10 mile swim

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


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Snow Outside, Swim Inside

“You can’t go swimming. It’s snowing,” said the man in the office next to mine. People say crazy things like that to me all winter long. I’ve learned there’s no point in arguing with them. The best thing to do is smile and nod while slowly backing away, preferably in the direction of the pool.

There are people you need to listen to when they say, “You can’t go swimming.” Lifeguards. Park rangers. Doctors. A few years ago my doctor told me that I might have a major medical problem, the kind that could kill me, and that I shouldn’t exercise until we had done tests to rule it out. I said, “I can’t go swimming?” And she said, “You can’t go swimming.” It took over a month for all the tests and scans. It was a miserable time. But until I was cleared, I didn’t go swimming.

However, people who say, “You can’t go swimming. It’s snowing,” are not people I need to listen to. My pool is inside, and it’s heated. In fact, it’s warmer than my office, which is kept at a temperature more suited for storing wine than English professors. (I think the university is hoping I will age better at a low temperature.) Snow outside is no reason not to swim inside.

My university campus in the snow. Photo by Daniel Crowe.

Campus in the snow. This is the way to the pool. Photo by Daniel Crowe.

Strangely, people are not convinced when I explain about the indoor, heated pool. They repeat that it’s too cold to swim. I wonder if they don’t understand that swimming is a heat-generating activity. If your only swimming experience is lying around in a pool on a summer day, you might not realize that exercise in water warms your body the same as on land. But it does. I get hot swimming. When I swim sprints, I go all pink in the face.

There are too many real problems that can keep a person out of the water. There’s no need to worry about pretend ones. I am waiting for spring when I can get outside to the lakes again. But all winter long, snow or no snow, I’m still swimming.

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Where I’ve Been: Kitsilano Beach Pool, Vancouver

I don’t believe in bucket lists, those lists of things to do and places to go before you die. I don’t want to live my life like a trip to the grocery store, crossing off items as I throw them in the cart: milk, eggs, Paris, skydiving. But I do look around for beautiful places to swim and think about how I could get to them, and this summer I swam at one of those places: Kitsilano Beach Pool in Vancouver, British Columbia.

I took this photo with my cell phone. It's completely unedited. It was that beautiful. June 2015.

I took this photo with my cell phone. No filters. It was that beautiful. June 2015.

Kits Pool is a saltwater pool on the beach, with a view of the North Shore mountains above it. On a day in June, the pool water is blue, the ocean is blue, the sky is blue, the mountains are blue — each blue a different shade. And the water is clear and cool and smells slightly sweet. How is it sweet? I don’t know. Maybe it’s the saltwater chlorination. Maybe it’s magic Canadian pool fairies. It doesn’t matter. It’s perfect.

The pool itself is 137 meters long — when I asked the guy at the desk how long it was, he said, “It’s a monster” with real affection — and the lap swimmers swim it in one long loop that works like a highway; slow traffic stays to the right, fast traffic passes on the left. All kinds of people were swimming when I was there, from beginning swimmers to men from the University of British Columbia swim team, recognizable by their harlequin-patterned Speedos with “UBC” in big white letters on the tush. But it wasn’t chaotic; there was plenty of room for everyone, and people knew how to pass and be passed. With each long lap, I was filled with love for my fellow swimmer.

One big loop -- 137 meters down, 137 meters back. June 2015.

One big loop — 137 meters down, 137 meters back. June 2015.

I swam three times at the Kits Pool in the week I was in Vancouver. Getting there on the bus is easy; bring enough money for the pool and a quarter for a locker. The locker room is just fine — clean and no-nonsense, with a group shower room.

It’s scary, sometimes, to go somewhere you’ve wanted to go for a long time. But Kitsilano Pool was every bit as wonderful as I hoped. I haven’t crossed Kits Pool off my bucket list — just the opposite. I’ve circled and starred it and put three exclamation points in the margin. I’m going back.

Kitsilano Beach Pool. June 2015.

Kitsilano Beach Pool. June 2015.


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On Deep Pools

Last week I went on a quick trip to visit my friend C in D.C. It was a very quick trip — up on Wednesday, back on Friday — so I wasn’t necessarily going to swim. But my friend C knows me, and she loves me, and she told me before I left home, “My pool is three miles from the house. Don’t worry about bringing a towel.”

C understands about towels. When I got there, she gave me a nice stripey one, and the next morning she gave me her pass, and I headed off to the Kennedy Shriver Aquatic Center, where I swam slowly, oh so slowly. I asked a woman who looked as if she were a regular how long the pool was, hoping that it was 25 meters instead of 25 yards, but no — it was 25 yards and I was just slow.

But although I was slow, I had a great time at the Kennedy Shriver pool, and that is because it was a deep pool. I have said before that when you’re swimming, it doesn’t matter how deep the water is; you always swim on the top. But there’s some fun you can only have in a deep pool.

"Montgomery Aquatic Center deep water pool 2" by Ben Schumin - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

So there’s a water polo practice happening in this photo, but you can see: it’s a very deep pool. “Montgomery Aquatic Center deep water pool 2” by Ben Schumin – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Kennedy Shriver pool is set up like the one C and I used to swim in back when we were swim team kids in Dallas: 50 meters divided into two 25 yard halves during the short course season. I, of course, chose to swim in the deeper half — 16 feet deep.

I don’t think I’d been in a pool that deep in thirty years. That depth is not for swimmers; it’s for divers: the Kennedy Shriver pool has 3, 5, 7.5, and 10 meter platforms. Our pool in Dallas has a 5 meter and a 10 meter. I remember getting to jump off the 5 meter once: you hit the water hard.

Here’s a photo of our old pool, emptied out for renovation in 2008. It’s deep.

Alfred J. Loos Pool, from  Dallas ISD 2008 Bond

Alfred J. Loos Pool, photo from Dallas ISD 2008 Bond

Swimming over 16 feet of water of clear water can be disorienting. Maybe it’s reorienting. You feel as if you are up very high, but you can’t fall; you just hang there, looking down, like an astronaut floating over the earth. I was a bit dizzy from it all. I guess that’s why I was so slow.

The best part of swimming in a deep pool, though, is diving in. Last year, Jane Greene Pettersson posted in the Guardian swim blog about “the incredible joy of jumping in.” A swim teacher, Pettersson notes that children jump in the water over and over, but adults rarely do. She tries jumping in herself, after one of her students describes how the water is “fizzy”:

It was a surprising sensation, one that I had almost forgotten. The change from air to water is so sudden. You feel and hear the splash as you enter the water and the noisy pool environment is instantly replaced by the muffled silence of the water. Just as my little pupil pointed out, I could feel the tiny bubbles bursting on my skin, and as I had my goggles on I could also see them sparkling around me.

I like the bubbles too; it’s like being the sugar cube in a champagne cocktail.

Diving in is even better than jumping in. I am not trained as a diver (I went off that 5 m platform once); I can’t do flips or twists. But I was drilled in starting off the block, in the old school flat dive, and I still do it. I love the sudden shock of impact, the jolt as you slice through the surface.

Nine months of the year I can’t dive; my home pool is too shallow. In the summer, though, when the outdoor pool is open, I start every workout by diving in, and I store up the memories of those dives for the long winter ahead. When I swim in a new pool, the first thing I find out is whether diving is permitted. I’ll ask the lifeguard if there’s any question. But I didn’t have to ask anyone if I could dive into the Kennedy Shriver pool: it is a pool for diving.

I don’t see any reason why children should get to have all the fun.


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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.


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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
(food)
2000 straight
500 kick, 500 pull, 500 swim
(food)
2000 ladders (4 x 200, 150, 100, 50)
500 breast/back (alt by 100), 500 pull, 500 swim
(food)
2000 ladders (4 x 200, 150, 100, 50)
(food)
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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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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Why I’m Not Bored

“Isn’t it boring?” asked the man in the parking lot. The conversation was C the lifeguard’s fault; I could see him looking in my direction and talking to a man on the side of the pool as I swam on Friday morning. But I didn’t worry about it at the time. Lifeguards look in my direction a lot: it’s kind of their job. It turns out that C was telling the man about me. And then I encountered him and his friend, the one who asked me the question, on my way to the car. They wanted to know if I had really swum 4000 yards that morning (yes). They wanted to know what I was training for (10 mile swim). They wanted to know about boredom.

It may be that I’m a bad judge of what is boring. I’m interested in many things that other people find dull (day job: English professor). That’s OK with me; as I’ve said before, we don’t all have to like the same things.

But I don’t find swimming boring.

There are things to look at in a pool, from other swimmers to light sparkling on the surface. You have to pay attention; you have to know where you are in space, how far you are from people, lane lines, walls. But pools are also beautiful, and I’m happy to watch bubbles off the fins of the woman in the next lane every time I pass her. I never get tired of the view of blue sky upside down through the water in the middle of a flip turn. Small beauties, length after length.

And while it is impossible to talk to people while swimming, I frequently find myself in conversations. Last week I stopped at the wall between sets, and the young man in the next lane over politely asked me teach him how to flip turn. Asking me to teach you how to flip turn is like asking me to teach you how to put on your socks — I’ve been doing it so long I can’t describe the process — but I did my best. Swimming is social; when you go to a pool, you become part of a community.

Finally, there’s a key aspect of swimming that people forget: even when there’s little to see and no one to talk to, there’s so much to feel. I was thinking about it yesterday, the constant tactile stimulation of swimming. When you’re moving through water, all your skin is feeling something all the time. I don’t have to see, and I don’t have to hear because I’m busy feeling.

I’ve complained before that I don’t like swimming in a wetsuit because I can’t feel the water. But the times when I swim in my wetsuit one day and then swim without the next, all my nerve endings light up like Las Vegas as soon as I hit the water, and I feel everything. It’s not boring.

On my way to my regular pool, I go past people walking on treadmills and climbing never-ending stairs in the fitness center, huge screens with FOX and ESPN in front of them and the Sirius satellite radio station playing “Mr. Roboto.” There’s a lot to see, and it’s plenty loud. It looks like hell, frankly, and not a single one of them is smiling.

When I’m swimming, I’m smiling.