Swimming was particularly difficult for me to learn. I wished that I had learned proper technique as a child. It has such great benefits for anyone, but particularly with asthmatics for strengthening the lungs and learning effective breathing techniques. I don’t know why it was so hard for me to learn as an adult. It took me two years to be able to exhale into the water. I finally resorted to nose plugs. Many will tell me that it’s inefficient but it’s quite the opposite for me. It was an instant fix for the problem after two years of trying. Besides, I’m not racing to make the podium by any means, so if it’s slightly inefficient, I’ll take the deficit. It allowed me to concentrate on form which in the long (very long) run, made me more efficient overall.
My left lung has quite a bit of scar tissue on it as a result of the chest tubes that are necessary when your lung collapses. Consequently, it takes them about 25 minutes to warm up in the water enough for me to swim without feeling like I’m going to drown. It’s pretty miserable but when that moment arrives, the relief is instantaneous. Until then, I just have to gut it out, knowing that the moment will arrive when I can start swimming. I have since narrowed that warm up struggle to 20 minutes. My first half ironman swim took me 1:14:53. I have come a long way, baby!
After I signed up for Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2011, I decided I needed to hire a coach. I hired someone I knew fairly well who had a coaching style that worked for me, experience as an Ironman athlete himself, and who I knew would be focused on my goals and how to get me there. My training plan was written for me specifically, so I knew that when he gave me a workout, he believed I could do it. And if he believed it, I did too. I pushed myself knowing that the workouts were designed to get me to my goals based on where I was at the time.
I trained hard. I made gains that caused me to scratch my head and send excited texts to my friends/family at ungodly hours. “I can’t believe I just did that!!!” I started getting up and going to bed at ridiculous hours, drinking spinach or kale smoothies (nobody ever stole my lunch at work), and putting in workout time that transformed into a lifestyle. I was having so much fun, but I also encountered some biomechanical issues. I now required custom orthotics, had rotator cuff surgery from a previous injury, and my long-time back issues were becoming more problematic. I was able to work through all of these issues but they still remain on some level, some days more than others. The rotator cuff has strengthened significantly this past year but I have to baby it after longer swims. Still, the benefits far outweigh the those inconveniences. I still wouldn’t trade them.
As spring 2011 approached and race day was just a few weeks away, I was feeling strong and in the best shape of my life. I finished the CdA half marathon in personal record time, taking 22 minutes off of my previous PR! So far, my asthma was silent. It had stepped aside and was seemingly ignoring me. I wasn’t offended. My friends and family were excited along with me. Many people invested so much into my journey. It was humbling and I wanted them to enjoy the day and the completion of that journey with me. This was their victory too.
Spring weather was awful that year. It was wet and cold through the third week of June, making it difficult to train outside. We swam in 50-55 degree water with air temperatures anywhere between 48-58 degrees. The downside, besides the fact that the lake threatened to be very cold on race day, was that all of the pollens remained dormant instead of gradually making their appearance. Finally on June 21st, it warmed up to the lower 70’s. The lake was warming up; GREAT! ALL of the pollens emerged at once; BUMMER! There was a thick blanket of yellow everywhere, including the lake.
My lungs had no chance.
Five days before race day I started to feel the symptoms. They grew more severe each day. I tried everything but I knew my race was in serious jeopardy. An episode like this took a minimum of ten to fourteen days to recover. I had five. By Friday, I knew. I knew it would take a miracle for this to happen.