Dirty little secret and my open water swim

13419525031401066719Happy VW Beetle.svg.medI have a secret.  As you may know I am an avid bike commuter.  I bike 12 months of the year.  Well, my secret is that sometimes when ironman training gets tough and work hours are long I drive to work.  That is right, I am fossil fuel sucking, carbon footprint making driver.  It doesn’t happen often but on days like last Monday after a huge weekend (20 mile run, swim, 100 mile bike) the thought of getting on my bike at 5:45 in the morning to go to swimming when its still dark and i’m tired and sore just about kills me.  I run at night so don’t need to worry about being in traffic and it is the only time that it is actually quicker than biking.  The best part is I get my coffee!  When I can, I try to carpool with my neighbor who leaves for the loop at 5:2o in the morning a few days a week.  Today I only rode 50 miles so rest assured I’ll be riding to swim tomorrow morning at the ass crack of dawn … wait not even dawn – better get the helmet light on!

The open water swim pain cave.

Last Friday a few of the trimonsters gathered for a swim down at Ohio st. beach.  We met at 7:30 and planned to swim to North Avenue and back… about 2.6 miles or so.  I’m pretty calm but I can always feel my nerves hit my stomach as I get to the beach.  We put our wetsuits on and head into the chill which isn’t actually painful until you actually let the cold water into your wetsuit.  I get into the water and take a stroke my heart pounds and I immediately want to run back to the beach and forget that ironman even exists. As I talk myself out of running back I slowly get into a rythym.  Once we get to the 1/2 mile mark where the breakwater ends the waves start to get bigger.  I feel like an old sock in a washing machine.  With each breath I take I hope and pray that as I gasp for air a wave doesn’t hit me the wrong way and cause me to choke.  By the time I get to the wall between North and Oak St. the waves are pushing me in what seems every direction but the direction I want to go in.  Every now and again I lift my head to make sure I’m actually making  progress. Not only am I hit by waves of water I’m also hit by waves of anxiety.  I start to question why I’m even out there, I go into some very dark places in my head and want to quit.  A couple of years ago I had a bad experience where I had to be saved and carried to shore by  another swimmer due to me choking on a wave.  I find myself stopping quite often to cough out water and to make sure that i’m still able to breath.    I have to say that I have a pretty high tolerance for pain and can usually will myself through anything but when it comes swimming in wavy choppy water I am actually afraid. In general I’m not afraid of water and love the ocean but here I was afraid. I see Coach Chris who had climbed up on the shore to look for us.  One of the swimmers (Dave) had already turned back, I swam up to the ladder and decided to get out.    April and Steve followed.  We walked down to Oak St. beach to complete our swim back to Ohio St. Beach.  I don’t feel bad because I look at the water with its dark choppy waves and I  realize that for today it controlled me and for that reason I let it win.  The following day was a beautiful sunny fall day and I decided that after my run I’d give myself another chance.  I even went in without the protection of my floaty wetsuit.  September 28th and I went into lake Michigan in my bathing suit and had an amazing albeit chilly 1 mile swim.  Win!!!

Beautiful warm day at Ohio St. Beach.  The water was stil cold!

Beautiful warm day at Ohio St. Beach. The water was stili cold!

The rest of the weekend training was pretty low key with a 13 mile run on Saturday and a 50 mile bike ride on Sunday in Highland Park.  The weather was perfect!  The 13 mile run was pretty tough because I had already ran 5 times in 6 days including a 20 miler the week before.  All that running and the cumulative effect of all my other workouts took there toll.  Luckily I have my FFC runmonsters that I coach on Saturday mornings which always give me a boost.  Here we all are on the jetty at North Avenue beach before the run. Look how lucky we are to get to run with this as a backdrop!


The next few weeks will be a challenge as training and work are both amping up. But I’m up for it!




About Gillian

I am a type 1 diabetic diagnosed at the age of 30. I run marathons, participate in bike races , ironman triathlons and everything in between.
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