Fear of my Landlord and Olympic Distance Triathlon

I’m scared of my landlord, half the time. I have no idea why, he’s a great guy. He’s friendly, funny, and really quite sweet. And I’m petrified of the man.

It could be because I’m the world’s worst housekeeper, and I stress myself to death that I’m not taking care of the house well enough. I worry that he’ll see the stain on the carpet, the children’s hand prints on the wall which defy any scrubbing I’ve done, and that he’ll tell me I’m not a good tenant, that really, he thinks I should find another house (because it was hell finding a place suitable for us, so the gods know I do not want to go through that ordeal again anytime soon).

It could be because Landlord is very Irish, and Irish people are still somewhat of a mystery to me even after almost five and a half years of living here. Most Dundalkers’ talk sounds like plain English to me, one’s ear adapts that well. But my landlord’s accent is quite strong, and I have to strain to  follow what he says. On top of that, there’s innuendo and unspoken meaning in Irish people’s conversation which you can only understand if you have a relative named Paddy.

It could be because I don’t really understand him as a person, or know what to make of him or how I should act to him half the time. We’re landlord and tenant, and as such I almost feel obliged to call him maaaaaster and walk with a limp. But we’re also kind of friends beyond that, so my brain short circuits whenever he’s near, unable to decide whether to be businesslike or joke around. Invariably, once we start chatting, I relax because, as I said, he’s genuinely a nice person. Then afterwards, I become convinced I’d made a mistake. I wonder for ages if he was joking that the dust is disgraceful or if he really was upset about it.

It could be because he’s an athlete I admire, someone who did an Ironman, moved on to cycling only and performs well with that. He’s at the head of a very successful triathlon club, able to work with a team of other people I am in awe of to organise well-run races. I happen to be a member of this triathlon club. Today, the presence of my much feared landlord helped me from a panic freeze and off to complete my first ever Olympic distance triathlon.

This was my fifth tri, my third sea swim. The very first one I did was a sea swim, and I forgot my nose clip and goggles. I had salt water up my nose and in my eyes. It was not very nice. The fourth one I did, which was the last before today’s, was also a sea swim. I had my goggles and nose clip, but for some reason it was a terrible swim. I didn’t enjoy it at all. I was not looking forward to another sea swim.

I worried and worried beforehand about the swim today: 1.5km, which sounds very daunting. The day before the tri, the worry and all nervousness disappeared. For some reason, that always happens; once the tri is on hand I get into a very fatalistic kind of mood about it. But a positive kind of fatalisticness.

This morning wasn’t a great one. Micky is away at the moment, I left the kids with our babysitter. That felt weird, even though I knew I could trust our babysitter completely. I was ready early, so I decided I’d wash the dishes before I left. Then it was time to go, and I realised I couldn’t find this and had misplaced that, leading to me leaving almost ten minutes later than I’d planned. I stressed about how I’d make sure my food-fuel was on hand. I thought Carlingford Sailing Club was somewhere else from where it actually was, as a result got there even later, found my last-minute online entry had not gone through, couldn’t find the entry confirmation email I’d printed out with just such an occurence in mind, ended up being the last one to rack my bike… It wasn’t a good start to the race. I felt unsettled and… wrong.

I chatted to various people. One after another, I confessed to them: I’m worried about the swim, I’m worried about the swim.

At last I stood on the slipway leading into the water. And I froze. The buoys looked so far away. A guy beside me stepped off the edge of the slipway and plopped into deeper water than we’d thought was there. I’d have to go from on my feet to out of my depth, no gradual walk-in on this one. “Watch your step,” he said to me.

Step? What step? I wasn’t taking any steps. I was going to turn around and walk away. There was no way I could swim 1500 metres, it was madness.

It felt like forever I stood there, trying to will myself into the water and not managing. Eventually I visualised myself turning my back on the water and walking away.

And there, in my vision, between me and an anonymous getaway, stood Landlord. I knew he was just behind me, I’d passed him on my way in. I imagined he’d want to know what the hell I was doing slinking off, race start was half a minute away. “I can’t do this,” I’d say. “I’m not doing the race.”

What would he say? What would his reply be? Would he be sympathetic, try to calm my fears? Would he dismiss me with a disgusted shake of his head? Would he frown and tell me to just get into the f***ing water? Would he be angry with me for distracting him as the race started?

I was more scared of my landlord than I was of the 1500m swim. My muscles unfroze, I pulled my goggles over my eyes, crouched and committed to deep water.

Calm descended. Cold water seeped into my wetsuit, chilling my overheated body. The suit’s buoyancy was like a reassuring embrace, I felt I needed to do no more than propel myself. And that, I decided, I would do at leisure, not exhausting myself, not thinking of speed but instead focusing on feeling safe. On not getting out of breath, so I’d remain comfortable in the breathing pattern ingrained in body and mind during training.

The siren sounded, the race began. I swam at a calm, steady pace. Blue sky and grey clouds hung overhead everytime I rolled to breathe. I had no trouble sighting using the buoy, didn’t need to pick some other sighting point. I saw King John’s Castle from the water for the very first time, and a peaceful awareness flowed through me that here, where I swam, Viking longboats sliced through the water. Wooden tall ships. Metal-sided fishing boats. I felt at one with it all, turned to get my face well out of the water for deep breaths, then blew into the water that knew so much with a familiar, comforting sound that joined oar splashes, battle cries, the quiet talk of lovers watching the moon on the water, fishermen’s calls and banter: all of it blending together in the deep memory of the lough.

I left the swim feeling stronger than I had on previous tris, when I’d swum shorter distances. Daniel, my bike, waited patiently for me, and we soon set off singing on the road. I managed a run about as fast as one I’d done without a preceding swim and cycle.

Yes, I felt some kind of hollow disappointment hours after, because I’m stupid and I forgot to keep perspective. Now, as I think back over the experiences I had today, what stays with me most is that incredible peace I felt on the swim. And the refrain that sang through my mind even as it started pouring rain on the bike, even as my legs argued with my mind over whether or not we could in fact keep going on the run: I love this. I love this sooooo much.

Thanks, Alan, for being more scary than a 1.5km open water swim. I promise I’ll dust that cobweb from the windowsill by the stairs tomorrow. Right now though, my cat and I are going to sleep.

Good night.

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