Charles and I were hanging out on the pool deck waiting for our 5:30AM Saturday swim class to start. Since there were a bunch of us in the class, we decided to share a lane together (along with Dan, a guy that neither of us knew). Patty, the instructor, was banging on a locked box with her tennis shoe. Inside the box were a bunch of swim fins we would be using in practice.
“Okay, why don’t you hop in? Here’s how it works: The faster people are usually in the middle lanes, and the slower people on the outside.”
Charles and I looked at each and then at our pull buoys and fins, which we had plopped down in front of lane 3, a fast lane. “I guess we’re going to need to move this stuff.”
We are both members of the Landry’s tri club and swim together in the sumer. In the couple of races that we’ve both done, I have been slower than him on the bike and run, but he’s always chasing me at the lake. (Even though I’m definitely mid-pack during those summer open-water swims.) Neither one of us considers ourselves especially fast.
Patty stopped us, “Based on the class you took last month, you’re in the right place, Charles.” We looked at each other, shrugged, and hopped in for about five minutes of warm-up swimming.
“You’re faster than me, Jeff. Why don’t you start, and we’ll circle swim.”
And I was off. A few minutes later I caught Dan, passed him at the wall, and then was holding myself back to keep from swimming into Charles. Somehow I was in one of the fast lanes and had lapped my lane mates.
“What is going on?” I wondered. “Why am I one of the slowest people at my pool in the morning and during races and one of the fastest people whenever I go to a swim clinic? I’m here to become more efficient and powerful—and I’m sure I will—but I’m having the worst cognitive dissonance right now.”
This paradoxical fast-but-not-fast thing has been going on with me for quite a while.
If you’ve talked to me about my races—whether running or triathlon—you know that I’m almost always happy with my results. I race as fast as I can go, and (depending on the competitiveness of the event) I often do very well overall. I don’t beat myself up for not being able to go faster than what my abilities will allow me. Far from being envious, I love the competition that comes from having faster people around to push me to my best results.
Of course, from time to time you’ll also encounter my frustration or impatience. Just because I do well doesn’t mean that I’m completely satisfied. Even though I’ve progressed a lot over the last couple of years in every athletic area, I sense that I can keep improving. I’m happy with the accomplishment, but I want to do better next time. “What do I need to do to be faster next race or next year?” It’s a question I ask myself all the time, and the answer is usually to keep putting in the hours and doing the workouts. I’m a firm believer that—no matter how innately gifted you might be—you can’t begin to approach your potential without lots of hard work. I’m fine with that; the race is just the tip of the iceberg, and I find all of the training deeply rewarding.
The one place where I’m rather impatient, though, is swimming. It’s true that three years ago, I could barely swim, and two years ago I was swimming more efficiently but not very quickly or very far. I’ve come a long way since then—swimming in open water and the ocean, racing, and generally getting faster—but I’m still nowhere near as fast as I know I can be. Worse, I fear that I’ve plateaued, hanging out around 35 minutes per mile at the pool.
It’s worth saying again that I’m very happy with my results. I’m just very eager to continue progressing, and I’m trying hard to rise to my potential.
So I’ll be waking up at 4:15AM on Saturday mornings again for a little while longer. And I’ll be putting on the fins and doing the streamlining drills on weekday mornings. And learning how to kick better and transfer power from my core to my arms and . . . Let’s just say I’ll be working hard.