OMG. I can swim. I can be in the water and control the panic, not even panic, regulate my breathing, and not have my stomach roiling with volcanic fervour. Wow. I have to say I wasn’t sure I’d actually meet this nemesis head on, let alone have a chat and wave him goodbye. This is huge. HUGE. Even huger than that. This is bigger than running a marathon, at least in terms of the mental hurdles, barriers and invisible pitfalls.
OMG. I can swim.
May was a big month. I went from the trauma (too big a word? Didn’t feel like it at the time) of the hideous triathlon swim at the beginning of May, to being able to swim at the end of May. Now, whether I can swim in the washing machine turbulence of another triathlon is another story, but I’m a happy bunny for now. Big month in personal development.
I’d gone straight back to the pool after the triathlon determined just to do lengths, and build up. I jettisoned my training program, did my 16 lengths, moved up to 20 lengths and built to 40 lengths (1 kilometre) by the end of the month. By mid June I’m up to 50 lengths.
I’d drawn a line in the sand half way through May – regardless of my headspace, when I can swim a kilometre, I’d say that I can officially swim. Actually with hindsight, I could probably only draw that line because I could already feel the imminence of actual swimming.
Adding lengths has been tricky. I’ve been getting kind of floppy with extra lengths, stroke technique kind of goes out of the window, but I guess it’s just because I get tired. It’s hard work swimming that far. I need to build strength and endurance. And stroke technique. I know my legs are virtually useless in the water, trailing behind me like some sort of split ribbon of uselessness. Training’s probably going to get tough now…
But … the playing field is finally level. Now I really can start to work on form, function and performance.
I can’t tell you how much of a difference it makes to have the splendid S and marvellous M there, not only to listen to my every nano-improvement, but they make encouraging noises and even offer praise. Take the mickey too occasionally, but that’s no more than I deserve, like S retorting to my enthusiasm at having swum my very first kilometre (40 lengths) … a mile is 64 lengths. Yeah, OK. There’s another target. Happy with kilometres for the moment.
Rhythm and blue really was a seminal mantra for me. Head rotates totally skyward. Plenty (relatively) of time to breathe. And any issues I have with breathing, I just have to think languid arms, high elbows, slow it down, all the time in the world to breathe. And if that’s still not enough, I can breathe every two strokes rather than three. Basically I have breathing strategies now for when things aren’t totally smooth.
My heart rate is another big winner. Up ‘til quite recently, my heart would be racing away at 130-140 beats. I so can’t keep that up for long, it just exacerbates a panic response. But my heart rate has calmed. I’m now finishing my lengths with 100-110 beats, which is totally calm and manageable. Everything’s calmer. And, just like running, I need 4-5 lengths to warm up (10-15 mins running) – where my heart rate does increase quite dramatically before settling into an exercise rhythm. This is just warm up, it happens with running, it’s not panic and desperation, just normal warm up. It all settles down as the rhythm establishes.
Not sure if I’ve mentioned my stomach-panic before. It seems to have been my third location for panic response. Didn’t the Romans or the Greeks, or someone, think the stomach was the pit of emotions? When I first started this swimming lark, I tried to think about cooling my stomach by imagining a block of ice in it, then I decided that would make me sink. You know, 90% of icebergs are under the water. But how something imaginary can make you sink I don’t know.
I have been aware that after a while my left arm seems to lose the plot of stroke formation. It’s all a bit weak and not pulling its weight, or indeed mine. I’ve been struggling to get it to rotate on its long axis properly, not able to get my elbow out of the water first, or get little finger out of the water first. It was a bit like it had atrophied on the spot and was this useless thing half lifting, half flopping all over the place. I’m sure it wasn’t that bad. Felt quite like it though. Not that I panicked. I’ve just been doing my running thing of plodding on. You know, if you just keep going, the distance gets covered. Wow but I need some swim endurance and strength building.
But it all seems to have fallen into a rhythm that I can do. I’ve got a breathing pattern I can handle. My heart rate is no longer going nineteen to the dozen. Everything’s been happening. I just have to think about, concentrate on doing the distance. Now it’s like running, one step in front of the other. Now I can build endurance. Now I can re-focus on form, function, technique, even speed a bit further down the line. A whole new world is opening up. The playing field is level. And just to mix my metaphors, I am finally on the first step.
And have I mentioned I can swim?