Play Back: Triathlon Swimming

Swimming, revisited.

Last night I went to my masters swim session with Coach Joe Lileikis, and I had a chance to tell him about the anxiety attack I had out in the ocean during the first leg of the ANA Lanikai Triathlon this past Sunday. That’s hard to do. Joe doesn’t sit down much for anything. He’s one of those guys who doesn’t do anything standing still or sitting on his butt. He is in constant motion. He teaches my daughter social studies and I bet time flies in that class. Niu Valley Middle School is fortunate to have him.

OK. So I did get his attention and he spent a few minutes writing out some information and advice for me. He also said he and his brother Tom will start teaching us how to draft and how to roll out of crazy nuts situations during ocean swims. He really listened to me. “We’re all in this together,” he said. Newbie triathletes like me need all the help we can get.

If you’re a fast and experienced female triathlete, you can run into the ocean and swim out to the buoy and there aren’t many swimmers around you. In fact, you are so fast you catch and pass men who started three minutes before you. Call it catch and release, heh. But if you’re not so fast and you think you’re a middle-of-the-pack swimmer like I did, then you put yourself into this flailing rapids of arms and legs and heads and torsos and feet. None of it is pretty. It’s pretty g*d damn bitchy if you ask me.

Let me put it another way. Right before the women are launched to do an ocean swim, take a look at them as they wait on shore. Some are stretching, some are talking to others, some are jumping up and down. Most of them are pleasant and sweet, and most of them are quiet. It’s an act. It is a total academy awards line of bullshit. When these women get into the ocean it is more like “Caged Heat Unleashed” out there than it is a synchronized swimming session with matching flowered bathing caps, Esther Williams swim suits, and arched toes.

My problem was trying to swim. Too many women were right in front of me or next to me or yanking on my velcro-chip on my left leg. I was surprised no one pulled on my Zoot suit! So I had to stop here, get over there, stop there, move this way, until I could swim along the outside of the pack. Then I found myself too far out and I had to swim back to the pack. Then I am thinking how my heart is beating so frantically, that my breathing and my arms and the waves were not working very well together.

I wanted to quit. I wanted to get on the beach and lay down in the sand like I was an actor in a movie about a ship wreck. I wanted to give up and I almost let myself sink into the ocean. I thought how stupid it was for me to work so hard before all this to give it all up on the swim leg of my first triathlon. I also thought how my home-grown training, bits and pieces gleaned from books and websites here and there wasn’t really working. I need something more.

Coach Joe said I did the right thing by switching to breast stroke so I could regulate my breathing and get my heart rate to calm down. I did the breast stroke until the second buoy, then I did free style to the beach. There is a photo of me coming out of the water and I look horrible.

I sent in my form to join Try Fitness Hawaii’s Tinman Training session that will run from May 9 until late July, with the Tinman on 7/29. This means I’ll be switching around my masters schedule off Tuesdays and Thursdays for a couple of months. I am not afraid to do another triathlon. In fact, when I told John I was going to sign up for this session, he asked if I was going to do the Tinman. I said no, I was just signing on to do the training. So he signed me up for it. Great guy. WTPho? LOL. Really, I signed up for the training because that session is next and most appropriate for me to train for the Na Wahine Tri in September. I am also signed up for the North Shore Summer swim series. I want to conquer my open ocean demons. I’ve got the pool wrapped up in a powerfully pumped flip turn, but there are no flip turns in the sea!

I know I’m not the only woman who noticed how all the wahines swim like pirates out there, cut throat and ready to claw! Check out Frayed Laces’ blog about it. She also remarked about how the women were vicious!

But now that I’m on shore, and I’ve had time to think about things, I am mentally preparing for my next personal summit. My biggest obstacle is me. No one knows that better than I do.

By lavagal

Hawaii Kai wife and mom. Melanoma Stage 3a Cancer survivor. English Language Arts teacher, English Learners Coordinator, and Paraprofessional Tutor. Super sub teacher. Dormant triathlete. Road cyclist and Masters swimmer. Gardener. Mrs. Fixit. Random dancer. Music Curator. A teenager trapped in an aging body. Did you know 60 is the new 40? It is.


  1. oh, hey, i totally misunderstood you … i just thought you were being all aw-shucks about doing the tinman, so i thought i’d pick up an entry fee to help things along. oops. oh well, i’ll come out to support you at the start and finish, and the kids can come out with the cowbell midway on the bike leg to cheer you on. it’ll be fun, right? 🙂

  2. Perfectly OK. I like being terrified and freaked out, especially when I have a support team!

  3. I totally hear you on how crazy swim starts (aka “full contact swimming”) are! The calm looking folks on the beach are just psyching themselves up. Joe is definitely a champ! I remember doing a couple different drills to help us get ready – three across in a lane to simulate the pack, sprinting then getting to pace to mimic the start. It’s always a challenge but you’ll get more comfortable!

    Clif Bar triathlon commercial from a while back to relive the experience:

  4. I don’t think people are vicious on purpose. But when you are all close together and then the waves push you around you start to fight for space. It’s hard, bit if I van just start to think about me, pretty soon the other people just become part of the scenery. Mostly.

  5. When I have done open water ocean swims, I stay to myself, even if it means getting behind. But that’s the kind of competitor I am, I want to finish. If I can gain a few spots after the initial rush, then so be it. Ocean swimming is no joke, getting beyond the break is a skill, for sure.

  6. Good for you for finishing and doing breast stroke. I swim at the Oahu Club with John Flannagan when I’m visiting my family–have you swam there? Is that where your coach is? I just a post about swimming that you might appreciate. Happy training! Elizabeth

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