Training daze

Open water swim camp

This 10 km swim looms sooner than later, and I’m in a bit of a frenzy trying to get as much lake time in before the big day on August 19. Almost daily, Amanda and I have been meeting at Cherry Beach in the early evening and swimming two to three km. But in this bizarre heat wave, the water at Cherry is now a bath-like 25 degrees, and very organic. Frankly, it’s gross, and we just aren’t enjoying it anymore. So we’ve ditched Cherry, in search of clearer, cooler waters. Yesterday, along with Thea, our new young swimming buddy, we met at the foot of the RC Harris water treatment plant for an 8 a.m. dip. It was a great, hour long swim. The morning before, we were at Woodbine, where we swam over to the next beach, bobbing offshore from the Leuty Lifeguard station. It was another great swim, but nowhere near 10 km. I’m nervous about this one. Maybe I’ll feel better after a longer training run. I did a three hour swim a few summers ago, on a freezing cold miserable day in early June at Kelvin’s swim camp.

I'm the one with the jacket over my swim suit. Yeah, I was a little cold...

At the time, it seemed inordinately daunting. It didn’t much help that I put it to music in my head.(Specifically, to the theme from Gilligan’s Island … “A three hour swim, a three hour swim…”) But I got through it, albeit mildly hypothermic (I couldn’t really feel my flippers by the end) and suffering from wicked heartburn through the last half of the ordeal. (Apparently, I was breathing all wrong and swallowing air – who knew.) In three hours I covered about seven km and I have no reason to believe I’m any faster today, so, the 10 km should take me about four hours.

A four hour swim … Jesus Mary. Why am I doing this? Let’s not sugar coat it. Here’s the reality. I am a fat 45-year-old with hip bursitis. My time for making any significant athletic achievement was forfeited 26 years ago to too many cigarettes in too many pubs while having way too much fun. I stopped being an athlete the moment I left home at 19 – that’s the sad truth. I was an athletic kid, but never a star. I was always the helpful guard who rarely got one in the basket. I ran cross country, always finishing mid-pack at best. I was an okay softball player and an okay swimmer, but I never made the podium – not even close. I was a dependable plodder. I’d get the job done. I wouldn’t quit. That was my thing. I’d get there, if it killed me. I guess that attitude hasn’t really changed. But lots else has.

When I think back now on the times I’d go out alone for a 10 km run when I was 14, I know  it was because I was, as all teenagers must, working stuff out. Granted, I had quite a bit to work out. I’m not complaining, but let’s put it this way. It wasn’t easy being 14 and gay in 1981. That I decided to lace up a pair of Nikes and hit the road in my red cotton running shorts and non-wicking tee-shirt instead of hitting the streets looking for heroin is obviously a relief now, but not something I can really take credit for. Frankly, it probably could have gone either way. Sports, back then, and running, in particular, was clearly an important coping mechanism.

cross country meet circa 1985ish - notice no one's behind me...

But I’m not running from anything anymore, at least, nothing that I’m aware of. And I’m not hiding anything. Well, nothing on par with being a teenaged lesbian in the early to mid 1980s. So why bother? Why set myself a ridiculous task than no middle-aged woman needs to accomplish. I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone. But for some reason, I really want to do this thing. It doesn’t matter if I’m last – and I will be. I just want to do it. To have swum 10 km. That’s all. It’s a challenge. It’s my thing.

Tell me what you really think.