10 mile swim

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


4 Comments

Race Report: Arizona SCAR Swim Challenge 2018

Successful open water swimming is dependent on three things: good preparation, good conditions, and good friends. And this year, at SCAR 2018, I had all three.

SCAR is a big event — four days, four lakes, 40 (or so) miles of swimming. My goal was to complete all four swims, and I did. To my surprise, I also won my age group. I trained well, we had great weather, and I had a team of people supporting me.

meatapache-e1525384948132.jpg

Selfie at Apache Lake, morning after the swim. My photo. April 2018.

Day 1: Saguaro Lake

The first three days of SCAR are dam to dam swims. The swimmers are divided into three waves (slower, medium, and faster), and boats take swimmers to the dam at one end of the lake wave by wave. All the swimmers in a given wave put one hand on the buoy line and one in the air, and we set off together. At the same time, the kayakers are paddling up from a beach nearby to join their swimmers. Each of the first three courses finishes at the buoy line at the dam on other end of the lake.

For me, the temperature at Saguaro Lake was perfect: 70 F (21 C). Another swimmer, a person who usually trains in the Pacific Ocean, told me she found it a bit warm. It’s all what you’re used to. But the sky was blue, and the wind was calm, and the nine and a half miles flew by.

The Saguaro course is made up of a canyon section, followed a more open section, followed by a second canyon section, and lastly two open miles to the finish. Knowing that structure in advance, I always knew where I was on the course. My favorite part was a tremendous gray rock wall on one side of the lake right before coming into the last open section. I gaped up in wonder as we swam along it. It was like swimming next to a skyscraper.

Saguaro Lake is billed as SCAR’s warmup. It was a good solid swim all the way.

saguarolake-e1525385018970.jpg

Saguaro Lake, Tonto National Forest, Arizona. My photo. April 2018.

Day 2: Canyon Lake

Judging by the number of people who did not finish, Canyon Lake was the most difficult swim this year: 10 of 48 did not complete the course. The culprit was the cold. After the race, I overheard people saying that the water temperature was 57-58 F (14 C) at the start. Canyon is always the coldest lake, and it warms up as you go, but this year was colder than usual, and it took a good while to warm up.

All four SCAR swims are non-wetsuit swims, which is fine with me. I have no moral objection to wetsuits, but I don’t enjoy wearing them. But 57-58 F would be cold for me even with a wetsuit, though I know that for some ocean swimmers that’s just another day in the water.

I was not particular cheerful during the first three or so miles of the swim. My jaw clenched in the cold, and it ached. I was unhappy. But I was not afraid. This spring I started training in open water when the water temperature reached 50 F in the nearby lakes. The week before I left for SCAR I went out four days in a row, with three different friends who gave up their afternoons to come with me. So I had been in jaw-clenching cold, and I knew I could swim through it.

If I hadn’t had that cold water acclimation period — and all that help from friends — I don’t think I would have finished Canyon Lake.

During those first three miles, there was a lot of boat traffic on the lake, but I was too focused on my own misery to wonder what was going on. Later J, my kayaker (and my nephew), told me that those boats were pulling people out, but he’s a good man and a smart one, and he didn’t tell me that at the time.

Eventually the water temperature warmed up enough that my jaw unclenched, and I started to appreciate the stunning beauty of Canyon Lake. We were at the bottom of a twisting canyon for nine miles. As we moved along, I had the illusion that we were climbing up into the surrounding mountains. And when I looked down, the water was so clear that in shallower parts I could see my shadow moving on the bottom of the lake. I have long said that Lake Jocassee, my lake, is the most beautiful lake in the world, but Canyon Lake may be the other most beautiful lake in the world.

canyonlake

Canyon Lake, Tonto National Forest, Arizona. My photo, taken from the end of the course, looking back. April 2018

I wasn’t happy for the first third of Canyon Lake, but I’m happy that I swam it all the way.

Day 3: Apache Lake

This year’s SCAR was haunted by the specter of last year’s Apache Lake swim. I wasn’t there in 2017, but it was described to me enough times that I feel like I can see it: rough wind, cold waves, rescue boats going back and forth for hours picking up swimmers and paddlers from the 17 mile lake. Ten percent of swimmers who started Apache Lake in 2017 finished it — four people. One of those four finishers told me she went without food for two hours during the swim because if her kayaker stopped paddling even for a moment, he was blown backwards. And her kayaker told me that when they got to the end he was frozen in his seat, unable to talk or move.

But this year, the conditions were perfect. My only difficulty on Apache Lake was a problem of my own making: I forgot to put in my contact lenses.

If you are wondering how a person can forget to put in her contacts, read this paragraph; if you don’t care, you can skip it. It’s about my eyes, not my swimming. I have two problems with my eyesight. First, I am extremely nearsighted. I can’t see the big E on the top of the eye chart (in fact, I can’t see the eye chart). Second, I have complicated and atypical double vision. So, the first thing I do every day when I wake up is put on my eyeglasses for nearsightedness. If I’m not doing anything complicated, I can continue my day wearing those glasses. But if I am — especially if I have to drive a car — I put in my contact lenses, which correct for my nearsightedness, and then put on my second pair of eyeglasses, which correct for my double vision. I can function without double vision correction for a limited range of activities, like eating breakfast or folding laundry. On weekends sometimes I forget to put in my contacts because I can see well enough in familiar surroundings: when I have a pair of glasses on my face, I don’t necessarily think about which pair they are.

We were staying at a hotel at Apache Lake, having driven there the night before, and all I needed to do that morning was get ready, grab my stuff, and walk outside to the vans that would take us to the start. I didn’t have to drive. It wasn’t until we were eight miles down a dirt road and unloading the kayaks that I realized I hadn’t put in my contact lenses. There was no going back for them.

I froze. What would I do? But I didn’t take more than a second to decide. Of course I would swim. I’d come to Arizona to swim. My kayaker would be my eyes.

I told J that I wouldn’t be able to see where we were going; I’d have to sight off him all the way. He shrugged. He was setting the course; I was setting the pace.

For seventeen miles, the world was a blur of color: blue above, brown to either side, green beneath. But I could see J’s red kayak beside me. That was enough.

Several hours in, J said, “I can see the end.” I said, “Don’t be ridiculous. There is no end. I will be swimming this lake forever.” But he was right; there was an end, and I finished the longest swim, Apache Lake.

endofapachelake

The buoy line at the end of Apache Lake, Tonto National Forest, Arizona. My photo, taken after I’d gotten out of the water and put my glasses on. April 2018.

Day 4: Roosevelt Lake

The night after swimming Apache, I slept twelve hours. I went to bed at 8 PM, slept till 5 AM, ate Breakfast 1, went back to sleep till 8 AM, and ate Breakfast 2. Then after packing up, I met J and ate Breakfast 3 with him, and we headed for the last swim, Roosevelt Lake.

Roosevelt Lake is big, and it only has one dam. The swim course starts from a boat dock, goes past a little island and around a peninsula, and then heads straight across open water to that dam. Of the four swims it was most like my experiences swimming back home in Lake Jocassee — with one important difference. It was my first night swim.

We began before sunset and swam about two-thirds of the 10K distance before the sun went down. Late afternoon wind made the conditions choppy. When the sun set, though, the water went still. The moon was almost full and the sky was clear. We swam under moonlight all the way in.

rooseveltlake-e1525385746759.jpg

Roosevelt Lake. Photo from SCAR. April 2018.


At SCAR I met people who have done absolutely amazing things. They swim with seals and sharks and jellyfish. They swim the English Channel and the Catalina Channel and channels I’d never heard of. I spent the four days in a state of awe at the stories I was hearing.

And all these incredible swimmers were free with advice and encouragement. People  went out of their way again and again to talk to me and to pat me on the back. Before I knew it, I was talking to people and patting them on the back. The camaraderie was infectious. Kent Nichols, the race director, and his team deserve a lot of credit for creating such a positive environment.

Open water swimming looks like an individual sport, but every swim is a team effort. I could not have completed SCAR without my team, the friends and family at home who helped me train and especially my family in Arizona who picked me up and drove me around, early mornings and late nights, who housed me and fed me and lent me equipment. J spent four days taking care of me, in and out of the water. He was my eyes. Thank you all.

The SCAR website claims, “After completing SCAR you’re ready for any open water challenge.” I think I am.

 

Advertisements


Leave a comment

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.

LAC

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.

bathingpond

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.

 


Leave a comment

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.

clockwisesigns

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.


4 Comments

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.


2 Comments

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.

screen-shot-2016-12-30-at-4-00-12-pm

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


2 Comments

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.


1 Comment

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.