It’s hard to not let triathlons define you. You work hard. You train. You do what you need to do and sometimes even beyond that. And, although the competition is within yourself, it’s hard not to let other people’s accomplishments get in the way of you feeling bad about yourself.

IMG_0844A few weeks ago, I attended the West Neck Swim organized by Excel Swimming. It was well-run. They had tons of people on the water watching the swimmers. It was a little slow start. We walked into the water and hung out by the yellow buoy until the horn went off. Then, we started swimming.

Since one of the women in my tri group was feeling anxious about the swim, many of us stayed with her. I really couldn’t understand why she was anxious because I know she’s a strong swimmer.  But, as she said to me, “you’re not in my head.” And that’s true, it’s hard for others to understand sometimes what other people are feeling or going through.

The horn went off. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I wear nose plugs. I’ve always had issues breathing out of my nose and when I first started swimming with Bryan Krut and Christine Biondi, Bryan suggested nose plugs and since then, I feel like I can breath with ease in the water.

I started to go. I wasn’t hustling, I was just going. A mile is a long way. Slow and steady, I kept telling myself. I saw Megan White, one of the co-captains of the All Women’s Tri Team. I was swimming along side of her for most of the way. Each red buoy kept coming up. The course was well-marked and great for spotting.

I kept having issues with the nose plugs. They kept falling off. I was glad I brought three pairs. I wore them on my fingers. So once one pair didn’t work, I tossed into the water (probably not a good idea but I otherwise I wouldn’t be able to keep track). I stopped adjusted them and kept on swimming. I tried to be conscience of the kick. (Don’t kick so hard. Soft kicks as my coach, Danielle Sullivan would say.)

I felt myself glide through the water. I wore my new ROKA Maverick suit and I kept my booties on the entire time. (They may have held me back a little but I didn’t want to cut up my feet on the north shore rocks.)

I got to the yellow buoy at the same time as Megan. I went around it close. I started to swim. She stopped for a moment. I looked over and said, “you okay?” She nodded and I kept going. As I was heading back, it felt as if I were the only one in the water. I swam and glided through the water. Every exhale into the water felt so amazing. The cold water on my face felt incredible. I passed a couple of red round buoys and was seeing the yellow buoy. Wait, how could I be seeing a yellow buoy when I’m supposed to see a red one. I picked my head up above the water. OMG, the red buoy is really far back!!!!!

I started to panic and this time, go faster. I had to turn directions completely. There was no marker to tell you that this was the end. That was upsetting! I pushed forward. I made it to the red buoy and remembered to go right. As I was swimming to shore, I was still going wrong. I saw Christine in the water. “You got this Hilary, you’re doing great,” she screamed. I could hear my All Women’s Tri Team teammates in the distance, screaming my name. I finally found the shoot to exit. Two women pushed their way in front of me. I swam until I couldn’t swim any longer. Got up and exited the shoot. I could hear the refs saying “52.” Did it take me 52 minutes to exit?

Overall, I felt good. I felt like I could go another mile. The mile seemed easy to me. A couple of my teammates followed me. I stood and cheered them on. When everyone was in, I walked over to see the results. They weren’t up yet.

At first, I was feeling good, strong and confident. Then, when the race results came out, I started to doubt myself.

  • Could I have gone faster?
  • What held me back?
  • Why did I stop when those swimmers climbed on top of me during the swim? I should have pushed ahead.
  • Why did I stop and keep changing the nose plugs?
  • Why didn’t I see that red buoy? If I did, I would have finished earlier.
  • I thought I was a decent swimmer, but obviously I’m not.
  • Can I do anything right?

The negative thoughts compounded when I saw many of my teammates win medals including my friend who was having anxiety over the swim. I was happy for everyone but felt bad that I didn’t do better.

These negative thoughts went on in my head the whole car ride back to my house. I couldn’t get them out of my head.

And then I stopped myself.

I started to reflect back to my first swim at the Long Beach Recreation Center when I attempted to go 25 yards and couldn’t. Or, when I joined Open Water Swim LI and kept having to stop because I was choking on the water. I’ve come a long way since those early days, which were less than three years ago.

I couldn’t swim before getting into triathlons. I doggy paddled or if I swam for a minute, it was with my head out of the water. (That’s probably why I swim Tarzan so well.)

Here, I went a mile (or close to it) in the open water. I felt amazing. I was in my happy place. As I was gliding, I just focused on my stroke and my sightings. I didn’t think of anything else and I felt good about that. So why not focus on that?