As in, fifty. Five-Oh. 50 yards underwater. 8 lanes across, 8 lanes back.
Remember when I compared this feat to climbing Mount Everest? Admittedly, that analogy was a little overblown – but what’s important is that I finally knocked the bastard off. Even better is that I actually had a witness.
Normally our swim group does two 25-yard underwater lengths at the end of workouts, which typically average about 2500 yards. But on the day that I broke the 50-yard barrier, some unusual circumstances during practice helped embolden me to the task.
On this particular day, only a few of us showed up, and we all got a late start in the pool, so our group workout ended up about 500 yards shorter than usual. Afterward, one of the guys had to leave quickly, and the other wanted to do some drills, so I was left on my own with the underwater laps.
Therefore, I was able to take a longer than normal rest break before the attempt. Regaining my breath while holding onto the wall, I felt a sense of determined assurance suddenly wash over me; in a split second, I simply knew that I was going to do it. The time was now.
I waited a few seconds longer before asking the lifeguard to watch. He likes to monitor us when we do breath holding stunts (I’ve always appreciated him for that), and he knew that I’ve been gradually stretching out my underwater distance. Even so, he seemed a bit surprised when I asked him, Hey, (lifeguard) - can you keep an eye on me? … followed a second later by, I’m going to go up and back.
That’s right … I said it. This wasn’t exactly Babe Ruth calling his shot, but it felt pretty awesome to declare it out loud like that, fully confident that I’d be able to make it happen. All that was left now was to do it.
In the aftermath, I knew that I would write a blog post about the accomplishment – that was a no-brainer. What took me by surprise were the parallels I kept drawing between the underwater 50 and the 100-mile race coming up in a couple of weeks.
(Then again, maybe I shouldn’t have been that astonished. My thoughts are consumed by Western States lately – it’s the only thing I can focus on. I think one of my kids had a birthday last month, but that sort of stuff is kind of hazy nowadays.)
So here’s the anatomy of a 50-yard underwater swim, complete with my thought process at key landmarks across 8 lanes in one direction, and 8 lanes back. Afterwards, go ahead and call me an idiot if this doesn’t also sound like the internal dialogue in the course of a 100-miler.
Start–5 yards: There’s no way, this is crazy … it’s too far, I won’t make it. This was a stupid idea.
Yards 5-20: Relax … be confident … be brave … get focused … strong strokes … keep good form … smooth movements, conserve energy.
Yards 20-25: Quick touch and go, don’t waste time … stay relaxed … you can do it!
Yards 25-30: Halfway done! … don’t get excited, there’s still a long way to go … keep relaxed, it’s about to get painful …
Yards 30-40: It’s too much, I can’t do it … I need to breathe … this hurts.
Yards 40-45: Oh my God this hurts … keep fighting … give up! … stay focused ... it doesn’t really matter … no fear … don’t give up …
Yards 45-50: I’m dying … I’m going to make it … I’m dying … I’m going to make it … I’m dying … I’m making it … get there get there GET THERE!
Finish (30 seconds later): Everything hurts … I feel great … that was incredible!
Seriously … just double all of those numbers, replace “yards” with “miles”, and the psychology of the two feats seems pretty much similar. In other words, the underwater challenge offers all the emotion of an ultra, in less than a minute. No wonder it feels so intense.
Of course, I’m so neurotic that I couldn’t simply enjoy my achievement on its own; after the initial exhilaration, I worried that the extenuating circumstances of the workout made it less than genuine. Then I worried that maybe the swim was a Bob Beamon-like happenstance, never to be duplicated again in future attempts. (I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating here: I can find the downside of anything.)
So this week, after a regular swim workout, I did it again. Just like the first time, it punished my body, but strengthened my spirit - all of which makes me believe that it’s even more like ultras than I thought.
I guess that's why I enjoy it so much.