There's always more to learn

outdoor pose 1.jpg

Learning to Swim at Age 40 part 1

Most of the time when I talk to people about triathlon they say something like, "I think I could do the run and the bike, but I hate to swim". I said the same thing until my family secretly signed me up for Ironman as a Christmas gift.


To say I was intimidated is an understatement. I had taken lessons as a kid a few times and we even had an in-ground pool growing up. I could definitely keep myself alive in the water but I never really put myself there by choice for any reason other than to cool off on a hot summer day. I was never even really jealous of people who could swim. It seemed so far out of my league. Swimmers were a different breed. It was something other people did.


But then the deadline of September 9th, 2018 was placed on me and everything had to change. I had to don a swimsuit (my tankini with a bright blue print that I bought to take the kids to the waterpark), walk into the humid pool room at the YMCA with the thick scent of chlorine which in some environments smells clean but in this environment smelled like fear, get into the cold lap pool, and figure out if I was going to sink or swim.


My friend Andrea is a patient, patient person.


I think Andrea entered the world by swimming out of her amniotic fluid and has been swimming ever since. She graciously agreed to accompany me to the Y a few times to help me figure out what the heck I was doing. I can't tell you what a comfort it was to have someone with me the first few times as I entered this foreign land and tried to blend in.


I immediately noticed that I needed a different swimsuit. Lap swimmers do not wear tankinis. They do wear swimcaps. And the little goggles, not the ones that cover your nose like they did when I was a kid. Everyone walks around confidently with their swim gear, which I didn't even know was a thing. I had so much to learn.


But the most important thing I had to learn was how to fit this new sport into my life.


As I've mentioned, I was a runner. Getting ready for my workout consisted of coffee, bathroom, clothes, music, go. I never even liked driving someplace to run. Out the door and around the neighborhood or straight out of town to the country hills suited me just fine. Swimming requires so much prep. The planning, the driving, the changing, the showering...which leave so many more opportunities for the "oh screw its" to win.


I had to figure out a way to overcome those barriers. I'm not going to lie, it's been tough.


There were a lot of things I struggled with when it came to swimming. I get cold easily and the lap pool's 80 degrees still chilled me to the bone. Every single time I get in, dunk under, and push off, I'm cursing the "stupid cold pool". It gets mildly better after 10 minutes but then the chill returns at about 45 and it's either suffer or get out. I would usually get out. Water up my nose was another issue. It's a problem in the shower too. And don't even get me started on dealing with the goggle line. Thinking about all these issues makes it hard to get in the water three times per week as I'd like.


I had to figure out how how to eliminate as many of the excuses as possible. First, I gave up feeling self-conscious about swimming laps in the "family pool" which is 84 degrees and has a basketball hoop. But in the early mornings it was just used for water walking and at 6am the regulars would usually make some space for me along the far side. (I'm not a real splashy swimmer so they don't mind me too much.) I did some research and found silicone earplugs and a relatively comfortable nose clip to keep the water from getting in where I don't want it. My goggles are the larger mask-style; they don't give me racoon eyes, making me look like I haven't slept in a week. They do give me a crease on my forehead and a red mark on the top of my nose but if I wear my glasses after I swim, it's pretty well disguised.


Next, I had to hack my schedule so that swimming didn't get pushed to the back burner in favor of just about everything else in my life. This happened a lot at the beginning, after the novelty wore off. I would plan to go at lunch, or before I picked the kids up from school, or after dinner, or on Saturday, but it was too easy to let something squeeze it out of my plans. Figuring out that 6am was my opportunity for a warm lap lane was a turning point. Telling myself at 5:30am that it was "now or never" really helped me get out the door and over to the Y before I could talk myself out of it.


Swimming has turned up the volume on my self-talk. Forcing myself to do something that was so far outside my comfort zone made me aware of the deliberate choice I had to make to override my brain's resistance to this change. I'm not even referring to the self-talk that accompanies the learning-to-swim process: "lean on your lungs, bend the elbow, pull all the way through, exhale completely, you're okay, you're okay, you're okay..."


I'm referring to the battle between my emotional brain's desire to avoid discomfort and my logical brain's argument that if I didn't do the training, Ironman wasn't going to happen. So many days I would have to consciously override the emotional resistance to swimming by telling myself, "just go" as I pick up my swim bag, "just go" as I get in the car, "just go" as I scan my Y card, "just go" as I put my things in a locker, "just go" as I shower, "just go" as I push open the swinging door into the pool area, "just go" as I put on my plugs and my goggles, "just go" as I dunk under and push off the wall. It's a lot of self-encouragement.


At the end of the day, that really is the key to all of this though, isn't it? How I choose to talk to myself, the thoughts and feelings I choose to listen to and to believe, make all the difference in what I accomplish and how I feel about myself and other people as I go through my days. There are so many reason I'm glad I've become a swimmer but learning that I have it in me to push my own limits is probably the most important one of all.