"Oh, wow... yeah," she replied.
"THIS is it. It's Lake Monona on Ironman morning. Look at it," ... my heartrate increased.
"It's perfect. I think it's gonna be a great swim," she said with conviction in her voice.
"I like the way you think," giving her a high five.
The water was mirror smooth except for the wake from a few scattered boats moving into position for the start. Any concerns with rough waters disappeared. And that was a good thing... a REALLY good thing.
You see, I've never swam 2.4 miles before. Not without kicking off a wall in a pool, or a short run on the beach at the halfway point, like in Ironman Florida, or touching bottom at the turn around points in the shallow waters of my local lake. This time would be different. The swim would be two laps and all of it in the deep waters. No wall to touch, no sand to dash across to get a cup of water along the way. Nope, it was going to be 2.4 miles of nothing but lake.
Could my left shoulder survive it? It had been a tough summer of swimming. The thirty-three minute half Ironman swim at Wildflower proved to be too much. Since then the most I could go without it aching so bad my teeth hurt was a little over one mile. Well... on this day I'd find out if it could go the distance. I set a goal of finishing around 1 hour, 45 minutes if I had to swim it one-armed or breast stroked. Maybe an hour and a half if I caught a decent draft.
All was in check. There wasn't more to do but wait.... and wait. I reached around my back to touch the list of names one more time before pulling my wetsuit over my shoulders. The names of 540 cancer fighters, survivors, and souls were waterproofed and carefully pinned to the inside on the center pocket of my jersey. The "500 Over 140.6" Honor Roll was ready, the course was ready, and I was ready.
Gradually, Ironman to-be's crowded near the swim start. "Good lucks," hugs, and kisses were everywhere. Some looked down at the ground as they shuffled over the timing mats while while many were wide eyed and looking towards the horizon. Thousand-yard stares were worn by some. A call for all athletes to get in the lake was made.
I saw a few bloggers in the sea of black neoprene. Brett and I chatted a while. SimplyStu looked confident and gave me a "what's up" head nod as he headed towards the water. Taconite Boy smiled as he passed and IM Able had the look of all business on her face.
I pulled my cap over my ears and joined the mass of athletes. Those words would float with me.
The sun was bright in my eyes when I crossed the timing mat leading to the lake. Aerosmith and Mike Riley's announcements thumped us all off of the dry land. Off the land and past the ski jump and buoys marking the start.
In the final seconds before the cannon fired, treading water was effortless among the two thousand white caps bobbing around me. Monona Terrace was topped by spectators and shown white like snow in the dawn. This would be my guidepost.
The tone of the swim was set early. Like within-seconds-of-starting early. Feet kicked just inches in front of my face. Hands grabbed my legs and arms landed on my back. It was a frenzy trying to find a bit of open water. Instead of reaching out to catch the water for a swim pull, I put my hands in front of me to protect my face. Pulling the water was more about shielding my sides from the constant pushing than moving forward. Panic was closing but not allowed to settle. As long as I kept moving forward and giving back as much as I was taking in the slugfest I would survive. I hoped.
Eventually I did find open water, stretched out, and caught a draft. I swam into the zone of sensory deprivation and swim concentration. It was a familiar place. It's where I made headway. It was good.
Turing at the corners were opportunities to practice rugby in a wetsuit. They challenged me. To survive them I had to be patient, or tough... or both. A couple of whacks in the head and three in a row on my bad shoulder only pissed me off. I grabbed with both hands as much wetsuit as I could of the swimmers in front of me and yanked until once again I was in open water.
At the final turn of the first loop my watch read 41 minutes. Ahead of goal pace but at a price. My shoulder ached. Reaching was hard, but bearable.
The second lap was less about slugging and more about gutting it out. At the two mile mark a new sensation came upon me. One like I never felt before during the swim. Stomach cramps... more specifically lower intestine cramps. What the luck! After all of this I was getting sick on the swim.
My only thought was to get out of the water and find some relief and I swam as fast as I could. I passed under the "Swim Finish" arch and glanced at my watch. 1 hour, 18 minutes. Faster than I anticipated. Woo hoo! Fortunately, the swim wasn't 100 yards longer. The sore shoulder might not have made it with the rest of me. I held it as I pulled down my wetsuit and fell down on my butt before a volunteer wetsuit peeler. I threw the suit it over my good shoulder and held the bad one with my hand as I ran up the Monona Terrace helix to transition. Spectators lining the ramp pushed and pulled me up the corkscrew with their encouragement. Finally, I sat on a wooden chair, wet, a bit dizzy, and happy. Very, very happy in surviving.
If the swim was a test of survival the bike would be a test of resolve.