Monday, December 29, 2014

Just keep swimming!

This year, the Winter Equinox brought not only darkness, but a cold that almost turned into a sinus infection. I'm still sniffling (but thankfully not as much) and slowly introducing swimming back into my training routine (at least on the bike and the run, I can blow my nose and throw all that junk away. The thought of leaving that nastiness to float around in the pool for my swim-mates to find was enough to keep me away until breathing felt normal again.)

As the calendar year draws to a close, however, I can't help but start thinking about my goals for the next year. In fact, for the past several days I've woken up with the question What's next? on my mind. And while the answer to that was rather simple (I've been talking about doing a full Ironman for a long time now... so,take a wild guess what one of my goals for 2015 will be) there is a part of that answer I wasn't ready to explore until now. 

You see, I'm the kind of athlete who worries about future events. To assuage my worry (or, more accurately, worries) I try to put in as much time and effort as I can in the training days, weeks, months (and maybe years would apply here, too) which precede the events I do. And, as you can imagine, sometimes this does help me when "the going gets tough" (or, how I can ask myself in a race how many times have I ridden this far? Swam for this long? Run at such-and-such a pace?) to have a go-to response of: you've done this a million times. Just do it once more. 

Yet, there's the other side of the equation, the part of me that worries that I'm never-good-enough-not-fast-enough-too-fat-dehydrated-too-hydrated-not-trying-hard-enough that makes the training, well, suck. How fun is it to always think you are in last place and the very worst out of everybody?

To all that, I say: thank God I'm not out there all alone because if I was, I would probably keep myself in that circle of insanity. Luckily for me, one of the great perks of doing endurance sports are all the incredible people you get to meet along the way. Whether it's swimming, cycling, running or the triathlon, it never ceases to amaze me how many stories I get to gather and how much courage I glean from the others who people the starting line (and who populate the various practices I attend.)

Enter: a friend of mine, Ethan V.


(NOTE: I'm sure he'll laugh when he reads this post because it is about swimming and of all the things I remember talking to Ethan about was his absolute DISLIKE of the sport. Or, DISLIKE is putting it mildly. Forgive me, Ethan.)

I met Ethan back in 2010 when I was training to break 2:46 in the marathon and living in the Bay Area. We toed the line at a small, grass roots 10k in Berkeley which used entry fees to combat world hunger. The course was mostly flat and wound its way around the Berkeley marina and out along a bike path. Ethan "befriended" me before the race and we ended up running warm-up miles together. His background was ultra-running and he was (then) training to run a fast marathon, too. He was also incredibly funny which kept my focus off my pre-race anxiety (something else I still struggle with.) 

Due to the wonders of social media, I still get updates from Ethan. from time to time even though it's been nearly five years since I've seen him in person. He paced another runner through the Western States this past year and has returned to the ultra-running scene.  But what is remarkable about Ethan is a facebook post I happened to see over the holiday when I was busy not-swimming and blowing my nose. 

He posted that this next year, his goal wasn't so much to break a certain time for a certain distance, but instead to find the joy in running. The idea made me pause for a moment because if there's one thing I do a lot of, it's train. 

How many times lately have I found the joy in the things I do, though? Swimming, even before I got sick, was probably anything but fun. I was so frustrated with how I just couldn't keep up with any of the men in my lane, how I didn't seem to be improving no matter how many times a week I swam or cross-trained. And then there is running, a sport I really loved once, but that I'm afraid to truly love anymore because of all the injuries I've faced and the constant disappointment that I am no longer, quite, fast. 

But Ethan's post got me thinking. What if I started looking for the joy in the things I do? What if I don't focus so much on pace or, even, getting in all my training hours each week? What if, instead, I show up to swim practice or CompuTrainer or, even, my runs, with the attitude that I want to feel good about the work I put in, the distances I cover?

So, I went to swim practice with only one goal in mind today: have fun. And you know what? I was not the "fastest" person in the pool (not by a long shot!) but something unexpected happened. Instead of "struggling" through the set, I fell into a rhythm and for the first time in months, the cadence of my breath and stroke and kick did not feel "forced."  

What I have also noticed is that the general anxiety surrounding my training is slowly diminishing. I don't like to miss days (I probably never will!) but I don't think that I have derailed my entire training regimen, either, when due to my physical or mental health I simply need a break! 

Today I renewed my USMS membership so 2015 will be filled with much more swimming. This is the first step in my goal of completing a full Ironman (more news on that very soon!) 

But the other half of my goal is not only the Ironman, but that other maybe-not-so-measurable achievement of finding joy in what I do. And you know, thanks to all the people I have met-- and keep meeting along the way--I can't help but smile, feel grateful and look forward to my next big adventure.

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