Race Recap: 2018 Lake Monster 1-2-3

“A ship is safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for.”

The open water has long been a mental battlefield for me, providing wide open spaces for anxiety and doubt to creep into my brain. But today was different. I found my calm, which lead to power and strength — and a 00:33:17 finish time at the Lake Monster one mile swim race.

Hosted at Lake Nokomis (Minneapolis, MN), this was the first year of the Lake Monster 1-2-3, which offers one, two and three-mile swim distances. It would also be my first swim-only race. I opted for the one mile event as it would be perfect practice for the 0.93 mile swim I’ll be attempting next weekend, in the same lake, as part of the Life Time Tri Minneapolis Triathlon.

I felt fairly relaxed going into this race. I swam 1.4 miles on two different nights earlier in the week during the open swim nights at Lake Nokomis. If I could swim 1.4 miles, I should have no problem with one mile. The big difference would be the optional breaks I took every 600 yards after reaching shore on the back-and-forth beach-to-beach straight-line course. The Lake Monster course would be a one mile loop, obviously without stops.

I also had my new ROKA Maverick wetsuit, which fits my tall, lanky frame like a glove. It was an upgrade over my previous suit to have something that fit so well. It’s long enough in the legs and torso, and doesn’t pull my shoulders down at all. The legs have thicker neoprene than the upper body, aiding in proper body position in the water. I stuck with a sleeveless model again since a majority of my swims are in warmer water and I just enjoy the range of motion that a lack of sleeves provides.

My wave hit the water at 8:08 am. The “go” call was shouted, I ran into the water until my knees were submerged and I dove forward into my freestyle stroke. The first 200 yards or so were great. Just thinking about each stroke, moving forward and remembering to sight every few breaths to make sure I was on course for the next buoy.

But then the dreaded panic attack started setting in, about the same time it did one month earlier during the Trinona 0.25 mile swim — but this time I had another 1,600 yards left to swim instead of 300. The daunting distance stirred-up all the doubt. Then I thought about having to do it again the next weekend, allowing anxiety to run rampant. I started thinking I’m going to need to flag a lifeguard and get hauled back to shore. I was on the verge of dooming my confidence for the next race and I hadn’t even finished this one. Yeah, the panic was real.

That’s when my heart stepped onto the battlefield. I couldn’t quit. I knew I’d regret it and kick myself over and over wondering what could’ve been. I took a few deep breaths while treading water to slow my heart rate back down. I brought my calm thoughts back into my head, locked eyes on the next buoy and started swimming again. I wasn’t backing down.

The rest of the swim was all about finding a rhythm. Physically, I still felt strong and wasn’t getting too tired. I found that a long swim like this is a lot like running — sometimes it takes a mile or two to loosen-up and then you feel like you can fun forever. The swim started to feel similar — I just needed to get through those first couple-hundred yards. Once I overcame my mental barrier and realized I was methodically putting the distance behind me, I found myself in almost a meditative state of mind. I realized I didn’t need to push so hard — I could relax in my rhythym and keep knocking out the yards. I was aware of my surroundings, enveloped in the water, yet I occupied my brain with calm, positive thoughts of things I’m thankful for and that make me smile.

The water conditions were fair. A light wind created a light, wavy current, reminding me on a few straightaways that I still need to work on my alternate side breathing to avoid needing to rely on one side. That can be a problem when waves are coming at you from that same side and your mouth is wide open gasping for air. But I was still moving forward. Progress; not perfection.

A metaphorical wave of excitement rushed over me as I swam past the last buoy, with just another 50 yards or so until reaching the beach. I maintained freestyle until the sand below grazed my fingertips, stood straight up and dashed out of the water through the finish line, shouting my number to the timekeepers.

I clocked in with a finish time of 00:33:17 for my first ever one mile swim race. Overcoming the mental battle and finishing strong provided a much needed confidence boost heading into next weekend’s international distance MPLS Tri.

Two years ago, the thought of doing a half-mile swim was daunting, but I did it. This year brought the new challenge of swimming twice that distance. The idea was uncomfortable, with an ability unknown. It’s easy to retreat back into the comfortable. But we never grow when we do. We never find out what we’re capable of. Only when we step outside of that and right into the unknown do we find out what can be — that we’re stronger thatn we think. That’s what happened when I found my calm, leaving doubt and anxiety in the water and allowing power and strength to bring me to shore.

Author’s note: My ROKA Maverick comments are my personal opinion, and not a sponsored review. I’m just a guy who purchased the wetsuit and happen to really like it.

Challenge & Opportunity Ahead

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Two weeks have passed since my podium-topping age group finish at Trinona. I took two days off of training afterwards to rest and soak in the accomplishment. Then I got right back to it. New challenges and opportunities loom on the summer’s horizon.

So what’s first? Swimming. More swimming. Considering my panic attack 200 yards into the Trinona swim, I still have plenty of work to do as I gear-up for longer distance events this summer. Knocking-out more laps in the pool is one option, but I really wanted get out in the open water more. So I joined the the Minneapolis Open Water Swim Club. Being a part of this club gives me the opportunity to swim a lifeguarded course across Lake Nokomis and back three times per week, and at Cedar Lake twice per week. It’s perfect practice for the step-up in distance that I’ll be tackling this summer.

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A successful 0.75 mile swim across Lake Nokomis and back!

In another attempt to strengthen my swimming-related mental-toughness, I signed-up for the Lake Monster 1-2-3 swim race on Saturday, July 7 at Lake Nokomis. This event offers one, two and three mile distances — I opted for the one mile event. This will be the same distance as my first Olympic/International distance triathlon that occurs exactly one week later on the same lake. I’m a little fearful that participating in this event provides an opportunity for another panic attack that would undoubtedly carry over into the next weekend. But more so, I see this as an opportunity to face that fear head-on, come out on the other side stronger from the challenge and be even more prepared for my first attempt at a longer distance triathlon.

Speaking of that next race, I’ll be competing in the Life Time Tri Minneapolis Triathlon on Saturday, July 14 at Lake Nokomis. This will be my third time competing at this event, but it will be my very first attempt at an Olympic/International distance triathlon (0.93 mile swim, 24.5 mile bike, 6.2 mile run), which is twice the distance of a sprint tri. Doing something for the first time is always a little scary. It’s also a chance to step outside the comfort zone and find out what I’m capable of. And I’ll be full of motivation and inspiration for this event, competing as part of Team Save the Children, raising funds and awareness for the amazing work they do to protect and nurture kiddos around the globe.

Save the Children helps innocent children gain access to education, health care and nutrition while fighting to save them from poverty, discrimination and violence. I’d be honored if you joined me in my journey for positive impact. Together, we can help make a child’s life happier, healthier and safer. Together, we can be the difference. Please consider making a donation and visit my personal fundraising page today: www.savethechildren.org/minneapolistri18/joshaverbeck

And last, but not least, there’s plenty of logistical planning and training to do throughout the rest of July and into August. Last week I received my official qualification notification and invitation to the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships in Cleveland, Ohio. I’ll be registering for the Olympic/International distance, which is an invite-only race that I qualified for by winning my age group at Trinona (there is also a sprint distance event the following day which has open registration). The top 18 finishers in each age group at this event will earn the opportunity to represent the United States at the 2019 ITU World Championships in Switzerland. I don’t know that I’m quite on that level yet, but I’m absolutely honored and thrilled to have the opportunity to compete against some of the best triathletes in the country!

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The dividends of hard work and continuous effort.

Winning the Mental Battle 

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Sometimes challenges and tasks just seem too big. We tell ourselves we can’t do it. Sure, someone else certainly has the strength or courage to do it, but we do not. We build it up in our head to the point where it seems impossible. Those phrases are familiar in my mind. They’re dangerous and have the ability to doom a dream, idea or challenge before it ever begins.

“Our greatest battles are that with our own minds.” – Jameson Frank

Swimming continued to mess with my head over the last month or so. I can’t totally explain why, but it’s been a mental battle — a battle which begins before I even get in the water. Let’s take yesterday for example. I had a plan to attend Open Swim down at Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis, MN. The course runs about 1200 yards (or 0.70 miles) round trip across the lake and back. The furthest open water swim I’ve ever completed has been just under a half-mile. I started thinking it would be too long of a swim for me. I started running through all the what-ifs in my mind. The doubt kept increasing.

Once on the beach, I gazed out at the marked and life-guarded course as I began the long process that is putting on a wetsuit. For some reason, it looked doable. It wasn’t quite as scary as seeing the tetrahedrons out on the water the morning before a race. But I had already built it up in my head as being too difficult. I began making a plan b. Maybe I’d just swim halfway out and then come back. Yeah that would be safe. That was my plan.

I waded into the lake, dunked my body to adjust to water temperature, took a few breathes and started swimming. My body became weightless and enveloped by the water. I was surrounded by other swimmers, yet I still felt alone, in a peaceful way. I settled into a groove and was at the middle of the lake in what seemed like no time. This was where I had told myself I’d turn around. But I wasn’t tired. And I wanted more of this weightless, relaxing exercise. I kept swimming.

I progressed to the opposite shore and turned around for the return trip to the beach. I was completely relaxed yet actively engaged in swimming against a light wind current on the lake. How was I doing this? I’ve been much more tired while swimming shorter distances. I blocked these thoughts out of my mind the best I could, focusing on each stroke. The moment was very present. All that mattered was moving through the water with efficiency. I could analyze it all afterwards.

I stepped back on shore and looked back to see where I had been. Wow. I did it. I swam all the way across the lake and back. My confidence was sky-high. Earlier in the day I doubted my ability. Now I had completed what I thought I could not.

This didn’t cure my swimming fear, but it’s one more piece of evidence that I can use against my own brain in the future. I’m already looking forward to next week’s Open Swim night. This boost was just what I needed with only a few weeks to go until the Chicago Triathlon. A new race is sure to produce jitter and doubt. But now know I can handle a swim longer than what I’ll encounter on race day. It’s me against my brain.

It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we set fear aside, tune-out our own negative thoughts, push our limits and just believe in ourselves. Cheers to the next challenge!

Making Lemonade with Life’s Lemons

JoshBikingLong story short — my car was in the shop for most of the week for some unexpected repairs and I had to get a little creative on transportation in the interim.

Time constraints forced me to utilize ride-share services on the first morning. But after work I decided to ride my bike to the gym so I could jump in the pool and knock out some much needed laps. A relaxed pedal to the gym was the perfect opportunity to dust off my mountain bike, which was still outfitted with a pair of more road-friendly tires from races past. This was my first time on the saddle of the mountain bike since getting my first road bike earlier this year. I had almost forgotten how much fun this bike was to ride — the big comfortable frame and disc brakes that stop on a dime.

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Riding the ol’ mountain bike also made me realize just how much faster and lighter I am on my new road bike. It’s almost hard to imagine that I completed four triathlons on this bike. It’s heavy. The geometry isn’t the most aerodynamic. And most of all, you run out of gears way to fast. I’m really thankful to have a road bike this year.

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Anyhow, back to the gym. 32 laps are about equivalent to the .47 mile swim I’ll be tackling in the first leg of the Minneapolis Triathlon next weekend. So that’s what I did; I swam 32 consecutive laps and finished with a time of 00:14:52. Not bad. For perspective, last year I swam a 00:16:05 at Minneapolis. It’s really hard to compare pool swims to open water given the contrasting conditions, but as least I know I’m in the ballpark. I took a short break, swam eight more laps and called it a workout. It was a short one, but I was a little excited to jump back on the bike instead hopping into a car for the ride home. In a way, it was almost like mini brick workout, transitioning from one sport to the next. This one just had a longer transition time from pool to bike. Still good practice.

Sure, it was frustrating to be without a car for a few days. But that part was out of my control. The car needed repair and I needed to wait for the work to be completed. Rather than getting down about it, I found a way to get to the places I wanted to go and got to have some fun along the way. It was surprising how much joy was found in riding an old bike. And now I want to get the knobby tires back on it and hit some trails. Sometimes we can’t control what happens in life, but we can control how we react to it. We might even be surprised with what we find along the way.

Cheers to the glass being half full.

Return to Open Water

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I’ll admit it; I kind of freaked out. My first open water swim of the year had a bumpy start.

I crawled down the dock ladder into the water and immediately tensed-up as chills ran through my body. Sure, it’s finally summer here in Minnesota, but the lakes are still a bit chilly. I was wearing a wetsuit, but the water was pretty cold. I turned towards the lake, put my head down, took a couple strokes and that’s when I kind of freaked out.

I’ve been back to the gym over the last month swimming in the lap pool, but it’s been about nine months since my last swim in a lake. I had somehow forgotten that once your head goes under the lake water, you really can’t see much. The unknown felt confining. Combine that lack of vision with the cold water temperature and I immediately thought, “What the heck am I doing out here? What if I can’t do this anymore?”

For those that know me well, I can sometimes be a little dramatic about things, even jumping to the extreme end of a conclusion like I did in the water. I didn’t quit though. I treaded water, caught my breath and swam a couple 30-40 yard laps in the bay. I found a groove and knocked out 16 laps total, including eight without the wetsuit. I had never swam while wearing my tri top before and wanted to know how that felt without the suit before Trinona, my first race of the season.

I’ve struggled getting the compression tri tanks on during transition. They’re tight and get bunched up when I pull it over my shoulders. Plus I’m dripping water, tired and short of breath after the swim, which I’m sure adds to the dressing awkwardness. This year, I thought it would be nice to skip that part and just be dressed before I swim, like most other triathletes do. Heck, that’s what the tri outfits are meant for. I’ve just never done it that way before – just shorts for the swim and then the top for biking and running. So now I’ve tried it and I know what it’ll feel like on race day (always a bad idea to try something for the first time on race day). The lack of warmth without the wetsuit was very noticeable though.

I’ve also been contemplating skipping the wetsuit for Trinona since the swim is a shorter one (0.25 miles) and it would save me a good chunk of time in the first transition. However, that genius idea was before jumping in the lake yesterday. Feeling those shivers all through my body is giving me second thoughts. I’ll wait to hear the race day water temperature before making that call, but at least I have the option.

All in all, it was a good day in the lake. I’m glad I got that open water refresher before my first triathlon of the season this weekend. The limited visibility really messed with my head, but the rest of the swim was much smoother after finding a calm and settling into a groove. That calm will be much needed on race day!

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All smiles after the swim.

Ending the Laps Lapse

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Swimming. I’m always amazed by triathletes who feel it’s not the most difficult leg of a race. Open-water swimming is an animal of it’s own, but then add in a hundred other swimmers around you, who you may or may not accidentally swim into, or who may or may not accidentally swim over you or grab your leg, and you have what I like to call organized chaos. But it’s really not all that bad either. It’s kind of a rush. It’s an obstacle that once completed, you know it should be downhill from there, in a good way.

This month, I finally got back in the pool after a few months off. I never planned to take that much time away from swimming, but that’s usually what happens anytime you say you’re going to take a break from a routine. You see, I’m not a great swimmer. Sure, I know the basics of swimming. My parents had me in swimming lessons as soon as I was old enough. And I grew-up spending my weekends on the Mississippi River. But now that I’m trying to be somewhat competitive, I realize I still have some work to do.

Last summer, I got into a habit of swimming at least twice a week – and it really helped me prepare for the triathlons I did. Last May, I could barely swim more than eight laps before feeling exhausted and needing a break (the .25 mile swim at Trinona is equal to about 16 laps in a lap pool). I got a little better with each swim practice, swimming a few more laps each time without a break, and was ultimately able to make my way through Trinona ok. I was exhausted when I got out of the water, but I made it through.

I stuck with the twice-a-week practices. I mean, I had to, especially knowing the MPLS Tri sprint distance was .47 miles, almost twice that of Trinona. It would be my longest swim yet. Somehow, during the swim leg of the MPLS Tri, I became comfortable keeping my head under water and using rythmic breathing. Somehow, someway, something just clicked. Not only did I feel more confident in my ability, but I also noticed I was swimming more efficiently than with my previous doggy-paddle form. This was a turning point. I was getting faster and more comfortable with the distance. Oh, and using a wetsuit didn’t hurt either. The buoyancy gave me the mental piece of mind that helped me relax in the water. I realized open water swimming was something I could actually do and not be scared of.

At the end of the year, I told myself I was going to keep that swimming routine and be an even better swimmer this year – never letting up. Well, as I already mentioned, that routine fell off.  But I’m back at it. A few weeks ago I went for my first swim since October and was pleasantly surprised to knockout 32 laps (just a tad longer than .47 miles) in about 15 minutes without a rest. I didn’t lose much of a step, which was quite a relief. I took a short break and then swam eight more laps just for good measure, making the total distance 1,000 meters, or the length of a football field just under eleven times.

I’ve been back to the pool a few more times since. Realizing that my first race of the year is only three weeks away, it’s definitely time to step it up a notch. Or a couple notches for that matter.

What are most focused on heading into tri season?