IronMan Swim

Saturday, September 8, 2007

As we settled into Mirror Lake at 6:50am on race morning, I started to feel a little nervous, wondering if the horror stories I had heard would come true.

With 2200+ competitors, I’ve heard that the swim start is like a washing machine with flying feet, fists and elbows everywhere. I expected the worst – thinking I’d have to put my goggles back on after having them kicked off my head by a stray heel. I was starting to wonder if we’d placed ourselves too close to start line. Would the people from behind swim around or over us? Would we need the assistance of the underwater scuba divers that keep a watchful eye for swimmers that started to go under, or were knocked out by an inadvertant strike to the head? Was I going to need to grab on to a kayak at some point to rest? I simply had no clue what it was like to swim with 2200 others, and with that, doubt began to seep into my psyche. Two weeks earlier I thought I’d finish the swim in about 1hr 30min (the swim is two loops of a 1.9km or 1.2 mile course for a total of 3.8km or 2.4 miles).

Helicopters circle in the air above the water. The music changes. IronMan by Ozzy Ozzbourne/Black Sabbath blares out over the loudspeaker system. Rock. Then “Right here, right now” from FatBoy Slim. I get goosebumps. I look at my wife, give her a last kiss, wish good luck to my brother Gavin, his wife Michelle, and Michelle’s dad Greg. I wonder where William is. I wonder where Alan is. As I’m thinking about that, there’s a countdown blasting through the airwaves, I hear the cannon on the mark of 7am. The washing machine has started.

I get kicked once in the right ear and it uncovers my ear and knocks my goggles off-center. Water flows into my ear – it is cold I immediately worry about an earache. Readjust and keep moving – if not, those behind me will literally swim right over top of me. As I’m turned to one side taking a breath, I see a couple of elbows coming for my head. I manage to avoid direct hits. Before I know it, I’m at the turn around point – half-way through the first loop. It seemed to have happened so quickly, and I think to myself that it is probably just perception. I was so distracted by all of the feet, elbows and bodies in my face, it feels like I’m swimming faster than any of my training swims.

I make the turn, and start heading back towards the beach. I get out of the water, start walking to the beach preparing to turn around and head out for the second loop. I have no clue where anyone is – my wife, my brother, his wife, her father, my parents, my kids, their aunt and uncle, or any of our other friends. I can’t hear anything clearly – just noise everywhere. Then I hear my massage therapist Tina yelling for me. I wave to her, then look over at the clock and see the time is just over 40 minutes. I was right – it was my fastest swim ever. I smile on the inside, but know that the day has just begun. I head out for my second loop. I make the turn, use the same strategy as the first loop, and finish the swim in 1:23:46.

In all of our open water swimming training, I was always last to finish. I squeezed my body into my wetsuit last, got my goggles and swim cap adjusted after everyone else was waiting for me in the water, and yes, I entered the water last too. Last, last, last. I was used to it, and fully expected to be the last to finish the swim (out of our group – not last overall!) Paint yourself a mental picture of the prototypical swimmer: long and lean, yet powerful, with great armspan, and a streamlined body. If you’ve ever seen world-class swimmers Ian Thorpe or Michael Phelps, that pretty much describes them. And I’m pretty much the exact opposite. I’m built short and stubby, not long and lean.

Finishing the swim in 1:23:46 didn’t make much sense to me, but I couldn’t question it. In many ways, I was right – there were some kicks and elbows to the head, but it wasn’t nearly as harsh as I thought it might be. I was just happy that the part of the IronMan that could kill me was over and I was now on terra firma, getting ready to head out on the bike.

Derek Featherstone
Derek Featherstone
Web Designer/Developer, Speaker, Trainer, Author, IronMan Lake Placid 2007
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Man! Just reading your post gives me goose bumps. I head out again tomorrow for my last Triathlon of the year down in Conway, Arkansas. Last year, I was one of those guys who people literally swam over the top of. This year, it’s a little different. I’m a bit better and faster, but still look forward to that sweet moment when I’m able to finally to stand up in the water after the swim heading into T1. That feeling alone is the highlight of any tri for me. -DS

Dave – I know the goose-bumpy feeling! How did the triathlon in Conway go? Do tell, do tell…

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