I've trained well. In the Netherlands in the fall, I swam long distance workouts on my own several times a week, sometimes as long as 6000 meters (4 miles). And this spring, I've been swimming with CAST, two hours a night, and making up workouts on Sunday nights with Hayley or Saturday mornings with my Jacksonville team. It's rare that I have a week with fewer than five practices. Plus I bike to and from school every day - campus hills and all - and lift weights twice a week (which has helped my shoulder tremendously). There's no question that I'm physically fit.
I've had a good taper, too. My last full-distance workout was last Saturday. Sunday I didn't swim, and Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were short 2000-meter practices (as tonight will be). I've been eating carbohydrates (angelhair pasta plus Havarti cheese plus minced garlic = excellent), drinking water, and napping as frequently as possible (just woke up from 4 hours of sleep, actually). I feel somewhat more tired and sluggish than usual, but I know from experience that that's normal during a taper and is actually a sign of muscle recovery. The only thing I'm really concerned about is the fact that I'm still sore from my tetanus shot on Monday, but even that pain is diminishing by the day, so I'm reasonably confident that I'll be okay on Saturday.
The external factors seem to be falling into place, too. I have all my gear and supplies, the food situation is sorted out, my boat pilot Bernie (who has piloted this race for 4 years in a row) seems to be really knowledgeable and friendly, and even the weather is looking good - 84 degrees with a bit of a cloud cover (so the sun won't be beating directly down on me all day).
So what am I worried about?
Well, my shoulders, mostly. They're feeling good right now, and if they both hang in there - especially the right one - and don't spaz out on me around mile 6, I might be okay. But if they do break down, I can almost guarantee you that I will not finish the race. In my world, pain falls into two categories: pain I can push through (which is a lot) and pain I can't. The tetanus site is (now) pain I can push through. The breaking-down of both biceps tendons is pain I generally can't, at least not past a certain point. If it kicks in at mile 21, I'll probably finish, even if I have to kick the whole rest of the way. If it's mile 7, like it was in Key West, I probably won't.
And that's the reason I'm nervous. The longest distance I've ever swum is 12.5 miles, and I'm about to go almost twice that. I've been lifting weights, and stretching, and using ice and heat, and eating protein, and doing everything I can to strengthen those shoulder joints - and they've done well, because I haven't felt any pain at all for weeks now. But what if it just isn't enough? What if this is just a weakness in my body that I can't exercise away? General fatigue - physical and mental - I can ignore. But knowing that my biceps tendon is just lurking in there, ready to betray me, and that I can't do anything more about it from this point on - that makes me nervous. I like to be in control, and I can't control that.
Because if all my hard work this past year isn't enough, and I break down anyway, then I don't see how my English Channel dream can possibly come true. If my body can't handle 24 miles in 75-degree water, how will I be able to handle the equivalent of 30 miles in 62-degree water?
So that's why I'm nervous. Because this is more than just a race - it's a test for my ultimate swimming goal, which I've been focusing on for a year and a half now. I've done everything right, but everybody has a breaking point, a limit that your body just can't go beyond. I'm going to be testing mine this weekend, and I suspect that I may be found wanting.
I'm trying to replace the negative images with good ones. Me swimming easily the whole way, joking with Anna and Bernie when I stop to eat and drink, smiling for photos, not feeling seasick, not getting 'dried-up sponge mouth', not getting sunburnt, my biggest problem the constant mental replay of whatever song worms its way into my head. I'd like to believe that that's the way it'll go, and I suppose there's a chance that that really is what might happen. But there's a much bigger chance that something will go wrong, because there's really no such thing as a perfect swim, and I'll have to deal with whatever it is. I just hope it isn't the shoulders.
What it comes down to is that I've done everything I can do, and what happens, happens. If I'm forced to quit in the middle, well then, I quit in the middle, and I'll be angry and upset, and it'll probably be bye-bye English Channel. It won't be the end of the world, and it's not going to make me stop swimming, or exercising - I'll find another dream, a new focus, and work toward that instead. There's always another goal to work toward...
...but wow, I really hope I don't have to give up this one.