Ironman Arizona 2012 Part 1 - The Swim

Normally, I enjoy swim races.  It's fun to push hard, and I'm not too poor of a swimmer so I revel in my strong event.  To get into Tempe Town Lake involves jumping off a cement wall into cold, inky-black water.  When I hit the water it didn't seem as cold as I remembered; maybe because my sweet BlueSeventy Reaction fits really well, or maybe because training for the Alcatraz swim had numbed my cold water senses a bit.  There's a bit of a swim to the start line, where  I lined up a little to the left of the lake, about three rows back (exactly where I'd planned).  There seemed like there was some open water in that spot too.

I had about ten minutes to wait for the start, and killed time by chatting with everyone around me.  There were mostly men there; I didn't really see any women.  We all seemed in pretty good spirits: giggling, being friendly and encouraging each other.  I figured I had a solid spot to start and the swim would go well, especially because I'd had some good swims this year in a couple of races.  Well... the cannon went off and I had about five seconds before all hell (almost literally) broke loose.

I tried to swim in a nice rhythm, but it seemed like wherever I was in the water, several other people also wanted that EXACT spot.  Not incredibly rare for a triathlon start, but the level of aggression really surprised me.  I was swam on top by the same person for over a minute, was punched, kicked, grabbed, pushed under... in general totally beat to crap.  Again, triathlon starts are rough, but this was like nothing else I've experienced.  I played waterpolo at a pretty competitive level for several years (not to mention when I was a kid my dad and I used to have a cut-throat game of water basketball in our backyard pool, so I am used to being practically drowned by larger men), but this swim experience made waterpolo players seem like complete pansies.

The kicking, the punching, the dunking, the gulping water continued, where it usually last the first couple of minutes or so.  It never let up the entire 3.8 km swim.  I wanted to haul myself up on a boat and quit.  Several times in the first 20 minutes I had that thought.  I wanted to punch and kick and flail back.  But I knew I couldn't do that, as once you give in to those negative thoughts it would be too hard to recover.  I am not one of those people who race out of anger or fear.  So I tried to ignore the pummelling, stopped a few times for people to literally get off of me, and Just. Kept. Swimming.  I channeled my inner Dory (Finding Nemo) and repeated the mantra over and over:  Just keep swimming... just keep swimming... just keep swimming... and by doing that, it kept me going and not giving in to the fury that seemed to be bubbling away at everyone else in that lake.

Just keep swimming... just keep swimming... I repeated this for at least 20 minutes and kept myself sane.  About 3/4 of the way back - BOOM - all of a sudden I got cracked in the face by a guy next to me.  So hard it made me scream, stop, and the guy stopped as well to see if I was ok.  I was a bit stunned, but thanked him for stopping, and said I was fine.  (I ended up with a faint bruise around my eye - lucky no shiner).  I put my face back in the water and swam some more, and learned how hard it was to choke back tears and swim at the same time.  But I Just. Kept. Swimming.  I tried really hard not to give in or give up.  

I have never been so happy to see the end of a swim in a triathlon.  I grabbed onto the stairs leading up the concrete wall out of the race, and wanted to hug the volunteer that pulled me out of the water.  I felt like I was in a bit of a daze, got my wetsuit pulled off by some volunteers, found myself in the change tent and collected my thoughts to get ready for the bike.  I ran through the bike transition where I saw Jason and Candace smiling.  Jason handed me my bike and I was out of there.  Relieved that I didn't quit, relieved that I didn't drown, and relieved that I was out on my bike and pedalling under a bright blue sky.

On solid ground again.

Happy to be pedalling away from the lake.

My swim split was 1:08.17, about 30 seconds faster than I swam there two years ago.  (A minute slower than my IM swim PR from 12 years ago).  I thought on a good day I'd swim maybe 1:06, so I wasn't disappointed at all in my time as I just wanted to go under 1:10 for sure.  And of course, I wanted to enjoy the swim, which I definitely didn't... but moving on - heading out onto the bike course it turns out I was in 9th place in my AG.  Happy with that as I was hoping for a top-ten swim.


  1. That just makes my stomach do flips - just making it out of the water was a major acheivement let alone Top 10. Way to go girl!

  2. I was impressed by your time before I read your swim recap and now I am ultra impressed! I had the same experience at IMCDA and was so happy to run on sand before the second lap where I got pummeled a little less.
    Congrats Alison!

  3. Allison!
    You are Superwoman, I am so impressed and proud to know you.

  4. Thanks all for comments! I need to send in a correction though, I was 10th in my AG for the swim (not 9th as I originally thought). I was 9th after transition times, but my swim time was 10th.

  5. Congratulations on a FAST swim! It sure did sound intense. I bet it’s because you were so speedy and with a lot of competitive men! By the way, I’m impressed that man stopped to see if you were ok. Also amazing is how you just kept pushing regardless of how tough it was. Way to go- you’re off to a fabulous start!!

  6. Thanks Abby... it was really nice that he stopped - I know the hit was unintentional and he was probably surprised by it too. I've putting off the run report, I better get on that!