The Water is Your Friend. Most Days.

The weather in Chicago’s been uncharacteristically warm these past few months, and as a result, Lake Michigan is rolling out a summer welcome – well, in time for summer.  With the solstice quickly approaching, our long days have been filled with 80 degree glories, calm water, and gorgeous sunsets worthy of a Florida night. 

I’ve been watching the temps rise, and trying to plan a day to get back in the lake.  Though it’s merely a mile from my house, I wanted to take advantage of the Ohio Street Beach, from which a nice 1/2 mile stretch of water runs next to Lake Shore Drive and offers a straight shot of swimming in a protected cove (with a 5′ depth the entire way).  It’s also watched over by lifeguards, which means it’s safe, too. 

I haven’t been in the pool yet this spring/summer. For one reason or another, I just haven’t been working in the swim workout, and as this week approached, I was wondering if starting off in the lake was the right way to go.

See, this week officially began my training for the Chicago Triathlon.  Oh, did I not mention that?  Yeah. I got a little ambitious a few weeks back and decided that the only way to stay active this summer was to put the Olympic back on my schedule.  So Monday began the schedule (borrowing heavily from last year’s) to get me ready for the distance.  That included an 800M time trial on Thursday.

I enjoy swimming after work, and Thursday was no exception (except that I needed to jet to Book Club after. Slight overschedule).   As I arrived at the beach, I pulled on the wetsuit with a minimum of fuss (and noted that when you have a suit that fits you, there’s far less walrus-wrestling).  It was the first time I had swam in this new suit, an Xterra that I bought last year at the end of the season.  This one has sleeves (I had also bought a sleeveless, but thought the sleeves might be a good option for 68 degree water).  Turns out, the sleeves were probably overkill – AND they required quite an adjustment for me.

I set my watch and wandered into the lake, surprised at how nice the temp was.  Two guys coming out were smiling like kids who just got out of school early.  “It’s great, right?” the one guy said to me.  I nodded. “I can’t believe it’s this warm – in JUNE!”  We were so excited because, as veterans of Lake Michigan swimming, we knew it was usually mid-July before it was this warm.

Turns out, the water being warm didn’t give me superhuman strength, though.  As I got started swimming, my arms felt like lead, and I couldn’t seem to keep my hair from getting caught in the velcro in the back of my suit (even though I had a swim cap on).  My goggles were leaving bruises on my eye sockets, and I simply couldn’t find my mojo.

After 4 minutes, I stopped and stood up.  I didn’t have the heart rate monitor on, but I knew I was working too hard, and needed to slow it down.  So I channeled a little U2 and began humming on the exhale, my equivalent of the “talk test” in running.  Yes, this was a “time trial”, but I also needed to get through a half a mile.  That meant slowing down.

So slow down I did.  After awhile, the arms got a little better, and I even remembered some of the form lessons I learned last season.  I made it through a quarter mile in a molasses-like 14 minutes, turned around, and headed back. 

It was not an “A” day.  And I’ll admit, I was pretty mad at myself.  For most of those ten minutes heading back in, I was giving myself a drubbing.  “Why haven’t you been in the pool?”  “What’s so important about work that you’re not making time?” “Why not make time for THIS, the best sport for you?’  It’s been awhile since I kicked my own ass that much.  But you know what?  It didn’t help.  As I got closer to the finishing point, I was even more dejected than when I started.  And I had just swum almost a half a mile, having not been in the pool since January.  Nothing hurt, nothing was broken, and I was fine.  Yes, I was slow, but I was getting it done. 

And that’s what I started to tell myself. 

See, we all have different paces to our journeys.  I generally like to give myself credit for doing ANYTHING active, and try to stay away from the self-flaggelation.  But Thursday night, I was really mad at myself, and it was okay, too, to look inside and realize it doesn’t have to be this hard.  I can make better choices, and plan realistically, and work in working out as much as I want.  But what I really ended up telling myself was this:  I had a lot of choices on Thursday.  I could have stayed at work late.  I could have left and went straight to meet the girls at book club.  I could have skipped them both and went home and sat on the couch.  But I took the path I had planned, and I got in the lake, and I swam. 

It’s only one night, but more than ever, I was reminded of John Bingham’s great mantra: the miracle isn’t that I finished, but that I had the courage to start.  On Thursday night, having been away from the pool for awhile, and seriously, seriously wanting to quit so many times, I hung onto that statement.  I kept swimming until the beach touched my feet again, and when I got out, I was smiling.   And it wasn’t about my 30 minute time trial.  It was because against all indications to the contrary, I had prioritized that one night of moving, and felt better for it.

So I guess this week’s lesson is this:  there are days when training and being active may not be as easy, or as convenient, or as rewarding, as we might expect.  It’s the law of averages.  Hard days are part of the game.  But they’re always good for you, in ways you can’t begin to comprehend until you’ve gone through them.

So that’s it from here.  Keep training, keep dropping me lines, and keep your chin up. 

See you on the path!

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