The Elephant in the Pool
You are either a lover or a fighter. A leader or a follower. A liberal or a conservative. A runner or a swimmer. Put your hands down, triathletes. I know what you’re thinking, you can be a little bit of both. And yes you can, but you will have a bias. One that comes more naturally. Preferably one that doesn’t make you feel like you are drowning.
I’m a runner; not so much a swimmer. On land, I strike out comfortably, breathing in every four steps, and out every four steps, and reduce this to three or perhaps two breaths on hills. In, out, in, out, shoulders down, arms loose, feet quick. It’s a beautiful feeling, any day I run in is better than one I don’t, it’s cheaper than therapy, and it allows me to eat copious amounts of fries and chocolate. I’m a runner, born and bred. When I go out for a walk I am tired and whiny after five minutes, but I can run for miles, some days hours, without a problem. I may be a runner but I am definitely not a walker. Go figure.
But things are breaking down and my quadriceps and IT Bands aren’t what they used to be, so sometimes, in the summer months, I’m a biker. Biking has its own share of challenges, for instance the likelihood of dying on the fender of cement truck. I choose my biking days and routes carefully, and with the inclement weather we have in the Pacific Northwest these can be few and far between.
So the elephant in my room for the last few years, if not lifetime, has been swimming. Ugh, the chlorine, the cold water, the flattering skull cap look, not to mention the monotony, the boredom, the breathlessness, the other swimmers at your heels. Jesus. I’d rather walk.
But I remember the swimmers of my youth – Jacqui, Jenny, and Jamie, I’m looking at you. Damn they were fit. They kicked my cross-country ass to the curbside race after race, although I think the only time they ran was in the actual race; their training was in the pool.
So when a friend cajoled me into joining a masters swimming group (she said something like, I’ll bet you a bottle of wine you can’t do this, and I was like, oh no you didn’t), I was hesitant, but only momentarily. The writing was on the wall, and the white wine is now in my fridge. I got in the pool and kicked and splashed my way to the end. And back again. Repeat, times like a thousand.
It wasn’t pretty, I could see by the look on the coach’s face, a mix between Sweet Jesus where did this one come from and why is this woman drowning in my pool? But I got through the warmup, and though I was ready to call it a day by then, I managed to do some, if not all, of the workout that followed. Oh, the accomplishment; it was equivalent to achieving a PB in a half-marathon. I high-fived my lane mates while they looked at me quizzically, and my arm muscles wept with the joy of being called upon.
Now, twice a week, for an hour and a half, I stare at the line on the bottom of the pool and think about rolling and reaching. The water is cold for only a fraction of a second before the work required to stay afloat warms me. The coach writes cryptic notes on the whiteboard, like 8 x 50 f/c @ 60/65/70, and the only message I can decipher is that f/c is front crawl. When my fellow swimmers ask me what I want to do the 50′s in, I explain I just want to finish them without drowning, time is irrelevant. I have three speeds; slow, slower, and sinking. We swim about 3 kilometers each workout, which I figure is the equivalent to swimming the English Channel.
But I’m doing it, and I’ve never felt better. In the end I crawl onto the deck and thank God and Buddha and Shakespeare that although I came close to hyperventilating and drowning in my own snot, I made it to the edge just in time. I marvel mostly because not only did I do the workout, but that I even got in the pool to begin with. My back feels stretched, my IT bands are smiling, quadriceps spent, and the rest of the day, I feel my blood coursing smoothly through my body. When I listen closely, I can hear it say: thank you thank you thank you.