10 mile swim

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


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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.