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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What We Talk About When We Talk About Water Temperature

Life is complicated here at the 10 Mile Swim blog. My home pool has been closed for a month. I’ve been swimming at Westside Aquatic Complex — a beautiful pool — but it’s not easy for me to get there during their open hours. As work gets busier, it’s harder for me to swim. I hate it.

However, there has been one pleasant surprise in the midst of it all: the water heater at WAC broke.

At any pool there is a conflict between those who think the pool is too hot and those who think it is too cold. This conflict is always present, even if it’s under the surface (ha ha) and even though the participants — the people using the pool — have no control over the water temperature anyway. But in any pool on any given day, someone may be planning a Very Angry Letter to the management about how no one could possibly be expected to exercise under such conditions.

(Of course, this is only true of pools that are temperature controlled. Barton Springs Pool in Austin is naturally 68 degrees F every day, all year around. I don’t know who you’d complain to if you don’t like it — the naiads of Barton Springs, I guess.)

The conflict over water temperature divides the users of the pool into two clear teams: the lap swimmers want it colder; the walkers, floaters, and water aerobics people want it warmer. If a person in the locker room complains that the water is too cold, I know that person is not a swimmer. For that reason, I never say anything about the water temperature to anyone I don’t know. It would be safer to bring up religion or politics.

Unfortunately, I live in a part of the world where pools are usually kept warm, too warm for lap swimmers. My home lap swim pool is usually 82-83 degrees F — with a therapy pool that is kept at 88-90 degrees right next to it. In contrast, the American Red Cross says lap swim temperature should be between 78-82. FINA sets the same range for pool competitions, including Olympic swimming.

I rarely get to swim in a pool under 82 degrees — unless the water heater is broken.

My first sign that something wonderful had happened was when a woman in the locker room said the pool was cold. Now, many people in the locker room complain about how cold the main pool is at Westside Aquatic (even though there is a warm therapy pool there as well), so I didn’t think much of it. But when I walked on deck, another swimmer came up to warn me. The water is really cold, he said. It took his breath away when he jumped in.

I became hopeful.

A white board had been placed near the pool. Someone had written in big letters, “POOL TEMPERATURE 76.”

I said to the lifeguard on duty, “People say the water is really cold.”

The lifeguard said, “They’re a bunch of babies.”

My opinion of the lifeguard — already high — rose higher.

When I dove in, the water was cold, wonderfully cold. But within 300 yards, it felt like the perfect temperature. If I lingered at the wall for too long, I started to get chilly. So I didn’t linger at the wall.

When swimmers talk about cold water, we are asserting our identity as “real” swimmers. Real swimmers swim hard enough to raise their body temperatures. Warm water is fine for children’s lessons and water aerobics classes and cocktail sipping. But if you’re in the pool to swim and swim hard, you want it cool.

The water at WAC was cold Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. It was terrific. I told the people at the desk — who were swamped with complaints — not to rush on fixing on the water heater. Then I traveled for Thanksgiving, and on Friday I swam in a YMCA pool in Atlanta that was easily 10 degrees warmer. And the water aerobics class there looked a little cranky. Maybe it was too hot even for them.

Any pool is a good pool when you’re in it. But a cool pool is a great pool.


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How to Swim When Your Pool Is Closed

Swimming is not an optional activity for me. I swim two miles a day, five days a week. I don’t ask myself whether I’ll swim on a given day any more than I ask myself whether I’ll eat lunch. On rare occasions something comes up, and I can’t swim, and on those days I deal with it as the mature adult I am. But I don’t enjoy a day off. I work best on two miles a day.

This Monday, however, after I walked across campus to the pool, I encountered this sign.

This is a bad sign. My photo. Oct 2015.

This is a bad sign. My photo. Oct 2015.

There is something wrong with the roof over the pool. I assume it’s related to the incredible amount of rain we had in early October. In any case, the roof may cave in, and the pool has been drained, and no one knows when it’s going to open again.

But swimming is not an optional activity. Every day I heat up leftovers in the office microwave and eat them for lunch; if the microwave broke, would I stop eating lunch? Of course not. I’d figure out another way.

By the time I got to the pool at lunchtime Monday, the fitness center was already working on another way; they had called Westside Aquatic Complex to arrange for us to swim there. Westside is a county rec center; it’s 10-15 minutes drive away from campus. We swam there when our pool was closed for renovations in late 2013, and Westside swimmers come to us when their place is closed for meets. It’s a beautiful facility, and I’m happy to swim there when I can.

So I went back to my office, found the WAC open swim schedule on their website, and rearranged my whole life so that I could make there for lap swim for the duration. Their open hours are not the same as our open hours, but I cleared a space in the middle of the day, moving my responsibilities around, and I have just enough time to make it there for two miles of swimming if I don’t mess around.

And I’m not going to mess around. I can waste time with the best of them, but I was trained at a young age to get my homework done so that I could go to swim practice. This is the same deal, thirty-plus years later. It’s just a matter of remembering what’s important.

I swam at WAC Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday this week, and I plan to make it Friday as well. It’s not exactly easy. They don’t have a swimsuit water extractor (or any permanent lockers) there, so I have to keep a wet swimsuit in my car all day; I hang it up when I get home, but it doesn’t dry overnight. I’m carrying around a wet towel too, which isn’t great, and my shampoo is going to spill in my gym bag at some point, because it always does. Oh, and I’m wearing jeans to work for the duration. I don’t have time for grown-up clothes.

But you can’t just stop swimming because of some inconveniences, big or small. I’m fortunate to have another pool to swim in. And I’m less than five miles from my 500 mile goal for the year. I’m pretty sure I’ll swim that 500th mile at Westside.


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Four Places to Swim Before You Die

I don’t like bucket lists. And when I get sucked into a bucket list about swimming (14 Places to Swim Before You Die is a typical example), I am invariably disappointed. Some of the places listed are good places to float, especially to float while drinking a cocktail, but they are not places to swim.

I think I can do a better bucket list. I offer you four places to swim before you die:

1) Across a lake

You don’t necessarily have to swim across a lake. You could swim across a channel or a strait, or you could swim from an island to the shore. What’s important here is that you swim across. Start on land and head out into deep water; swim and swim until you get to the other side, using nothing but your own body to get there.

You don’t have to swim a huge distance; you want to be able to see where you came from at the end. Then you can stand on the land and look back across the water and think, “I got here all by myself.”

You feel like you’ve gotten somewhere when you swim across a lake.

2) In the rain

Swimming in the rain is among the great joys of life. There is some voice inside you that says responsible, grown-up things like “Go to work” and “Don’t eat that cookie” and “Come in out of the rain.” When you swim in the rain, you can tell that voice to shut the hell up. Swimming in the rain feels like Eat Ice Cream for Breakfast Day. It feels like Jeans Day.

When you swim in the rain, you feel the raindrops on your shoulders. You feel them on your arms when you lift them out of the water and on your face when you breathe. It doesn’t matter if you get wet, because you’re already wet — you’re swimming.

All rules are suspended, all debts are forgiven when you swim in the rain.

3) In the nude

If you swim a lot and you think about swimming a lot, eventually you’re going to come around to one inescapable conclusion: wearing clothes in water is weird. All the research into fabrics, all the fancy swimsuit technology — it is all to make swimming in clothes more like swimming naked.

For long distance swimmers, especially women, swimsuits cause as many problems as they solve. Lynne Cox notes in her Open Water Swimming Manual, “Because of problems with chafing, there were top female open water swimmers in the 1920s and ’30s who swam naked. Today there are women who wear two-piece swimsuits until they get in the water, and then they ditch their tops, hand them over to their escort paddlers, and when they finish their workout, they put their tops back on and head to shore.” When I’m swimming long distances — in a pool as well as in open water — I use Body Glide on my shoulders, neck, and arms to prevent chafing where my swimsuit rubs against skin.

It is important that we respect the conventions of the communities in which we swim. In other words, you can’t just show up to the pool naked. And goodness knows I have no more desire to be the only nude swimmer at a pool or beach full of clothed people than I do to be the only person in pajamas at the next faculty meeting.

But before you die, you should get yourself to a place — a physical location and a social space — where you can take off your clothes and swim. Wreck Beach in Vancouver is a good choice.

On this side of the sign, you can swim naked. On the other side, you have to wear clothes. Which side are you on? My photo. June 2015.

On this side of the sign, you can swim naked. On the other side, you have to wear clothes. Which side are you on? My photo. June 2015.

In the life I lead, I don’t get to swim naked often, but each time I do, I remember, “Oh, yeah, this is what swimming is supposed to feel like.”

You can approximate the feeling of swimming in the nude by swimming in a full wetsuit and then later in just a regular swimsuit. I do this in the spring sometimes, swimming in the lake in a wetsuit one day and in the pool the next. When you push off the wall the second day, all the nerve receptors in your bare arms and legs light up like the midway at the state fair. It’s as if you feel the water for the first time.

4) In the same place you swam yesterday, and the day before, and the day before.

If I had one last swim, I would want to swim in the same place I swim every day — my home pool.

The key thing about your home pool is that it’s yours. You know how far it is from the T at the end of the lane to the wall, so you always hit the flip turns. You know the best lane and the worst lane. You know all the lifeguards and all the regulars, and they know you. You know your pool.

Before you die, swim at some place long enough and often enough so that it becomes your home. Make it yours.

I like to see new places, and I like to swim in new bodies of water. But when it comes down to it, the best place to swim is the place you’re in, in the body you have. Go swim there.