Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tales from Training: What I Learn at the Pool

You know the phrase "getting in the zone"?

I know all about The Zone on the bike.

I can find The Zone on the run.

For me, The Zone is when my brain stops and I just do work.  The Zone is a judgement-free and emotion-free place - I do the work that my training plan says to do and I don't think about how fast or how slow.  I don't say mean things to myself about my pace, my body composition, yesterday's workout, or last night's dinner.  Work is work... and in The Zone, work gets done.

I had lost The Zone in the pool until January.  There was no freedom from judgment from the time I put on my suit until I took it off (and beyond).  Swim workouts on the schedule turned my emotions on edge and put my anxiety on high alert.  My brain never turned off in the pool, and most of what I was saying to myself, while I followed the black line along the bottom of the pool, was negative. Negative about the work I was doing in the pool, negative about how I looked in my bathing suit, negative about my work relationships, negative about my social relationships, negative about my life.  Just plain NEGATIVE.  So I hated the pool.  I hated jumping in a following that black line because I never got out feeling better, if I was lucky I got out feeling the same as I did when I got it.

Then the end of 2013 came rolling around and it was time to talk about plans for 2014.  I knew that if I was going to do Ironman this year, I had to come to terms with the pool.  I had to make peace with the black line...

"I'm thinking I need to swim a bunch.  Like 5-6 days a week for awhile.  Whatever is going on with me and the pool needs to be worked out and its only going to happen if I make myself face the pool."

To which Coach replied, "Oh good, I was thinking a big swim block for you in January."

Sweet Jesus, had I known what I was asking for I would have kept my sassy, sarcastic, PITA mouth shut.

For 3 weeks in January I forever smelled of chlorine and showered more often at the gym than at home.  In fact, there were DAYS where I showered more at the gym than I would shower at home the entire WEEK.  I averaged more time in the pool (5-6 hours/week) than I did in any of the other disciplines of triathlon with 12,000-14,000 yards a week of HARD ASS WORK.

In the beginning, I dreaded reading what sadistic torture Katie had in store for me and the chlorine death-pool that day.  There were some tears in the pool.  I bailed on a workout 1/2 way through it because I believed it was too hard.  I couldn't do it.  I wasn't capable.

Then I came back later that day to the workout.  I finished it.  I killed it.  I came through for myself.  It wasn't an overnight transformation, but my attitude began to shift. 

I have this theory that if you have to look at yourself in a bathing suit everyday you get sick of saying mean things to yourself about your reflection.  And by mid-month, I quit saying mean things to myself about my reflection. 

Another theory I have is that when you get out of the pool barely being able to lift your arms over your head to wash your hair, the gap between your thighs is less important than all the muscles that begin to pop out in your shoulders that you're working your ass off to earn.  

Racerback tanks will be my BEST FRIEND this summer...
And yeah, there is a little extra insulation around my middle (it's the winter!), but my core strength is improving everyday which means my body position in the pool is getting prettier and MORE EFFICIENT (read: faster, yay!).  Now when I swim 100 yards ALL OUT, I feel like I want to puke at the end 10+ seconds sooner than at the beginning of January. 

Plank it out with 26.2.
By the end of my swim block I had found The Zone again.  The pool and I can be friends.  It can be a no-judgement zone, just like the bike or the run.

Along with the measurable huge Personal Records (PRs) I've had since my swim block, the effect of coming to terms with myself and the black line as gone far beyond the pool deck.  I'm happier on the bike than I have been, in maybe YEARS.  My inner monologue in kinder than it has probably ever been.  I'm considering changes that are big and scary, and when I think about them, I think about the pool.  I think about how running away from the pool for months didn't foster growth or learning.  I had to show up for the tough stuff, both physical and emotional, to see change.

In my exercise physiology classes we always talked about stress.  You had to apply stress to facilitate adaptation, and adaptation was what made you fitter.  The hard stuff, whether it's a workout, quieting the negative monologue in your head, difficulty with a coworker or a friend, anxiety over life choices, coming to terms with your present place in life, or admitting when you need help, is you life's stress.  When you show up for it, work through it, and find yourself on the other side... that's when you find change.

Are you running from your stress?  What if you faced it?  What could you gain on the other side?


Bari said...

I've been both loving and hating my coach's swim workouts lately. I leave one feeling accomplished and the next like I should never get in another pool ever again. This was great to read. I don't have the discipline (or the means realistically) to swim 5 days a week, but making sure I'm in the pool at least 2x a week for the next few months will hopefully have a payout in June or July.

Barb said...

This is what is so awesome about the challenge you've set for yourself this year - the lessons you're learning along the way. Love this post. Thanks for sharing.

P.S. - SWEET shoulders :)

Brooke said...

you, my friend, are a bad ass. :)