A blog for (semi) athletic middle-aged men (and women) holding on to (the last vestiges of) their youth
by training for and competing in running, cycling, swimming and triathlon events!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Facing Fears and Overcoming Anxiety

I woke this morning a strange bed at Hotel 43 in Boise with my heart and mind racing. I was thinking about tomorrow's swim in Lucky Peak Reservoir, the first leg of Ironman 70.3 Boise. The swim leg of every triathlon causes me the most anxiety. I suppose its the fear of drowning that brings on the waves of trepidation.

Makes sense, I suppose. After all, I nearly drowned in my first triathlon back in 2003. My first open water swim event, I was not prepared for the frenzy of arms and legs that looks like a school of piranhas attacking their prey. One hundred yards into a 550 yard swim I was in trouble. Panicking and gasping for air I couldn't put my face in the water so resorted to breast stroke, back stroke, side stroke and dog paddling my way through the rest of the swim.

I could have quit. Triathlon organizers take swim safety very seriously. Spotters in kayaks and boats in the water keep an eye out for swimmers in trouble (and they were watching me!). All I had to do was raise my hand and they would have plucked me from the goose-poop infested pond they call a lake at Heritage Park in Olathe, Kansas. But I knew if I gave up my first triathlon would be my last. And here I am in Boise preparing to compete in my 10th tri.

Tomorrow's swim is just a little longer than that first one...1.2 miles to be exact. I've done three swims at this distance but this will be my first one in cold water. The water temp in Lucky Peak Reservoir is a frigid 53F. Doesn't sound that bad until you consider I'll be bathing in the cold water for approximately 45 minutes (I am not a fast swimmer!).

Of course I will be wearing my wetsuit. But for the first time I will also don a neoprene swim hood in spite of the advice at yesterday's athlete briefing from an experienced Escape from Alcatraz triathlete. He said doubling up the latex swim cap is sufficient and that a hood covering your ears can mess with your sense of balance (I always swim with earplugs anyway). I'm wearing the hood, thank you.

Crossing the finish line in Boulder this past August.
There's always plenty of people offering advice at these events but I find that the more I listen the higher my anxiety level rises. The best advice I've ever received came last year before Ironman 70.3 Boulder when USA Triathlon Coach Nancy Strickland told me to visualize the swim, coming out of the water, getting on the bike, running, breathing hard and crossing the finish line.

It works. That's what I did lying in bed this morning to bring my racing heart back to normal. And that's what I will do today when I am driving the course with Dane Rauschenberg, my Team BEEF friend who will be competing in his first Ironman event. Dane is an amazing athlete and spokesperson for Team BEEF who always has an encouraging word. As he told me once, "You can't cross the finish line if you don't show up at the starting line."

Dane appeared on KTVB's News at Ten last night in Boise talking about beef's role in a healthy diet. Check out the great BEEF ad in the background!

I will face my fears, overcome the anxiety and show up at the starting line tomorrow for my heat at 12:39 p.m. My goal is to cross the finish line at 6:38 p.m. completing the 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1 mile run course in under six hours and setting a new personal record at this distance (6:06:20 set this past August in Boulder).

Regardless of whether I break my record my ultimate goal is to cross the finish line and head straight to the BEEF Recovery Zone sponsored by the Idaho Beef Council. I'm visualing it now...and my mouth is watering.

Ride on!


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