Holy Hell I Hate Swimming

Long time, no blog entry.  Let me get you caught up.

I took 2016 off from any serious training because after completing the Fall 50 Solo in 2015, I needed the break.  But I decided to get back on the wagon and sign up for an event in 2017 that would challenge me – something new that I could train for and something that would keep me motivated.  I chose the Chicago Triathlon.  Big mistake.  Big.  Huge.

The reason it’s such a mistake – one simple reason it’s such a huge fucking mistake… I can’t swim!

But I have a plan, I will take swim lessons, I will get advice from my trainer and I will train and do it.  I have 9 months to do it – easy peazy!  That’s my plan.  Sounds easy enough.  Well today I got smacked in the face with reality and that reality was my first swim lesson.

Let me set the stage for you on my skill level when it comes to swimming.  I can float, but that’s about it.  I don’t put my face under the water and I can’t breathe.  I actually flunked swimming lessons as a kid.  Twice! For a reason, unknown to me – I have an extreme fear with putting my face under the water.  Well, I guess my fear isn’t too unknown – it stems from the fact that I can’t breathe underwater.  Simple – mystery solved.  There’s nothing natural about being underwater.  And because I prefer to breathe – and being underwater hampers that – I’m not a fan of putting my face in the water.  Simple enough.

And after my first swim lesson this morning, I realized that I have a lot more work to do to learn how to swim in a triathlon than what my 7 sessions will get me.  I may be taking lessons all the way from now until August.  I don’t think I can overstate how uncomfortable I am with all of this.  But let me try…

I’ve been nervous about this first swim lesson for weeks – basically since I signed up for them.  But the last few days I’ve been particularly on edge.  Last night I had a pit in my stomach and was just edgy all night and I had a bad feeling and I couldn’t figure out why.  I was restless and just in an overall funk.  Half way through my evening, I finally figured out my bad feeling and the cause of my funk – it was my upcoming swim lesson the next morning that was putting me on edge.  I was just dreading it and I was trying to suppress those feelings, but obviously I wasn’t doing a very good job.  Even though I had peppered Brian with a barrage of questions about, “what do I wear”, “do I need a towel”, “where is the entrance”, “do I need flip-flops” and a variety of other questions, I still didn’t feel ready.

The anxiety I had about the lesson carried through in my restless sleep.  Or should I say my lack of sleep?  I tossed, turned and watched the clock.  Yep, I was in full-on anxiety mode.  And mind you, this is how I feel about a swim lesson… in a pool… with an instructor… in the shallow end… Can you imagine what I’ll be like on race day in the open water?  Dear lord I can’t even think about that.

I got up this morning and I got ready to head to the Y.  I stalled as long as I could and I finally couldn’t delay the inevitable any longer, so I made my way to the Y.  Once at the Y, and once I was in the locker room, a locker room I’ve been in hundreds of times before – it somehow felt new and different.  I wasn’t putting on my workout clothes to lift weights or do spin.  Instead I was awkwardly standing around in a swimsuit.  My swimsuit is a tri swimsuit – so not as naked feeling as a regular athletic suit but yet still WAY too uncomfortable.  I don’t do spandex and I sure as hell don’t do spandex in public – and now here I was doing both.  Fricken fabulous!

I made my way to the pool – which after being a Y member for over 11 years, I’ve never ever used or been near the pool – other than on the other side of the glass as an observer.  I walked into the pool area and I just stood there.  I didn’t know where my instructor was and I didn’t have a comfort level about what I should do next.  I was like a deer in headlights; dazed, confused, out-of-place and hoping like hell I wasn’t going to die!

After I met my instructor Abbey and we exchanged pleasantries, I could no longer put this off – it was time to get into the pool and get started.

And before I tell you how my lesson went, I have to tell you some of the thoughts I had in my head.  I joked about having to start from the beginning with blowing bubbles and slowly putting my face in the water.  But in my mind, I was hoping that the older, more mature person who has taken on other athletic endeavors that I never thought I’d be able to do would suddenly be comfortable in the water and would kick ass.  I envisioned being able to pick it up easier this time and just rocking it.  I thought I’d be singing from the rooftops… “look at me, I’m swimming, I’m swimming”, in my best What About Bob spoof.

Well, that didn’t happen.

Abbey wanted to start me off easy by having me put my head under water and exhaling through my nose.  Little did she know that this wasn’t easy for me.  Nothing about putting my face under water is easy.  But after what felt like an eternity of me waiting and hesitating, and trying to keep the full on panic at bay, I finally did it, I ducked under and exhaled through my nose.

I did it!

And I hated it!  I hated the sensation.  And if that’s what I had to do as a kid, no wonder I stopped doing it and I flunked my lessons.  That sucks!

But I did it a few more times.  I was pretty proud of myself and almost felt like doing my “What About Bob” yell and sing out… “I’m swimming”.  Except for the fact that I wasn’t swimming.  I was standing in 3-feet of water exhaling!

Next Abbey wanted to see me kick.  So she got me a kick board and I kicked.  She was impressed with my kicking.  I wasn’t.  I know I can kick.  My head was above water… anything with my head above water is easy!  I did 3 lengths of the pool with the kick board.  And I have to say, even after all my running, after all my spin and even after the stair machine and elliptical, I could still feel my legs yelling at me saying, “what the hell?”  I was surprised at how tough it was.  And I wasn’t even going fast.  I even asked Abbey… how come I’m not going very fast, is there a trick to this?  To which she replied…. “kick faster”.  Huh!?  Well, there you have it.  Honest answer, I liked it!

Next Abbey wanted to introduce the breast stroke into my lesson.  I instantly thought… “why?”  I can’t put my face in the water… why am I actually doing strokes?  But I did it.  I did one lap with my face above water.  Abbey was impressed.  She apparently thought I didn’t have any skills, but I can “move” in the water, I just can’t swim.

Next Abbey wanted me to try the breast stroke and incorporate exhaling through my mouth.

And. This. Is. Where. Things. Went. South.

I’m not going to bore you with the minute-by-minute derailing of my lesson, but let’s just say the exhaling didn’t go well.  I tried doing it through my mouth like she asked.  Then I tried my nose and then I tried both.  Nope, I wasn’t doing it and I was starting to panic.  So I asked her if I could use the kick board so I don’t have to worry about my stroke.  I used the kick board and I was doing a length of the pool and Abbey was very encouraging.  But that’s when I fessed up, I told her I’m not exhaling, I’m faking it.  “What?”, she asked.   “I think I’m cheating, I don’t think I’m actually exhaling,” I told her.  She looked dumbfounded.  She could see the bubbles, how could I be faking??!!  I told her that I don’t know how to explain it, but I don’t think I’m doing it right, I think I’m cheating.  To which she again said, “I don’t think you can cheat”. No, really… I’m cheating.  Not on purpose… but I am cheating.  I said to her, “you know how you can blow out a candle but you’re not really exhaling your breathe… that’s what I’m doing.  I’m not exhaling, I’m simply blowing.”

Well, that stumped her!  And after thinking more about it, she understood.  Then we stood at the edge of the pool while she tried to think of an exercise to help me.  Nope, she had nothing.  We looked at each other blankly.  New territory for both of us.

Finally I suggested ditching the kick board and just hanging onto the side and practicing exhaling through my mouth (compared to my nose like I did earlier).  She thought this was a good idea.  I thought this was a good idea, until I had to do it.  I froze.  Even though it was my idea, I didn’t like it.  And then the panic set it.  I was able to force myself to try it a few times and it didn’t go well.  I was panicky, I swallowed way too much water and in general was hating every second of it.  Why oh why can’t I fucking exhale under water?!?!?!?

I sat there, looking at the clock, willing time to move faster so my lesson would be done.  It was the slowest 10 minutes of my life.

Needless to say when the clock struck 6 am, I was done.  I was not going to go a minute past 6 am.  I wanted out of that pool.

So, I thanked Abbey and I said I’d see her next week.  I went into the locker room, changed and headed home.  The ride home, while only 1.5 miles seemed to last an eternity.  That 1.5 miles gave me more than enough time to curse myself for signing up for a Tri, convince myself I will never be able to swim and in general de-motivate myself to the point where I want to drop out of the event.  By the time I got home, I had myself convinced I was going to drop out.  I was going to find something else to do and train for and chalk it up to the fact that some people just aren’t meant to swim.

But now that some time has passed, I’m not ready to throw in the towel – at least not now.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to swim, but I’m not ready to give up yet.  I want to finish all my lessons and I also think I need to rally the troops.  They say it takes a village to raise a child, well I say it will take a village to make Marla swim.  I have some friends that are strong swimmers and if they are willing, I’m going to enlist them to help me too.  Hell, anyone that has some advice can help me… I’m open to suggestions.  If anyone has any tricks or tips on how to breathe and /or exhale, please let me know.  I’m open to suggestions.  Because I really would like to do the Tri and I’d prefer to not panic and drown while doing it.  Call me crazy, but yes… I prefer not to drown!

Until next time,

Gotta Run (or swim)








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