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]." 

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