Friday, December 14, 2007

Little Bird, Big Bird, FLAP!

What is it with the animal themes of late?

After my swim Time Trial today, I knew I had to keep moving, or else my aching muscles would freeze up or worse, cramp. I had just set a pr for the broken kilometer, and was in shock of what I had done. It seemed so surreal: to throw down another great time in base training. Going into the test, I felt focused, and I wanted this test, I wanted to feel the pain that would inevitably occur, laugh in it's face, and then up it another notch. Call me masochistic - but I was ready to welcome it with open arms, the then squash it by bringing up the intensity that much more. I knew I could handle it, I knew I could control myself, my emotions, my performance.

It's funny: at times I feel like I have no control with stuff that's going on in my ever day life, weather it's Nathaniel's deployments, our constant moving, military life, work, etc, etc, etc (don't we ALL have stuff like this). But I CAN control my workouts, my effort, my intensity, my spirit, myself. And I knew that I wanted this test, I wanted to feel the water flow over my back, to hear the rushing sound over my cap, to pull so hard and feel the push as my hand exited. Screw everything else: the emotions, the holidays, the stress, the stuff that I can't control. This test is mine. My test. It's mine. My own. (My Precious! Oops - wrong blog! :)

The broken kilometer that Memo has me do is pretty basic. Swim 10 X 100 with a :10 rest interval, and then subtract 90 seconds from the final overall time (essentially, taking out the 10 second rest intervals). Deceptively simple, yet will leave you broken, beaten, gasping, and wondering where your legs went because you can't feel them anymore. Initially I wanted to break 13:00 for my final time, but during the warm-up figured that the methodology that I used for the 5k run TT worked well, so I might as well just throw caution to the wind, and go for broke. What the heck? I've got nothing to loose (except for feeling in my legs and arms...) I kept reminding myself that if all else failed, I would at least go down trying.

Famous last words, eh?

After a quick warm up, a few sips of water, and stomach evaluation, I was ready and raring to go. For a few awful moments, I wondered if I should make a quick potty stop.

Not again! I thought. This is just getting stupid.

I could hold it for 15 minutes. I just wanted to GO.

And so I did. (Started the piece, NOT to the ladies room).

I made sure that I had 5 items arranged at the end of the lane, and adjusted my goggles one last time. 2 finz, a kick board, a pull buoy, and a shammy - all arranged one next to another. Crazy, yes: but the 5 items would help me keep track of my laps. I know it sounds pretty silly, but I tend to loose count of laps. I can recite running splits from high school, I can remember how many stairs are at the Humphrey Terminal at the MSP airport (I count stairs as I walk up, a little quirk. There are 28, in case you're wondering), when teammates or training partners tell me their times, I remember.

But for the life of me, I can't keep track of how many laps I've swum. There have been so many times where I've addend an extra set or an extra lap, just because I suspect that I've lost count. The 1,000 or the 1,500 meter sets are the worst! (I make it only because I force myself to look at my watch every 100 yards. If the time corresponds to what my average split is, then I know I'm on track. But I usually get a little lost, anyway...)Sometimes during the longer sets, I would just rather let my mind wander and swim for the sake of swimming - but I've usually got to take peeks at my watch (not because I'm worried about time, no.) because I need to know approximately where I'm at in my set.

It's gotten so bad as of late, that when I swim with Ludi, she's the one who keeps track of laps. When we run and bike, I'm the one who's in charge. The pool is a different matter entirely.

So I had my trusty pull buoy, kick board, 2 finz, and a shammy. I also had a water bottle, but wasn't about to count on it to keep track of my laps. I figured that I would need a few sips, and would inevitably misplace the bottle, and then ultimately loose track of my laps. Miscounting laps on a 400 is understandable, but for a Time Trial test, is inexcusable. So I stuck with what had worked in the past.

After a final adjustment to the goggles, a sip of water, and setting my watch on START, I was finally ready.

I took a deep breath, submerged my body under water, placed the bottoms of my feet against the black T on the wall, and paused.

The calm before the storm.

I was hyper aware of my surroundings. Even though it was shorter than a heartbeat, it felt like eons of time. The blue bottom of the pool, with the black lane lines made a perfect reflection on the underside of the pool's surface. I was seeing double, and locked into my own dimension. I couldn't see the ceiling, couldn't see the fans, couldn't see the lights. It was just me, my heartbeat, and the silence of the water. The stillness closed around me, and I was aware of other swimmers in different lanes. I could see the water, wavy at the surface, and calm at the bottoms. I noticed the double zeros on my watch, waiting for my command to start. I could hear the silence in my ears, my blue turtle cap covering my hair and insulating my eardrums from the rushing noise that the water would soon make. I was in my own blue world. No stress, no emotion, no worry, no anger, no happiness, no guilt, no fear. Nothing outside of myself mattered. It was just me, and this one mission, this one time trial. Just Go.

I shot off the wall, like a ball exploding from a cannon. I felt good, I felt fluid, I felt smooth. A quick flip turn, and I noticed I was veering off towards the left. A minor adjustment, and I was back on track, right over the black lines. I used the strip to bring me back to the T on the wall, flipped and was off on my second 50. Legs were feeling, good, breathing was controlled, and I could feel the effort in my arms. One final flip, and I was in the homestretch. This wasn't so bad, I though. Almost 1 down, only 9 to go...

A glance at my watch read 1:14. Not bad - I could do it. I moved the pull buoy aside, and readied myself to start again.

Holy Cow! 10 seconds goes by awfully fast when you're tired and panting.

A second, and then a third, and then a fourth set passed. With each passing set, I would move a kick board, or shammy, or fin, which really helped keep track of my laps completed. The rest intervals seemed to pass more and more quickly, and I barely had enough of a chance to register my time and grab a quick sip of water before I was off the wall again. And again.

The effort was really beginning to take a toll. My arms were screaming, and I could feel the exact spot in my shoulders that were sore after Wednesday's lift. My head was throbbing, from lack of oxygen, but at least I was still thinking clearly, so no damage as of yet (or so I thought!). My legs were by far the worst. Every poke, every prod from my genius of a massage therapist was on fire during my kick. Shelly has this incredible ability to heal me, but I'm usually pretty sore for a few days afterwards. Today was NO exception (I knew that after Wednesday's session I would be in rough shape, especially when Shelly told me that I would need to ice my lateral quads every night. Not that reassuring!)

After set 5, I started moving the objects at the end of my lane in the other direction. Yea! I was over the hurdle, done with the rough stuff: now I was on the backside, making the turn for home.

The final sets all became intertwined. Each one felt like the one before it and the one after. I remember trying to focus on my form, to think about blasting off the wall after each flip turn. A few times I tried to look at my watch, to figure out where I was, if I was ahead or behind my previous record. I was too out of it to make the computations, and I figured that it didn't really matter, anyway. My time thus far had absolutely no barring on what I needed to do to finish the set. To hell with swimming a 1:10 or 1:30. I was going all out, each and every set. I was proud of myself, proud of what I was doing, and really proud of the fact that I wasn't afraid to hold back.

And in my oxygen-starved brain, where stars were beginning to form on the edges of my vision, I felt myself laughing. I wasn't afraid of the pain, wasn't afraid to hold back. I welcomed it.

During the backside of the 7th 100, I took note of this laugh, this very un-Marit laugh. So unlike me: I'm the serious one, the one who thinks things through, the one who strategizes, who plans, who calculates. Yes, I have a hard time keeping track of my swim laps, but remember, I like to count stuff. (Always have and always will...) Yet there I was, manically laughing in my head.

It was such a release! I was amazed, I was powerful, I was in control. And I was laughing in spite of myself. Could I bring the intensity up a notch? Hell yes! The voice laughed louder. I was surprised that the other swimmers or lifeguards weren't wondering who this crazy, blue-turtle capped woman was. I kept laughing all the way to the end of the set.

Bring it on, I'll push through.

Looking back, I'm not really sure what my laughter motive was. It must have been a release, of sorts. All I know is that I was working my hardest, and I absolutely refused to give an inch on any stroke. Each and every pull I felt were honest and true. Did it hurt? Yes. Was I in pain? Yes.

But the laughter came from elsewhere. Maybe it was that crazy bit in me that knew I was at my max: it was a way to release that little bit of extra energy that I wasn't able to channel into my arms or legs. I was simply tapped out, working my hardest, yet my mind was trying to figure itself out, trying to keep on top of what was going on. Trying to keep itself from going over the edge completely.

But it couldn't: my oxygen had run out long ago, and it was slowly being starved. My breath came in ragged gasps, and again I wondered what random people on the pool deck though. Hopefully they were too distracted by my speedy antics to notice the tornado-sound that was escaping my body.

Final set, and I thought of an old swimming partner. His name was Mike, and he always swam in a very colorful speedo. Great guy, and he pushed me to new lengths in the pool. Except he had this weird thing about the words "last set". I made the mistake of uttering them once during our last 50, and he got this intense look in his eyes.

"What did you just say?" he asked.

Taken aback, I replied, "Last set?"

He got this look on his face and gritted his teeth. "You know what that means, right?"

"Um." I stammered, "That this is the last one?" my voice trailed off.

"No. It means that we don't hold anything back. As fast as you can, don't think, just go." he replied with a flourish.

He then proceeded to open a full body length on me within the first 20 yards. He was a great swimmer, a great friend, and I miss our swims together (since living in North Carolina, he has since moved to South Carolina, whereas I'm in Florida. That's the military for you).

I thought of Mike as I pushed off the wall for my final 100. I remembered Elizabeth's "Believe" entry, and thought about how much I had been through. I wanted this set, I wanted this workout, I wanted to have control.

And I did.

The last 25 was painful, but I followed the black line, followed the pull of my arms, kind of felt the kick of my legs, and focused solely on the wall. I was so close, I could see it. But I made sure to keep my head down. I didn't pause for breath: I read somewhere once that top swimmers won't breath for the final 7 or 8 strokes of a race because it takes that long for their bodies to register the lack of oxygen. Not that I'm a "top swimmer", but he - anything at this point to help! So I held my breath, I dug deep, and I went for it.

I touched the wall just as stars exploded behind my eyes. My goggles felt as though they would burst off my face, and my skin was so hot that the water felt as though it was boiling. I glanced at my watch, registered the time, and then took a few seconds to actually push "STOP". Rather than beating 14:20 or 14:15 like I was hoping, I had smashed my time and come across in 14:06. Which meant that my overall time was 12:36.

Could this be right? Had I counted my pull buoys right? Did I forget a lap??

These questions briefly surfaced, but were soon quelled by my breathing. Once again, I felt like a diesel train. Only this time I was in a building, not in the great wide open. The sound exploding from my body made a weird rasping noise, but I wasn't able to control it. I dunked my head under water a few times, but the water, so cool at my initial plunge, now burned my face.

But I needed to move, I needed to do something. I tried treading water. Nope - not going to work.

Treading water was impossible, and the heaving gasps coming from my chest cavity only drew further attention from other swimmers. My head was throbbing, the goggles had pinched into my sinus cavities, and the lack of oxygen during my broken kilometer had left me assured of the fact that I would need Tylenol or Motrin asap.

I did the only thing I could think of: I flopped on my back.

No, not the Fish-Flop a la 5K run time trial, but more of a "back float". Except I didn't really float.

Instead, my heavy legs, throbbing from the effort, slowly sank below the water's surface. My knees were quick to follow, and before I could stop myself, the quads and my big rear were pulling me under. So much for buoyancy: I was nearly all the way under water, and trying my hardest to figure out what to do.

And then it hit me: Little bird, big bird, Flap!

I was only dimly aware of my thoughts. Half-conscious of what was going on, of my surroundings. But I found myself, floating - once again - on my back, and going through the motions of the "elementary back stroke".

When I was a little kid, my Mom would take me and my sister to swimming lessons at the Como Pool. I loved the pool: it was outside, school was out for the summer, the weather was warm, and I got to splash around in the water for an hour. I had some great memories, wonderful instructors, and learned so much at the pool.

During level 2 (or was it 3?), I learned the "Elementary Back Stroke", a complicated stroke that involved the whip kick, floating on one's back, and a complicated arm motion. I had a hard time getting the knack of this stroke, so my teacher patiently explained the parts of the stroke.

"Don't worry about the legs, Marit," she said.

I watched her with the full confidence and faithfulness of a 9 year old pupil.

"Do you like birds?" she asked.

Having no idea where she was going, I nodded my head.

"Think of the stroke in this way and watch me."

"Okay," I replied, uncertain of what was about to happen.

"Little bird..." She held her arms under her armpits, elbows stuck out an an angle straight from her shoulders. "Big Bird," She repeated, extending her elbows fully, so that her arms were all the way out from her body. "And FLAP!" she exclaimed, abruptly bringing her palms down to her legs.

"Little bird, big bird, FLAP!" she repeated. "Easy and fun!"

And since that day, I never had difficulty with the elementary back stroke.

I though of that time, those classes while flapping down the pool. The white ceiling passed slowly overhead, and I could see the flags over the lane lines out of the corner of my eyes.

It was wonderful, it was brilliant, it was endless. Another moment that I'll cherish, that I'll remember.

It's funny where your mind will take you after a difficult effort. After workouts and races, I've cried, I've laughed, I've hugged other athletes, I've watched fog swirl overhead... but never can I say, have I chanted, "Little Bird, Big Bird, FLAP!" with such gusto.

Next time I might just skip the broken kilometer and go straight for the bird motions. But no, I couldn't do that. The crazy part of me that loves this stuff would never let me hear the end of it. And I couldn't do my FLAP in peace. Nope - this'll be a new tradition after a hard effort. And as a bonus, it makes me smile.

3 comments:

Train-This said...

VERY AWESOME! WOO HOO!

:-Mary!

Anonymous said...

Nice job Marit! :) I JUST did this exact test on Thursday. 10 x 100 w/ 10" rest. LOVE IT.....!!!! I was trashed too. :) JenH.

BreeWee said...

Love the animal themes!
I am so envious of these time trials/tests! Your posts have me so motivated for mine! I guess after the marathon recovery I get to do them and I will owe the motivation behind them to you for the posts that make me excited about it!