I stood on the beach as each wave was released and scanned the sand dune, looking for CK and Co, who were on the way. I didn’t see them before I started, but I hoped to see them when I got out. Waves two and three took off and we lined up along the beach for our turn. The horn blew and people took off! I had a game plan, knowing that I was not the fastest swimmer, it seemed silly to waste the energy running into the water only to get run over by the faster swimmers behind me. So I waded out and when I was about waist deep I finally started swimming.
My experience as a full contact fighter came in somewhat handy at the swim start, I saw people around me who were clearly struggling with the chaos of it all, you get hit and pushed and kicked, but none of that really bothered me. I had the briefest moment of anxiety for no real reason other than maybe some surprise that I was actually going this.
The first part of the swim went out at an angle against the current, I had expected it to be pretty slow and I was not wrong. I tried not to think about the time or the overall distance I had yet to go and just focused on the buoy in front of me. While I continued to get bumped around, the only time that it really bothered me was with the guy who seemed completely content to back stroke the entire swim course. While he is permitted to do whatever swim stroke he wants, the backstroke seems especially rude, you cannot see where you’re going and the flailing arms beat the hell out everyone he came near, including me!
The waves were released four minutes apart and before I know it I was being run over by the faster swimmers in the wave behind me. In fact the first guy I saw from that wave did not swim over me, he came up from under me like a great white shark. I was too busy being impressed to be annoyed.
As I made the first turn I was unbelievably grateful for every single bad swim I’d ever had. This may sound really weird, but all of the bad things that had happened in the pool, all the days I couldn’t find my rhythm, the days I couldn’t breathe right, the time I sucked in water and choked, they were my saving grace. The reason, because every one of those things happened! Because of the number of people all swimming at different paces, I was unable to find a place and just swim, I had to change my own pace to keep from getting kicked in the face, I had to breathe at different times depending on which side I was getting run over on, I did drink a lot of Lake Michigan. But because of the bad days in the pool, none of this phased me, I just took it all in stride, I knew that I could handle it. Hell, there were a few times I would just stop swimming and look around to try to find some open water to swim in.
As I made the halfway buoy, which was a different color, I took the time to check my watch and was a bit shocked by what I saw. I needed to hit the halfway point in 35 minutes, I was at 34:15. If I didn’t find another gear, there was the possibility I wouldn’t make the time cutoff. I made the decision to just stick with the plan and do the best I could, if I panicked and went crazy I was just going to tire myself out faster.
By the time I made the second turn the field had thinned out and I was finally able to relax and just swim. I was still calm and relaxed enough to breathe every four strokes, but the down side to being relaxed is I forgot to sight (you know, look for the next buoy) and at some point I made and immediate left hand turn and was heading back down the beach as opposed to towards it. My error was quickly corrected when I guy basically board sided me. When I came up spitting water I was greeted by a somewhat angry “where the hell are you going sweetheart?” As I looked around my only answer was “hell, I don’t know”
I came out of the water feeling pretty good, albeit a little off balance (I staggered around like I was drunk!). I was pretty pleased when I looked at my watch. I had set a goal of 45-50 mins for the swim, and while I missed it by a little bit, the second half was much better than the first. I completed my first Ironman swim in 55:33.