This weekend wrapped up the 25th annual North Shore Swim Series, a fantastic series of 4 increasingly longer ocean races hosted by the one and only Chris Gardner, race director extraordinaire. I have participated in this series for the last 4-ish years, and every summer it gets more awesome. More swimmers, fun sponsors, sweet prizes (for people that win), coffee, ice cream, rainbows, chocolate (!), dolphins, and a happy laid-back summertime vibe unmatched anywhere in Hawaii.
Like many triathletes, swimming is my Challenge (capitalization intentional). What I may lack in talent, I attempt to make up for in (extreme) consistency. I have been swimming with the Oahu Club Masters program every MWF at 6am for almost 4 years. Unless I am out of the country or otherwise incapacitated, I’m in the pool 3 days a week before sunrise. At the very least, I would round out the podium with Miki and Anna Marie for best attendance record.
In the beginning, I followed along with the workouts as best I could, but my mind wandered and I struggled with the sets, the intervals, and all the swim lingo like DPS and LCM and SCY and high elbows and breathing patterns and body position, kick-outs and IM and pace 50’s, etc. Every workout I would do what I could, but eventually would check out and swim back and forth until everybody stopped. I didn’t know my intervals, or what a best average was, but I loved the Flanagan brothers and the rest of the OC morning crew. Everybody talked about a “feel for the water,” and that if I did it enough, eventually I would feel it too. So I kept swimming, mostly to see my friends and catch up with Jane in the dark parking lot 15 minutes before anyone showed up, but hopeful that eventually, something would click.
At some point along the way in the last 18 months or so, I started paying attention. I learned my 100 LCM intervals, I paid attention to coach’s instructions, asked for clarification when I didn’t understand, and stopped sneaking my fins on every time coach looked the other way. I watched my friends. Miki’s rhythm and timing, Lectie’s height in the water, and her deliberate and frequent sighting, Linda’s high elbows and entry, and how she pulls the bubble-less water beneath her (and Lou’s claw hand, just because it’s funny and seems to help). At some point I stopped using swimming as an exercise in recovery (and a social hour), mentally prepared to try harder in the pool, and most importantly, brought awareness to my swimming.
I’m still not a fast swimmer. I may never place in my age group at swim races, and I will almost certainly never be able to swim with my fast fish-for-friends. But the awareness I’ve brought to my swimming has made it worlds more enjoyable and rewarding, both in training and in racing. Listening to a Flanagan spell out the main set used to instill either an immediate sense of dread, or go in one ear and out the other. Now, I listen closely, think about how to approach the set, and execute as best I can. I watch the clock, think about timing and technique, and write down the entire thing and how it went after the workout.
This intention and focus served me well this summer on the north shore. During the Summer Sprint (race 1), I realized it was the first time I felt in control of my ocean swimming, rather than the swim controlling me. It felt like a breakthrough. In the Waimea Swim (swim 2), I was able to draft a faster swimmer the entire way around the bay, and worked incredibly hard to do so. This gave me tons of confidence. Swim 3 I was able to swim stroke-for-stroke with (okay, immediately behind) my swimming idol Linda Kaiser, the entire way from Chuns to Waimea. This was inspiring, and something I absolutely believed was not possible. And Saturday, I saw the most beautiful sight on the way from Ehukai to Waimea: a large pack including my fast friends Franzy and Michelle A, approaching the rocky halfway point at the same time as me. I was able to jump in and swim right along with them, all the way up the sand at Waimea. This made for an incredibly happy ending.
Thanks to my many swimming friends who encourage me along the way. Special thanks to Miki for the creative bonus 1000’s I somehow got tricked into and now look forward to, to Michelle who first convinced me that watching a clock makes swimming fun, to Linda and Lectie for total swim inspiration, to Jim & Jane for making me start in the first place, to Franzy for pushing me that much harder, and to Rachel for helping me find my best swim. Til roughwater, happy swimming.