By Marla Maney:
How does a person who’s afraid of water find herself training for her first Half Iron? Let me tell you.
I’m surrounded by highly athletic and gifted people. My close circle of friends, including my own husband, includes many Ironman finishers, USA Triathlon National qualifiers, Boston Marathon qualifiers, marathon winners, ultra marathon finishers and the list goes on and on. And while they work hard at it, they all have an athletic background that stems from their childhood and a competitiveness that helps them succeed. I do not. And that’s not to say that I haven’t accomplished anything, I have. I’ve run marathons and I even ran the Fall 50, an ultra marathon, solo. But I’m not athletic, I’m not gifted, I’m just stubborn! And I like a challenge. If it’s crazy, uncomfortable and slightly scary… sign me up!
It’s that mentality that made me sign up for my first triathlon in 2017 even though I didn’t know how to swim. Not only did I not know how to swim, but I was afraid of water (still am) and I even refused to put my face in the water. But I signed up for the challenge and to see just how far out of my comfort zone I could push myself. Well, let’s just say, learning to swim has pushed me out of my comfort zone like nothing else.
A private swim instructor, a personal trainer, along with my husband and friends all tried to help me learn to swim. I was going to the pool a couple of times a week for 8 months and I still couldn’t swim a lap in the pool. Heck I couldn’t even swim a length of the pool up until 2 months before the triathlon. Eight months of not making any progress in the pool only helped to elevate my level of fear and self-doubt. But thankfully something “clicked” and only 2 short months before my first triathlon, I was able to swim a lap. Then I swam two. Then three. In only a few weeks I went from not being able to swim a length in the pool to being able to swim a half mile. But as I’m sure you all know, swimming in a pool is a lot different than open water swimming.
So now it came time for open water training. My husband was great and took me open water swimming. But it did not go well. I could not stop myself from panicking. And nothing I could do or say helped me remain calm. I choked on water, I hyperventilated, I grabbed onto the buoy and I refused to keep swimming and yes, I often cried into my goggles. I had absolutely no faith in myself and pretty much was terrified I’d drown either while training or during the actual triathlon.
Fast forward to the weekend of the triathlon. Saturday during the expo, I was figuratively and literally getting sick thinking about swimming the next day. The fear of dying, was real. And it was powerful. I shed my first tear during the mandatory course talk that day. I was absolutely terrified and I did not know how it was all going to play out.
The next day, after I checked my bike into transition and when I was heading to the start, was the first time I got a good look at the water that day. And I instantly started crying. Sobbing actually. A friend and my sister were there to cheer me on and when I saw them that morning, I simply couldn’t stop crying. Again, I must say, the terror was real. And it was strong. But so was I, and even though I DID NOT want to get in that water, I also knew there was no way I was NOT going to get in that water. I was going to do it.
When I finally got in the water and got swimming it took all of my mental strength to keep from panicking. I was talking myself off of the metaphorical ledge. I was concentrating on my strokes, I was concentrating on my breathing, I was trying to stay away from the other swimmers and I was most importantly trying hard not to die! It was about ¾ of the way through my ½ mile swim when I realized that I was swimming. I was doing it. Oh, my gosh… I was doing it. I was so ecstatic that I popped my head out of the water and yelled, “I’M SWIMMING”!
Getting out of the water safely for my first ever triathlon was surreal. It was a mix of excitement and disappointment. Excitement because I did it! Disappointment in the fact that I wanted to stop and celebrate my accomplishment, but I couldn’t, I had two more events do to.
I completed the bike and run portions of the triathlon with an inner giddiness that I’ve never felt before. And crossing the finish line was surreal. I just completed my first triathlon. I got in the water and I swam .5 miles in open water and I lived to tell about it! I set my sights on a goal and pushed myself beyond boundaries that I thought were physically possible. I took a fear and made it my bitch!
So why not just stop there? Why sign up for a Half Iron? I still can’t swim well, I’m still afraid of water and of drowning and I am beyond terrified of being pulled out of the water by lifeguards or not making the cutoff time. So why do it?
Because if I do do it… the sense of accomplishment will be far greater than the fear, dread and agony that goes into training. Knowing that I’m not only physically strong, but more importantly, mentally strong, is something that I can own, and no one can take that away from me. I started this whole story by saying I wasn’t competitive. But I guess I am. I’m not out to win or to beat my own time, but I am out to beat my own internal demons and self-doubt. That internal competitiveness to see if I can do it, along with a stubbornness that sometimes drives my husband crazy, is what I hope will get me not only to the start line come July 14th, but more importantly to the finish line!
Determined and Stubborn Half Iron Wannabe
P.S. If you think swimming is the only challenge I face in triathlons and once I get out of the water, things are all rosy, well that’s just not true! I have 2 bike crashes under my belt, including one that led to a nasty case of poison ivy, and a half marathon induced torn calf muscle that says otherwise!