I was born and raised in Florida, 19 miles from Daytona Beach. I spent ten years in the Navy, floating on a ship for all but 2 years of that stint.
But I am afraid of the water.
It’s not the debilitating fear that you think of when someone says that they are scared of something. I get in the water all the time, at least three times a week once training gets into full steam mode. I can swim, easily, 3000 meters without stopping. It is not something I cannot do. I’ll even go as far as to say that swim workouts are relaxing to me after a hard day at work (stress wise … it’s not like I am doing any heavy lifting … unless you include lifting my large ass off the desk chair … which can burn at a minimum 400 kcal’s). I train hard at it because when I started triathlon’s it was my weakness. It has progressed to the point that, in training, swimming is actually now my strength. I smoke most people in the pool. I seriously rock ….
… until an open water swim appears on the schedule or … <> …. it’s the morning of the race …
All preparation and confidence built up until that point disappears like kale in a vegan household. It starts as an uneasiness in your gut when you go to sleep the night before and remains there after waking the next day. It builds slowly, ebbing and returning, throughout your pre-race routine, until you get to the race site. Sweat breaks out all over your body and you struggle into your wetsuit …. which means the water is cold …. and gets near fight or flight levels as you head to the water to get whatever warm up you can get before the race starts.
The water always looks foreboding. It’s one thing to see waves and tide …. it’s almost easier to see that because you know what you’re going to have to deal with. It’s the glassy lakes, or the calm ocean surf, that gets you doesn’t it? Who the hell knows what’s in those lakes?? Kayakers and safety staff are all over the course, but you can’t see a Lake Zombie!! They just sit on the bottom, thrown there by some gangster back in the 40’s for stiffing them on the protection money. They have sat there quietly for 70 years as the water ate slowly through the ropes tying them down, patiently waiting for the sport of triathlon to be invented and for you to swim directly over their resting place. Then they grab ya … and drag you to their home … and make you one of them …
All of that is TRUE. I watch The Walking Dead every week so I am a bit of an expert on Zombies.
Lake Zombies come in different types of course, because they adapt to the lake they inhabit. The last one I encountered was in Haines City for IMFL 70.3 in 2012. I was struggling at the beginning of the swim, as I am want to do, when I noticed a fellow racer flailing around. A swimmer in distress!! I should help them … so I swam/splashed/doggie paddled over to him to see if I could help. I told him to stay calm, which he tried to do, but once I got close enough to try to get him to a buoy he grabbed me and tried to drag me down with him. Zombie!!! And he was the worst kind of zombie too … a french zombie. Luckily I was saved by the local sheriff boat and was allowed to continue my race because apparantly being attacked by a french lake zombie is Rule 182(c) of the WTC guidelines (I think it’s the same rule that allowed drug user Lance Armstrong to compete in the same race, but that’s just conjecture on my part).
So I guess the takeaway is to try to remain calm before the race and before the swim. Breathe as normal as you can, but keep one eye on the bottom of the lake. If you have trouble, make sure to notify the sfatey officials of the presence of Lake Zombies. They will let you continue.