10 mile swim

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

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Is Swimming a Sport for Introverts?

Every once in a while I come upon an article about how swimming is a great sport for introverts. Here’s the latest one: 5 Of The Best Competitive Sports For Introverts. And every time I do, my first thought is the same: this author has never heard of Ryan Lochte.

It’s not that swimming is a bad sport for introverts. But I think those who believe swimming is for just for introverts have confused the experience of swimming in a race with the experience of swim practice. Goodness knows, if the only thing you know about swimming is that you race in a lane by yourself, you might think that it is a sport for people who want to work alone. You are by yourself for the few minutes (if you are Katie Ledecky breaking the world record in the 1500 M, 15:25.48 glorious minutes) it takes to swim a race.

But most of a swimmer’s life is not competition — it’s training. And at any team swim practice, lanes are full, with several people in each lane, jockeying for space.

Photo from SwimWithIssues.

Swim practice. Lots of people. Photo from SwimWithIssues.

At a summer league team practice, children are on top of each other like puppies in a pile. But I’ve been in plenty of adult lap swims that were crowded and chaotic; you’re nearly naked with a bunch of people in a 2.5 meter wide lane. If you’re on a team, you know them all, and you’re with them for hours and hours, day after day. You swim together.

(Do the swimmers in this video seem introverted to you? Lochte appears at 1:00, blowing a kiss.)

Swimming together involves plenty of social interaction, even in uncrowded pools. The other day I swam with one man at my summer outdoor pool. We did a set of 12 x 200. Each 200 is “broken,” like this:

  • 100 m, rest 10 seconds
  • 50 m, rest 5 seconds
  • 50 m

As we swam the set, we talked. We talked about where I had been swimming (Westside Aquatic Center), where he had been swimming (the Y), and the advantages of each. We talked about what time each of us had entered for the race we’re swimming later in August (26 min/mile), whether that was a reasonable time (probably), and the differences between swimming in a pool and swimming in a lake. We were racing when we were swimming, but we had 30-plus seconds rest time between each 200, and at every break we picked up our conversation where we left off. It wasn’t a deep conversation. We were just chatting. It’s what you do when you swim together.

Swimming, of course, is the sport you don’t practice by yourself. The pools around here usually have a list of rules posted, and number one is always, “There should be no solo swimming.” You can practice free throws or run sprints or kick a ball against a wall all by your lonesome, but you never swim alone.

Here’s what I think: it’s not that swimming is especially good for introverts; it’s that swimming is good for people who don’t see well. I don’t enjoy ball-oriented sports, for example, not because I don’t like working with other people, but because I’m very nearsighted and my depth perception is lousy (Please don’t throw me the ball. I can’t see it. I DON’T WANT IT). But that’s not so much of a problem for a swimmer; as long as I can see the wall or the next buoy, that’s good enough.

And I can see well enough to recognize a friend coming onto the deck looking for a lane and to ask, “Do you want to share?” Because that’s what swimmers do — we swim with friends. Introverts, extroverts, we take all kinds.

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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.


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.


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.


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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The Most Beautiful Pool in the World (Is the One You’re Swimming in Right Now)

It’s Memorial Day weekend in the U.S,, and outdoor pools are opening. This morning I swam laps outside for the first time this year: 4000 meters of sunlight on the bottom of the pool.

25 meter pool

The view down the pool. My photo. May 26, 2014.

Usually it takes me a little while to adjust to the 25 meter (instead of 25 yard) length, but this morning I hit every flip turn; my body remembered where the walls are.

You aim for the cross at the end of the lane.

The cross at the end of the lane: get just the right distance from it and flip.  My photo. May 26, 2014.

Is there anything as beautiful as sunlight on the bottom of a pool? If I had money to burn, I would buy these sheets from Snurk:

Image from Colossal. Sheets from Snurk.

I could have happily swum for hours, but there were people waiting for me. I won’t be back to swim laps there for a couple weeks. Soon, though, I’ll be swimming in the outside pool with the summer group on a regular basis.


The Eight Mile Report

For the first three to four miles of my eight mile swim I was mentally composing an angry blog post about how I had been unfairly prevented from swimming eight miles that day. It was going to have lots of boldface and ALL CAPS and extra exclamation points!!! I was expecting to get yanked out of the water around 6000 meters. But no one came to stop me. And as an object in motion stays in motion, I just kept swimming.

I went to Westside Aquatic to do the eight miles. Two weeks ago I went out there on a Saturday and was turned away; there was no lap swim because of lifeguard training. I protested at the time that the website had said nothing about a closure, but I was told it was an exceptional circumstance. So this Friday I called to confirm that the competition pool would be open for lap swim on Saturday, and I was assured multiple times that there would be lap swim and it would be in the competition pool.

Well, you can probably guess where this is going. When I got there, there was no lap swim lane (two are scheduled); one person said he would make me one, and then a supervisor came to say that he couldn’t. The supervisor offered me the therapy pool, but I said no way; that pool is 86 degrees F, and I don’t want to swim eight miles in a hot pool. It’s borderline dangerous and absolutely unpleasant.

There were intense negotiations, but to make a long story short, I was allowed to swim in the 50 meter pool in a lane with a loosely fastened lane rope on one side and no lane rope on the other. On my lane rope side there were lifeguard classes; on the open side there was a floating bouncy inflatable. And I was told that when the birthday party scheduled for 1 pm for the bouncy inflatable showed up, I was going to be moved to the hot pool.

The floating bouncy inflatable. Image from Westside Aquatic.

I swam the first half or so of the swim filled with righteous indignation, which means I swam it way too fast. But I was expecting someone to grab me, and I wanted to get in all the distance I could. On the lane rope side of me, two different lifeguard training classes were going on (there was a third in another corner of the pool), and they were jumping in and rescuing each other in different ways and configurations. There were splashes and waves, and the loosely fastened lane rope was pushed into my lane. But I had enough space to swim, and watching the lifeguard training kept me amused. I kept swimming.

As time passed and no one stopped me, I took a break for food and asked the one lifeguard in charge of me — she was sitting on the starting block of the next lane, my own personal lifeguard  — where the birthday party was. She said they didn’t know. I kept swimming.

Eventually the birthday party kids appeared to play on the bouncy inflatable. My personal lifeguard moved to guard them. More kids (and adults too) appeared, but still no one stopped me. I was concerned that flying children might drop on me, but they didn’t. The only person who got in my way was a grown man; he and he alone floated into my lane three different times, in spite of the fact that I stopped and told him it was the lap swim lane the first time. It’s always the grown men. Still, I kept swimming.

In any case, I swam the full eight miles in the 50 meter pool. It was a hard swim, mostly because I started too fast and ran out of energy. Angry swimming is not sensible swimming. I think, however, that it was a useful training exercise simulating race conditions; I tend to get excited and go out faster than I should. I also swam far more straight freestyle than I would ordinarily — again to get in as much distance as possible — and my shoulders were sore by the end.

I pulled myself onto the deck. And then, my friends, I was the belle of the ball. Three lifeguarding classes had been watching me swim for four hours, and the lifeguards and trainers all wanted to know how far I had swum and what I was preparing for. They said complimentary things. It was all very flattering.

Next Saturday I’ll be swimming the Lowcountry Splash in Charleston, and the Saturday after that Westside has a planned closure for a swim meet. Perhaps by June it will be safe to swim on a Saturday again.

I swam the eight miles in 2000 meter blocks, with 200 kick in between. After I realized that I might be allowed to stay in the 50 meter pool, I introduced some breaststroke, but I was never comfortable enough to try backstroke: far too many obstacles in my path.

  • 2000 swim
  • 200 kick
  • 2000 swim
  • 200 kick
  • 2000 swim
  • 200 kick
  • 4 x (100 breast, 400 free)
  • 200 kick
  • 4 x 500 ladders (200, 150, 100, 50)
  • 200 kick
  • 4 x (100 breast, 400 free with breathwork)

The total was 13000 meters, just a smidge over eight miles. I was hungry early in the swim; I had started late with all the negotiations and it was closer to lunch than breakfast. I sucked down one Ensure-like beverage at 4400 and another at 8800.

Here is my progress for the year as of May 18: 287.68 miles

May 17 totals

Image from my USMS fitness log