Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Inferno Race Report: Part II - The Swim

COLD! As my feet hit the water, this is the thought that shocked my state of zen into the state of PerplexiChillituity .. yes, a made-up word describing the seemingly never-ending, rattling, and quite disturbing feeling that one is about to enter really cold water for an hour or more, just for sport!

One of my challenges for this race is that I didn't really train for the swim. You see, things are often a bit crowded in the Netherlands and swimming pools are no exception. In the States, I found it mildly annoying to have to share a swim lane with someone else. In Holland, I was lucky to share a lane with less than six people. I promise you, I'm not exaggerating here! My most enjoyable swim ever was in a large crystal clear lake in Maine during my first season of triathlon. In a lake that was at least 10K long, Becky and I were only joined by a sail boat on the far end of the end. Me, my wife, a sail boat, and fish ... that was it and it was thus a beautiful swim. You're probably with me now on how I didn't enjoy the swim training in Amsterdam and why I entered the water in the Swiss town of Thun thinking three things 1) wow, this is really cold; 2) seriously, really, really cold, and 3) maybe I should have trained for this swim because I can't even see where we're supposed to exit the water because it's so far away.

Ten minutes into the swim and I had confirmed to myself that lots of my new Swiss friends were serious swimmers (it felt like all of them!) and that the value of preparation can never be under-estimated. Maybe 3 sessions in the pool wasn't enough for a big race like this ... hmm, time will tell. It seemed like the swim lane was 100 yards across and I often wondered if I was on track as I really felt alone (and slow)! As I continued to plod my way through the water, trying to sight the castle-looking building (which was probably a real ... castle), my wetsuit zipper decided that now that the thin later of water between the suit and my skin had warmed up a bit (thus creating the insulation that keeps you from turning into an ice block in cold swims like this), it was a fantastic time to reintroduce ice cold water to Jeff's back. The zipper somehow snuck its way past the little safety velcro and completely opened all at once. Voila -- ice cold water, meet Jeff's spine. Not so fun! What's even more 'not-so-fun' is the whale dance you have to do to re-zip the back-mounted zipper in the middle of a deep lake!

With that challenge past and the whale dance re-zip completed, I continued to fight boredom, enjoy the occasional peak at the mountains on every right stroke, and fight the sensation that I was getting colder - especially my legs. That's when the cramps started. It started in my calves, but moved on to my quads and hamstrings. I've never had this happen in a swim and I've done cold swims before -- perhaps the wetsuit that I haven't worn in a decade had something to do with it! Yeah, and that whole lack of swim training thing. Nonetheless, the cramps were so bad that I couldn't move my legs at all lest a cramp start. This causes several other problems though -- first, it makes you swim slower (yeah I know, the no-brainer). Second, it takes away the one thing that could generate heat -- which makes you even colder. The last half an hour of the swim was a real challenge as I was forced to keep my legs completely still. I tried to stay positive (which is certainly the key in long multisport races), enjoy the occasional views, and think about the great mountain scenery that awaited me later in the race.

I was thrilled to reach the exit, but the moment I tried to stand I realized how frozen my legs were. I could barely walk to the transition area. Doing a goofy waddle (can a waddle ever not be goofy??) I made it to my bike, pausing only to say hi to Becky and to mutter with a frozen face "cold, legs cramp, cold, hi, swim over".
Stay tuned for part 3 as the real fun begins!

1 comment:

i8chocolate said...

My swim cap's off to you, Jeff, for surviving that swim! I had to take a warm bath after reading your report, just to thaw out my brain. If I didn't already know you, I'd say you're insane. But you're not! Just one of those crazy world class athletes!!!