Rolling with the punches

IMG_2519At the pool the other morning I was adorned with my first battle wound of the season while simply swimming routine laps. Normally I’m reminiscing about stories on the battlefield of bike rides where traffic, curbs, pebbles and even painted lines seem to jump at you and threaten a good bruise, laceration or road rash. Usually injuries in the swim come from either a severe lack of ability to remain afloat, severe lack of ability to judge when you’re going to literally hit the wall, or, and more likely so, during a race when thousands of other arms and legs are seemingly flailing all at once. Swimming routine laps on a training morning with clearly marked lanes and significantly less flailing bodies, usually means you’re pretty safe from injury. That is until I get in the pool.
On this morning, the pool was unusually packed and at first glance it almost looked like a race of jumbled bodies. There were slow people in the fast lane, fast swimmers swimming on top of slow swimmers, some would start with the front crawl and randomly switch to the breast stroke, some were sculling down the ropes at a turtles pace while others were working on speed work – it was a mess. For triathletes, we welcome chaos in the water. Most people, would prefer to leisurely swim up and down the pool, back and forth without waves or disruption, but we like to churn things up a little bit. It’s good race prep and besides we’re all used to having fingers tickle our toes, arms punching us in the head and bodies literally swimming on top of us. This is more or less what an open water swim entails.
For most of the morning, I was situationally aware and good at sensing a slower swimmer ahead of me, quickly checking for oncoming traffic, then slithering my way between two bodies to make a safe pass. That is unless you have crazy legs in the pool. This guy has the most unusual swimming technique I’ve ever seen. I have described some of my swimming techniques as reminiscent of a dying sea creature but this man has an incredibly interesting way of propelling himself forward in the water. I can’t quite describe how he manages to get from one end to the other, but he does, and I would willing to bet he is the hardest working swimmer in the pool on any given day. That being said, he is one of the best obstacles to try and maneuver around if you’re looking to simulate a chaotic open water scenario. Most of the other swimmers know that you don’t attempt to swim within a 5 metre radius of him, even with a rope between you, because there is a good chance one of those wide-spread flailing arms will swipe across the water and take you out, as I learned the hard way.
On one of the final drills of the morning set, I found myself coming up behind a slower swimmer, so as I had done all morning, made a quick look before picking up speed to propel between the swimmers on either side of me. Just then a flash of human flesh came surging towards me and with no room to move or react my arm, already moving at full speed flew into the air and the hard knuckled fist of the oncoming swimmer slammed into the inside of my arm. A sharp pain shot down my appendage and into my armpit. It was a brief moment of churning water and at one point there was another body beneath me. As I sorted myself in the right direction and away from the other bodies, I saw the concerned onlooking lifeguard, before, doing what any triathlete would do, and settled back into my rhythm. What I’ve come to learn from swimming with packs of people is that collisions happen but you must never stop. I’m fairly certain the other swimmer, after punching into my soft flesh, immediately stopped and probably bobbed at the surface for a confused moment trying to make sense of what happened. All at the same time, I was continuing on swimming with a shooting pain running down my bicep.  In my own strange way, I was proud of myself for doing what we’ve always been taught – to just keep swimming even after taking a punch. Every moment in training is for the greater good of preparing for the big day and I’ll even thank crazy legs for teaching me how to take a hit in the water.

Here we go

10801619_10152569703662861_5271506552545061141_nDecember has begun which means training programs have been assigned and it’s time to get back to work. That extra weight that seemed to magically pop up on my hips overnight needs to go and my heart, lungs and muscles need to feel the burn again. Last week, I went through my fitness test, which gives coach my baseline for the start of the season, or as I like to call it, the test of how lazy I got over the last few months. But the real start to the season, the real start to the road to Ironman kicked off with a 6am swim on Monday morning.
The night before it was chilly and at only 5:00pm, it was already dark. The thought of getting into a pool at 6 in the morning sent shivers of goosebumps up my arms, or maybe it was goosebumps of anticipation. For the first time since August, I was packing my swim bag preparing for a group workout. My bathing suit has been hanging in lonely solitude on the back of my bathroom door handle for months and as I grabbed it to throw in my bag, I caught the wafting scent of chlorine. It was a scent that I’ve missed. For me, it was like taking your first sip of coffee in morning – rush and calmness at the same time that fire you into some sort of get up and go momentum. It was enough for me to forget about the cold and get out the door.
As soon as I stepped onto the pool deck, I remembered my first group swim from last year. I was so nervous and so afraid of being out of place that I thought I might forget how to swim and simply drown. That fear was intensified when my coach told me to tie my feet together with a thick rubber band. Looking back on it now, I laugh. As I brought myself back to the present moment on the deck, I suddenly started to have those some apprehensions. What if I got so out of shape I couldn’t swim 50 metres? What if I drowned with my feet tied together because I forgot how to swim? But as with all irrational thoughts they were soon dispelled as I hopped in the cool blue water and just kept swimming lap after lap like a fish with no rhyme, reason or direction. In fact, I think the extra weight in my ass totally helped negate any possibly of sinking. 
Getting back into the routine of training this week was magical. There really isn’t any other word for it. When you find your passion, this is what it feels like. It might sound hokey or a little too gung-ho, but it just is what it is. Embarking on one of the toughest roads I’ve set out to conquer leaves me full of anticipation, nerves, worry, fears, joy and excitement. There almost isn’t a word that won’t describe all the emotions and thoughts that go into preparing for an Ironman. Every time I tell someone about my training I always get the same raised eyebrow looks and the same “oh you’re crazy,” responses, which sometimes makes me second guess my ambitious goal. Am I really going to do this? I remember writing on my bucket list years ago that I was going to complete an Ironman and a marathon. At the time, I thought, yea right. I figured I was more likely to succeed at ticking off more practical goals, like riding a bull, swimming with sharks or flying a blimp. Honestly though, I’m here to tell you, having big dreams and seemingly outlandish ideas of doing what others deem impossible is a hell of a motivator and entirely possible.
Here’s to the first week of my road to that dream and all the challenges that come with it. I’m feeling pretty pumped.