My unexceptional competitive swimming career spans 18 years -- starting as an enthusiastic six-year-old and ending as a rebellious 16-year-old, who was kicked off the team for spending more time partying than practicing.
I didn’t swim for seven years after that. When I finally returned to the pool, it was as a mature 23-year-old who actually listened to the coaches instead of fighting them.
In all those turbulent years, I have never raced at a swim meet filled with so much pain as I did today. It was a suffer-fest from beginning to end.
I can’t describe it what it feels like to go all out using every muscle in your body, but Don Schollander (four gold medals in the 1964 Olympics) nails it:
As you approach the limit of your endurance it begins, coming on gradually, hitting your stomach first. Then your arms grow heavy and your legs tighten -- thighs first, then knees. You sink lower in the water because you can’t hold yourself up. The sounds of the pool blend together and become a crashing roar in your ears. The water takes on a pinkish tinge. Your stomach feels as though it’s going to fall out -- every kick hurts like hell -- and then suddenly you hear a shrill, internal scream. At the threshold of pain, you have a choice. You can back off -- or you can force yourself to drive to the finish, knowing that this pain will become agony. It is right there, at the pain barrier, that the great competitors separate from the rest. Most swimmers back away from the pain; a champion pushes himself on into agony.
I have never been able to break through the pain barrier. I am allergic to extreme pain. At the meet at UBC today, it felt like I was trapped on the wrong side of the pain barrier. Despite the maximum effort, my times were way slower than what they were two months ago. I haven't been this out of shape since I had mono.
So why do I do it? It’s amazing how good you feel after you’ve put yourself through hell. Is that masochistic? Absolutely!
My results from today's meet (rankings in the female 30-34 age group):
- 400 metre freestyle: 5:34.41, 1st place
- 200 metre freestyle: 2:35.95, 1st place
- 100 metre freestyle: 1:09.85, 1st place
- 50 metre freestyle: 31.81, 1st place