I really don’t like to swim. That might be surprising to you if you know me and don’t happen to be a triathlete. If you are a triathlete, fifty/fifty you are just like me and swim just as a warm up to be able to bike, run and race. Or swim just to race because tri bikes are pretty damn cool, and it’s always best to race if you have one.
Today I swam 6000 in Lake Michigan. It was something I’ve never done before, swim that far at one time. The weather in Chicago was stormy when I first touch my toes to the sand, had to wait for the lightening to clear. The water started out like glass, which was surprising as the storms hadn’t completely cleared. You could still see the drops of rain hit the mirrored water of the buildings that towered above. It was a nice easy swim, but by the end it was choppy, the current pulled me side to side, to and from on the rolling waves. But for what could possibly be the first time, I actually enjoyed every motion, the quiet of the water, the rhythm of the stoke.
Exactly 386 days ago, I had done another swim in Lake Michigan. This swim was on the other side of the lake, actually in Michigan. It was a nothing special kind of swim, but I ended up doing pretty well on the bike and the run ending up in 5th place. Now, if I was a roadie and had been the fourth place loser, I would have gone home with nothing. Thankfully, I’m not a roadie, but a triathlete. Not only did I get a finisher metal worth more than the check of a first place road racer, but I got on the podium. That’s how triathlon works, have to admit it’s a bit of a pay to play, but we all like to think we are somewhat like rockstars with the red carpet finish lines, music and of course the hardware.
That race was also a little different, not only was I on the podium but with a little luck earned a slot to the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in South Africa. I always love racing World Championships, but even more this one in particular. Twenty years ago I decided I would race on every continent. If you aren’t a triathlete, you would probably think that is a pretty silly goal, mostly because it actually is. But, if you are a triathlete, you know that having a realist, yet unrealistic goal out there is half of the thrill of our crazy sport.
This would be my fourth continent and I couldn’t wait. As the months went by, I didn't let a day go by without thinking of that race. On those cold runs, I could hear the start gun go off, almost feel the cold water hitting my face, imagine riding on the opposite side of the road along with competitors from over seventy different countries and of course feeling that accomplishment as I crossed that finish line. I endured long trainer rides inside as the midwest winter dragged on, swimming, running, day after day. If you aren’t a triathlete, I am sure you have heard one go on and on about how hard triathletes train, the early and long hours, pain.. blisters, money.. sacrifice. If you are a triathlete, you know you can’t imagine your life without all of that.
Three days after I shipped my bike to South Africa, I realized I wouldn’t be racing in South Africa. My family needed me at home more than I needed to race.
Today was the day of that race, that race that I was going to race my best ever at the World Championships, race on that new continent, see the elephants and wear a Safari hat. But I wasn’t in South Africa. I was in Chicago and I was going to do something I had never done before, something I said I would never do. The fact that I swam 6k isn’t actually that amazing to be quite honest. But for me, the fact that after twenty years of competing it was the farthest that I have ever swam, it was. Getting up this morning, seeing the posts from South Africa, the results of my would be, should have been competitors was hard. But waking up, knowing I was going to do something I had never done, that thing that I really hate to do, but that challenge that I had never completed before? Think I was more excited than race day to get in the water.
Not only was it the farthest I’ve ever swam, but it was the fastest I’ve ever swam that distance. If you aren’t a triathlete, you might think that’s an oxymoron. If you are a triathlete, you know that earns two new bests, two new PRs and two reasons to celebrate that day that I didn’t race that race I had I really wanted to race and be completely satisfied with my amazing, yet nonamazing accomplishment. And even though I don't like to swim, that’s why I swim and why I’m a triathlete.