People often ask me, “How far did you swim today?” Most days at lunch I walk from my office in the middle of a small college campus, through two academic buildings, to the pool near the edge of campus; I run into people along the way and coming back, and this is what they ask. These are non-swimming people, of course. Swimmers don’t start conversations with, “How far did you swim today?” It’s not that it’s rude–you certainly might talk about distance–but you don’t start there. Instead swimmers ask each other, “How’s the water?” “How’s the water?” is a great question with lots of interesting possible answers: cold or hot, fast or slow, smooth or choppy, and full of kids/debris/jellyfish.
Triathletes, strangely, will ask you, out of the blue, “What are you training for?” Once at Lake Hartwell, my friend K and I met a triathlete coach with a group of new swimmers; she asked us, while we were treading water, “What are you training for?” and I did not know what to say. I wasn’t training for anything; I was just swimming. I like swimming. Now, of course, I can say, I’m training for a ten-mile swim.
Regular people, though, ask, “How far did you swim?” It’s a fine question, if not a great conversation starter. The problem is answering. My answer might be, say, 3000 yards, my standard 2013 workout. But the non-swimmer wants to know how many laps that is, which means we need to do some math, because I have no idea how many laps that is and have to divide 3000 yards by 25 (muttering, muttering, muttering to myself), which equals 120 lengths, or 60 laps. I don’t think in terms of laps. Laps are not relevant. You know the joke about the guy who goes into the pizza shop all alone and orders the largest pizza they have, with all the toppings? The waiter asks if he’d like it cut into eight pieces or sixteen, and he answers, “Eight! I can’t eat sixteen pieces by myself!” The number of laps is like the number of slices; what really matters is the size of the pizza.
I bring this up because I’m thinking about the size of my pizza for 2014, my yearly distance goal. December is the time for swimming resolutions and goals for the new year. My swimming resolution is easy to make because it is the same every year: to stop breathing right after the flip turn. I never manage keep this resolution, so I can use it year after year after year. It’s a classic.
My swimming distance goal, on the other hand, goes up. I participate in the USMS Go the Distance program; you set your goal for the year and track your progress with your USMS fitness log, or flog (the program and the flog are free to USMS members). I reached my goal for 2013–404 miles–on November 22nd, and I’m seeing how far I can go in the rest of the year. A flog is a great little motivational tool; I like entering my distance every day and watching my progress bar grow. For 2014 I have decided to go for 500 miles. Nike, the sponsor, gives awards along the way, and the award for 500 miles is a swimsuit. Swimsuits aren’t cheap, and I run through them like paper napkins at an ice cream stand; a Nike swimsuit is quite a prize.
I figure that prepping for the ten-mile swim is going to require me to put in more mileage anyway, although perhaps not all that much more. Donal Buckley at loneswimmer.com has written about how much preparation a person needs to put in for a given length of swim (How To: “How much do I need to swim for – x – open water distance?”). After emphasizing the need to swim regularly and to practice in open water and after warning that there are no hard and fast rules about distances, he suggests 20K a week to prepare for a 15K swim. 10 miles is just over 16K. According to my flog, which figures things like this for me, I swam 10.80 miles (=19,000 yards, =17,374 meters) last week, so I’m not far off his suggested distances now. I need to get in one longer swim a week. Of course, if I swim 10+ miles a week, I could do 500 miles in a year easy.
I keep coming up with new benefits to preparing for a ten-mile swim–something to say to triathletes! a new swimsuit!–and I haven’t even officially started training.