Thursday, July 10, 2014

Enemy waters.

At some point in the last year I crossed the line from swimming for exercise to training.  It is impossible to pinpoint the exact moment when this happened, but it was set in motion when the Sandycove swimmers handed my ass to me this time last year.  It was a rude awakening that showed me that I was not the swimmer I thought I was, and that I really needed to up my game.  Before such a thing could happen, I'd have to find a scapegoat.  Fortunately for me, my afternoon swims in the Mardyke were always marred by slower swimmers getting into the lane with me and interrupting my session.  While a swimmer of my calibre is perfectly entitled to tell them to get the eff out of the fast lane and over to the medium lane where they belong, my good breeding and impeccable lane etiquette forbids me from doing such.  So even though it was all their fault, I would still have to change things up if I wanted to get ahead.  From what I'd heard, the only people who used the pool in the early morning sessions were the UCC swim team.  As it was summer holidays for the students, it would mean that I'd have the fast lane to myself if I came in for the early morning session.

Which I did, save for the half dozen or so triathletes who were bombing up and down the lane so hard that the water was boiling.  In an interesting twist of fate, I was suddenly the slow one in the fast lane.  This was offset by my excellent lane etiquette, but my session was every bit as stoppy starty as when I was trying to work around the slowies in the afternoon swims.  After a few sessions of trying to do my own thing and failing miserably, I realised there was no other option but to fall in behind them and try to keep up.  I had a few fears around this:  Would I be able to keep up?  Would I ever be accepted into their group as an equal?  Would chasing a stranger's toes for lengths on end lead to me developing a foot fetish?  Fearing rejection, I sneakily fell in at the back of the group and did my best to keep up.  Halfway through the set I was exhausted and crapped out.

The next session saw me crapping out after two thirds of the set which was a definite sign of progress, and I noticed that my shorts were creating a lot of drag, especially at the turns.  While this was a valid excuse as to why I was getting pantsed in the pool, shopping for Speedos was next on the agenda.  A remarkable invention, not only does it create a minimal amount of drag in the water, but it also has the unique ability to maintain one's decency while simultaneously removing one's dignity.  There are two key requirements to making them look good: having a male model physique and being hung, two boxes which remain unchecked in my case.  Cashing in my remaining dignity paid off as the next morning I managed to finish the set.  The set also managed to finish me, so when everyone else was doing a few hundred metres cool down, I was so wrecked that had I barely enough energy to pour myself out of the pool and lollop off to the changing area.  Progress!

So I decided I'd keep turning up until someone asked me not to, and as practice and persistence pay off, I kept getting better.  Not only that, but as two of the better swimmers in the group emigrated to Canada, and another could not train during the school year, the standard had dropped considerably.  What a stroke of luck, I was becoming a better swimmer in a worsening training pod!  Even though it was an informal session, it was still all about training - less talky-talky, more swimmy-swimmy, and one woman had taken it upon herself to keep things running like clockwork.  Not only could she dictate the set to a large group of swimmers without caring if she came across as bossy or controlling, she was also pretty damn fast.  Usually good swimmers can be spotted, as often the faster ones are taller than your average bear, with impressive shoulder-chest-waist ratios in the men and unusually square shoulders in the women.  She was on the shorter side of average height, with nothing impressive or unusual about her shoulders, just a lean, sinewy physique coupled with a lot of drive and speed.  Her tumbleturns showed that she was a runner who had gotten into triathlons rather than a swimmer, but she was still kicking seven shades of chlorine out of me.  Her drive, stamina, and overall steeliness made me question as to whether she was actually human and not some sort of triathlon terminator.

Persistence pays off, and using the Boss (as she is affectionately known) as a marker, I noticed that I was catching up bit by bit, and by December I was on a par with her.  Success!  As I was sick over Christmas, I missed out on a week of training and eating, and as a result lost some weight and tone over the holiday period.  This meant that on my first day back in January I felt the unwelcome wobble of bingo wing as I overarmed my way up and down the pool.  Christmas seemed to take its toll on the Boss too, as she had a few extra curves that weren't there previously.  I put this down to over indulging herself on turkey over the festive season - with its high protein to fat ratio, what serious athlete wouldn't?  Admittedly, it suited her and humanised her considerably.  Even though I was weaker and flabbier than I had been in December, I was still holding up well against her, so I took a bit of comfort from that.

After a couple of weeks training I started to firm up again, but in spite of keeping the same training schedule as me and doing the same sets, the Boss kept her turkey curves and was starting to fall behind me.  More and more often I was leading the sets, which was impressive progress considering I had started training with them six months ago.  Perhaps it's time to get a killer whale tattooed onto my back so that everyone will know that I'm the apex predator of this lane?  As the mornings got brighter the Boss was getting noticeably bumpier.  Christmas dinner was a distant memory and it was becoming apparent that there was a little boss on the way.  As it turns out, I only started catching up with her when she got pregnant, and any perceived progress on my part was her body slowing down to support the new life inside her.  So in my eyes, she was no longer a triathlon terminator, but human after all. 

This didn't last.  She has a job that requires a certain amount of travel, and these were the only times she'd miss training.  Getting flown around was out of the question for a woman in her condition, so over the course of her pregnancy she didn't miss a single session.  This meant that someone who couldn't walk up more than one flight of stairs without assistance was nailing three kilometres in the pool, three mornings a week.  One of her more recent checkups revealed higher levels of red blood cells, which meant that her plans of breeding a champion marathon runner were coming together nicely.  On Monday of last week she gave birth, having been training in the pool on the previous Friday.  From what I hear, mother and daughter are doing well, and nobody has any idea when she'll be back in the fast lane.  Until then I have my own things to take care of, first on the agenda is to find a decent therapist who will help me shake off this newly acquired foot fetish of mine.