In at the Deep End

I’ve just called in at the local pub for a swift one after work and bumped into an old friend, someone i hadn’t seen for many months. The first question is always the same, “You been up to much?” and as with the standard “How do you do” it doesn’t necessarily mean what it says, and the stock response is just as wired, “Ah, not much really”. But when I think back on the last few weeks, it doesn’t really tell the whole story…

I’ve had to go through my Facebook page, searching back and back to the point when i posted on here last, trying hard to remember what the hell i’ve been doing. When i got back home from Sweden, some two hours later than expected, and by this point completely exhausted and ready to sleep for a week, i declared i would not be leaving the area for a few months (or at least wouldn’t plan to!). To be honest, it was as much from being travel weary, and sick of trains, planes and automobiles than a lack of money, and i’d finally got to the point where i wanted to stay at home for a while. What i forgot is that staying at home is no less restful, with no less activity or cost. Within days of getting back, i was back in the pool, swimming again, training hard and putting in some good times, enjoying my second sport as much as i’d been enjoying my main one. What i didn’t realise is what i’d been building myself up to…

A little over a week ago, i entered my first swimming gala; in fact my first competitive race in any sport! It was inevitable if i’m honest, having been averaging two sessions a week since february, but still it was an eye opener: from the feeling of walking in to what is normally a very familiar environment in a race scenario, through the Welsh National Anthem, and figuring out how the whole thing works, to hitting the water for the first time and working one by one through the events i’d signed up for, every minute was an experience, although none more so than that very first race. In hindsight, i think i got a bit overwhelmed, with far too much swimming around in my head. I’d never done anything even close to this before, the only competitions i’d entered before being climbing comps, very casual in their approach, and a very different atmosphere. All of a sudden i found myself stood on the blocks, listening, thinking, trying to get to grips with all that was going on. My start would’ve been a false one anyway, and as i broke the smooth surface of the water, my goggles were ripped from my face. My concentration now broken and my mind still on the side, i inadvertently started with the wrong strong (100m International Medley not normally started with front crawl…) before realising and coming up for air to begin butterfly. At this point, i tried to open my eyes, suddenly thinking i needed to see where i was going, only to become distracted and breathing in as my mouth went back under the water. It was calamitous, and after half a length of butterfly with my head out of the water, i stopped and repeatedly crossed my throat with my hand to signal to the judge i’d had enough. I’d even go so far as to say you could’ve videoed the length as an example of everything you shouldn’t do when attempting 100m IM in a race. At least i didn’t drown.

But it was a start, and admittedly, it couldn’t get much worse. My next event went well, although pushing my limits was tough when at one point, as i could see not a thing of my other competitors, i wondered if the race had stopped, so probably didn’t push it as hard as i could. Next, i found myself in a relay, somewhat unexpectedly, and again the goggles came off, but thankfully with the race being freestyle, i was able to persevere, although not well enough to put in a good enough time. To my team-mates, i apologise, as i wonder if it was due to me that we missed out on the win.

At lunch, i decided that enough was enough, and bought new goggles, with advice this time and found the afternoon session was substantially better. The second warm up was much better than the first, with the familiar psyche i often get from climbing kicking in. All the later races went well: by this point, standing on the blocks no longer intimidated me and i had a routine down for starting off. Only at one point did i make a major mistake, again with a dive start to butterfly, but even this didn’t bother me much; i was fit, strong and doing well.

What didn’t work in my favour were the days preceding and following. With the Beacon’s aggregate competition starting again, and a strong desire to beat last years final position of 5th, i had squeezed in a climbing session on the Wednesday. Sadly, instead of 25 problems to hurl myself up, there were 44; a monumental challenge in anyone’s books. So a day after a hard training session, a day before the next and a mere three days before the gala, i managed 37 boulder problems in around 2 hours. Needless to say it took it’s toll. On the Sunday following the gala, i was again to be found ticking problems at the Beacon, trying the hard ones i had left the previous time there. By Monday, i felt broken and about to snap. I knew i should rest up, knew there was an injury one more problem or length away. Still, i’d agreed to do something with Vicky, a friend from the Brenin, and had no intention to back out at the last minute. I wa back at the Beacon again.

After warming up on previously ticked problems, i found they had reset some more, and instantly threw myself at them, eager to stay near the top of the leader board. Sadly it was all too much, as i expected that morning crawling out of bed, and on what was already to be one of the last problems of the day, i wildly swung my leg out to catch a heel hook and felt the hamstring go on my left leg. I finished the climb, if only to make the descent more amenable, and wandered the room, clutching my thigh. The next day almost had me in tears on one occasion and i’ve been sitting out everything for the ten days since. Wednesday this week (a little over a week after the strain) and i was having a sports massage, and now i’m off down the pool. It feels okay, only aching as much as the rest of me, and i’m keen to get back on it. Still it has worked as a pertinent reminder that resting is crucial, and there will eventually come a point where we all must just stop, if only for a while.

However, i can’t just leave this post with that, as September was host to an even more pertinent reminder of life and it’s importance. On 16th September, my close friend and colleague, Ken Dwyer, sadly passed away after a thankfully short fight with cancer. I had worked with Ken almost every week since the beginning of 2010 and he was a fantastic mentor and mate, always understanding and fiercely loyal to those around him. I will remember his stories and mannerisms fondly and still not a day goes by when i do not mention him; long may that continue. After the initial shock wore off, and the sadness passed, i realised there are positives to take from his passing: he was home, with his family, in the mountains he loved, but more that he had made the most of the time he had here. Always pragmatic, Ken had lived and loved the sports and the surroundings he held so dear, and cherished his place in them as we all should do. I am a different man from having known him well, i believe changed for the better, and i will never forget him, as dear a friend in North Wales as any i have or shall make again. Ken, it’s been an honour and a privilege, but now it’s time to rest. Goodbye old friend.

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