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Cleaning out my big bag of stuff

When I walked into the spinning room Monday morning, my friend Darlene promptly got off her bike, came over and gave me a hug.

"I am so proud of you," she said, referring to my improved time in my 5K this past weekend. "You know, every time you write about your times you always way, 'Well I did this, but...' I think you're doing great."

I thought about that the rest of the day. It is something I often do -- qualify my successes or even excuse them. I ran 25 seconds faster in my 5K this week? Yes, but my time is still pretty slow. I cycled through the hills of Italy? Yes, but I wasn't very fast.

I could go on with examples from training, from work, from life in general. Part of it is that nasty habit of comparing myself with other people. Part of it is a fear of hubris. Part of it is a feeling that I'm really not good enough to toot my own horn anyway.

My coach likes to talk about putting aside our big bag of stuff when we train. I think that training can bring up that big bag of stuff in the first place, force us to look at it and dismiss it for what it is -- old junk that no longer serves us. We look at it, try to remember where and why we picked it up, then toss it away with today's easy-paced run. There can be lots of stuff in the bag or one gigantic thing that just won't seem to go away, but once you start spring cleaning that big bag of stuff, everything feels a little freer.

Before I went to master's swim practice Monday night, I came across a quote from Judy Garland: "Be a first-rate version of yourself, not a second-rate version of someone else."

Just another way of letting go of comparisons.

I took that attitude into swim practice and genuinely had fun.

Really. Even that 800 after warmups wasn't so bad.

Even getting a pull buoy tossed at me to use for the rest of practice was A-OK. See, there were times when I used to think, "Boy, I wish I was good enough to just swim with only a few minor adjustments and not have to be stopped and given training toys to work with."

The ridiculousness of that sentiment finally sunk in last night. This is swim practice. I'm not racing my triathlon here. I'm trying to become a better swimmer and gosh darn it, that means using any means necessary. And my nickname at the pool might as well be "Wiggle Worm" since given the opportunity I will use the entire width of the lane to swim my laps.

So when swim master Greg tossed me the buoy I knew it was time to work on my head placement. By the end of my sets of 200 I finally felt the right head placement -- turning my head to breathe but keeping one eye underwater. Heck I could still see things in the pool when I turned my head to breathe.

Greg, are you looking? I think I got it.

A few times water got up my nose as I tried to work with the air pocket on my breath. Greg said I'd get used to that. I figured it was just some extra hydration.

I did get to take a little bit of a break in the middle of my practice as some alarm started going off in the pool. I stopped. Other people were still swimming and it seemed as if there was nothing really wrong. Still, I asked Carolyn who was swimming next to me if we were under attack.

"Apparently," she said.

"Do we keep swimming?" I asked.

She turned to me with a mock-serious face and said flatly, "Always keep swimming."

I actually laughed while finishing that set.

And my big bag of stuff started to feel a little bit lighter.

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