A timed 1650 yard swim is not something you want to see on the board for 8 pm masters practice. Not after you were up at 5:30 am grinding out 50 – 70 rpm’s for over an hour. Not after a day of full-time work. Not after you did 5 x 500 in the pool the night before.
There’s all kinds of reasons why you don’t want to see or do the timed mile. I sat in the hot tub before practice talking to my husband and Fritz talking about some of those reasons. Chris started going on about how he lifted the day before and was riding before practice. Somewhere the world’s smallest violin was playing a sorry song for him.
Fritz looked at me waiting for some type of excuse to come spilling out of my mouth.
“I was up riding at 5:30 am,” I said. A good enough excuse rendering my legs completely useless and heavy for tonight’s aquatic adventure. Some days I wonder how well I could swim if only I was rested, if only I wasn’t on my second workout of the day, or – my favorite one – if only I wasn’t on my third workout in less than 24 hours. Some days the line between one day and the next blurs between 7 hours of sleep, a full-time job, and a training schedule. I have reason to believe I am the next Michael Phelps if only I didn’t have all these hours of running, biking, and lifting in my arms and legs.
I turned to Fritz, “what’s your excuse?” He paused for a moment and said, “I don’t have one. I guess if I’m slow tonight, I’m just slow.”
We got into our lanes and warmed up. No one could get anything right. 50’s on the 1:00 were on the :53 for some, :58 for others, and 1:05 for the rest. You could sense that everyone was antsy, waiting. We knew what was waiting ahead, we were all thinking about our times, the distance, the long effort ahead.
Finally, it was time to unleash 1650 yards of fury. Before we started, Fritz and I devised a safety plan. We decided that he would swim past me if he needed to pass – there would be no waiting at the wall. Not tonight, we couldn’t afford the time.
“You can’t afford the time?” Fritz asked, making fun of the fact that I – slower than him – was worrying about time. Watch it, Fritz, or else I’ll be the one passing you, I thought. He didn’t look frightened. Rightfully so. There was no way I would pass Fritz. The only time I pass him is during kick sets (he refuses fins, what can I do?). Tonight I would probably get passed by him at least twice.
“On the top,” the coach shouted before sending us off into underwater silence for the next 20 minutes. Fritz led my lane, 5 seconds later I followed. And so it began.
33 laps is a long way to swim in the pool. I break it up into 500’s and find counting to 10 is much easier than counting down from 33.
Fritz is working hard to keep up with Chris in the lane next to us. For a few laps I watch them entangled in a quiet battle of keep up which they both are winning, neck and neck.
Within the first 500 yards, I am lapped by Fritz. And I suppose also Chris since he is keeping pace in the lane next to us. In fact, the entire pool – except the guy to my right – has lapped me. This doesn’t bother me. Mark my words – it will take them at least another 15 to lap me again. Men are like this in the pool. They bolt out and then they swim slow like molasses pouring from a jar for the last 500 yards. Mark my words.
In my head I’m singing, while also counting. It’s not the distance that adds up – it’s the monotony, it’s following the black line. Music plays in my head. To my right, I watch Simon swimming along. He is over 6 feet tall – I shout unfair advantage as he pushes off the wall and ends up 12 yards later coming up for air. I don’t think he heard.
Around lap 22, Fritz starts approaching. He inches closer and closer to me but never close enough to pass. I pause at each push off looking for him and hoping not to collide head on.
Lap 25, Fritz finally makes his move to pass. But he comes off the wall on the wrong side and ends up shooting straight into me. In an effort to avoid him and cataclysmic aquatic injury, I leap frog Fritz, touch the wall, and push off – he turns around, takes the time to apologize, and then we continue on our way.
That counts for at least 5 seconds off my final clock time due to Fritz interference.
At this point, his pace has slowed while mine picks up. All of a sudden being lapped twice has become the best thing because now I am sitting comfortably in his draft.
A few laps later, he finishes and I still have two to go. I kicked my legs into gear and finished it up. As I touched the wall, the coach shouted out my time. I told her to take off 10 seconds.
“10 seconds?” she asked. Yes, 5 for starting 5 behind Fritz and another 5 for the acrobatical leap frog I had to do over him around lap 25. Hey, I just swam a mile, cut me some slack. She takes off the 10 seconds and gives me my time.
At the wall, I overhear Chris and Fritz debating whether or not they had stopped short by one lap. The coach insisted no, Fritz insisted yes, and Chris admitted he lost count after the 1000 mark. They stood like this for the remainder of the cool-down, entirely missing 400 yards, and never reaching any conclusion.
I wasn’t much help. When Fritz and Chris stopped, in my head I still had 3 to go. But they only lapped me twice. So that didn’t make sense. But maybe I lost count between 19 and 20. I don’t know. 33 laps leaves a lot of room for error.
Afterwards, in the hot tub, we still had our doubts. Numbers were discussed, paces were calculated. “I looked at the clock at the 200,” Fritz admitted. We looked at him for an indication of pace, confirmation that we swam the clocked mile time, affirmation that we were either faster or slower, and he replied, “and I thought to myself that I was going way too fast.”
Ok, that didn’t help.
Chris looked at the clock 1000 mark, Fritz never looked after 200, and I didn’t peek at all hoping it would be a big surprise at the end. Remind the three of us never to swim together again. Next time, we need someone that can count and watch the clock.
Talk of this continued in the car ride home – Chris perseverated about possibly missing a lap, possibly being faster than last time but also possibly missing a lap last time so who can be sure of anything.
There had to be an easier way.
“Were you faster than last time?” I asked. Yes, he said – about 15 seconds faster. “Then go with it,” I replied. Really, how much can you overthink your own success. If it’s faster, and it’s in the pool, you take it and swim away with it. No questions asked.
“But what if I missed a lap, and I was 25 seconds slower,” he asked.
Well, then perhaps it was just like Fritz said – perhaps you, perhaps all of us were just slow. Sometimes slow is just slow. We have a tendency to overthink our efforts and beat ourselves up for 15 or 25 seconds. Some nights you’re on, some nights you’re off. It’s best to just take it for what it is, and move on. It’s not an excuse – it’s just the way it is sometimes.
It’s funny how we swim a mile straight, in the pool, touching the wall 66 times which in itself is an incredible effort, and then we stand there afterwards not satisfied with ourselves. We find all sorts of reasons or excuses why we were slower than expected or why we couldn’t have been that fast. We doubt ourselves and our success, we even start to find reasons why maybe it wasn’t so – maybe we skipped a lap, maybe we didn’t do it right.
I don’t know what mile time we were all looking for that night. But I do know that we all put forth a very hard effort. After awhile, the time doesn’t matter. It’s always subject to error, there’s always some excuse why it might not be right. So maybe that night we were just fast, or slow – either way we worked hard. No excuses. It’s just as simple as that, no overthinking necessary.