IMLP: The Swim

(Continued from IMLP: The Beginning)

Ironman tried something new with Lake Placid this year – the rolling swim start. Instead of everyone sprinting into the water at the same time, they provided signs with pace groups and had everyone start over a span of about 15 minutes. I tried to get closer to the front of the 1 hour 30 minute corral, but because there were so many people, I ended up more toward the 1 hour 45 minute group.

As I finally got to the water’s edge, I walked into Mirror Lake; suddenly super aware that this was happening. I was officially competing in an Ironman.

New procedure for Ironman this year: the rolling start.

So many green (male) swim caps! Not as many pink…

Swimming has never been my favorite sport. I can get on board with a leisurely swim that involves being on a boat with friends and cocktails, but I wasn’t particularly excited to start swim training last year. I just didn’t know what I was doing. In my first sprint triathlon, my pace was about 3:05/100m…for a 400m race. Not only could I not sight well, but I was too nervous to breathe correctly and spent more time doggy-paddling and trying to navigate than actually swimming.  At that point, I wondered how I would ever make a 2 hour and 20 minute Ironman swim cutoff.

A year later, I found myself actually excited about the swim portion of the race. I’ve come to love swimming…(I know…WHAT?!?!) Well, let me rephrase that. I love open water swimming. Okay, open water swimming in races. It’s so much more fun. The pool is okay, just a little monotonous and time-consuming.

Wouldn't you rather swim here than an indoor pool?!

Wouldn’t you rather swim here than an indoor pool?!

When I got in the water, I immediately bee-lined for “the line”…the underwater buoy line that all IMLP participants dream of finding, because it follows the exact course. If you find the line , you’re golden. You don’t really have to sight at all. Being someone who goes off course in approximately 30 seconds, I NEEDED the line.  At first I wasn’t sure if it would be worth battling for, but my swim coach said it definitely would be. Her other words of advice? “Hold your line. Don’t lose it.”

And I did just that. I went straight to the first buoy, found the line immediately, and fought like hell to stay on it. I definitely got kicked a little but nothing too terrible. I threw my forearm out to block any incoming punches from crazy kickers. (I don’t use my legs at all during the swim – not until the last 100 meters or so –  but some people are ALL leg. The pattern tends to be unpredictable, not just little kicks, and drives me crazy. SIGH. The perils of raceday!) I found that I kept swimming up on people and having to go around them, which I thought was strange and frustrating. I figured I must have just gotten in the totally wrong swim wave.

Since I held my spot on the line, I was able to swim on a perfectly straight course. The buoys were numbered 1 through 9 on the way out and the way back, so I focused on getting to the next buoy; sighting only occasionally to go around people. When I reached the turnaround point of the first loop, I looked at my watch for the first time. I did a double-take…20 minutes? Was I really going that much faster than my expected pace? I got a huge boost of confidence seeing that time, especially since I felt totally energized. For a second I wondered whether I should pull back the reins (I did have another loop, then a little bike ride and run, after all) but pushed those thoughts aside. Maybe not the best idea, but ohhhh well!

I finished the first loop, got out of water, and ran back around the dock and started my second loop in about 10 seconds.

Andy Potts

This is not me. This is Andy Potts. He finished the swim in 46 minutes and went on to win the whole thing. WHAT. THE. F. FORTY SIX MINUTES.

Again, I found the line and dodged some kicking and punching. I kept repeating a quote Abby gave me on Saturday: “head down, wings out, throw elbows.” Perfect for this situation. I swear, I tried really hard not to hit anyone; it was never purposeful. But at one point, when I was trying to propel myself around someone else, I accidentally kicked the person behind me so hard I thought I had broken my pinky toe. I felt SO. BAD. And it seriously hurt. I was imagining it getting so swollen that I couldn’t run and had a minor freak-out moment, but eventually the pain subsided and I forgot all about it. I was still focused on swimming around people and hey, I had a bike to get to!

I can't keep Penelope waiting, can I?

I can’t keep Penelope waiting, can I?

Time passed so quickly because I focused solely on each loop independently. Not once did I think…”OMG I HAVE SO MUCH FURTHER TO GO.”  On the first loop, I only thought…”Only X buoys to go until I’m back on shore for a second and can hear the crowds again!” And then, on the next loop, “Only x buoys to go until I’m done with the first event and on to the bike!”

I felt so strong and was pleasantly surprised with my swim time. I completed loop one in 41:50, translating to about a 2:09/100m pace. Loop two took me 42:49. HUGE improvement from my first tri!

A Goal: 1 hour, 26 minutes

Actual Time: 1 hour, 24 minutes


I ran out of the water with a pep in my step, sat down in front of two wetsuit strippers who pulled my wetsuit off in 5 seconds (oh, sorry, PEELER is the new name for them) and ran smiling into transition, waving excitedly to my Dad, a friend who was volunteering, and some of my coaches. I grabbed my bike gear bag and went into the craziness that was the change tent. SO MANY PEOPLE! A volunteer helped me get organized, put sunscreen on my back, and put everything else away for me. I buckled my helmet, ran back outside to grab my bike from a volunteer who had it waiting for me, and crossed the bike mount line; suddenly zooming down the first short and steep hill out of transition. The day was only just beginning, but already it was off to a fantastic start.

And just like that…Penelope and I were off to ride 112 miles through the Adirondacks.

Click here for IMLP: The Bike

I’m a writer currently living in New Jersey and blogging about running, fitness, wellness, and motivation. I want every reader to laugh and feel empowered, balanced, and motivated! Subscribe by email to get 1-2 newsletters a month with post updates, my favorite articles, running playlists and more!


  1. July 31, 2013 / 9:13 am

    Holy cow, so awesome!! It’s so funny that you say you prefer open water swimming to pool swimming – I’m the complete opposite! I’ve always wanted to do an open water swim, but haven’t had the guts to do it – I guess I got comfortable after 10 years of pool-only swimming, hah! But I think next year will be the year I tackle both open water swimming events, and dare I say it, a triathlon! I can’t wait to read the rest!!

    • July 31, 2013 / 12:52 pm

      I’m weird…I love open water swimming with other people (which most people hate!) I get so bored in the pool! You should definitely do a triathlon…it’s so fun and such a new, fun, and different sense of accomplishment (at least for me because I’ve always done running races!) There are so many options in NJ too :)

  2. July 31, 2013 / 11:47 am

    Woohoo!!!! Swimming is crazy hard!! Way to achieve even better than your goal!!

    • July 31, 2013 / 12:51 pm

      Thanks girl! I totally surprised myself!

    • July 31, 2013 / 2:01 pm

      Thank you!

  3. August 1, 2013 / 6:53 pm

    Awesome!!! Way to keep your head right on where you are at in the moment…no thinking ahead!!! Great Swim time!! Sounds like you stood your ground on that buoy line!! I think the new “non-mass start” swim sounds amazing. They say the times have been faster as well!! :)

    • August 3, 2013 / 9:36 am

      Staying in the moment really made it seem so much more manageable. I’ve never done the mass start so I can’t compare, but this one seemed perfect for the most part!

  4. August 6, 2013 / 3:56 pm

    Your swim was fantastic! I’m reading your recaps altogether right now 😉 So amazing to think of how many people make this race possible!

    • August 7, 2013 / 10:30 pm

      It’s so true – so thankful for everyone that made it happen!

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