Journal Entry 6 – It Never Always Gets Worse
If you’ve ever seriously prepared for something, you know in your heart what I am about to say next.
That’s right. In the words of Ned Flanders, I suck-diddly-uck.
And things were going so well, too. I felt like my swimming was improving. Obviously, if you’ve been following my “test the waters of endurance training by total immersion” training journals you’ll know that running has caused me a small problem recently, but other than that small hiccup everything felt on track.
The calf thing is annoying. Not painful, but annoying. Running is hardly my favourite thing in the world, but I was starting to enjoy it again. So not being able to run put me on a bit of a downer.
But Monday last week, if ever there was a day to feel like a complete and utter slow poke that was it.
Here’s my one hundred percent effective solution to reduce your self-esteem to near zero in under an hour – go train with someone who was an elite performer in that thing. So, if you play a bit of a pick-up basketball on weekends find an NBA player to have a game with. If you muddle your way through a BJJ class every now and then wrestle a black belt medal winning Mundial champ.
Last week I swam with a guy who was ranked top ten in Australia at one point for a couple of strokes. He still holds all kinds of junior records twenty years later (and if you follow swimming and the super suit saga you’ll know how impossible that is). As I meet more and more endurance people they all seem to know who he is and without fail every single one of them tells me what a total freak of nature he is and how talented he is. So obviously doing laps with him is a good idea, right?
He was faster doing kick drills than I was swimming. (And it’s not like I am actually a slouch in the pool, but the difference between good recreational athlete and genetic freak is vast). It reminded me of the time when I lived overseas and found a local kickboxer to train with. At the time I had been runner-up in the Olympic selection trials for Taekwondo. This guy was about five kilos heavier than me, but ranked top three in Europe. I figured the weight difference wasn’t much and what I gave up for in size I had him covered for speed.
The first time he really connected with me I thought his knee was going to drive my lungs out of my throat. I ended up huddled up in the corner sucking for air while my girlfriend jumped in the ring and begged him not to hurt me anymore (oh, the shame).
He was just so much better than me it was a joke.
Then, at the end of last week I went for a ride with Aquaman. We’d planned on a roughly 170km ride that would take us about five hours. It was forecast for rain and only about 8C, so quite cold. We’d only been riding about an hour and just crested the only hill on our route when I heard the distinctive pop and hiss of a flat tire. That’s the first flat tire I’ve had for over six months and when you consider how many hours a week I’ve been doing that is unusual – I never get flat tires.
As I worked on replacing the tube the rain started coming down. A few minutes later we were good to go, but somehow standing half crouched over in the freezing rain had killed my legs. I was dead. We kept on riding, but the weather started to close in and soon we couldn’t see much further down the road than the rain blowing sideways and trees bent over in the gale. It was at that point we turned back.
Riding back was worse. The cold water had run down my legs, pooling in my socks, and every turn of the pedals was met with a new gush of water in my shoes. My hands were cold and wet, and my legs still were somehow detached from my wishes to get me home faster.
But we got back down that hill and all of a sudden there was no rain. Like someone had just turned the tap off in the space of ten metres. And somehow, all of a sudden, I was flying.
In a fight one wrong move is the end. In a sprint you get mere seconds to get it right. But during distance work you have time on your side. I’ve read that top ultra athletes have a saying, “It never always gets worse.” I stuck with my poor feelings, dead legs, and lack of trust in my fitness and all of a sudden things came good after two hours in the saddle.
This week has been the same. It’s been a recovery week, but I’ve felt smooth and powerful in the pool again and my rides have been punctuated by some good hard efforts. Now I’m looking forward to a full training week again next week.
It never always gets worse, but you’ll never know if it’s going to get better unless you stick at it.