Challenge Wanaka – Team Tortoise

This is one of the coolest medals I have received in a while, A break from the normal round ones on a pendant shaped ribbon! This medal also marks a whole lot more, on a day of realisation.

Tortoise is the name for the team who asked me to swim for them at the last minute. As far as I can tell, the team consists of Trevor (the cyclist) then the other two parts are drafted in from people listed on the website as available, all organised by his son. Trevor is a pretty blimmin good cyclist, with absolutely no interest in doing a triathlon!!

I was originally entered for the aquabike in this race. This was to be my A race, until this dumb assed nerve damage took over my foot and stopped me from cycling, walking, and almost all other fitness shaped stuff!

$320 entry fee completely wasted: I was fuming. Until a client suggested I put myself forward as an available swimmer – so that is what I did, and that is how I wound up on team tortoise. The runner was the lovely Christine, a lady from the UK who was here on holiday with her husband!

Oxman ghosts to settle

The Oxman was a race that still plays on my mind. The swim did NOT go well, perhaps that set up the tone of the day, who knows. Either way I know that I was around 7 mins behind when I got out of the lake, meaning I was already stressing (even more) about the narrow bike cut off time.

When I squashed myself into my ten year old wetsuit and got into the lake, I felt claustrophobic. I brushed it off, thinking I was just out of practice. The hooter went off and I immediately started to panic. As I started my swim my chest began to get tight, I felt my breathing shorten and I began to hyperventilate. I swapped to breathing every two strokes rather than my customary three, but I still could not get things under control. I had to stop swimming and hang on to a life guards board for a while. I was so angry with myself as the tail end swimmers from ky wave disappeared into the distance.

I managed to resume swimming but never got the breathing completely under control and had to do the remainder of the 1900m breathing every two strokes, which is something I normally only need to do when I am sprinting.

On reflection I thought all sorts. Perhaps I have lost my ability to swim in open water? Perhaps that was my last time. Open water swimming was always something I loved and swimming was always the strongest discipline of the three in a triathlon, so I simply couldn’t understand.

I decided to do the swim for challenge wanaka after withdrawing from my own race in a bid to restore my faith in the water.

Challenge wanaka prep

I really did not do any prep specifically for this race. After the Oxman, I struggled to actually walk when the foot injury had been improving to that point (hell, I had been back cycling up to 75km again pre race). Post race I could barely use the leg and hardly put the foot to the ground. So I headed back to the doctor and that was what pushed the nerve test and ultimately the neurosurgeon appointment (which I am still waiting for).

I hate taking tablets at the best of times but nerve pain is a whole different world of hurt: in some ways makes a knee replacement feel like a walk in the park. The only people who will truly know what I am talking about are people who have themselves suffered with severe nerve pain.

So, although I have not been able to cycle, I continued to swim and increased the amount of hours in the pool in a bid to make up for all the other things that I could not do. I have even returned to walking with crutches.

To keep me motivated I entered my first virtual race. I had an option to choose the target swim distance I thought I could cover at the start of the month when entries opened. the choices ranged from 1km to 250km! I opted for 20,000m. (I actually covered a lot more, but I was happy to receive an actual medal!) I have opted for 25,000m in February! I think I sold myself short again, because I have already covered 23,600m!

So, back to Challenge Wanaka.

I was not specifically doing any speed work, my main goal was to cover the distance required to gain the medal for my virtual challenge. This means I have been doing a lot of swimming (obviously) and usually 2000m or more each visit. So completing the distance was never going to be a problem. It was more the mental thing I was worried about (and getting the 600m or so from the lake shore to transition to hand over the timing chip with a nerve damaged foot!)

Mark suggested in the week running up to the race that I should get a new wetsuit and that we should look in the expo for a deal. The wetsuit I had always worn was custom made to fit the ten year ago me. Lets face it, I am not that shape any more. So I decided this could be a good idea. the day before the race I bought a new one, off the shelf this time. One less thing to stress about – squashing myself into a rather tight wetsuit!

This means there was only one thing left to fix: my head game!

I took the crutches to the lake side, got assistance to the water (the beach is stony, which causes serious pain to a nerve damaged hypersensitive foot) then hubby Mark took the crutches to the swim exit.

I love Lake Wanaka, I think it is my favourite place to swim in open water. It can be a little temperamental with the weather but on race day the conditions could not be more prefect! Not too cold early in the morning, water temp 18 degrees, clear skies and no wind at all.

There was a short swim out to the start line, then it was a large triangle one lap. I had not been able to attend the race briefing (which I hated!) so I asked a few swimmers around me to orientate me on the course, lined the buoys up on on the local landscape and off we went.

I let the melee set off, positioning myself slightly to one side and not quite the back. Once things calmed down around me I was able to get into my rhythm. I did have to have words with myself but within a minute or two of starting I was into my breathe every three rhythm that I was always used to (prior to Oxman). This made me very very encouraged because I considered it to be a sign that I was calmer than I had been in the Oxman. Having established my rhythm, sighting every 6, I was able to then catch some of the swimmers ahead of me. I continued at my own pace, enjoying the scenery and the water (which was so clear that I could always see the bottom, even when I was almost 1km out!).

When I got out of the water I was feeling incredibly happy with what had happened, even if I did have 600m to travel still, up and down a steep wet carpeted bridge and across long grass on crutches! This was the hardest bit to be honest! When I handed over the timing chip, I knew that I had gotten my swim mojo back. All it needed was some self belief and a wetsuit that fitted me!

So, with that over I could now enjoy the day and cheer on my remaining team mates (and all the clients that I had that were also out there on the course somewhere!

Feeling a lot better about things than I was before. It also taught me something. When a race seriously does not matter to me one jot, I can actually enjoy it.

Perhaps I need to think on that some, because I cannot see the point any more in putting myself through undue stress just in the name of multisport.