This is Why I Hate Swimming

Earlier this summer I wrote about the day I finally liked swimming. It was a magical morning in A Bay on the big island in Hawaii, and I saw tons of dolphins frolicking in the ocean all around me while I treaded water for 45 minutes and marveled at how I would have missed out on such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if I hated swimming and refused to swim out that far. My swim on Friday couldn’t have been any further from that moment in my life; in fact, had I seen a pod of dolphins during the Friday Night Swim race (which would have been peculiar considering the race was in a murky lake in Kent, Washington), I would have kicked them all in the face with my non-cramping leg while screaming about how much I hate swimming.

I was scheduled to do the Swim for Life swim across Lake Washington on a decidedly inconvenient day of the week (Wednesday) at a decidedly inconvenient time (7:30 am). The last time I participated in the swim was two years ago. It was the last big swim before Ironman Canada, and it was mostly a disaster due to how gloriously awful the swim conditions were (wind, heavy chop, strong waves). This year I wanted a better pre-Canada last hurrah swim and hoped to tackle the distance in under 1:30, which would give me a nice little confidence boost going into IMC. Unfortunately, I had to be at work early that day for meetings so I wouldn’t be able to do the charity swim. I told Teresa I was bailing and begrudgingly said I could probably do the Friday Night Swim race later that week instead.

This “Plan B” swim option was a bad idea for the following reasons:

  • It was an actual swim race, meaning I’d have a finisher’s time and would be pitted against people who actually enjoy swimming to the point that they sign up for standalone swim races, instead of folks like me who hate it but understand it’s a necessary evil if you want to keep doing these silly triathlons.
  • It was at 6:00 pm on a Friday…
  • …in Kent.

So I had to forgo offers to get happy hour drinks with my coworkers (I would have turned them down anyway since I’m on a lame “no alcohol” kick until after August 26th) and haul my ass from Seattle to Kent at 4:30 pm to ensure I’d make it down to Lake Meridian Park in time for a stupid swim race I didn’t even want to do. Not helping matters was the fact that it was balls hot outside–by the time I got to Kent, it was 95 degrees out and I had the AC uselessly turned up to full blast.

Lake Meridian Park has roughly 4.5 parking spots so naturally the lot was full. There weren’t any parking options nearby so I resorted to parking in a sketchy-looking neighborhood about 10 minutes away and hoped that the owner of the motor home I parked in front of wouldn’t sic his dog on me as I made my way to the lake. I got to the park and noticed it was packed full of locals who were sunbathing and playing Frisbee and basically doing things that normal people do at a lake on a hot Friday night next. Immediately I felt like a total douchebag for showing up to do a stupid swim race when I could be knocking back a cold one and eating a hot dog with the other park goers.

I found my teammates and asked if the lake was cold enough for a wetsuit. They all laughed and said, “Um, no,” and I started to internally agonize about whether or not I should still wear my wetsuit for the race. I texted Jas and he told me to go sans wetsuit because I swam in Costa Rica and Hawaii without one and was fine. Unfortunately, those races were in salt water so I had a little extra buoyancy, plus they were only 1.2 miles. In the end I decided to stick with the wetsuit, figuring I’d want to go the full distance in it since I’d be wearing it for Canada.

Trying to pull on a too-small wetsuit is hard enough (I bought Teresa’s old Cat 5 Hurricane suit this season; it’s a size “small small” when I really should be wearing a “small medium,” but I got a good deal on it so I just make the nearest two or three people help shoehorn me into it after I spend 20 minutes getting it mostly on), but pulling it on when I was already sweating buckets and it was gloriously hot outside was an extra special treat. Eventually, with the help of my teammate Lyset, I managed to get the damn thing zipped up. I trudged into the water and was dismayed by how warm it felt, but at that point I had committed to the wetsuit so I just had to suck it up and stick with my decision.

This is how thrilled I always look when I’m about to swim. (Photo taken by Rudy Owens)

The race started and the small handful of us who signed up to do 2.4 miles took off towards the first buoy. The water temperature actually didn’t bother me too much, as I had grown accustomed to swimming in the Y’s 85 degree sauna. I rounded the first turn and took off towards the next buoy. The problem was these stupid suckers were spaced really far apart–I think the entire 1.2 mile loop (which we would have to swim twice, obviously) had six or seven buoys total mapping out the course. Worse yet is that all of the buoys were randomly colored–some were yellow, some were red, and some were green, and there was no discernible pattern or logic to how the colors were placed (e.g., yellows are turn buoys, reds are for sighting, greens are, uh, for Christmas).

Since I had no idea when to turn or how many buoys there were, I decided to just follow the swimmers in front of me. Unfortunately, that strategy doesn’t work when you’re a slow swimmer and the race has less than 50 participants. Eventually I lost track of the main pack and started blindly swimming to things I thought were buoys, hoping I’d chance across one sooner or later.

I finally spotted a yellow buoy and started heading towards it to begin my second loop. (I had long been passed by the 1.2 mile swimmers, who started 10 minutes behind us. Sigh.) My focus was on that yellow buoy in the distance, so it was a while before I noticed a surfboard to my right following me. I stopped, popped up, and found myself face to face with a volunteer.

Volunteer: “Uh, are you heading for your second loop or going in or…”

Me: “I’m starting my second loop.”

Volunteer: “Oh. Well, you need to swim to that buoy first.” She pointed behind me and I turned to look. There was a big yellow buoy tucked away in a corner.

FUCK. How did I miss it? Oh wait, I know how, there are hardly any of those damn things on the course and I started swimming towards the first one I could spot. Goddamn it. I hate swimming.

I begrudgingly doubled back to the missed buoy and rounded it, noticing I was right next to the swim exit and struggling with the notion of just throwing in the towel and quitting after one loop. I really, really wanted to quit. Really. But ultimately the embarrassment of giving up after one loop coupled with my astounding stubbornness motivated me to start loop #2. And that’s when the calf cramps started.

It was mostly my left calf, but the right one would occasionally join in on the fun. Once the cramping started, it persisted non-stop for the entire second loop. It got so bad that I could only kick with whichever “good” leg was remotely functional at that given moment. My head was pounding, my entire upper body was tense, and my cramping was getting so bad that I was reduced to screaming into the water every thirty seconds. This swim was never going to end. I was living my own worst nightmare.

When I finally started heading back to shore, I noticed a volunteer had pulled up beside me and was kayaking alongside me as I swam in, which was a solid indication that I was in full-on DFL (Dead Fucking Last) status. I swam in until my hands hit bottom, at which point I stood up and hobbled onto the beach, up the ramp and over the timing mat. Everyone was cheering and smiling at me until they saw the distraught and pained look on my face, at which point the applause and grins died down to a concerned murmuring and awkward silence.

Teresa ran over immediately and went into full-on Coach/Worried Mama Bird mode:

Teresa: “What’s wrong why are you walking like that what’s the matter are you okay?”

I fought back tears and told her that I had been cramping non-stop and was in some pain.

Teresa: “Maybe you should take off your wetsuit and take a dip in the lake to cool down.”

FUCK. NO. No way in hell was I getting back in that thing. I just spent 1 hour, 42 minutes, and 13 seconds in that warm, mucky, weed and debris-filled bathtub–I wanted no part in ever stepping foot in fucking Lake Meridian ever again.

Teresa guided me over to the coolers and made me chug down some water and Gatorade. Naturally, I was in the lake so long that the volunteers were already starting to pack up the free food offered to the race participants, but I was so out of it that nothing sounded good, anyway. I sprawled out on the grass and spent several minutes painfully wrestling off my wetsuit while two of my teammates finished eating their food. As I waited for them, two female volunteers walked by us.

Volunteer #1: “Oh, there was one woman, I felt so bad for her, she was swimming and I think her foot was cramping bad or something.”

Me: “That was me.”

Volunteer #2: “Oh, was that the girl who came in last place?”

Me: “Again, that was me.”

Volunteer #1: “I think so. So unfortunate.” They walked away, their heads shaking in sympathy as they continued to talk about me while not hearing me acknowledge that I was indeed the DFL swimmer who was cramping bad during the swim.

When my teammates finished eating, we walked back to our cars and parted ways. I called Jason and told him about my awful swim and how I came in last place, that I felt terrible (both about my swim time and because I was dehydrated and nauseous), and that I had wanted a good pre-Canada swim and instead got bitch-slapped, Kent-style. On the way home I stopped at a gas station and bought a Gatorade, which served as my dinner that evening because I felt so crummy. The next day my neck, shoulders, and chest were really, really sore, and my left calf (the main cramping culprit) felt exceptionally fatigued. My body ached, my confidence was at an all-time low, and Ironman Canada was just around the corner.

Maybe this is my M.O. before each Ironman I attempt–I have a terrible last big swim leading up to the race but managed to pull off a terrible-for-normal-people-but-okay-for-me swim split on race day. I really, really hope so, because if Friday’s swim is any indication of how my swimming has progressed this season, there’s no hope for me to get any better in the water.

6 Responses to “ “This is Why I Hate Swimming”

  1. Sean says:

    Bad swims suck the energy from your pre-race mental attitude, grab a pull buoy and do 300m at the Y while the old slow folks are there and kick their asses, just to feel fast and get your head back in it 🙂

    Seriously though, it sucks when you have a bad swim and have a race coming up. Just remember 2010 and know that you can do it.

    One parting comment though. You wrote: “a terrible-for-normal-people-but-okay-for-me swim” when talking about your IMC 2010 race. Point in fact, “normal people” CAN’T swim 2.4 miles. You are so far above normal it’s ridiculous.

    See you in the water in a week 🙂


  2. Brent says:

    Sean is right, you’re a badass for even thinking about swimming. 2.4 miles. Keep your head high knowing your tougher than 99% of the world. Go get em girl.

  3. Jane says:

    Not to stack the comments but Brent pretty much said it black and white. A very small percentage of women would ever think about hitting the distance and you are one of them. Embrace your athleticism and know you will move forward in the water (Pun intended!)

    Going to the race is 100 times better than sitting at home watching a race. High FIVE!

    Side note: the picture of the girl is hilarious!

  4. Ed says:

    Have to say the pic of the girls is perfect for this post and caught my eye instantly…

  5. Anne says:

    That pic is me when I just think about swimming…and I only do sprint tri distance!

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