The Aviva Ironman 70.3 Singapore posters read "Being Prepared is Half the Victory." That resonated with me. Prior to leaving for Singapore, I knew I had done everything to prepare for the race and I was satisfied with my swim training efforts preparing for the open water swim leg of a 1/2 Ironman relay.
The Friday before the race I swam the course. Few swimmers capitalized on this opportunity; as my husband and I set off to swim together, we had the water almost to ourselves. After about 6 strokes, I realized that something was stinging my arm. I stopped and asked my husband if he felt it, too; he just said keep swimming. I blocked out the constant stinging and just kept swimming!
I felt in control, breathing beautifully, slipping through the water effortlessly. Visibility was zero, but the water was calm and warm. My husband was struggling to keep up, quipping later that I was going to do just fine in the race. This pre-race swim gave me a lot of confidence to swim on race day with professional and seasoned triathletes.
On race day, things progressed rapidly. Before I knew it, I was in the starting chute with the rest of the relay swimmers. I was a bit anxious waiting, and when the count down neared 30 seconds, I witnessed the same start posture that I had in my very first open water swim in Australia. That terrified me then, but now I smiled and laughed because I knew what was coming next - the horn sounded and my wave was off.
I was cautious entering the water and happy that I avoided getting hit - or worse - as I made my way to the first buoy. I noticed that the water was choppy. I was swimming a lot harder than I did in practice. I calmed myself and began to swim - really swim! I was doing it. I was swimming a 2k open water swim in Singapore with athletes who have been swimming the majority of their lives.
Rounding the second buoy was a challenge because of all the traffic, but once I got around that buoy, I spotted the last buoy. Once we reached the beach, we had to get out of the water, run up the beach, around the start, and back in for our second lap. At that moment of processing I hit another swimmer, and the polite person in me stopped and said "I'm sorry" before I put my face back in the water and kept swimming for the beach. Before I knew it, I was running up the beach.
The little jaunt on the beach quickly tired my breathing. Once I hit the water I tried swimming, but had to take a couple of extra breaths and then began again. That's when I noticed everyone in front of me, swimming breaststroke. I figured they were tired and would soon resume swimming freestyle.
Swimming around the first buoy of the second lap, I felt amazing. I was ready to negative split my swim and I felt warmed up from the first lap. Then, as I sighted and saw that my passage was clear, I picked up my pace. WHAM! I felt an enormous kick to my chest, stopping me dead in my tracks. I couldn't breath and I had a moment of panic. I looked around frantically and saw a breaststroke in front of me, bobbing up and down. I realized that when I sight and see nothing, that doesn't always mean a swimmer is not there! As I caught my breath I noticed that I was the only one swimming freestyle. Around me was wall-to-wall breaststrokers, congesting the field.
I also noticed that I was passing every color of swim cap. Swimmers caps are color-coded by wave, with the relay wave last, which meant that 4 or 5 waves ahead of me were now clogging the field.
I had to "swim defensively" by keeping one arm ahead of me at all times. Thank goodness I practiced catch-up drills. This was not an ideal way for me to swim the race, but it worked. I would swim 3 or 4 strokes, get kicked on my arms, look up see an opening, and maneuver myself through the hole among the breaststrokers.
ZAP, a jellyfish stung my leg. I almost laughed and thought "what else could I encounter out here?" SLAM - I took a blow to the head and felt my goggles coming off! I grabbed and reattached them. Now I was mad! I remember my coach telling me "if something like that happens, stay calm, say a bad word or two in the water, and keep swimming." So, the only thing that came to mind was "You people can suck it". I was truly frustrated with the breaststrokers flailing around me. Hadn't they prepared for this swim? Hadn't they been in the pool 5 times a week plugging away at their training schedule? At that moment I had to let my goal of swimming in the low 40's or sub 40 go. I needed to get through these swimmers unscathed.
As I neared the buoy before the long stretch home, I decided I would use a surge method in what had become a tactical swim. I would speed-up to pass a breaststroke in my path, then settle into a nice rhythm, surge and settle, surge and settle. It worked and it kept me from getting kicked or hit.
I got to the beach, got out of the water I ran, I didn't look back, I didn't breath, I just ran to the transition area and started looking for my cyclist. I told him to scream out my name when he saw me because I didn't want to run past him. I heard my name, saw my cyclist, bent down took off my timing chip and put it around his ankle, patted him on the back, and told him to have a good ride. Then I bent over at the waist and began to breathe.
Once I got my wits about me I looked around the transition area and noticed that there were a lot of cyclists still waiting for their swimmers. I could hear others from my heat complaining about the "bloody breaststrokers" and other combat related injuries. That's when it hit me. I did it! I really did it!!
All my time and hard work in the pool did not prepare me for getting hit, kicked, or stung, but it did prepare me to surge past swimmers and to protect myself, to site frequently without losing momentum, and to stay in complete control of my swim no matter what was to come my way! In the end, with all of that drama, I swam my relay leg (about 2k) in 42:58. I'll take that! With only three open water swims under my belt I am proud to proclaim, "I am an open water swimmer."