For as long as I can remember, I have had a crazy love for the water. I learned how to swim in the bay off the Washington Coast. Many of my childhood memories are of diving into campground pools, jumping off docks at local lakes, or getting tossed in the ocean waves on both coasts. Even as an adult, I LOVE LOVE LOVE to play in the water. I'm not a huge fan of grinding out difficult sets at the lap pool. But put me in some open water and I'm a happy girl.
A lot of my triathlon friends have struggled with the fear of being in open water. I never really understood those emotions, but I'm sympathetic to them. But not being able to relate, it makes it difficult to help.
This past week I was visiting the St. Augustine area for business, which is right on the eastern coast of Florida. One night after work I headed into the Atlantic Ocean for an hour workout. While I'm fairly comfortable in the open ocean, it is a little unnerving to be swimming solo in unfamiliar waters. Especially since it was approaching dusk, and somewhere in my life I heard that is when the sharks feed. Sounds reasonable I guess. It also happened to be Shark Week on Discovery Channel, and we all know that's when they come out and patrol the crowded beaches looking for their next meal!
Note: I usually would not endorse solo swimming of any kind in open water. Especially the ocean, where conditions are not necessarily obvious to us above water. However, the beach was lined with many people, including life guards. And since I was the only dork wearing a cap/goggles/functional swimsuit, I had a lot of eyes on me. I was also swimming parallel to the shore.
The Florida shores are fairly shallow, so I had to go out a ways to reach water that was deep enough for consistent swimming. I start swimming laps parallel to shore, trying not to think about what might be lurking a few feet away in the opaque water. Then suddenly I saw a splash just off my left side in slightly deeper water. Gah! What was that?!? I keep swimming, breathing to that side to keep an eye on the water. SPLASH again! And then SPLASH, SPLASH, SPLASH. Dozens of fish were jumping out of the water. Some inches from my face. Some were even TOUCHING me! I try not to go into full freak-out mode, but I'm thinking "Why are they jumping? Are they running from a shark?" My heart starts racing and my mind is running out of control. "What are these things? Piranhas? Am I going to get gnawed on?" Don't judge. Once panic sets in, the mind just isn't very rational.
I stop swimming, pop off my goggles and look around. No one else seems concerned. They are all just standing and staring at the flying fish. If the locals are cool with it, then I must be good to go. I side step a bit closer to shore and resume swimming. But now I'm swimming with my eyes open underwater, because if I'm going to become someones dinner, I want to see it coming. Besides, maybe I can punch it in the nose like they do in the cartoon's. Again, the mind isn't reasonable when you're scared. I'm starting to get a bit nauseous from staring at the moving sand, but it's worth it. I've gotta be able to fight that shark. And then UP comes the pre-workout banana. Yuck, but wow I feel better. However, I've now chummed the water for Mr. Shark and all of his buddies. I've gotta get out of here fast.
So I'm swimming along, alternating my breathing, focusing on form. Wow, I'm really going fast. I rule! I breath towards shore to the right and the buildings don't really look familiar anymore. I stop swimming and I'm still hauling ass down shore. Oh dang, I've landed myself in a rip current. I stand up. Because, remember, I'm in Florida and even though I'm a hundred meters off-shore, I can still touch the ground. I turn around and start swimming back up. No progress. I try just walking through the water. Ugh, that's hard. Light bulb! I'll practice my dolphin diving! So I start diving down and launching myself up out of the water. Over and over again. I'm getting somewhere now. But so is my stomach. Again. I finally get to a point where the rip isn't as strong and I can resume swimming. I finish off the workout and haul my battered ego out of the water. Vowing never to swim in the ocean during shark week again.