What a Strong Woman can do. (A Swimcrest Swimmer shares her race report.)

All of my clients know that I get excited for their successes. Whether it’s putting their face in the water for the first time, or competing in a swim race for the first time, I admit that often, I squeal a bit and jump up and down while clapping in excitement.

This weekend, one of my wonderful students raced the Quassapaug Sailing Center Open Water Festival and I’m thrilled that she has allowed me to share her race report with you.

As a proud swim coach, I have to say that I am so amazed by her strength, her dedication, and her ability to swim with a smile on her face. She, and all of my swimmers, are what inspire me in this work every single day.

Thank you, Alethea, for sharing your story with others.

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It’s been a long year for me physically.  In late spring I was diagnosed with several health issues.  Then, in July, the effects of all of racing and training I’ve done over the last several years decided to settle in my left second toe.  Despite PT, padding, and a cortisone shot, I have a lot of pain in my toe and foot which has made it impossible to run, and even painful to do yoga, boot camp or spinning.  Although I have modified as best I can, unfortunately it looks like I’ll be having foot surgery later this year.

However, the one thing I’ve been able to do largely pain free is SWIM! I love to swim, so thankfully I’ve been able to continue doing it. 

Early in the winter this year, I started working with a swim coach in Amherst named Sydne Didier.  Sydne is a marathon swimmer and an exceptional teacher.  Check out her website if you’re interested to learn more about her: www.swimcrest.com.  I started working with Sydne to improve my swim time in triathlon (she works with many triathletes).  This year, however, as my foot condition worsened, I decided to try an open water long distance swim event, at Sydne’s suggestion.

Sydne recommended an event called the Quassy Swim Festival in Middlebury, Connecticut.  She has done it  before and said it is a low-pressure, fun race in a very pretty lake.

To prepare, I started swimming more than before.  I loosely followed a swim training plan for the Alcatraz swim.  When we went on vacation or a week in August, I swam almost every day in a tidal river.  This was great training for me, as I had to contend with the tide.  That definitely helped me get stronger.

The week before the race, I started having a headache and I felt like my ears were blocked.  I went to the doctor, who said I have Eustachian tube dysfunction – likely from all the swimming.  I took a lot of Sudafed this past week, which helped (although it made me feel crazy hyper).  I was feeling headachey and dizzy all week, and by Friday, had decided in my mind not to do the race. 

That is, until I was driving home from work on Friday night. I was talking with Scott on the phone, who was very encouraging about the race.  He feared that I’d be disappointed if I didn’t do it, since I’d been looking forward to it and had trained a lot.

I decided Scott was right!

I got up on the morning of the race, meditated for 30 minutes, and then got packed.   We got to the Quassy Sailing Club around 10.  The club is really sweet – an old rustic house on the shore of Quassy Lake.  I got checked in, went through body marking, and then changed into my suit.

We were able to see a number of the 3-mile racers finishing their races.  I did a warm-up swim and absolutely loved the water.  I was feeling pretty anxious until my warm-up swim.  Once I got in the water and started my warm-up, my nerves really settled down.

It was a long wait to actually get the swim going.  They called every swimmer individually to check us in for the race.  The course looked VERY LONG! We had to swim literally across the entire lake and back.  There were big yellow and red buoys along the course.  They told us the first yellow buoy was at 1/4 mile, the next at 1/2 mile, and the last buoy at the end of the lake was at the 3/4 mile mark.   I literally could not even see the last buoy – that was a little bit worrisome!

We finally got going around 11:30 am.  There were about 150 swimmers in the race.  I really was “in the zone” and not focusing on the swimmers around me.  However, Scott told me there were some really serious looking swimmers there, like kids from the Yale Swim Team.  

In my mind, though, this was about the experience – not my race time.  I remember training for my first triathlon and the advice of the book I read was not to worry about your time, but to FINISH WITH A SMILE!  That was the approach I wanted to take for this race.  Lake Quassy was absolutely beautiful, the sun was shining, there was not a cloud in the sky.  I decided to pretend the race was just a workout – an extra long workout with a lot of people – but not a race.

The start of the race was a little rough.  Like many tris I’ve participated in, I was jostled and kicked a fair amount.  I took in a BIG gulp of water right at the beginning and had to get over that.  However, the crowd thinned out pretty quickly.  The faster swimmers quickly moved to the front, and I settled in my happy place at the back of the pack.

Last week, we attended Pearl’s first cross-country team meeting for parents.  At the meeting, the coach told us that meditation is part of the team practice.  He said that he wants the girls to learn how to be mindful, particularly when the going gets tough in a race.  Rather than zoning out and thinking about something else, he wants them to remain conscientious of their form, breath, thoughts, emotions, etc.  I’ve been practicing meditation for about 6 months now and thought the same approach could work for me.  I used it during this race, and here’s what I noticed:

*I was very conscientious of my stroke.  I’ve been working hard with Sydne to improve my stroke, breathing position, and rotation.  I was able to focus on the position of my hands entering the water and the catch and pull as I pulled back my arms.

*As Sydne suggested, I focused on just one stroke at a time.  I refused to allow myself to “freak out” over how much farther I had to swim.

*I also mindful of the feeling of the wonderful, 78 degree water and the sun shining on my face.  The water felt amazing as I was swimming.

*I definitely noticed I started to slow after I turned the 3/4 mile mark.  However, I tried to remain aware of my form even though I was slower.

*I noticed that I was starting to get more dizzy as the race progressed.  I think it was because of rotating my head to turn and breathe.  I told myself at one point that even though I thought I was dizzy, I wasn’t really dizzy … that was my mind playing tricks on me from my blocked Eustachian tubes.  Because of the dizziness, though, I did alternate between breast and crawl.  I probably was slower because of this approach, but I wasn’t worried about it.  As I kept telling myself, it was most important that I finish the race and enjoy the experience.

*I had a few pals at the back of the pack that I swam the whole way with.  I have no idea who they are, but we congratulated each other after the swim was over.

*While I had an opportunity to check my watch and my time throughout the race, I decided not to do it.  Because the race was about the experience, it didn’t matter how long it took.

Finally – after over an hour – the last two buoys came into view.  I could see Scott in his orange t-shirt standing at the end and clapping.  I stayed strong through the entire race – I never stopped once.  I came out of the water tired but very happy, with a time of 1:15.

I’m really proud of myself for taking on this race.  I was able to feel good despite some physical challenges this year.  The race gave me confidence and motivation to bounce back after my foot surgery later this fall.

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The smile of a strong and accomplished woman! Yay Alethea!! Congratulations!

Can’t wait to hear what you’re going to do next!

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