Monday was my first swim in a month. Literally a month. 28 whole days.
I got in the water with a plan in my head;
Don’t count your distance, don’t set the lap clock running when you get in. Swim until you feel well-stretched and notably tired – But not so tired that you can’t get dressed. At the first sign of pain, lack of enthusiasm, or coldness, stop swimming.
This is something that I learnt from bodybuilding – As much as people talk about “Oh, you’ll want to train once you get there, you just have to push through the laziness” there is something distinct from laziness that sometimes just makes training impossible, and it’s a completely valid reason to not train. There’s the feeling, when you’re training sometimes, of just distinct unease, of complete loss of motivation. Of “I don’t want to do this, I can’t go another inch, I don’t even want to change into my fastskin, never mind swim in it” – It’s not always accompanied by pain, or even by tiredness, it’s just a sort of cold, grey slurry that creeps up and smothers your heart, empties your lungs, and makes so much as shifting your gaze from the lap timer to the lane end into a painful slog. It’s like the worst excess of depression, but instead of being directed at everything, it’s purely directed at physical exertion.
Listen to it. It’s not laziness, it’s not cowardice, it’s the Body telling you that it’s had enough for now, and that you need to take it home and mollycoddle it. Put it in bed, with clean sheets, a cup of cocoa, an audiobook, and probably a large glass of brandy. It’s done enough. If more people were honest about “I don’t want to” as opposed to “I can’t”, and if more people understood that this kind of “My whole body has stopped responding” was a definite “I can’t”, we’d probably have a healthier sporting culture. Less PE teachers barking at over-worked bairns that should probably have sat down and had a protein bar half an hour ago. Less amateur clubs where the line between “committed” and “casual” is viewed as being about moral goodness (Casually joining in on a game of cricket, or a short jog, is a good thing. You’re not a bad person for only going once a week, you’re just doing a thing you enjoy at the level you enjoy it at). Less mistrust between athletes and non-athletes (Self-flagellating body-shamers and feckless wastes of good myosin, respectively).
My be-gentler-with-myself-at-training plan worked. I swam for probably about half an hour, and felt better afterwards than when I got in. I did the same again today, at the midday session. Both in the medium lane, both times swimming steadily, making sure not to try keeping pace with anyone else.
Sadly, the day in the middle was a pain day – Dislocated hip on Monday evening which kept me up all night, then day-sleeping for much of Tuesday, on a cocktail of diazepam, morphine and gin and tonic. But I recovered, quickly enough.
I’ve said before that I’m basically a dugong in a malfunctioning human-suit, which a friend corrected to being more like a selkie (Still unconvincingly human on land, but in a more appealing way). The thing with selkies is that they always want to get back in the water, and honestly that had been my problem for a while – For most of last year, swimming was an addiction rather than a hobby; If I swam until I couldn’t walk, I didn’t feel good, I just felt normal. If I missed a day, I felt horrendous, and hastily rearranged my life to try to fit in another session. It felt a lot like when I was in serious training as a teenager – Where the only options were either “Overwirked to the point of near-death” or “Punishing myself for not working hard enough”.
Hopefully this year I’ll do better. Short swims. Not looking at the lap timer. Not counting my lengths. Just doing what I feel like.