10 mile swim

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


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New Year’s Day

“I admire your dedication,” said my new ophthalmologist. I was in his office (more on that later), but we know each other socially, and he was talking about swimming.

When people find out how much I swim and how regularly I swim, they often say something to me about my dedication, whatever that means. I don’t feel particularly dedicated. I’m not a person with a lot of will power. If you put me in a room with a good-looking cake, for example, I will eat that good-looking cake. And yet I’m in the pool five days a week, swimming at least two miles a day. I swam just under 575 miles in 2015.

Today (January 1st) my regular pool is closed, and my usual backup pool is closed, but I wanted to go swimming anyway. So I went for Plan C, the Kroc Center, and paid for a day pass. The Kroc Center is a perfectly acceptable place to swim: the water is too hot, and the pace clock is in a weird location, and I swear there’s a cross current, but the pool itself is clean and bright. I realized that I could see my watch while I’m swimming, unlike in my regular (very dark) pool; my eyes are bad, but in a place with reasonable light, I can read the watch well enough.

Also there’s a kids’ pool next to the lap pool, with a surprisingly good water slide. I went down it three times, just because I could.

The last time I was in the kind of aquatic center where you can swim laps and go down a water slide was the day of my friend C’s memorial service. If you have read the blog before, you know about C; she came for the first ten mile swim in Minnesota. My toenails are always painted teal for her, to raise awareness of ovarian cancer. Early detection is the best weapon we have against ovarian cancer; educate yourself about the symptoms.

On the day of C’s memorial service, I swam at the Kennedy-Shriver Aquatic Center, one of the places she used to swim. The pool is so much like the pool she and I swam in as children on a swim team thirty years ago — not when you look at it from the deck, but in the pool itself, the way the lanes are set up in relation to the deep end — that it was easy to imagine she was in the next lane, swimming with me. When I was done, I went down the water slide, just because I could.

In the afternoon, we said goodbye to C.

I didn’t swim on the day of C’s memorial because I’m dedicated. I swam because swimming is what I do, in good times and in bad. Swimming gives me time to think. C and I used to talk about the mental aspect of swimming: she swam through chemo more than once — she didn’t need a cap, she said, when she had no hair — because it gave her time to think.

It’s New Year’s Day, and it’s traditional to set goals for the year. But I’m not making any big swimming plans right now. I have entered the lottery for the Chesapeake Bay Swim, and we’ll see if I get lucky. I’d love to do Swim the Suck again, if I can swing it. And I have set up my USMS Go the Distance goal for 500 miles for 2016.

But I was at the ophthalmologist last week because I’m having trouble seeing. I have been having trouble for some time, and things are getting worse. I can’t do what I need to do because I can’t see. So, while my number one rule for this blog is that it’s about swimming — not about my family or my work or anything else — I’m noting here that my big project for now is getting my vision problems resolved. If I do, maybe I’ll be able to drive myself to some beautiful open water swims this summer.

Whatever happens, you know I’ll be swimming. Happy 2016, everybody. Hope I see you in the water.


This is my friend C’s obituary, on the Teal Toes website. You should read it, even if you did not know her, because it shows you what a good life looks like — it shows you how to live a beautiful, meaningful life in far too short a time.

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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.

what-about-second-breakfast

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?