The first three minutes when you wake up at 4:45 a.m. to go swimming at 5:30 a.m. can be pure hell. Typically you’re waking from a deep sleep at that hour. With your head still pinned to a pillow and the light not yet turned on beside the bed, the instinct to roll over and go back to sleep is so powerful it can feel as if your brain is made of melting cotton candy.
But years of practice in rising early can get you through. At the age of fourteen, I had a paper route that required me to be out delivering newspapers starting at 5:30 a.m. I learned to get my hind end on the Huffy Three Speed and pedal down to Smith’s Bar-B-Cue in time to load up the mix of newspapers for the four-mile ride around town to get them in the door before 6:30 a.m.
Being a paper boy paid $8.50 per week in those days. But I didn’t have to collect. Just get the papers to the homes on time. I was a paper boy and made some money. It gave me a sense of pride and a feeling that I was needed in this world.
That experience served well when it came time to do two-a-day workouts in college cross country. We’d get up at 5:30, run six miles in 40:00, get showered and eat breakfast to be to class at time by 8:00 a.m.
Back at it
It’s taking a bit of practice to get back in 5:30 a.m. shape again. I’m a bit older than I was as a stupid teenager dragging my young body around on that Huffy bike. But truth be told, there are many days I feel as young as that teenager. I can still run two miles as fast as I could at 12 years old. So what’s the problem?
Well, the problem is that life gets a little more complicated as you add obligations. Which means that sometimes you get to bed on time, and sometimes you don’t. My fiance excels at getting up early but it does have a cumulative cost sometimes. That happens to any athlete. Every Olympian we just watched in Rio faces the same challenges. It’s no easier to get up at 5:30 to work out even when you do that for a living. The previous day’s training lags in your veins. I know that feeling well from having done intense and long training for so many years. Those 100-mile running weeks in college were an exercise in radical exercise.
I pondered all this while swimming laps in the middle of the pool this morning. The workout was broken down into increments and I’d bob up after each section to check the next group of intervals. We all need our checkpoints.
As a kid, I memorized that paper route and could nearly do it in my sleep. Once in a while, a home might drop the newspaper or a new customer would come online. Then I’d have to make a mental note about which paper they wanted. It always took a few days and sometimes I’d forget and have to backtrack, smacking my head in the process. On cold winter mornings, that meant even more freezing hands and cold feet. The elements are unforgiving. But it’s how you learn to think ahead.
It’s a very similar process to learning how to swim. You have checkpoints of distances to consider. Form counts too. Keep those elbows high. Point those hands on entry. Pull with the arm all the way back. I used to take the same sort of pride in delivering papers. Quick off the bike to the door. Slide the paper in an close the door in one smooth motion. Trot back to the bike. Finish the route in under half an hour.
Slowly I am becoming a pool boy just as I was once a paper boy. It only costs me about $8.50 a week to use the pool in the Master’s program. About the same amount I once earned as a paper boy. It’s funny how life offers up these strange balances of investment and extraction. In between we pedal and run and swim, keeping track of it all in our heads.
Paper boy. Pool boy. Let’s see if I can deliver on this promise too.