned in my chip. My first-ever DNF in 24 marathons, 2 previous half-IM's, and 2 full Ironman's. But I swam.

Last night I put my wetsuit on for the first time since IMFL 2006, to make sure it still fit. This morning was my first swim in it since that race 2 years ago. Somewhat dejected and non-motivated at the start, I didn't bother warming up. I'd considered, when the alarm went off, not even bothering to go to the race. But I was here, and in my wetsuit. I waded in knee-deep, realized the water wasn't all that cold (I've trained for 2 IM's in Deep Creek Lake and know what it's like), stuck my face in the water to make sure my goggles didn't leak, and hung out waiting.

The start was delayed 20 minutes because of fog. When the cold lake is warmer than the air, folks, there will be fog, and it will take a while to lift.

I should have warmed up. I'd forgotten about the in-water start; treading water sometimes whups me more than swimming. I was breathing hard when the gun (horn, whatever) went off.

For the second time ever (first was at a sprint tri after I'd already completed 2 half-IM's without problems) I panicked within the first few yards. Couldn't breathe. Heart pounded. Lungs burned. Treaded water. Oops, that doesn't work... dog-paddled, breast-stroked. Gonna drown right here in my old hometown lake in a full wetsuit. Looked for a boat. Swam to a kayak (why was that easy?) and hung on getting my breath. Figured that, when I could breathe, I'd swim ashore.... I was going to DNF the race no matter how far I swam or didn't swim. I shouldn't have bothered to come anyway.

Holding onto the same kayak was another woman who'd also freaked in the first few yards. She was frantic. It was her first time EVER in a wetsuit and she thought she was strangling. She was clearly hyperventilating. The kayak guy and I talked to her and got her to slow her breathing. She said she couldn't do the swim. I asked her if she could go to the next kayak, about 50 yards. She thought she could. I wasn't sure I could. I didn't say so. So we set out. I thought of swimming ashore and quitting. She did backstroke, breast-stroke, treaded water, made it to the next kayak. My breathing was OK now; she continued to have trouble. I said I'd stay with her and we did the whole 1.2 miles like that, pretty much kayak to kayak, with a lot of rest stops. It took an hour and a half. She made it. We hugged. She got her bike and continued the race. I dried off and turned in my chip.

So I DNF'd, but it had turned out not to be a useless swim after all. I'm really glad I could be there for her.

I spent the rest of the day walking back and forth to my car (total of 4 miles, parked a mile from transition, I'm only supposed to walk 1) to get/drop stuff; then cheering for racers, helping direct traffic when boat-ramp users competed with racers, and waiting for my friend Holly, whom I'd seen in transition but otherwise missed coming and going, and who put in an awesome day in the International distance.

I'm glad I went and now, reading others' reports, I'm salivating over my next chance to scale The Wall and Big Savage Mountain. 2010 if I do the Appalachian Trail next year; 2009 if I don't make it.

Except I'll make it.


TxTriSkatemom said...

You are a rockstar. Even if it was a DNF for you, there was a reason you were out there today. How do I know? Because that's just what happened to me at Danskin, and if not for the Swim Angel who stuck with me for the whole thing, I'd have given up entirely. Your swim was far from useless, my dear, far from it. Bless you, swim angel!!

ShirleyPerly said...

Wow, how wonderful to help someone else during a race. That was perhaps the most meaningful swim you could have had at Savageman. I'm sure that woman will never forget it and, heck, she may just stick with tris because of you. You're AWESOME!

Laura said...

I panicked for the first time this year in a swim at General Smallwood - it is a very scary thing. The fact that you could work your way through it AND help someone else work through it, is AWESOME. At Savageman, I had a really hard time getting my rhythm, I felt disoriented and nauseous for the first 7-10 minutes. It was a tough race all around! And I can't believe I am thinking of doing it again. See you 2010 at the Wall.