Tuesday, November 3, 2015

When Things Go Wrong

    At the pool this evening, after a long day, letting the water wash the stress from every cell. Lap after lap, the Zen of swimming. Stroke, stroke, breathe, stroke, stroke, breathe. So mellow. So smooth.
    Let me insert here a small quirk about the pool where I swim. It is standard 25 yards long, but only about 4 lanes wide. There is only one lane roped off as a dedicated lap lane. The lap lane doesn't have a line on the bottom, has curved corners where the walls meet the floor so it messes with depth and distance perception. It is also where the heated water enters the pool so it has a hot spot in the shallow end. None of the lap swimmers like swimming in the lane. When I got into the pool I had the place to myself, so picked the second lane, with no lane divider, an the blue tiled stripe on the bottom. Where I always swim.
    Then a father and tweenie son get in the pool. Tweenie gets into the roped off lap lane, dad gets in the lane on my other side.  Using a large, neon pink ball to play volleyball with my lane as their net. What the hell?! True, they stopped slapping the ball back and forth when I would get close. But several times I had to pull my start because I thought the ball was about to get airborne. They were oblivious to my glaring stink-eye, maybe the goggles masked the fury. I let this go on for a bit, getting riled and furious.
    Finally, I stopped, and tried to be diplomatic, "Hey, you know that isn't good pool etiquette?"
    The dad, Mr. Oblivious, "What?"
     I speak a little louder, "Tossing the ball back and forth over a lane when someone is lap swimming is really poor pool etiquette." I even add a hand gesture. No, not  that  hand gesture.
    He sputters a bit, as if in disbelief, "We stopped when you got close."
    All I can do is shake my head, give a grunt of irritation, and get back to my swim. No longer mellow. No longer smooth. I am nearing volcanic. The internal dialogue starts to roll, unimpeded. Playing back what I said. What he said. What I wish I had said. What I still could say. They keep playing for a few minutes. Then thankfully move their game to the other side of the pool, relieving me of the arduous job of being the net.
    I keep swimming. My brain is playing the situation on endless loop. Am I in the wrong for not having taken the roped off lane to begin with? No, tweenie took it over the minute they got in the water, and showed no desire to leave it. I really don't like that lane. It has a hot spot, and I get too close to the wall, and it sucks, and I am whiny. I don't want to move over and look like I am giving into their boorish behavior. I want to be on the just side here. Endless loop. Stress. Confrontation. Anxiety. Anger. This swim sucks.
    Yes, this is where my brain goes  When Things Go Wrong.  I felt myself on the hamster wheel of doom. It was up to me to get a grip, rein in the brain, and get on with my swim. This is where I had an epiphany: All too often on Race Day, or just in Life in general Things Go Wrong.  Bad shit happens. Life goes awry. Relationships go south. Jobs go away. Flat tires. Sprained ankles. Falling branches. Mud puddles. Dog poop on your shoe. The difference between a good day, and misery, is how you deal with it. Don't dwell. Let it go. Choose to stop the endless loop. Move forward. If you can't move forward then side-step. Do what needs to be done to rectify the situation. Your race, or life, is in your hands. This was actually an excellent opportunity to practice a vital race day skill: Getting Back on Track After Things Go Wrong.
    The first thing I did was get into the lap lane. I would concede that point. Yes, the hotspot is annoying. Tough shit, I wanted to swim. I had to silence the rant in my head. It wasn't going to go down easy. I tried thinking of a few favorite songs, but none of them had the right tempo for my stroke, and it was just screwing with my timing. I tried thinking of what to make for dinner. Nope. That wasn't doing it for me, either.
    So I narrowed my focus even tighter: Stroke Mechanics. I could control what my body was doing. I was in control of every aspect of arm movement: smooth entry, long reach, good catch, high elbow pull, palm facing back, long follow through, thumb grazing my thigh. Now my mind is sliding into the near meditative dialogue that often accompanies my swim when I am focused on technique. Stroke, stroke, breathe. Suddenly I am enjoying my swim. My rhythm has returned. I am mellow. I am smooth.
    The endless loop is broken. The simple fact that I recognized where my brain had gone When Things Go Wrong let me take the steps to change the pattern. I have had ample opportunity to practice this particular skill, and I get better at it all the time. It really is a vital tool in the race day kit. It is so easy to let one incident completely blow apart a race, turning a joyful adventure into a pit of black despair. Life is too short to waste on what if, if only, I should have. We hold the power to change our race even When Things Go Wrong.

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