Know what time of year it is? Monster swim time. Monster as in 100 x 100 on the 100. For those of you not familiar with swimspeak, that’s 100 yards, 100 times, pushing off every 100 seconds. For those of you that are familiar with swimspeak, that’s a really long way to swim.
Every year, our masters swim team does a monster swim. You swim the distance you choose up to 100 times on the 100 interval. Two years ago, I did 75 x 75. 5600+ yards almost killed my arms. Last year I stepped It up to 70 x 100. Which also stepped up the level of pain. This year I thought I would challenge myself. At first I said I would do 80 x 100. But as the event got closer I thought to myself – why not do all 10,000 yards?
(there are a 10,000 good reasons why no one should swim 10,000 yards....)
The night before, I could barely sleep. I was giddy about this swim. I couldn’t wait to swim 100 x 100. For the first time in my life. Uncharted territory. Unknown yards. I had no idea what would happen there because I’ve never been.
And that’s really why I did it. Not because I really needed to swim that far. But because I wanted to find out what would happen if I did. What would be the conversations in my head? At what point would I start bargaining with myself? Would I unravel along the way? And if I did unravel – at that point what would I say?
Let’s go. I can’t wait. I can’t to learn more about myself and see what I’m made of. Because sometimes I don’t know. Sometimes we do the same thing in training with the same people in the same places and get...the same thing. But every once in awhile we have these opportunities to do something completely different – even a little crazy – and here it is so I think to myself – I can’t wait to see what happens to and within myself.
Sunday morning I arrive at the pool. Goggles – check. Cap – check. Fins, pull buoy, paddles – check 3 times. Gels, bars, water – check and check again. Uncontained enthusiasm – check. Perhaps a slight bit of fear – present. The anticipation of literally diving into the unknown – here. Totally here.
I find myself assigned to a lane with two familiar lanemates – A and GK. A is fast. So fast I am never sure how he and I end up in the same lane. A can also swim 25 yards of butterfly with no breath. He does it routinely, throws it in just for fun.
GK is hilarious. He trained for IM Wisconsin last year by doing a 1 hour continuous swim and then going to masters. He is discretely hard core. He’s never afraid to lead the lane and never ashamed when he explodes a few hundred yards later. The other day I caught him walking in the middle of a set of 100’s. When I asked what happened he just simply said “ran out of breath.” I want to be more like this guy.
J was also in our lane. She is a sprinter. She suggests I go third but I say to her please I beg of you let me just bring up the rear today. She says no way. “I’ve heard you can hold a steady pace so I want to be behind you.”
Yes, the slow but steady pace - that would be me.
The clock counts down and it’s time to send off. The first 10 x 100 buzz by. We are just warming up. In fact, the next 10 also go by fast. Still warming up. Before I know it, 3000 yards have passed by relatively fast.
3500 yards and I give myself permission to breathe to the right side only. This feels smooth and fast. I am in a swimming groove. At 42 I think to myself – we are approaching Ironman! At 43, GK tells me that we have just swum Ironman distance in 1:10. "A" wishes you could swim Ironman on the 100 interval including rest during the event. I believe J – the sprinter – was just shaking her head. Today this was her Ironman.
At the 4400 yard mark I try to eat half of a Power Bar. It takes me the rest interval after 2 – 100’s to get the wrapper open, the next 3 – 100’s to eat an good bite and the next 100 to think to myself pushing off the wall with Power Bar in my mouth probably wasn’t my best idea. It’s one thing to do that on the bike. But another to do it in the pool.
I may have lost a few pieces in there.
At 5000 yards we are given a 4 minute break to eat – pee – breathe. I drink coffee instead. And stand looking at the walls. You see, this swim takes place at the high school I attended 15 years ago. I look at once familiar walls decorated with each swimmer’s goal sheets. A very smart coach had them write out 3 personal goals and 3 team goals. Then they had to write 2 reasons why they wanted to accomplish these goals. I had to chuckle when some of the goals were “swim 200 free in 1:45” or “break 48 for the 50 at state.” Though I couldn’t relate much to the time goals, I could relate to the reasons why – to prove that I can, to show my team I know how to work hard, to complete something, to motivate others to try to do the same.
Time to get back in the pool. After reaching the 5000 yard mark, I grant myself permission for pool toys. I choose pull buoy and paddles. And I offer to lead. As the clock counts down I literally say out loud that I cannot believe I am leading the lane. At 5000 yards. I AM LEADING THE LANE!
Over the next 1500 yards I realize that pull buoy and paddles are my new best friends. They easily chop off 6 seconds from my 100 time. Even after all of the yardage they make me feel powerful and smooth. I tell myself that I could swim 20 x 100 like this. But then I realize how silly it would be to pull 2000 yards with paddles. And how sore I would be tomorrow. This is the trick of the monster swim. 20 x 100 feels like nothing when you are doing 100 x 100. But 2000 yards is still 2000 yards so I take the paddles and buoy off.
A takes the lead again. I am swimming free and we are approaching the 7000 yard mark. Once there, I have officially reached a new “first” in my life. This is the first time I have ever swum past 7000 yards. Ever. What happens from here on out is unknown. There is much excitement in these next 3000 yards.
At 7200 yards GK starts making jokes which make me laugh and lose my breath for half of the lane. At 7300 yards I wonder how many people have peed in the pool. At 7400 yards I think to myself that I never did take the break to pee. At 7500 yards I take another gel. At 7600 yards I decide the pool tastes like wet dog. At 7700 yards I here someone in the lane next to me shout that they are going all way. At 7800 yards someone else borrows my paddles. At 7900 yards I see stuff floating in the pool that might be part of my last Power Bar.
At 8000 yards, it’s safe to say my arms started to come off. So I put on fins and offer to take the lead. When in pain it is best to suffer full speed. I last for 500 yards before I realize my full speed has fully left the pool. About 3000 yards ago.
At 8500 yards A takes the lead again. I go behind J and float on my back. In the middle of 100 backstroke, I start to bargain with myself. Here we are approaching 8600 yards. What if we just go to 90. Let’s just be satisfied with 9000 yards today. What if we just stop then. That will be far enough. We don’t have to go all the way.
Good thing I am on my back because I laugh. So here we are. We have reached the point in the workout where fear is ready to conquer the will. Not because fear is stronger but because fear suspects the will may have weakened defenses because of physical fatigue. It is what you do at these points in the workout that determine who will win today – will it be fear or will it be your will, your drive. At this point, you decide.
I will finish this today - I will.
But not without much pain – both in my arms and head. I put on fins, take off fins, put on paddles, take off paddles. I consider scooting myself on a kickboard. And then there is my back – I believe GK is swimming on top of me for a free ride but at this point I can’t turn my neck far enough to tell. The coach is shouting something about the last 11 being finished purely on will and not body. And he is right. I will will myself all the way. So, arms, back and neck – quiet down. We are not yet done today.
Number 93 is kind of like mile 93 in a century. The point at which you are so close but still so far from being done. At that point I realize it is best now not to count. Just turn the numbers off. Coast on automatic mode. Arms turning, elbows bending, legs kicking. Swim.
95, 96, 97, 98, 99. I can’t believe there is one more left! Finally, 100! I have gone all the way!
I want to put my arms up in victory but alas that will not be possible for at least a few days. The team takes a picture and then I exit the pool. A quick drive home before some coffee. And time to think about what I did today. Swimming 10,000 yards – farther than ever before. Realizing that I can do more than I think I can. Knowing that when the pain settles in and the end is getting close I can override fear and use my will to get past myself. And that is why I did it in the first place - to learn who I am, to find out more about myself.
Looking ahead to next year I wonder what I will do to challenge myself. And what I will learn along the way. I could do the whole thing without pool toys. Or even do some of them IM. In fact there are probably 100 more varations of what I can do to challenge myself. Throw in a few 100 fly with no breath.
Once you breakthrough a major milestone, the possibilities open themselves up in front of you. And you find yourself in a very exciting place. Of what lies ahead. And what you will learn. And what you will do the next time fear meets will in your head.