10 mile swim

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

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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


The Nine Mile Report: Getting Better All the Time

The nine mile report comes in a little late. I was supposed to do a nine mile swim in June, and I didn’t get to it until July 5. I had the problem I had anticipated from the beginning: finding a pool that was open for a long enough stretch of time. The last two weekends of June, Westside Aquatic had events going on, so there was no long Saturday lap swim.

So, the last two Saturdays of June, I went to my home pool, got in the water as close to 9 AM as possible, and swamswamswamswamswam until 1 PM instead. I got in eight miles in four hours both Saturdays, a lot of straight freestyle swimming. It could have been unpleasant, but the temperature at my home pool has been very comfortable lately (i.e. cooler than average) and the swims were just fine.

I also got in two longer swims at Lake Jocassee, 7.2 miles or so with R and S (and their friend L) in the middle of June and 4.8 miles or so with K last Thursday. K and I had planned to go to Lake Hartwell, but the water temperature there is unswimmably hot — 90 °F (32 °C) — so we decided on Jocassee instead.

R kayaking for me on Lake Jocassee, June 2014. My photo.

R kayaking for me on Lake Jocassee, June 2014. My photo.

Yesterday I went to Westside Aquatic and swam the nine miles (14.5 K). For much of the time I had my own lane, although for a little while I shared with a guy who was unfamiliar with the most important rule of lane sharing: the fastest person goes first. If you have a person coming up behind you when you’re coming into the wall, it’s polite (and safer) to stop for a second or two to let that person pass you, rather than making her swim beside you to pass, trying not to hit you. I was in no mood to sprint, so I passed him slow and steady each time. Strangely, he was always way behind me on the next lap, suggesting either that he was stopping at the wall after I passed him or that he sped up when I was trying to pass him, slowing down to normal pace later. Either way, I didn’t have energy to waste on figuring out what was going on.

Otherwise, the nine mile swim was largely without incident. I wasn’t hurrying: I did two 500m kick and three 500m breast/back along the way, as well as some pulling. My primary interest was getting the food right. I stopped for an Ensure-like beverage at 3500, 7000, and 10,500, and I had a squeezy applesauce at 12,500. Over the course of the 14,500 I drank about half of a 20 oz. Gatorade bottle; I slugged the rest down at the end. I’ve been hungry today, but I didn’t wake up in the night desperate for food, which suggests I’m doing a better job with calorie intake.

I swam it like this:

2000 straight
500 breast/back (alt by 100), 500 pull, 500 swim
2000 straight
500 kick, 500 pull, 500 swim
2000 ladders (4 x 200, 150, 100, 50)
500 breast/back (alt by 100), 500 pull, 500 swim
2000 ladders (4 x 200, 150, 100, 50)
500 kick, 500 pull, 500 swim
500 breast/back (alt by 100)

The nine mile swim is the longest distance I plan to do. I will keep swimming shorter daily distances, maybe put in five miles or so this coming weekend, but nothing longer. The swim was tiring, but it was completely doable. I sang this for most of the way:

It’s three weeks to the race. I’m ready.

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The Seven Mile Report

Long course! I intentionally did some things differently for my seven mile swim (see here for the plan to get ready for the ten mile swim in July), and the first of those was to go to Westside Aquatic Center to swim long course. Long course feels like summer. In the US, children (and college students) who swim year-round swim short course yards in 25 yard pools in the winter, but come summer, they switch to long course, in 50 meter pools (This is done by rearranging bulkheads to create different size pools, not by having different pools of different lengths; Westside switched over to long course early in April.).

You know summer is on its way when you start swimming long course. When I was a swim team kid and my pool was set up for long course, during the evening practice you would swim west into the sunset for 50 meters, swim back, then swim west into the sunset again, over and over: 50 meters of sunset, 50 meters back. It was like the passage in The Little Prince where the prince describes watching the sunset 44 times, simply by moving his chair on his tiny planet.

Image from

Image from Ocean on Tuesday

The second thing I did differently was arrange for my own dolphins. In an earlier post (see #4) I noted that in a long pool swim there are moments of difficulty and loneliness; in those times, I wait for the dolphins–that is, I wait for other swimmers, who appear like the dolphins who swim along with those lost at sea–to keep me company. It occurred to me that I could ask a friend to swim along, even if I don’t have anyone who wants to swim the full 7 miles. So I got my friend K to come keep me company toward the end of the swim and then go out for burgers afterwards. He wasn’t hard to convince: I told him that the pool was set up for long course.

I divided the 7 miles (11.3 K) into sections, with a 300m warm-up followed by (1000 swim + 100 kick) x 10. Those 1000 m segments were divided in a variety of ways:

1000 swim
200 pull, 200 kick, 200 pull, 200 kick, 200 pull
(200 free + 50 back) x 4
(200 free + 50 breast) x 4
100 kick, 400 pull, 100 kick, 400 swim, etc.

But I also tried a new set (new for me at least). I did it first for fun and then later because I was in a hurry. Really, K was in a hurry. He said, “Will you be done by 12:30 pm?” at 11:50 am, when I had 2200 meters to go, “I know you can do 2000 meters in 40 minutes.” His faith was touching, I suppose, but I had already swum over five and a half miles at that point, and I was not moving all that fast. But I wanted a burger, and I didn’t want him to be late.

Straight swimming is the fastest way to eat up distance, but it’s kind of dull. To make it more interesting, I repeated a set that I had done a couple times already for two more 1000 meter chunks:

(100 breathe every 3 strokes, 100 breathe every 5 strokes, 100 breathe every 7 strokes) x 3
100 breathe every 3 strokes

Counting to three, counting to five, counting to seven kept my mind busy while I churned through the laps. I did the final 1000 meters in a little under 17:30, not world-record pace, but perfectly respectable.

I went in to the swim with fewer calories than usual–it’s Passover, so my usual bowl of oatmeal was not an option–but it did not turn out to be a problem. I had a 250 calorie drink at 4900 meters and maybe a half of another (125 calories or so) at 9100. I destroyed a burger (no bun) and fries at Five Guys, and I’ve been eating steadily ever since. I’m tired, but I’m not wiped out. It was a good swim.


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.


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?

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The Four Mile Report

Here’s the short version: I swam four miles, and it was fine.

Here’s the long version: I planned to swim four miles in a session by the end of January, and Saturday morning was open. I don’t know how representative a Saturday morning in January is of Saturday mornings in general–we are still very close to New Year’s resolution swimmers and all–but the crowd at the pool was much younger than my weekday lunchtime swimmers. Most of the swimmers looked like students (I swim at a small university pool–small university, small pool), and they were almost all male. A lot of the guys did the workout where you and a friend swim one length of the pool splashing splashing splashing and then stand at the end and talk for five minutes; you repeat this set a few times, increasing the length of the conversations as you go. I believe that if people are standing in the pool chatting for long periods of time, it is evidence that the pool temperature is too warm; if it were colder, they’d be swimming.

In any case, they made me laugh, the young people, and they gave me something to watch. And they weren’t all splashing and talking. One pair of guys was fast; they passed me swimming backstroke while I was swimming free. I would have had my feelings hurt, but I was into my third mile by then, and I felt I didn’t have anything to prove.

Here is what I swam:

900 free
300 swim, 300 kick, 300 pull
900 free
9×100 alternating IM/free
900 free
18×50 on :50
900 free
300 back, 300 kick, 300 free
= 7200 yards

I really did not want to do the set of 50s. I had to talk myself into it: “Woman, it’s only fifteen minutes of your life. Just do it.”

I drank two-thirds or so of a chocolate nutritional drink (< 200 calories of a 250 calorie serving) at 5400 yards–after the 50s–and finished the rest at the end. I went to bed that night with visions of the incredible breakfast of eggs I would cook myself, but woke up at 2:30 am starving, with itchy ears, nose, and throat. So I had cold mac-and-cheese and Benadryl and went back to sleep; then I had muesli for breakfast. No aches or pains in the morning.

Here’s my USMS flog since the beginning of January:

Jan 18 flog 1

And here’s my progress toward the 500 mile goal for the year:

Jan 18 flog 264,000 yards so far this year. It’s a good start.



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.