Washington Post reporter Paul Tenorio will train with a swim club over the next few months and chronicle his journey as he attempts to transform from regular guy/sports reporter to competitive swimmer — everything from his waistline to his best times.
The alarm sounded at 3:55 a.m. and I rolled over and smacked my phone. My room was dark and so was everything outside. I’ve seen the clock at this time in recent years, but more often it was as I was going to sleep and not when it was time to wake up.
This whole thing was really going to happen.
Practice had been set up at the last minute, and the night before I had made my “last meal” before going healthy: baby back ribs, recipe courtesy of a Food Network show I saw a couple weeks ago. Sad, I know.
I had arranged a back-up plan in case I didn’t get in touch with Curl Burke Coach Jeff King (thank you to Fort Belvoir Coach Mark Murray for being so generous and agreeing to let me swim with his masters group) but got a call later in the night from King. He was ready for me to start.
At 4:30 a.m. in Alexandria’s Lee District Park.
I spent the rest of the night running around to get ready, finding a camera to use, snagging my webcam and making a quick stop to pick up a bathing suit before finally settling into bed at my grandmother’s house in Alexandria at 10:45 p.m. Not the ideal bedtime for Day 1, but oh well.
Despite that, and even with the early wake up call, I felt surprisingly good Monday morning – probably because of my anxiousness to get started.
Those good feelings quickly sank when I stepped onto the scale for my first weigh-in. A number popped up that was higher than any I’ve ever seen. I had started working out a month ago before hitting a lull, and I quickly put the weight back on … plus some. 193 pounds. Ugh. Those ribs probably didn’t help.
I pulled into Lee District at 4:28 a.m. and headed down to a side entrance. Stopping to take a deep breath before entering and getting started, I just kind of chuckled at the situation: You know you’re dedicated to your sport if the practice is so early a cone holding open a side door next to the dumpsters is the entrance.
I met Jeff by the side of the pool where he introduced me to some of his age group coaches and sat me down for a rundown on how this thing was all going to start. We discussed some people in the area I should meet, some of the fears I had talked about in this blog yesterday, and what was in store for the next few weeks.
Finally, Jeff told me it was time to get started with the workout. First, though, a hot shower to get the muscles warmed up, and some stretching.
“It’ll wake you up,” King said. “And it’ll wake up your muscles.”
On the way back to the pool from the locker room, I ran into a familiar face: Gonzaga All-Met swimmer Pat Sullivan, whom I covered the last two years working the swim and dive beat.
Sullivan was making his first return to the pool as he recovered from a stress fracture in his ankle, and it felt good to not only have someone there I knew, but also someone who was looking to get back into the water for the first time in a while as well. A few weeks, five years … close enough.
My first workout would be an exercise King aptly called “catch up.” As in letting my muscles catch up and get back to speed. Holding the edge of a kick board in front of me, with swim fins on, I would slowly take strokes with my arms, face in the water (stroke right, hold-the-board, stroke left, hold-the board).
The assignment: 20 50-meter laps.
“The first three or four, you’ll feel good,” King said. “After that, you’re going to die.”
Turns out that was a pretty accurate statement.
The whole workout didn’t actually kill me, but once I got to laps seven and eight, my body started to hate me. The legs ached most, but I worked to stay disciplined on the kicking and to keep decent form. By lap 12, my arms started to rebel. At lap 16, my lungs were hurting and I noticed my breathing becoming more labored.
When I finished lap 18, I stopped and King told me to ditch the kickboard. Lap 19 would be the same form, but without the board. Lap 20, I was going to really swim it.
As I turned for the final time and put my head down for my last lap, I hoped to not embarrass myself. At the other end, Sullivan and King waited and watched.
I started strong, but about a third of the way, the exhaustion of the workout set in. Halfway there, I knew I was slowing. As I neared the wall I just tried to push through. I have no idea how fast or slow I came in. I was tired and trying to take my pulse.
I counted 15 in 6 seconds, but it might have been 17. There were a couple double skips that made me hesitate and almost lose count, and the second hand on the clock at the far wall was tough to watch. My guess is my count was off and my heart rate was probably up around 170, 180 or so, at least.
Either way, the first workout felt pretty solid. I got some encouragement from King and Sullivan, both of whom said I did a nice job for my first day. Thank goodness they were at least being nice to my face. In the showers afterward I felt good knowing I had made it through the first session without any major hiccups.
And I learned something. Those of you who think flippers are cheating, you’re wrong. The work was still there, and King told me that with the surface area the flippers cover, you’re muscles are working twice as hard.
I know tomorrow is going to bring more challenges, and I’ll be getting timed for the first time in a 100-meter race, but considering how long it has been since I’ve been in a pool, it didn’t feel too awful.
As I sit here typing , I am a little sore, but nothing overwhelming.
Tuesday morning might be different. We’ll have to see.
I just hope the scale is nicer to me when I wake up.
(UPDATE: About seven-and-a-half hours after my first practice ended, I went to Stratford Landing pool to time myself in the 100-meter freestyle and 50-meter freestyle for a chart in Tuesday’s paper. The times were abysmal. I’m trying to make myself feel better by telling myself that it has been five years since I stopped swimming even somewhat regularly, and even longer since I’d trained consistently in a pool. I’m telling myself that I had done maybe five actual laps since 2003, and that the timed efforts came after an extended workout this morning. But my 100 time of 1:26.95 was about 20 seconds slower than I expected, and the 50 free time that came about five minutes later was equally shameful: 38.67.
I felt a little bit better when I saw the meters to yards conversion, which would estimate my time in a 100-yard race to 1:17.91 and my 50-yard race to 34.65. But for someone as competitive as I, when I see the times I can do nothing but shake my head and hope that when the final times come out, putting these numbers out for the public to see will be worth it.
They are hopelessly behind cut times for the Virginia AAA high school swim meet. This is the first really discouraging moment I’ve come up against. I can only hope the times get much, much better.)