Sunday, March 4, 2012

Youth is fleeting...or rather, fleeing?

Youth is fleeting. Who said that? (Longfellow, de Montaigne, Ecclesiastes??)  And I wonder how old they were when they wrote it. Probably somewhere near my age. Well, this past week I discovered that they were right. My boys were scheduled to compete in an aquathlon; a run-swim-run kind of deal. I decided, heck, I like to swim and if I have to give up another Saturday to their activities I might as well participate. I registered the three of us.
A few days passed. I almost forgot about it. And the, everything changed. First of all, a nasty winter storm came through, something we're actually getting used to here in Israel this year, and it was forecast to be nothing less than FREEZING on Saturday. Now it was one thing to start out a run in 9 degrees, but what was it going to be like getting out of the pool soaking wet and continuing on to the second run! Brrrrr. It was clear that this wasn't for me. I have not one big of polar bear in me. Next piece of foreboding news: the adult category was going to be combined with the Elite Youth category; yep, the strapping 16-19 year olds. There simply weren't enough adults to justify splitting the start times. Uh-oh… I was actually going to start out with my boys. Well, that was simply comical. Obviously I wouldn't be able to even get close to their pace. The consolation would be that there would be plenty of room in the pool by the time I got there.  And it turned out, that was no joke.

A few minutes before the start I shed my sweatshirt. The shivering started. Soon enough I was shaking like a leaf. Coach Uri was explaining the rules. I didn't care. Let's just get this thing started. I was turning blue. Blessedly it came: On your mark, get set, GO! The race started. And what do you know, within less than five seconds I was virtually alone. I turned around seeking some consolation. There it was, I spotted a few last stragglers behind me. I couldn't believe it. And I was running fast!!! In fact too fast! This was no recognized zone and my differed sharply from what my coach had recommended a few days before.

In any case, I began to feel like a train wreck: totally out of control. I'd had no previous delusions of keeping up any kind of pace with the Elite Youth but hey, just how humiliating was this!!!  It made me appreciate that comfortable "Women's start" that I've gotten used to at most other competitions. To add to my misery I began to panic: how was I ever going to know where to go? I'd never done it alone before!!

At the turn loop I saw Daniel run by, then Noah. What could they possibly be thinking? Well they were happy enough to share that information with me in the car on the way home, accompanied by quite a bit of pantomime: "How come mommy runs with her arms crooked up high in the air?" "Here comes mommy with her cane!" Lovely.

In any case, off went the Elite Youth and there I was plodding along, fast enough to realize that I was developing a nasty case of shin splints. And then the worst thing happened: I sensed that I was going uphill. Not only that, I realized that this hill was getting steeper and snaked sharply upward as it led me back to the pool. Who said anything about an incline? This definitely wasn't mentioned in the race flyer.  

My God…it was a nightmare. But I did it...I finished the first run and headed to the pool. I strolled my way down the stairs and into the pool area. It was super slippery and since I was one of the last competitors it didn't really seem to matter! I jumped in. BLAZES!!! The water was simply burning. How was I supposed to swim in boiling water? It turns out later that it wasn't boiling, that the difference in temperature between my skin, frozen from being exposed to the wintry elements outdoors during the run, and the 27 degree water, was just enormous enough to give the "impression" of jumping into a cauldron of soup.  Shades of Macbeth flashed before me; a kind of ultimate punishment to top those I'd already inflicted on myself that morning.

It didn't matter. I couldn't swim. Here we were at my favorite part and I could barely move my legs. The shin splits I'd developed during my climb of Everest had left me with horrific pains. The only plus was that, as I'd figured out beforehand, I had plenty of room. Almost everyone else was ahead of me. But still, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get my legs to kick. They hurt that much. About 300meters into the 800 meter swim I started to recover and started to move. I even managed to catch up to those runners who'd left me alone on the road during the first run.  Finally catching my breath I was able to assess the bitter facts about this competition: most of the other adult competitors were runners who happened to swim a little. It's too bad I couldn't capitalize on my own talents in the pool; too bad I couldn't get up to speed. But the fact remained—I spent most of the swim trying to recover from the run. While it wasn't my worst swim ever it wasn't nearly my best.

Oh well. I pulled myself out of the pool; no easy feat at the Wingate Institute. The pool is a lovely Olympic 50meters but the walls are incredibly high. I actually had to use the ladder. Yep, here comes the old lady!!! I made my way out, put my sneakers on and braced for the cold. WHOA!!! No amount of preparation could have prepared me for just whipped through me. The only thing that made me forget it was hearing the announcer announce the names of the Elite Youth who had already finished. Yes, finished. They were already coming in and I still had that lonely run ahead of me….lonely, and, lest we forget, freezing!

So there I was…chugging along, knowing that most of the field had already finished—finding almost every step unbearable and dreading the mountainous finish that I now knew lay before me.

Well, suffice it to say that I did it. I finished. I finished even though absolutely every second was more than I could bear. I crossed the finish line and that was it. I was officially put out of my misery. Although I'd been cheered along the way by a few friends and acquaintances, all incredibly helpful, and quite a few strangers in awe of, or alternatively horrified by, the struggling old lady, my children were nowhere to be found. They'd finished a clean 9 minutes or so before me and, after all, who really cares about mom? Adding insult to injury, a full five minutes after I crossed the finish line the announcer announced, "the four last contestants are…."and I heard my name. 

Enough said. I probably won't be doing that kind of race again. It wasn't even slightly satisfying. Maybe if they actually decide on reasonable categories and provide a few reasonable contestants I'll give it another chance but being shoved into the 40-59 category isn't for me! I've learned my lesson: aquathlons are for runners, not swimmers. I had it wrong. And no, I don't need to endure another "start" with the Elite Youth because yes, youth is fleeting…and this youth was simply flee-ing…and I didn't enjoy being left behind to consider where my own youth had gone; not to mention stuck with a nasty case of shin splints. Lessons learned. Not a bad thing in the end.