Thursday, September 13, 2007

Confidence Floats

Think where man's glory most begins and ends,
And say my glory was I had such friends
--William Butler Yeats


I was magically buoyant during the swim, but it did not have anything to do with my magical wetsuit. Read on and you'll see why.

See, a couple of days before the Ironman, Taconite Boy opined about what sets triathlon and triathletes apart--overcoming the mental barrier and panic response of the open water swim. I know that holds true in my case. Those of you who have been reading awhile know about the love/hate relationship I have with the water. I have blogged about my first open water swim, and I seem to constantly have to re-learn that confidence floats. Ironman Weekend was no different, and I learned my lesson again with the help of my friends.

Friday before Ironman, I intended to do a little practice swim, just a half-lap around the swim course. When Taconite Boy and I arrived at the lake, however, the angry water was pelting the shore and whitecaps tossed the bouys and swimmers around like cork before the storm. Nevertheless, we donned our wetsuits and waded in. Taconite Boy put his head down and got busy. I . . . freaked.

I could not breathe, I could not get my head down, I could not do anything except strike back out for shore. Inside my head, I replayed the tape of last year when I saw one Ironman hopeful swim about 50 yards before climbing out and ending his day scarcely one minute after the gun. "You're going to be that guy," I thought. "After buying plane tickets, putting your family through all that training, and dragging them up here, you're going to be that guy."

Even though I had swum the distance in open water many times, I had no confidence in keeping my head together. It may or may not have showed, but I had serious doubts. Notwithstanding my own doubts on Friday, on Sunday, I had the perfect swim.

Don't get me wrong. It was not smoothe or fast. I never found open water. There was lots of contact. I was run into contantly. I was yanked by a pro or fast age grouper as they lapped me. I drank facefulls of water. I had to pass and repass swimmers that were even slower or crookeder than me. But I was never afraid. Every moment, I was relaxed and completely at peace, knowing that, out of all the locations in the universe, I was exactly where I was supposed to be at that very moment.

Photo courtesy of Mr. Iron Wil

That peace resulted in a swim time faster than I had swum the open water distance in practice while expending less effort. The reason for that peace had almost nothing to do with me, I think. Whatever confidence I lacked, I received from some special people.

Curly Su: Friday during the pasta dinner, my phone vibrated and I stepped out to take a call from Curly Su--professional musician, Ironman France, ocean swim Curly Su.

Flute Jam
Just in talking with her I was reminded of being in Wisconsin 20 years earlier as a music student--a music student with performance anxiety, i.e. stage fright. Remembering how I overcame that planted a seed on how I could overcome this. She reminded me that I already had all the tools I needed.

Taconite Boy: He did not need another practice swim, but he knew I did, and he turned out early on Saturday for a swim he did not need.

He committed to it on Friday and showed up to work when he could have been resting. And he was constantly at my shoulder all week, sharing our common doubts and common confidence, which waxed and waned every moment.

Trimama: The hand that rocked the cradle. The woman who keeps the tribe running like a well-oiled machine. She is as hard as Iron and as warm as a blanket all at the same time.

Iron Family

Trimama kept an arm around me and a prayer over me all week, from the time I arrived at their home in Minneapolis until I finished. Her confidence, her smile, her words and her pre-race hug communicated faith in me that was authentic. While I was swimming, I knew her faith was not misplaced, and I wanted to prove her right.


This picture, taken by Iron Pol, captures a moment in the race that was fully as special to me as the finish itself. Trimama knew how concerned I was about keeping my wits in the swim. I think she was concerned too, but never betrayed a moment's doubt. She was right there with the wetsuit strippers the moment I came out of the water. In all the tumult of the swim finish, she grabbed me, hugged me, looked me in the eye, and said, "I'm so proud of you." Her eyes may have been more red than mine, but I doubt it. To share this overcoming moment of success with a sister like Trimama was a high point on which I fueled for much of the rest of the day.

Mishele K, swim training partner and 4 time Ironman with a swim PR of 1:04 drove six hours from St. Louis to volunteer at the race. She finished this race (faster than my time I might add) last year when conditions were hellish. After her midnight arrival, she showed up at the lake on Saturday at 0700 to swim with me one more time. She really didn't say any magic words, and she didn't need to. She just showed up, smiled like she always does, brought her quiet, dry sense of humor, and made swimming seem like it was no big deal again.

On Sunday, she was there on the helix with a high five and a hug as I was carried along with the mass of prospective Ironmen moving to the swim start.
Photo courtesy of Mr. Iron Wil

She was there on the helix with another high five as I jogged, crying and laughing at the same time, on my way to T1.
Even though she had a long drive back to St. Louis and law school classes on Monday, she was there to catch me when I crossed the finish line.

Sometimes, all you need to see the real you is friends to act as your true mirror. These people knew I was an Ironman. They just knew it before I did.


Dave Fleet said...

I think I should tell you that your blog may cause the end of my relationship! Every time I read one of your post-race posts, I'm inspired even more to train for an ironman... much to the dismay of my girlfriend!

You rock.

Spokane Al said...

You belly button pondering is, as always, so very moving.

Thank you for sharing.

Laurie said...

Great post!

I clearly remember the look of doubt on your face at one of the blogger meet-ups and you saying that you felt out of place, that you didn't belong. I didn't know what to say to you at that point. (I'm really bad at finding the words right in the moment.) But in my head I completely disagreed with you. I knew you had worked hard and that you belonged just as much as any other person there. You definitely proved that you belonged on Sunday. But not to anyone else but yourself, the rest of us already knew.

Congratulations again Ironman!

Wendy said...

Greyhound, you didn't just have a good swim. You triumphed!

Kim said...

you're unbelievable!!!! choked up a bit reading this post. congrats again grey, im proud of you buddy.

Robyn & Rachel said...

I will be repeating Confidence Floats, Confidence Floats over and over again when I race my first olymic tri in three weeks. Thank you for sharing your journey!

- Robyn

Jane said...

What a great post! I love the photo of you coming out of the water.

Fe-lady said...

Thanks so much for sharing these heart-felt moments of your race with us. Your ability to write about that heart you wear on your sleeve is sonderful...wish I could do so as elegantly...!

Siren said...

I'm glad Iron Pol sent you the Tri-Mamma stripper pic (I took). It's such a great shot I wanted to make sure you had a copy of it.

greyhound said...

Oops. I thought I actually saw IP with the camera! I was delerious, no doubt.

Bigun said...

People alway look at me funny when I talk about someone and then tell them that's one of my "blogger friends". People can't believe that bonds can be formed with someone though comments and posts...I guess that's their problem. Your post reminds me of the great people that are out "there", just waiting to be met, break some bread with, and even toe the line with someday. Great swim, Greyhound.

Brent Buckner said...


the Dread Pirate Rackham said...

you have a rich life, and you are very fortunate - as you're clearly aware.

Curly Su said...

i'm glad i could help. but, i didn't do anything besides remind you of what you already have. you're the rock star, whether staring at an audience or a finish line...

Rural Girl said...

You bet you are an Ironman. You came, you saw, you moved past your fears and did what had to be done.

Tea said...

The best post that I've read today. What a great post.

(And the tat is cool too).

Iron Pol said...

I'm glad Siren answered the "who took that picture" question. I didn't know if it was her, or Iron Mark. And you weren't delerious. You DID see me, only it was on the helix. I'll be sending that picture, soon.

You did awesome out there, and it's great that you spent so much time logging all the bits and pieces for later. I'm horrible at that.

tri-mama said...

That's one of my favorite pics- I was so happy for you! I had no doubts that your heart would carry you through the day and that your training would meet your race. You did it! You're an Ironman, and even more, you're a brother. love that!

George Schweitzer said...

Congrats Kendall! It was nice meeting you in madison.

SixTwoThree said...

Way to go. I loved reading about how you faced your fear of the water. Posts like this give me hope! (There's a reason why my friends nicknamed me "the minnow." LOL )

Lance Notstrong said...

Sounds like you have alot of really special friends. You're a lucky man Greyhound :-)