10 mile swim

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


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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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How to Be Happy: Open Water Edition

A long time ago I was in a conversation with a colleague in the Psychology department who intoned, “Everyone wants the same thing.” Of course, I asked, “What is that?” And he smiled as if he were about to say something very wise and replied, “To be happy.”

At that moment, I was filled with an unhappy and uncollegial desire to shake him till his teeth rattled. It may be true that everyone wants to be happy—I am not certain, but it could be true—but even if it is true, the pronouncement “Everyone wants to be happy” has got to be one of the least useful true statements ever. Maybe we all want to be happy, but that doesn’t tell us much about ourselves or other people because we all become happy by doing different things.

Which brings us inevitably to the topic of open water swimming. Open water swimming makes me happy. It makes me insanely happy. When I am swimming, I am filled with what Alan Greenspan called “irrational exuberance.”

This swimmer’s high occasionally hits me in pools, but it usually takes a good two miles in a lake. I imagine it can be explained by biochemistry, which suggests that swimming might make lots of people happy. But most people seem to have no interest in trying it. They have different ways of becoming happy.


On Thursday K and I went to the lake for our second swim of the spring. It was a beautiful day. The water temperature was still cool at 71 degrees F, but not cold enough to require wetsuits again. The air temperature was also 71, perfectly fine; the wind, though, was blowing at 13 mph (according to my magic hyper-local weather app), and I said on the drive that the water was going to be choppy.

It was. I was delighted. The first half-mile out was crazy: it was cold, and the waves were coming at us, and I thought, “This is fantastic!”

If I’m going to swim in open water, I want it to feel like open water. If I want glassy calm and 78 degrees, I can go swim in a pool. I was fighting waves out there, getting tossed around; I was lifting my arms high to clear the water and breathing far back to keep from getting hit in the face. It was hard work, and the water was cold, and I was thinking about Beowulf swimming through the north ocean, battling sea monsters all the way. I was smiling as I was swimming.

When we got to the turn around point, K was waiting for me. He was not happy. He said something about how much better it had been last week. I was noncommittal. He said something about how I couldn’t possibly like swimming in these conditions. I said I quite possibly could.

We started back.

As we swam back and the waves pushed us in and I sang “The Sea Refuses No River” to myself, I thought about the previous week’s swim, when I had been trying very hard not to whine so much about my wetsuit: I couldn’t feel the water, I was floating too high, I was getting abrasions on the back of my neck. I find wearing the wetsuit disorienting. In H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Call of Cthulhu,” people have dreams about a city (later found on an uncharted Pacific island) where the angles are “wrong”–there’s some alien non-Euclidian geometry at work, horrifying to the human mind–and that’s kind of how I feel about swimming in a wetsuit: the angles are wrong. And yet wearing a wetsuit doesn’t bother K at all. He likes it. He was happier last week.

All in all, I swam three miles. When I was done, my face hurt from three miles of smiling.

Everyone wants to be happy, but we all become happy by doing different things: the swim that makes me very happy might make you miserable and vice versa. The trick is to find out what makes you happy–and then to do it.

Waves at the lake. My photo.

Waves at the lake. May 1, 2014. My photo.