Saturday morning, 5:30 am, I wake up. Time to swim! But today is not just any swim – it’s a 5K race swim with 700 other swimmers in Lake Michigan.
We have entered the nonwetsuit division along with a crowd of other swimmers. Though the announcer says the water is 72 degrees, as we enter the screams and yaps from other swimmers suggest the temperature registered nowhere near that warm.
Try 66 degrees?
The horn goes off and we start swimming to the first buoy. And about 5 minutes into the swim, what looked like a calm glassy lake from the shore feels like a wave machine. Ah, welcome to the lake. You stand at the shore, look at it and think, no problem. Smooth as can be. And then you get in and think who the hell turned me on tumble?
Finally I see the first buoy and make a left turn. Whoa. WHOA. I’m swimming back to towards the seawall – about a thousand miles away – but every time I take a breath I’m swallowing water. Not only that but I’m cold. Really cold. As in, wish I had my long-sleeved wetsuit cold.
A few more strokes and I freeze. Oh crap. SHARK. Not really, but that’s the kind of thought I got in my head. Except it wasn’t shark – it was more like topsy turvy, swimmy wavy, coughy choky, COLD COLD tingly feet are frozen teeth hurt COLD gonna die out here in this lake.
In other words, GET ME OUT NOW.
So I swim to a life boat to gather myself. No, I'm not kidding - lifeboat and I'm hanging off the side. Have you also had this moment? The moment where you're so cold or tired or freaked out that you just freeze? It's like your brain goes into all common sense shutdown mode and you start doubting your own survival. Hence the hanging off the lifeboat bit.
The very young and polite lifeguards as if I’m ok. Yes, ok, just cold, and coughing from water, wavy, not having fun, a little tired but I can do this. I decide I will do this, jump back in and start to swim. Few more strokes, turn to breath and GULP.
Back to the lifeboat I swam.
Ok – time out. TIME OUT. Hello, my name is Liz and I’ve qualified not once but twice for Ironman in Hawaii to swim with the best in the world IN THE OCEAN and here I am in this lake hanging on to a lifeboat? Did I mention my last name was cry-me-a-river-oops-I-mean-cry-me-a-blue-green-lake and call it a day?
“Do you want us to get a rescue boat?” the lifeguard says. Rescue boat? As in Rescue 911 save me now kind of boat? Is it like that tv show where the speedboat zips around the Florida Keys trying to find people fishing illegally in protected waters? Is there a siren? Can I write tickets? Do I get to wear a hat?
Uh, Liz, this is a race. Time is ticking.
After seriously considering it for a moment, and looking out at the lake, I thought I’ll take the boat with a side of humble pie.
Hanging there, waiting there in a moment of high drama, I felt a bit ashamed. I’m not in any danger, I’m just shivering cold. I should just suffer it out. But then the boat pulls up. I climb aboard and the captain oh captain says “Your body is trying to tell you something, today is just not your day.” And for the first time in my athletic life, rather than beating myself up or crying myself into a pool of tears, I thought......he's right.
So I sat there on the boat.
Ok, now where's my captain's hat? Ticket book? SIREN? None of that, and instead they gave me a towel, a fleece jacket and we went for a ride.
I thought they would just scold me and send me on my shivering way. Write me a ticket for being an idiot in open water and dump me aside. But no – I went for a ride. As in, an hour long ride. They didn't seem in any hurry to get rid of me and I didn't seem in any hurry to get back to shore.
So there I was Saturday morning going much faster than I thought I would in the lake. By boat. And honestly, it was a blast. First, we helped the lifeboats keep the swimmers on course. Then, we patrolled the water for rogue boats. We chased after some speedboats that were entering the gap and told them to stay out of the swimmers’ way. We zipped across the lake, eating up the waves while I thought what the heck have I been doing swimming in the lake I need to do more speedboating because this is the most fun I’ve had in a LONG time.
After awhile, I told them to drop me off, they pulled up to a buoy, let me jump over board (seriously, when was the last time you jumped overboard!?), and swam. Secretly I wished there was a plank I could have walked while they shouted ARGH or other pirate-like things at me before I plunged overboard.
But you can only ask for so much drama in one day.
I climbed up the seawall ladder and walked shivering back to the shore. Disqualified myself, grabbed a towel, then walked around.
As I watched the swimmers running up the beach to finish, I had a feeling of regret – Chris was out there and soon he would finish the 3.1 miles. It was more a feeling of disappointment in myself for not being able to accomplish and claim the same thing. Accomplishment is always such a good feeling, and seeing the swimmers finish made me want it for myself. I stood looking into the lake and the sun feeling a little….well, forlorn.
But then I saw the swim coach. I told her I stopped, too cold, not my day try again some other time. She looked at me, laughed, and told me she had just seen my husband and he had done the same.
My husband? You mean my husband that was supposed to be running up the beach beaming with the glory of swimming all 3.1 miles? He stopped? NO WAY.
Yes, she confirmed, and when he came up to her he actually said “Liz is so tough being out there.”
Liz as in me?
The swim coach then suggested I go find him and tell him I had swam all the way. A sneaky look, a sinister laugh, and I had to find my husband RIGHT NOW.
I look around the beach. There, there he is. I spot him by the shore. He is waiting for me. Plan of attack – from behind. I walk up to him, tap him on the shoulder and tell him ‘that was the toughest thing I have ever done in my life.’ A look of surprise on his face. He says he didn’t see me come out of the water, or run up the beach, but hey good job anyways, how did it go?
I explode in laughter. I tell him I really enjoyed the rescue boat ride. He explodes in laughter too. We are both laughing – and both shivering. He picks me up off the ground and together we laugh hysterically on the beach.
And at that moment, the announcer in the tent behind us, says on the speaker to the crowd “You see that folks? That’s what swimming does, it brings people together.”
So there we were together, spinning in a big hug of who cares about this swim in circles on beach. A hilarious moment in which we both conceded that indeed our bodies were trying to tell us something - today just wasn't our day.
Luckily I know the cure. Know what clears that right up? Coffee. And so twenty minutes later, I was drinking coffee with any memory of swim sipped away.
Sometimes that's what it takes - to commiserate about something shared - in this case opting out of one cold swim along with husband- to warm up and feel better about one's self. So, as usual, you could say my husband rescued me, or the rescue boat, or maybe even the cup of coffee.
But I'd like to think that it was really just the cup of coffee.