Friday, May 27, 2011

"Before I Even Eat Breakfast" (...56)

Pitiful me, I did not arise on time to swim at late night laptop-ing caused me to over-sleep-in.  Typically I'm an early riser. I cherish the quiet of mornings in New England, breakfast with friends, and a fun workout event.  Missing this morning's planned swim made me think of this article I wrote years ago about open water swimming:

New England Masters Newsletter, September 2005

Before I Even Eat Breakfast  
Open Water Swimming at Walden Pond  
By Regina M. O'Toole

Every Friday morning, from April to October, I drive to Walden Pond in Concord, MA to train for the swim leg of my triathlon competitions.  My teammates, along with many other swimmers and triathletes, gather together along the old gray stone wall on the beach. We gather to train. This majestic (often cold, sometimes warm) water is the ideal place to improve our stroke. We test out our wetsuits, our body positioning, sighting skills, and general comfort and endurance in the open water. My teammates spread out their bags, wetsuits, Body Glide, goggles, and caps and talk while they take in their surroundings: ½-mile wide pond centered in Thoreau's woods, small sandy beach, and best of all, quietness, except for their own chatter.  On cold days, the chatter lasts longer as a way to prolong our entry into the frigid pond. We moan about the cold, we put only our toes in and wonder aloud how long we can actually swim, and we question why we even got out of bed. What makes us get in? - bravado? I think our thirst for challenge drives us. Water temperatures range from 55 degrees to well above 80. In the colder months, my body never warms up quite enough to relax in the water. My fingers and toes are too stiff to kick and pull like I do in a pool, and my jaw too rigid to talk with the other swimmers when we congregate at the other side of the pond. But somehow, in the winter months, swimming at Walden seems better than my warm bed because of the exhilaration I feel once I've exited the cold water and joined my teammates for breakfast. Ah, breakfast. At our breakfast spot, Helen's Cafe, in Concord center, Sandy, our ever attentive waitress, sees us piling in and quickly puts several cups of coffee on our table. We sit together to warm up, whine about our cold hands and feet, eat, and laugh. When the weather is warm, I'm eager to get up and get to the pond, see teammates, suit up, and swim. No stripe to follow on the bottom, just trees surrounding me and acting as my guide.  Walden is my chance to get out and simply enjoy my surroundings. I can stretch out my stroke and get into a rhythm that I can't find when there are walls every 25 yards. The open water makes me feel like there is so much more to swimming than just doing lap after lap in a pool. With no walls around me, I delight in the noise of the other swimmers gliding by me and find joy in the laughs we share as we rest at the far side of the pond. And as I swim back to the small sandy beach, I get to watch the sun rise higher in the sky. It’s a perfect way to train, before the traffic starts, before I go to work, before I even eat breakfast. This is Walden Pond…Thoreau’s stomping ground and my favorite place to greet the day.

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