I couldn’t sleep. I had tossed and turned all week, why should today be any different? If I lay on my side, my shoulders hurt. If I lay on my back, my legs would twitch. I looked at the clock. 4:00 am. Might as well go to Masters.
Really? You’re going to race today, though. It’ll be a nice warm up, I convinced myself. And besides, the only reason I had signed up for the race was because I had kind of thought that Masters would be cancelled. I had grabbed two friends for the ride to Lake Placid for the 2 mile swim, and convinced myself that I could have fun even if it was a race. By the time I had figured out that Masters wasn’t cancelled, I had already registered. I was committed.
Unfortunately, I did not have the time to commit my body to race mode that week. And by Saturday I was uncharacteristically sore and tired and dehydrated and kind of ill from it all. I had left my energy in my steel-toed boots under my desk at work. I hoped to find it again when I returned to work on Monday.
Not only did I not have time to commit my body to race mode, I didn’t have time (or perhaps I just lacked the focus and clarity) to commit my mind, either. And I realized that I didn’t even know how to get to Mirror Lake as I was driving to pick up Emily after Masters. Not only did I not know how to get to Mirror Lake, I grossly underestimated the time it would take to get to Emily’s house. And I was already late before I even began.
Late. After waking up at 4 am.
When I got the call from Val that she had a flat tire and wouldn’t be able to meet us, part of me seriously considered aborting the race and just going to help her get herself sorted out. But I couldn’t. I knew I should go. I was committed.
But I was late, and I hate being late.
The drive was fun with Emily there! I was glad that, if nothing else, I had her company. And if I was to be too late to race, then I would still have all this time with Emily. That would be my prize, and one I sure didn’t deserve for being such an ill-prepared moron.
I didn’t want anybody to accuse me of not taking it seriously. It wasn’t that at all; I just didn’t have the time to invest in it as I normally would. I normally scope out my swims ahead of time – okay, I pretty much stalk them. I calculate and plan for them, and make myself a list of things to bring and do. It didn’t matter what event I was preparing for, I took them all seriously – even if dreading them was a part of that. But this swim; all it would get from me was the drive there and back and whatever time I spent in the water. Beyond that, I just had precious little to give it. I felt bad about it. Because I didn’t want to be that girl who just breezes in at the last minute and gets to swim anyway! I didn’t want anybody to think that I thought it wasn’t important to be on time. Maybe… maybe I wouldn’t know very many people there… and maybe nobody would notice.
Sure… nobody noticed the swimmer running up the sidewalk toward the beach. Nobody noticed because they were watching as everybody else got in the water and the swimmers were being released in waves. You know that crumbling, awful feeling when you should have done so many, many things differently and you just didn’t and all you can do is just apologize and hope that’s good enough?
“Um… is it too late to race?” I asked the ladies at the registration table as I hurried up to them.
“Oh, yes!” One of them said. “You had to register online.”
“…but, I did,” I replied softly, holding my breath for the realization to dawn on her and her frustration to leap out at me like a wild mountain lion and maul my poor fragile emotions to death…
…wait for it…
“Are you supposed to be IN this?” She asked me, the alarm in her voice ringing right through me.
Goodness, the poor woman. She had every right to be unimpressed with me. Bless their hearts, we moved forward like it wasn’t too late. I ran to get my suit on, and all the things I wanted to say didn’t seem like enough:
I know, I know I’m late. I know it. And I know I didn’t prepare for this. I’m truly, deeply sorry. And I know, I know that I’m tired. I know my shoulders hurt. I know that my time won’t be so great. And I know that I’m not very good at racing. I know that my legs feel like they are still moving in those steel-toed boots. I know I’m dehydrated and haven’t eaten anything with any particular nutritional value today. I know all that. But I am here. It’s all I’ve got. Please, all I want is to swim today. I just want to swim two miles as fast as I can.
When I came back I was met with the welcoming news that I could swim. I could. And I would. So it was all well, after all. I could swim. I just wanted to swim. I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty… but I just wanted to swim.
So into the water I went – four and a half minutes behind everybody else. But that was good for a number of reasons. The worst part of racing is the starting. And being so far behind, I didn’t have to worry about competing with anybody in particular. Plus, for a splinter of a second, I thought to myself that everybody else needed the handicap. It made me feel a little better. So, off I went, to the place I always go when I am racing… France.
The water was such a good, sweet friend. I felt so relaxed. My body told the stories of the week in its aches and pains, but I found such vast peace surrounded by that water. I found an easiness to my movement through it, like the water remembered me and I remembered it. I pushed myself when I could and let myself ease up when I was really hurting. My stores of energy were gone, depleted. I couldn’t remember what I had eaten of my breakfast and actually spent far too many minutes trying to think what it was. And my shoulders really, really, REALLY hated me at one point and I knew that they would remind me of all of this later.
Pretend it’s France. France. I know you’re not quite yourself. I know. Do the best you can. Swim as hard as you are able without killing yourself. Just swim, Bethany. All my technique was there. I tried to force myself to be as powerful as I could be and as fast as I could be. I could feel the lack of “oomf” behind every pull. And my feet never lost those steel-toed boots and my calf muscles were threatening to cramp up.
I’m not sure when I caught up to the group, but at some point, I caught up to some people. I passed some folks, here and there. And then I was overtaken by a whole slew of fast swimmers. Now, I’d never done a race on a loop course like this, so I’d never swum with so many, many people around me in open water before. As they went charging past, faster than I could imagine, I waited for my heart to throw its usual tantrum about racing and being slow and whatever. Then I would have to argue with myself briefly and remind myself that I’m just fine. But today, it didn’t bother me. It didn’t bother me because, after all, they’d let me swim! And, by the way, I was swimming to France.
One person bumped into me rather solidly and unexpectedly. Oh boy, I thought, don’t wake up my barbarian genes. Then, I was jostled and then trapped between two swimmers who were trying to get around each other, I think, and I was in the way. There are a lot of people swimming to France today, I thought to myself with a calm chuckle.
And then, it just sort of dawned on me. For a lot of these people, this was their France. This was it. This was the most swimming they’d done or would do or hoped to do. This was France for them! This was their goal. I imagined that some of them had worked so hard to be there! People had probably carved out hours of their time to make this day happen. They worked on speed. They worked on technique. They worked on distance. Maybe they even went to Masters when they didn’t feel like it! There was hard work passing me in the waters around me. Time and effort and energy. These people didn’t have to pretend they were anywhere else. They were here now, doing it! And in my heart, I was glad to be amongst them all for such a fantastic achievement!
Something in me changed. For once, I was not competing in something I was destined to lose. I surprisingly, actually, for perhaps the first time since Distance Week – that being the first time in my entire life – I felt like I belonged amongst this group of athletes. I was just apart of their swim to France… that’s all. So I was glad for the next person who bumped me and then swam on around. In my head, I cheered him on in his success. How could I even imagine being upset? We aren’t so different, he and I. This is his France, just let him through.
Soon it was quieter. No more fast people passing me. Not much turbulence at all. I was heading to shore. I finished smiling. I was glad, so, so, so incredibly glad to have swum!
I knew my time would be bad. I just knew it. And… it wasn’t that great at all, actually. Surprise, suprise. For a moment, it felt like a race again. I thought of all the things I should have done differently, again. If I’d only had more hours this week. If I’d only –
But this wasn’t my France. It wasn’t. It wasn’t ideal, but it was okay. I got to swim and I got to race with people who were swimming to their France. People who trained and prepared to be here for this day! People who are great swimmers. People who are fast swimmers. I bet some people BECAME swimmers for this day!! I got to be in their midst and watch them succeed and celebrate their achievement and all the work they put into this. Goodness, to swim somewhere and to feel like I belong. That’s good enough.
Just to be in France without ever leaving home…