I keep being reminded that I am really not afraid of large waves, but more than likely drowning.
It all dates back to March 2004 during the Strawberry Fields Triathlon in Oxnard. The race began at 9am and by then the surf was crashing down with 6-7 foot waves. It was a short 500m swim, so didn’t think much of it. But as I came back to shore, the waves had become extremely powerful and one caught me by surprise. The wave threw me headfirst into the water and I remember hitting my head on the ocean floor. I gasped for air as I stood up, only to be hit by another wave that sent me tumbling several times. I drank some water and staggered out of the water. The rest of the race was a struggle.
I never thought much about the incident until months later when I jumped in the ocean for a little ocean swimming. Every time a wave crashed, I took a step back. I discovered that I was not able to get into the water without experiencing some sort of fear.
Ever since then, I have done a number of ocean swim clinics to understand the water and hopefully overcome my fears. But like many things in life, clinics and practice sessions aren’t real. Races are real.
Today I overcame my fear of big waves or drowning, whichever you prefer. It wasn’t easy, and I am not entirely convinced of the results yet, but I crossed a barrier nonetheless.
The Ventura Triathlon began on an overcast morning. The waves were about 3-4 feet, not too overwhelming, but a concern nonetheless. Evan had given me some practical advice the day before. He reminded me that swimming in the ocean is all about managing control. When the ocean seizes control, let the moment pass, and then continue swimming. It all made sense in my head, and although fears manifest themselves in the mind, they do illicit a physical response.
The swim was tough. I forgot how difficult the ocean can be sometimes. The current against me was strong going out and I often felt that I was not moving forward. The first buoy was very far away and with every stroke, my mind began to play tricks on me. I kept asking myself how I was going to get out of the water. Would I have enough strength to stay ahead of the waves? Would I have enough endurance to hold my breath for a long period? What if the waves got bigger? What am I going to do?
And thus was the discourse for the first two stages of the swim. After the second buoy, it was back to shore. The voices became louder then closer I got to shore. But in the back of my mind, I knew that if I could keep them quiet long enough to get through the swim, then I would have crossed that barrier that I set up 3 years ago. I ran through several scenarios in my mind, each with a good ending. Maybe I would catch a wave. Maybe the swells would decrease. Maybe I would enter the shore between sets.
Your mind can sometimes over compensate because of your fears. It creates a series of scenarios designed to sway you from facing your fears. What is surprising is that if you actually ignore those voices and face the fear, it is never as bad as you thought it would be. And so, without incident, I found my feet firmly planted on the shore and walked out of the water easily.
The rest of the race went very well. Although I have to admit that I never quite found my groove during the event. However, my training and nutrition plan kept me moving even if I was not feeling completely on. I held a 20mph average on the bike course, my fastest bike split yet. And perhaps the most surprising was my run split with an 11:37 pace per mile. I’ve checked all past events and I have never kept that pace before.
So at the end of the guy, it was a good event for me. Actually, a very good event. Thus finishes my first 12-week block of training and events for the year. Now I take a little time off and enjoy myself. I will still exercise and workout, but nothing will be really planned, it will be more for pleasure. I might even find time to try out some new sports or visit some old ones.
The next milestone for the year is a half-ironman in November. The 12-week block for that event begins August 20th.