Breaking through

Photo by Kristin Wilson

Photo by Kristin Wilson

The Wisconsin River used to flow through here, but when the glacier melted, it left piles of rocks that rerouted the river and created the walls of the lake.

How do you prepare for a 140.6-mile race? Commit a lot of time, and complete a lot of long sessions. Mastermind a schedule finessing rest, nutrition, (writing,) and full-time employment into each week, moving slowly toward race day. And please, for crying out loud, try to have a good time – this is what we’ve chosen for leisure, after all.

Training for a long race is perseverance. Patience. Admittedly, it’s not always easy to appreciate the changes: they accrue slowly. A well-designed training plan builds gradually, after all, to yield improvement while avoiding injury. It’s punctuated with one little victory after another; the satisfaction is especially sweet for newbies (like “longest ride ever!”)

Last weekend was a big one. We started with a Saturday bike ride that was not our longest rider ever. Over the years I’ve come to know the IM Loop like the back of my hand, which helps me really cruise through – but Dione is less experienced and still a little fearful. Until now.

Switching away from building up and toward a taper period for this weekend’s Door County triathlon, one loop of 50 miles suddenly seemed much simpler than a long ride of 75, 85, 95… Revisiting an old loop instead of mapping another new one was familiar and fun. Stripping away ‘longest’ and ‘newest’, the ride itself was doable – pushing less and cruising more, it was almost a little bit easy. We got home and showered without ever having to reach some limit. Easing off showed how far we’d come.

IMG_2608From that success, Sunday went to the other edge of training. It was a special day: a sunny summer opportunity to take our swim-training out of the ordinary lakes and into a particularly nice one. Out of our ordinary one-hour group session and into as long as we want. Devil’s Lake upheld its reputation as clean, cool, and flat. As we met up with friends and put on our wetsuits in the morning air, more triathlete-swimmers dotted the water than vacationers populated the beach.

We set off gently, sighting on the tiny beach house on the far shore 1.2 miles away. I pulled my orange buoy, lending the group a little security and also toting our shoes. Last year, just for grins, we swam across this lake once, and walked back. Not this year.

When I swim long, I try to keep my focus off getting anywhere; otherwise I start to go nuts. Swimming isn’t fast; that far shore doesn’t look any closer from one glimpse to another. Are we there yet? Nope. But there’s plenty to do in the mean time: a complex dance of full-body form, mastery of which takes years. Pushing harder to try to go faster isn’t economical in an endurance swim, where mechanics, balance, and glide dominate the energy equations.

When we got to the other side, we stopped for a moment to consider what we had done, a bit incredulous. And then without saying too much, we looked back at the tiny boat house on the other end of the lake 1.2 miles away, and swam back.

The way back seemed timeless; faster but not for rushing. My mind seemed even more at ease. I relaxed into the rhythm of the strokes and breaths. Gliding through the cool water, glimpsing the tall rocks on the shores, I swam in a place of peace. Beyond the weight of the water and the waves, beyond the race-crowd and the thrashing and rush, after all the other anxieties so stubbornly attached to it, swimming is a meditation.

It takes a certain confluence of conditions to come to a moment of clarity. But if you set up your training just right, you’ll find one, and then another. A breakthrough may be hard to come by, but it doesn’t go away easily. It leaves you looking back at a workout, a little puzzled to realize that things can be much more than you imagined.

Breakthroughs show up in all kinds of places: during a longest swim ever, as the miles pile onto a long run, early one morning when you omit a piece of your transition setup only to find that you don’t need it after all. When the yoga teacher says something that sounds impossible and ridiculous, but something causes you to try it, and suddenly there you are standing on your head… on a paddleboard.

Breakthroughs are founded on practice, experience, or strength. But those alone don’t get you to the next level. They require a moment’s decision to just… go for it.

Suddenly you see your toughest goals in a new light, that once were tiny blips on a far shore, now within reach. A river’s course can be changed. Indeed, training – especially for the long course – is as much about confidence as fitness.

I stood there on the north shore as beach-goers and boats packed the park, right back where I started, gazing at that tiny boat house 1.2 miles away, completely satisfied.

This entry was posted in Philosophy, Swimming, Triathlons and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Breaking through

  1. Pingback: You can’t pick the weather on race day | Tri Therapy

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