Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Overcoming Fear


I'll just go ahead and say it. I'm a big ol' fraidy cat. It's true. I'm also quite an amazing faker when it comes to pretending I'm not that big ol' fraidy cat that I really am. This year, however, I decided to face at least one fear head on. You all know that I've never even bit a little bit athletic. I participated in organized sports when I was young, but I never excelled at any of it and dropped out as soon as things got even a little bit competitive and I became a handicap for the team. I decided that I needed to take on a really big goal for the year, so I decided that I would do a sprint distance triathlon.

The funny thing is that many people (seriously, MANY) have told me it's an easy distance and no big deal. I think the intent of such comments is to assure me that I can do it easily. It sort of has the opposite effect on me though. I just think about how easy so many other athletic things are for other people that always came very hard to me. A little known fact about me is that I'm sure I drove my dad crazy when he was trying to teach me to throw a softball. How on earth could it possibly feel anywhere near natural for me to lead with my right foot as I throw with my right arm? It's a mystery to the athletically inclined. It is my reality.

Anyway, this triathlon is a really big deal for me. I've been in several 5K races, so I thought that might be OK. I've ridden my bike more than 20 miles in one day before, so that can't be so bad. However, the first part of the triathlon is a half-mile swim in Lake Washington. You can't even see the bottom, much less touch the bottom, when you're swimming out there. When I decided to do the triathlon, I hadn't been in a pool for three years. At all. And I was never what you might call a strong swimmer. This was going to be a challenge.

In April, I finally got in the pool. I had four months to figure it out. It didn't go well. I could swim one length of the pool and then needed to rest. I got heart palpitations just thinking of a half-mile open water swim. A half mile is 17.2 laps in the pool! That's more than 38 lengths and I couldn't even must two in a row. The fear grew. Then I talked to my trainer about it and he said I just needed to get in the pool every day. EVERY day. That sounded almost as scary.

My trainer came to the pool with me to give me some pointers and my technique improved. He also worked with me at the gym so my stamina would improve. It took about two months before I could swim 18 laps without really resting, but I got there. Now, I regularly swim 24 laps without resting.

I was invited to go on an open water swim in May, but refused on the grounds that the water would be too cold until after the 4th of July. It sounded like a good reason to me. I realized that waiting wouldn't make it easier though. I did my first open water swim the last weekend in June and I was truly very scared. I was actually worked up about it for the three days leading up to it. Even with all the pool work, I was very concerned about being in the open water and wasn't sure I could do it.

I rented a wet suit and showed up at Seward park to swim to the buoy and back. It's a quarter mile round trip. I'd been swimming twice that distance in the pool, so I shouldn't have had anything to worry about. I still worried about it. Once I was in the water, I had to really work to stay calm. When I started getting too worked up, I would turn onto my back and just float and breath for a moment to calm down, then turn back and continue to swim. After getting to the buoy, I was in a hurry to get back to the shore and get out of the water. My friends laughed that I got back a lot faster than I got out to the buoy. It's interesting how fear motivates.

So, I conquered my first open water swim. It wasn't pretty, but I did it. The funniest part is that no one out there that day had any idea how hard it was for me and how anxious I was in the water. Let's hear it for fakers!

7 comments:

Orange said...

That's awesome! I'm right there with you with the athletic ability and hope someday I will have the time (and be in more of a position) to challenge myself physically- you're a great example!

Sam said...

Go Noelle! It's not easy. It's hard, and you're doing it!

Nicole said...

Way to go... so proud!

Duchess said...

I hate the water, even pools. I think you are amazing.

boisegrammy said...

What a great daughter I have. You have overcome (or at least come to terms with) one of your fears. I have Y passes for you while you are in Idaho.

My best faking comes when I have to teach or give a talk. I look totally calm and collected - but I am a ball of fear and nerves inside.

Kathleen said...

You inspire me! The way you've taken on this triathlon is truly amazing. And I was there that first day in open water and you have an amazing ability to hide your fear.

Holly said...

I don't think being a faker is such a bad thing, sometimes I think it gives you the courage to do what needs to be done without being a complainer or whiner. I can't even imagine how hard this event will be, but I know you can do it because you've been so diligent preparing for it. You really are an inspiration in how to set a goal, and go for it!