Each of my long training swims were meticulously added to my calendar. Every Friday night I would have to swim - for hours - non-stop in a pool. A box filled with chlorine. No scenery, no waves, no saltwater, and certainly no pinniped buddies. For hours. And for the first time in my life.
I broke down in tears after my first 4 hour pool swim. I was mentally spent. For 4 hours I had counted - like a mad woman - every single lap. And whenever I thought I’d lost track, instead of rounding up to the next 10, I rolled back the lap odometer in my mind and started counting from the lowest 10. Again.
The next pool swim couldn’t have been more different. I found my groove and just swam. Maybe it was because I didn’t count laps. Maybe it was because it was only 3 1/2 hours. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t difficult. Thoughts darted across my mind like shooting stars; I felt like I was lying on my back on a hill at home on the farm, gazing at the starlit night. I loved it.
But everything changed last week. Even before I arrived at the pool I felt like I was preparing for battle. It had been my hardest week of training so far. And I had had little rest. I was tired. And I was scared. The clock was winding down faster than I was comfortable with and I just wanted to press the proverbial pause button. I needed more time. Doubts about my swim consumed me.
Friends had arrived at the pool to “see me off” on my 4 1/2 hour swim. Everything was diffferent though. Little did they know they were my “entourage” backstage, helping me with my robe, pulling my shorts up, rubbing vaseline across my open wounds. Because, in my mind, I was a boxer. I was a lightweight boxer getting ready to face-off in a heavyweight championship. Bouncing on my feet from side to side, wiping sweat off my brow, fidgeting with my mouthguard. I was a boxer, not a swimmer.
And in this championship my opponent was me. My psyche. My thoughts. My mind. And nothing was more terrifying.
I battled for 3 hours. At 7:46pm I got knocked out. The referee started counting... 1...2... I knew I had to get up. But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. 3... 4... I was crying. But my mind wouldn’t let my body move. 5... 6... how could I continue... how can I possibly make the real swim.... 7... 8... and then I did it. I got up. I sat in the corner of the ring. The referee called a timeout. I had to find a way to break my opponent. I had to find that reason. And all of a sudden, I found it. I found it.
At that moment I realized that the reason for all these long pool swims was not so much for physical endurance as it was for mental endurance. And I realized that this swim is far more than just a swim across a body of water. Training for this swim has been a deeply personal journey. A mental journey that has dragged me back through old and uncomfortable territory and pushed me through to new and uncharted territory. Back and forth. Back and forth. Its been exhausting.
Last night I was back in the boxing ring. But I was more alone than ever before. No entourage. No coach. No referee. Nothing. I had no other choice. I was alone, with me. And this was Fight Club. But by now I was a seasoned boxer. No longer an amateur, and well acquainted with my opponent. I was ready. 5 hours. Alone.
The rules were very different this time. And I expected as much. Afterall this was Fight Club. What I didn’t expect, however, was to have to fight two opponents at once. I’ve encountered this “extra” opponent many times before. He creeps up on me when I least expect it. Disabling my right leg and foot with excruciating nerve pain. And he was back last night. With a vengeance. Its particularly difficult when I’m swimming. But last night I just kept going. I'm a flighter and I never give up. I was Muhammed Ali. “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” I told myself. That was my mantra. "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee."
I just kept pushing through. And at the end I cried. I cried because I broke through, once again, to the other side.