10 mile swim

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


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How to Swim 500 Miles a Year

For the past three years (2104, 2015, and 2016), I have swum over 500 miles a year. It’s hard to articulate why. It’s not as if when I was a child I dreamed of being the kind of crazy person who swims 500 miles a year. But that’s the kind of crazy person I turned out to be. And if you think you might be that kind of crazy person too, here’s my advice on how to do it.

Let me note that I have two advantages. First, I work at a university with a pool. That means that most of the time I just have to get out of my office and walk across campus to swim (walking across campus is easy; getting out of the office is hard). Second, I have a lot of control over my schedule. I don’t have infinite flexibility, but I have more power to decide when I do things than some people do.

On the other hand, my life is not simple. I have a full-time job, two kids, a dog, and regular volunteer commitments. I have things going on. I’m sure you do too. So how do you get to 500 miles a year?

1) Put swimming on the schedule, and make it mandatory.

There are some things that I have do at certain times. For example, I have to teach my classes at their scheduled times. Teaching class at its scheduled time is mandatory. I do not schedule meetings, student conferences, medical appointments, haircuts, or anything else during the time I teach.

In the same way, during the school year I swim at the pool at lunchtime. Swimming at that time is mandatory. I do not schedule meetings, student conferences, medical appointments, haircuts, or anything else during the time I swim.

Last summer, I was coaching swim team on weekday mornings starting at 8 am. I got to the pool every morning at 6:15 to swim a couple miles before the children arrived. That was the only time I could swim, so that was when I did it. Every day.

Put swimming on the schedule, and make it mandatory.

2) Make alternative plans.

Sometimes (heaven help me) I have to go to a lunch meeting. Or I have a university event or a conference out of town or maybe even a vacation. That does not mean I don’t swim. I figure out another way.

In 2015, our pool shut down unexpectedly and without warning. The Powers That Be arranged for us to swim for free at a nearby pool, which was terrific. Unfortunately, that pool’s open swim hours were not the same as our open swim hours. I rescheduled everything I could. I made it to lap swim at that pool, every day, until our pool reopened.

When I went to Vancouver for a combination work trip/vacation, I swam at the Kitsilano Beach pool. When the family went to Disney in Orlando for my in-laws’ 50th anniversary, we swam at Lucky’s Lake Swim (it helps to marry into a family of swimmers). I’ve swum at public pools and health center pools and various Ys, not to mention some lakes and the occasional ocean, in the U.S., Canada, England, and Ireland.

I have written about travel swimming before; my quick advice is to pack a suit, a cap, goggles, flip-flops, a lock, and a towel. Bring your second-best towel, just in case.

The point is, you will inevitably run into problems. Don’t give up. Find another time to swim; find another place to swim. Make alternative plans.

3) Trust the swimming.

There are days when I don’t want to swim. There are days when I don’t have time to swim. You know what I do on those days? I go swimming anyway.

I have found that the days that I don’t want to swim and I don’t have time to swim are the days when swimming helps me the most. I think better when I swim. I work better when I swim. I am a better person when I swim.

Don’t debate with yourself about whether you should go swimming. Just go. Get up wherever you are, and head toward the water. Trust the swimming.


There are obstacles that can keep a person from swimming. I have experienced some of them. I had a period of time when I could not swim, in the sense that my doctor told me, “You cannot swim.” When my children were small, it was very difficult to find time to get to the pool. I know that costs and transportation problems are significant impediments for many people, and there are probably other issues I haven’t thought of.

But if you don’t have those barriers in your life, and you think it would be fun to swim 500 miles a year, don’t mistake solvable problems for major obstacles. A regular — if somewhat crazy — person can do it.


Here are some numbers: 500 miles is 880,000 yards. I usually swim 3600 yards a day, five days a week. If I’m heading toward a big swim, I swim more. But at a 3600 yard a day, five day a week pace, a person can swim 500 miles in 49 weeks, leaving three weeks for illness or unavoidable obligations.

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My monthly totals from 2016. Screenshot from my USMS flog (fitness log), December 2016.


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On the Flip Turn

People talk to me in pools. It doesn’t surprise me anymore, although I still find it odd; strangers don’t just start up conversations with me anywhere else. Sometimes I think it’s because I’m a regular at the pool, so people see me a lot and feel they know me. Sometimes I think it’s because I’m small and female, so people find me unintimidating. But recently I’ve started to think it’s because I’m happier in the pool; I look happy, and so people want to talk to me.

People talk to me about lots of things, but more than anything else they talk about flip turns. No one has ever asked me about swimming butterfly or holding a kickboard, but many people have asked me to show them how to flip turn. The other day, a young man asked me why I was doing flip turns, which did surprise me, as I thought the purpose of flip turns was obvious: it’s a good way to turn around.

Of course, a person like me who only races open water doesn’t really need to do flip turns in practice. In fact, Steven Munatones (in Open Water Swimming) suggests that pool swimmers training for open water races practice swimming from one end of the black line to the other (from “T” to “T”) and turn in the water without pushing off the wall at all.

But I don’t practice so that I can swim races; I sign up for races so I have an excuse to swim. And I love flip turns. I love them completely and unironically, and I don’t love anything completely and unironically — except my children and maybe vanilla ice cream with hot fudge sauce.

Vanilla ice cream with hot fudge sauce. No ironic detachment needed.

I love flip turns the way I love vanilla ice cream with hot fudge sauce — without ironic detachment.

When you’re swimming, there’s an instant of weightlessness in every flip turn, a split second when you are suspended upside down and backwards right before you push off the wall and start up your stroke again. It’s a moment of grace during which you are excused from gravity.

And the flip turn is the smaller person’s advantage in any race. Curled up, I’ve got a small radius, and I can flip fast. In the summer, when I’m swimming 40 x 50 m in the 25 meter pool with the guys, all of whom are six to ten inches taller than me, my entire race strategy rests on my fast flip turn. If I can keep up with them for the first length, I’m ahead after the turn, and I can hold them off on the way back.

There’s no point in describing how to do a flip turn; I can barely follow written descriptions of flip turns, and I know how to do them already. My advice to you, if you want to learn, is to watch YouTube videos. Here’s Ryan Lochte, showing you how it should look:

 

And Go Swim takes the flip turn apart for you. This is step one in a five step series:

 

One trick to remember, especially if you get water up your nose: gently exhale through your nose as you go around. Humming will work. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

The flip turn is one of those skills that marks a person as a “real” swimmer, someone with training. But don’t learn to do a flip turn so that you can become “real.” You are already real. Learn to flip turn because flip turns are fun. They will make you happy.

 

 


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On Adjusting the Yardage

I’m having a rough time right now. I’m dealing with it by swimming a lot of butterfly. It’s no surprise that I’m having a rough time right now; it’s December, and December is difficult. Fortunately I have enough self-awareness to recognize what’s going on. I swim for my mental health — any physical benefits are just happy side effects — and I know when I need to adjust the dosage, I mean, yardage.

There are times when a person swims long, steady, meditative swims under beautiful skies. And there are times when a person swims sprints, 12 x 25 alt free and fly, in old, dark 25-yard pools.

Swimming butterfly is the opposite of meditative. It is all-consuming. I have to concentrate on technique the whole time: putting my hands up straight ahead of my shoulders, keeping my feet in the water. When I get tired, my hands hit each other in front and my feet pop out, and I think, “Dammit, woman, get it together.” By number eight I’m breathing hard. By number twelve I’m done.

But if I swim enough butterfly, peace descends upon me like a blanket placed on my shoulders. Sometimes I can feel it hit as I’m walking back to the office. It’s clearly biochemical — endocannabinoids– and it works. Make your own mood-altering chemicals, my friends, in your own bodies.

Yesterday I swam this:

  • 2 x 500 modified SKIP
  • 12 x 25 alt free/fly on :30
  • 200 free, breathe every 5 strokes
  • 200 free breathe whenever I wanted
  • 6 x 50 kick on 1:00
  • 12 x 25 alt free/fly on :30 (again)
  • 4 x 75 (25 free, 25 fly, 25 free) on 1:20
  • 4 x 75 (25 free, 25 back, 25 free) on 1:20
  • 4 x 75 (25 free, 25 breast, 25 free) on 1:25
  • 4 x 75 (all free) on 1:15
  • 100 cool down

That’s 3600 yards. A SKIP is Swim, Kick, IM, Pull; I did the 500s as 200 swim, 100, kick, 100 IM, 100 pull.  And those 25s, by the way, are really on 25 seconds (free) or 35 seconds (fly), so I can have more rest for the fly.

When the roof was being fixed at my pool last month, the pace clocks at either end of the pool became unsynched. I didn’t realize it until the first time I did a set that involved 25s or 75s. I came up at the far end, looked at the clock, and became completely disoriented. Time made no sense. So now I’m using the stopwatch function on my watch, which is as difficult as the rest of December: I’m not wearing reading glasses while I swim, and I can barely make out the numbers.

My eyes are old. And it’s December. But I’m dealing with it. I’m swimming butterfly.


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How to Swim When Your Pool Is Closed

Swimming is not an optional activity for me. I swim two miles a day, five days a week. I don’t ask myself whether I’ll swim on a given day any more than I ask myself whether I’ll eat lunch. On rare occasions something comes up, and I can’t swim, and on those days I deal with it as the mature adult I am. But I don’t enjoy a day off. I work best on two miles a day.

This Monday, however, after I walked across campus to the pool, I encountered this sign.

This is a bad sign. My photo. Oct 2015.

This is a bad sign. My photo. Oct 2015.

There is something wrong with the roof over the pool. I assume it’s related to the incredible amount of rain we had in early October. In any case, the roof may cave in, and the pool has been drained, and no one knows when it’s going to open again.

But swimming is not an optional activity. Every day I heat up leftovers in the office microwave and eat them for lunch; if the microwave broke, would I stop eating lunch? Of course not. I’d figure out another way.

By the time I got to the pool at lunchtime Monday, the fitness center was already working on another way; they had called Westside Aquatic Complex to arrange for us to swim there. Westside is a county rec center; it’s 10-15 minutes drive away from campus. We swam there when our pool was closed for renovations in late 2013, and Westside swimmers come to us when their place is closed for meets. It’s a beautiful facility, and I’m happy to swim there when I can.

So I went back to my office, found the WAC open swim schedule on their website, and rearranged my whole life so that I could make there for lap swim for the duration. Their open hours are not the same as our open hours, but I cleared a space in the middle of the day, moving my responsibilities around, and I have just enough time to make it there for two miles of swimming if I don’t mess around.

And I’m not going to mess around. I can waste time with the best of them, but I was trained at a young age to get my homework done so that I could go to swim practice. This is the same deal, thirty-plus years later. It’s just a matter of remembering what’s important.

I swam at WAC Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday this week, and I plan to make it Friday as well. It’s not exactly easy. They don’t have a swimsuit water extractor (or any permanent lockers) there, so I have to keep a wet swimsuit in my car all day; I hang it up when I get home, but it doesn’t dry overnight. I’m carrying around a wet towel too, which isn’t great, and my shampoo is going to spill in my gym bag at some point, because it always does. Oh, and I’m wearing jeans to work for the duration. I don’t have time for grown-up clothes.

But you can’t just stop swimming because of some inconveniences, big or small. I’m fortunate to have another pool to swim in. And I’m less than five miles from my 500 mile goal for the year. I’m pretty sure I’ll swim that 500th mile at Westside.


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Where I’ve Been: Kitsilano Beach Pool, Vancouver

I don’t believe in bucket lists, those lists of things to do and places to go before you die. I don’t want to live my life like a trip to the grocery store, crossing off items as I throw them in the cart: milk, eggs, Paris, skydiving. But I do look around for beautiful places to swim and think about how I could get to them, and this summer I swam at one of those places: Kitsilano Beach Pool in Vancouver, British Columbia.

I took this photo with my cell phone. It's completely unedited. It was that beautiful. June 2015.

I took this photo with my cell phone. No filters. It was that beautiful. June 2015.

Kits Pool is a saltwater pool on the beach, with a view of the North Shore mountains above it. On a day in June, the pool water is blue, the ocean is blue, the sky is blue, the mountains are blue — each blue a different shade. And the water is clear and cool and smells slightly sweet. How is it sweet? I don’t know. Maybe it’s the saltwater chlorination. Maybe it’s magic Canadian pool fairies. It doesn’t matter. It’s perfect.

The pool itself is 137 meters long — when I asked the guy at the desk how long it was, he said, “It’s a monster” with real affection — and the lap swimmers swim it in one long loop that works like a highway; slow traffic stays to the right, fast traffic passes on the left. All kinds of people were swimming when I was there, from beginning swimmers to men from the University of British Columbia swim team, recognizable by their harlequin-patterned Speedos with “UBC” in big white letters on the tush. But it wasn’t chaotic; there was plenty of room for everyone, and people knew how to pass and be passed. With each long lap, I was filled with love for my fellow swimmer.

One big loop -- 137 meters down, 137 meters back. June 2015.

One big loop — 137 meters down, 137 meters back. June 2015.

I swam three times at the Kits Pool in the week I was in Vancouver. Getting there on the bus is easy; bring enough money for the pool and a quarter for a locker. The locker room is just fine — clean and no-nonsense, with a group shower room.

It’s scary, sometimes, to go somewhere you’ve wanted to go for a long time. But Kitsilano Pool was every bit as wonderful as I hoped. I haven’t crossed Kits Pool off my bucket list — just the opposite. I’ve circled and starred it and put three exclamation points in the margin. I’m going back.

Kitsilano Beach Pool. June 2015.

Kitsilano Beach Pool. June 2015.


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Is Swimming a Sport for Introverts?

Every once in a while I come upon an article about how swimming is a great sport for introverts. Here’s the latest one: 5 Of The Best Competitive Sports For Introverts. And every time I do, my first thought is the same: this author has never heard of Ryan Lochte.

It’s not that swimming is a bad sport for introverts. But I think those who believe swimming is for just for introverts have confused the experience of swimming in a race with the experience of swim practice. Goodness knows, if the only thing you know about swimming is that you race in a lane by yourself, you might think that it is a sport for people who want to work alone. You are by yourself for the few minutes (if you are Katie Ledecky breaking the world record in the 1500 M, 15:25.48 glorious minutes) it takes to swim a race.

But most of a swimmer’s life is not competition — it’s training. And at any team swim practice, lanes are full, with several people in each lane, jockeying for space.

Photo from SwimWithIssues.

Swim practice. Lots of people. Photo from SwimWithIssues.

At a summer league team practice, children are on top of each other like puppies in a pile. But I’ve been in plenty of adult lap swims that were crowded and chaotic; you’re nearly naked with a bunch of people in a 2.5 meter wide lane. If you’re on a team, you know them all, and you’re with them for hours and hours, day after day. You swim together.

(Do the swimmers in this video seem introverted to you? Lochte appears at 1:00, blowing a kiss.)

Swimming together involves plenty of social interaction, even in uncrowded pools. The other day I swam with one man at my summer outdoor pool. We did a set of 12 x 200. Each 200 is “broken,” like this:

  • 100 m, rest 10 seconds
  • 50 m, rest 5 seconds
  • 50 m

As we swam the set, we talked. We talked about where I had been swimming (Westside Aquatic Center), where he had been swimming (the Y), and the advantages of each. We talked about what time each of us had entered for the race we’re swimming later in August (26 min/mile), whether that was a reasonable time (probably), and the differences between swimming in a pool and swimming in a lake. We were racing when we were swimming, but we had 30-plus seconds rest time between each 200, and at every break we picked up our conversation where we left off. It wasn’t a deep conversation. We were just chatting. It’s what you do when you swim together.

Swimming, of course, is the sport you don’t practice by yourself. The pools around here usually have a list of rules posted, and number one is always, “There should be no solo swimming.” You can practice free throws or run sprints or kick a ball against a wall all by your lonesome, but you never swim alone.

Here’s what I think: it’s not that swimming is especially good for introverts; it’s that swimming is good for people who don’t see well. I don’t enjoy ball-oriented sports, for example, not because I don’t like working with other people, but because I’m very nearsighted and my depth perception is lousy (Please don’t throw me the ball. I can’t see it. I DON’T WANT IT). But that’s not so much of a problem for a swimmer; as long as I can see the wall or the next buoy, that’s good enough.

And I can see well enough to recognize a friend coming onto the deck looking for a lane and to ask, “Do you want to share?” Because that’s what swimmers do — we swim with friends. Introverts, extroverts, we take all kinds.


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On Deep Pools

Last week I went on a quick trip to visit my friend C in D.C. It was a very quick trip — up on Wednesday, back on Friday — so I wasn’t necessarily going to swim. But my friend C knows me, and she loves me, and she told me before I left home, “My pool is three miles from the house. Don’t worry about bringing a towel.”

C understands about towels. When I got there, she gave me a nice stripey one, and the next morning she gave me her pass, and I headed off to the Kennedy Shriver Aquatic Center, where I swam slowly, oh so slowly. I asked a woman who looked as if she were a regular how long the pool was, hoping that it was 25 meters instead of 25 yards, but no — it was 25 yards and I was just slow.

But although I was slow, I had a great time at the Kennedy Shriver pool, and that is because it was a deep pool. I have said before that when you’re swimming, it doesn’t matter how deep the water is; you always swim on the top. But there’s some fun you can only have in a deep pool.

"Montgomery Aquatic Center deep water pool 2" by Ben Schumin - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

So there’s a water polo practice happening in this photo, but you can see: it’s a very deep pool. “Montgomery Aquatic Center deep water pool 2” by Ben Schumin – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Kennedy Shriver pool is set up like the one C and I used to swim in back when we were swim team kids in Dallas: 50 meters divided into two 25 yard halves during the short course season. I, of course, chose to swim in the deeper half — 16 feet deep.

I don’t think I’d been in a pool that deep in thirty years. That depth is not for swimmers; it’s for divers: the Kennedy Shriver pool has 3, 5, 7.5, and 10 meter platforms. Our pool in Dallas has a 5 meter and a 10 meter. I remember getting to jump off the 5 meter once: you hit the water hard.

Here’s a photo of our old pool, emptied out for renovation in 2008. It’s deep.

Alfred J. Loos Pool, from  Dallas ISD 2008 Bond

Alfred J. Loos Pool, photo from Dallas ISD 2008 Bond

Swimming over 16 feet of water of clear water can be disorienting. Maybe it’s reorienting. You feel as if you are up very high, but you can’t fall; you just hang there, looking down, like an astronaut floating over the earth. I was a bit dizzy from it all. I guess that’s why I was so slow.

The best part of swimming in a deep pool, though, is diving in. Last year, Jane Greene Pettersson posted in the Guardian swim blog about “the incredible joy of jumping in.” A swim teacher, Pettersson notes that children jump in the water over and over, but adults rarely do. She tries jumping in herself, after one of her students describes how the water is “fizzy”:

It was a surprising sensation, one that I had almost forgotten. The change from air to water is so sudden. You feel and hear the splash as you enter the water and the noisy pool environment is instantly replaced by the muffled silence of the water. Just as my little pupil pointed out, I could feel the tiny bubbles bursting on my skin, and as I had my goggles on I could also see them sparkling around me.

I like the bubbles too; it’s like being the sugar cube in a champagne cocktail.

Diving in is even better than jumping in. I am not trained as a diver (I went off that 5 m platform once); I can’t do flips or twists. But I was drilled in starting off the block, in the old school flat dive, and I still do it. I love the sudden shock of impact, the jolt as you slice through the surface.

Nine months of the year I can’t dive; my home pool is too shallow. In the summer, though, when the outdoor pool is open, I start every workout by diving in, and I store up the memories of those dives for the long winter ahead. When I swim in a new pool, the first thing I find out is whether diving is permitted. I’ll ask the lifeguard if there’s any question. But I didn’t have to ask anyone if I could dive into the Kennedy Shriver pool: it is a pool for diving.

I don’t see any reason why children should get to have all the fun.