Although I mentioned in one of my recent blogposts that I would concentrate on ultramarathon running for the foreseeable future with an aim to run the West Highland Way Race in 2012 I have had a bit of a change of mind.
Going into Ironman Austria 2011 I was aware that the swim was going to be a huge mental challenge although I was telling myself that all would be fine and I had been working on positive visualisation. Having not gone into detail in the blog about what the issues are regarding my swim here is a quick recap: In my two races prior to Ironman Austria I had to abandon the race half way through the swim due to panic attacks. These appear to have been brought on due to the wind and chop in those particular races. I have had issues with minor attacks in races prior to this but always managed to sort myself out so this was new. In both those races there were a large number of negatives: cold, rain, wind, chop. The swim at Ironman Austria had none of this – the water was a lovely 23 degrees, there was no wind, there was no rain, there was a bit of chop but that was mostly caused by other swimmers.
Nonetheless the experience of those other two races was enough for my mind to play tricks on me causing me to resort to breaststroke on a number of occasions. Luckily there was another part of my brain that wanted to finish the swim and find a way to sort itself out which it eventually did. I found something to take my mind off the swim experience – I counted continuously from 1 to 4.
One of the positive images I tried to instil in my brain prior to the swim at Ironman Austria was one of finishing the swim, exiting through the huge arch and running up to transition. It was remarkably hard to focus on that as the main swim image I constantly got was of being scared in the swim at the Keswick Triathlon and the swim at the Bala Middle Distance Triathlon. Now having finished Ironman Austria and trying to picture a positive swim image, I get positive images from the Ironman Austria Swim, I can see me swimming a strong second half of the swim, overtaking other swimmers going along the canal and then exiting the water.
I wasn’t going to do another triathlon this year but fear that if I let the positive images rest for too long the negative ones will come back. Because of this I have decided to pick another two triathlons to take part in this year. I have entered the Newbiggin Sprint in Northumberland which is in mid-September and plan to enter the Strathclyde Park Standard which is a week earlier. The swim at Newbiggin is in the sea but in a sheltered bay with a breakwater, it is also a 2 lap swim so we can’t be very far from the shore at any point. The Strathclyde Park swim is in a loch which is used for watersports such as rowing and is not particularly wide, nor is it particularly big so the chance of any significant chop is highly unlikely. I am aware that until I have built my open water swim confidence back up I have to be quite selective with the venues that I choose to swim in, as such I would currently exclude Open sea swims (such as the Edinburgh Swim Festival at Portobello) or swim in large lakes/lochs which are likely to be cold and where the wind can whip up a fair amount of chop.
So taking the positives from the Ironman Austria swim into another couple of triathlons where the main focus will be to have a successful swim (the rest of the race is secondary) I aim to keep the positive experiences through the winter and into next season.