Sunday, August 14, 2011

Swimmin' A Mile

This was my biggest physical challenge yet. I have already written about how hard it was training for this.

Last Monday I met Iron Tony at the lake for a final mile before race day. It was good, working hard on technique and not letting a single negative thought in my head. I found that focusing on the many techniques to swim well and this worship song kept me busy enough there was no space for "I can't do this" thinking.

We finished up just short of a mile with a time of 52:00. It was just too dark to swim further. I felt victorious and excited. I KNEW I could have kept swimming if it wasn't too dark, I still had "gas left in my tank!"

The next day I had a particularly discouraging conversation with someone who should have been encouraging. It had to do with my swim and his assessment that I was unprepared to meet the 50 minute cut off time because I didn't train enough. It was devastating. Especially after the hours I DID spend training within what my life allowed.

I reached out for the ones who know me. My Love, my Coach/Friends, and Iron Tony all assured me he was wrong and I would give it my strongest best effort and that was all that mattered. I contacted the race director expressing my concern over the time limit. He remembered me from my previous triathlon and he was sure I would be fine (at the pre-race meeting they announced we would have 70 minutes from our start time to finish the swim - I could DEFINITELY make it in that time).

I took one final swim in the pool on Friday, after staying out for two days because of that unpleasant encounter. The Coach for my "Water For Lunch" class helped me do one final, light workout, gave me some really great input and helped me make a strategy for race day. I walked away from the pool full of confidence, sure I would be able to have my best swim ever.

I cleaned house for the rest of the day Friday, went to our pre-race meeting with my Love who was cycling and our friend who would complete the run, had a yummy dinner of grilled fish, rice, and broccoli then folded laundry til about 9:30 that night. I flipped through my Amplified version of the Bible (because it was beside my bed and felt led to Philippians 4:13, the verse you see around a lot "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." BUT, in the Amplified version, it reads like this: "I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ's sufficiency]." I felt this old favorite verse penetrate deep within my soul. I spent a moment thanking God for speaking to me and went to sleep.

I woke up to a beautiful Saturday morning, confident and excited. Leaving Nana at home with our fellas we headed out to pick up our friend. We parked and started walking toward the park. I felt the pre-race electricity in the air. Athletes all converging anticipating optimal performance from all their training.

I squeezed myself into my black and red wetsuit, chuckling as usual. I walked down and got in the lake with many of the athletes. This time I felt like I belonged there. Stepping in, walking deeper, wetsuit filling with the slightly warmer than expected lake water, I began to warm up, one stroke at a time, face in the water, taking breaths trying to keep one goggle in the water and only letting my mouth out for air. Swallowed water, spit it out, tried again. It worked this time, I was able to breathe without looking up to the sky, dropping my feet and slowing my momentum. It felt like home. The smell, the taste, the sounds, the rhythm of my strokes, all familiar.

I swam to the starting area, two other groups began before mine. Watching them swim ahead I tried not to look at how far away the buoys seemed, but focused on the fact I had done this distance 4 times in the lake and at least 6 times in the pool. I was ready. Without a doubt. And what a beautiful sky!

The horn sounded and I let almost all the swimmers go in before me. I hit the start button on my watch timer and got in. I wanted so badly to catch up with the pack, adrenalin kicking in fast and strong. BUT, my strategy held me back. I knew that in order to swim the entire mile at a strong steady pace without having to stop to catch my breath I would have to swim strong and technique focused not "fast".

I worked on keeping my head down, reaching for each stroke with my whole torso, pushing the water the length of my body and keeping my legs straight when I kicked. Each breath, keeping my head low, glancing up only every 20 strokes or so to spot the buoy ahead. I saw dozens of white swim caps like mine far ahead. I decided to focus on only my race, not how far behind I was. Again.

I hummed the same song from Monday in my heart, focusing on my body's ability to move through the water, God's beauty in me and around me knowing I could keep this pace the whole way. I passed a few swimmers joking with the people in kayaks watching out for us. I just kept swimming, no need to waste precious time chatting. I did have to stop unexpectedly when 18"-24" swells made it impossible to swim. A big boat had gone by. I rode the swells like I used to out in the ocean as a body surfing teenager, completely calm and only slightly annoyed they were slowing me down. As soon as they passed I got back to work.

It wasn't until I passed the final buoy that I started to notice myself getting tired. I kept swimming, kicking harder (just like I planned) so I wouldn't leave a bit of gas in my tank. I knew my Love was waiting for me to finish so he could take off on his bike. I didn't want to slow him down one bit.

All of a sudden I hear a voice, see an orange kayak and I have to stop and see what is going on. The man in the kayak says, "turn a bit, I don't want you swimming any farther than you're supposed to!" I made an adjustment in my direction and kept swimming. A few minutes later he was super close again. I stopped and looked up. "I am just keeping you on track! Wow! You're tenacious! Swimming hard for the final stretch! Great job!" He stayed by my side until I was close enough to see the place to exit the beach.

The whole time I was swimming with him by my side I kept thinking of the verse that says, "You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me." (Psalm 139:5 NKJV) or like I looked up later in the Message version, "I look behind me and you're there, then up ahead and you're there, too—  your reassuring presence, coming and going." That is how I felt. He was there. Watching me, hand on me, reminding me of His beauty in me, the strength He gave me, the power He gave me.

So I used it. All of it. The beauty, the strength, the power, all for His glory for the best swim of my life so far. I pressed the stop button on my watch and it said 48:41, an extraordinary time for me.

I was greeted at the finish of the swim by Iron Alicia, emotional but still taking my picture as I came out of the water. She cheered hugging me and telling me what a great job I did. I got choked up a bit but had to get up the stairs on tired wobbly legs to hand off the timing chip to my Love who was ready for his bike ride. I stopped to smile for my friend's Love who was taking my picture, their kids telling me "congratulations!"

My Love greeted me, beaming with "THAT WAS AWESOME!" grabbed my chip and took off on his bike. My friend and I talked about what an amazing time I had an how excited I was, how incredible I felt and how great it was to be done!

She and I visited, walking around a bit while we waited for my Love to come back from the grueling bike ride. He did. Finishing in his best time ever too. Our friend took off on her run, strong and fast. As far as I am concerned, she had the hardest part. By the time she started it was hot, most of the pack was ahead of her and part of the road was gravel. She still finished in a great time and we were all thankful for an excellent safe race.

What an amazing day. But yet, there is more to come. To quote Iron Tony, "Jen so proud of what you have overcome and achieved these last two weeks. The way in which you engage each new obstacle should forever be changed. Now, go out there and DO!" 

He's right. Each new obstacle will be engaged differently from now on. I KNOW from tangible personal experience in a major life event, "I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ's sufficiency]." 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Water and Its Effect on Me

I have so many words "floating" around in my head today, anticipating the race on Saturday. I decided to take a "less is more" approach.

I have always loved the water. Years of visits to the beach, splashing on the shore and body surfing where I grew up in California, hours spent by the lakes, in them or on them (when friends share their boats with us), long soaks in the tub and drinking lots of it culminate into this:


The sight of you blesses me
The refreshment of your presence
The sound of your motion
The power of your mass.

Walking beside you,
Listening to you speak,
Waves crashing,
Brooks bubbling,
Swells lapping the shore.

You pour over me when I am in you
You move me
Your depth is hard for me to consider
I don’t know what lies beneath
But I am drawn to you

Unnerved by your effect on me
I push past my fears
My questions

I press in
Move through
My strength is no match for yours

The One who created you
Made me
Gave me something you will never have

A mind
Set on purpose and destiny
Fixed on a goal
Faith to the finish

You will be what you were created to be

I will be what I was created to be

At the end of this race
You remain the same
But I am forever changed.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Pushing Past Hard

Many people keep calling me amazing and inspirational. I am not always sure what to do with that.

Sometimes knowing my efforts encourage people nudges me past discomfort to keep going. But this latest swimming challenge is the hardest thing I have ever done.

I have referred to swimming the mile as eating an elephant one bite at a time. Except a lot of the time, I am just not hungry! Or am I?

I want this. Don't get me wrong. I want to complete the mile swim for the Triathlon next week. I really do. I know I can do it. It's the time limit that is messing with my head.

Until now I have not really had a time limit for anything. The sprint triathlons I have finished have provided plenty of time for me to finish. They are designed for people like me to be able to complete them.

But, Olympic distance triathlons are not, I guess.

I knew it would be hard work and I knew it would be a big challenge for me. But, swimming one mile in 50 minutes is really messing with my head.

Part of it is that my Love has been training SO hard for it and my friend has too. I don't want to let them down. If I don't finish within the time allotted we are disqualified as a team. I know they both love me and won't hate me or anything, I just want them to be able to do their portion too. I want us all to complete this event together and enjoy the victory as a team.

Last night, in the water, I was battling my head again. Thoughts crowding in:
You can't do this!
What were you thinking?
WHY are you doing this, you won't make the time anyway?
You'll never be able to do it right.
I'm too tired!
This is too hard!
I don't want to!

THAT slows me down.

I battle my head occasionally when I am training but never like this. I know if I can win the battle in my head, I'd probably cut MINUTES off of my time. When I start to get anxious, I swim harder (not more efficiently) boosting my heart rate to the point where I have to stop and side-stroke to catch my breath. That slows me down. Thinking negatively will ALWAYS reduce efficiency - no matter what I am doing.

So, I am on a quest. I am praying, thinking and considering what I need to do to make this battle in my head stop. To conquer the negativity and focus on the completion of this GREAT but hard challenge.

I will push past hard, because I know I can. I just haven't figured out how to do it yet.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Fist Drills, boogers in the water, and why I swim anyway...

I have so much writing I haven't done that I am starting to feel mentally constipated.

Yes, appealing concept I know. I just wanted you to understand why this sudden surge in my blogging... must write NOW!

Today during swim class (water for lunch at the Kroc - yes, often I swallow enough to get my "fill") I had to do several drills to improve strength in the water. My favorite - 5 / 100m Fist Drills. Yes, it is what it sounds like - make a fist and swim freestyle feeling the water pull against your lower arm.

It was hard at first but then I started to get into it. Punching the water, pulling it hard across my abdomen then coming up for air, repeat. It was so empowering feeling muscles forcing me forward making me focus on my arms and what position they are in for the full range of motion. I was tired by the end but knew I made the most of this exercise which always feels good!

One of my least favorite thing about swimming is what you see in the water. Last night in the lake there were two schools of tiny fish I swam through. It totally creeped me out. All I could think of was one of those suckers getting stuck in my wetsuit and wiggling around in there....ewww! Creeps me out even now. The other thing... swimming in the pool. Boogers. Ick. I know there is enough chemicals to suck the germs out of everything in the water, but seeing the stuff floating by as I swim, uuuuggghhhh. I try not to think about it but seriously, as one who has had snot issues (the grossest of bodily functions as far as I'm concerned - I know, I am weird that way), seeing it in the pool makes me almost gag.

So why in the world do I swim?

Because I love feeling the water flow past me, floating in it, pushing myself through it, wishing I had gills so I could just keep swimming instead of pulling my head up to breathe or sight for markers. There is something powerful and peaceful about the water. When it splashes into my face when I take a breath, it catches me, forcing me to stop, cough it up. But when I get my rhythm, stroke, stroke, breathe, stroke, stroke, breathe, I feel a part of it. Peaceful, my presence merged with the water (until I see a fish or a booger), together in motion, fluid in our connection.

I respect the water. I know how it can affect me, both good and bad. I know I can conquer it with determination, strength and focus. I know it could conquer me if I am slack in my attentiveness to its properties. It challenges me. I love that.

There ya have it, today's off-load of what has been "floating" through my head. :)