Fighting burnout, stoking the fire

by Andrew Malinak

Traditionally, as the end of the summer comes, the leaves, the temperatures, and my training all begin to fall. But not this year.

By time late September 2013 rolled around, I still had weekly open water swims of over 7k. The Puget Sound is beautiful, and all I wanted to do was swim in it. Sounds harmless. Then I went and joined a swim team. Then I joined a second swim team. By late October, there were weekdays opened with a 5:30am swim practice and closed with an open water swim in the darkness newly brought about by Daylight Savings Time. As the months got colder, I added post-swim trail runs with some training buddies, and would continue to push the 6k mark as the Sound dropped into the 40s late in November. This level of training had continued since May, and my real training was to start in January.

Or so I told myself.

What I’d forgotten, or overlooked, or ignored in those playful autumn months is how important is my annual break-up with swimming. And now here I am at the end of March fighting total burnout. While my workouts are meant to be getting longer, simply getting in the water is regularly a struggle, and I’ve even begun asking myself why I’m doing it at all– the most dangerous of questions. In fewer than three months, I’m to be swimming 120 miles down the Hudson. By then, I suspect swimming and I will, in the best scenario, not be on speaking terms. The chances of us still being friends by June seem remote. And this is a terrifying prospect considering we’re only at the beginning of the season!

Now it is too late to take three months off, and there is no way to go back. So it becomes a mental game.

Last Saturday I stepped onto the Golden Gardens beach, warm hands in the pockets of the parka protecting me from the pelting rain. As I approached the newly-made campfire, a few confused faces noticed the lack of swim bag and towels. Midway through my workout the night before, as I thought about what would come with the following morning, the cold, damp, shivering sandy wetness that accompanies most Seattle swims, I decided I’d remain warm and dry on the beach. Only if the sun came out and a compelling reason presented itself would I swim. I needed a day off, a mental health day.

So I waved my friends off as they left on their swim in the cold, rough water. Then followed them with cameras. Then discovered that when they reached their turn-around point they’d see a wall-full of anemone. A few minutes later, Lisa shouted up from the water below, the wall was covered in starfish. Melissa, Guila, and Maria all said the same.

Then the sun came out. I’m glad I keep my swim bag in the car. The starfish were gorgeous, as always.