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.


How to Swim Ten Miles, Or Swimming with the Team, Part 2

I successfully completed the 2014 Minnetonka Challenge, the big race I was training for. It was a ten mile swim: five miles across Lake Minnetonka, five miles back. Swimming ten miles is relatively simple:

Step 1: Swim nine miles

Step 2: Swim one more

I suppose there might be other ways of doing it (swim eight miles, and then swim two more? swim five miles, then repeat?), but that’s how I did it. What I’m saying, of course, is there’s nothing magic about swimming ten miles. I was well prepared for the swim. My training worked: I was ready for the distance, and I was ready for the difficulties.

What was difficult? Three things stand out. First, weeds. I was aware that weeds were on the list of hazards for the swim, but I did not realize exactly what that meant. I thought they would be an issue in shallow areas near the shore at the beginning, midway point, and end. But Lake Minnetonka has a problem with invasive vegetation, and there were Sargasso Sea-like spots in the middle of the lake that I couldn’t see until I was in them. At times I had to stop and untangle myself. But I didn’t panic, and I didn’t make it into a big deal.

I ended up with a lot of veg in my swimsuit, which led to a rash — not a problem during the swim but one after. It wasn’t swimmer’s itch, the doctor said, because the rash was on skin under the suit, not in exposed areas.

Second, navigation. Navigation is always tricky the first time (and maybe every time) you are in a body of water. Most of the race I could navigate toward water towers (two on one side of the lake, one on the other). The most difficult part was the turn-around at the five mile point. You would think finding an eight-foot safety orange buoy is not going to be a problem, but when you are in the water, heading toward a beach, and everything in front of you — kayaks and kayakers’ vests and markings on the dock — seems to be safety orange, you don’t know which orange thing to head for.

I can see it now! Me heading toward the big safety orange buoy. Photo by M the Kayaker.

Me heading toward the big safety orange buoy at the halfway point (at this point, I could see it, and I was greatly relieved). Photo by M the Kayaker.

M the kayaker was terrific in every way — he was cheerful and encouraging the whole ten miles — but especially in helping me navigate. He could see the buoy and reassured me that I was going the right way. Still I couldn’t see what I was heading for until I was very close. I just had to trust that it was out there.

Third, exhaustion. Ten miles takes a long time (for me, 5:03:46). I had a spurt of energy after the five mile turn that lasted a couple miles, but then I started to wear out. I knew I would, and I was prepared. In the weeks leading up to the race, several people asked me what I would do if I got tired during the swim. And I told them that I would definitely get tired during the swim, and when I did, I had a plan: I was going to keep swimming.

So I did.

Frankly, when you’re in the middle of a lake, there aren’t a lot of alternatives.

Besides, I had friends and family waiting on shore for me; they had come out to see me swim this race, and I damn well was going to finish it. When Diana Nyad completed the swim from Cuba to Florida, she said, “It looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team effort.” That statement is true about so many things in life, but especially swimming: one person swims the distance, but it takes a lot of people to get her there.

How do you swim ten miles? You do it with a team.

My team, before the race.

My team, before the race. I’m the pink-haired one in the swimsuit.

I also did it with teal toes and an otter on my foot:

My feet and my daughter's before the race. Photo by E.

My feet and my daughter’s before the race. I have the flip flops. Photo by E.


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