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It was the moment I had been waiting for over a year. It was dark outside, but I had seen my family. I was barefoot, but fully dressed in my wetsuit. I was slowly walking alongside my fellow athlete friends, mentors and coach who had also selected Ironman Arizona as their main event in 2015. We were fast though. We were making our way through a rolling start.
I don’t think I have ever been this excited, nervous, scared, prepared and ready all at the same time. Today is the day, and I am the one. I had reached the start line at Ironman AZ, at the age of 40 and it was my turn to jump in the water. Of all 3 disciplines I was about to participate in that day, I was most confident in my ability to have a strong swim.
I’d probably jumped in the water more than 500 times in preparation for this moment. I’d jumped in pools, lakes, rivers, reservoirs, off of diving boards, off of docks, from pool decks, from the beach, from the stairs, you name it. In the mid-1970s, I’d been thrown in a suburban Montréal pool before age one as my indoctrination to swimming. No problem! Jump in and start swimming. Easy! Like I’d done so many times before.
The water felt colder than I expected. I got tossed around by bodies around me. I lost sight of Tiffany, whose draft I had caught in the pool so many times during our training – and was hoping to do the same here. It only took 5 seconds I imagine. It was dark, I had lost my direction and I started to panic.
I had enough presence of mind to doggie paddle over to the side to get out of the other athletes’ way. I floated for a few moments.
This is what went on in my head.
Girl, you are swimming in the fucking Ironman. I need you to act like it because your journey does not end here today. Not in the water.
Get your shit together. Right now. And do this. Breathe. In. Out.
I did nothing else but float and breathe. I don’t know for how long. I guess long enough for one of the volunteers on a paddle board to come over and ask me if I was ok. I gave her a thumbs up.
Do what you have always done. Set your mind. Focus on the goal. Make it happen. Start right now, and go one at a time. Breathe. Do your thing girl.
I turned around on my belly, put my head in the water and started swimming in the Ironman. Counting the cadence. 1, 2, 3. Over and over and over again. Passing under the bridge the first time. Catching a stranger’s draft to the turn around, and another’s to the bridge again. Seeing the sun rise out of the corner of my left eye every other time I took a breath. 1, 2, 3. Tempe Town Lake’s wall on my right. IYKYK.
Until I was finished!
As soon as my wetsuit got ripped off of me by one of the volunteers, I looked. How am I doing on time?
In the previously described theatrical performance I had put myself through at the beginning there, I had forgotten to start my watch. Like a rookie. Shit. The sun had just come out and I already had no idea where I was in my day…
But, I knew one thing: I had just had an awesome swim. I’d found my stroke, my beat, my breath early and never lost it until I was done. I’d managed my energy exactly as I had planned. Bonus: already had experience handling moments of distress in Ironman! It was all time well spent, no matter what. I was exactly where I needed to be.
We will talk more about Ironman timekeeping, I promise. It’s important and requires its own story. For now, of course I had at time goal. Everyone does!
For the completion of the 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, I had hoped to be close to 1:20 and under 1:25.
1:20:45. BAM! A strong swim indeed.
We breathe and we do our thing. One at a time.