30 October 2009

Into the fishbowl

For many, the idea of swimming laps brings about thoughts of dread and despair. Swimming back and forth is boring. Marginal yields of improvement over time. Never understanding why they don't have the speed in the water as others do. Never feeling the water. Only in the water to "survive" the swim in a race.

I'll never understand their mindset. And I can only hope that they can experience mine.

For me, there are very few things in life that top being in the pool. Often you'll hear a runner say the run to escape. I believe the pool is one of the ultimate escapes. Even in a crowded pool, it's difficult to be truly disturbed while swimming laps. No cell phone to worry about. There is nothing worth looking at on the bottom of the pool, so your attention doesnt wander. Sounds become nearly inaudible background noise as your eardrums become submersed and devoid of the outside world. To me, it's nice to have a small part of life that involves focused external stimulus of any kind. You're insulated in the pool, and have a completely clean slate allowing you to think quite clearly for the duration of the workout. There's no person on the treadmill chatting on his cell phone. No catching glimpses of the strange workouts people do in a gym. No SportsCenter blaring on the TV. No worries about changing to your next favorite song on your iPod. Its just you and you head, which is a rather rare and welcomed experience.

I've been cleared to swim, only with limited kicking. Sunday, I went back to the pool for the first time. It was just me and Sebastian in our lane.

I sat on the side of the pool, worried. What if I lost the feel for the water? How much muscle have I lost? What kind of toll has no cardio in 5 week taken on my abilities? What if my ankle hurts too bad to swim? My nerve endings jumped at the cool water on my skin as I slid in. Goggles adjusted and swim cap secure, I ducked under the surface and pushed off, awkwardly, with my left foot. I felt like a kid playing underwater again. Reaching the surface, I began the mechanical routine: catch it in the palm, pull back, rotate... you're gliding through the water. And then I struggled. Where are my feet? I can't roll.. my strokes off. whats happening to my form?

I'm dependant on my kick. Too dependant for a freestyler, and perfectly tuned for a backstroker. Explosive, tight kicks coming from the hips. Propelling the body forward as the arms assist. Feet pointed to make the lever as long as possible. It's what I know how to do. And suddenly, it's forced to be subsided. I struggled as I awkwardly tried to mimic those I've swam with that insist the legs need to be saved for the bike. Attempted a subdued two beat kick to facilitate roll. It just didn't feel right. The electric feeling of being in the water was slowing fading. Once back at the starting side, I grabbed my fingertip paddles and took another go. 25: Nothing. I couldn't catch the water right even with paddles. Somewhere between 25-50 meters in though, I felt it. Rocketing through the water, feeling the small twinges in the lats and triceps. I was back.

Last night I did a few threshold sets with the team. Feeling sheepish, I dropped down a lane because I didn't think I could keep up with my guys. I wasn't ready to commit to the testosterone driven sprints maintaining a paceline just yet. No paddles, no pull buoy, I grabbed onto the back of the lane beside me. I don't know where the speed came from, but I felt like I wasn't even completing pulls, yet I was running over these people. Convinced to go in the front for a 400 build, I pushed off the wall, again awkwardly with one leg.

A few small dolphin kicks later, I broke the water halfway down the pool and began the stroke. Smiling. It felt good... 3, sometimes 5 strokes before nonchalantly taking a breath. Still, dragging my feet in a paralyzed state behind my hips. 100 down, turn, pick it up. Alternating 1 to 3 stroke breathing. 200 down, turn, pick it up. Feel the arms burn, starting to kick a little. 300, down, turn, pick it up. Sprint. Slicing through the water, feet in a steady, tight 6 beat kick. turn, 50 left. make it hurt. It hurt. The rest of the lane was over a length behind me. I focused on increasing the speed of each passing rung on the ropes. Reaching the end of the set, my lungs were lit on fire from oxygen deprivation. It felt amazing. Submerged up to the neck while out of breath is an addiction. No need to lean against a wall or curl over onto the knees: The cool water lends its hand to support and keep the rest of the body relaxed, like a chilled omnipresent friend.

I've missed being in the fishbowl.


Rainmaker said...

That's awesome to see your return to the puddle went well.

Funny you mention about being too strong of a kicker. Perhaps you can give me some of your kick. I have no kick. Really...none.

D said...

Jesus. Did you get bitten by the Marit writing bug or something? Loooooooooooooong.

But I agree. The pool is the BEST!

Lesser is More said...

I need me some of your fish gills...can I borrow some of your enjoyment for swimming too while we're at it? Congrats on being back at it again.

william said...

Nicely said, you actually make the swim sound fun. I'll make a note.
Glad you are back, even if partly.