Tonight we went to an open water swim practice with our masters team. We swim at a local quarry. Quarry is code for giant hole in the ground that is filled with clean water at the start of the summer and the rest of the summer grows rancid and green with the sun and thousands of squirrely children in plastic pants. Good for us that this year they also installed a slide. But the quarry is about the closest thing us suburbanites will get to open water with its 14 foot deep end, 50 meter lap lanes and plenty of piers that beg for a dive.
Of course the suburbs are filled with lakes. Ponds actually. Man made places to catch the run off from the miles upon miles we have paved over. These ponds are like toxic hazards to most living things. That’s because they are mostly frequented by ducks and geese and are so shallow that the sun warms them up to boiling causing the growth of bacteria and other yucky stuff. Scientific term. Of course the geese survive it because they are from Canada and we all know Canadians are just a different…breed. So that is why we, as humans, cannot swim in the ponds. They are just not safe.
So we go to the quarry. It’s probably not safe either. Like I said, many small children are in there as well as grown adults in wetsuits. That quarry probably sees more pee than a public bathroom each day. And I definitely have done my part to make sure of that.
Tonight we headed over there for the weekly swim. I may not be the biggest pool fan out there but I love to open water swim. I wasn’t always this way. I didn’t decide to do a triathlon 9 years ago and have nothing but smooth strokes from there. Mind you I have been pulled from the water in a swim race two times. On top of that I have had numerous freak outs. But I’ve realized over the years it’s a mindset. It’s about using what you’ve learned in the pool, taking out the walls and giving yourself permission to relax with a long, smooth stroke – just like in the pool.
But even in the quarry I have to remind myself to just relax and breathe. For whatever reason I can start to feel the onset of a panicky choking freak out almost every time I’m there. Usually it’s when the pace picks up or I have to work hard to keep up with someone else. It’s like sitting on that edge of do you want to get better or do you want to just stay where you are. It’s a choice you have to make. You realize the only thing to fear in the water is yourself. There is nothing else there that will hurt you than your own lack of confidence in doing something you know how to do. So do it all ready. That’s all that it takes.
So tonight I told myself I would do what it takes to swim with the big boys. The big boys are those that lap me twice in a 500 in the pool. I was talking to someone about masters the other day and they were discouraged because they got such a big ass whooping. I said to them that’s what it’s all about. It’s masters, unless you have been swimming since you were 6 you will probably get lapped 1 to 100 times each practice. And that’s not even during the mainset. Tonight I wanted to swim with them. I wanted my ass whooped.
Of course I had a wetsuit and they just had their swimsuits. But that’s ok. I feel that in exchange for their 20 more years of experience I can take a little neoprene advantage. It’s only fair. We do some open water swimming in the deep end to warm up then we head to the lanes. Then the coach throws this our way:
“6 x 50, taking the first 10 strokes as fly then doing the rest as free.”
There was some dissent among the swimmers. I mean, is this not open water? Are you even allowed to do fly? The coach doesn’t buy it and is also the same coach that once made us swim a timed mile followed by 200 fly. To get out of 10 strokes of fly – not going to fly. But at least we could ask her why:
“Because you never know in an open water race when you might need to pull out some fly.”
I thought about Mary, Pedergraham, Jennifer and thought – YES – that is exactly why you need to be standing there in a wetsuit leaping into 10 strokes of fly. And you know what – damn if you don’t see me doing fly for my next open water race. The wetsuit is like a giant fin that seems to propel you into the air with each dolphin kick. So I have decided about the wetsuit/fly combo – it’s good. Very good.
The rest of the practice we did some seeded starts where the faster swimmers dove first and then everyone followed. I thought about waiting in line according to where I should be but then said f*ck it. I’m diving in as the third person and doing what it takes to hang on feet. I believe this move surprised my husband as I felt him dive in right after me. Like oh no you don't wife. You do not try to swim ahead of me. So he swam next to me swatting my legs and feet. Then he pulled ahead of me. Then I drafted him. Then I decided I would try to outsprint him to the ladder. I never did make it there first but it sure was fun to try.
We finished the practice with obstacle course, following the strongest swimmer around the quarry, diving off of piers, zig zagging and going off the diving boards. If you would like a good laugh watch a bunch of wetsuit clad adults going of a diving board. Like children some flip, some squiggle, some hold their nose, and some are too scared to dive at all.
After my dives (your traditional stand and jump off), I realized how much fun I was having. And why I loved the sport. To be swimming with friends, enjoying a beautiful summer night and connecting to what was so much fun as a child – play. We don’t take enough time to play as adults. And we don’t put enough play into the sport. At times we are so pent up about our times, our splits, our heart rate, the expectations we set for ourselves that we forget to enjoy it all. We forget that the purpose is just to burn some energy and have some fun. Just like children at play.
I started thinking about the difficulties some adults have in open water. How it really is something that needs to be unlearned. Because we weren’t always that way. In my experience, most children love water. So much that they need to be watched around water because most don’t have any fears of it. It makes me realize that we as adults in the open water have become filled with our own fears. Fears that come from a maturing rational mind; one that has read or heard about accidents in water, one that has too much information or experience to answer the question of what if. It is those what ifs that begin filling our head in open water, the panic button is pressed and we begin talking ourselves into something worse than it really is.
But children aren’t like that – they are 100 percent absorbed in the moment. They only know the here and the now. Here and now they are with their friends, swimming and having a good time. There is no thinking ahead about the next thing or what could happen – that’s something we have learned to do as adults. Instead, they are completely absorbed in the immediate fact that the water feels cool and good. The water is fun. That is a child at play.
That's a good way to approach open water swimming too. Stop thinking about what could happen and just focus on what is - your body in the water waiting to swim. Just let it go. Let go all of the what ifs and irrational fears. Turn the watch off, turn your mind off and let it all go. There is an inner child that wants to just get in the water and have some fun. Swim in the moment, chase you friends, do a cannonball of the pier, and enjoy some child like water play. And while you’re playing, don’t be afraid to rip out 10 strokes of fly.