I’m Riding The Unicorn, Don’t Worry

The unicorn I call improvement

Remember this?  The elusive unicorn that I call Improvement, with her fairy helpers

The deeper I get into this triathlon training, the less likely it becomes that exciting things happen on a daily basis.  That’s how it feels to me, anyway.

Maybe you guys would actually be really pleased to hear about the cycling I did on the spin bike at the gym for an hour, while watching ‘Millionaire Hot Seat’ and Channel 9 News on Tuesday night.  But I doubt it, so I don’t write about it.

Tonight I went to the gym where I did a bike ride and watched TV.  I watched that slightly weird smug guy Eddie Maguire quiz a bunch of people on the most random facts you could ever hope to not fill your brain with.  My favourite question required the contestant to finish the apparently ‘typical Aussie slang’ term ‘It’s London for a _______’ and the answer was brick.  Not a single person in Australia knew the answer to the question.  Then I watched Channel 9 News where they evidently haven’t heard of Syria or anything.  The top story was the weather ‘event’ that had passed 4 days prior.

But in spite of my training not being note-worthy, you should rest assured that I am indeed making some improvements.  In fact, the Unicorn That Is Improvement has been broken by my relentless pursuit of it, and I’ve saddled her up for a slow and challenging trek through this mysterious triathlon forest.

Take swimming for instance.

On Monday, I finally figured out how to kick while swimming.  I’ve struggled with the concept of moving both my arms and legs simultaneously since the first time I plunged myself into the urine-chlorine-sweat-saliva-tears mixture at my local pool. I’m not very coordinated and frankly the effort of throwing my hands around in a windmill motion at the same time as breathing air rather than water was enough to keep me busy.

But about 8 weeks ago I started to master the arm-swinging bit.  Then about two weeks ago the breathing seemed just a tad easier, which I think must have been the key.  Because suddenly on Monday something worked and I was able to kick (at the same time as breathing and moving my arms) for more than a length.

For those who can already swim proficiently, or those at the opposite end of the scale who haven’t yet tried to swim freestyle (also known as front crawl in the UK) please let me explain.

Swimming is an incredibly complex sport: I think MENSA or some other brainiac society may have invented it.  In fact, whether that’s true or not we could certainly save a lot of heartache for us newbie swimmers if every swimming pool set up an IQ test at the front gate, whereby those who failed could be sent away to try to study The Art Of Thinking About 1200 Things At Once.  It would have saved me from a few near-death experiences in the early days, I am sure of it.

Because obviously when you swim, you have to move your arms around.  But beware: Your fingers must be slightly splayed, with perhaps a centimetre’s gap between each finger.  When you reach forward into the water (and indeed there is a reach, don’t think you can keep your arm bent the whole time) you should enter the water with your thumb and pointing finger first, not the other fingers and not all fingers at once.

As you reach, you should slightly ‘grab’ the water and then pull back and down with your arm which should gradually bend to a 90 degree angle.  At the end of the stroke, brush your thumb against your thigh and pull your hand out with your elbow, which should be nice and high pointing towards the ceiling.

Meanwhile your other arm is already doing the exact same manoeuvre but timed to start about half way through the first arm’s attempt.  Try to keep up.

At the same time as doing all of that, you obviously need to breathe.  In the pool you may inhale (preferably) on every third stroke, so you also need to breathe out steadily underwater in-between arm strokes without running out of air and dying.  Then, when it is time to re-fill your lungs, you look back and under your armpit – without really lifting your head, mind you, for fear of wasting energy and slowing down – to take a breath at the split second you’re able to.

Don’t forget that during all of this, your core muscles should be engaged to ensure you are the shape of a torpedo under water.  Your bum and legs can’t sink and create drag, so you must keep your body in a nice straight line.  You should keep your head tucked in and looking down to the floor.

On top of all of that, then, is the kick.  The kick must come from your hips and you have to have pointed toes.  And it’s up to you what rhythm you choose but there should be a rhythm.  None of this ‘kick once on the right leg then three times on the left leg’.  Trust me, that doesn’t work.

Of course, once you get out into the open water and you have to look where you are bloody going, the challenge is intensified immeasurably.  And don’t get me started on the curve-balls you’ll get thrown, such as goggles fogging up unexpectedly mid-way through your fourth lap, or your swimming cap popping off your head as you have 100 metres to go.

Until last week, this was all too much for my pathetic little brain to handle.  But I caught glimpses of that bloody unicorn every time I turned up to the pool – and it was enough to keep me trying.  Of course, I tried to research some tips to help me get there quicker but as I type this all out I may have to finally concede that the pros I harassed on Instagram were right – improving in the water is purely down to time in the water.  You just have to keep turning up, taking the beating and hoping that next time it will be better.

Because no tips or tricks were used in realising my new-found kicking ability.  It just suddenly happened without causing me to drown, which must mean I can actually do it.  I pointed my toes, flapped my hips around (that’s genuinely what I feel like I am doing) and my feet went ‘thump, thump, thump’ in the water like a pro.  I immediately felt myself go slightly faster, too.  I nearly stopped swimming to jump for joy, but then I also found that I was actually enjoying myself.

It’s true, dear readers: Swimming can be fun.

So I did 2km that morning, in the fastest time I’ve ever done 2km.  Which was still very slow but I felt pleased with myself.

Then I was able to return to the pool on Friday morning for another turn.

In contrast to my Monday morning swim, there were other people at the pool on Friday.  Monday had been a cold morning for Queensland and I can only assume that the other local swimmers are born-and-bred Queenslanders, not used to having to put a swimming costume on in any temperature below 20 degrees.  Hence they stayed away.

Empty pool

The usual winter morning’s empty pool

On Friday, however, I woke up and it was already 21 degrees.  Yes, I did have a slight lay-in (until 6am) but that is a stupid 6am winter morning temperature, even for Queensland.  Apparently Mother Nature owed us one for the terrible rain we’d endured the previous weekend, so she sent a day of summer.  And this brought all the swimmers out of the woodwork, so when I arrived at the leisure centre I didn’t have the whole pool to myself as I have for the last few weeks.  In fact, there were only three empty lanes to choose from.

I got changed and jumped into the lane I thought looked best.  I did a bit of a warm up.  I adjusted my goggles.  Then I waited for my watch to tick around to the nearest whole minute (because I no longer trust myself to use the stopwatch function)

Just as I had about 10 seconds to go, the gentleman in the lane next to me reached the end where I waited and set off for another lap.  I watched him swim off, then I ducked under and followed.

My kicking went quite well: It hadn’t been a fluke on Monday, after all.  I kicked, I moved my arms, I breathed, I stayed straight like a torpedo, I felt like I was having fun… all at the same time!  Then I spied out of the corner of my eye… the man in the lane next to me.  I had caught up to him and was about to overtake him.

For those regular readers or anybody who has ever seen me swim, you will know that me overtaking anyone who can actually swim (not learning, but actually swimming) is a very rare event.  I am only aware of it happening once in the entire 8 months that I’ve been swimming, unless you count another occasion where I nearly overtook someone but they got out of the pool before I had the chance.

And this guy wasn’t going really, really slowly.  On the slow-ometer, I’d say he was simply going slowly.  No intensifying adverb needed.

I overtook him.

I nearly drowned in the excitement, but I managed to regain composure and sucked in enough air to prevent major catastrophe.  Then I kept going to see if I could lap him.  I was intending on doing 1.5km on Friday and at the 750m mark I snuck a peek to see how I was progressing.  Indeed, I was one length (half a lap) in front of my competition – perfectly on track.

Unfortunately, the loser got out at about the 800m mark so I wasn’t able to cheer myself on to the finish line in the manner I’d hoped.  But it was a fantastic feeling to know that I might not be the slowest swimmer that ever lived.  To know that the Unicorn and I are heading in the right direction.

I finished my 1.5km feeling positive and happy – another rare thing to tick off the list.  Swimming feeling positive and happy?  I really hope I learn to love swimming as a sport, like I have with the cycling.

Gee up, Unicorn!

And for those who are wondering, yes my toe is still black and I can’t move it but I haven’t had time to go to the doctor about it and it is not a debilitating as when I broke my finger. The most annoying thing is that apart from my running shoes, I only have one pair of proper shoes that I can wear without pain. So that is no fun. But I am ok and glad I can one day be mates with Ronda.

5 thoughts on “I’m Riding The Unicorn, Don’t Worry

  1. Pingback: Wild Horse at Night | She Can Try

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *