I have a confession. I’m one of those rare triathlete adult-onset-swimmers who loves to swim.
A unicorn, someone recently called me.
Me (not really me).
When I first started the sport as a spry F20-24’er, swimming was a chore. An annoyance. You mean I have to swim? Swim cancelled in the race? Prayers answered! Yes, I was one of those triathletes. These days, the swim is more of an advantage. It’s a completely different race when you race at the front of the age group versus coming from behind. In a sense, I’ve raced from all angles – mid pack age grouper, back of the pack pro, front of the age group. Three totally different races!
Most of my progress is a result of swimming with masters. I’ve swam with the same masters team for nearly 20 years. I swim 3 times or around 10,000 – 12,000 yards a week. If I had the time (and energy), I would swim every day. I just really, really like swimming. Swimming laps is my version of staring out of a window and daydreaming. It’s one of the few places we can go to be disconnected – no notifications, no gadgets, no noise. Truly quiet.
And much cheaper than therapy.
When I got injured this past summer, I was allowed to do two things: ride a cyclocross bike outside with tennis shoes on top of flat pedals and swim. It was the perfect time for swimming – I had access to nearby open water swimming, masters, the neighborhood pool and Lake Michigan. Some of my solo swims exceeded 7000 yards. Some of my days were double swim days. Sometimes I would do masters and go swim open water after it. Long sets, short sets, freestyle, stroke, snorkel (finally I love it), fins and of course – paddles + pulling.
Over time, a funny thing happened: I got better at swimming. Not necessarily faster but that elusive feel for water? I found it. Knowing I wanted to swim lots and often, my old stroke no longer served me well. Too aggressive, too many strokes. I finally learned how to drive my stroke from my hips, engage my obliques and lengthen myself. My masters coach, who years ago while watching me swim the 1650 at state commenting I will not take responsibility for that stroke, finally said I love what you’ve done with your stroke. It was one of my proudest moments as an athlete.
When October rolled around with our team’s annual Naples swim trip – it occurred to me that there was no better time for a swimcation.
Like many of you, I have a hard time taking care of myself. Sure, I exercise and eat mostly well but I have a hard time giving myself the space and time to simply be me. As the years have added up and the responsibilities have piled on, the concept of ‘being me’ has taken a backseat. I am so many things to other people during the day – wife, Coach Liz, Athlete Liz, Mom Liz that I find the moments where I am just myself are few and far between. Giving myself permission to just be me has been one of the hardest things I’ve worked for yet one of the greatest gifts I’ve given to myself. This trip was not only a celebration of my summer of injury (more on that later) but also a celebration of me. Accepting that it’s ok to take time away to just be – with no races, no business goals, no one other goals than being me and – swimming.
The team headed to Naples on a Thursday for 5 days of swimming. Our first swim was in the evening. We covered 3700 yards of mixed strokes and loosening sets. Dark clouds settled in and we found ourselves swimming in pouring rain. It reminded me of open water swimming. Everyone was tired and stayed in as preparation for the next morning’s swimming.
Sunrise in Naples
Friday morning we started around 9 am at the Norris Pool. There had to be 20 lanes in this pool – I’ve never seen anything like it. I was put into the fastest lane with two of the fastest guys on our team. Most of the guys I swim with are well older than me – former collegiate swimmers who have slowed down to speeds still much faster than I will ever swim. Keeping up with them is what drives me. I’ll do whatever it takes – fins, paddles, SIM shorts. They tease me like I’m one of the gang and I feel a sense of belonging. This is one of the reasons I swim with masters – because it makes me feel like I belong to something. I covered around 5000 yards this morning.
Later that morning, Caroline (one of my athletes who after foot surgery dove right into her own season of swimming) and I went to the Naples Botanical Garden. If you follow me on Instgram you know #idratherbegardening. My former life as a quasi-botany-teacher, I need to visit the botanical garden or explore plant life whenever I’m traveling. Naples did not disappoint – a variety of sandy, pine ecosystems, Caribbean plants, a butterfly house, plants of Asia and Brazil.
Later that afternoon, I hopped into the gulf for 1100 yards of swimming. This was one of the most enjoyable open water swims I’ve done – ever. The gulf is warm, calm and you can swim inches off of the shore making it feel safe. Loads of fish and the only enemy I encountered was a jellyfish that rolled right over me.
That evening can be summed up by a text I sent to a friend: I’m drunk on a pontoon. We rented pontoons in the bay surrounded by multi-million dollar homes and cruising along with dolphins. I drank cheap white wine and made new friends. Another hard thing to do as adult – be yourself and make friends. As the sun set and the air cooled, either the wine hit me or the fatigue from double swim day. I thought to myself it’s good to be Liz. It was a good day.
Turns out I only drink cheap white wine in a plastic cup in Florida and only when I’m on a pontoon.
Saturday arrived and we tackled another swim – this time long course meters. To the horror of my lanemates and somehow surviving years of public shaming – I still don’t flip turn. Any time you take walls away, I’m giddy. We ended up swimming around 4900 yards of variations of 400s. To unload our shoulders, we did a lot of work with fins.
After the swim, Eric and I headed over to Old Naples. We pretended to be interested in the whimsical art at the art fair, he tried to embarrass me in front of every elderly man we passed and then we enjoyed sushi. I ate fish every day, twice a day. I’m sure my mercury content went up twofold but it was worth it.
Later in the afternoon, I hopped into the gulf for 2200 yards. It was, again, perfect. Glassy, calm and 84 degrees. That evening, we went to the infamous Blue Martini because when in Naples – you Blue Martini.
The next morning was another long course swim. Lots of 200s. We covered around 4000 yards. At this point my biceps were screaming. What better cure than to go kayaking for 2 hours in the bay. Eric, John and I ventured out towards the gulf. It was peaceful and relaxing. Three adults talking about life and stuff. Sometimes there was nothing but the sound of oars dipping in and out of the water.
View from the kayak. I would like kayaking a lot more if there wasn’t so much paddling involved.
Afterwards, I headed to the gulf to be greeted with water that looked tipsy – rolling in at an angle. A few swimmers ventured out deeper and I used them as my buoy. Swimming out and around them, through the chop – this wasn’t swimming, it was playing. I covered 1000 yards.
That evening, I felt a little tapped out of socializing. For better or worse, I am someone who needs extreme amounts of alone time to recharge and find my bearings. I needed to eat familiar food (Whole Foods) and then walked back in the darkness (why is Florida so dark?). I made it about a mile before I feared being eaten by an alligator.
The final morning I was tired. As my lanemate teased me, the fatigue hit me in a wave of feeling overly oversensitive and wanting to smack him for being snippy. Hello, fatigue, I’ve been waiting. We covered about 3600 yards before I had to hustle to get back to the airport.
A few times during the trip, some of the swimmers questioned me. You’re the first one in and last one out, why do you keep swimming? Was that you swimming again in the afternoon? Are you part of a collegiate team? Finally, I explained myself. When I got injured, I decided that something would come of it. I would not spend a summer whining about all of the running I couldn’t do, race fees wasted or another season lost. Swimming became the one thing I could do to push myself and chase big things. I set the goal to do something I had never done before – swim 30,000 yards in a week. To a pure swimmer, that’s nothing. But to me – it was daunting. That week I finally did it. 31,500 yards.
As strange as it sounds, the swimcation was a celebration of being injured. A culmination of a summer’s worth of work in the water. Why celebrate being injured? What if we turned that question on its head: why not? As an athlete, it’s part of the gamble you take when expecting your body to take you places and paces out of the ordinary. I tried, I failed but perhaps more importantly I found my training limit. I have to believe there is value in that.
(or at least it makes me feel better about all of those insurance co-pays!)
This month, Multisport Mastery is hosting a swim challenge for all athletes. You can read more about the challenge here:
So far we have 60 athletes signed up to spend the month challenging themselves with new strokes, timed sets and other fun goals. For some, this is BIG – the first time they’ve swam 5 days in a row, the first time they’ve tried fly. For others, it’s been a way to return to where it all started – in the pool, as a swimmer. We’ve got prizes for the top 5 but plenty of surprise challenges & prizes along the way. We encourage you to hop in at any time – it will be worth it. Find your feel for the water but most of all, learn to love swimming. It’s a sport you can enjoy for your lifetime in any condition.