Like most infatuation, this crush began from afar, sight barely seen. It came as a whisper six months ago, the soft “th” sound in the middle cuddling up to the ear: “triathlon, triathlon” like a soft wind through my brain. It came even before that, when people began to ask a year-and-a-half into my running, “What’s next? What are your new goals?” Marathon? No, not yet. Get faster? Of course, always.

My true love is steady. The roads on which I forge myself and the track on which I weep sweat and push my mind to accept the discomfort are, at this point, so fundamental to my sense of self that my legs actually twitch me awake in the morning. My legs know when it is time to run, and I feel them in my deepest sleep. During the summer, I don’t even have to set an alarm clock. My legs wake up like clockwork; the roads call.

I am a runner.

But what if I could be more?

A few months ago when I thought about my self-improvement goals for the summer and beyond, I tasted the fear as I decided to add lap swimming to my summer bucket list. I don’t like to categorize myself as a good runner—I am decent, though—because I always know how much room there is for self-improvement. To face competitive swimming as a new challenge? I am asking myself to go all the way back to the state of being so not good at something almost completely foreign to me. I swim, yes, but I don’t swim.

For me one of the hallmarks of living life fully and passionately (and dare I say, with integrity) is to subject ourselves regularly to the position of knowing nothing and starting from scratch in order to work our way toward knowledge and achievement. Work. Work, work, work. If we rest on what we know, or we rest in the “comfortable” position, we stagnate. If we do not routinely seek out counterarguments to what we think we know, if we do not clean out our heads every spring and jettison dogma and cobwebs, if we do not require ourselves to be put back into the starting position, then we close ourselves off effectively to all potential for growth. If we feed ourselves only on the surfeit of what we have already been in life, without letting ourselves go hungry for all that we may learn and become, then I fear we grow full on intellectual shortcuts, the tried and true, stereotypical thinking, and the past to the detriment of the future.

We have to be like babies, constantly reborn to ourselves and the world. As Christopher Hitchens has observed, “All we know is how little we know. That’s been for many years my definition of an educated person.” We may gain experience and confidence, but experience and confidence should lead us toward a position of humility—and being secure in that inquisitive, curious state—instead of arrogance.

There is no time to be bored in a world as full of wonder and potential to learn as this one.

Or as educator Alistair Smith expresses, “At times of change, the learners are the ones who inherit the world, while the knowers will be beautifully prepared for a world which no longer exists.”

So we must practice adaptation. We must practice putting ourselves through knowing little, and being secure enough in our ability to learn and grow to accept not being very good at something at first. This process is axiomatic to the universe. All life grows stronger over time but starts out weak. When we put ourselves into this process, we honor life and what it means to be alive.

I want to know nothing. Or rather, I want to know just enough so that I remain constantly, prickingly aware of how little I do know. For me, this state is the essence of vitality. Life is striving. Not just waiting it out. Striving.

So this week, I took the plunge. To tell you the truth, the thought of swimming laps with other people who know how to swim laps really scared the pants off me. I like to start from scratch, but there is a bit of fear at being the noob in town. I am good at getting over that, and acting on my own integrity despite this, but you know, I did feel the nerves a bit when it came down to it. I was nervous, too, because I like being good at stuff and I knew I would be learning immediately how not good I was at this new pursuit. It’s just this: the bigger goal has to trump the fear of how it looks, the fear of finding out how much work I really need to do, and the fear of stepping over a boundary between People Who Swim and me—who would have sworn until two years ago that I had not many athletic bones in my body.

But the mind is more powerful than all of that.

So I went to lap swim on Tuesday morning at the CRC. Tuesday is one of my two rest days in my running schedule, so I figured it would be a good morning to cross-train. I had no gear, my hair dragged in the water, and I could hardly see. Noob moves for sure, but I managed to do 40 laps for 1000 yards. I took about 24 minutes to swim that far, so I walked away knowing I had work to do.

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(The pool on Monday after my swim)

 

The bug had bitten, though, and hard. The pool at 6 AM, with the grey sky and the moon and the haze rising off the water is magical. I might overuse that word, but not really. I know magic when I see it. I just see it quite a bit. The utter peace of the water reminded me so much of what I love about the road. With one set of 40 laps, that tranquility hooked me. All of Tuesday I could not wait to swim again. I was more obsessed with swimming again than thinking about my next run.

Was I stepping out on my first love? How do I balance swimming and running?

Bill assigned me 4 miles on Wednesday, which made fitting in a swim quite easy. I get up so early that I was able to fit in both before both kids woke up for the day. Katie had just woken up when I got home just in time to start breakfast preparation. On Wednesday, I swam 60 laps, for 1500 yards, at about the same pace as before (give or take adjusting my goggles and organizing a lane-share with another swimmer who came midway through).

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(Goggle eyes on Wednesday)

I took Thursday off because Bill assigned a 10K in the morning, weights, and then promised me track intervals (220s in the evening). With intervals out there, I didn’t figure I should energy-expend at the pool. Intervals are some of the most important work and commitment I make toward improving my running performance.

Bill gave me 7 miles (I ended up with 7.23 mi) for Friday morning. He almost assigned four because he knew the pool called to me, but I told him that I will not sacrifice mileage for swimming no matter its enticements. Running has to come first and swimming second. He thought I might swim today, then, but I really wanted my full rest day today (Saturday). So I got up extremely early, did four miles of warm-up in the semi-darkness looping a few blocks around our house, then ran a 5K route, and then made it to the pool by 6:30 AM.

I am nothing if not dogged about pushing myself each opportunity, and I had gotten it into my mind that I wanted to swim at least a swimmer’s mile, 1650 yards, especially since I had been so close the second day and had stopped only because I wanted to make it home before the kiddos got up, not out of exhaustion.

So there I was, doing laps and I reached the swimmer’s mile. Then I thought I should go for an actual mile in yardage. And then it bothered me that with just a bit more effort, I could do a neat and tidy fourth 20 lap set. I ended up swimming 80 laps in about 48 minutes exactly for 2000 yards—or 20 football fields worth—on Friday. Well, that felt good. What I lack in stroke at this point, I do make up for a bit with endurance. I think if I can tap into that endurance, then a triathlon could well be in my future. We shall see. I am leaving the cycling alone for the moment and focusing on just getting really, really good at the swimming part. The neat part, too, is that I have already started to have discovery—my favorite part of the learning process—about how to make my stroke better.

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(Running shoes…and swim cap and goggles. Can I balance both?)

I have so much work to do, thankfully. I cherish that time of feeling my body glide through the water, of being in my head and feeling the world fall away, and of having time to think. I spend most of my time swimming thinking about the universe and our role in it. I think about the blue, the captivating blue, all around me. I feel at one with the color of it. I think about what it takes to be running and/or in the pool before the sun comes all the way up. I think about becoming, metaphorically of course, amphibious and of pushing the human body to reach all that it is capable to do. I am curious about that. I think about narratives and chaos and probability and physics and technology. The great mind-body connection of exercise is so freeing; the two are better working together than apart. I sing songs to myself, too, but really I just glide in the moment. Even more than running, in some ways, swimming allows me to shut everything out and just be present. There is a great nothingness, wherein lies the potential to access a sort of transcendent-feeling mental space.

In other words, swimming is cool.

And shiny and new, and I have a bit of a crush on it. I will always be a runner first and part of me has worried about being swept away in the cool blue alluring arms of another sport, but I am hoping one will help the other.

Katie and Eric just finished their second swim lesson session of the summer. We had to skip a session for our road trip, but they have at least one more that we start on Monday. I don’t know about a 4th session yet—last session takes place only in afternoons and evenings, and we like to go out and about quite a bit in the summer.

They have both made improvements so far this summer, and I love that time at swim lessons with them. I watch them, and it is also time for me to write in my journal and to read. I absolutely adore that half-hour of personal and reflective time, knowing they are blissfully happy and getting to peek up to watch them when it is their turns to practice a skill. Swim lessons will be one of my favorite memories of the summer, I think.

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Showing their swim lesson report cards to a proud daddy on Friday morning; scenes from the pool

 

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Katie and Eric really enjoyed their teachers this session (teachers rotate every session). Katie had a young lady who just graduated from high school and whose positive approach and enthusiasm gave Katie that next little burst of confidence she has been needing. Eric actually had a former student of mine, from eight (!!!!!!!!) years ago. This guy was the sweetest, nicest little 9th grade kiddo, and a good writer, and just sweet sweet sweet. He seems to have stayed just as kind as he was then. He is going to make a great father someday. As homeschoolers, I celebrate the opportunities Katie and Eric have to find other mentors and young teachers to look up to. I love these pictures because you can see how caring these two young teachers are, with their attentive body language and their smiles even when the children cannot see them. Love it.

I guess we could say that all three of us are learning to swim this summer!

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