I have been plodding along, or trawling along, for weeks and months, feeling a bit better about things; about the shape of my body (if not its weight) and about the undeniable improvements in my stamina, lung power and recovery times. I find that in my lane of fitness swimmers (as opposed to the competitive swimmers in the other lanes that often leave us floundering in their wake), I can keep up pretty well, most of the time. We get out of breath, we have a laugh.
It's been good.
Then, last Monday, this happened.
1. I had a great 50m sprint. Personal best, everything went well.
2. I had an appalling 50m sprint where everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and, blimey, has it cast a long shadow.
So, in order to explain, I need to dwell for a few precious moments on 1.
We swim from 8pm until 9.30pm on a Monday night and a Thursday night (others do a third night as well, but that's a step too far for me!). Usually for the last half an hour we practice timed sprints where the coach sets us off from the blocks in batches of four to six and calls out times as we touch the wall, and then do it all over again a few times.
It's taken me some considerable time to feel halfway comfortable with this last half an hour, because after an hour's strenuous swimming I rarely have another gear to change up to. Still, I have a go.
Have a go I did. Four of us dived off the blocks, and I got it right, for once. The right height, the right depth, the right glide, perfectly timed breakout, great! Swam well, turned well, swam some more and hit the side ahead of two out of three of the other swimmers. A friend even called out from the other side of the pool how well I'd done. Hooray!
And then. Round two. Dived in, goggles came off. Or they didn't actually come off, just slid low enough to be a complete nuisance. No idea how the dive went as couldn't see anything and so mistimed everything. Turned too far from the wall so lost all my momentum and had no push off, then ended up veering slightly off course and finished the fifty half way under a lane line which forced my head down when I tried to take a breath, and so inadvertently inhaled a load of water.
Pride comes before a fall, hey?
I felt so odd. No idea what happened, really, except I was thoroughly disorientated and felt terrible. People's voices were coming from a long way away and my head hurt with one of those vicious chlorine headaches that you get momentarily when you inhale water. No fun. I suppose the only up-side is that feeling appalling took my mind off having made a total mess of it all in front of twenty onlookers.
We switched to 25m sprints and I managed the 25m but not the sprint part. I then climbed out of the pool on wobbly legs and called it a day. I had to stand and watch for the last five minutes as I couldn't rely on walking the length of the pool without falling over, feeling so woozy.
Twenty minutes later I stood outside the sports centre leaning against the car wondering if I was going to be sick, but the nausea ebbed and I managed to get home to my bed without incident, and lay before sleep reflecting on the evening's sublime-to-ridiculous experiences. That was that, I thought.
Let's draw a line under it.
I woke up on Tuesday morning with my face on fire. Pounding headache, painful jaw, eyes as if they might explode. Dramatically runny nose, sneezes, coughing. This was my sinuses' way of telling me that they were Not Happy at being swilled out with chlorinated water the evening before.
It took me a while to work this out, of course, and I marvelled at the sudden onset of such a powerful cold. I felt fine on Monday! Nary a sniffle, and yet Tuesday, there weren't enough tissues in the northern hemisphere. It was only when I was feeling grim still by Wednesday that my acute powers of deduction belatedly kicked in. The GP agreed with me and I have precious antibiotics.
I've had to cancel a week's worth of everything. Sent my apologies that I would't be swimming on Thursday, though I didn't explain why; didn't think anyone else needed to know. Ahem.
So what I have I learned this last week?
- I can have great triumph and unmitigated disaster within the same five minutes.
- Triumph and disaster may both be impostors but it is very hard to treat them the same.
- Chlorine is not my friend.
- Don't underestimate my sinuses' power to make me miserable.
- I am so, so fortunate to have antibiotic medication available for occasions when my co-ordination deserts me and results in snorting half a swimming pool.
Talk about first world problems.
Well, if anyone reading this was looking for spiritual truths, or uplifting devotions, sorry 'bout that. I was just writing about the main event this week. It does feel sort of significant for me, in a way, as my pursuit of better fitness with my swimming has long been part of my struggle with self-esteem and body-image problems, and it feels as if this is yet another excruciating twist in the tale. On the other hand, I have got this far and in a way it's amazing that I could contemplate messing up publicly in the pool and yet I will go back there next week (I hope) and risk doing it all again.
Maybe the devil is finding new ways to try to derail me; a new way to stick a spanner in the works. First the huge challenge of going to the swimming club at all, getting into a swimsuit, trying to keep up with those much fitter and more streamlined than me, the fear of people seeing me, then the certainty that everyone would, and then they did - I survived all that. So this is a reminder that no matter how far I've come, I still have the ability to get lost following a straight black line and end up bedridden with a sinus infection.
You couldn't make it up, could you?
Listen, I'll be back. I've ordered new goggles. They'll solve all my problems.