For months you move your body in an effort to enjoy and improve efficiency.  As I run headlong into the punchy Atlantic surf you are keen to let go of the reins and feel the horse go.  It has been almost six months since my last race and the second I was out of that race due to a crash I couldn’t wait for my next opportunity.  Here in lies a valuable lesson.  Stop yourself, don’t project the future.  Align yourself with the present moment and dig in.  I got better at this as the winter months rolled along, simply enjoying the training for the movement.  Alas, I was eager for another attempt to gauge my fitness with the heart assassins we call triathletes.

The sea was gently irritated with an irregular yet consistent chop.  I hated it.  What!? I found myself reflecting?  I truly love swimming in most of its forms.  Why is this very pleasant water temperature in the beautiful ocean with subtle chop taking my mojo?   I couldn’t find a rhythm and found myself thinking, “what’s the rush guys?”  The assassins began pulling away leaving me alone in a giant ocean to fight some tiny chop on my own; they were breaking my heart far earlier than I was used to.

I stayed with the leaders for the first few moments but always fighting, everything and nothing.  Where is the flow?  When they pulled away I was almost too casual in my mind but aggressive with my body in my effort to catch back up.  The sea was relentless in tossing me into this constant state of vertigo to find the fast water.

When I put forth a stronger effort it only seemed to hinder my progress even more and I had to familiarize myself with the ‘hack a chop’ swim I had not perfected swimming in a 25 yard pool all winter.  This was humbling because my swim fitness and from was as good as ever…in a 25 yard pool.  It seemed not to be carrying over to well to the Atlantic Ocean.

This duality would prove to be a valuable learning experience.  Coming out of the water 2 minutes down to the leaders, athletes I have come out with and ahead of, forced some urgency.  Jumping on my bike I rode with all the effort my legs and heart could gather.  I had to make up ground and do it now.  Basically, I flew a couple thousand miles over to South Beach so that I could ride the highways all by myself.  There was no one, just quite roads and a guy from Idaho in his swimsuit riding his bike.  Twilight zone.  Where is everybody and what happened to racing?

You convince yourself that you are still in a race and that you will catch people.  I race my shadow.

At the turn-a-rounds my fate seems all but sealed with the leaders being what looks like miles ahead.  Gut check and character builder time.  You come in yearning for some racing and end up with a time trial.

The run proves to be much like the bike in terms of seeing any racers, but I did pass 2 and get passed by Oscar who had the fastest run split on the day.  Finishing 9th, given the swim, is awesome!

The swim ended up being one of the worst of my career coming on the heels of what I thought was some of my best form ever.  The bike and run were solid.  The first race of the year proves to be a litmus test and the results were not what I expected.

“Smooth seas make poor sailors” nautical proverb. 

I’ve learned this lesson countless times but haven’t really gotten to the root cause until now.  In the past I’ve assumed poor choppy-open-water swims were due to lack of fitness, or adaptation to longer distance without a wall.  I’ve adjusted by swimming more or harder and/or getting into LCM and out into the Idaho Lakes.  This helps to a degree but I’ve been missing the real lesson all along.

I am a distance per stroke swimmer.  11 or 12 strokes per length is average and I can hold 9 when I maximize it.  But I need to learn the ‘hack a chop’ swim style that rules the day in choppy seas.  So I’ve had to increase my tempo and/or turn over.  Unlearning something you’ve spent decades mastering is the hard part.  At first it feels like taking 3 steps back and maybe it is.

I have worked on having another card to play on race day based on the conditions.  I am getting more comfortable taking 16 strokes per length now.  I’m contrasting my shoulder and hip drive with different tempos.  It is amazing the challenges one finds in their passion after over 3 decades of work in it.

Enjoying the little lessons.

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