Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sri Chinmoy Lake Swim - Looking for Nirvana

Sri Chinmoy Lake Swim Canberra 5k 20th February

Looking for Nirvana from the muddy banks of the Molonglo ...

Sri Chinmoy spent his life practising sport to express his philosophy of self-transcendence.
Being an old sceptic, I usually don't have much faith in this philosophy.
Still, I do try to go to keep an open mind when I go to these kinds of events that are organised by people who are committed to their beliefs.

The evening before

My first mistake was to drive down to the lake on Saturday evening to check out the conditions. I knew about the algae warnings, but I didn't expect the water to be so brown.
My previous experience swimming in Lake Burley Griffin was the Sri Chinmoy Capital Swim in 2009.
Lovely cool clear water then. It would be different tomorrow.

I arrived early at Yarralumla Bay on Sunday morning and registered for the 5k lake swim and lined up at the start with the small group of purple-capped 5k swimmers. The course being 2 laps around a 2.5k circuit.

I was a little hesitant to enter the brown water. Finally I dove into the murky water and pushed off.
My suspicions were confirmed - Zero visibility - Well almost zero anyway, maybe about one foot. I could see my arm about as far as my elbow, then my forearm and hand disappeared into the gloom.

Nursing a shoulder strain from a week of tough pool training, my plan was to take it easy for the 1st lap.
I knew I could push through shoulder pain on the 2nd lap if the shoulder blew up.
I find mentally the 1st half of a long swim is always the hardest. It seems to take me ages to relax and get into a rhythm. So usually after nearly an hour of swimming I'm doing it tough, knowing that I have still at least double the distance to go to get to the finish.
A couple of times I thought I might get out after completing just 1 lap (2.5k) and blaming it on the conditions. But then put my head down and got back into a repetition of stroke-stroke-breathe, and that negative creep went away.

After completing the 1st lap and passing the halfway mark, I was feeling much better. The 2nd half always seems to be easier, like swimming downhill, with the end in sight.
A northerly wind had come up and was starting to chop up the course.
I had tried to avoid swallowing any of the brown and algae water, but now there was no escaping it, with the chop splashing my face as a turned to breathe. I tried to spit out as much as I could.

Shoulders were hurting as I passed the last turning buoy, with a 600m straight swim to the finish.
Just concentrating on maintaining a slow consistent stroke now, happy that I would be finishing today's race.

With 50m to go, I lifted my head and could read the writing on the FINISH sign.

Then from nowhere and without me thinking about it, a burst of energy filled my body. My kick grew stronger, my body flattened out and my arms were pulling harder with perfect technique. I didn't feel the weight of the water; it felt like I was skimming over the surface. I was smiling underwater as I flew through the finish gate.

It was certainly a good feeling to finish on such a positive high.
Most likely it was an unconscious reaction to me being happy to finish a tough swim in adverse conditions, and pleased to conquer my negative thoughts before and during the race.
Those who are more spiritual might say that, on a muddy lake in a strange town, I enjoyed a small part of the self-transcendence experience.

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