Calling Ben Franklin

My pool—at the Matt Dishman Community Center in Northeast Portland—was described by one (we assume former) user as "filthy," "dirty," "atrocious," "vile," "murky" and "disgusting." Be that as it may, I haven't stayed away from Dishman because I fear it. I just have a hard time getting to the pool, which is a whopping three miles from home, when there's no race requiring swimming in my immediate future. Why schlep to the pool, where I have to check in, get dressed and shower before swimming, when I can just lace 'em up and be running the second I close the front door? The eternal question.

But they do call it triathlon, and Part I takes place in the water. And my bathtub, it's not really made for laps.

So today I visited Dishman, the ol' toilet bowl. I don't think it's that bad, although once we did have to wait 15 minutes to get in because of reports of a floater. Yeah, that kind of floater. "We didn't find anything," the pimply kid lifeguard told me, shrugging his shoulders, when they gave the all-clear signal. In we dove. (Dove metaphorically, in my case; I actually kind of, I don't know, find my way in, employing something between a slink and a plop.)

I swam all of 500 yards today, 10 laps of Dishman's 25-yard length, a length being there, a lap being there and back. It wasn't bad. I thought about these things as I swam: long; reach; head down; slow and steady; Christ my shoulder hurts. (Are there tales of Christ swimming in the Bible? Did people swim in ancient times? To the Google! Yes, Julius Caeser swam. Later, Beowulf. And still later, and hardly ancient, Benjamin Franklin nearly became a swimming coach!)

I could have cranked out 1,000 yards, but all that would have done is made me more sore than I need to be tomorrow. This is a process, and it has begun. Today, 500. Tomorrow, 750. By the end of the week I'll be at 1,000 yards, in two weeks 1,500, and by the end of February my regular workouts will be 3,000 yards.

Yes, this is a process, and it is a monumentally ridiculous one. Around lap No. 7 today I encountered—like ramming my head into the tiled sidewall—the truth: I'm going to work my ass off in the pool again and I won't get any faster than I was last year or the year before or the year before that. I'll have my strange good days when I feel comfortable and sleek in the water, but they'll be fleeting. Mostly, I'll swim and swim and swim, and then the race will come, and when I get to my bike in T1 three-quarters of my age group will already be pedaling.

I've never had anyone coach me on how to ride a bike. Or how to run. Not being coached—that's been central to my self-identity as a triathlete. Not only does it save me money, it also saves me from expecting myself to reach my full potential. And that's important because if you don't expect it, you can't be disappointed if you don't achieve it.

Enough of that. I got in the pool today. I swam as expected. Next move: finding some coaching.

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