How to Swim When You Just Don’t Have Time to Swim, or I Eat Really Good Cake

Second BreakfastThings are very busy around here right now. Next week I’m going to have time to slow down and get caught up, but this week I’m completely swamped, at work and at home. And I know I’m not alone in this situation; everybody can have trouble finding time to do the things they need to do. So how do you swim on a day when you just don’t have enough time?

1) Make time

There is one well-established way for swimmers to create time where none exists: get up early. Early morning swim practice is a part of traditional competitive swimmer culture: you get up in the dark, before school or work, and swim. This video by Colin Blair draws heavily on that trope:

I don’t have a problem with swimming early. My problem is that I have children, and these children have to go to school in the morning, right in the middle of the hours my pool is open. Some days, because of conflicting schedules, it is nearly impossible for one person to get both children to school on time, and there’s no day when it’s particularly easy. I hate to leave my husband to do it alone. But three days this week, it was the only option, so Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, I was up around 5:30 am to go to the pool, and he took both kids to school.

Second breakfast: Not just for hobbits

Of course, another key part of swimmer culture is eating, and where getting up early and eating come together is in the post-workout morning meal. You have to eat something quick before you go to the pool, but you need more food after the swim, and that meal is second breakfast.

My second breakfasts have been erratic this week: Tuesday I ate peanut butter on Wasa crackers standing over my desk, but Wednesday I found leftover chocolate cupcakes in the department refrigerator, one of which I devoured with extreme prejudice and a cup of coffee. It was fantastic. I don’t think it would have been half as good, though, if I hadn’t swum 4000 yards before I ate it.

2) Design quick workouts

A quick workout is not necessarily one where you swim fast. In fact, if you’re doing sprints, a workout might take longer because you need rest in between each sprint. Swimming other strokes besides freestyle takes time, and kicking eats up lots of time, so those sets are out. The quickest 4000 yard workout, for me anyhow, is 4000 yards straight: get in, swim a steady 4000 yards free, get out. It should take me an hour.

The straight 4000 yard workout, however, has two major drawbacks. First, it’s nearly impossible to count the laps. Now I rely on my Garmin Swim lap counter to keep track for me. But before I got the lap counter, I never knew for sure if I had really swum 4000 yards; I had to live with uncertainty. Second, there are days when I find a 4000 yard swim mentally and emotionally difficult. If I’m completely overwhelmed (as I am this week), a long uninterrupted swim gives me far too much time to worry about the things I need to do and the things I have forgotten to do and the things I ought to be doing.

The Southern American strawberry cake. Unbelievably good. Photo from Southern Living
The Southern American strawberry cake. Photo from Southern Living

That’s not to say that 4000 yards straight can’t be fun. I did it a few weeks ago when things were not so busy; I had a last minute invitation to meet some old friends for lunch, so I got in the pool as soon as it opened at 11:30 and swam as fast as I could so that I could be dressed and ready to meet them at 1. And then I ate strawberry cake for lunch. It was a great day. But I couldn’t do 4000 yards straight every day this week without risking my mental health.

A better plan for a quick swim is 40 x 100 on 1:40. That takes 66 minutes and 40 seconds. I did this workout on Monday, and it goes fast and does not offer you an opportunity to dwell on negative thoughts. Instead I did simple math: 10 minutes of swimming = 600 yards, 25 minutes of swimming = 1500 yards, 45 minutes of swimming = 2700 yards, etc. I repeated the 40 x 100 on Thursday morning early, with the added twist of starting each repeat in the middle of the pool, treading water in between them. 4000 yards is over before you know it.

3) Eschew vanity

Swimming takes time. But getting dressed after swimming takes time too, way too much time. While I haven’t checked the policies, I am pretty sure that I am required to wear clothes to work. But I am not required to have dry hair. Goodness knows, I don’t have time to blow dry my hair; even at times when I am not so busy, I don’t have time to blow dry my hair. And given time, hair will dry by itself. I’ve have taught entire semesters of afternoon classes where the students never saw me with completely dry hair, and education happened anyway.

If it’s cold, I put on an (extremely unattractive) hat for the trip back to the office. On Tuesday morning, it was so cold when I left the pool that the bits of my wet hair that stuck out from under my (extremely unattractive) hat froze in the distance between the pool and the office. But then they thawed when I got inside. And it was no big deal. And I taught my 8:30 class with wet hair. It was dry by the end of class.

I suppose it goes without saying that I have short hair.

The point is I don’t have time for hair. I don’t have time for makeup (there is no makeup that is going to cover goggle marks around the eyes anyway). I get out of the pool, I shower, I get dressed, I leave. Am I the most fashionable, made-up, put-together person in any room? No. But I am clean and dressed.

4000 yards a day. I’m making it happen. I’m eating good cake.

How do you find time to swim when there just isn’t enough time to swim?

9 thoughts on “How to Swim When You Just Don’t Have Time to Swim, or I Eat Really Good Cake

      1. It is a short version. The full Saturday Night live sketch is about 3 mins long, and comes with various health warnings. The diet is based on 12,000 calories a day and 4,000 laps at world record pace.
        My son swims early mornings too, he appreciated the video, especially the line that “the laws of physics are merely a suggestion”, but thought that 6am would be a lie in. Would you believe I have to coax him into eating his second breakfast. There’s still training to do

  1. Lol, I loved this post and identified with so much of it! Kids and a full time job, 5.30 starts, swimming as much as you can in a short time, goggle rings around the eyes, wet (and for me, often unbrushed) hair at work… yup! I think you make it to the pool more often than me though. My youngest often still comes into our bed in the night and it’s ridiculously hard to get up at 5.30 without waking him. I will watch the video for inspiration and remind myself that you’re doing it, so it is possible and I should just go! My plan B after failed morning swims is a lunchtime swim. Because a mile is better than nothing, right?

    1. A mile is so much better than nothing! It’s hard to find the time, especially with little kids and work. Hats off to you for making it to the pool!

  2. When we were swimming at Gregory I’d go through a day of classes reeking of chlorine. I showered but it took two showers to get the chlorine smell off.

    1. Gregory was highly chlorinated. It didn’t bother the crickets that used to hang out on the lane lines though. Those were tough crickets.

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