Small Victories

For the past two years I have been a member of the Endurance Multisport club that is based out of the Allentown, PA area. Craig & Erica Sheckler, the club co-founders do a fantastic job of making membership well worthwhile. One of the many things they do throughout the year is a series of weeknight mini-triathlons known as the Grin & Bear It (or GABI) series. The event takes place several times a summer at the Bear Creek Mountain Resort in Macungie, PA.

I missed the first of the GABI events due to some conflicts but decided to make the June 26th edition if for no other reason to get an opportunity to attack my on-going issues with the swimming portion of triathlon. I have not been able to swim to my potential in any event so far this year due to ridiculous mental issues.

I was kind of excited about the event when I left work Wednesday night. And then after telling my self to be sure to go the correct direction on the turnpike I immediately when the wrong direction taking my usual Westward path home. Oops. Sixteen miles of driving later I was back on course. I fought my way through an hour of heavy traffic stealing bites of my Wawa chicken sandwich en route. Finally after dodging around several accidents I pulled into the Bear Creek Mountain Resort driveway perhaps a tad bit later than I hoped.

As a club member, the GABI series is free though you must purchase an activities wristband from Bear Creek for use of the grounds. It is $25.00 and they give you a $25.00 gift card which is good for the Grille. A very good on-site restaurant. The wrist band is good for the season and gives you access to all of the grounds.

Once the administrative details were taken care of I made my way to the EnMu tent to register with Erica. While GABI is billed as a “no frills” event, it clearly does not translate to a no work event. Craig & company had setup the registration tent, put out stakes for the bikes for transition, marked the entire run course with flags and signs, installed the buoys in the lake, and marked the bike course. I was impressed and appreciated my team and coaches all the more.

I setup my transition between husband and wife of Cynthia Bartus & Steve Thompson. Both blazingly fast triathletes. I was hoping for some osmosis-based speed. As soon as I was setup I grabbed goggles, ear plugs & swim cap and headed off to get a quick warm-up in. Erica had prescribed a 10 minute warm up and it was clear that wasn’t going to quite happen due to my latish arrival. But 99% of the reason I was doing this as to get that race swim in and hopefully not do it like a wounded jellyfish. So warm-up I would. I had opted to go sans wetsuit tonight on a hunch that perhaps the wetsuit was contributing to my mental issues (at least those involving swimming). I scurried down to the start and hopped in. The water was warm and quite clear.

After 5 minutes or so of swimming it was getting close to start time so I figured I’d better get out and listen up. Craig gave us a briefing on all the parts of the race and transition and then we got in the water to start.

The race as a whole would probably be considered a super-sprint. Just a .2 mile swim, 10 mile bike, and 1.5 mile run. But the bike would not be easy. It is a hilly little SOB.

Craig sounded the air horn and we were off. My goal: Swim freestyle the whole way around the course. None of this flipping over and swimming like a jellyfish. I was off to a good start. The field consisted of 17 people so it was not crowded. I started off the buoy a bit with the hope of not getting entangled. It worked. My focus was just on getting to the next buoy. In short order, I was around that and headed for buoy number 2. So far so good. Form? What form? It wasn’t so good although better than last year. I made my way for buoy number 2. It seemed to take a while, but I arrived and rounded it and headed for the third and final buoy. It occurred to me I was using my legs way too much an therefore a lot of energy. I was also not rotating to my left very well and not really pulling with my left arm all that much. Coach Erica would have had words for me if she were watching and there were an opportunity. But I was still swimming like a non-panicked human being. And I wasn’t panicked. I was a bit more tired than I should be due to poor form but I was at least swimming consistently.

The real test came about 30 yards from the finish when I swam through a big patch of grass. It coated my face and tangled in my hands. I swam on. Oddly, with all my anxiety issues, things like grass has never bothered me.

Suddenly, there was sand. I was at the end of the swim. Granted, it wasn’t a long swim, but I made it. I exited the water kind of exhausted due to poor form but victorious in my mind. I walked toward the bike and then broke into a trot as my breath returned. Something was wrong. What were all those bikes doing here? Usually they are almost all gone when I get out of the water. Of course Steve & Cynthia were long since gone.

I put my shoes on, grabbed the helmet, an set out on the bike. It is a climb out of the resort, a couple quick rights, and then you climb again. Wow. All that kicking on the swim really took a toll on my bike legs. Note to self: Arrive early enough to get a bit of a bike warm-up in. I’m not ashamed to admit I had to walk the bike a bit up that first hill until my legs got warmed up.

Once warmed up the rest of the ride was not bad. It certainly was not the speediest 10 mile ride ever despite some fun downhills. Not having ridden those roads before I was a bit conservative on the downhills. Next time I’ll unleash a bit more on those. One more big hill toward the end and then a short ride back into the resort.

I ditched the bike leaning it against my stake (and later managing to knock the cadence/speed sensor off). Donned running shoes and set out on the short running course. It is worth noting that Steve was already done, standing at the finish waiting for his lovely spouse who was just in the last couple hundred yards.  Basically, the run was .75 miles up the hill and .75 miles back down. It was not a difficult run but the humidity and the uphill effort made me regret the decision to stop at Wawa for that stupid chicken sandwich.

That quickly it was over. I crossed the line, and headed back to the water for a cooling dip followed by a Guinness Stout at the Grille. All in all a fun night with a small victory over my open water swim anxiety.

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