I have a confession. I don’t really like getting up to go swimming. Usually my displeasure is just a normal part of the transition from sleeping to waking, but some days—as I’m standing in the waist-deep water adjusting my goggles and convincing myself to put my head under the water—I don’t even really like the idea of swimming until I’ve gotten a few hundred yards of water behind me. I’ve gotten past the point where I was a few years ago when I couldn’t wait for the swim to be over, but there are still days that I’d rather not be doing it, even though I like the way I feel afterward. Basically, swimming doesn’t bring me the same pleasure that riding my bike for hours or running through the woods and suburban neighborhoods does.
This morning as I was getting ready to put on my swimmers and the rest of my clothes before heading to the pool, I had to do that whole “goal-oriented” thing that I seem to be drawing upon a lot recently. Why do we go to the pool? Because the only way to get better at swimming is to swim, and the pool isn’t going to swim itself. That’s right. Now go do it! But I swear that if I hadn’t paid for my swim classes already and been seeing some improvement from them, I’m not sure I would have dragged myself out of bed on Saturday at 4:15. And if today weren’t the only day the pool is open this week, I might have gone back to bed for another half hour (even though I would have been awake for a good part of that thinking about how “bad” I would have been for not going to the pool).
But I did get up on Saturday to drive to Worcester, do some drills, learn some pointers on the high-elbow pull—which I had learned about on the flight back from LA—and get a really nice compliment from Patty, the coach, as I was leaving the pool deck. (“Hey, your technique looks really good.”) The rest of the day I could tell that I was doing the pull correctly (at least with my right arm) since my deltoids and triceps feel like I’ve been lifting weights.
And I didn’t go back to bed this morning. Instead I went to the pool and swam 2,050 yards in a delightfully cold pool. I had only intended to swim 40 laps, but I lost count somewhere in the 20s and finished with one extra. Usually I count laps—in Spanish on the way out and French on the way back—and do a new split timer on my watch every 10 laps. In the recent past, when I was averaging a minute per 50 yards, it was easy; I could just look at my watch, and if it was closer to 9:00, I had one more lap. If it was near 10:00, then that was another 500 yards. That’s all changing, and I have to pay more attention to my lap count. Now if I see something near a 9:00 on my watch in the first three-quarters of a mile, I know that’s probably 10 laps. (I still slow down a fair bit near the end of an endurance session . . . which just means that I need to do more speed and strength work on the other two days that I go swim.)
I’m not going to say that I’m fast yet. I swim at a very fast pool. Between 5:45 and 6:30AM the lanes fill up with fellow triathletes, former collegiate swimmers, and a whole bunch of very speedy high schoolers. I’m not the slowest person at the pool under 50 anymore, but I’m a lot closer to keeping up with Jennifer and Dara and the girls’ swim team. I know it’s not a competition, and I spend most of my swim focusing on my technique and pace, but I find it’s good to be reminded that I can get faster and to have a whole bunch of people faster than me nearby to spur me onward.
That’s why I go to the pool at an unreasonable hour: to practice and to get faster. I feel like I’ve broken through a plateau where I had been stuck for about a year, and every morning swim is a chance to continue progressing. It’s probably going to take a bit longer before I eagerly hop out of bed to go swim . . . maybe even until summer when I go to the lake again. Nevertheless, here’s hoping a week away from the pool, with some extra sleep along the way, refreshes me enough to make it to Christmas.