Saturday, July 23, 2011

Do you believe in Magic? (Part II – The Swim)

OK, here is the scenario where I left you last time: beach, huge and beautiful lake in front of me, triathletes all around me, loud music, and thousands of fans making incredible noise.

Time seems to slow down.
It is like I am watching a film.
 “15 seconds left”, says the speaker.
And I realize I am actually living the film.

The countdown starts.
10,9 - I shake my arms and legs to relax a bit
8,7  - one look at the “thumb-up” among the crowd from my friend Alessio
6,5  - I give back the “thumb-up” sign, too
4,3  - I adjust my swim goggles
2,1  - a moment of deep silence (at least in my head)

The cannon has been fired.

One deep breath again, and I run into the cold water.
The Magic has started, and I am ready to live it.

The swim
As soon as I start to swim, I clash with another athlete, and then another one. Arms and legs are all over me. I take my head out of the water and see nothing but black neoprene, white swim caps, and water.

I breathe and move my arms and legs in a way to protect myself in all this chaos. I think that I might even get knocked down if I get kicked in the face, so I use my arms more to protect my face than to pull the water to move forward.

While I am trying to breathe, I get one hard blow to the head from another athlete. My head goes down with my mouth wide open and lots of water gets in. Gulp! I gasp for some air desperately. Another athlete is now climbing over my legs, but a couple of fast kicks from my part makes him understand that he should look for another route.

This is no swim.
It is a fight for survival in the water.
And it is just the start.

I take my head out to see an open space where to go. No luck. Everything is crowded.

I realized at that moment that I would not be able to swim freely, but that I would be in tight company throughout the whole 3,8 kilometers.

What to do?
Get desperate as I was not able to swim as fast as I could?
Get nervous because people where constantly clashing into me?

For a moment I was getting really anxious. But the very next moment I thought that anxiety would not have made me any faster, and even worse, it would have made me waste precious energy.

What to do then?

Just go with the flow.
Accept reality as it is and make the best of it.
Enjoy the experience.

Tension disappeared, and although the blows to my head and back did not stop, I started to swim much better and faster. I was moving again and actively looking for open spaces and for ways to surpass swimmers in front of me.

The mindset switch from victim to attacker made all the difference.
I had now only to control my effort, in order not to swim so hard that I consumed all my energy even before starting the bike.

The meters started to seem shorter and time flew again.
I was in The Flow.
Chaos outside, but deep relaxation and focus within me.


We reached the first buoy and turned to the left. Then another buoy after a few hundred meters. Left again, and we were heading back to the beach.

Now, I could see the sun, as it was rising from the beach. The reflection on the water was nice, but the glare did not allow me to see much ahead. So I just followed the moving feet in front of me. Wherever those feet went, I went. The pace was fine for me, so I did not look for another pair of feet to follow for a while.

My guiding feet and I reached the final part of the swim which was a narrow channel (the final 700 meters) connected with the lake. Fans were on both sides of the channel, and I could see them briefly every time I turned my head to breathe. More than seeing them, I could hear them: whistles, claps, screams, everything…and all fused down to become music in my head.

Magic again!

Finally, I could see the last turn to the swim exit.
I was about to finish the Ironman swim.
And I almost could not believe it.

I was eager to leave the water, as my arms were tired and my back was hurting a bit. But I guess all my fellow competitors were thinking the same, as we all ended tangled up in the final turn. Everybody was trying to rush the final part, but the turn became a bottleneck. It looked like a big traffic jam with nobody moving.

I had to laugh at the idea of having the finish line of the swim just in front of me and not being able to reach it.

Finally, there was some room for me to move again, and I was able to reach the ramp to get out of the water. One volunteer helped me to get on my feet, as I was a bit dizzy from having all the blood in my arms after such a long swim.

I was out of the water.

As soon as I was on my feet, I took the swim cap and goggles off.
And I was able to see clearly all the fans and volunteers around.
And to hear the loud music, the noise from fans and the speaker’s voice cheering athletes up.

One look at my watch: 1h06
What? I was expecting at least 10 more minutes.
Hard to believe, as I was not able to swim as I am usually capable of.

“Time is relative”, I think!
No doubt, I am living the Magic!

OK, I’ll stop here, before I get you too tired with this post.
Next time, I’ll make you jump on my bike with me to go for a really nice ride of 180 km.

In the meantime, keep believing in the Magic.
Create it. Live it. Share it.

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