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 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


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500-Mile Go the Distance Cap

As promised, a photo with my 500-mile Go the Distance cap for 2015, now that it has finally come. If you swim 500 miles in a calendar year (and log it with US Masters Swimming), you can buy this nifty cap.

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Me with new cap. And we have new lights in the pool. It’s so much brighter. March 2016.

It fits well for a silicone cap. They are usually too big for me.

In other Go the Distance news, as of March 10, I have swum 104.55 miles in 2016:

2016-03-10

 


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More on Swim Caps

Why do we wear clothes? I’m no cultural anthropologist, but I’d say clothes serve two main purposes: they protect us from our environment, and they allow us to communicate information about ourselves to others. And when we are not wearing very much clothing, the few clothes we are wearing have to do a lot of communicating.

Which brings us to the swim cap. Most of the time, when you’re swimming, you aren’t wearing much clothing. And though a swimmer communicates information about herself with her swimsuit and her gear, the most efficient means by which a swimmer can assert her identity is through the swim cap.

I’ve been thinking a lot about swim caps lately. I’m frustrated. Back in early November, I reached my 500-mile Go the Distance goal for 2015, and I have been trying ever since — that’s two-and-half months — to buy a 500-mile cap from US Masters Swimming. Just to be clear, I don’t want them to give me a cap; I want the opportunity to pay them money for a cap. They are updating their online store. I made some quaint 20th-century suggestions — could I call someone on the phone with a credit card number? could I mail someone a check? — but to no avail. I have had plenty of time to think about why I want this 500-mile cap.

It’s not to protect my hair from the environment. Non-swimmers are sometimes surprised to learn that a cap does not keep your hair dry. Caps are like wetsuits; they let the water in. A cap will, however, keep your hair out of your eyes when you swim. And it will keep your hair out of your pool’s filters. That’s why some places require caps — to protect the pool, not you.

Just as important, swimmers wear caps that tell other swimmers about themselves. You can proclaim your love of breaststroke or Brazil or breakfast. You can declare your allegiance to a team or other group. A little while ago, a student gave me a couple of caps from the university’s club swim team. I usually bring one with me when I travel. When I wear it, I feel I am a representative of the institution, and I make a special effort to behave myself. Last summer I wore it when I swam at the gaspingly beautiful Kitsilano pool in Vancouver, my purple university cap in that huge blue pool.

When I swim at my regular pool, I usually wear a cap from an open water swim. At every open water race I’ve ever done, I’ve received a race cap. Swimmers are required to wear the cap for the event. During a race, it makes it easier for safety personnel to find and identify you. It usually has your race number written on it in Sharpie.

After the race you take your cap home and wear it in the pool, and you have on your head the physical reminder of your fabulous swim. Sometimes a cap will have some super cool race logo, and people can look at your head and think, “Look at that super cool person with the super cool race cap.” At least, you can imagine that’s what they’re doing.

Some of this summer's caps. From left to right: the Dam Swim for Drew, Swim the Suck, the Lowcountry Splash.

Some of this summer’s caps. From left to right: the Dam Swim for Drew, Swim the Suck, the Lowcountry Splash. Red was the hip color in 2015. My photo.

People take caps seriously. I swam a race one year that gave out caps that said something about a Virginia triathlon series on them. It was not a triathlon, and it was not in Virginia; the race organizers must have gotten them cheap in bulk. When I wore my race cap to the pool later, one of my friends confronted me. “When have you done a triathlon?” he demanded. I’m not interested in triathlons, and he knows it. He felt I was wearing the cap under false pretenses. A cap must serve two purposes, and while that cap did a fine job keeping the hair out of my face, it communicated inaccurate information about me. It was not a wholly successful cap.

You can’t get sentimental about caps. They don’t last forever. And there’s always some point in the spring before race season starts when all my caps seem to be stretched out and start to rip, and I start wondering if I’ll make it to the first race of the year without having to buy a cap. I don’t want to buy a regular cap. I want a race cap.

My caps aren’t ripping yet, but they will be. And, as I said, I don’t want to buy a regular cap. I want that 500-mile Go the Distance cap. If I ever get one, I’ll post a photo. Sure, it will keep the hair out of my eyes. But more important, it will say, truthfully, “This is a person who has swum a long, long way.”


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Out With 2014, In With 2015: The Go the Distance Report

My goal for the 2014 USMS Go the Distance challenge was 500 miles. And as of December 31st I had swum . . .

624 miles!

Screenshot from my USMS flog (fitness log), Dec 31.

Screenshot from my USMS flog (fitness log), Dec 31.

It’s a smidge over 1000 km, which is one megameter (1 Mm). One megameter!

I’ve plotted 1000 km from my house at Free Map Tools, and it looks like this:

1000 K from here

1000 km from my house. Generated by Free Map Tools.

From here to Toronto is 1000 km. I’m just short of Miami in the other direction. I’ve been to Toronto, but I’ve never been to Miami. Coincidence?

I plan to set my goal at 500 miles for 2015 again. I could set it higher, but there’s little incentive; at 500 miles, you get a swimsuit, and there are no prizes for more.

If I estimate 250 swimming days a year (five days a week for fifty weeks), I need to swim 3520 yards each day. We’ll round up to 3600.

And my pool is open today.

Happy New Year!


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On Swimming with the Team, Part 1

I swim unattached. That’s not a description of my state of dress or marital status or relationship to the universe; it means that I am a member of US Masters Swimming, but I am not affiliated with a team. Maybe someday I will join one of the fine Masters teams in the area, but I’m not at the point in my life when I can commit to a team, not while I’m working full-time and responsible for getting a child (sometimes two) to school in the morning.

It’s easier swimming on my own. During the school year, I swim at my university pool at lunchtime, and I just walk across campus, waving at everyone I know on the way, and get in the water.

But while I like swimming on my own, it is not the same kind of experience as swimming with a team, the way I did as a child. Happily, every summer I get to relive my childhood by swimming with other adults, mostly swim team parents, at the outdoor pool before the kids have morning practice Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

The workout does not vary:

Monday: 8 x 250 meters (known as ladders, or Ladders of Death for the melodramatic), each 250 broken into 100, 75, 50, 25 with 5 seconds rest between

Wednesday: 10 x 200 meters (known as broken 2s), each 200 broken into 100, 50, 50 with 10 seconds rest after the 100 and 5 seconds rest after the first 50

Friday: Medley: 3 x ladders, 3 x broken 2s, 13 x 50m

It’s 2000 meters. It’s always 2000 meters, and it’s almost always these workouts — the only permissible variation is 40 x 50 meters on a Friday or special occasion. You can show up and swim whatever you like; some people come and swim something else entirely. But if you swim with the group, this is what the group swims.

It’s simple, and it’s rhythmic, and I fall into it every summer.

I swim faster when I’m swimming on summer mornings. It feels like swim team practice, and swim team practice always meant racing: racing each other length after length. While in swim meets we competed girls against girls and boys against boys, during practice we all swam together, and I was conditioned never to let the boys beat me without a race. Most summer mornings it’s me and two or three men doing the set workout. I will swim until my arms fall off.

One morning before we started practice, a man who hadn’t met me before asked if I could “keep up with these guys,” and on slow days I draw on the memory of my incandescent rage. I work the flip turns, and I keep my head down, and I swim so much harder.


This year with the ten mile swim fast approaching, I’ve been coming in early for 1600 meters or so before the rest of the group starts. I was concerned that I’d be tired and the guys would flatten me, but it seems to work all right: a quiet mile warm-up and I’m ready to go when they arrive. Apparently I swim better on more swimming.

I haven’t given a Go the Distance update in a while, but not to worry: I’m way ahead for the year. Of course, I don’t plan to be doing long weekend distances every week after the ten mile swim on July 26. Today’s total: 376.12 miles.

USMS Go The Distance 2014 Progress: June 23

USMS Go The Distance 2014 Progress: June 23

 


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The Eight Mile Report

For the first three to four miles of my eight mile swim I was mentally composing an angry blog post about how I had been unfairly prevented from swimming eight miles that day. It was going to have lots of boldface and ALL CAPS and extra exclamation points!!! I was expecting to get yanked out of the water around 6000 meters. But no one came to stop me. And as an object in motion stays in motion, I just kept swimming.

I went to Westside Aquatic to do the eight miles. Two weeks ago I went out there on a Saturday and was turned away; there was no lap swim because of lifeguard training. I protested at the time that the website had said nothing about a closure, but I was told it was an exceptional circumstance. So this Friday I called to confirm that the competition pool would be open for lap swim on Saturday, and I was assured multiple times that there would be lap swim and it would be in the competition pool.

Well, you can probably guess where this is going. When I got there, there was no lap swim lane (two are scheduled); one person said he would make me one, and then a supervisor came to say that he couldn’t. The supervisor offered me the therapy pool, but I said no way; that pool is 86 degrees F, and I don’t want to swim eight miles in a hot pool. It’s borderline dangerous and absolutely unpleasant.

There were intense negotiations, but to make a long story short, I was allowed to swim in the 50 meter pool in a lane with a loosely fastened lane rope on one side and no lane rope on the other. On my lane rope side there were lifeguard classes; on the open side there was a floating bouncy inflatable. And I was told that when the birthday party scheduled for 1 pm for the bouncy inflatable showed up, I was going to be moved to the hot pool.

The floating bouncy inflatable. Image from Westside Aquatic.

I swam the first half or so of the swim filled with righteous indignation, which means I swam it way too fast. But I was expecting someone to grab me, and I wanted to get in all the distance I could. On the lane rope side of me, two different lifeguard training classes were going on (there was a third in another corner of the pool), and they were jumping in and rescuing each other in different ways and configurations. There were splashes and waves, and the loosely fastened lane rope was pushed into my lane. But I had enough space to swim, and watching the lifeguard training kept me amused. I kept swimming.

As time passed and no one stopped me, I took a break for food and asked the one lifeguard in charge of me — she was sitting on the starting block of the next lane, my own personal lifeguard  — where the birthday party was. She said they didn’t know. I kept swimming.

Eventually the birthday party kids appeared to play on the bouncy inflatable. My personal lifeguard moved to guard them. More kids (and adults too) appeared, but still no one stopped me. I was concerned that flying children might drop on me, but they didn’t. The only person who got in my way was a grown man; he and he alone floated into my lane three different times, in spite of the fact that I stopped and told him it was the lap swim lane the first time. It’s always the grown men. Still, I kept swimming.

In any case, I swam the full eight miles in the 50 meter pool. It was a hard swim, mostly because I started too fast and ran out of energy. Angry swimming is not sensible swimming. I think, however, that it was a useful training exercise simulating race conditions; I tend to get excited and go out faster than I should. I also swam far more straight freestyle than I would ordinarily — again to get in as much distance as possible — and my shoulders were sore by the end.

I pulled myself onto the deck. And then, my friends, I was the belle of the ball. Three lifeguarding classes had been watching me swim for four hours, and the lifeguards and trainers all wanted to know how far I had swum and what I was preparing for. They said complimentary things. It was all very flattering.

Next Saturday I’ll be swimming the Lowcountry Splash in Charleston, and the Saturday after that Westside has a planned closure for a swim meet. Perhaps by June it will be safe to swim on a Saturday again.


I swam the eight miles in 2000 meter blocks, with 200 kick in between. After I realized that I might be allowed to stay in the 50 meter pool, I introduced some breaststroke, but I was never comfortable enough to try backstroke: far too many obstacles in my path.

  • 2000 swim
  • 200 kick
  • 2000 swim
  • 200 kick
  • 2000 swim
  • 200 kick
  • 4 x (100 breast, 400 free)
  • 200 kick
  • 4 x 500 ladders (200, 150, 100, 50)
  • 200 kick
  • 4 x (100 breast, 400 free with breathwork)

The total was 13000 meters, just a smidge over eight miles. I was hungry early in the swim; I had started late with all the negotiations and it was closer to lunch than breakfast. I sucked down one Ensure-like beverage at 4400 and another at 8800.

Here is my progress for the year as of May 18: 287.68 miles

May 17 totals

Image from my USMS fitness log