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Alex's swim journal

A journey of a thousand miles...

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by , March 11th, 2013 at 10:51 PM (856 Views)
...begins with a single stroke. Back in January 2011, after two weeks of ice on the knee and frustration without my accustomed cardio, after seeing the doctor again and being told no running with IT Band Syndrome, rest and elevate, I got into the pool at the Y and swam a little more than half a mile. Two days later I did the same thing after fifteen minutes on the elliptical. Three days after that I swam a mile, 1750. By February 1st it had occurred to me I should check the clock to see how long that mile (now a 3x/week thing) was taking me in the pool. I recorded 42 minutes in my running log for the mile swim that day. Within a couple of months the "running" log became a swimming log and I was intent on improving that mile time. I applied the same methodical, uh, method to my swimming that I had taken with my running over the years. By the end of March I was regularly swimming that mile in 36 minutes, then 35 in April, 34 in May; intervals started, 2400-yard workouts, 3000 yards, 4K, 5K. By the end of summer I was swimming in the lake, recording sub-30-minutes in pool 1750s, joining USMS, registering for the Madison Open Water Swim, using the FLOG.

So, here I am, not even 26 months after that first stroke back in the pool... and a tired back stroke took me past the 1000-mile threshold today, 282.5 yards into the 1000 IM swim I planned as a celebration of sorts for passing this milestone. Scotty was there, other regular swimmers, the lifeguard Jen, all familiar with my journey... I let them know what I was going to do. They came over to fist bump after I finished the 1000 IM (in 18:30-18:45?, I was actually paying more attention to my splits, but forgot to fix that final time into my memory... I guess I was so euphoric for just having finished it). Pretty cool feeling.

That 1000 IM was something pretty remarkable for me too: my first continuous 250 fly, only the second time I've swum 200 fly or more continuously. I think I'm close to a breakthrough in fly... I actually got into a rhythm after 100 (first 100 in 1:46-1:47) w/ a pace of about :59/50 on the last 150. Slow but steady. The first 100 or so of back was some serious recovery; the whole back leg probably averaged :58/50. I lost a couple of seconds on the breast stroke, but was really focused on being smooth and keeping my kick legal. My 250 free at the end was right around 4:00, I think; I remember checking the pace clock a couple of times and thinking this was my 5K pace.

After a masters minute I did 500 recovery swim (mostly free, but mixed in a few lengths of back). At 1900 I decided to do a 100 IM to get myself to 2000. I checked the clock, just a few minutes left before I really had to get out and head off to work. An EZ 200 free cool-down and I was off to the showers. 2200 SCY in 45 minutes (just a couple of minutes longer than it used to take me to do 1750-free straight through when I first started this journey 26 months ago). I got back to the office in time to grade and record the last few essay exams for my 3:30 to 5P class.

Some of you might know this about me, but in addition to my Humanities teaching, I've been teaching at least one advanced Spanish literature class per semester for a few years now. This spring I'm teaching a semester-long course on Cervantes' novel Don Quijote. A novel of a thousand pages begins with a single line... "There's a place in France where the...." no, no, "There's a place in Spain..." no, that isn't it... ah, yes, "En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo hombre no quiero acordarme..." [In a certain place in La Mancha, whose name I don't want to remember...].


So, I love the imagination of authors; I can live vicariously through their characters... I can sympathize with their trials and tribulations. Homer can encapsulate an entire life in a few lines, often just as the blood and life are draining out of his otherwise anonymous characters on the battlefields of Troy. Dante keeps me looking to the skies, or teaches me to see the heavens in human eyes, and God as a familiar human face; Whitman keeps me wondering at that catalogue of humanity surging around me, along with the dirt under my feet, the tall grass blowing in the breeze; Borges and Calvino, in Whitman's wake, show us that their stories are our stories... we are everyman, and we have read this story before! Cervantes... ah, Cervantes. The imagination of your would-be knight is not so insane, you seem to be telling us in your novel, it's just insane to try to put it into practice on a daily basis... And yet, if we don't try to live our dreams every once in a while... well, that would be the real insanity.

Yes, I know... my swimming journey is nothing if not quixotic. But I've chosen to embrace the dream and live it with whatever I've been given. Don Quijote, when he decides he will no longer be the middle-aged country gentleman, the role he has spent a lifetime growing into, but that he will be the hero of his own chivalric romance, transforms the things around him. His gangly old farm-horse (a rocín in Spanish) is now a worthy charger, a war-horse equal to Alexander's Bucephalus or El Cid's Babieca, at least this is how he imagines him: Rocinante. So this is what I've done to my life... transformed my gangly old runner's body into a gangly old runner's body trying desperately to be a swimmer. The journey has been nothing if not humbling. But I guess you can expect to get knocked off your rocker now and again if you're tilting at windmills.

The thing is... ever so often I squint through my goggles, and just for a moment, the windmills really ARE giants, and I AM the hero, and I turn down the lane and charge into another set like it's the most natural thing in the world... somebody must, the fate of civilization is at stake, the giants and evil enchanters can't be permitted to take it all!

And, yes, I've already taken those first few strokes toward the next thousand.

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  1. Sojerz's Avatar
    In 1967 as a freshman, a few years after the musical Man of LaMancha opened, i would sit in the music area of the library in a carol to study at night after swim practice sometimes waiting for my vision to return. One could select LPs from the library collection and they would play them on turn tables; each of the study carols had headphones and a dial selector numbered for each turn table. No rock - just classical, musicals, and folk LPs. Think i had them play the grooves off Man of LaMancha and could sing the entire LP (not sure you want to hear it). Without having read the book or seen the musical or the movie my imagination ran wild discovering the story from the lyrics and music. Ah Dulcinea and her Knight. At some point i must read Cervantes original classic novel (english translation). Keep after the windmills Alex.
  2. ekw's Avatar
    Keep tilting at windmills!
  3. rxleakem's Avatar

    From our trip to Spain last year ...
  4. mcnair's Avatar
    "To try... when your arms are too weary." I love that line, among so many others, in "Man of La Mancha" and its "The Impossible Dream" song. That's sort of the mantra now (especially when doing fly--talk about windmills!). Thanks for all the support!