The Swimmer in the White Cap

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Swimming laps isn’t my thing, in fact it’s very far from my thing.  It’s repetitious, it’s uninteresting, and I’m not very good at it.  It has short term interest written all over it.

That’s why I was surprised on Sunday night when I realised that I wanted to start swimming.  This came from the realisation that if I wanted to do any triathlons (don’t mention the running) or multi-sports I needed to improve my swimming, so no matter how boring it was, it was time to add it to my training schedule.  A schedule that so far consists of, well, swimming … assuming I went.

So it was at about 6pm that I found myself lowering myself into the ‘medium’ speed lane with the goal of swimming either 1km or for 1hour … whichever came first.  You might wonder as to whether my choosing the medium lane spoke of some confidence in my swimming ability.  The answer is: it didn’t.  It spoke of the reality that there were only 2 lanes available for public lap swimmers, one marked fast and the other medium.  Basically I had no choice.

I set off on my first 50metres, determined to turn straight around and clock up a hundred.  Iwas determined to start well:  good, low breathing technique, pushing my chest down into the water for extra boyancy, efficient long strokes and a good kicking rhytm.  Everything Helen had taught me all those years ago. Unfortunately, by about the 40 metre mark, my arms were everywhere, my legs kicking furiously trying to get to the end and I don’t think I had taken a breathe in 10 metres as my desperate mind compelled me to make a mad dash for the end of the pool before I drowned.  After a fairly serious rest, dutifully pretending that my googles needed cleaning and adjusting, I managed to recover enough to head back down and knock off my first hundred metres.  Only 900 more to go.

By then end of 200metres, I had all but given up on technique and and was quickly assuring myself that just making a kilometre would be achievement enough tonight.  I felt like I’d been in the pool forever and that this torture was never going to end.

It was about then that I started becoming more aware of the other people in my lane.  There was an old guy, who really needed a slow lane, as he doggedly swam 50 metres before resting for 5 minutes and setting off again, there were 2 young girls freestyling 50 metres and then breast stroking back 50 metres, and then there was the girl in the white cap.  I came up behind her just after the 200 metre mark. She was overtaking the old guy, and so did I, then I over took her.

I let her go off in front of me for the next 50m, and although I caught her by the end of the lap, by the time I’d had a rest, and headed back up again, she was a nearly a full length in front of me.  I realised that whilst I was swimming the laps faster than her, she was resting much less and hence pulling ahead.   Suddenly the idea formed in my head to set my pace off her … to not allow her to get any further ahead.  At 300metres, I started chasing the girl in the white cap.

For the next 300 metres, I pretty much kept pace, I forced myself to take shorter breaks, to swim more consistently, to listen to my body and let it set it’s own rhythm for breathing and exercise.  Somewhere around the 600metre mark, I realised that my gasping breathes had gone, my arms ached less, and I actually started to feel … well … good.

As I touched at 750metres, I noticed the girl in the white cap, for the first time was only half way up the next lane.  I set off with only a five second rest.  By 850 metres she was only 10 metres in front of me.  I stopped pacing and started racing. 

At 900 metres I touched almost in sycnh with the girl in the white cap. She politely offered to let me go in front of her, and after pleading for a few seconds to get my breathe back, I set off.  It had taken me 600 metres, but I had caught and overtaken the girl in the white cap.

I also realised that time had flashed by.  I touched in at my1 kilometre goal, and noticed I’d only been swimming for 30 minutes, for a moment, a brief, brief moment I actually considered lifting the target to 1.5km, but then I remembered I still had to ride home, and there would be other days.

I rested in the lane for a couple of minutes, and watched the girl in the white cap do another 100 metres.  She offered to let me go ahead again, but I said I was done and getting out.  She just set off, probably oblivious to how easy she had made my first swim.

Ten minutes later as I walked past the pool after getting changed, I noticed that the girl in the white cap was still there doing laps.  I sent her a small, quiet thank you in my mind and walked out the door. 

I have no idea who she is, but the girl in the white cap had reminded me of something I had almost forgotten … the joy of the chase, the passion of focussing only on one thing: that person in front of you, the effort it takes to first just hold onto them, to match pace.  The strategy of thinking how and when to try and catch them, how to close the gap, the moment when you execute and pull alongside, the countering of any surge forward they make to hold position, the passing, the consolidation, and then the triumph in knowing you’ve pushed yourself harder than one more person in the world, a fleeting moment only, because then when you take a breathe, settle back into your rhythm and look up, you’ll seem them again – another the person in front of you … it’s time for the chase to begin again.

 Thank you for reminding me of that gift, that passion, my anonymous swimmer in the white cap.

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