There’s a passage in her book, Age is Just a Number, where Dara Torres describes what it feels like to swim. She writes about the water feeling heavy, as if you’re pulling yourself through it. If it seemed too light, it was a sign she didn’t have the right feel for the water that day.
It’s a description of swimming that comes to mind nearly every time I’m in the pool these days. How does the water feel? The question gives me another chance to focus on the moment, rather than on comparisons to other swimmers, comparisons to my past performances or concern over my future performances.
Today’s workout was a 1,000-yard time trial. After a 300-yard warmup I was to swim 1000 yards as fast as I could.
In this particular pool, where one length equals 25 yards, that meant 20 laps.
I’ve done this before, both as a timed exercise and as an easy swim. But there’s something about a test day which makes it a bit more intimidating. My mind starts to grant it a level of importance which, in all likelihood, it doesn’t quite deserve.
So, in an attempt to direct the mental chatter to a more productive place, I keep returning my focus to two things: Not losing count of my laps and on my feel for the water.
Only once was I uncertain if I had miscounted laps. (Am I really on No. 7? That seemed to go by too quickly.)
And as my mind tried to wander away from the task at hand (making lists of things to do, wondering to wear to work, planning breakfast, imagining the conversations on tap for the day) I brought my focus back to the feel for the water.
The water wasn’t something to struggle against. The struggle rarely produces the desired results. Instead, I worked with the water. It seemed to push while I pulled, helping me glide length after length. At the end, I wondered if I could have worked harder. The swimming felt easy. The laps started to fly by.
After recording my result for the time trial, I searched for my previous result. Was I faster? Indeed I was — one minute and 11 seconds faster.
My mind wanted to start questioning my effort. Could I have gone faster? Did I really work hard enough? Was that all I had today?
But I stopped. Because there was a victory to be had. I had lowered my time-trial time. Without even trying. Without knowing the numbers or doing the math.
I felt the water. I focused on the moment. And I left the pool ready to embrace whatever the day decided to throw my way.