The Sublime And The Ridiculous

ironmantra by Shannon Thompson

lady of the lake

Mara and I met at Fernald’s Neck at 6 am, wetsuits on, watches ready. The sun had just cleared the mountains to the east and already blazed white, blinding me with every other breath. Loons called as we made our way across the flat water to the dock on Fang Island, our turnaround point for the first of two loops. A bald eagle soared above. The water was clean and clear, the air fresh, my body warm and buoyant in my wetsuit. How lucky I am to be immersed in this beauty, I thought.

It was also the most frustrating swim I’ve had in a long time. Mara swims much faster than me in the pool, but the wetsuit improves my form enough that I can almost keep up with her in the lake. I realized that if I could stay close enough to her to draft, I would stay with her. Drafting a swimmer is legal in the race, and well worth it, if it works–you can save as much as 5 minutes in an iron distance race with a good draft. But it’s not without its challenges. You have to find someone the right speed, stay the right distance away (touching those toes in front of you too often seems rude and also invites getting kicked off, hard), and trust that your draftee is going to swim a straight line.

Mara was swimming at a pace that required intense concentration to match. If I spaced out and relaxed for even a moment, I found myself slipping back out of her wake and sprinting to catch up. We’re also fairly squiggly swimmers without the line on the bottom of the pool (see the course my GPS tracked below)–so every time she went a little to one side, I’d lose her again, either by mistake, or because I couldn’t bring myself to intentionally swim any extra yardage, so I’d keep going straight(ish), breathing hard and wondering how the hell I would hold this pace for 2.4 miles.
Mara got ahead of me, but I knew that when she turned around, I could get right on her toes and, with enough concentration, stay there. This plan was keeping me going. The only problem was that I didn’t see her turn, and suddenly she was flying by me in the other direction. I yelled and yelled, a bobbing little orange dot in the middle of the lake. HEY! HEY! Of course she didn’t hear. I pounded the water and nearly cried.

map

This has been the hardest week of the whole training program, and I was tired and irritable going in, so all this sent me reeling. The mean thoughts in my head hurled invective, ugliness that shouted in sharp contrast to the beauty around me. There’s a thing from my childhood that provokes powerful feelings of anger, frustration, failure, and desperation when I feel like I have to catch up, or keep up, and I can’t. I get a little panicky, like a two-year-old spinning out of control into a full-blown temper tantrum. It’s huge, way out of proportion with everything my intellect knows. It’s visceral and defeating and horrible. It’s also one of the things that kept me from doing anything athletic for years, and it limits me now–I would work harder with faster friends if I didn’t feel such intense anxiety about trying to be faster. It doesn’t happen with much faster people, when I don’t even try to keep up.

But I stayed with Mara most of the way. Not close enough to draft, but close enough that my time was 1:10, which exceeded my expectations by a full ten minutes. If she’ll let me, I’ll try it again next week to see if I can stay a little closer. Maybe I’ll invite my inner 2-year-old to stay home and skip the histrionics, too.

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Swim 2.4 miles, more or less, 1:10
Bike 1 hour