One year ago at this time, I was six months post-op. While my incisions had healed quite nicely and my innards were busily re-knitting themselves into a stronger, healthier new order, I still was struggling on a lot of levels. I was barely making an 8 p.m. bedtime. A 3,500 yard workout was a rarity, not the norm. I didn’t have the energy beyond practice to hit the weight room. And, already on my second really bad bug of the season, I missed the local annual winter championship meet.
Swim come backs can be brutal. After the initial euphoria (swimmies!!!), reality seeps in. You can’t swim in your usual lane or at your usual pace. It’s frightening to face just how far out of shape you are (and how quickly it occurred!), you’re basically starting from scratch in terms of speed, endurance, and conditioning. And you can go for weeks, even months, without seeing improvement (interval time drop, yardage increase, completing more challenging sets—take your pick.)
After a certain point, your psyche can’t take the constant comparison of “before and after” anymore. While this phase feels rock bottom, the good news is that it’s a key turning point. You finally learn the value of letting go. You focus on who you are now. Your approach switches to a much healthier “one day one at a time” approach, with the only goal of doing your best on each given day, whatever that looks like that particular day.
And then, lo and behold, one day you realize that an entire year has passed, and it strikes you how far you’ve come. A year away from December 2014 finds me thrilled to be healthy and focusing on “consistency,” (swim 5x/week, weights 3x/week). 3,500 yards now seems short with 4,500+ meters workouts in the mix. And there have been some promising indicators that my pace is coming down again (e.g. the first 3K of this past November’s USMS postal 6K was faster than my overall 3K 2014 entry, and I swam double the distance this year.)
Like many swimmers, I keep a log to track yardage, times, set difficulty, etc., a handy tool to gauge progress (and for highlighting needed tweaks, new goals, etc.) It’s always satisfying to see progress recorded in my log, but lately I’m surprised by how delighted I still am when I have an unexpected “wow, I really have come far” moment regarding my come back after surgery.
For example, last week I was rummaging for some OTC painkillers because I had one of those weird, “no idea how I did it, but it kills” hip-muscle pulls. I found a bottle under the bathroom sink, but saw that it had expired more than half a year earlier. It suddenly occurred to me that I couldn’t remember the last time I took painkillers. Which in turn reminded me of how prior to surgery, I took a dozen or more tablets every few weeks, and they only scratched the surface of “pain management.”
One of the driving forces behind my swim blog reboot is to share what I’ve learned about my health and swimming because what’s the point if can’t help others? Therefore, I hope that today’s message shines through: Hang in there because you can turn things around, you can heal. Sometimes just showing up every day and trying will tip the scales towards your personal definition of “progress.”
Next week: Book Review: Swimming Toward the Gold Lining by Jessica Hardy