While I was down and out for long-distance running for a bit I decided to tackle a long buckle list goal of completing a triathlon. First, that meant tackling learning to swim as an adult. With a very patient coach, I learned to swim in a few months and finished 3rd overall in my first triathlon, Murfreesboro Sprint Triathlon on MTSU campus. Now, the thing about my first triathlon that made it easier to podium overall was it was a POOL swim. While yes I was still terrified and made mistakes, it was easier on my body in general. I made up for my slowness in the pool by biking and running fast. But I knew I wouldn't feel like a legit triathlete in my mind until I had swum in open water. Yes, one of my biggest fears...open water and fear of drowning. I worked hard on my swimming form and had gotten comfortable in the pool swimming 300 meters on a weekly basis. Then, it was time for an open water session before my race. That proved to be a whole different feat altogether...I struggled some but made it 400 and 500 meters with crazy tides from the boats that morning.
Then comes race day.
I had a LONG work week leading up to my race with a few days of overtime hours, getting to work by 6 am. I have been at my new job for a few weeks now working full-time hours, which have been an adjustment on its own. I walked 12,000-15,000 steps on my Garmin just at work within those few days along with lifting boxes all day. I came into the race feeling a bit fatigued, under stress, and laking sleep. But I did my best to prepare and didn't everything else I could for success. Tornado watches the night before meant there was no bike drop off option the night before, but an earlier check in the morning of. I had woken up a few times in the night due to the storms, but I was crossing my fingers and toes praying for decent weather race day to calm some of my nerves. Race morning, the alarm felt way too early as always, but I got everything together quickly since I had packed the night before, and just double checked my list in the morning. Everything was ready to go, I just had to eat breakfast, get my tri kit on and affix my race number tattoos. Out the door, I headed with my husband and 2 kids at the wee hours of 5 am. I was as ready as I could be for this day. I thought I had everything I needed until I realize I left my inhaler on the counter after I grabbed my water bottles. "Damn it!", I thought. "Now I'm really going to suffer". I felt tight in my chest already just sitting in the car. Exercise-induced allergies are no joke, but top that with already race nerves, and I felt like an elephant sitting on my chest.
Bike check-in went smoothly. All my gear was set up and now it was time for waiting in the bathroom line, then just waiting for the start. Bike transition closed, everyone headed down to the swim start area. I watched as the first group of swimmers started lining up on the deck in numerical order. I was number 986, so I had quite a bit of time to wait. I still didn't feel quite awake yet and continued to yawn over and over again. I found a bench to sit down on and think about the task ahead.
I watched as little by little every 10 seconds or so another swimmer was sent in the water. The line continued until they finally called out the 900's. I found my spot in the lineup and continued down the ramp with the other swimmers who expressed their worries and anxiety about the swim. For many, it was their first open water swim as well. We observed people hanging on the edge of kayaks, being brought back to the start...their days ending just like that. We all agreed in glum voices that it was sad to see that happening. We chatted on about our thoughts of how that happened for them...injury? Fear? Just too tired? I thought to myself, "No way is that happening to me". One by one, swimmers jumped in the water, until it was my turn. Here goes everything. "KARA CALM DOWN," I told myself, "just breath". One hand went over my goggles to hold them down as I jumped in and submerged myself in water. I popped back up only to realize water had still found its way into my goggles and was burning my eyes. I treaded water trying to drain and readjust my goggles. I hate getting water into my goggles because of my contacts. I put my head back underwater and tried to start my swimming pattern, but my goggles were still bothering me. I fix them again and keep moving, but can't seem to get in a groove with my breathing. It seems so hard! I keep trying, but its just not feeling right breathing out under water. I stop and tread water again and it wears me out. At that moment I reached full panic mode. "I cannot make it to the other end feeling this way", I thought to myself, "I won't have the energy". I felt like I might suffocate, I was still fully capable of swimming, but my heart rate was high, and my body weary from inefficient form. "I will just have to call it a day right...my first open water tri a failure. I should start looking out for a kayak in case I need it, right??".
If you let it control your mind it can completely overtake you. My body was still moving, even though it was tired, but it was my mind that was giving up. I hadn't even thought to roll over on my back and just backstroke for a second to regain my composure, I just thought first off of giving up if things got worse. I mean this water was probably "Near 50 feet deep" as a volunteer informed me the night before. People were swimming close to me and I felt people bump into me and touch my feet. "They could pull me under in a second".
I thought about the months of training and hard work I had put into getting ready for this race. I could not give up this easy. In training, I had swum 500 meters in open water with higher waves then this. I only had 300 to go this time. I had run two freakin 100-mile races last year...that was way harder than this.
"God give me the courage to finish this".
"Fear is a liar", "I will do this".
And that, then and there was when beast mode Kara kicked in. Fearless Kara overcame. "Do not think of anything other than breathing and moving forward". I could hardly see anything because my goggles had fogged up due to the water getting in at the start. I tried my best to spot see so I didn't go too far out. People bumped into me, I bumped into others...no big deal, just keep going.
I found my way again. And before I knew it I saw the finish of the swim course, crowding up with people trying to get out of the water. I kicked hard the last few meters, as coached had told me to do. I felt disoriented coming out of the water, but a wave of relief as volunteers knee deep in water held out a hand to assisted me out of the water.
I DID IT! I FREAKIN DID IT!
It was as if my race could have ended right there and I still would have felt so accomplished for having made it through my panic mode.
Reality set in 1 second later as I was walking up the hill headed towards transition 1 when I knew I now had no time to lose to make up for my mistakes in the water. It was GO time. I started running. I sprinted ahead of a few swimmers walking at a slow pace up the switchback grassy little hill. It was like my trail body took over right then seeing that switchback and I flew up the hill.
"7...goggles...5", I repeated in my head.
That was the position of my bike on the bike racks as I turned the corner. You can almost lose your bike if you don't remember where you put it amongst hundreds of others, all looking similar as you run by them. "Goggles" was the 7th bike rack down, and the race had awesomely given each rack a catchy tri gear name with a picture to help spot it quickly. So helpful!
I threw on my bike gear, still dripping wet from the swim and ran out with my bike over to the "mount bike" line outside of the transition area. You can get a penalty or disqualified if you get on your bike prior to that line. Volunteers yelled out to remind us, "Don't mount your bike yet!"...before the line...."Ok Go!" After the line. Over the seat I go and clip in, now I was on my way.
This is where I will make up some lost time. I am super comfortable on the bike now. Lots of weekend group rides with my coach have helped me out a lot. He showed me lots of tips and tricks to riding as efficiently as I can on my older model rode bike. I am at some disadvantage already riding an older model road bike vs. a tri bike, like some others ride. My bike fit is even slightly too big for me since I didn't understand what I was looking for when I just up and purchased a used bike off craigslist. I did it on a whim after a running injury when the doctor said I could still ride a bike instead of running. I fly by many people on the bike, gliding the downhills freely in the drops. I continued along, still passing people on the uphill as well. My breathing still very labored on the ride, as it had been all morning, but my legs feeling great. The leg burning started kicking in slowly but I handled it. I sipped my electrolyte water slowly every now and then, keeping hydrated on a hot day. The next time I go to take a sip, my sweaty hands slip...not used to going glove free on the bike, and I drop my water bottle, running it over with my bike....it shoots out the other side, with a biker right next to me, but thankfully misses their wheel (they didn't even notice) and goes rolling off into the ditch. I watch as another girl down the course hovers bent over her bike, one knee on the pavement, as I emergency car arrives to help her. Her day ended there. "That could have been me had I had a worse mishap with my water bottle". 14 miles comes quickly and it's through the transition shoots again, volunteers yelling out as a reminder to all bikers "Stay on your bike until you reach the line!". I dismount and rack up my bike, swap to my running shoes, grab my race number belt, visor, and sunglasses and I am out .
Running...this is also, MY THING.
From then on out it was a suffer fest to maintain a steady 5k pace. That terrible, labored breathing, "I want to throw up", 5k pace, along with a swim and bike already on your legs, so it makes it harder. I run in a completely focused zone, only able to nod my head as a fellow friend racer yells out my name. "Steady Kara"...."Focus Kara" I remind myself. "It will be over soon, so you better give it your all". I stop at water stations only to throw water over my head to keep cool. "So dang hot", I think. At the 2 mile mark, I remind myself, "There's only like 8 minutes left...", "...you can do anything for 8 minutes"..."Make it all worth it". All the tough training. All the long days. The time. The money. "You have to be able to dig deeper than those around you". I continue passing people one by one. Then I see it. Chalk words written on the pavement up ahead.
That was all it took. It's now time to burn that last match and leave everything on the table, even if that means collapsing at the end. I sprint with everything left. I turn the corner to the crowds of people and the finish line. I throw my hands up and smile. I DID IT! I really did it!
I am given a finishers medal and a cool towel to lay across my neck. I see my family at the end. I walk over to the results tent and find out I placed 2ed in my age division! That made it all worth it even more! What a day! I received a cool Nashville Hatch print poster and a small piece of metal engraved with 2ed place age 30-34 female. We can take them to the local business to get framed at a discounted price they say. The overall winners received theirs already framed. Pretty cool.
I left the race happy with my award and overall accomplishment, but couldn't stop replaying the water scene in my head.
Why did I let that happen?
I think only having one open water swim session didn't prepare me mentally for the task ahead. I plan on getting out in the open water more in the future to get more comfortable for the future, but my next tri I already signed up for will be in the pool in 4 weeks. Looking forward to that!
I want to encourage anyone facing their fears to please don't let it overtake you. You are capable of amazing things, and with overcoming those fears you rise to the next level. Prepare and surround yourself mentally with as much positive reinforcement as you can. Arm yourself with mantras and tricks to get yourself out of a mental funk the best you can. Visualise your better future when you complete the task ahead, whether its completing a race, starting a new job, starting over in a relationship, or just takling the week ahead. YOU CAN DO THIS! So many people have been through what you are going through and overcame it. You are an overcomer.
I saw this quote today:
has two meanings-
Forget Everything And Run
Face Everything And Rise
The choice is yours.
Let your faith be bigger than your fear.
Fear is a reaction, courage is a decision.
INHALE COURAGE, EXHALE FEAR.