This weekend I went to a triathlon training class and as I mentioned before I had some apprehensions ahead of time about the open water part. Well, I had “some” apprehensions until I read Jenny’s comment and when I got to this: “My swimming in open water fear is that I am going to brush limbs with a corpse that someone has murdered and dumped into the water and that my motions will cause it to look at me . . .” I think it’s safe to say I had a “massive amount” of apprehension, like a Do They Make a Swim Diaper For Adults level of apprehension, because holy jesus, I can imagine that scenario with HIGH DEFINITION CLARITY. Like that scene in the Abyss where they’re exploring that sunken submarine and that one dead body sort of floats into view and a goddamned crab crawls out of his open dead mouth BLAAAAAHHHHRRGGH.

Anyway, it turns out that the section of Lake Washington off Madrona Park we were swimming in contained no sharks, submerged watercraft, or softly rotting corpses, but there was an awful lot of what everyone referred to as “milfoil”, which is, as far as I’m concerned, a fancy name for “creepy-ass seaweed”. I don’t know what it is about underwater plant life, but I am not a fan. I don’t like touching it, I don’t like seeing it, I don’t like knowing it’s sitting down there all slimy and swaying back and forth and just . . . lurking, possibly hiding things like fish and zombies and who knows what all.

The worst was when we swam out around the dock and the milfoil was visible below but the water was deeper, so looking down through my goggles I could see a forest of it several feet below me. REACHING UP OH MY GOD. Or maybe the worst was when we were swimming in the more shallow areas and it actually tangled in my arms like it was trying to pull me down and digest me, I’m not sure.

I kind of got over the Plant Fear once they had us do a simulated race start, because I was far too distracted by the unique experience of trying to swim in a group of a hundred or so people. I can barely swim as is, and it was definitely scary to be in a thrashing environment of waves, kicking legs, and flailing arms. I instantly inhaled half the lake up my nose and forgot everything I’ve learned about form and breathing, and we were all supposed to swim about 350 yards out to a buoy and back and oh my god it looked SO FAR. The clinic had loaner wetsuits and I was wearing one with full sleeves, which helped with my buoyancy, but it was really hard to move my arms and I felt panicked and exhausted almost immediately. I kept alternating between a weak freestyle and a frantic dog paddle, my goggles got all fogged up and gave me a claustrophobic feeling, and for most of the swim I could not regulate my breathing and more than once I flipped onto my back just to hyperventilate and try to calm down. Towards the last 50 yards or so I managed to get my shit back together and stop behaving like a harpooned seal and stroke my way back to shore, and at that point I was thrilled to see that stupid milfoil because it meant I was almost there, thank GOD.

Not my finest moment, but I’m glad I did it, because 1) I have a better idea of what to expect in the triathlon now, and 2) I may have felt like a complete clusterfuck out there but I didn’t give up and turn around (even though I wanted to so, so bad) and I finished somewhere in the middle or final third of the crowd. My goal for this race is simply to finish it in one piece, not beat some particular time, but no one wants to be last, you know?

I was also happy to see that I’m not the only one wigged out by the swimming component of the race. During one of the presentations a trainer asked the crowd if there were any reasons we could think of that could cause panic during the swim, and I murmured, “Is there any reason NOT to panic?” and several nearby women chuckled appreciatively and then we had a lively discussion about seaweed zombies.

Every week, lately, I’ve been doing something that scares me: swimming, running after biking, signing up for intimidating-sounding classes, wearing sausage-tight clothing that displays every detail of the topography of my ass. I keep thinking how this race has grown to represent something much bigger to me than the sum of its parts. How five years ago, I would never have been able to believe my life today. And where I want to be, in five more years.



68 Responses to “That which doesn’t kill you”

  1. Michelle on August 11th, 2009 5:49 am

    Who knew so many of us are afraid of underwater plant life? After reading
    your post and all the comments I may
    never go near a lake again!

  2. Liz on August 11th, 2009 6:00 am

    I am a chicken shit. Big time. But I try to live by the quote “Do one thing everyday that scares you.” Ok, so it’s not everyday, but it’s as often as I can. And I’ve managed to overcome (or still be scared but do it anyways) mountain biking, surfing, running a half-marathon, and completing a mini-adventure race. I have yet to try the tri, simply b/c of the swim part. I can so relate, and your posts are making me inch towards that goal. Keep kicking ass, even if you are scared of the seaweed zombies.

  3. may on August 11th, 2009 6:20 am

    You’re great. I really enjoy reading your blog (thank you, Swistle!). I can so imagine being one of the women to chuckle at your water joke and chat about seaweed zombies – except that I would never in my life EVER be there in the first place. More power to you! Keep up the good work.

  4. Jessie on August 11th, 2009 6:22 am

    I have the open water thing too, and knowing that my husband still took me to what the locals around his hometown call pirhana beach – because of all the tiny biting carp. I about killed him. I haven’t been in open water since.

  5. Erika on August 11th, 2009 6:33 am

    I am so glad to know that I am not the only person with weird fears about water and the things that live (or die) in water.

  6. Teralyne on August 11th, 2009 6:52 am

    Your my hero!!!!

  7. pam on August 11th, 2009 7:12 am

    eeee! you’ve just put into words my fears about open water. and why i’d only do a biathalon.

  8. Erin on August 11th, 2009 7:29 am

    Once my cousin and her husband very graciously treated me and the hubs to a day at SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove. Which included snorkeling in an enormous saltwater pool. Full of fishes and creatures. “This’ll be an adventure!” I thought, and began snorkeling out into the abyss water. Things went well for about 30 seconds, at which time a school of fish swam past me. And touched my arms and legs! With their FINS! I underwater-screamed, then began flailing my way back to the “shore” where I hyperventilated then decided to spend the rest of the day in the fishless lazy river.

    So yeah. I feel ya.

  9. Andrea on August 11th, 2009 8:05 am

    That you had all those fears and STILL GOT IN THE WATER????

    I don’t just respect and want to emulate you — I want to BE you.

  10. Jen on August 11th, 2009 8:14 am

    You? Are awesome.

  11. Renee on August 11th, 2009 9:46 am

    I used to love swimming in the ocean. I lived in San Diego and every day I would go for a swim around the Scripps pier. Then one day something happened and I just became super, super paranoid about swimming in the ocean. I guess it’s just because the water is dark and there could be ANYTHING down there, like giant poisonous sting rays and jellyfish and sharks and yeah, probably zombies. OMG!

  12. sheilah on August 11th, 2009 1:04 pm

    Oooo…you’re such a bad-ass. So the open-water part is gonna be in Lake Washington? Coooold. I took swimming lessons in Green Lake at the tender age of 5(…maybe 6…seemed like it was mostly raining, too, hankyouverymuch) and have swum in that lake many times.

    Nope. Never seen a dead body.

  13. JAR on August 11th, 2009 2:44 pm

    Awesome accomplishments! Keep up the good work!!

    I’ve never had a fear of open water… until reading your post. Thanks for that one!

  14. Sunshyn on August 11th, 2009 3:25 pm

    Didja read about those killer carniverous squid in San Diego? Grabbing divers, stealing their underwater cameras? They usually inhabit deep waters in Mexico and feed on shrimp. The fishermen call them Diablo Rojo. For some reason, they’ve come to shallower waters… No, seriously, it was in the newspaper. For you ocean swimming Southern Californians! Come on down, Linda!

  15. Trenches of Mommyhood on August 12th, 2009 9:58 am

    You? Are my Fitness Idol of the Blogosphere. Just wanted you to know!

  16. parodie on August 13th, 2009 8:41 pm

    When I taught swimming lessons in a lake, we’d tell the kids (over and over and over…) that seaweed is just “underwater grass”. And really? It is. Underwater grass. Texture is different, but telling yourself that over and over might help. :) Kudos to you for pushing yourself like this, it’s impressive and inspiring (and intimidating…).

  17. Cookie on August 14th, 2009 4:05 am

    You totally rock! And the dead bodies could be worse… they could be infiri (and now I just totally geeked myself out). Any way, I only wish I had your dedication to exercise, I’m still trying to get myself working out regularly and trying to psych myself up for a 5K.

  18. lurking on August 14th, 2009 2:20 pm

    I don’t know if anyone has mentioned this already, but everytime you use the word ‘milfoil’ all I can see is ‘M.I.L.F.-oil’, which just cracks me up. Good luck.

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