Last weekend I did one of the physically most challenging things in my life. I swam the Midmar Mile.
About 9 months ago I started swimming for general exercise, but like I am, I can never do one thing for too long without it having a goal to work toward. So the husband suggested why don’t I train for the Midmar Mile. Before I knew it I was telling people I was going to swim Midmar.
Nothing is ever as real as it is until you start telling people about it…
I had no idea what journey I would be going on with myself, my mind, my self-confidence and my body, but those are sometimes the best kind of journies to go on.
I started off just swimming, then it was a training program for the Sun City 1.5km Swim and then it was another training program. My swimming training became more than just swimming, it also became a place and activity for me to learn about my relationship with Exercise and see the Ugly Side of Exercise and Control. I could finally start to face the fact that I had been using exercise as a way to find control in a world I had always felt was spinning out of control. Admitting something like that to yourself is very scary. But it has also allowed me to get back to enjoying exercise and Finding Balance in Exercise.
Your body goes through a lot of changes when you’re training for anything, and especially when swimming. I’ve always been quite skinny and I used to joke that my bony butt would poke me when I sat on a plastic or hard chair. One thing swimming does is it gives you a bum, it really does.
In the beginning I was excited. I had an ass for the first time in my life! My jeans actually fit now.
But any intense exercise also builds other muscles. In my case, it was thigh muscles and arm muscles. I’d always been very self-conscious about my arms and I remember looking back at photos and determining my skinniness, and ultimately my prettiness, based on how thin my arms were. I was in this tug of war between wanting strong arms and wanting them to be as skinny as possible. Writing this down now I realise how scary a thought that is, but I also know that so many other girls feel or think the same…
So now my thighs were getting bigger and I didn’t have my skinny upper legs anymore. They are now beautiful and muscular and I love how strong they are now, but when you put on pant after pant and it stretches tighter than usual around your legs, then it can make a huge dent in your self-confidence.
I tried to tell myself that this was just a phase (which ultimately it was) but it was difficult, especially when a lady at work commented one day that I was picking up weight. I was so in shock because no one had ever said I was picking up weight, rather that I was losing too much weight. In that moment all I heard was I am fat, not you are building muscle because you are training for a goal.
Looking at photos of myself at the Sun City Swim I was disgusted with how my legs looked but didn’t say anything, and I hoped that all this muscle would be worth it.
Then came Midmar. I was extremely nervous. I’d done a mile before so I knew I could do the distance. I was more scared of all the training (and weight gaining) not being worth it.
And then I hit the water…
After swimming Sun City I felt disappointed, but I promised myself for this one I would not hold anything back, and I didn’t.
I loved every minute. Despite all the “o it’s so scary” and “o, it’s so difficult” comments I had before the race from various sides, I loved every minute of swimming Midmar Mile. I enjoyed the swim, the burn in my muscles, the water, the adrenaline, the competition. Even the moment when the lady swam into my toe (yes she literally swam into my toe) which I’d sprained two weeks before and almost broke then, even that moment I’m not angry about.
I pushed so hard and I finished with a time of 37:13 minutes which I am extremely proud of!
I walked out of that dam happy, proud, very sore, but ultimately grateful for what my body had been put through and had carried me through.
Looking back at the photos now I am so proud of my body! I see a body that is so strong, that has undergone many changes to get to a point where it could participate in a sport it had never done before, in a very competitive time.
As girls, we will always have issues with our bodies. Society and how we were raised influences that. BUT, today I am in love with my butt, and my strong arms and bigger thighs. I am proud of this body and see it in a completely new light. I will keep on working on my body and I’m sure it’s going to change even more as I set a new goal for myself. I’m sure I will go through the same process of denial and irritation and sadness and ultimately immense gratitude.
You don’t need to swim a mile to learn to appreciate your body again, but I hope everyone can find the same gratitude and sense of pride in their bodies as I have. It might not last, and that’s ok. I’d much rather look back on photos of a body that was strong enough to achieve a goal and base my perception of beauty on that, than skinny arms.