Posted by: forgingahead | August 26, 2008

Santa Barbara Triathlon Part 1 – The Swim

I was thinking about how to share the triathlon experience. I mentally tackled the race in three discrete sections so I’m going to write about it that way too. We’ll see how it goes..

We arrived in the dark (5:30am) to a parking lot transformed into a hive of athletic energy. And a lot of those busy bees were wearing miners lights on their heads. Gee, ya think they’ve done this before?

Right off I noticed I was missing a key piece of equipment…the tri-backpack. Everyone had them. Makes sense because then you can wear it as you ride your bike to the race. Me, I was juggling a couple of bags and pushing my bike. See, I knew this was going to be a learning experience!

So I found my aisle and set up my gear. Stood in line to have a nice woman write in big black pen on my arms and legs. Stood in line to use the port-a-potty. Listened in to snatches of conversation and generally soaked up the positive energy. People were psyched! And a lot of them seemed to know each other. Like some kind of reunion but with super studly athletes.

And oh yes, these people were fit. Really fit. Sure there were the handful of us who looked “normal” but so many of the competitors were visibly strong. And then there were the bikes. I’ve never seen so many $5,000+ custom carbon road bikes. Beautiful.

Allison and I suited up and asked the nice woman across the aisle to snap a pic (I’m on the left)…

Aren’t we cute in our matching wet suits? So we headed down the beach and joined our wave – we were in group 8 which was women ages 35 to 49. I closely watched the waves before us (averaging 100 people/wave) and as the horn sounded they’d take off running down a little hill and go blasting into the water.

Not my style. I clearly remembered Morgan’s advice to stay to the back and the left and focus on finding my own stroke. So Allison and I moved over and back as we neared the start.

I had no butterflies. This is probably the strangest part of the event for me. I’m notorious for getting nervous, experiencing an upset stomach, the whole enchilada. But for this event I was rock solid. And here’s what I think. I’ve spent the last 9 months taking control of myself, my body, my mind. Putting myself in charge of me. What I eat. What exercise I do. What goals I set. And it all came together at the start of this race.

Then we went in the water. I walked down the beach and waited for the masses to plunge in ahead of me. I dove into the first wave and started pulling.

THAT’S when the doubts crashed in on my carefully constructed peace. My heart jumped into my throat and my brain started screaming “you can’t do this, it’s too far, the water is too big, the bike too long, the run impossible, why am I doing this?” Whoa.

Well, it turns out that’s not a totally freakish reaction and thank goodness in the deep corners of my mind Morgan was there telling me to find my rhythm. Ignore everything around me and swim. Breathe. Stroke. Breathe.

I rounded the first buoy in a much better head space only to be slapped by not one, not two, but an unstoppable series of waves crashing sideways into my face as I tried to breathe. Oh dear, this wasn’t like ANY of my training swims. This, my friends, was one seriously choppy sea.

The swim route was go 150 yard straight offshore, hang a right, swim half a mile, hang a right swim 100 yards, hang another right and swim another half mile or so and then left into shore. The first half mile was hard with the waves pushing me around and making sighting pretty much impossible.

Allison and I stayed together which helped us both feel less like tiny pebbles being ruthlessly tossed about in the water. We did a bit of backstroke to catch a break from being pushed around. People passed us constantly (the wave behind us were the relay racers so they were FAST swimmers) but I so did not care.

When we made the first right hand turn to head inland it was like someone turned off the mean wave machine. Suddenly I could really swim! Allison and I cheered a bit and congratulated ourselves on making it half way (we did a lot of self cheering in this race!)

I was happily swimming along and congratulating myself on feeling so strong as I turned left into shore when one of the nice volunteers hanging around on surfboards to save us called out, “Come back, that’s not the right buoy! You still have a ways to go.” Ah shucks.

Back on course I rejoined Allison and we finished the swim without further incident. As we ran up on shore together the throngs of supporters cheered us on. Ok, really there were maybe a dozen people but they were clapping and cheering and it was fun!

More later on our cycling escapades!

high on life,



  1. I love this! It’s great fun to re-live the experience by reading it! You captured it perfectly.

    I wish I could say that I was as calm, cool, and collected as you before the race. What a surprise – I was the one with major butterflies. That’s the beauty of having a partner – we each experienced moments of terror at different points and pulled each other through.

    Great read! and even better – GREAT SWIM!

  2. Love that we balanced each other so beautifully!

    Can’t wait to do it again…

  3. Hello, I am a friend of Allison and she gave me this link so I could read about your amazing adventure!!! I think that is excellent and pretty awesome, keep up the good work. I am currently in Afghanistan and getting excited about heading home. I look forward to reading more about your adventure. Take care


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