All the Wrong Lessons

For the past month or so, I have been at the bottom of a very heavy heap of work. More stuff than usual landed on my calendar toward the end of January, and since I typically know my overall schedule/work pattern a few weeks in advance, I could tell that I was going to be inching my way out of the hole — but never quite surfacing — for all of February.

But now here we are, Feb. 27, and while I am not at the top of the pile, I can at least see the top. Between shipping a report last night and requesting a couple of days off for mid-March, I can actually envision a time when I feel calm and collected and on top of my shit. My house may be a disaster, my book heap from the library sadly untouched — but this morning I got home from Burn at 8 and actually managed to cook eggs, sip coffee, and read blogs before work like any good red-blooded American girl. All of which is to say that I’m hoping for slightly more regular posting to resume around here shortly.

But first, here’s a story about swimming.

As I’ve been contemplating maybe, probably biking to Santa Cruz, I’ve been putting a lot of emphasis on cycling miles. My mileage still isn’t where I really want it to be — and I’m kicking myself for a dumb decision I made earlier this week that will leave me short of my goal for this week unless I do two major rides within 12 hours, which, extra dumb — but I’ve been waking up at gross hours to ride the trainer and cobbling together weekend franken-rides of two or three legs divided by errands and group training. It’s not pretty, but it’s (probably?) enough.

Running, too, has been fitting in OK. I’ve been doing mostly shorter runs — nothing longer than 6 or 7 miles this year so far — but I’m starting to add runs off the bike back into my life, and those extra couple of miles make the difference between 12-mile weeks (“barely running,” in my mind) and 16- to 20-mile weeks (legit). My running mileage usually takes a hit when I start tri training, but two years in, I’m prepared for that and know I’ll be able to start sneaking in an extra mile or three once I get used to the schedule.

But swimming? I think I’ve been in the pool fewer than five times this year. Maybe fewer than five times since Santa Cruz. October was Vermont. December was another crazy span of work. Did I maybe swim a few times in November? It’s possible but feels unlikely. Then, right when I started to get back into it, I somehow tweaked my shoulder (like, while sleeping) and could only sort of dress myself for a week, so swimming was clearly not going to happen then. And that brings us to now.

Swimming is the tri sport I like the least, but I actually don’t mind the act of swimming. In fact, it can be great for shutting off my brain, which I’ve been much in need of lately. What I reject is the stuff that surrounds swimming, the gathering of gear and the needing to be at a place at a particular time, the smelling of chlorine and itchy skin and extra showers, the lane-jockeying with other people. (Generally the more a sport involves other people, the less inclined I will be to do it.) I’ve also never adjusted to the inflexibility of morning swimming at my pool, which is a lame excuse but also a truth, and I’ve gotten it in my head that if I get there even five minutes after opening, I might as well not swim at all. All of this is why I’m contemplating joining a master’s group, but it meets far from me in a place with no good bike route and I hate having to repark in my neighborhood at night and blah blah blah excusecakes — the point is, I have not been swimming much.

This week was the first full week of TAG training, and on our schedule for swimming was the base pace test — 3×100, 200, or 400 at the fastest pace we can sustain. Divide by how many hundreds you swam, and that’s the interval pace we use for workouts. This workout has been my nemesis, because while I can swim faster 100s and even faster 1000s sometimes, I somehow pace myself all wrong for the base pace test. My base pace has worked out to basically 2:02/100 since before I started actually training for swimming, which is fairly frustrating and probably contributes to my lack of desire to swim.

So I go to the pool on Tuesday night planning to do the 400s, but I almost back out and swim the version with 200s to get home sooner. I ultimately decide against it, because I’m worried I’ll get stuck with a base pace I can’t maintain. Yes, that’s right: I picked the longer workout because I was certain I’d be slow at it. I do my warm-up, and my first “easy” 100 comes in around 2:08, and I’m thinking, “oof, at least this will be the year my base pace finally improves from week 1 to week 10.”

And I start the first 400, and it feels awkward, and I’m coming into the wall all wrong, but I stop my watch and it reads 8:05. Even then, I’m thinking, “Great, I blew it all in the first 400.” So I swim the next one and it’s 7:54. And I think I must have miscounted. So then I swim the last one, and it’s 7:53.

So for the first time in three years, I have a base pace that starts with a 1. (Barely — it’s like 1:59:33/100 — but whatever.) And it happened without swimming.

OK, I can think of some rational reasons for this. I’ve been working on a lot more upper body and core strength through Burn. My weird shoulder issue caused me to adjust my stroke a little bit, and I think my (still super wonky) technique is better for it. And I was certainly well-rested from all the thousands of yards I haven’t been swimming.

But it also seems like the lesson here could be a simple one: Don’t swim. It’s improbable, sure. But more improbable than that workout? I think not.

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