Anyone who knows me knows that I love outdoor activities. I’ve told you about our family biking adventure in Pine Creek, PA. And last spring I took the kids to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park for some amazing hikes and a day visit to Dollywood, of course! I’ll be recapping that trip soon. Most of my posts I write revolve around my family and friends but this one is all about me.

In June some of my friends participated in a triathlon. Their training started in January with many many many hours on a bike trainer indoors. This is something I would have a very hard time doing. I love exercise but I’ve found that I love it even more when it is outside. I’m sure it took a lot of time and motivation to get on the trainer for that amount of time. Pool swimming? Not really my favorite. Mike has given me some swimming lessons but jumping into a bathing suit and then into a pool in the middle of winter is less than desirable for me. As the date of their event got closer and the weather improved Mike and I joined in for some of the outdoor biking. The course was going to be hilly so we ended up in Orchard Park near Chestnut Ridge for some beautiful early spring rides. We also signed up for the Ellicottville Happy Half and did a quick bike beforehand to get a brick in. By this time I was tri-curious. I had done sprint distances in triathlons before but never anything as long as a half Ironman. I should mention that the previous events I had participated in all occurred BEFORE children when I had plenty of spare time and was 10 years younger. : )

I started digging around the world wide web for a tri that I could do but would not require indoor training. An event that I could do at the end of the summer. I could swim in open water in Lake Erie, the days were long so a bike rides would be easy to schedule. I run in all sorts of weather so I wasn’t worried about getting some outdoor distance runs in. A friend suggested the Barrelman. It is an event put on by MultiSport Canada and is in late September. In July I started testing my fitness level… just to see if I could do the distances separately. From this moment on it was clear that I would struggle with the swim. Bike, not a problem, just more long distance riding. Run, not a problem, just add in some strength training and brick workouts. The swim, oh lordy lordy, the swim. This swim portion was going to be the issue.

I started my swim journey in Lake Erie. Going from one boat to the next. My goal was simple- don’t touch the bottom. My Apple Watch helped me along to track distances. Every time I’d see a fish, a rouge wave would come by, I would spot an unexpected seaweed patch or if heaven forbid a person paddle by me on a kayak I would FREAK OUT. Panting, wheezing, sputtering would ensue. My friends encouraged me and family supported me. I was going to try and do an open water swim (in a very safe bay with a paddler nearby) but I was too much of a wimp. The idea of a lake shark was planted firmly in my overactive swimming imagination. I stuck to the shore swims. I would sometimes get out too deep and I’d freak out and breast stroke or doggy paddle my way back to toe touching depths. By the end of my training I was sure that I could physically complete the 1.2 mile swim but I wasn’t convinced that I was mentally ready.

The race weekend was fast approaching. One morning Tessa asked if I was planning on winning the race. I almost spit my coffee all over her! No, Tess this one is not about winning. We had a great discussion on participation, training, goal setting and being reaistic. I told her about my imaginary lake sharks and how the mental part of the swim would be for me. We laughed about how silly it was…

About a week before the race I obsessed over the weather forecast, stalked the Facebook discussion group for the Barrelman, and took my 15 year old road bike in for a much needed a tuneup. The guys at Campus Wheelworks did not laugh, or poke fun at my old bike. In fact it was the opposite, they greeted it and said they loved a project like this bike rehab. A very fast and very complete tuneup later I jumped on what felt like a new bike!

Race day arrived. I was not there as part of a team or group. I was not training with another person. I was kinda lonely and very nervous. On the shuttle bus ride over to the start area I sat with a guy who had the IronMike. I’d say his presence was calming but honestly nothing could have calmed me down other than some sort of pharmaceutical intervention.

Transition area set, I wet suited up and got into the water a full 30 mins before my start. I swam around, got the nerves out. Chatted with those around me. Swam around. I calmed down and was ready to roll.

I was with the 5th wave of starters. My plan was to stay to the outside of the swim lane and to start towards the back of the pack. I knew I wouldn’t be passing anyone and I didn’t want to get in anyone’s way. At this point I was not worried about running into a lake shark, or touching a bit of seaweed. Now, at the start line, replacing the terrifying lake shark images were horror stories of other triathletes clawing, pulling and kicking competitors during the swim. The horn blew for my start. I took a couple of deep breaths and just went for it.

I dipped my head under water. I came up sputtering and gasping for breath. Then I started talking to myself….. Its OK, it’s just the start. Keep your face out of the water. Focus on your breathing. You can do this. Breathe. Breath. Then I put my head under again. AHHHHH! ***Spit sputter sputter gasp. *** OK do a few more strokes. Keep your head out of the water. Focus on your breath. GASP! GASP! Ok Erin you can do this. Breathe.

Picture that going on for about 300 meters of the swim. Nope, didn’t even put my head under the water until the 350 mark. It was bad. I second guessed if I was going to make it around the entire course. I knew from experience that if that pattern had continued there is no way I would’ve been able to complete the race. I would have burned through all of my adrenaline and energy in that first hour of a 6 hour event.

Fortunately I found my breath. Others swimming around me didn’t grab or pull me under, there were no kicks to the face or elbows to the nose. Thankfully I found my own little lane and was really relaxed by the time I rounded the marks.

Exiting the swim I saw my family. They must have been waiting there for a while because I definitely was not the first out of the water. Or even the middle of getting out of the water. I was WAAAAAAY towards the back of the pack. They cheered me on as if I were winning an Olympic gold medal and I stopped to give them hugs and high fives. Probably not the best thing for my transition time but was well worth it.

The rest of the race was relatively uneventful. I figured out what a bottle exchange was and appreciated the mist from Niagara Falls when I passed it. All in all it was a fantastic experience! I would repeat again in a second!

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