Sunday, February 13, 2005

The 50-metre jungle

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


Alan said...

Congratulations!! Four 1st place finishes.

It takes discipline to do something like that and its more important as you get older. I know that!

I've done some competitive suntanning in my days, so I can't imagine the exertion for a swim competition or triathlon.

By the way, love the butt shot photo on the front. Looking good.

thestraightpoop said...

Sarah, congrats on your excellent finishes!! I am sorry I couldn't make it - couldn't convince my visiting parents that it would be more fun to attend than going to Steveston, touring around there, going to a marine museum at Kits, all of the touristy things. Wish I could have been there. Tam

Sarah said...

Thanks. But don't forget, it's only masters swimming, not real swimming :)

Tamara, don't worry about not being able to make it yesterday. I think you may have found it boring. Plus I'd hate for your parents to have come in from Edmonton to be stuck inside a pool all day instead of doing fun touristy things.


Anonymous said...

Sarah, yesterday at the end of my swim workout we had four 25 m. races. After the second 25 m I thought my heart was going to explode and that I was going to die. Unlike you I figured that was pleanty so I happily swam in last place for the final two 25m races. Good on you for putting in such a solid effort on Saturday. You're still smoking fast in my books even if it's not quite as fast as you were before. PSTC K

Sarah said...

Karen...if you ever want to compete in any of the swim meets, let me know. I think more triathletes should do so. And not just because it will boost the rankings of the pure swimmers :)


Anonymous said...

Yes Sarah from time to time I do hear about the swim meets and I read about them in the masters newsletter. But.... I think I'll keep away from them. Remember I'm an "endurance" athlete not a speedy athlete. The thought of having my heart explode doesn't appeal to me at all. PSTC K P.S. Sorry for my typos. Once I post my comments I cringe when I see my mistakes. I really do know how to spell - most of the time!