Friday evening, 5:30. I'm standing in the shallow end of SMU's remarkable pool. Remarkable in that it's a 50-meter pool, the only one in North Texas (or one of the few, anyway), and remarkable in that the temperature change between the shallow end and the deep end is like twenty degrees. Well, probably more like ten degrees, but it feels like twenty degrees. I'm warmed up and stretched out and now I'm bouncing around, frustrated and ready to push off the wall and wondering why in hell the delay. It's over a hundred out here, my nerves aren't getting any fresher and I want to get this overwith, dammit.
There are two other women swimming in my lane. This is unusual; the last few times I did the Big Swim I was by myself in a lane. I wonder how we're going to do this. I wonder what they'll do when they catch up to me (they always catch up to me). While I'm wondering, the coach calls everybody together and announces we'll be starting in thirty seconds. Thank God. I'm going second among my group of three, ten seconds apart from each of my lane-mates.
0 meters - 400 meters: I did this last year and I've done it again. I push off going way too fast and have to reign myself in. It's adrenaline, nerves, jumpiness, too much coffee. I chant in my head when I'm swimming and I try chanting slower now: namo ami tabha (breath) namo ami tabha (breath). It takes me 300 meters to get into a regular rhythm. This doesn't bode well. She who starts too fast finishes too slow, or something like that.
500 meters: Collision. As predicted, the woman behind me catches up to me. In the meantime, though, I've caught up to the woman ahead of me, and all three of us run into each other at the far end. I'm not sure how this is supposed to work. In practice I'd just grab the wall and wait for them both to pass me, but that's not an option when you need to keep moving. There's a mad scramble, a tangle of arms and legs. I pull over as close to the lane line as I can and slow way down. Woman #1 gets the hint, scoots quickly by me and swims on. Woman #2 takes a minute or two to realize that she, too, can pass me. By the time they're both safely ahead, I've lost about 25 meters. I swim like mad for the next 25 to make up some time.
800 meters: Crash and burn. Suddenly my arms and legs start to feel like they weigh about a thousand pounds each. The little gulps of air I take every three strokes aren't doing it for me anymore. I shift to breathing every second stroke and quickly start hyperventilating. I'm swimming too fast again. I try to slow down. This is crazy. I have 1200 meters to go and I'm not sure I'm going to finish the next 50.
900-1200 meters: Things get weird. It's probably lack of oxygen, but I start seeing and hearing the weirdest things in the pool. I hear a bunch of dwarves singing something from the Wizard of Oz soundtrack. I see a flash of white and wonder why there's a polar bear in the next lane over. (Yes, okay, it was probably just somebody's bathing suit, but my brain saw white and thought polar bear. That's just how it works when I'm oxygen-compromised.) I think about rolling over on my back, backstroking for a little while until this goes away, but I don't see anyone else doing it and I'm not sure I'm allowed.
1300-1500 meters: I feel terrible. Cold from the cold end of the pool, hot from the hot end of the pool. It's like spiking a fever. My stomach's upset and I'm telling myself to just quit, I've gone far enough, other people are starting to wrap up anyway and I can curl up in a nice warm towel. I keep going, though, mainly because I'm on autopilot.
1500-1800 meters: I got this. Suddenly I realize I'm almost done. The upset-stomach feeling goes away, and the warm end of the pool is nice to come back to. I gulp some water from the bottle on the deck and Tammy gestures that I have two more to go. Two more?! I thought I was almost done. Well, I can do two more. I head back in to do two more.
The Big Finish: I can't help it. It's probably being my father's daughter, but I have to add this little edge of drama to things. As I make the last 50-meter turn and head home, I start speeding up. I have no energy for this and it doesn't prove anything anyway but here I come, getting faster now, then faster than that, until I do the last 25 meters at full speed. I crash into the wall both hands first and the bow wave I brought with me washes the rest of me in. "That's it," Tammy calls from her chair, and I say, "Thank God" and rest my head against the tile. Four days later, on Tuesday, July 31, I will finish Swim for Distance Month with 24.23 miles.
And you know what this means: Make those checks out in any denomination you choose to Survivors of Torture, International, a 501 c 3 corporation (that means it's tax deductible) and mail 'em to me. Please get them here by August 10, if you can, because that's when I want to send them along. If you don't know my address, DM me on Twitter: @jenstrikesagain.
THANK YOU EVERYBODY!!! And especially Tammy, who sat in the heat for an hour watching paint dry, er, watching me swim back and forth, and who also altered my birqini so I could swim in it without trailing legs behind me. And to Joan and Tracy who had a hot meal of fajitas, rice and beans waiting when we got home. Boy, were those ever good.