June 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Ironman Lake Placid 2022: Part 9

Friday – 5:00 p.m. (37 hours to race start)

With the run completed, I had to drown Ruth.

(Ruth, your anxiety plagued athlete?)

Yup, this was Ruth’s idea.

(Ruth was paying you to do this?)

That’s correct.

The idea was to take my athlete to the lake and simulate the organized chaos that is an Ironman race start.

I call this little activity “Direct Recovery for Open Water and Guidance..

(A “drowning.”)

Pretty much. When you put 3,000 athletes into a body of water and they are all trying to exit that water as fast as they can, you get people bumping into you. Grabbing at you and kicking you. People sometimes swim over you. I offer a “Direct Recovery for Open Water and Guidance…”

(Practice “drowning.”)

…to all of my athletes. I specifically tailored it for Ruth, who previously panicked at a shorter triathlon we did in 2019.

(Didn’t Ruth also panic weeks before the race you were about to do?)

Yup.

(So why subject yourself to this type of torture if you have anxiety?)

Because nothing grows in your comfort zone. The challenges before you today will look smaller tomorrow when you look back at them. Now, think about that.

When open-water panic hits, it can be as small as “just don’t think about it.” Focus on keeping your hands in proper form as you propel yourself forward. You may forget about the fear, or you may work through the physical sensation of elevated breathing and nervous twitching. The panic can be as big as the time the woman I mentioned earlier pulled her unsanctioned flotation device endangering everyone around her. The wetsuit that provided you with a comforting “snug” feel before the race started can now feel like it is suffocating you. Try using the logical argument that “nothing physically changed” on someone who is having a panic attack.

I’ve been there in my youth. For me, anxiety has always been something I have tried to manage, realizing that it had never left me. It was always the monster in my closet, the dragon under my bed, curled up sleeping, just waiting to be awoken. It is the Kraken, that legendary Norwegian sea monster that wraps its tentacles around sailing ships and pulls sailors to their deaths.

(Dude, it’s just a lake swim, not the open sea where Poseidon waits with his trident.)

Exactly, anxiety doesn’t care about logic. Logic is the answer anxiety laden swimmers have been fed for years as the “cure all” for this phobia. “You are just imagining it” or “You’ll be fine” do nothing when you are trying to manage a physical sensation. The answer is to practice until you reach a level of managing the battle inside your head.

(So, you have open water anxiety and you are coaching your athlete who has open water anxiety?)

Correct.

(How did that work out?)

My anxiety will randomly kick in when I’m swimming in the ocean. It comes from seeing “Jaws” in the movie theater as a kid and watching “The Poseidon Adventure” on HBO and then there was that scene in “Aliens 2” with the Xenomorphs swimming after the people.

(But lakes you are OK with?)

As long as I don’t start thinking of the above anxiety laundry list.

I also invited my other athlete Shimon to join us. It was his first Ironman too.

Shimon declined the “drowning” but used the time to acclimatize himself with the lake.

(Why would someone need to “acclimatize” to a lake?)

By Friday afternoon the lane markers we call buoys were in the water. Here at Ironman Lake Placid there was an additional marker, a yellow guide cable that runs four feet below the surface.

You never need to look up to see if you are heading towards…

(…or away from…)

…those buoys. You just follow the cable and it will lead back to shore.

Ruth focused on “just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”

(“Finding Nemo”?)

Hey, it works.

(How long did the whole thing take you guys?)

Ruth was determined to stay as long as it was going to take to “acclimatize” to a lake.

(So, half an hour?)

After 10 minutes of bumping into Ruth, grabbing at Ruth’s ankles and yes, swimming over my athlete without warning, Ruth proclaimed, “I’m ready.”

Ruth later told me that the yellow guide cable became the “Linus blanket” to Ruth’s anxiety.

If anxiety is illogical, then distract the phobia with a tangible solution, not platitudes.

(Even if that “solution” is a yellow cable that looks like cordite in a lake of murky water?)

“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”


David Roher is a USAT certified triathlon and marathon coach. He is a multi-Ironman finisher and veteran special education teacher. He is on Instagram @David Roher140.6.

He can be reached at [email protected].

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