10 mile swim

It isn't far to swim when you have friends waiting at the end.

Leave a comment

On Hunger

I’m hungry. Not in a metaphorical, Beowulfian, lofgeornost sense — I’m not eager for fame. I am eager for food. I’m hungry. It’s the swimming that does it.

Hunger is an established side effect of swimming. Discussions of the phenomenon tend to focus on how to deal with the hunger (a typical example: Why Am I Always Hungry after Swimming?). But I know how to deal with hunger. I eat.

In a food-obsessed culture, we talk surprisingly little about hunger. I read foodie blogs that lovingly describe the complex tastes of carefully sourced, intricately prepared foods. But taste is not located in the food; it has no reality external to the taster. And hunger transforms food, makes it taste so much better. The difference between eating a plate of mac and cheese because you have fifteen minutes before you have to get somewhere and this is the only time you have for dinner and eating a plate of mac and cheese after swimming two miles hard in a cold lake? It’s huge. The mac and cheese might be the same, but you are different.

It doesn’t matter if the mac and cheese is made with Velveeta or with artisanal cheese made from the milk of lovingly massaged cows; it will taste better when you’re hungry.

Women in particular are not supposed to admit to hunger. If we talk about it, we’re talking about how to ignore it, how to thwart it. Consider the advice to drink a glass of water when you’re hungry. You might really be thirsty, the articles say. Don’t eat; drink a glass of water. (Here’s an example of such an article.) I’m all in favor of drinking a glass of water, by the way, but I’m also in favor of eating something with your water when you’re hungry. Those articles are really saying, Don’t trust your own judgment about your body.

Or think of the articles that appear in women’s magazines every year about how to avoid eating at holiday parties: Eat, they say, before you go so that you won’t eat at the party. Eat alone, they say, in your house, when you’re not hungry, rather than eat in front of other people when you are hungry. God forbid you should eat in public when hungry. What chaos would ensue? You might actually enjoy the food. People might see you enjoying food. What a horrible thing, for you to enjoy food in public where people might see you.

Which gets me back to swimming: If you want to see women (predominately white, middle-aged women, given the demographics of the sport) enjoying food in public, go to the food tables at the end of an open water swim. I love to see them there. They take two sandwiches, and they go back for a third. They take the cookies. They eat and they drink and they laugh — and they don’t apologize for any of it.

I’m not saying that you need to earn your food through physical activity. You don’t have to earn the right to eat. I am saying that there is great joy in eating when you are hungry. And if you have lost what it feels like to be hungry (perhaps because you have been told not to trust your own judgment), you might go and swim, and feel hungry, and eat joyfully.

We are having a cold April here, and the water temperatures are dropping instead of rising. I don’t know when I’m going to get out to the lake to swim. At some point we will swim outside again. And we will eat food. In the meantime, I’m planning to swim my birthday (age x 100s) in the traditional manner next week.

Here’s how I’m doing on Go The Distance 2016:

USMS Go the Distance. April 9, 2016

USMS Go the Distance. April 9, 2016

Leave a comment

The Six Mile Report

It occurred to me as I swam six miles on Saturday that training is a way of making the extraordinary mundane. Last year, I would have considered swimming 10,000 or more yards to be a big deal, a special occasion swim. But this month I swam 10,000 yards twice, two Saturdays in a row. The swims were neither horrible nor fantastic. They were just swims–good long swims. And I am now a person who swims 10,000 yard workouts.

I swam 10,000 yards on March 8th. Following my training plan (such as it is), I didn’t have to swim that far so early in March, but I was close to 10,000, and I thought I would go for the round number. Everyone likes a round number. Then I swam 10,600 yards, or six miles, on the 15th, which puts me where I need to be for the month of March; I will swim seven miles in April, eight in May, nine in June, and finally ten in July for the big race.

I didn’t have high hopes for the six mile swim. I slept poorly the night before, and I wasn’t feeling great on the drive to the pool. But once I started swimming, I felt fine.

It helped that the swim was much less lonely than the five miles I did in February. There were people coming and going almost the whole time. One colleague was there when I arrived, although he finished up soon after. Then I was joined by two women walking and a student-athlete I know, and then suddenly there was a bloom of men in black swimsuits, both walkers and swimmers. One man, a regular with a snorkel, told me, “You’re going to get a speeding ticket.” He always tells me, “You’re going to get a speeding ticket.” I have no idea how I should respond, no matter how many times he says it, so I smile and say, “Thank you.” I guess it’s a compliment.

I am like the Flash.

I am like the Flash (according to the man with the snorkel). Image from funnyjunk

I decided before I got to the pool that I would swim the 10,600 as a series of familiar 2000 yard sets, the sets I used to do (and sometimes still do) when I was swimming 2000-2500 yards a day, with short kicks in between:

  • 1000 warmup
  • 8 x 250 (100, rest 5 sec, 75, 5 sec, 50, 5 sec, 25)
  • 200 kick
  • 10 x 200 (100, rest 10 sec, 50, 5 sec, 50)
  • 200 kick
  • 20 x 100 (alt IM/free)
  • 200 kick
  • 40 x 50 (on :55)
  • 200 kick, 200 pull, 200 kick, 200 pull, 200 swim

I ate oatmeal (mmmmm oatmeal) for breakfast before heading to the pool, and I drank an Ensure-like beverage at 5400 yards and another when I got out. I tried to drink the Ensure-like beverage while floating, but it did not go well. Food is not permitted in the pool–I feel as if I’m abusing my VIP privileges having it–so I was avoiding spills by drinking through a straw rather than gulping from an open cup (see Steven Munatones, Feeding Fast in Open Water). It was slow and difficult. I need to get myself in the lake and practice there, where I don’t have to worry about spilling a little.

Nonetheless, the six mile swim was a positive experience. I am struck mostly by how it seemed like a completely normal thing for me to do on a Saturday morning. And that is the point of training for the ten mile swim: not to feel like some kind of superhero, but to feel like myself, able to swim ten miles.

Speaking of round numbers, the six mile swim put me at exactly 140 miles for the year.

My USMS flog total for March 15: a nice round number

My USMS flog total for March 15: a nice round number



Swimmers are hungry.  I’m not talking about an emotional hunger or a spiritual hunger; I mean a hunger for food. Periodically I run into some blog or news report about how “we” (“we” = people with money, natch) have lost touch with our bodies, we eat out of boredom or stress, and we have forgotten what it feels like to be hungry. When I see these reports I always think, These people are not swimmers.

Swimmers know what it feels like to be hungry. The H2O blog has one of those You know you’re an open water swimmer when… lists: #1 is “You think cake is a recovery food and you can always say yes to a second portion,” and #6 is “You’ve eaten your lunch by 10 in the morning and your afternoon snack by midday.” I eat lunch most days at 10:30, and in the afternoon I’m scavenging for food in the department kitchen.

In the spring and summer, when K and I swim a couple miles or three in Lake Hartwell before dinner, we stop at the Five Guys on the way back and I fall on a hamburger–little hamburger, with mustard, lettuce, tomato, grilled mushroom, grilled onion–the way the Visigoths fell on Rome. It’s not ladylike. I don’t care. There is great joy in eating when you are hungry, really really hungry. Those Five Guys burgers are the best I have ever eaten.

I am thinking a lot about food these days because I need to make plans for the ten-mile swim. I need to learn how and what to eat when I’m in the middle of a lake. It will take some experimentation. One of my colleagues in Health Sciences says I should think about something drinkable, like Ensure, which is a shake-like nutrition drink. Evan Morrison at Farther, Colder, Rougher describes how to make your own carb drink in his four-part series on nutrition.

On the other hand, in her Open Water Swimming Manual, Lynne Cox talks about a Navy SEAL who describes eating cold pizza in the middle of a five-mile training swim; his swim partner pulls a plastic bag with two slices out of his wetsuit and hands him one, and they eat while treading water. She ends the story, “He said it was the best pizza he had ever eaten” (76). I don’t doubt it.

There will be some big eating in my future.