So. Having signed up for some actual races this year, some of which involve actual swimming, and taking into account that I haven’t been swimming since. . .let’s see. . .when was it exactly. . .oh yes, September, I decided that March 1 constituted the launch date for the new swimming campaign. And unlike every other time I’d announced a start swimming date to myself, this time I actually made it to the pool.
How did it go? Well, about as well as you’d expect for someone who no longer has any core or upper body strength, very little residual fitness, the aerobic capacity of an asthmatic flea and all the technique of a pedal-powered paddle boat. I made it through 1400 yards and then was glad to use a conversation with Coach Ed as an excuse to bail. Some of that was exhaustion. Mostly it was attitude fail.
I new this first workout would be hard; the first one coming back to any kind of physical exercise after a prolonged absence is always a nightmare of pain and humiliation. I kept wanting to say to all the people swimming over, under, and through me, “I used to be an Ironman, you know! I was big and important once! Now I’m just big!” It didn’t make it any easier that the pool was absurdly crowded. Everyone in my lane was swimming faster than I would have been able to swim when I was fit and moderately technically capable. (Now admittedly, the difference in my speed between then and now is probably not discernible to the naked eye, but I’m pretty sure that sophisticated electronic measuring equipment could pick it up). So I was getting passed constantly, or stopping to let faster swimmers pass, and therefore couldn’t get anything approaching a rhythm going. Things really became fun when a pile of swimmers from the next lane up were crowded into our lane. I finally took refuge in the noobs lane. And people still passed me.
Jen, who was coaching, was very understanding. She stopped me at the end of one length and said tentatively, “So, do you want some comments on your stroke, or. . . .” The implied alternative was, in fact, the correct one. “Thanks, Jen,” I said, “But at the moment I’m just trying not to drown.” “That’s what I thought,” she said (which, I guess, was a more polite way of saying “That’s exactly what it looked like”).
Coach Ed was also understanding. He said, “Yes, I hadn’t seen you at many–well, ok, any–swim practices but I just thought you were planning to do a few duathlons early on.”
“Yeah,” I said, “That was the plan, but that didn’t really happen. It’s been difficult.”
“What, finding dus?”
“No, finding me.”
I got through as much of the workout as I did simply by telling myself “You did an Ironman, you climbed this hill once, you can do it again.” And I didn’t feel that I was completely back at square one physically. There were moments, in between the much longer moments of frantically slapping the water and mentally screaming for someone to save me. I am, however, back at square one mentally.
As I type this today, I still have water in one ear. Every so often I catch a whiff of chlorine. My nose streamed solidly for a couple of hours (stupidly, I didn’t prepare for this onset of swim training by buying any saline wash; perhaps because I didn’t really believe the swimming would happen). I keep asking myself, why would anyone willingly subject themselves to this? It’s gross. The entire swim experience just seems massively disagreeable. This seems to apply mostly to pool swimming. I’ve really enjoyed swimming in most of the races last year. Even with the physical beating that is a requisite part of the triathlon swim experience, I actually loved the Ironman swim. It was the most restful part of my day, as it turned out. But training for the swim is simply horrible.
I know, I just need to suck it up. The problem is, every time I do that, I get a mouthful of chlorinated water.