swimmer swims laps in pool

Tri Training Starts with a Splash

I’m doing my first triathlon in September with a friend from work. Having both run races of various lengths before, we agreed a tri would be a fun new challenge. I’ve already got a week of runs and bike rides under my belt, but today I try something new: swimming. To prepare, I had to get a pool membership, a lap-swimming suit, goggles, and a swim cap… none of which I’ve owned since childhood. (Finding the right one-piece swimsuit could be its own blog post, but I’ll spare you the arduous details. Gals, you understand!)

So I’m outfitted and ready. It’s 8 a.m. I’m standing at the edge of the lap pool slightly nervous and looking for an empty lane. You’d think on Monday morning of a holiday weekend, the pool would be empty, but every lane is taken. These swimmers are hard core.

A lady holding a kickboard waves me over. “Do you need a lane? We can share.” As everyone else is heads down (literally), I appreciate that she notices me waiting. From my research on lap swimming etiquette, if there are no empty lanes, you can share with someone with a similar pace to you. Pro tip: to keep things orderly, you should either pick sides or agree to “circle swim” (meaning you both always swim on the right).

Before we can have this important technical chat, a man gets out of the pool, so I say thanks anyways, and lower myself into a lane.

Lately my friend and I have been making a lot of nervous jokes about potentially needing remedial swim lessons in order to swim 750 yards (about 0.4 miles) straight without a break. Actually, as a five-year-old it took me multiple tries to pass level two of the Red Cross swim program. Level two is called “Fundamentals of Aquatic Skills” and is described as “Children will learn basic swimming skills.” After so much saturation in level two, you’d think I’d have mastered the basics by now, but today I realize two things: 1) I’m really out of practice, and 2) Repeating level two wasn’t enough.

The first lap is exhilarating. The water temperature is perfect; not too warm, not too cold. I am a fish, and I could do this forever.

It only takes two laps of front crawl for my lungs to burn, my swim cap to slide half off, and my left goggle to fill with water. I stop in the shallow end to re-group, feeling a little disheartened. In the actual race, there is no stopping. I’m not even sure how I should be spending this 30-minute swim – am I allowed to alternate strokes? I switch to breaststroke for a couple laps. Then backstroke… agh, I’ve never been good at this one. As I stare upwards, using a line on the ceiling as a guide to keep me straight, I notice a veritable fount of water droplets going everywhere, a bit out in front of me. Oops, that’s me kicking. I take it down a notch and check the clock.

It’s been 10 minutes.

I find the front crawl requires a lot of mental focus, but the breaststroke is a break; a chance to look around and see what’s going on in the room. In the pool next to us, a group of older ladies are doing a water aerobics class. They’re doing little jumps and moving side to side. It looks so relaxing.

On my back again, my ears are submerged, and the noise of the room is reduced to a muddled din. I hear the water and the swishing of my own body. I’m the only one that exists in the world. I’m twelve again, drowning out the chaos of shrieking kids and lifeguard whistles in the underwater calm of a summer afternoon. Wondering if I have enough quarters to buy a Choco Taco.

When my thirty minutes are up, I am an odd combination of refreshed and exhausted, proud, and feeling new respect for swimmers everywhere. (Also, I’m hungry. If Michael Phelps could eat 4,000-calorie meals training for Beijing, have I at least earned a doughnut?)

To celebrate, I do a lap just floating on my back.

And then a lap of underwater dolphin. (Can’t resist.)

This isn’t the Olympics or swim team, but it’s also not leisure swimming. This is swimming to compete. It’s exactly the kind of mental and physical challenge I needed this summer.

I can’t wait to get back in the pool.

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