I’m going to start this blog entry with a memory that at first will seem as if it has nothing to do with swimming, but eventually it’ll tie back in.
About a year ago I was driving home from an assignment in Loudoun County, and I decided to use the Fairfax County Parkway to avoid 495 traffic. I was buzzing along right near the intersection with Route 50 — about a mile or so from Fair Lakes Shopping Center — when suddenly my car seemed to start revving and slowing, revving and slowing.
‘Uh oh,’ I thought to myself. ‘Something’s wrong here.’ I wondered what it was and kept pushing on the gas pedal as my car slowed during mid-day traffic. Then the car turned off and I used every bit of my strength to turn the steering wheel toward the shoulder as my car crept off the road.
Then it hit me. Take a look at the gas gauge, Paul. Sure enough, I had run out of gas, which was a first for me. I simply hadn’t paid attention.
So here I was, sitting about one mile from Fair Lakes on the side of the road incredulous about my situation. And I sat in my car and talked to it.
“C’mon,” I said. “I know you’re out of gas but just give me two more miles. I don’t need you to go fast, in fact, I just need you to move and we can get you to the gas station in Fair Lakes.”
I sat there shaking my head, muttering to myself and my car for about five minutes, then decided I’d give it a shot. Forget the whole, “I’m out of gas,” concept. I’m sure there were fumes left in the tank.
So I turned the key and voila, it started. I started down the shoulder slowly at first, then realized that, shoot, this car was moving and I probably had limited time to get it to the gas station. And if I was out of gas but still able to go, I might as well go with everything I’ve got.
So I hit the gas and gunned it to Fair Lakes and the gas station. Crisis averted. I re-filled the tank and headed on home.
What does that have to do with swimming? Well, today’s workout was kind of like that experience with my car.
After pushing myself through some longer distances yesterday, this morning was the opposite type of workout. We’d be doing five 50s all out sprint, five times. In between each set was a 250 kick.
At first, it sounds easy. I mean, that’s only 250 swim in a set. But sprinting a 250 is not easy. At least, not if you’re doing it right.
So as we went through the first set and I tired, I kept pushing myself. The second set — without fins — was even tougher. I was dying by number three, struggling by number four and just trying to get through it on number five.
I struggled to catch my breath and rested my arms on the side of the pool, disappointed by how far comparatively behind I had finished.
Jeff came up and let me know that I was worrying about the wrong thing. This was practice. Times didn’t matter. He asked me to take my heart rate at the start of the swims and at the end. If I was maxing out my heart rate, at that point where it was pounding faster than it should be and I felt like I was going to pass out, then that is what mattered.
The EFFORT was important.
I had a good chuckle during the workout before starting set No. 4 when Jeff was on deck giving us a speech in an attempt to motivate us for that last set without fins.
He was Charles Dickens, he said, he had Great Expectations. We were more like Charles Schulz, he said, and then launched into a shorter speech about Psychiatrist Lucy and charging 5 cents for the advice we seek from Jeff.
After practice, I joked with Jeff that by that point we were all so tired the appropriate Charles Schulz reference probably would have been more like the Peanuts teacher voice, because I think that’s what he probably sounded like to most of us at that point.
And so when I started with a heart rate around 110 and finished with a heart rate of 210 on the first few in set number four I knew I was still pushing. And even though by numbers four and five in that set I felt I had nothing left, I just decided: Screw it. I’ve got nothing in the tank, but if I’m going to go, I’m going to go with everything I’ve got.
And I did.
By the very last 50, my lungs hurt, my arms killed and I just wanted to be done. But that moment was the whole point of the workout. Here you are, as tired as you can be, and now you can show how hard you can push. What kind of effort will you give?
So even though I was finishing behind people, I walked away from the pool feeling pretty good about myself. Because I had given every bit of effort that I could, and for that the workout was a success.
On a side note, I would just like to send a quick thank you to the kind commenters over the past few days — from my Friday blog last week to yesterday’s post. Much appreciated. Thanks so much!
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.