Last Saturday I signed up for an Ohio River Open Water Swim. I decided that I really didn't want race day to be my first time swimming in open water and I'm SO GLAD I didn't wait! Essentially, I took just over an hour to swim only a half mile because of a full on 100% panic attack. So let's recap...
Things started off well enough. Lovely morning, calm waters and just an all around beautiful day for a swim. As I was checking in I was already beginning to panic but was able to keep it together and fake excitement for most of the volunteers. As Tyler and I took pictures and checked out the course a volunteer approached me and flat out said, "You look terrified." I had to agree. He continued with, "You should be excited!" I told him I was...until I got there. He showed me the course and did his best to console me. I pretended he did the trick because there was no way I could tell the poor guy that not only was I going to drown but my corpse would be ripped apart and devoured by one of the Volkswagen sized catfish lurking in the river and my poor mother and boyfriend would look on in horror and have to undergo electro-shock therapy for the rest of their short and traumatized lives. I told him I'd be ok. I walked back towards registration where I got my very first body marks! There was some excitement!
Next came the safety meetings. There was an optional one followed by a mandatory meeting...I was at both, right up front, pre-workout energizer clenched in my shaking hands. The man who was in charge of the meetings was nice enough and obviously very experienced, unfortunately, he did absolutely nothing to ease my fears. Between his mentions of River Monsters, currents, barges and of course the man who died during the swim portion of Ironman Louisville last year, he really just made me want to vomit. Well done sir, well done.
Before I knew it, it was time.
So off I went! Into the abyss! We were told during the safety meeting that if we had any fears or concerns to let someone know and they'd put a kayak with you in case you needed anything. I wanted to request the Coast Guard...but decided the kayak would do. Hanging onto the dock before the start, the race director told me to sing a song to keep my mind off of the fear. He suggested It's a Small World. He had me sing it at the dock. "It's a small world after all...it's a small world after all...it's a...a...a...gasp...gasp...OMG THIS IS THE BIGGEST DEEPEST RIVER IN THE WHOLE WORLD AND I'M DROWNING IN IT RIGHT NOW!!!!!!!!!!" Ok, singing doesn't work. I'd at least made it off the dock. So I'm now holding onto the kayak to regroup. Kayak Operator Kris looks at me and casually says, "You'll be ok. You know how to swim." My head responds with, "Are you f**king crazy?! How could anyone swim in these types of conditions?! Look at me! I'm a mess and three quarters, holding onto a kayak less than 5 strokes into a half mile swim. Tell me again that I'll be ok." My mouth says, "I'll be ok. I know how to swim." I repeat it about 50 times to myself before letting go and trying again. Stroke, breathe, stroke, OH MY GOSH I'M DYYYYYYING!!!!!! I flip to my back to float and try to catch my breath. "It's a small world..." Eventually I think I'm ready to try swimming. I go to flip back and realize my body has quite literally forgotten how to swim. I freak out and grab onto Kayak Kris' paddle. He says, "Keep going, you're doing fine." Is this what fine looks like to you? Seriously? We have several more exchanges of me trying to swim then immediately flipping over on my back. Finally Kayak Kris says, "Um...grab on here and I'll take you back onto the course. You have to keep pushing swimming against the current because it just carried you all the way back to the start." Now granted, I had maybe gone 80 meters but it took more energy than I'd ever imagined! The thought of trying again honestly made me nearly cry but then I really had to dig deep. I said to myself, "What are you doing Rennay? You know how to swim. You can do this. You're in the water already! People are watching you, your triathlon future depends on this, your mental health depends on this. You can do this so just shut up and swim!" Determined, I tried again. I managed about 8 strokes before a wave of panic. I held onto the kayak for a bit then went back out. Kayak Kris challenged me to do 10 strokes before stopping. Then challenged me to 20, then 25 and before I knew it I was losing count of how many strokes I was doing. Kayak Kris even told me how well I was doing and that I actually had a really nice stroke. I was efficient and actually quite fast (relatively speaking). All he kept telling me was that when I made the turn and swam with the current it would make a world of difference and be so much easier.
Finally (and I mean like 30 minutes later finally) I reach the turn around point. Kayak Kris tells me to turn the buoys in almost a diagonal line so the current doesn't carry me the wrong direction. He also paddles to the other side of the turn and says he'll meet me on the other side. Surprisingly to myself, I made it! Swimming with the current is significantly easier and not far past the turn was Tyler and some strangers on a dock cheering me on! How nice are spectators? And Tyler. *apparently my mom was too busy having her own panic attack to participate in the watching of my race*
One hour and one minute later I finally swam through those big orange buoys that marked the finish line! I'm not sure that I'd ever been more excited to finish a race and trust me, I've had my share of long, awful races. This time I was ridiculously proud of myself. To the point that I could sort of smile! I swam up to the dock and thanked each of the volunteers who tried to calm me down and waved down a kayak for me before making my way out of the water.
On my way out another volunteer stopped me for a photo. (which is on their website!) I definitely don't look my best but who would?
My mom came out and hugged me as if I'd just been pulled from a burning building and Tyler brought my towel since I was freezing! I made my way back to my mom's little campsite and talked a bit to a woman there waiting for her husband to swim the 1.2 mile course. I told her the conditions were great out there and that he should be fine. I didn't add "as long as he is a strong enough swimmer to swim against the current, not hyperventilate, not concern himself with the 0% visibility of the water and/or what may be lurking underneath, and not be affected at all by the enormous waves produced when the barges roll through that smack you in the face only when you're trying to take a breath." I walked over and got a free Gatorade then ate my bodygood bar (omg they're incredible. If you haven't had one, EAT ONE.)
After hanging around for a bit so I could get rid of my sea legs we started the walk back to the car. Even though it was a horrible experience it actually wasn't so horrible. I went in the pool Tuesday and spent about an hour just hanging around in the deepest water I could find. Treading, swimming. floating, flipping, everything I could do to get myself used to being surrounded entirely by water. It was scary for the first 20 min or so I'll admit but I got more comfortable quickly and think because of the river swim I'm improving very quickly. Oh! Did I mention I got a shirt?