This is a piece which was originally supposed to be part of my triathlon training log, but kind of grew legs...or fins, or flippers, or whatever seals have!
Today, thanks to a rest day, and to the guilt that accompanied the extent of my rest (welcome to my lovely freelance world), I ENDED UP HITTING MY TRIATHLON DISTANCE FOR SWIMMING! With almost 3 months to go! Yup, 1.5km in the still stormy sea, following the route around the 5 buoys leading out into the bay from Blackrock and back.
There is nothing quite like the knife-edge feeling of being completely alive and yet at the mercy of the elements - those things bigger and wilder than ourselves that we forget are the real things that shape the world and to which we owe our deepest humility. I get a similar feeling from being in high places in the mountains. No amount of mindfulness meditation can force you into the same necessity of presence. You are forced to hold on to that feeling of trusting yourself, in your strength and determination and what your body can do.
Sometimes it's as though I have more faith in what my body can do in nature than in what my particular personality and mind can achieve in the wider world. It's easier because somehow the merciless neutrality of the wind and the ocean is more bearable than the invisible forces and pressures constituted by the significations placed on our bodies and beings which guide the tenor and mode of our human interaction, and which then mould an inner landscape which we come to believe is the small and uncertain truth of ourselves, however much rich and ancient energies struggle beneath our skins.
Emerging from the waves at Blackrock Diving Tower I felt like a whole other creature than when I had entered the water. As though I had temporarily remade myself in my battle with the sea into something strange and strong and true - some kind of Selkie perhaps, happily alone in the tangy element of her own nature.
But as I made my way to where my towel and accoutrements of human life were waiting, I was accosted by a group of men who I recalled had been there before I went into the sea. One of them seemed to be getting dressed after a swim. Another was holding a pair of dogs.
"How far did you go?" one asked
"I went round the loop" I answered, feeling proud, but playing it down because I kind of wanted to keep this moment of pride all for myself and not share it with these strangers.
"Jesus," said the Swimmer "You did that distance in breaststroke? In that sea?"
Embarrassed, I explained I only did it in breaststroke cause I'm rubbish at front crawl.
"That's 1.8km" said Dog Man.
"I don't think so," I said. I checked the sign. It said 1.5km.
"Well I put those buoys up, and it's actually 780m to the 4th buoy and add the fifth buoy onto that it really makes about 1.8km" He didn't make it sound like a good thing.
"Jesus I can't believe you did that distance. In breaststroke!" The Swimmer was still amazed.
"You need a different wetsuit" Dog Man admonished "You're kicking too high for breaststroke"
I stared at him a moment, and then gave a theatrical open-armed shrug, before heading over to my clothes.
"Sure maybe she just wanted to go into the ocean to enjoy herself", the Swimmer speculated. I ignored the rest of their conversation and instead greeted the unexpected and very welcome arrival of a friend who was dog-sitting my dear friend Elaine's dog, Sam.
But somehow it stung worse than the salt. It was like a theft, or an abduction. They'd hauled me out of this moment of wild, private communion, back into some codified sorting-house of bodies and their possibilities.
And the thought-tendrils of the world I had so recently escaped proliferated back up through my sea-scoured mind with the regrettable question: would they have felt it so necessary to intercept me with their commentary if I hadn't been female?
And again, all I can do is shrug. This is the world, yet I still have my seal-skin.