I’ve done more triathlons and duathlons than I can recall, but seven years ago I did my first Ironman and vowed never to do another. Ironman Australia was my second (and surely the last?). I came away feeling the need to share three things that I remembered during the race. These were sensations that I don’t think are boiled down into any text that I wish I had in my head before setting off on this latest long-distance adventure.Lesson 1 — Swimming with thousands of people is unpleasant. Every book and coach will remind you to get out there and swim in open water, because open water swimming is different than swimming in the pool. That it is. You can’t follow that convenient black line on the bottom of the pool and there are no breaks every 25 meters to interrupt your stroke. These things are true. But to me the revelation (again) was that swimming alongside that many people is a really JARRING experience. You have legs and feet in your face, people throwing what feels like punches in your noggin, and the water is churning around like a damn washing machine. Forget the fact that you don’t have the wall every 25 meters. That wall has instead been replaced by a living creature that whacks you in the head, causing you to pull your head back, gasp for breath and throw a punch of your own.
My sensation about two minutes into the swim was this: “I can’t do this for the next hour. I will drown if I don’t slow down, catch my breath and stop being kicked in the head.”
But the learning from this race was the same as in my last one. The craziness does eventually subside. The field spreads out and you do find some calm water. It’s never like swimming in a pool and suddenly out of the blue someone will swim into you and pound you in the head in the middle of the race, but it does get better. If you can try to find clear water, get there. If not, then just bear down and hang in there. It gets better.
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