Friday, June 21, 2013

Favorite pair of underwear

You know the feeling when you put them on. There is a reason why they are your favorite pair of underwear. Despite most of your undergarments being the same, and made of the same material, one of them is special. And you hold on to that pair until you can't legitimately wear them anymore.
Note-not a picture of me, but Hanes Comfort soft waistband boxers are the most comfortable things I have ever worn.

It the same with a swimmer and a pair of goggles. Sure, goggles look the same. And are made of the same parts-plastic, rubber, etc. But only one pair has been on your face for hours upon hours, with just the right amount of tension to keep the water out, and just enough so that you don't end up with a headache from them being too tight. All of the individual variables have been perfected. The nose piece is just wide enough, water never gets in; the goggles are an extension of your face. At a certain point, you don't even think about it. Just like your favorite pair of underwear, they do the job perfectly.

Eventually, that relationship ends. The destructive oxidative powers of the chlorine in the pool eats away at the rubber strap. Usually, the swimmer can see it coming. The goggles get progressively looser, the rubber gets eaten away, and eventually, the band goes SNAP.
What remains of my goggles. Fortunately, they cost at most $3/pair, so not a huge loss, but terrible timing.

Usually, it's not a snap, because the elasticity of the rubber is all gone. It is more of an weak twang. It also usually happens at the worst time-when the goggles are being put on in preparation for practice or a race. The strap is being stretched to fit over your head, and then the world falls apart. The band goes weakly. There is little fight left. This is not like a pair of underwear, where you can justify wearing them for longer, maybe just the elastic band from the underwear is a little loose...the functionality of the goggles is gone.

Very few words can explain the emotions going through the head of the swimmer holding the pieces of what was one of three things to go through all of the pain of training (goggles, suit, body). First is panic, as this traumatic event usually happens right before getting in the water. The "oh sh** oh sh** I am about to step up to the blocks and I have no goggles where is someone with a pair I can borrow right now". The second is despair. Now what am I going to do with the goggles? Where can I get another pair? Then comes BLINDING RAGE as you realize that there is no immediate remedy to your problem. The time you spent getting your goggles to be just perfect was now wasted. You will suffer with leaky goggles for a few workouts, discomfort in the short term as you borrow someone else's goggles or make a quick repair to the broken ones, but it will never be the same. The relationship is over.

All of those emotions went through my head this weekend when I raced at the 1-mile open water National Championships at Lake Del Valle in Livermore, California. I had signed up for the race to get some practice open water swimming for triathlons, and I went out there with some of the members of the Temescal Master's swim team that I do some workouts with. Just after the pre race meeting, about 5 minutes before my race was to start, I was making my way down to the water to get in a quick workout. My cap was on, and I was putting on my goggles, when they fell apart in my hands. I pulled my hands down to see the destruction: The white rubber bands that had held small pieces of plastic against my eyes, protecting them from dihydrogen monoxide were no longer functional.

Phase 1: Panic
A Google image search for "panic" comes up with this-a panicked zombie. The internet is a weird place...

This was minutes before my race. I turned around and went back to my bag to pull out the second pair that I had brought with me, but the second pair were not tinted. I contemplated pulling the strap out of the clear goggles to put in my now lifeless goggles, but realized that time was short, and the strap on my second pair was not 100%.

Phase 2: Despair
Now what? The second pair would not allow me to see the buoys, it was too bright outside. My teammates looked at me, and offered their goggles, but that would be no good. I needed my tinted ones. I contemplated doing the race without goggles. But then I remembered that I had a $5 in my wallet, and there was a swim shop that was selling goods...maybe they had straps?

Phase 3: Blinding rage...
If someone had a scouter, my power level would have been well over NIIINNNEEE THOUSANNND. I apologize to all of you for making this reference. If you don't understand, go here:

I grabbed the five bucks out of my wallet, ran over to the shop, and said "I have five bucks, I need goggle straps, my race starts in 5 minutes, please help". The two employees looked at my dilated pupils, handed me some straps and took my money. I took it and ran. Straps in, goggles on, too tight, but there wasn't time to adjust.

The race: I got in the water (which was a warm 76 degrees), and paddled around for a bit to test the out the new goggle straps I had purchased. They were inflexible and tight, but not letting water in, so they would suffice. I warmed up quickly, as they were starting to call the swimmers over to the in water start line. A lot of the swimmers were clumped on the right hand side of the line, behind one of the race favorites, so I made my way to the left.

As the final minutes ticked before the race started, a woman asked me to confirm the course. This is pretty standard behavior out of most athletes-pre race jitters causes us to want to talk about something. The race, the course, the weather. It's like an awkward first date, except instead of the possibility of the date going poorly and never seeing the other person again, you know that you are going to be in pain from exertion. I told her the course, and a minute later, the race took off.

I fell into a steady rhythm, and as expected, there was a clump streaming to my right. The girl that I had been talking to took off, so I slipped in on her feet. We started sliding over to the other group, as she apparently was not keen on doing all the work.

After about 200 yards, we were in the main group. The leaders started to get away, and I was stuck in the middle. I didn't stress about it, and just allowed the others to do the work, figuring that I could slip through at a turn buoy.

Wrong. One of the major differences between swimming and other distance sports is that once a gap develops, it is very difficult to pull it back. In running or cycling, you can put down a minute or two effort, and generate a sizable gap, or make up a gap. It will hurt, but it's possible. Not so in swimming. A two minute effort might get you 5-15 second gap. By the time I had the space to make a move back to the leaders, they were long gone.

The rest of the race was pretty uneventful. I kept rhythm for most of it, and hit the beach in 10th place overall. I had wanted to finish higher, but it just means I have more work to do in the water.

Props to my training partner, Liz (who blogs here about being gluten free), who was the 5th overall female.
Double thumbs up as we were both second in our age groups.

1 comment:

  1. Great placement, especially considering the pre-race goggle issue!