Friday, September 18, 2015

Tri-ing to Face My Fears and Race Out of my Comfort Zone

My Inspiration...

In two days, I will be participating in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon “Classic” distance which consists of a ½ mile swim, 18 mile bike ride and 4 mile run.  This is – by far – the longest event I have set my sights on, and to say I am nervous as hell is an understatement.

For those who know me personally or have read my blog over the years, I have a passion for running.  I have one full marathon, six or so half-marathons, and more 10K and 5K races than I can count under my belt; so one may think that triathlons would be a natural progression for a competitor like me.  Actually, it didn’t go down like that at all.

A few years ago, my neighbor Lisa started competing in Triathlons.  She suggested that I do one with her.  I smiled politely and said I would give it some thought but, in my head, I didn’t even consider the idea.
Now, I did grow up on the Jersey Shore and, during my youth, I spent a lot of time at the beach and in the Atlantic Ocean.  During the 70s, when I was my son Shane’s age, my BFF Dina and I would get up and go to the beach every day, all summer long. 

No parent was anchored to the shore checking to see if we were OK; I mean, why bother hiring life guards then.  Some days, I would rent an old school canvas raft to ride the waves or float to the last buoy; luckily, I never floated out to sea. But on most days, it would just be my beach towel, a brown bag lunch and my love of the Shore.  
However, when I moved to Southern California in 1994, the love affair ended. I can honestly say that, for more than 20 years, I could count the number of times I entered the Pacific Ocean in Southern California on one hand.  The cold temperature and its angry demeanor just didn’t seem inviting. To be honest, swimming in the ocean was a complete non-issue and I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything until Shane opened my eyes.

Our boy has always loved the ocean and, when he was 18 months old, he jumped right in with no hesitation. To my dismay, it was January.
Today, Shane loves to boogey board and has surfed a little bit but mostly he just loves to swim.  I would always make a valiant effort to act like I enjoyed swimming with him but I would usually turn swim duty over to my husband Jason as quickly as possible.

It wasn’t only the discomforts of the Pacific, but it was also the fear of the unknown lurking under the gray, green waters.  When your local pier is a nursery for juvenile White Sharks, it can be very daunting.
On top of it all, when Shane was born, I became a complete worry wart:  I fretted if he ate too much; if he didn’t eat enough; if he was too hot; or too cold.  The thing was that, as he got older, my worrying seemed to get worse.

By the time he was in elementary school and I should be relishing in his independence, I was pretty much paralyzed with anxiety about all the things that could happen to him once he left the safety of my sights.  Luckily, I have a very normal husband who made light of my concern.  Shane is our only child and, for the most part, Jason has always balanced out my over-protectiveness. Yet realistically, I knew I wasn’t setting a very good example by being scared of my own shadow.
The bottom line: I realized that I had to grow some balls.  So, when Lisa approached me again about doing a Mini-Sprint Triathlon with her, I said yes.  She took me under her wing and showed me the ropes and, for the first time in my adult life, it felt good to be out of my comfort zone.

The running part was no problem and I knew I could at least ride a bike, but the swimming was definitely going to be a difficult.  I have never been a “strong swimmer” (my favorite Martin Short quote btw) or a sport swimmer by any means.  I made a soggy start swimming laps at my local gym.  I didn’t like water in my nose so I had nose plugs, swim cap, goggles that seemed to buoy up the bags under my eyes.  I was definitely a sight and not quite as glamorous as Esther Williams.
Slowly, I plugged away and my endurance grew.  Soon, I no longer needed the nose plugs and thank goodness because I could barely breathe while swimming.  I did almost my entire training in a 25 meter pool and, when Lisa asked if I was ready for an open ocean swim with her Triathlon Trainer, I knew that I wasn’t but replied, sure!

I realized very quickly that swimming in the ocean is much, much different than doing laps in a pool.  Going out that day, I got beat up a bit by some daunting waves and my goggles fogged up instantly. Once we got out past the wave break about 100 yards (the length of a football field), I realized that I had never been this far out in the ocean without some sort of flotation device and those bags under my eyes weren’t going to help me now.  
I felt blind and my fear was palpable.  The Tri Trainer said swim to the pier (about a quarter mile) and I thought to myself, there is no way I’m going to make it.  But the other women were already gone and my pride was beginning to prune, so I prepared to do the front crawl stroke. 

I put my face in the very murky and very deep water and the iconic cover of Peter Benchley’s novel, “Jaws” instantly popped into my mind.  I kept picturing myself swimming (OK with a wet suit and not naked) but with that giant Great White coming straight up to get me. 
Needless to say, I had a full blown panic attack.  I could not put my face in the water and tried swimming back stroke and then side stroke but the feeling of wanting to just scream and run was overwhelming.  The problem was that I couldn’t do either because I was 100 yards out to sea.  The trainer came by and talked me off the ledge and, I thought to myself, I need to pay him extra for his open ocean therapy session.  He did calm me down and said he had seen grown men more scared than me and I thought to myself, Shane would love this and he wouldn’t be scared. He would just do it.
LA Triathlon 2015:  Coming in 3rd EFS

With my little guy as my inspiration, I started to swim and made it to the pier but that was all I had in me and, once we were done, I was out of the water as fast as a shot.

I was very disappointed in myself after that first ocean swim and vacillated with the thought of quitting the race.  But I thought to myself, what kind of message would I send to Shane if I were to quit without even trying?

The days leading up to my first race – which consisted of a ¼ mile swim, 5 mile bike ride and 1.5 mile run – were excruciating.  I was so scared that I could barely eat or sleep.  It only got worse as the event approached and on the day of I was actually sick with anticipation.But come what may, I knew that I had to stick to my commitment.  In reality, all the organizing of the equipment and the over-thinking of the transitions were a comfort to me.

When I finally crashed through those first waves with the rest of the women in my division, I felt alive and a part of something that was much bigger than myself; And later when I crossed the finish line, the feeling of having faced some pretty big personal fears and accomplished something that I never, ever thought would be possible for me was exhilarating.

Today, I am not immune to my fears but I try not to let them beat me down. This coming Sunday in Malibu is no exception, but I know that as long as I have Shane cheering me on, I can do anything.

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