After I emerged from Otsego Lake on Sunday, my husband was waiting near transition, where I would be stripping off my wetsuit and gearing up for the bike. "You came in a good minute faster than you thought you would," he reported. "Yeah," I responded, "that was a good swim." I had no idea how good until I saw the results from the Cooperstown Triathlon on May 27.
When I first considered tackling triathlons nearly five years ago, I recognized the swim as a weak link--I have been a runner for years, and biking is, well, biking, right? How hard can it be to pedal 15-25 miles? I now know that biking presents its own set of challenges, but without a strong, first-leg swim there's no point in even signing up for a triathlon. I have always known how to swim (thanks to summer playground lessons at Sunset Lake in Kenwood, a tony suburb of Sherrill), but it's never been a strength. When I selected my debut triathlon--the June 2009 Keuka Lake sprint--I headed to the city-operated pool closest to my office a good 10 months in advance.
Now, those among us who have completed marathons (I have two on my resume) tend to be a bit macho. What's a half-mile swim to someone who's run a 26-mile race, I asked myself as I got into the water, without goggles (my eyes would thank me later), and promptly swam one lap--that's not once down and back; it's once down, 25 meters. Oh, boy; I had my work cut out for me.
I signed up for a class at the Liverpool Y, but didn't connect with the coach or the extremely chilly pool. So I just kept at it on my own; I tend to be a training loner anyway, so no worries. Turns out I needed all of those 10 months to build up to swimming 800 meters; I had the distance down but not the speed. "Speed" being a relative term, that first triathlon swim took me 21 minutes. Ouch!
Fast forward to my first triathlon swim of the 2012 season. Wearing our white swim caps, we women and relay swimmers (some men), trudged into the channel that led to the lake.
At 60 degrees, the water was chilly but tolerable. The siren sounded and we were off! Very quickly I found a groove. It took a bit of work to get around a breast-stroker who kept kicking me (not on purpose). I had to put on the brakes and redirect around a woman who was heading diagonally toward the first buoy but also on a collision course with me. I passed several red-capped men, who had begun five minutes earlier. I felt really strong; I felt really smooth; I felt, dare I say it?, like a swimmer!
My struggles after foot surgery in October 2011 have been well-chronicled. Once I was cleared to get my foot wet, the first question I had for the doctor was, can I swim? I returned to the pool on Dec. 15, 2011, and I haven't looked back. While I waited another month for the OK to run, I kept swimming. Like Dory in Finding Nemo, I just kept swimming!
Now there's a school of thought in endurance sports that says if you're weak in one area, keep at it. Want to run better? Run more! Bike a problem? Get in the saddle and go! Because I was conservative about running too far too soon, and because biking in January just isn't pleasant, I kept swimming. In fact, I've been swimming so much, I even cover 3000 meters once a week. Why not?
Well, all that hard work saw its payday on Sunday, with a first-in-my-age-group swim time, of 14:59. Remember my first competitive swim that lasted 21 minutes (a lot of it doing the backstroke)? Well, that's long gone. And I couldn't be more thrilled, especially since I did it myself, without help from a costly coach.
Next triathlon: June 16, Oswego Sprint.