Swimming May Suck, But It Doesn’t Have To

C26 Athletes swimming in lake

It was less than two months before my first 70.3. That morning, I had just aborted a swim workout at 850 yards. A workout that was only 50s and 100s. I sat in my car in the parking lot of the gym and just stared at nothing.

I was frustrated, and pissed off, and scared to death, and embarrassed. How in the world was I going to swim 1.2 miles in Lake Michigan? I couldn’t swim 100 yards without feeling like I’d just run a hard 10k.

Sitting there completely beaten by the water, I emailed the swim coach at my high school. I was lucky that he was a former teacher of mine and my siblings, but he also coached two of my sisters who were/are fantastic swimmers. He also had become a friend of the family. He agreed to meet with me and see if there was anything he could work with (my words not his!).

To be honest, I don’t remember a single tip, trick, or skill that he taught me in the three or four times we met. Probably because they didn’t matter. What he did was talk me off a ledge. I was so convinced that I couldn’t do this that I saw no other ending.

He spoke calmly. He was encouraging. And he let me see even the faintest light at the end of the tunnel. It wasn’t what he said, but how he said it, that helped me so very much.

Dying after 100 yards eventually became multiple sets of 200s. Then those 200s became 300 and 400.

By the time race day came around, I was confident I could swim 1.2 miles, somehow. Then, Mother Nature wanted a say in this day, and Lake Michigan was 2’-5’ swells and looked more like the Atlantic Ocean. Why today? Why me? Why now?

I could tell the story of just the swim, but it would easily take as long as it took me to swim it: 1:10:46. What matters is I finished. For the astute, yes, technically I should have received a DNF because my swim time was over the 1:10:00 cutoff. But Ironman officials were kind on this day and realized what we had all just been through.

Today? I’m a pretty good swimmer if I do say so myself. Usually finding myself around the top 20 percent for the swim. I still don’t love the water, nor do I loathe it. The fact of the matter is I chose triathlon, and triathlons have swimming. So I swim.

If you are having issues, or not seeing the gains, or just literally hate the water, just know that you’re not alone. Swimming is hard. But it can get easier.

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