Monday, October 7, 2013

on swimming and another year

When I was a wee sprat, my parents made me (or let me) join the swim team.
I wanted to be a diver but was afraid of the ledge.  I wanted to swim but was afraid of putting my face in the water.  I remember spending a sunny afternoon at the pool with my mom in the water, me on the side, only 5 or 6 years old, her trying to convince me to dive in and me standing, wobbling with my arms pointed over my head, and then grabbing my nose at the last second and landing butt-first in the water.  My favorite part of swim team was the pizza party.  I think I did backstroke (no face in the water bitches!) at a few meets.  I had a navy blue bag with a lobster on it that I loved.  Everyone exhaled in relief when I was allowed to quit after most of a season.
I didn't swim again until I got a weird still-undiagnosed but super hurty foot pain several years ago, before the chronicle of my life on the internet even began.  My running buddy had been a high school swimmer and she convinced me to join her in the pool.  I bought a suit and goggles at Sports Authority and met her at W-L pool (the old manky one, before they tore it down to build the gorgeous complex that is there now) one Sunday morning.  She taught me a workout that I swam for many, many months.  300 swim, 300 chatty kicking with the kickboard, 300 with the pull buoy.  Maybe another 300 kicking if we had a lot to talk about.  Then a few hundreds and I was done.  Those 1500 yards took me at least an hour.  I didn't do flip turns.  And my first day in the water, I got a charley horse from the high heels I had worn the night before and a tiny guy in a tiny speedo swam out and saved me.  Literally one-arm lifeguard-style dragged me to the ledge (this is my swimming buddy, we are showing off our nearly non-existant swimming guns).
For a long time, all I did was that 1500 yard workout.  Sometimes only a 1000 yard workout if I was feeling worn-out from my cycle of running too hard/getting injured/running too hard/getting injured.  I swam once or twice a week and was pretty darn proud of myself for conquering this crazy face-in-the-water madness.  I swam with earplugs (still do, biggest dork in the water).  I didn't realize that you were supposed to buy a new swimsuit when you could see through the old one, so I wore the same navy Nike one-piece for almost two years before someone clued me in.  
Then, a couple of Christmas' ago, I hopped on the 10000 yard workout swim train.  I did it is as 5x2012 yards, in the basement of the LA Fitness pool.  I hadn't really mastered the flip-turn quite yet so it took a while, but the longer I swam, the better I felt.  I had some super fast swimming buddies join me and keep me company, and when it was over, I felt like a million bucks.  And that, I believe, is the day that I really began to love swimming (Sorry we are so blurry, I think this is one of my first selfies!).
The first triathlon I ever competed in had an indoor pool snake swim - 400 yards - and my time was 7:55.  My first open water swim was as the relay swimmer for an olympic distance triathlon, and I think it took me close to forty minutes to finish it (mostly due to all the backstroke).  I kept swimming.  I did a time trial swim for the first time.  I was swimming when I decided to say yes and marry the poet.  I learned what "on" means.  Six months of being coached by Sonja (swimming requires actual workouts?) brought me to a 1:12 at Coeur d'Alene in my first ironman.  Only a few weeks before the race, I finally mastered the flip-turn.
I started coaching high school swimming, stinky teenagers that shake like dogs when they climb out onto the deck.  Someone took pity on me and showed me how to do fly without emptying the entire pool.  I learned that what your legs do during breaststroke actually matters.  I did a few swim meets even though I was terrified that I was going to get lapped by my heat.  I discovered ridiculous swim suits.
When I moved to Boulder, I stopped being a weenie and finally showed up to masters, the really early one at my beloved outdoor pool.  It was dark and well below freezing.  I timidly introduced myself to the coach, who dumped me in a lane by myself and talked me through the workout.  My flip-flops froze to the pool deck.  Everyone seemed really nice but also REALLY fast.  No one else was wearing a silly suit.
I came back.  I moved over a lane and learned that if you don't wait to leave five seconds behind someone, you will accidentally touch their feet and eventually they will want to slap the shit out of you.  I paid attention and wrote down all the workouts we did and how they made me feel, and started to really understand how to put a swim workout together.  How to use paddles but not turn them into a crutch, why 50s are important and not just an annoying chunk of swim/rest/swim/rest that makes your workout longer, why sometimes you need to spend an entire workout swimming really hard with just your body.  I moved over another lane and let them carry me for a while.  I noticed that they were starting to swim away from me, so I cornered one of the great masters' coaches about what in the hell was wrong with my swim.  He didn't say it out loud, but the answer was, everything.  Another one said something along the lines of, Actually, I don't understand how you can swim that fast looking the way that you do.
I spent a month, actually maybe a few months, swimming alone, doing a shitload of drills and cursing the water for getting so heavy, cursing myself for messing with my swim, cursing Jonathan for breaking my stroke into a million pieces.  I became a can you look at me now? pain in the ass to most of the masters' coaches when I did show up, then went back into lane one with my tail between my legs to two-beat-kick-full-catch-up-belly-button-hold some more.
One day I stopped feeling like a drunk elephant in a mud puddle.  I could feel what it was supposed to feel like, but I didn't know how to go fast yet.  I happily cannonballed back into lane two, where I could keep up when the rest of the lane was doing recovery breaststroke but not pulling-on-the-lane-lines backstroke.
I swam a grumpy and battered 1:08 at Lake Placid.  After I was done being sick, I spent every day in the pool for a few weeks.  Easy, just doing my drills and trying to get my feel back.  The poet started coming to Sunday morning masters so I was bright-eyed about having an ass to kick.  (I can still hold him off, but it won't be long now).  I eased back into lane three, stayed near the back, and hung on, counting my strokes, holding onto my belly button with my spine, riding the glide, reaching wide.  I did a few TT swims, and my times were finally what they were at sea level a year ago.  And then they got a little faster.  And then there was a big jump in my 400, and then I broke an hour in the 2.4 mile OWS at the reservoir, hanging onto the same wonderful feet I hang onto most mornings.
Then my schedule changed a bit and I started doing a Sunday/Monday masters double, where I swam medium long and pretty hard Sunday mornings, and then pretty long and I want my mommy hard on Monday mornings.  I stopped pulling the I'm tired today trick and moving down a lane when some of the faster guys showed up, the ones that wear speedos not jammers.  I stayed put, defiantly, even though I was using most of my get-up-and-go trying to not get lapped during the warm-up and spending the back 3K swimming as fast as I possibly could going shitshitshitshitshitshitshit inside my head.  I stopped bailing on the workout at 3000 yards because for some reason that had always seemed like enough.  I realized that I swam a lot better if I got to run through a round of drills before anyone joined me in the water, so I set my alarm for 20 minutes earlier than the already-obnoxious time it was going off in the morning.  I stopped being afraid of swimming really impossibly hard when my arms felt like noodles.  I bought more ridiculous swimsuits, because when you are in the water 4-5-6 days a week and have an ass as big as mine, you go through suits pretty darn fast.  
When I look at my log for the past few weeks, I see a lot of good swims, strong swims, tired swims, swims that getting written up with the words BAM! or whoa or I don't actually know what happened to me this morning.  And the times have kept coming down.  A few seconds here, another handful here, three seconds off a timed 100 here, four seconds faster across a set of 5x200s there.  Not every day has been perfect, there are days where swimming the interval that I can do most things ON is impossible.  Days where I swim 1500 yards of drills and breaststroke and then I get out.  But the weirdest thing has been happening, and I finally was able to put some words on it this morning, and that is, all this good swimming is making me a better runner (I know my fly looks like shit but look how full of water the pool is!).
It has very little to do with the actual mechanics of swimming and running and very much to do with what's going on in my brain.  Big surprise.  I've been actively participating in triathlon, in running, in all the sports for years now.  Participating racing coaching discussing snarking.  What I'm finally starting to feel is confidence.  Swimming went fairly rapidly (all things being relative) from my most-hated and weakest sport to my most-loved and strongest, so the confidence is growing from there.  Finally, it's starting to leak out into the other two sports.  
Living here, in Boulder, in the bubble, it's hard to be a middle-of-the-pack amateur.  Because hundreds of professional athletes are in and out of my world on a daily basis, with their 1:00 base pace and their 8% body fat and their long legs and ripped abs, sharing my cable machine and jumping in my lane without asking.  It's easy to look at that and want to give up, to let the voice whisper in your brain You are never going to swim bike run and most especially look like Miranda Carfrae so stop bothering already.
But that's not why we swim bike and run in the first place.  At least that isn't why I do it.  I've learned that I do it because I am seeking joy, I want to know the answers to questions that we don't often get to ask ourselves, I need to be chasing something more.

So why the long post about swimming when I could have just said, running is starting to make me happy and I blame the pool?  I don't know.  But I started thinking about where I came from, when it took me over an hour to swim 1500 yards and I needed a two-hour nap afterwards.  Now I regularly swim three times that amount before work in the morning.  Maybe to let my brain know that if I've come this far in the water, anything is possible on land.  And, I said to Sonja as we were chatting about all of this, the thing I want most in Cozumel is to get off the bike and feel confident putting on my running shoes.  I didn't feel that in Lake Placid, my primary thought in T2 was ohhhhh shit.  It's not about fast, it will never be about fast, but if I could get one thing out of this race, it would be confidence.  It would be feeling solid and steady on the inside, finally believing enough in myself to whisper Why not me? at the starting line.  Finally believing that I am fucking legit (I bet Sonja regrets the day she ever typed that email to me).  

This morning, I got up early and went to the pool like I do every Monday.  I warmed up a bit inside while an earlier group was finishing their workout, and then I headed outside to continue warming up.  When I flipped and pushed off the wall into a length of backstroke and opened my eyes, I was looking up at the black that comes before the dawn.  The sky was scattered with stars and way off on the horizon (Kansas side of the pool), it was starting to pink with light.  And I smiled, big with my teeth showing, because this is what happiness is, to me.  This year hasn't been about upheaval (well, after the whole moving across the country thing was done) or painful growth or gigantic fireballs of revelation.  This year has been about peace.  Finding it, relaxing deep into it, and letting joy wash over me, as softly and quietly as a breath.