A mere 10 minutes into my training swim last Friday I wanted to quit. It had been a long week of swimming and I was tired. As I struggled to motivate in those first 500 yards, fantasies of a delicious warm dinner followed by an early night in the comfort of my bed captivated my mind. Not one part of my unfocused mind or my cold body wanted to be where I was at this moment. A mental battle ensued as I attempted to silence the dissenting voices in my head. I remind myself that this 3 hour swim is a necessary and pre-planned item on my training checklist for the week. I remind myself of the sense of accomplishment I know will follow when I complete this swim. Failing that I know I will have to deal with an inner monologue of self-critique and disappointment. The former seems far more pleasant, but the latter is still quite tempting.
Always one to stall before entering the water – regardless of the weather conditions - I make sure we discuss, among other things, the route for tonight’s swim. Standing knee deep in the water, the wind cruelly slaps the cool Bay water against my bare legs. Normally an inviting experience, tonight the Bay is quite the opposite. During our lengthy pre-swim conversation standing in 55 degree water, whipped by a 56 degree wind, goose bumps now cover my skin. The massive skin graft scar on my right thigh is a dark purple hue; I’m already cold. I question my sanity and wonder whose idea it was for this swim tonight. Oh wait - it was mine.
Neither one of us has looked at the tide chart, but based on our observations of the boats anchored in the cove, it appears to be an incoming flood tide. We decide to swim out to the opening of the cove where Aquatic Park meets the grand expanse of the San Francisco Bay, and determine the course from there. Trailing Simon and John as we swim towards the opening of the cove, the flood tide feels particularly strong. With a fierce chop caused by 15 knot winds rocking my body violently, I’m not entirely sure if I will make it, but I don’t want to let down my training partners.
Normally, I love rough days and nights on the Bay. The energy of the waves is electrifying and exciting as I enjoy feeling my body potter along – steadily and undeterred– up and over the waves. Spray from the whitecap waves showers my body, and gulps of Bay water are inevitable. It’s all part of the adventure. But this swim was different. I did not want to be in the Bay.
As we rounded the cove for yet another one mile lap, passing the dock nearest the Dolphin Club was always the hardest. I could hear the warm shower and sauna at the club beckoning me to exit the water. The temptation was so unbearable that when I turned my head to breathe as I swam I simply could not face looking at the clubhouse. Keep swimming, I told myself. I wanted an excuse to get out or a reason to stay.
Seemingly out of nowhere, I noticed a glorious rainbow arching over the cove. Stopping to admire this rare occurrence in San Francisco, I discovered a double rainbow. It was magnificent but equally matched the radiant sunset on my left. I swear I was not hallucinating but I also saw two pinnipeds breach the surface of the water and then submerge gracefully without a sound.
There is something very satisfying about forcing yourself to push through and continue even though every part of your mind and body are protesting. And tonight those protests seemed to amplify with each cold lap of the cove at Aquatic Park. Yet the rewards await once you push through the barriers. And those are more beautiful and satisfying than double rainbows, double pinnipeds, glorious sunsets and unicorns.