June 11, 2006
I’m standing thigh deep in the water of Wasa Lake and I am in the throes of a full on anxiety attack. I start to back out of the water. My tears have half filled my goggles and my fears are surfacing. Fear of failure, fear of letting people down, fear that I won’t be able to do the half Ironman I’ve been training for – it’s only a few weeks away…the list goes on. I’m not actually sure how I got through the first lap, all I remember is feeling that I couldn’t breathe, feeling my wetsuit constricting and panic setting in. Next thing I know my friend Patti G is behind me on the beach yelling at me that I can’t give up, that I have to get back into the water and swim. At the time I don’t question why she is there as well, she should have been out already. Slowly I get back into the water, Patti follows me in and we start to swim. Gradually I calm down and finish the swim. I go on to finish the triathlon, my first of that distance and my first open water swim. Since this race I’ve participated in three other Olympic distance triathlons and a half Ironman; however, the anxiety I felt during this race was always very near the surface when I raced and would sometimes rear it’s ugly head.
June 10, 2007
It’s a year later, the morning of the race. I’ve come full circle. I’m in the hotel looking out the window. Outside it’s overcast, cool and windy. I’m not worried though, I’m here to rock this race no matter what is thrown at me. I didn’t sleep the night before. My mind was busy going over the race I was about to participate in just as it had the last month. I’ve visualized this race over and over again many times. Time to make the half hour drive to the lake.
We arrive at Wasa Lake and I’m starting to get excited. I feel strong and I know what I need to do. As I walk up to transition I can smell the sweet scent of Jiffy marker. Ah yes, nothing like a little Jiffy high before a race. The young girl who is applying marker all over me asks if I said my age was 47…uh no sweetie…I’m only 37! I have to giggle at that. Leslie teases me that 47 isn’t that bad! The excitement is building. I see so many familiar faces and my friends are here. Triathlon is an amazing community! I head back to my spot in transition and start to lay things out, remembering to smile at everything and everyone. Smiling reduces anxiety and makes one feel good I’ve learned. Leslie and I go for our warm up run then start the daunting task of applying our second skin, also know as ‘the wetsuit’. I’ve decided to become one with my wetsuit. That way it won’t try to suffocate me! I joke with Leslie about the wetsuit thrust – the wonderful move one does in order to get the darn thing over their hips. Do guys have this issue?! We share a chuckle over it, yet another way to keep anxiety at bay. Down to the water we go for our warm up swim. I get into the water and swim a few strokes, I feel great, and the wetsuit feels comfortable. I stop to look around and am bobbing up and down in the water like a seal…so are many others. One guess what we are all doing…..water doesn’t feel so cold any more!
It’s time to start the race. The anthem has been sung and the countdown is on. I position myself so I’m out of the bulk of athletes, but in the throng enough so I’ll experience some contact. I want to know what it feels like. I’m totally pumped about the swim. The countdown ends and off we go. I do a couple of dolphin dives to get started….I know Coach will love that. I’m in, I’m swimming, and I feel amazing. I’m getting hit a little from the sides and someone keeps hitting my feet. That’s okay, as far as I’m concerned they are part of my pod. (A little visualization technique to put a positive spin on the contact…we are a pod of whales and we are just letting each other know where we are.) I have gone out a little too fast and need to flip over and do some back stroke so I can take a couple deep breathes. I do about four strokes then as I flip back around to get back into the front stroke I notice I’m past the first buoy! Holy crap – I’m really doing this and I’m not dying! I’m swimming, I’m in a pack, and I’m strong and confident! I focus on my technique and sighting. I’m around the second buoy and well on my way. Too the beach I arrive with a big smile on my face, one lap down and one to go. I again dolphin dive to get back into the water (I can’t wait to tell Coach about this) and continue on. The swim is over. I’m racing up the beach to transition and I’m smiling like a lunatic. “I’ve done it!!!”, I want to scream to the spectators. I actually had a strong swim. I beat the anxiety – in fact, I felt no fear at all. I was in total control the whole time! HOOYAH!! Okay, time to focus on transition. Of course before I can do this I have to jump up and down in front of Leslie saying “I did it!!, I did it!!” Not exactly the transition of champions…but I just don’t care at this point.
On the bike I go – the new bike I might add. My Eleanor – named after a 1967 Shelby fastback. She is a fast car and she is a fast bike. The ride is great, I push harder than I have in a race. I get passed by a few, but also do a lot of passing. The high of the swim is still with me. At about the 20km mark I am passed by some really fast looking guys on their carbon fibre steeds. All I can think is ‘I swam faster than you!!!’ If I could have done the na-na-boo-boo dance, I would have. I have to focus though. Focus on my cadence and my speed. As I near the turnaround I can feel the wind pick up. On the way back there is a pretty strong headwind. I look at this as a positive thing, it’s Mother Nature making me stronger. I don’t back off, I get in a more aggressive position and give it my all. It pays off – I’m back in transition faster than I thought I would be. I look at my watch and wonder if perhaps I’m about to bonk cause this can’t be the right time can it?! Maybe the race started late. No time to try to figure it out, it’s time to run.
My legs feel like they are spinning, by the 1st kilometer I’m in a groove though. My pace feels great. I can see Leslie up ahead and think to myself it would be cool if I could catch up to her and run with her. Eventually I do, I go ahead for a bit and she catches up with me. Not much is said, I’m concentrating on my pace and trying to get oxygen into my lungs. I’m starting to feel the burn in my quads. I do however wonder if my gasping for breathe is starting to drive Leslie nuts. The kilometers slowly tick off, 6, 7, 8…I can keep up this pace can’t I? I’m not going to just pass out right here? There is now a wheezing noise coming out of me. Do professional athletes sound like this?? I keep saying my mantra in my head ‘Jack be nimble, Jack be quick’. I swear this actually works. My feet feel lighter and the pace easier. 1km, 0.750km, 0.500 km, 0.250km….we are almost there. I can hear the announcer now. He’s calling my name and Leslie’s name. We cross the finish line together, huge smiles are on our faces. We did it!!! I want to jump up and down and scream with excitement, but the slight dizziness I feel suggests that perhaps it would be better to sit down now and drink lots and lots of Gatorade.
I feel I can now say “I am a triathlete”. I raced every part of this event and I gave it my all. I’ve never felt stronger – mentally, physically or emotionally. I conquered my fears!! I took control!! The bonus of it all was running to the finish with my friend and mentor, and achieving a PR! I had visualized this event, and it unfolded as I wanted it to. That is the power of mental training in combination with all the swim, bike, run training we do.
Never give up and always believe in yourself!