My nerves were through the roof, the butterflies in my stomach fluttering, my heart rate going crazy. I could feel every quick beat all the way up in my throat, and in my head, and all I could think about was what not to do wrong.
Here I was, standing in front of the block just seconds before my first competitive race and I was just trying to calm myself down.
For three months I had worked to this point. A real competition, a chance to get a time that mattered. Was the time the most important part of the meet? No, I knew that. But all the work I had put in to this point was going to — hopefully — show itself in four laps.
I stepped onto the block and faked myself out once, leaning down to take my mark at the first noise I heard. My cap was pulled down so far over my ears I could barely hear anything people were saying, let alone whether the Charlie Brown teacher voice from the starter was directing us to take our mark.
I looked up and at the end of the lane in front of me. There, gathered at the other side of the pool was a large group of swimmers supporting me.
It was probably the coolest part of the whole meet.
I smiled but had to look down quickly. The nerves were high enough.
Finally, after forever, it was time to go. I readied and dove in at the start.
I felt strong through my first 25, went out almost exactly as I wanted to — though my breathing wasn’t as frequent as Jeff King and I had talked about — and I flipped at 13.3 seconds. Not bad.
As I pushed off the wall I realized I hadn’t breathed exactly as I wanted to, but my heart rate was through the roof and there was nothing I could do then. The adrenaline had taken over. I pushed hard and came into the next wall in 14.8, not the worst split ever.
Going into the third lap I still felt good and I tried to keep my pace up even as I tired. I hit my feet at 16.3, again, not the worst split and right around where I had been (maybe a little faster) in my test 100.
Suddenly, though, the energy was gone. About 10 yards into the final lap I lost everything. Suddenly I was trying to go and I felt like I was moving nowhere. I stroked and stroked and went nowhere.
I was desperate to just get to the wall, and when I finally did I looked up and heard my time: 1:03.50. I wanted to smack the water but didn’t. In this moment, the time wasn’t what was important. I had done my first race and I had gotten through it. Was it perfect? No. Is there more I’ll say about it later in this blog? Heck yes. But at that time I just tried to soak in the moment. I looked around at those who had supported me and I just observed. My head was spinning, my arms were shaking, my legs could barely support me as I climbed out and headed to the warm down pool.
My adrenaline was still through the roof and added with my disappointment it was a weird warm down. I just felt different.
Before I even got out of the pool people were coming up to me and telling me, ‘Great swim.’ Finally I got to Jeff and he told me how proud he was of me. Then we went through the splits.
“You probably took 20 strokes in the final 12 and a half,” he said.
What was necessary was obvious: I needed to get stronger.
On Sunday, I came back to the pool bright and early and looking for redemption. As much for me as for Jeff. I needed to go best time. I needed to prove to Jeff that the work he had put in with me was paying off.
This time when I got to the blocks I wasn’t nervous, just focused. Sure, the normal butterflies were there but not like before. I was a little thrown off after there was no first heat and I had to get up sooner than anticipated. Then I stood up on the block for a good minute waiting to hear what was going on — not cool. Finally it was go time.
I felt clean on my start and my first stroke felt powerful. I really felt like I got out quickly. By the time I hit the wall (in 13.0) I was feeling good. It’s a 50 so there’s not much thinking going on. In my head it was “Just go!”
I hit the wall full force, taking only one breath down and one breath back, and looked up to see my time: 26.77, more than a second faster than the times I did in my test set about 20 days before.
The moment was a weird one for me. All in one breath I felt great for going best time, and yet at the same time the first thought in my head was that I knew I could go faster. Jeff hit the nail on the head during our postgame chat when he talked about the addictive nature of swimming. You get a time and you constantly want to go better.
Now that I’ve walked through the play-by-play I figured I’ll write what I’ve been wanting to write: my snapshots of the weekend and the most important thing I want to take away from it, and what I hope others take away from it.
As for what I learned from the meet. Well, this meet was about more than just times for me. It was about the experience, of getting the nerves and all of that out of the way. I wish that the 50 free had been on Saturday so I could’ve used the nerves and heartrate to my advantage, but it is what it is.
In the 100 swim, though, I think I learned the most, and here’s what I want to say about it.
I let Jeff down. Plain and simple. For the last three months Jeff has done everything he could to put me in position to be a success at the meet. He worked my butt off for three months. He steadily increased my workload and gave me sets that were perfect for preparing me for the 100. Bottom line is, he did everything he could to set me up to go 1:00.00 or better. And bottom line is, I didn’t do it and I let him down. I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain.
Here’s why: I need to be a full athlete. I can’t put every inch of myself into workouts in the morning and then slack off with dryland in the afternoon. I have to be mentally stronger in the pool when I’m dead tired. I have to push through even when my arms and back are burning.
What we took away from the meet was that I needed to be stronger in order to have a chance at finishing that 100 better. I had better splits in practice during the test set with the same time, and that’s frustrating. I know I could’ve been much better.
If I had just gone 16.7 in that last lap I would’ve been a 1:01.00. There’s no reason I shouldn’t have been able to do that based off everything Jeff has done for me.
Since I was a little kid playing soccer I’ve struggled in pushing myself when I practice on my own. I know that every day my teammates were better because of how hard they worked at practice. I’d sprint my butt off, run my butt off, I’d play 100 percent in even the most mundane short-sided games. But I didn’t have the same drive as my friends like Mike Minai, who woke up an hour and a half before school and went to work on their touch at a wall, knocking a ball over and over just to get better.
I need to do that now.
Jeff is going to kick our butts in practice these next few weeks, I know that. This morning, I was dead tired but pushed through a set of 15 200s w/ 500 worth of breath control sprinkled in. But that can’t be all I give.
I have to hit the weight room, I have to be doing pushups and pull ups on days I can’t get there. I have to be doing cord work and jump rope. No excuses.
Jeff is doing all he can do — shoot, he met me every morning at the pool during his BREAK! — and now it’s my turn. I let him down at the October Open when I died in the last 25 and I can promise you it won’t happen in November.
I’m dead set on that.
The support I received during the meet was awesome. I can’t even count the number of people that came up to me and told me they were reading this blog and wishing me luck. The kids that I swim with every morning were awesome, from the support they showed during the 100 and 50 to post-swim words of support and pre-swim encouragement and help. Zack Wise was great warming me up and getting me ready for the 100. I met Rick Curl and he was so kind and had so many nice things to say.
Simply, I was overwhelmed by everything and so grateful. It made the experience that much more memorable and so enjoyable.
All in all, I can just say that this weekend is something I’ll remember forever. When I started this project I had no idea where it would take me. What I’ve found is that I feel like a part of a community, and when it comes to my Lee District group, like part of a family.
It was another amazing experience I can add to the many I’ve had in the past three months, and I thank everyone for that.
July 20: Weight- 193, Waistline- 36, BMI- 27.6, Body Fat Percentage- 17.7
July 27: Weight- 189, Waistline- 36, BMI- 27.1, Body Fat Percentage- 16.6
Aug. 03: Weight- 185, Waistline- 36, BMI- 26.5, Body Fat Percentage- 15.6
Aug. 10: Weight- 184, Waistline- 36, BMI- 26.4, Body Fat Percentage- N/A
Aug. 17: Weight- 186, Waistline- 35, BMI- 26.7, Body Fat Percentage- 14.5
Aug. 24: Weight- 185, Waistline- 35, BMI- 26.5, Body Fat Percentage- N/A
Aug. 31: Weight- 184, Waistline- 34, BMI- 26.4, Body Fat Percentage- N/A
Sept. 8: Weight- 184, Waistline- 34, BMI- 26.4, Body Fat Percentage- N/A
Sept. 15: Weight- 181, Waistline- 34, BMI- 26.0, Body Fat Percentage- 13.1
Sept. 21: Weight- 181, Waistline- 34, BMI- 26.0, Body Fat Percentage- N/A
Sept. 28: Weight- 180, Waistline- 34, BMI- 25.8, Body Fat Percentage- N/A
Oct. 5: Weight- 179, Waistline- 33, BMI- 25.7, Body Fat Percentage- 14.0
Oct. 19: Weight- 179, Waistline- 33, BMI- 25.7, Body Fat Percentage- N/A
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.