My ears strain to hear beyond the rush of water against my head, my eyes squint to find my bearings, and my nose allows the gentle but uncomfortable rush of water to seep into my nostrils like a faulty valve. No, I am not drowning. I am a fish just gliding through my natural habitat, and this is the glory of open water swimming.
At times the water is so murky all I can see is my hands in front of me, and sometimes it is shallow and bright enough that the entire lake floor bed comes alive. It’s these moments when my stroke pace slows and my imagination becomes lost in the underwater world beneath me. Dead trees look like dinosaur fossils, dancing shadows look like mythical creatures, swaying plants look like an underwater jungle, and your eyes dart from side to side looking for something new and wondrous to see. About every 300 metres we stop to reflect and re-focus our form. I focus on the beauty around me; just a bobbing cone-head so small and insignificant to the rest of the watery playground before me. You simply cannot beat these hot summery nights on the lake. Loons float effortlessly along the glassy surface, a mother hawk tends to her young in a nest high in the trees, and a beaver dives back into his watery home. Thinking back to my training in the pool makes me loath the return of winter. Boring and bland black lines on the bottom of the pool, strange floaties that you know came from bodily fluids, blue painted bottom, chlorine hair and smell; it just isn’t the same.
Tonight was my fifth open water swim and we boogied for about an hour and a half across the lake before cutting back behind an island, to make the final drive back to shore. It was a tough swim, and the final 300 metres looked long. I was already starting to feel tired and my arms were not as keen to power me through the water. I felt my form start to waver, my legs started to feel heavier and the shoreline seemed further and further away. Yet I continued to power onwards, until finally I could see ground again. With each stroke my fingertips got closer and closer to the bottom until I was touching down on solid ground for the first time in over an hour. Like a baby fawn, I clumsily stumbled to the shore, glad to be back where we began.
Before tonight, my furthest swimming distance was 800 metres in a pool. Before tonight I had a hard time fathoming swimming much further without sputtering, flailing, then subsequently drowning. Tonight I swam 2.2 kilometres. Tonight I discovered that if thrown into the middle of a lake and given the choice of sinking or swimming, I was going to swim.
I was exhausted, and slightly wobbly and dizzy, but as I collapsed onto the sand and gazed up at the blue sky above me, I smiled knowing that nothing will be impossible on my road to one hundred forty point six miles.
The smell of stale mud caked onto worn out bike tires pierces through the air as I glance around the shop staring at posters, trophies and photos of past and present riding warriors. This place is teeming with character and it feels like a second home. I focus myself back to the present moment to see the shop owner meticulously inspecting my tires. “What PSI are you riding on?” I am a clueless rookie to the cycling world. I couldn’t tell you what half the parts of my bike do, or even how to properly grease my chain. Up until a month ago, I couldn’t even change a flat tire. All I know about riding a bicycle, I learned as a child; get on, don’t fall off, and pedal like crazy. What else did I need to know? Suddenly I was thrust into a world of cassettes, saddles, aero bars, derailleurs, down tubes, and now PSI. Apparently 40 PSI is “a little low.” Yet to a novice cyclist, what’s the difference? I was quick to learn that the difference was about 10 seconds per kilometre, which, to me, is a significant difference.
This is just a fraction of everything I’ve been learning over the last few months. The learning curve has been fairly steep. As I said, I only just learned how to change a flat tire, and that wasn’t without screaming, cursing, flailing, multiple replacement tubes and a final visit to the bike shop which ended up with them finally just doing it for me. It must have been my damsel in distress look and manically twitching eyeball, which, sometimes, I feel is the new look for me; frazzled. As I try to figure out maximum heart rates, leg cramps, nutrition, rests days, breathing techniques, and most recently bike mechanics, I am oftentimes feeling lost in a sea of knowledge that floats in and out of my brain.
Then there are my running woes. It’s got the point where I am convinced that I’m going backwards. The fact of the matter is I’ve never been a long distance runner. In high school I ran the 100, 200 and 400 metre events because my body was designed for short bursts of speed, not endurance. You look at most long distance runners and they are built like twigs. I am built like a linebacker. The more mass you have to shuffle along, the more difficult it becomes. I know the importance of building your base first, and then working on speed, but I am impatient, expect perfection, and I want to be better, stronger, and faster now. Everyone just keeps telling me to give it time. I guess these are the times to look at the positives. I am improving with my swimming, my cycling times are getting faster, and my legs are stronger. The improvements are small, but until I start rolling backwards, I am going forwards, and with one foot in front of the other, even if it’s on par with the world’s slowest turtle, I am still on the road to one hundred forty point six miles.
I smoothly shift my gears and slow my bike down to a glide before eventually braking to a complete stop. I swing my right leg across the middle bar, and feel the heaviness of tired muscles weigh me down. It’s not until I am completely off the bike that I realize just how heavy, shaky and tired my legs feel. I am teetering on lead pillars. Cautiously, I bend at the waist to take off my cycling shoes, and prepare to slide my feet into my runners. The heaviness weighs on me and I feel as though I might topple like a leaning tower of Jenga. As I pop back to the upright position, I struggle to bring one leg in front of the other, as I shift my muscles from cycling mode to running mode. I am a baby fawn with drunken coordination, and this is called the ‘brick workout.’
At 5:30 this morning my alarm clock started to incessantly ring. The last thing I wanted to do was get up and go for a 30k ride, so my arm clumsily and lazily flailed over towards my phone and practically slammed down on the snooze button. I was in a half awake, half asleep daze, and my eyes were simply begging for just five more minutes of blissful sleep. On the third flail of my alarm-stopping arm, I dragged my lazy, heavy body off the comfy, soft mattress and mindlessly started to gear up for my morning cycle.
By 6:15am, I was on the road relishing in the light warm breeze of a summery Kamloops morning. Temperatures soared close to 40 degrees yesterday and this morning it felt as though the heat was still sizzling off the pavement. It was quiet and it was peaceful, and as I squinted at the sun along the horizon I saw a small flock of big horn sheep gracefully trot along the train tracks next to me. These are the mornings that remind me why I set my alarm for 5:30am. As much as it’s about training so that I can reach my goals, it’s also about enjoying the ride along the way.