Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Masters Practice

My eyes were closed. I could feel my arms, my legs, and wiggled my toes. My breathing was slow and steady, relaxed and calm. The room was quiet and dark, the sun still hiding well below the horizon. Wait a second…

My eyes flew open. I reached for the bedside clock and gasped in horror when I read the 5:45 am time. Oh Shit! I had overslept!! On my first day of Master’s Practice at that! It started at 5:30. And I was bound and determined to get there early, in order to talk to the coach, get a lay of the land. Oh no indeed!

What would the team think?

What would the coach – who I had never met, yet promised I would be there – think?

And oh no! I would have to confess to uber-swimmer-uber-coach Jen that I had missed my first practice! What would she think? What kind of crazy breath-set, pee-inducing swim set-from-h-e-l-l would she give me???

Big Gulp!

What kind of triathlete am I? One who oversleeps? And for what? I had been so excited, so enthusiastic about my very first Master’s Swim and NOW look at me. Bloody Hell!

My mind raced…. Perhaps there was another time, another session. Maybe I could still make it work…. But deep down I knew I had messed up. Bloody effing hell, if you ask me. Not a good way to start the morning.


I closed my eyes again and drifted back off into dreamland…

I opened my eyes for what felt like a second time. I wondered the time and briefly hoped that the practice I had slept through would be cancelled due to severe thunderstorms. At least that way I could claim that the threat of bad weather had me opting for safety instead of swimming. I strained my ears over Nathaniel’s breathing, but heard no thunder. Darn it!

I was surprised at how dark the room still was, though. I reached for my cell phone, as we have no bedside clock and -


I flipped open the display and it happily read 3:18 am.


I have never ever been so happy to see 3:18 am in my entire life.

That means I’m not a failure; I didn’t oversleep on my first day of Master’s swimming. Hooray!

After dozing on and off for another hour, my phone finally went off, and I jumped out of bed. A quick check of the weather radar confirmed that the impending thunderstorms were still way out West (though they arrived very strong around 9 am), and that we were “clear for launch” for my first Master’s swim.

I pondered briefly the nutrition and coffee issue. On the one hand, food is my friend. More importantly, COFFEE AT 0430 IS MY FRIEND! But as I don’t have that great of a stomach, and didn’t know what sort of practice to expect, I didn’t want to test my limits on my first day. I didn’t think that reproducing my pre-swim breakfast during an intense set would get me an invite back to practice.

So I played it safe, counted on my adrenaline to keep me awake, and was out the door by 5:00 am.

To those of you who don’t know me, you may think this a bit early… Alas, not. While I’m not always the most punctual of persons, there are a few things that I hate being late to. They include (but are not limited to)
1) Airplane Flights. Hate worrying about missing a flight. End of story. We get to the airport with plenty of time to spare.
2) Movies. Hate worrying about not getting a seat. Plus I’m a sucker for the previews. So yeah, arrive early, scope the place out, and get the primo seats
3) Races. I like to arrive 2 hours early. Even if I’ve checked in my bike. I know its silly, know that its stupid. And heck yeah – I get nervous around the other athletes. But the thought of missing my start or not getting a good warm up in because I was late is unacceptable.
4) Practices. See above. Don’t like to be late for an organized practice… If I’m meeting friends on my own, yeah I’ll maybe push the time back. But they know me and I know them… so we’re all squared away.

So the 5 am departure was to ensure I got to the pool by 5:15 for the 5:30 practice. As I had never been to this pool (and tend to be a bit klutzy with directions…) I wanted to make sure I found my way and made a good first impression.

However, by leaving at 5 am, the one thing I underestimated was the traffic. Or lack thereof to be precise. So at 5:11 am, I found myself sitting in an empty parking lot, listening to NPR’s Morning Edition (they were going nutso over “Super Tuesday”), watching the low-lying clouds fly by overhead, and looking into the windows of the empty pool.

The pool looked great – there was just no one there.

After a few minutes, another car joined me in the parking lot. Then another, and another, and another after that. Soon, the lot was filled with parked cars.

But no one was getting out. They were all remaining seated!
I certainly didn’t want to be the lone idiot getting out of the relative safety of my car. I briefly contemplated tapping on the tinted windows of the truck next to me, but quickly pushed that idea aside. I couldn’t even see the driver. For all I knew, it could be the Halloween Guy (Michael Meyers?) or some scary non-swimmer type.

I decided to stay put, and got out of the car as other swimmers began to assemble at the door at exactly 5:20.

The first thing I noticed, was (and I don’t mean any offense at all by my statement) how old everyone was. It was 5:20 in the morning, and the ratio of 50+ year-olds to 30 and under was a good 8-1. I was amazed. But… they were all so friendly. I got a hearty “hello” from a fellow Minnesotan, who recognized my “accent” right off the bat – which surprised me, because I didn’t think that I “spoke Minnesotan” anymore.

Apparently, I do.

“Oh ya, sure. You betcha!”

Then, Coach Steven showed up, let everyone in, and to the pool deck we gathered.

I introduced myself and mentioned that, “I have never swam with a group before. I have no idea where to go, or who to swim with. This is all new to me, so please place me wherever you see fit.”

The Coach looked at me, and assigned me to Lane 2. The slowest lane… the one with the octogenarians, and a few 70 year olds to boot.

Great – Loveley. Do I look that slow???

Luckily, that lane was pretty full, so he moved me over one. I greeted my newfound lane mates, and started in on the easy 600 warm-up.

In less than 200 yards, I had lapped both the guys twice, and they made me move over one lane. “You’re too fast for us!” one commented. He laughed though and made a comment about the “young whipper snappers!”.

So I grabbed my board, pull buoy, and shuffled over one.


Again, I found myself changing lanes. The other swimmers were really great though, and didn’t bat an eyelash at my “musical lane” antics. We were still on the warm-up, so I didn’t really mess anyone up too much.

In the end, I found myself sharing a lane with “The Kathies”. (Kathy and Kathy). As I have a horrible memory when it comes to names, this worked out well in my favor.

After the warm-up was over, they elected ME to be the lane leader. Our lane wasn’t particularly fast, and I had a lot of rest times between sets – but I was okay with that. I really didn’t mind. It was a rest week, anyway. And lately I’ve been all about the new experiences, going out of my comfort zone, challenging my beliefs.

And starting up with a Master’s program was simply one of my super-cool new experiences.

It was perfectly clear to all observers that I was a triathlete. My freestyle stroke – while it’s not great, was passable. Like Bree, I’ve gotten by on a lot of grit (I’m not nearly as fast as her!) and determination; but I’ve never had my stroke evaluated. Odd – because people who meet me automatically assume that I swim butterfly (it’s the shoulders!);

“You,” they say. “You – you must have a great fly. With shoulders like that, you must go seriously fast!”

I only smile, but don’t respond. They’ll never catch ME attempting the fly.

That, my friends, has since changed.

Wednesday, I ripped out my fly for the very first time in public.

Like I said before – it was apparent to all that I’m a triathlete.

But my heart was pure, and I “butter-flopped” down the lane with the best of them. I think I’ll try to be like Elizabeth and eventually race the 200 Fly. If anything, I’ll place in the event – not because I’m so fast, but because NO ONE down here swims that. They’re all about free and IM… 200 fly, now THAT is the epitome of pain, of HTFU. (You rock Elizabeth! I’m taking your advice: I’ve joined masters, am working with Jen Harrison, and here and now I’ve decided that my new favorite event is the 200 fly)

Yep folks, you read it here. By the time the year is over, I will have raced the 200 Fly.

But before that grand moment arrives, it’s clear that I’ve got a lot of work to do.

First, I’ll need to work on my counting. Because I’m not all that good about keeping track of laps or sets. Luckily The Kathy’s kept me honest about which set we were on. And as we were only swimming 100s, I really didn’t’ have the option of getting too discombobulated. (But it was a bit tricky going between all the IM s and Free…)

But they were very supportive – and didn’t get too annoyed at my little quip before every set, “Have fun!”

Except for the last one.

Kathy, or was it Kathy? Kathy1 remarked, “We know, we know. Have fun. YOU have fun!

With the emphasis on YOU. Oh well – they were entitled to be annoyed. It was 6:20 am, and some newbie, annoyingly perky, brightly-clad suited gal had joined their lane. I would be a bit sarcastic too, if you ask me. (Stupid bright colored suit and cap!)

At the end of the workout, we were given the option of practicing Starts off the Blocks.

Never having gone off the blocks (but seeing it done a zillion times), I jumped at the chance. Pick me, pick me, oh pretty please, pick me!

Coach Steven seemed surprised at my enthusiasm, but quickly welcomed me to the small group that had assembled. He explained that most of the people were getting ready for a big meet up in Auburn and were on their taper (hence the 100s). But anyone who wanted to dive off the blocks could practice.

I watched a few swimmers go, and noted as much as I could. I was most interested in 2 things: 1) How did people keep their goggles from flying up and 2) How did the guys keep their Speedos on? Hhhhmmmmmm. This could potentially be disastrous way too early on a Wednesday morning. (Thankfully I was wearing a 1 piece).

Coach Steven explained that I needed to keep my chin tucked as I dove into the pool, and not look up under any circumstances. Only when I felt myself slowing and rising to the surface would I be able to look up and adjust my head position without loosing my goggles.

As I clambered up to the blocks, Coach Steven asked if I was left or right handed.

Right handed,” I explained.

“Okay,” he replied. “Curl your right toes over the edge, place your left foot behind you, and reach your arms down between your feet on the edge of the platform. When I say go, you want to throw your arms, throw your body forward and dive into the water. Make sure you go deep enough, but not too deep so that you loose speed.”

Wow. Okay. That was a lot to ponder. Go deep but not too deep? Sounded like football, if you ask me. My goggles were the last of my concern. Not making a fool out of myself had suddenly become my new top priority.

And then I noticed how high up I was. Gulp. Wow. These blocks are a lot higher than they appear from the vantage point of the pool. They should come with warning labels, like the kind you see in car rear-view mirrors.
CAUTION: Starting Blocks are higher than they appear

And the last thing I needed to do was to tumble off the blocks onto the deck. The swimmers, who had finished practicing their start and subsequent length, were now making their way towards me. So it was me, the coach, and ALL of my newfound Master’s friends.

Nothing like embarrassing yourself in front of as many people as possible, right? (Like the entire team, gathered to see yours truly shaking like a newborn deer on top of the starting blocks.)

Wowzers – it felt like a long way up…

And suddenly, I could totally understand how Elizabeth’s husband could accomplish the unbelievable knee-flop technique. I silently prayed that I didn’t land on my knees.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and waited for Coach Steven to yell GO!


I jumped. I literally hung in mind-air for a second or two. It was beautiful. I felt free. I was soaring – soaring beyond my own expectations. Soaring beyond my doubts, my fears. It was just me, the blocks, and the clear blue waters.

And then…


No – not a belly flop. Not even the dreaded knee-flop. But my thighs hit the water, and I could feel the stinging as I made my way down the pool, the “splat” of impact leaving a distinct impression on my ears.

I reached the end, rubbed my thighs, and made my way down to the blocks again – ready for more.

Coach Steven was great. He explained that everything looked good for my first time, except that I didn’t kick up my hips, which lead to my thigh flop.

Well of course not! No one told me anything about throwing my hips upwards! Sheesh!! That in and of it self seems pretty complicated, if you ask me. Hurling oneself off a perfectly good platform, into cold, pee-filled pool water (no, I did NOT pee this time, as I discovered that I can’t go where there are a lot of people around me), while keeping your chin tucked, hips up, and kicking your legs back is a bit much to process all at once.

But I was bound and determined to do it again.

In the end, I had a blast. I loved jumping off the blocks. (I may not be ready for Worlds as of yet, but gosh-darn-it, I’ll keep plugging away). The camaraderie of my fellow swimmers was excellent, and the 82 year-old inspired me beyond measure. It was so neat, swimming with others, sharing a lane, pushing through a workout together.

Coach Jen will have me swim with Masters from now on 1-2 times per week. It’ll be good for me, good to be with a group at times, and wonderful to have others push me beyond my limits. And staring at the black line, lap after lap after lap, won’t be so lonely anymore.

Especially now that I’ve got a date with the 200 fly. You never know what a Master’s Practice will have in store. I found my inner-swimmer. And soon, the 200 fly will find me. (I think it already has – I just need to work on it).


BreeWee said...

Okay, just so you know (when you visit me at 82 years old) that we sit in our cars too before practice starts because it is cold out (72* cold)... but then we get out and chat right before time to jump in. Next, did you say your coach is Steve? If his name is Steve you are going to love it! I have a VERY good coach/athlete bond with my coach Steve... cheers to you Merit!

Beth said...

So will we be seeing both YOU AND Elizabeth doing the butterfly for the whole race in Clearwater?!?! :)

Glad you had so much fun!

Pedergraham said...

Sounds like you are with a good group, Marit. I will be cheering you on in that 200 fly--and you are right--fly seems to fall out the repertoire of most masters swimmers. Next up: the Check Off Challenge. Take a look here:

Ryan said...

Just so ya know, I think I could school an octogenarian on a warm up too, just not in the fly. Now that you have been called out for speaking "Minnesotan," I think maybe you write like one too. For example: Hearty hello, going nutso, A DARN TOOTIN’ SECOND, gosh-darn-it. I read all of those in the accent of the lady from "Fargo." I'm from Southern California, ie ;) no accent, when I teach a new class,the students ask," where is your accent from?" Welcome to the South!

Anonymous said...

HA! Even the 200 fly makes me tired just thinking about it. Pedergraham gave you that check-off list...that is a fun idea! Oh, and I HATE HATE being late. Sometimes I hate carpooling to Masters b/c I may be late. I am one of the first ones there, always. Nice work! Jen H.
PS We all sit in our cars until the pool opens (we do that here on Sundays!, but here is it -5, not 72 for Miss Wee!:))

Mel said... always make my morning coffee more entertaining...nothing better than a nice cup of HOT, YUMMY coffee and something good to read, so keep posting away...and good swimming...I am also in the master swim that is about all they have I can relate to a lot of your stories...except I am still in the slow lane :( EXCEPT I do kick ass in the kick board races...too bad I can't use it in a race :)

Greg Remaly said...

Hi Marit,

entertaining story as usual.

to answer your questions:

1) diving with goggles is a very individual thing. most swimmers swear by the googles they use, saying they never fall off. but also they may be tightening the hell out of the straps. Also, good technique with entry helps a lot with keeping the googles on.

2) We tie the strings on our swimsuits TIGHTLY.