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