On January 8, 2009, the day before I left Singapore, I did my first iron distance swim! 80 lengths of an olympic-sized pool, 2.4 miles or 4Km. The funny part is, I had never actually planned to swim this distance. In fact, it hadn't even occurred to me that I could actually do it until my buddy, Karthik, who is keen on doing a triathlon, planted the seed in my head. When he suggested we take on an iron distance that weekend before he flew back, I sat up with interest. What a crazy idea - I loved it!
My brother discouraged me, "you can't just go out there and do 80 laps without building up to it! How much have you been swimming? We only did 800m the other day. Have you lost it?" I reluctantly agreed, and that weekend, I did half the distance. It was awesome! I didn't even feel tired. In fact, the only reason I decided not to continue on with another 40 laps was because I had a lunch commitment. Karthik, who had set his goal for 2.4miles, continued towards his goal that day, and later told me he felt great after the swim. That gave me even more confidence.
Having done the half distance, I was determined to go the full distance after a few days. I had not run that week to give some rest to my back (after repeated warnings from hubby, bro & parents), and swimming was definitely good for my back. I figured since I couldn't do my long-run (10-14miles), I might as well swim.
It was hard getting out of bed early in the morning, and trying to sneak out before my parents had an opportunity to dissuade me. My mom, quick as ever on the draw, cornered me before I left and demanded to know where I was heading out at 6.30am instead of taking rest at home. "Oh, just a quick swim.. when I go back to Austin, it will be too cold to swim, so I figured I might as well make use of the warm weather here. Besides it's great for my back, Ma! See ya!" and ran out before she had more time to reason with me. She called me to find out when I would return, and when I told her, her voice dropped into a disbelieving, hoarse whisper, "3 hours?!"
I was not totally off the mark in my estimate. It took me roughly 2 hours and 50 min to complete the swim. I was obviously not gunning for a good time, I just wanted to see if I could actually survive it. I discovered it was really more of a mind game than physical exertion. The idea of 80 lengths is not only daunting in terms of distance, but also boredom. I daresay comparable to running laps around the track, but not really. Swimming is a lot more fun for me, and more therapeutic.
So the way I worked it in my head was to think of it as 40 laps (instead of 80 lengths). This made the time pass by much quicker. Since I was used to doing 15-20 laps, 40 laps didn't seem so bad.
The first 20 laps passed very quickly. I would say about 10 laps were really just a warm up. I focused on my stroke and kick, and form in general. My strokes were a lot stronger than my kicking, so I guess I'll need to strengthen my kicking over the tri-season. In the 10 laps that followed, I didn't even think really. Perhaps some idle thoughts about cooking Singaporean food or what food supplies I'd take back to Austin? Dunno.
The next 10 laps were the hardest. My arms and shoulders began to complain. While thoughts of quitting flitted in and out of my mind, I firmed up my resolution to continue. I had a golden opportunity that I wasn't about to quit on - swimming in a gorgeous Olympic-sized pool with no agenda for the rest of the day. I just kept focusing my thoughts on how I would feel after the swim - strong and rejuvenated. At this point, I started noticing that my fingers were shrivelling. That alarmed me a little, but oh well, what else did I expect? It helped that there was a senior ladies water aerobics class at the other end of the pool. So I tried to amuse myself by stealing glances at the old ladies' enthusiastic jiving.
The final 10 laps were just amazing. The aches and pains were drowned by joy of coming that far into the iron distance. I relived my childhood swimming days and felt genuinely thrilled by how far I had come. Finishing the 40th lap was almost a non-event, I was just swimming like a fish by then. I didnt' ache after the swim, surprisingly. My shoulders felt a little tight, and I had some chaffing under my arm, but that's about it.
"Finally, there comes our Madam, all charred and roasted from swimming in the sun!" remarked my mother as I walked into the house. My dad grumbled, "You're leaving tommorrow, and you're spending all day in the pool." My grandmother said, "You must be starving! Why don't you get something to eat?" I smiled to myself. Family keeps you humble. No accolades for doing a 2.4 mile-swim - just simple concern. Only my brother's eyes danced when I told him I did my first iron-distance swim, "Holy crap! Awesome, sis!"
And that's exactly how I felt. :)