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 Share a Lane Redux (For New Year’s Resolution Swimmers)

You can buy a t-shirt with this happy swimmer on it at Toad Hollow

You can buy a t-shirt with this happy swimmer on it at Toad Hollow Athletics. I have one in blue.

We are barreling toward New Year’s Day here in the Gregorian calendar, and everyone knows what that means: soon, a new crowd of swimmers in the pool, working on their New Year’s resolutions. And good for you, New Year’s resolution swimmers! Life is good in the pool.

Before you jump in, however, there’s something you should know: while there is much to be said about the isolation of swimming, that isolation is only in the swimmer’s mind. You may be alone in your head, but most of the time your body is in a narrow space with other wet, nearly naked people, all moving at different speeds.

In addition — and this is key — a person swimming freestyle correctly cannot see ahead of her when she is swimming.

When you are swimming, you are looking down at the bottom of the pool. That is why pools have black lines on the bottom; the swimmers are following them. When you get to the cross at the end of the black line, you know the wall is approaching.

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These lines on the bottom of the pool: not just for pretty (my photo).

When you breathe to the side, you can see in that direction, but you never lift your head to see in front of you in a pool. The exception, of course, is if you are practicing sighting for an open water swim. In open water you do have to look in front of you because there are no black lines to guide you.

What does that mean for you, New Year’s resolution swimmers? It means that if you hop in a lane without warning the people in it, they may not see you. Last fall a woman got into my lane without telling me. I was swimming at full throttle when I realized she was there. I pulled up in shock inches before a huge, painful crash.

If you get in a lane in front of me, especially if you are slow and don’t splash much, I won’t know that you are there until I am on top of you like an eighteen-wheeler on an armadillo.

The National Wildlife Federation notes, “Nine-banded armadillos have a tendency to jump straight up into the air when they are startled. This often leads to their demise on highways.” Image by Jerry Segraves (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/byways/photos/64102) via Wikimedia Commons

The obvious lesson here is that you don’t get into a lane with a swimmer until you get that person’s attention. It’s not so much that you are asking permission to join — although it is conventional to ask, “May I share?” — as that you are establishing how you will interact in the lane. Two people can split a lane down the middle, each keeping to one side; three or more need to circle swim, staying to one side.

If you are walking into a new pool for the first time, and there are no signs indicating which lane you might choose, you can always ask the lifeguard. I went to a YMCA pool in Atlanta over Thanksgiving; every lane was packed, and there was no guidance about speed. So I asked the lifeguard for advice, and he directed me to the appropriate lane. I ended up in a lane with a family of three cousins together for the holidays. We had a grand old time.


I’ve written about lane sharing before, but I have been thinking about the subject again because last week I shared a lane with my friend K, who is big and fast. He’s easy to share with; he knows what he is doing, and he swims straight. But it is always just a little bit nerve-racking when we share a lane, and it occurred to me that sharing a lane (especially with someone big and fast) is like doing a trust fall.

The trust fall is a staple of group team building exercises: one person falls backward with eyes closed and another (or group of others) catches her. You can find a video and description here.

In a trust fall, you can’t see: you have to trust that the catcher will be in the right place and you won’t hit the ground. In the same way, when you share a lane, you can’t see: you have to trust that your lane mate will be in the right place and you won’t hit each other. You communicate to establish trust.

I hope to see you at the pool, New Year’s resolution swimmers! Say hello before you jump in.