Just keep swimming….

Makes you think of Dory, doesn’t it?

Last year at about this time, I saw something interesting in my social media feed.  Some of my friends/acquaintances had done a swim challenge.  I had just done my first swim meet in a long time, and had been looking for more events to do in the pool.  How had I missed this one?

I vowed that I would do it in 2019.  So, I searched around until I found it, and I signed up to do it this year.

Last Sunday, I did the Swim Distance Challenge.  It was great!  Originally, when I signed up in the fall, I wasn’t sure how long I would be able to go.  I knew that you had four hours to swim, and that you could take breaks for the restroom and to eat as needed.  But, beyond that, I was clueless.

Luckily, since I had mostly been training to swim for endurance and not for speed for the past few months, I had a vague idea of how much I thought I could do.  So, I signed up to do 12,000 yards.

As I started ramping up my yardage and frequency at the pool, an old shoulder issue began to rear it’s ugly head.  I have had problems since middle school with my shoulder, and I have mostly kept pain at bay with some simple but effective exercises.  After hitting 6000 meters at the pool one day, I realized I needed to up my game.  So, along with the usual resistance training, I began to increase my rotator cuff focus.  It helped, thank goodness.

On my birthday, I decided to try 8000 meters.  Despite feeling like I could sleep for days afterwards, it went ok.  Three days later, I hit 9300 meters.  My arm hadn’t fallen off (yet), so that was a positive.  I converted the meters into yards and realized I was over 10,000 yards now.

Maybe I can actually do 12,000….

Still, I doubted myself.  I had never done anything like this before.  Back in high school, we had a yearly training camp that I remember oh so well. We left the day after Christmas, drove to Ohio University in Athens, got off of the bus and had our first workout….100 x 100’s.  Long course.  It took us three hours.

I will never forget that set.

Every year, that was the first workout at camp.  We would then proceed to have 3 workouts the next day, two the following day, and then we’d head home.  We would complete roughly 45,000+ yards in less than 48 hours.  That’s about 28 miles.

We would all come home from the training camp and promptly be sick for the rest of the month.  The parents would just shake their heads.

So, that was the last time I had done 10,000 yards in one workout.  About 30 years ago.

Still, it was a “new” challenge.  I figured I just get to 10,000 and then go from there.

It was cold and dark as I packed up the car with my backpack and food that morning.  I was secretly happy that I wasn’t running outside but would instead be in a climate controlled pool room.

I showed up and entered the building, still unsure of myself.  Many people that were swimming had done this almost every year, so they knew what they were doing.  I, however, did not.

I checked in and got my cap and goodie bag and started to unpack my things.  I wanted to make sure I only put out my essentials, as I would be sharing a lane with 4-5 other people.  Just my Tailwind and some sport beans in my little ziplock.  I had written 6 x 2000 yard workouts so I could keep track.  It’s a good thing I did that because my watch was not accurate and was counting too much distance.

I wanted to keep moving as much as possible so I wouldn’t get cold or side tracked.  As we got in and started swimming, it reminded me of warming up as an age group swimmer at a USS meet.  We were in tight quarters and all moving at different speeds.  The waves where sloshing us all around.  It felt like swimming in open water, which I’m used to.  I knew it would thin out eventually, so I just tried to keep moving as much as I could and be patient.

The people in my lane were all so nice.  It was fun to be around other swimmers; I usually swim alone and swimming is lonely enough as it is.

Every 2000 yards, I stopped to switch to the next workout and to eat or drink a little.  It was starting to thin out a little, so there was more time to stop and not be in the way.  We were down to four swimmers in the lane as people were starting to spread out.  I was starting to get a little cold.  I made sure I kept drinking fluids, since dehydration can happen quickly if you don’t stay ahead of it.  It’s not like running where you actually feel thirsty.

I took a quick bathroom break at 6000, thinking that maybe I was half way done if I decided to go for 12,000.  Before I knew it, I hit 10,000.  At this point, I stopped to do a little inventory.  I felt pretty good, I was keeping up with hydration and fueling in general, and my shoulder wasn’t bothering me.  So, I figured I’d just go for it.

When I finished the last length, I paused to let it sink in.  I had done it.  I had set a goal that was a little scary for me, and I showed up and did it.

I got out of the pool to get my picture taken with my mileage on a certificate.  I then made my way to the locker room on wobbly legs.  I had been in the water for three hours and thirty one minutes, and my legs had forgotten how to walk.  I took a nice, hot shower, texted a quick message to my husband so he knew I was still alive, and walked out the car.

I wasn’t hungry yet, but made myself eat a little something while I finished my tailwind and drove home.  I was in disbelief that I had been able to complete what I had set out to do.  I knew that no one else would care but me; but it mattered to me and that’s what was most important.

Could I have gone further? Should I have swam for the remaining 29 minutes? Maybe.  I probably could have, I guess. But, I felt like being done. I was ready to get warm and dry.

Was it easier than running? Physically; sure.  Running is harder and I’m more sore after; no contest there.  But mentally, well, that’s different.  It’s challenging because you’re inside your head the whole time; no distractions. My lane mates and I exchanged a few pleasantries, but there was no real conversation.  It’s just you, staring at the black line on the bottom of the pool and hearing the water around your ears.  It was like life was paused and the outside world didn’t exist anymore.  It was surreal.

It was so different from the place my head goes for a 20 mile run; I can’t explain it.

I wanted to nap when I got home, but that just wasn’t an option.  Dan made me a recovery drink, and I sat in the chair for about a half an hour.  After that, it was business as usual.

Maybe next year I’ll reach a little further….

Run Happy. Run Long, Friends.


Amy is an ultramarathoner and triathlete, a coach, a mother of four, an Exercise Physiologist and a Physical Therapist. She lives with her husband, Dan (also an ultramarathoner and triathlete), and kids in Ohio.

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