10 mile swim

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


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An American Swimmer in London, Part 2: The London Aquatics Centre and the Ladies’ Bathing Pond at Hampstead Heath

A few years ago, I learned that the pool for the 2012 London Olympics had reopened as a public swimming facility, the London Aquatics Centre. And I began stalking it online. I didn’t send it threatening emails or anything like that. But every once in a while, I’d go to the website and look at the photos, check the schedule, maybe review the prices. I’d plug the address into Google Maps and see where it was located and figure out how I could get there on public transportation — all perfectly normal behavior for a person living 4000 miles away from London.

Of course, when I went to London for a month in fall 2017, swimming at the London Aquatics Centre was very high on my list of things to do. I swam three times at the LAC, and each time it was fantastic: it is both an incredible world-class pool and an accessible public facility.

First, getting there: I was staying in central London, and I had originally planned to take the Underground to Stratford (special note for Shakespeare fans: this is Stratford in East London, not Stratford-upon-Avon). A knowledgeable friend told me to take the Javelin train instead. It was easy; you get the train at St Pancras and take it one stop to Stratford: seven minutes on the 140 mph train. You can use your Oyster card. Then follow the signs to the London Aquatics Centre.

At the time I went, one swim at the LAC cost £5 for an adult. You need a pound coin for the locker, but you’ll get that coin back. There is one large all-genders changing room, with cubicles for privacy.

I did two things wrong before getting in the pool. First, I tried to take a photo on deck. The lifeguard very politely told me that photos were not allowed on deck. That is a good rule, and I should have asked if photos were permitted before I tried to take one. Second, I tried to take my towel on deck. Another lifeguard very politely told me that towels are not allowed on deck. That is a weirder rule, but I was not going to argue with him. I left my eyeglasses in their hard shell case by the side of the pool, and they were fine.

In spite of my gaffes, I made it into the water. And after stalking the pool for years, I was not disappointed. I have a tiny bit of experience with quality competition pools, but this pool is on a higher level. The water is clear and deep and calm. The pool design minimizes waves, so even though there were multiple people in every lane, I felt as if I were swimming alone. The pool is set up for long course, 50m. I picked a center lane and pretended I was Katie Ledecky winning the gold in the 800.

meLAC

Me, taking a post-swim selfie from the gallery at the LAC. October 2017.

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The view of the London Aquatics Centre pool from the gallery. You can take photos from the gallery, not from the deck. My photo. October 2017.

I saw people of all ages and abilities in that pool, plus a bunch of children taking lessons in the warmup pool. If you find yourself in London without your swim gear, you can buy everything you need there for reasonable prices. They even have a vending machine that sells goggles. If you are a swimmer and you are in London, get yourself to this pool.


The London Aquatics Centre is the new must-do swim experience in London. The bathing ponds at Hampstead Heath are the classic must-do swim experience. People have been swimming there for over 200 years. They are an institution.

For all the times I had been in London, I had never been to the bathing ponds before. I once swam at a surprisingly cold Parliament Hill Lido, also at Hampstead Heath; I mention it here. But the bathing ponds are not really my style. You don’t swim in the bathing ponds in the way I usually swim. You bathe there. You take a dip. It’s like the difference between running and going for a walk in the park: swimming at the London Aquatics Centre is like going for a run, while swimming at the bathing ponds is like going for a stroll.

But I don’t mind strolling. Strolling is a fine activity. And I was in London; my free time was my own. I thought that I would go experience the bathing ponds.

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The sign for the Ladies’ Pond. My photo. October 2017.

I made it out to Hampstead Heath at the end of October, taking the bus. There are three bathing ponds, the Men’s, the Ladies’, and the Mixed, but since the Mixed Pond was closed for the winter season, the Ladies’ Pond was my option. I found the sign, went through the gate, paid my £2 at the ticket machine, and made my way back to the changing area. A chalkboard said the water temperature was 11° C, 52° F. I thought two things: it was kind of them to put the temperature in Fahrenheit as well as Celsius, and that’s really cold.

But I am older and wiser than I was at the time I nearly froze at the Parliament Hill Lido. I asked a woman in the changing room how long she thought a first timer should go in, and she suggested that 10 minutes would be enough.

There were three or four women in the pond when I got there, plus assorted ducks. The women were circling around, swimming breaststroke with their heads above the water. One was wearing a wooly hat.

I got in slowly, using the ladder. Not to be melodramatic, but cold water shock can kill you, and I did not intend to die in a pond in London. Then I started my own slow circle of breaststroke.

At first the water burned, but as I swam I become numb and relaxed. I stuck my head under, telling myself “Don’t swallow the water!” and promptly swallowed a mouthful of water. I swam a little freestyle. I swam a little breaststroke. I floated on on my back and looked up at the blue sky. After about 10 minutes, the lifeguard called out to two women who had been in the water before me, saying that they had been in long enough. I followed them out soon after.

In the changing room I took a shower. Other swimmers told me to fill a basin with warm water and stick my feet in it, but, unfortunately, the water was not warm that day. I got dressed quickly, pulled on my own wooly hat, and headed for the nearest cup of tea at Kenwood House, my feet completely numb as I walked up the hill.

I slowly thawed in a corner of the tea room, nursing my tea, surrounded by families having a Saturday out. I am not convinced that I need to swim in the bathing ponds again, but I don’t regret going. It was a must-do, and I have done it.


You can learn more about the experience of being an American swimmer in London (including discussions of jelly doughnuts and breaststroke) here: An American Swimmer in London, Part 1: The Oasis Sports Centre.

 

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An American Swimmer in London, Part 1: The Oasis Sports Centre

This fall I spent a month in London for work. Before I left, I told a friend at the pool that I’d be away for a while. She said, “You’ll miss swimming while you’re gone.” And I said, “Like hell I will.” London is a swimmer’s city; there are opportunities to swim everywhere, from ponds to the Olympic pool, and I swam every chance I had.

In my mind, if you really want to understand how a place works, you need to eat there, and you need to swim there. You might think that with globalization every place is the same, with the same coffee shops on every corner. But one day in London, I stopped in a coffee shop and saw a man eating a jelly doughnut with a knife and fork. I watched him in amazement. You would never see an American eat a jelly doughnut with a knife and fork.

Maybe people eat jelly doughnuts in coffee shops all over the world. But we eat them differently.

And we swim differently too. England is a nation of breaststrokers. The pools are full of people swimming breaststroke, lap after lap of it. I met multiple people who swim nothing but breaststroke. As an American, I was amazed. Our pools are full of people swimming front crawl — freestyle.

From the perspective of the American swimmer, the most alarming difference between English pools and American ones is in the practice of circle swimming. In the U.S. we share lanes by swimming counterclockwise: up on the right side of the lane, back on the right side of the lane. This way of swimming is so ingrained that it would never occur to me to circle swim in any other way. But in England (and in Ireland, and for all I know in other places too), lanes are designated as clockwise or anti-clockwise, and you’d better be darn sure of the direction of a lane before you get in it.

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Look for these signs. READ THESE SIGNS. Photo from Priscilla Alcalde Melo

Swimsuits are different in England too — or, more accurately, the suits are the same, but they mean different things. If you see a man wearing a speedo (swim brief) in the U.S., you know that’s a man who knows how to swim; in the U.S. a speedo is the sign of competitive swimming experience. On the other hand, if you see a man wearing a swim brief in England, you know almost nothing; all you know is that’s a man who owns a very small swimsuit.

Sometimes you only find out what your cultural assumptions are when they are not met. A man eats a doughnut with a knife and fork. A swimmer swims down the left side of the lane. And suddenly the world contains more possibilities than you knew.


I spent most of my swimming time in London at the Oasis Sports Centre, in the center of London. It was fifteen minutes’ walk from my hotel, and most days I could get there and back before I needed to get to work.

Here is the extraordinary thing about Oasis: it has an outdoor heated pool. It’s on the roof. I swam daily under the November sky, barely three blocks from the British Museum. On icy cold mornings, when mist floats over the warm pool, it’s almost too good to be real.

The one difficulty with the Oasis Sports Centre is that it is frequently crowded, with 7-8 adults sharing a lane. In a crowded lane, I return to my default settings: I swim like a swim team kid. When I see feet in front of me, I want to catch them, and I want to pass them. I want to lead the lane.

Day after day, I swam like I was ten years old again. It probably wasn’t good for my stroke technique, but it was a lot of fun.

Oasis has two pools: one inside and one outside. All things being equal, I would always choose to swim outside, but on days when I had to be somewhere early, I hurried for a quick swim in the indoor pool: it opened on weekdays at 6:30 AM, while the outdoor pool opened a half hour later. Both pools have three lanes, marked slow, medium, and fast. The indoor pool is 25 meters long, the outdoor 30 yards long. The lifeguards will tell you that the outdoor pool is 27.5 meters long, but if you can keep track of your distance in multiples of 27.5 while trying to sprint around slower swimmers and avoid colliding with people coming the other way, then you have better math skills than I do. Easier to multiply by 30.

When I was there in fall 2017, a swim was £5.80. You need a 20p coin for the locker. The locker will keep that coin, so start hoarding 20p coins if you plan to swim there frequently. There’s no soap or shampoo, but the showers were better than the one in my hotel room. And you swim outside in the middle of London. You can’t ask for more.


Oasis was my home pool in London, but I did swim in other places. Read about the London Aquatics Centre and the Ladies’ Bathing Pond at Hampstead Heath here.


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The 40 (or so) Mile Swim: Training for SCAR Swim 2018

I am officially in training for SCAR Swim 2018. I have been thinking about swimming SCAR since I found myself next to the organizer right before Swim the Suck 2015. We were in line, standing in the parking lot in our bare feet and our swimsuits, and he was explaining to me about how to train for cold water when you live in a warm climate. He told me to get a horse trough, fill it with water and ice, and sit in it. And I thought, “This is my kind of crazy person.”

The acronym SCAR stands for Saguaro, Canyon, Apache, and Roosevelt, four lakes on the Salt River in Arizona. The challenge is four days, four lakes, 40 (or so) miles. There are two important things embedded in that last sentence. First, it’s a challenge, not a race: no one wins anything but the joy of swimming. Second, it’s 40 miles, give or take. As the FAQ says, “There is nothing ‘official’ about the swim distances of these lakes other than it’s from buoy to buoy . . . If you are overly concerned about the distance you are missing the point of the swims.”

These really are my kind of crazy people.

Here’s the plan for getting ready for SCAR:

1) Increasing my distance. I continue to swim five days a week, most weeks, but one of those days is now a long swim, and I’m steadily lengthening that long swim by 1000 yards a week. Right now, I’m up to 12,000 yards.

I’ve bought myself a 10-swim pass so that I can swim the long swim at the pool that used to be Westside but is now Greenville County Aquatic Complex. The sessions at my home pool are not long enough for me to get in that kind of distance.

2) Yoga. I feel I need more strength and more flexibility, and that means I need yoga. I’ve been going to a studio in town that allows you to pay by the class, and I get myself to two classes a week. Once my university starts back up for the spring semester, I can take yoga there too.

It’s fascinating how the yoga poses I couldn’t do when I was in college are the same yoga poses I can’t do now. It takes a person back.

3) Getting used to cold water. This is the most difficult thing for me to do. I’m expecting water in the low 60s to low 70s F (16 to 22 C), and my pools are too warm while my lakes are too cold.

I have been taking cold baths twice weekly; they are not a lot of fun, but they aren’t unbearable. I take the temperature of the bath water, set a timer, and get in, muttering, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” over and over as I settle down into the water.

It is much more fun to go swim in a lake. Thanks to my husband, who agreed to be my driver and lifeguard, I went out yesterday. I had been watching the forecast and the water temperature in Lake Hartwell and decided that yesterday was going to be one of the warmest days we’d have for a while. So we drove out there and took the temperature with my nifty new infrared thermometer: 56.2 F.

I am not a natural at this. It was very cold getting in. But as I swam all the joy of open water swimming flooded back. It was a relief. It’s so much better than sitting in a cold bathtub. All told, I was in the water about 25 minutes and swam three-quarters of a mile. Then I got out, wrapped up with a warm drink, and shivered most of the way home.

I’ve just got to find a way to make this happen regularly.

23Dec2017

That’s me: pink cap with my swim float trailing behind. 56° F water. Lake Hartwell. Dec 2017. Photo by T the husband.

4) Eating well. I have always been of the mind that I swim a lot so that I can eat what I want. I eat reasonably healthy food, but I don’t begrudge myself some junk food.

However, we’re talking now about preparing for a four day swimming challenge. I have to be able to get up and swim the second day, and the third day, and the fourth day. Usually the day after I swim a long distance is a day I do a lot of eating: in this challenge, I’ll have to stay fueled for four days.

For now, I’m making sure I am getting more protein and fewer added sugars. I’m making tofu milkshakes and eating more nuts and nut butters. I’m eating a lot of broccoli and hummus. I like broccoli and hummus. It’s not a sacrifice.

For later, I’m trying out different kinds of sports nutrition products designed for consumption during an event. I ordered a variety, and I’m waiting for them to come in the mail. I can try them during my one long swim a week.

And one more thing —

5) More butterfly. I’d slacked off swimming butterfly for a while. In fact, I stopped completely; I was in London for a month, and I was swimming in crowded pools that were not good places for butterfly: too easy to hit someone (see How to Share a Lane).

But butterfly does two things: it protects your shoulders, and it builds your character. And I’m going to need strong shoulders and strong character for this swim, even if I don’t do a stroke of butterfly in it. So I’m back to butterfly — in every workout from here on out.

These are my plans for SCAR Swim, April 25-28, 2017: increased distance, lots of yoga, cold water acclimation, better food, and more butterfly. I’m open to suggestions. Please leave your advice in the comments.


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How to Swim 500 Miles a Year

For the past three years (2104, 2015, and 2016), I have swum over 500 miles a year. It’s hard to articulate why. It’s not as if when I was a child I dreamed of being the kind of crazy person who swims 500 miles a year. But that’s the kind of crazy person I turned out to be. And if you think you might be that kind of crazy person too, here’s my advice on how to do it.

Let me note that I have two advantages. First, I work at a university with a pool. That means that most of the time I just have to get out of my office and walk across campus to swim (walking across campus is easy; getting out of the office is hard). Second, I have a lot of control over my schedule. I don’t have infinite flexibility, but I have more power to decide when I do things than some people do.

On the other hand, my life is not simple. I have a full-time job, two kids, a dog, and regular volunteer commitments. I have things going on. I’m sure you do too. So how do you get to 500 miles a year?

1) Put swimming on the schedule, and make it mandatory.

There are some things that I have do at certain times. For example, I have to teach my classes at their scheduled times. Teaching class at its scheduled time is mandatory. I do not schedule meetings, student conferences, medical appointments, haircuts, or anything else during the time I teach.

In the same way, during the school year I swim at the pool at lunchtime. Swimming at that time is mandatory. I do not schedule meetings, student conferences, medical appointments, haircuts, or anything else during the time I swim.

Last summer, I was coaching swim team on weekday mornings starting at 8 am. I got to the pool every morning at 6:15 to swim a couple miles before the children arrived. That was the only time I could swim, so that was when I did it. Every day.

Put swimming on the schedule, and make it mandatory.

2) Make alternative plans.

Sometimes (heaven help me) I have to go to a lunch meeting. Or I have a university event or a conference out of town or maybe even a vacation. That does not mean I don’t swim. I figure out another way.

In 2015, our pool shut down unexpectedly and without warning. The Powers That Be arranged for us to swim for free at a nearby pool, which was terrific. Unfortunately, that pool’s open swim hours were not the same as our open swim hours. I rescheduled everything I could. I made it to lap swim at that pool, every day, until our pool reopened.

When I went to Vancouver for a combination work trip/vacation, I swam at the Kitsilano Beach pool. When the family went to Disney in Orlando for my in-laws’ 50th anniversary, we swam at Lucky’s Lake Swim (it helps to marry into a family of swimmers). I’ve swum at public pools and health center pools and various Ys, not to mention some lakes and the occasional ocean, in the U.S., Canada, England, and Ireland.

I have written about travel swimming before; my quick advice is to pack a suit, a cap, goggles, flip-flops, a lock, and a towel. Bring your second-best towel, just in case.

The point is, you will inevitably run into problems. Don’t give up. Find another time to swim; find another place to swim. Make alternative plans.

3) Trust the swimming.

There are days when I don’t want to swim. There are days when I don’t have time to swim. You know what I do on those days? I go swimming anyway.

I have found that the days that I don’t want to swim and I don’t have time to swim are the days when swimming helps me the most. I think better when I swim. I work better when I swim. I am a better person when I swim.

Don’t debate with yourself about whether you should go swimming. Just go. Get up wherever you are, and head toward the water. Trust the swimming.


There are obstacles that can keep a person from swimming. I have experienced some of them. I had a period of time when I could not swim, in the sense that my doctor told me, “You cannot swim.” When my children were small, it was very difficult to find time to get to the pool. I know that costs and transportation problems are significant impediments for many people, and there are probably other issues I haven’t thought of.

But if you don’t have those barriers in your life, and you think it would be fun to swim 500 miles a year, don’t mistake solvable problems for major obstacles. A regular — if somewhat crazy — person can do it.


Here are some numbers: 500 miles is 880,000 yards. I usually swim 3600 yards a day, five days a week. If I’m heading toward a big swim, I swim more. But at a 3600 yard a day, five day a week pace, a person can swim 500 miles in 49 weeks, leaving three weeks for illness or unavoidable obligations.

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My monthly totals from 2016. Screenshot from my USMS flog (fitness log), December 2016.


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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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On Travel Swimming

I love my pool. It’s not perfect. It’s not even close to perfect. But it’s my pool, and, you should be true to your pool, just like you would to your girl or guy.

Nonetheless, sometimes a person needs to go somewhere, and that means travel swimming. I mean, you could take a break from swimming when you travel. But you don’t stop eating just because you leave town, right? They have food in other places. They also have water in other places, and some of it is swimmable.

(I’m not talking about the travel that you do for the purpose of swimming — vacation or holiday swimming. I swam the Great North Swim in Lake Windermere as vacation swimming, although I piggybacked it on a work trip. Closer to home, I recently swam Swim the Loop in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina and made a fall weekend at the beach of it. Those were both great swims, though very different experiences. If I fell into a huge pile of money, I would book myself a trip with SwimVacation or SwimTrek.)

When I travel, I pack a swimsuit, goggles, a cap, a lock, maybe an old pair of flip flops, and my second-best towel. If you’re lucky, there will be a fluffy towel for you where you are going, but you might not be lucky. And you might have to abandon that towel if you need room in your bag on the trip back. So don’t bring your favorite towel (I have a favorite towel. Don’t you?).

As The Hitchhiker's Guide says, "A towel has immense psychological value."

As The Hitchhiker’s Guide says, “A towel has immense psychological value.”

I have swum laps in tiny hotel pools. It’s not much fun, but it’s better than nothing. Some years back I swam laps in this swank little Art Deco pool at the Millennium Biltmore in Los Angeles.

It was hot and nearly impossible to flip turn, but I bravely preserved.

With some preparation, you can find more swimmable pools. The best resource I know is Swimmers Guide. I have used it to find pools in the UK, Ireland, and all over the US. It’s easy to navigate and has reliable information.

It’s never a bad idea to check with the locals as well. I was staying at a hotel in Kalamazoo, Michigan and was prepared to truck across town to a public pool; the people at the hotel let me know that I could swim at a health club associated with the local hospital system just across the street.

What you’re looking for is a pool that will let you pay for one swim or buy a short-term pass. Some places that’s easier than others. Don’t neglect to check websites about the possibility of getting a free day pass. I don’t mind paying to swim, but there are private centers that admit members only, and it’s not possible to pay for one day.

You never know what you’ll find at a new pool. Sometimes they come in interesting lengths: the Stratford Leisure Centre pool in England is 33 1/3 meters, while Deep Eddy Pool in Austin, Texas is 33 1/3 yards. The first is indoors and warm (in my experience); the second is outside and 68° F all year round. Sometimes pools come with interesting people — or features. I swam at the Buckhead YMCA in Atlanta over Thanksgiving; the locker room was full of old women speaking Russian. The health club in Kalamazoo? There were signs in that locker room saying “Forget something?” and noting that you could buy underwear at the desk. I still think about the brilliance of that scheme: everybody forgets their underwear sometime, and when I do, I wish I were in Kalamazoo.

But while each pool is different, swimming is reassuringly the same. Travel is disorienting. Maybe you’re in some weird place with some weird people (they might be your own relatives). Maybe you’re jet-lagged. But you jump in a pool. The water is wet. You know what you’re doing. It doesn’t matter where you are; you are yourself again.