O = Open Water Swimming

If you asked a typical triathlete what part of the swim-bike-run they disliked the most, I suspect the open water swim would rank at the top of the list.

Ten years ago, when I foolishly thought that being a triathlete would be a good idea, I was equally foolish enough to believe that I would be an exception to that statistic.  I grew up around water … open water swimming didn’t intimidate me … I believed it would be the easiest part of the race for me.

What I wasn’t however, was fast. In a short distance race with a swim of only 750 metres to a kilometer, that’s not necessarily a big problem … but when I decided – in my neverending list of really great ideas – to take on the Ironman challenge, it suddenly became a REALLY BIG DEAL.

O

The Ironman is a big bruiser of a triathlon with almost a 4 km open water swim, 180 km bike ride, and a full 42.2 km marathon run … and each piece has a time limit.  A weak or slow swimmer is going to be at a significant disadvantage going into the bike ride.  All that extra energy used to get through the swim seriously impacts the long road ahead.

It took me three Ironman races to reach that conclusion.

In 2007, Gilles and I headed to Ironman Brazil in the beautiful city of Florianópolis in the state of Santa Catarina in southern Brazil.  This was supposed to be the perfect race – a flat and fast course in moderate temperatures.  The only potential obstacle was going to be the ocean swim, but I had trained very hard for this swim and had been coached on a strategy for the strong current that could create problems for even the strongest swimmers.

Race morning I stood on the beach waiting for the starting gun – nervous, but confident.

Brazil 1

Three days before race day – acclimatizing for my first open water ocean swim.

The swim was an absolute disaster.  I struggled with the waves, I struggled with the current, I became disoriented in the water and at one point was actually swimming in the wrong direction.  I was getting weaker and weaker as the current was pushing me further off course.

I seriously questioned whether I was actually going to make it and by the time I eventually got out of the water, I was exhausted.

Brazil 2

The swim exit – I reached those timing mats only minutes away from being eliminated from the rest of the race.

I made the swim cutoff, but the last thing I wanted to do was get on a bike and ride for 180 km … but I did.  I would make the bike cutoff – I even made the time cutoff for the half marathon mark – but after that swim, I had been running on fumes and I had nothing left. I withdrew at the half marathon mark.

On that day in Florianópolis I developed a fear of swimming.  That fear would build over 2 more Ironman attempts until I finally reached the point I could no longer swim.

My hubris had humbled me.

April A to Z Challenge 2015

Thank you for visiting.  Please enjoy a Dutch treat of Olie Bollen.

olie bollen 2

Image from womanistical.nl

 

About Joanne Sisco

Retired but not idle. Life is an adventure - I plan to continue to embrace it.
This entry was posted in A-Z Challenge - 2015, Active Lifestyle, Memories and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

82 Responses to O = Open Water Swimming

  1. Pingback: #AtoZChallenge 2015 Reflections | Alex Hurst

  2. jannatwrites says:

    I haven’t decided if you’re crazy or just incredibly inspiring 🙂 Seriously though, I wouldn’t even attempt an Iron Man challenge… I’m kind of in favor of not heaving up my insides, but that’s just me! The fact you did it multiple times…wow!

    Like

  3. Along with many others here, my jaw dropped when I read this post😳 I’ve always considered the ironman race to be taken on by the super determined only – you’re amazing.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      I’ve come to the conclusion that Ironman competitions are best performed by those whose pain receptors don’t quite function properly 😉
      Thank you for your kind words 🙂

      Like

  4. Pingback: Q = Quitting | My Life Lived Full

  5. I’m totally in awe of anyone who has the guts to line up at the start of any distance of triathlon. Just amazing! I think you’re a star!

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Thank you 🙂
      Once upon a time, I would have agreed with you. Even the sprint distance sounded like an insane thing to do when my husband first announced his intention to race one.
      Now I know that it is a question of training … and apparently a bit of talent actually helps too.
      I do agree with you though – it took a lot more courage than I ever thought possible.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. LB says:

    Joanne, it’s easy for us to know that you didn’t fail, as you said in a previous comment, but I also know that it would be so easy to judge ourselves for not doing as well as we’d hoped.
    Good for you for the training, for making it through the swim, and for continuing on through the rest of the Ironman.
    I’m so impressed with your endurance and your spirit.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Thanks Laurie 🙂
      We do tend to judge ourselves very harshly but time has softened the edges of my disappointment. I can look back now with more humour and actual gratitude for my “old and battered” body. It’s done a LOT for me. I’ve demanded far more from it than the average person requires 🙂

      Like

  7. Mrs. P says:

    This writing challenge had allowed me to learn things about you that I could never have imagined…who are you anyway??!! I had no idea you were that physical active. Ironman…wow! As I sit here liking my woulds because of the recent bruising I have all over my body learning to sail s sunfish…More incredulous is that you went back more that once to do it again…that’s crazy or real cool, I haven’t decide which though I am sorry to hear that it whipped you of wanting to go in the ocean. The ocean is a lover that can be so unforgiving at times…unpredictable, powerful, even angry and other times serene. The only way to live with her is to respect her…even if it is along her shore.

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    • joannesisco says:

      I’m reading this as I drink my morning coffee and I’m glad I managed not to snort coffee all over my keyboard when I read your opening sentence 😀 Thanks for my first morning laugh!

      I immediately jumped on your line about learning to sail a sunfish. I would imagine you’re feeling a little battered and bruised!! 🙂 I tried ONCE to learn how to sailboard. I couldn’t lift my arms for 2 days :/

      I agree the ocean is a marvel …. but I’m going to leave the long distance swimming to others!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow, Joanne. It takes a lot to stop you. Remind me never to get in your way!

    Like

  9. treerabold says:

    I’m really sorry the Ironman thing didn’t work out for you. I’ve had the desire to do a sprint triathlon and maybe even a 1/2 but I can’t even wrap my head around a full ironman!
    You will always be a winner in my book! 😉

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Thanks – you just made me smile 🙂

      I went from doing a couple of sprints to thinking Ironman was a good idea. I was going to the races every year anyway because of Gilles. I figured I was there anyway and I didn’t have anything to lose. What I didn’t count on how devastating it was going to be to fail.

      Like

      • treerabold says:

        I’m not sure I can imagine the amount of training you put in to participate in an ironman. I’m sure it was very devastating not to finish. But I wouldn’t call it failure…..I’m sure the percentage of people that even make it to the start line of an Ironman are minimal….I love the saying, “I’m beating the guy on the couch!”

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        • joannesisco says:

          I trained for 8 months for each IM and then rested for 2 but I’m sure others need a much shorter runway than I did.
          My hiking partner is an Ultra runner and is race director for a sanctioned 100-miler in Haliburton forest every fall. She told me once that you never know who is being inspired by seeing you try. I’m sure you have experienced those special moments during a race when you’ve been deeply touched by a comment or gesture from a spectator. Those are the precious memories that mean the most to me.

          Like

  10. Okay. A. This is not even remotely on my bucket list so I think you are amazing to even take it on. I don’t like swimming in open water. (There are Aussies who don’t like the beach, you know. Strange but true.) B. After that experience, I can’t believe you went back again. TWICE. Crikey. Tough as roofing nails, you are. C. Even after developing a fear of swimming, you haven’t let it beat you. Ditto re the nails.
    You are awesome in the most literal sense of the word. (Not just in the Gen Y ‘this sandwich is awesome’ way.)

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    • joannesisco says:

      Aussies are world known for their prowess in the water. After visiting Ozland, we understood why … every small town has a massive Olympic size pool complex.
      That might be one of the reasons Australia spits out such amazing triathletes.
      … and yes, I understand there is a HUGE difference between pool and open water … especially when that open water is ocean 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh yes, the local pool is sacrosanct. Woe betide any council attempting to close one down. (Just one example.)
        I was swimming laps one day when I was in England in my early 20s and I couldn’t understand why everyone was so impressed as I’m a very average swimmer. But apparently being able to do freestyle is very admirable. Here, it’s the first stroke any little kid learns. 🙂

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        • joannesisco says:

          You would think that a country like Canada with so. much. freaking. water. that we would put more emphasis on teaching basic swimming skills as a fundamental in primary school.
          … but no, we are a hockey nation and every small town has an arena instead.

          My mother was afraid of water and made a point of ensuring all her children knew how to swim. I had an experience very similar to yours when we were in Holland. My sister and I were little fish in the water and other people watched us in wonder. Like you, I considered myself an average swimmer at best.

          Liked by 1 person

  11. Alex Hurst says:

    I’m sorry it ended that way for you…. I don’t think I’d be able to do it. I love swimming, too, but only casually. I hate all the different strokes. I just like feeling the water and pretending I’m a seal. 😛

    Like

  12. Heyjude says:

    Crikey Jo, this is one gruelling race! My Aussie son has taken part in Ironman events – I know he trained hard for them, but I didn’t realise quite how difficult they are! His cousin (female) had a nasty fall during the bike part in her last race. You are one plucky and very fit woman! I’ll pass on the dessert today, they look like doughnuts and I’m not so keen on those. Thanks all the same 🙂

    Like

  13. mickscogs says:

    A while back you told me music was not your thing; I mean singing and playing an instrument. Well this is how I feel about this extreme exercise. I am just totally incapable. Hats off to your determination. But the doll house story gave a bit away too. Enjoying your A – Z. Cheers Michael.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      Thanks Michael! Although I haven’t reverted back to my couch potato tendencies, I’ve given up the really hard core stuff. I think it takes a special kind of crazy 🙂

      Like

  14. What I think is so amazing is that you went back again and again. That takes serious gut, Joanne. It’s been a pleasure to read you post. That is what I love about this A to Z Challenge. I get to meet the most incredible people doing incredible thing.

    Like

  15. Being one who sucks and running and swimming, I’m in awe of what you did accomplish.

    ~Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Member of C. Lee’s Muffin Commando Squad
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

    Like

  16. Ruth says:

    Good grief, that sounds tough – much respect, seriously…

    Like

  17. hilarymb says:

    Hi Joanne – I certainly couldn’t and wouldn’t want to start an Ironman in any form .. so I admire your tenacity to keep going and not give up – til certainty set in. You’re still learning your lessons and still living on the edge – the way you wanted it .. now to find that next edge! Cheers Hilary

    Like

  18. NancyTex says:

    I think you and I chatted about Triathlons during our hike in the Rouge, and I remember telling you it’s the swim part that always prevents me from signing up. The idea of open water swim combined with thousands of arms and legs flailing at the starting line… Nope. Can’t see myself doing it. You are a beast for having done it multiple times.

    Like

  19. Wow. WoW. WOW! You are awesome, woman. You did not fail. You tried and succeed farther than a whole boatload of people wouldn’t have. There’s a lot more to Joanne than I could have dreamed. You ROCK. 😛 ^^’ ^^’

    Like

  20. Oh goodness, I can’t even imagine doing a race where you have to transition from one activity to a totally different one. I would say you should be proud rather than humbled to have even completed. It reminds me of American Ninja Warrior. Do you watch that show?

    Like

  21. Lynn says:

    Wow Joanne! Completing a 180km ride alone would do me in. Add a 4km swim in open water & a 42.2 km run, well that’s just madness!

    Like

  22. No amount of wine could talk me into that one. Open water…haven’t you seen jaws? 🙂

    Like

  23. Jordan S says:

    I love reading all your stories from your past 🙂 I’ve told you many times before that just being able to show up for an Ironman is an amazing accomplishment.

    After doing a couple of half-marathons, I marvel at the thought of doing twice that distance in order to complete a full marathon. I’ll probably do it one day (do you think that lunatic decision making is genetic? :)). Now that I have been training for triathlons for a while, I have a new respect for the Ironman distance. I’m nowhere close to a 4km swim and am in awe of swimming that distance..

    You should be proud of the training that got you there! 🙂

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      There’s a lot of love being sent your way right now ❤ ❤ ❤
      What you accomplished last summer – and are about to do again this summer – also qualifies as totally inspiring. As you said, the training gets you there and surviving the training is an accomplishment in itself.

      Yes – I think we have a special brand of crazy 🙂

      Like

  24. Sue Slaght says:

    Joanne that is jaw dropping. As you described the current and waves all I could think was ‘Get the @&#!! Out of the water! Holy hard core girl.

    Like

  25. I think ocean swimming is terrifying. The ocean feels so….alive….and able to just swallow you up if it wanted to. I don’t even like lakes – too much unknown going on under me. Did somebody alert you to the fact you were going in the wrong direction or did you figure it out yourself? You must be amazingly fit, Joanne, I bet you could kick my butt! Not that you’d want to, of course. Now on to those oliebollen.

    Like

    • joannesisco says:

      I figured out on my own that I was going in the wrong direction when I lost sight of the course buoys … which in the ocean were not easy to see to begin with.
      The jellyfish in Florida kind of freaked me out a bit, but luckily I had no problems with them although some other people were stung.

      I USED TO BE very fit. Now I’m nowhere close to being in Ironman condition.

      Like

  26. The current and the waves, I wouldn’t have made it. Kudos to you!

    Like

  27. lovetotrav says:

    I have always heard that the swim is the hardest. Is it true that swimmers get kicked and can be pulled under? That would have been gut wrenching. And to keep on trying after that? Kudos to you!

    Like

  28. My guts are clenched reading this. The fear has transferred across the years and across the internet, apparently as potent as ever. [shudder]

    I wonder – is it a fear of swimming per se?

    Liked by 1 person

  29. I’m with Joe, that sort of race would be the END of me. Just the whole name, Ironman, would be enough to have me running the other direction! I have to admit the way you wrote this saying at one point you were swimming the wrong direction made me chuckle (which I hope was your intention), but wow, to be willing to go on for 2 more attempts even after such a traumatizing experience? I think that proves you’re an Iron(wo)man all the way through so who needs these races anyway?! Quite proud of you, Joanne, and still think you’re quite amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Joe says:

    Wow I could just image me trying what you did Joanne 🙂 I could hear them putting conductive jelly on the paddles and yelling “Clear” ! I can’t wait for you to get to Z, I love Zeppole’s 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • joannesisco says:

      I can hardly wait until I get to Z too. I’m starting to drag my butt. Martini hour might come early today 😉

      I had to laugh at your comment about needing the paddles, but unfortunately it has happened and there have been deaths during the swim portion of the race.
      In a bit of morbid humour, we often joke that wetsuits are worn to make it easier for the course crew to find the body in the water.
      On that day in Brazil, it was less funny :/

      Liked by 1 person

  31. bulldog says:

    I just some how knew that you would be a swimmer as well…. but a triathlon? Are you mad? Obviously not, but a woman with more guts than this man

    Like

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