When, after three 600s, my Coach Jeff King told me that we’d be finishing off practice with one more 600, I gulped.
I was tired, I was having more trouble breathing than usual, and for some reason my ankle was killing me. And at the end of that last 300 freestyle, I was feeling pretty much gassed.
But this is what practice is for, pushing yourself to the limit and then pushing yourself some more. So I grabbed a pull buoy and paddles per Jeff’s instructions and took off.
And then a funny thing happened.
I swam the first 100 and felt pretty good. Then I swam another hundred. And then one more. I flipped at 400 and told myself I had only four 50s left, and really, that wasn’t much. When I headed home for the final 100, I saw Jeff clapping on the side of the pool.
He said later he knew it was coming into the final stretch because I was speeding up.
Here’s what I knew. I knew that I had only done a 500 before once or twice, and now here I was going into a 600 and I felt strong. I could feel the water thanks to the paddles and I focused on pulling all the way through. And, though I was tired, I pushed hard.
When I finished up, I just felt accomplished. Not because 3400 meters (there was a 1000-meter warm-up) in a practice was my own new milestone and that was something special. I know people swim a lot more than that on a daily basis, and really I’m only approaching real sets of Curl-Burke swimmers. I felt accomplished because I had overcome my own doubts. When Jeff said, ‘OK, one more 600,’ I looked at him and thought to myself, ‘I don’t know if you have enough energy left.’
Jeff said he read it in my face.
So, getting through that 600 and doing it with proper form the whole way was big for me. Winning those mental battles in practice is such a huge part of being an athlete in a sport, and I think this is one of the first times I felt like I had really done it swimming.
Now the next step will be when these days become normal for me, where 3400 meters is just a normal practice, and four 600s is a normal set.
I’m not there yet, but I feel like today is another step in the right direction. I just need to keep taking those steps.
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.