Little Gems from the Lake

At the edge of Pine Lake this morning, I dipped my toe to get a read on the temperature. Not bad. I noticed some voices from around the rock and once my friend and I waded in, we could see who was making the clatter. Three other women dawned wet suites, goggles and caps preparing for their morning swim. I called over, “Where are you guys headed today?” They pointed from one end of the lake to the other. They asked if we were triathletes. I didn’t know what to say, so I laughed and said, “Almost!”
My friends, Laura, Irly, Jen, and I will race in the Athleta IronGirl Seattle in August (23 days away, but who’s counting?) We’ve been planning for this since January, and now that it’s so close, I’m shocked I’ve made it this far.

The other swimmers gave a hearty laugh, and said, “Good for you!” When I asked them what they were training for, they said, “Olympic Nationals long distance swimming.” Wow. Irly and I looked at each other with coy grins and remarked, “That’s our obvious next step…”

Laughter gave way to glub glub glub, and we were on our way.

HEADLINE of my 2013 should read, “Choir Geek Makes Good on Triathlon Promise.”

I never saw myself doing anything like this. I never thought I could. So with that in mind, here are some things I’ve learned on the Lake.

1. Make Denial Work for You. Just because I’m wearing goggles, doesn’t mean I keep my eyes open in the lake water. It’s creepy, it’s green, it’s full of fish. Why would I want to see that? The first time I swam in the lake with goggles, I looked. And then freaked out that I couldn’t see bottom, or one foot in front of myself, or the sea monster lurking just ahead to devour m (watching too many River Monsters episodes). But, when I learned to close my eyes under the water, and only looking when I came up for a breath, I was fine. Embracing a deeper sense of denial, especially when reality is too creepy, can actually work FOR you! I can’t do anything about the water and what’s in it anyway, so might as well ignore it and think of something else.

2. Invest in your Home. I invested some coin in a nice wet suit, and it has become my home. It not only protects me from the elements, it gives me some security in buoyancy. When I tire, I can catch a Zen by just floating. There’s no side to grab and rest, but my wet suit provides me a place to relax, let go, and realize that I’m going to be ok. It gives me a chance to refocus and start again, just like a good home.

3. Swim with Friends. I’ve never gone lake swimming by myself. Mostly because I’m scared. Again, the sea monster thing. If no one is around to hear me scream, then does the scream really happen? Friends are great inspirations. Swimming is very solitary- it’s just me alone with my thoughts, water in my ears, and bubbles in my face. But when I come up for air and look for my friends, I see they are in the lake WITH me, experiencing the same thing WITH me, and that feels good.

4. Welcome Creativity. But beware, creativity means looking different than everyone else. There is no one RIGHT way to train for a tri- there are just lots of GOOD ways to train for a tri. Finding the Path that works best for you is a blessing. Trial and Error is a blessing. Advice from seasoned triathletes is a blessing. Telling them to pipe down when you’ve heard enough is a blessing. I’ve faced challenges along the way, that didn’t require working harder, but smarter- figuring out ways to offer my body, my will, and my schedule the creativity I needed to be successful. Seriously, my stroke looks more like drowning swimming, but it gets me across the lake. I have to constantly switch from breast stroke, to back stroke to that frog-leg-kick-thingy I can’t remember right now, just to get across the lake and back. But it’s working. My lake swimming won’t look like the next gal’s, just like my life won’t look like the next gal’s- and that’s ok. That’s good. That’s godly.

4. Learn a Few Different Strokes. I’d like to breast stroke across the lake some day, but I’m not there yet. So, I’ll use a couple of different strokes to get there. My swim coach taught me a few strokes so I could give myself a break, an option, a way to keep going when I am petering out.  In life, I think this means having a few eggs in your basket, a few different crops planted, or a well-diversified 401k. There will be times that the breast stroke isn’t enough, and I’m going to need something different to help me get to my destination. This isn’t failure. On the contrary, this is SUCCESS!

5. Listen to Your Body. I’ve heard things like, “whip your body into shape,” and “push yourself,” and “die to self and its carnal desires,” but I’ve found those things to be unhelpful in training for this triathlon. More helpful is the advice to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. I’ve found that my body is constantly talking to me, and to ignore it and “just push myself” will invite calamity. My body has lots of needs, like rest, and nutrition, and attention to my menstrual cycle, the right gear and equipment, and proper fuel. I hope the lesson will transcend to the other parts of my life, like work and parenting. Pushing myself in those areas, without listening intently to my spiritual needs was a way of life before. I think it’s changing.

6. Be Patient With Yourself. Honestly, after freaking out the first time I put my face in the water, I thought I was toast. I thought to myself, “All those weeks in the pool were for nothing! I can’t even swim a stroke in this stupid lake!” But that was just a beginning. I slowly took myself out a little deeper, a little further, and a little faster. I mixed a lot of back stroke in with a little breast stroke telling myself, “Fish are more afraid of you that you are of them,” and, “it’s just a deeper shade of green than you’re used to,” and “people in Alaska would consider this water balmy.” The biggest thing that helped was knowing that God was not rushing me, so it was ok to stop rushing myself. God was holding me in His hand, letting me experience small challenges and successes at a time.

7. Catch a Zen Moment. Because my wet suite is my most favorite tri purchase (ok, it’s tied with the new suit from Athleta- so cute!) I like to take a few moments just to enjoy its buoyancy. After swimming, I will occasionally let myself float in a completely Zen moment. All is silent under the water, the sky is often speckled with clouds and blue, and I’m at peace. Sometimes the bald eagles will come out and fly directly over my head, wings outstretched against the sky- and it’s all for me. This is when I feel so connected with God and His glory I could cry. The Lake a metaphor is for life- much to enjoy and see and accomplish. The training is a metaphor for purposeful work in a community of similarly focused people. And the buoyancy is God’s hand holding me always- always safe, always held, always connected. And I’m in the middle of it all- free, safe and strong enough to explore.

How about you? Did I miss anything that you’d like to add? What are you working on that has taught you lessons for life?

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