I got to a point where I felt like exercising, like my body wanted to move. This, in itself, was a strange and new sensation, so foreign to me that I didn't know where or how to start. The intimidation factor of gyms or clubs or anything on dry land was still way too high, so I went to what I knew best: swimming. See, I had taken swimming lessons as a kid, progressing into being a lifeguard and teaching lessons. Our family rule was that you had to do something active, and since I was terrible at organized sports, dancing, just about anything you can think of, I just stuck with swimming. I was comfortable in the pool. I knew the routines. You'd think that the being-seen-publicly-in-a-bathing-suit factor would have been a deterrent, as I've heard it is for many women, but because of my history with pools, I was more at ease than I would have been in shorts and a t-shirt in a strange place like a fitness centre.
My goal was simply to swim every day. That was it. I deliberately did not set out to lose weight, I just wanted to exercise. I had no targets to hit, no clear goals, just consistency. As it turns out, when it comes to setting realistic goals, I was unconsciously doing the EXACT right things. Starting small, I just tracked whether I went each day or not. The first time I got into the pool, I swam for about 15 minutes and thought I was going to die! I could hardly breathe. The next day, I went for a little bit longer, and each day after that was longer still. I kept going back.
It wasn't long before I started feeling the effects of daily chlorine on my face, my hair. I kept breaking out in zits even though my skin was dry. I had never experienced chaffing before, but as the swimsuits got too big for me (because I was getting smaller), I'd get these weird and painful rashes around my arms. It took me awhile to figure out that it meant it was time to buy a new bather! Thing after thing kept coming up: bad knees, weird goggle eyes, water in the ears. I was, like, "really body? I'm finally taking care of you and THIS is what you throw at me? Hurdle upon hurdle, to make me want to quit?" But I didn't. I bought better goggles, got ear plugs and a bathing cap, good lotion, and I kept going. The problems eventually cleared up, because I just got used to the chlorine water and daily activity. I kept swimming.
I didn't count the laps or how fast I was going, I just watched the time. Soon, I was aiming for minimum 50 minutes, somehow keeping myself going for that long, but still not worrying about how fast. Eventually, I started counting the lengths. It was more a way to stay focused, because in order to switch up the routine I would do 10 of one stroke, then 10 of another. Nice, round numbers. One length at a time. Front crawl, back crawl, legs only, arms-only breast stroke, more front, more back, keep going.
Swimming is just a uniquely fantastic sport. Little impact on joints, still requiring power to move you, but it's your own body weight. You have to focus enough to coordinate your moves with your breathing, so it keeps your mind clear of all the other crap that is going on in your head. Except for when it doesn't, and you can use it like meditation. There are no distractions. (Some of my best ideas came to me in the pool). It's just you, head in the water, with earplugs in, like being in a womb. A really active, sweaty, cardio-intense womb. It's at both times invigorating and relaxing, working and stretching muscles all over your body. The rhythm is zen-like. And, because you don't have music, or an instructor to follow, or anyone to talk to, the motivation has to come from within. It's you inside your head. It's only your own voice that allows you to stop, or tells you to keep going.
At some point, I realized that I was getting close to 100 lengths (of 25 metres) in an hour, just by taking them 10 lengths at a time. So, that became the goal. I still remember the feeling on the day I hit 100 lengths in just under 60 minutes. How, at the start, 100 seemed unattainably hard, so far away. But, doing one length at a time for each set of 10, I kept going. Once I hit the 80th length, and realized that the goal was in sight, I really poured on the juice. I had lost some of the energy and drive about half way through, but kept going, and near the end I wanted it badly enough that I pushed. And I got there.
It has never been easy to get 100 lengths in the hour, but I got to a point where I was hitting that pretty consistently. It makes sense. After all, I was doing the same thing every day. I wasn't challenging my body anymore. I knew that I needed to start adding some variety, and at that time the pool schedule also changed. The early morning lane swims that fit beautifully and conveniently into my schedule were cancelled. Since I was going to have to find a different routine anyway, I decided not to get another 3-month swim pass, but to get a membership to a gym. I actually chose the YMCA because they are the only fitness facilities in our town that have gyms and pools.
I had no idea what an impact that one decision would make on my life, or how it would shape "my Y story." But that's another chapter, for another day.
For the better part of 2012, I swam an average of 6 days a week. I lost a lot of weight by doing that, on my own, using myself as my own motivation. Looking back, I think that has served me well, now, when I have to do things that are hard. When I have to dig deep and motivate myself to finish that last rep, to get out of bed and get to that class, to do one more round. I know not to look at the big picture and get overwhelmed. I know to take it one lap at a time.
To just keep swimming.