A diary of a first time Midmar Mile hopeful, part 1
Three years ago, I was the typical crazed Comrades runner, religiously following a running schedule, burning through running shoes, racing almost every weekend and viewing a 10km run as a light training day. Since running my third Comrades coming up on three years ago I have participated in exactly 4 organized races; The New York Marathon, The Tough One, Wings for Life World Run and a delightfully small Half Marathon. While I still run regularly, my long runs are now 10km and I no longer jump at every race entry email I get.
I was, in a way burnt out. I remember the point that it happened. It was around the 70km mark of my third Comrades where the distance I had done was huge but there were still double digits to go. I hit the dreaded dark patch where my goals of hitting my target time had long since been discarded; and I was somewhere between Plan E and F of finishing times. The fact that I had trained harder than ever before didn’t matter as one target after another was missed. Comrades will do that to you. Perfect training and races are no guarantee of a good Comrades. At some point I turned to Feige, exhausted and irrationally emotional as one gets after a day on the road, and announced that I was done with running. “I”, I told her, “will start swimming. That will be my cardio”.
I didn’t actually start swimming (winter) and ended back in my takkies on the road. But I never really got back into racing or running distance. The races I chose were done for the experience or to test where my running fitness was at. But as one does, I started getting that itch to have a plan, a schedule, a race to aim for.
It was going to be a half marathon; but I kept missing the entries. Sometime in the last two years, something happened to road running where you now need to pre-enter every race 6 months before it occurs and do it within 10 days of race entries opening. So, I switched from the road to water and picked The Midmar Mile as the race.
The Midmar Mile is something I’ve long wanted to do. One day. Each year I had an excuse, fuelled no doubt by the fact that I struggle to get into the pool to swim which is a problem for training; and my swimming abilities fall closer to “knows how not to drown” than “strong swimmer”.
In November I decided I was done pushing it off, 2018 would be my Midmar Mile year. It would be a fresh start to racing, something new, uncharted without any expectations or self-imposed pressure to hit a time.
With very little effort I convinced two of my sisters to do it with me (FOMO is real); entered and jumped into the deep end.
As soon as my father heard we were all doing the Midmar Mile, he pulled out from the depths of his cupboards his old swimming training manual. Printed in 1968 before you could youtube “freestyle swimming style”, it’s complete with detailed instructions and illustrations.
It would help me perfect my form, he assured me and a good form he said is crucial to conserving energy and not tiring yourself out. He attempted coaching us which consisted of random shout-outs containing “you need to put your head in the water”. “Not for that long, you need to breathe”. After watching us run for years, he was thrilled to have us doing a sport he understood. After a few days of just doing laps I turned to the Midmar Mile official training program. It consists of four days of swimming, with the instruction not to have more than 2 days rest between swimming days.
I’m an avid follower of training plans, I love the organisation of it and the fact that all your workouts are so neatly laid out without you having to think about it. There are three levels. With no experience, I started at level 1. A week later I graduated to Level 2 as I had enough cardio fitness to be able to swim for longer. On the odd day I feel tired I choose the easier level; but for the most part I’ve stuck with the second level which has been very doable and dare I say enjoyable.
When you start with a blank space and change up what you’ve been doing on repeat for years it feels fresh, exciting, scary and challenging. For the first summer in years I’ve kept that promise to swim more now that it’s hot. It was actually enjoyable spending December training and not having to get back into a consistent schedule come January. I now look forward to swims. And I’ve learned that while running may be my go to for clearing my head and releasing energy; swimming is the perfect mental shut off. You can’t see much except for what’s right in front of you, you can’t hear, smell or taste. What’s left is just to feel. Instead of my mind buzzing as it can do on a run, it rehearses just laps, noticing only where I am in that moment. And that in the past few weeks has been pure bliss.
What I’m Using…
I have a general rule that I don’t buy anything, except the absolute essentials until I’ve fully committed to something and done it enough to understand what I need and what’s optional. It’s saves you from wasting money on things you don’t actually need and clothing that isn’t comfortable for what you’re doing. I’ve managed to start training for Midmar without buying anything, just using the things I already had; but am figuring out what can stay and what needs to be replaced.
One Piece – I have a basic black swimming costume (3) I got after a physio had me swimming in winter to help heal an ITB issue. I don’t love the fit or style, but it has worked well for swimming in the gym. I plan on upgrading to something prettier and better fitting for my first proper swimming race.
Two Piece, mix and match – When swimming at home I prefer a more comfortable two piece. I mix and match a basic black bikini bottom (8) with either a black swimming high neck crop (1) I got at Forever 21 for R50 in a fluke find; or when I’m swimming right after a run, this Vivolicious sports bra (6) which is UPF30 and made to double up as a swimming top.
Cap – I only use it when swimming at gym. I have a plain black cap I got from Mr Price Sport (2) and it has been great. It’s made from Lycra as opposed to Silicone which I find more comfortable and it doesn’t pull at my hair.
Goggles – I wear contact lenses, so goggles are essential to not losing them while swimming. I bought a pair from Nike (4) years ago when I wasn’t thinking, and they’ve done the job. They’re more suited to pools not open water as they’re a racer style, and aren’t the most comfortable and do leak water; so, I’ll be getting something more suited to open water swimming for my first race.
Pepto Pro – Unlike with running where you finish incredibly thirsty, swimming doesn’t leave me feeling thirsty, so I try to be more conscious of the need to drink and refuel after sessions. I noticed at gym the real swimmers have no less than 2 bottles of drinks perched at the pool’s edge. In a bid to appear like a real swimmer I too now bring drinks. A bottle of water and a bottle of Pepto Sport or PeptoPro (7). I usually swim first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, so the PeptoSport works great in between drills if I’m feeling a bit tired or hungry and right after the swim as a refuel before breakfast. I’ve been using PeptoPro and Pepto Sport for over 3 years and it works brilliantly for me. It’s light, not overly sweet, has protein in it and doesn’t leave me with that full and bloated feeling recovery drinks sometimes do.
After an entire 5 weeks of training in 10 & 25 meter pools, this Sunday I will be doing my first ever open water swim 1200 meter race to practice. That’s 1200 meters with no stops, no pools edge to touch and no walls to kick off of. Stay tuned to read how that goes!
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