The woman next to me looked woefully at the water. “I hate to swim. Don’t know why I do this.”I reply, “Have you been in? I thought it was cold last week during the practice swim. It’s frigid now. Made my face hurt.”Another person pipes up, “Man, I’m sore. Everything hurts. This is my last race of the season. I’m ready for it to be over.”“I’m so done,” says another. “I’m beat.” Murmurs of agreement.But now the season is over. With my focus for the past five months being on training, racing, recovering, and training again, what will I do?To ward off the end-of-season blues, the Monday after the race, I go to my health club for my first pilates class in six years. I sit on my mat, waiting for class to begin, and admire my buff arms. Maybe I’m not the fastest swimmer in my age group, but all that training has paid off. I look like the fittest person here. Fortunately, I don’t mention to anyone that I’m a triathlete.
The instructor, BethAnn, has a cheerful, sing-song voice and trilling laugh. But she is a drill sergeant. By the time we get to the hundred, my entire body is trembling. Part of training is creating nerve-muscle connections. My nerves are frantically firing signals, searching for my elusive transverse abdominus. It must be there somewhere. Everyone has one. My abs are sore as I slink out of class. I take this as a sign that my nerves found something. I feel like I’ve been in the ring for an hour. By Thursday, my abs have just about stopped hurting from Monday’s class, so I go back for another round. I check out the others. It is a good thing this is not a competition. I would be dead last. People are calmly holding their bodies in a V and flapping their arms. I keep that up as long as I can, but then seize on every easy modification BethAnn suggests and hold my head with one hand for support. “Press your belly button to your spine. Keep your hips steady. Elongate your body. Control.” I figure if I can follow at least two of her commands at a time, I’m doing all right. “Legs in the air at 45 degrees. Belly button to the spine. Slowly tap one foot down, lift and then the other. Do NOT rock your hips. Keep your hands on top of your pelvis to make sure they’re steady. Do these as homework.”
I softly grunt, starting to sweat. BethAnn informs, “You should be feeling warm. If you’re using your transverse properly, your body heats up.” Good. That means I don’t actually have a fever. Towards the end, she makes a mockery of my upper body strength. “With the push ups, you can keep your knees on the floor if you need to. For those of you more advanced, do the push up with one leg in the air. And keep those abs sucked in.” On another night, I go to the club for a yoga class. I do some yoga on my own in an attempt to keep my hips and hamstrings limber, but have not taken a class in years. I tell myself that yoga is not a competitive sport, but coming off the heels of race season, it is hard not to eye my neighbors to assess whether my tree is steadier, my warrior deeper, and my downward dog doggier. Heidi’s soothing voice preaches, “This is your own practice. Do what feels right for your body at this time. Focus on yourself.” That’s all I can do when she has us wedge our knees into our opposite armpits and wind our hands around to meet in back. I feel as though I could be picked up, dropped into a box, and shipped. My focus further increases as she has us balance on one leg with the body horizontal and arms outstretched. I feel like a plane coming in for a bad landing. I can’t straighten the standing leg and my body wobbles above it trying to maintain my balance. I am wrung out as I ooze out of class. Planks are not for sissies.With the zeal of a convert, I coax Phil to do a yoga tape with me. He agrees to see if it will help his weight lifting. An aching lower back has kept him from the iron. Improved hamstring and hip flexibility coupled with abdominal core strength can address lower back issues. I pop in the Molly Fox Stretch DVD. “Your goal,” I inform him, “is to get sufficiently limber to do a real yoga class.” I eye him. “But if you wear that getup, I won’t know you.” Loud grunts as Molly leads us through the warrior poses.
Doing a spine rotation pose, Phil attempts to follow her instructions to put one foot on the far side of the opposite knee and put the elbow beyond the knee and look towards the back. He swears. “Sweetie, curses would not be appropriate in a class.” Then Molly leads us through the mermaid pose which should involve crossing one knee over the other, sitting back, reaching one hand over the top of the back and having the other hand meet it from the lower part of the back. He sort of has his knees crossed but he’s curled forward and grasping at the back of his shirt, his hands nowhere near each other. He falls over. “My hips. It’s my hips. How does she do that?” He refuses to return the Molly tape and starts practicing faithfully with it. Several weeks into my new routine and I’m not suffering from any end-of-season withdrawal. My body is too confused to think about racing. One day, swimming laps, I realize with a shock that I am sucking in my gut without thinking about it. My swimming feels more fluid. The core strength also improves my biking by preventing me from sagging on the handlebars when tired. Doing yoga regularly, I have been able to increase my running mileage, yet my legs are recovering quickly. I have seen vigorous discussion on the merits of yoga versus pilates. My take is it is not an either/or choice. They are helping my body in different ways.