Swimming Upstream - Diary of an Amateur Open Water Swimmer
As I added socks and a t-shirt to my swimsuit and googles this week, set my watch to count down from 40 min and waded out into somewhat murky, fast flowing river water that was the same temperature and turbulence as refrigerated jet pool I realized that my quest to learn to swim long distance in open water had taken on a whole new meaning. While we all begin great goals with the end in mind, its not the finish line that matters – but how you got there. And trust me this is no cheesy cliché, or American football movie. Its’ how extraordinary experiences changes ordinary people in ways they could never have dreamed. I decided that maybe there a few people out there that would get a laugh at the journey preparing for a marathon swim. So – you ask – why would anyone train in sometimes murky rock bottomed river when you could peacefully follow the black line at the local pool – or even just sit on the edge, eat ice cream and encourage the kids to do another lap?
18 months ago I would have asked the same thing. 18 months ago I crutched down to the pool deck, eyed the clear blue bottom and wondered if this water was going to help me learn to use again my badly broken leg. I wasn’t sure at the time that I remembered how to swim. 6 weeks from today I will swim across Lake Arglye. 20 km of fresh water lake and if I want to do the whole journey I will have to do it in less then 8 hours. I may not see what is in the depths of the Lake but I will find what is in the depths of me, if I have the heart for a challenge that has already shifted the fear barrier so far for me. There is no greater thrill then conquering what you were not sure you could do. And when I pulled that T-shirt and socks on and set that watch – that was about conquering one more thing I wasn’t sure about, one more part of myself that wondered. While for me the goal is to complete this race; it’s the challengers and journey that has comes with it that is what it is really about. If we remain unchallenged we have no opportunity to grow.
So how, you may ask, does one prepare for this madness when they live on a cattle station 250 km from the ocean. And the truth is – I had (and still have) no clear idea. I have a river with a decent size fishing hole in my backyard. I also have a very passionate, compassionate and patient coach in Graham Pemberton who has made this 10 times more fun than it is frightening. I have also been humbled to encounter a wide and wonderful support group of friends and athletes who find little ways to give me advice, encouragement and share the ups and downs of being tired, hungry and grumpy and overly energetic depending on the hour of day.
To go from one length of the pool to a 20km swim in 18 months is quiet the adventure. I have learned new words – nutrition, brick (you dont eat these), bonk (no - not good) and discovered that K/B/S/B/K x 200 isn’t a weird form of Algebra. I have learned that you will swim in a puddle beside the road when the river is flooded, there is a fast lane at the pool and its totally ok to where flippers when your in there and no girl can ever own enough pairs of swimmers. Endurance sports like Swimming, Cycling, Running and Triathlon attract people from all walks of life for all different reasons and in my short experience they want to see nothing more or less for you then your finish line and what you learn along the way.
In that open water race first race, I quailed at the start line like a very nervous pigeon, swam like a flailing duck with a Salty on its tail down the length of The Strand in Townsville, terrified I was going to be left behind. (you know the stories about tail enders) and found myself hitting the beach ecstatic I had survived. The same feeling of euphoria when your toes touch the sand still happens each time I go out, but with each swim you come out a little stronger, a little more empowered to believe that yes, you can do this and still a little surprised that nothing took you for a midday snack. I also have come to learn about the crew called Water Safety, they never intentionally let us swim with the Crocodiles and that amount of adrenalin is not entirely necessary to participating in sport, but it does help. For the first time in many years I had tried something I knew nothing about. It is not something that we get every day as we get older and it makes each new experience more precious.
I have learned that you can run a cattle station, have a semblance of social life (make sure all your friends also swim) and train in some sort of balance. Though some weeks the scales are going to look like they are swinging around like 3 kids on a clothesline as you prioritize the important things in turn. And I have realized that to do something big like this is about getting all the little things right. So while my pool may not look like the one in town, grow a few water weeks and be a touch muddy at times, where there is a will there is a way. The 6km dirt bike track from the house has started a new fashion trend of pairing a wetsuit with cowboy boots and a motorcycle helmet. My living room looks like a yoga studio and my working dogs look more excited when I pull on a pair of runners then riding boots and I can not only now walk but also run. Something that looked rather unlikely this time last year.