10 mile swim

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


What We Talk About When We Talk About Water Temperature

Life is complicated here at the 10 Mile Swim blog. My home pool has been closed for a month. I’ve been swimming at Westside Aquatic Complex — a beautiful pool — but it’s not easy for me to get there during their open hours. As work gets busier, it’s harder for me to swim. I hate it.

However, there has been one pleasant surprise in the midst of it all: the water heater at WAC broke.

At any pool there is a conflict between those who think the pool is too hot and those who think it is too cold. This conflict is always present, even if it’s under the surface (ha ha) and even though the participants — the people using the pool — have no control over the water temperature anyway. But in any pool on any given day, someone may be planning a Very Angry Letter to the management about how no one could possibly be expected to exercise under such conditions.

(Of course, this is only true of pools that are temperature controlled. Barton Springs Pool in Austin is naturally 68 degrees F every day, all year around. I don’t know who you’d complain to if you don’t like it — the naiads of Barton Springs, I guess.)

The conflict over water temperature divides the users of the pool into two clear teams: the lap swimmers want it colder; the walkers, floaters, and water aerobics people want it warmer. If a person in the locker room complains that the water is too cold, I know that person is not a swimmer. For that reason, I never say anything about the water temperature to anyone I don’t know. It would be safer to bring up religion or politics.

Unfortunately, I live in a part of the world where pools are usually kept warm, too warm for lap swimmers. My home lap swim pool is usually 82-83 degrees F — with a therapy pool that is kept at 88-90 degrees right next to it. In contrast, the American Red Cross says lap swim temperature should be between 78-82. FINA sets the same range for pool competitions, including Olympic swimming.

I rarely get to swim in a pool under 82 degrees — unless the water heater is broken.

My first sign that something wonderful had happened was when a woman in the locker room said the pool was cold. Now, many people in the locker room complain about how cold the main pool is at Westside Aquatic (even though there is a warm therapy pool there as well), so I didn’t think much of it. But when I walked on deck, another swimmer came up to warn me. The water is really cold, he said. It took his breath away when he jumped in.

I became hopeful.

A white board had been placed near the pool. Someone had written in big letters, “POOL TEMPERATURE 76.”

I said to the lifeguard on duty, “People say the water is really cold.”

The lifeguard said, “They’re a bunch of babies.”

My opinion of the lifeguard — already high — rose higher.

When I dove in, the water was cold, wonderfully cold. But within 300 yards, it felt like the perfect temperature. If I lingered at the wall for too long, I started to get chilly. So I didn’t linger at the wall.

When swimmers talk about cold water, we are asserting our identity as “real” swimmers. Real swimmers swim hard enough to raise their body temperatures. Warm water is fine for children’s lessons and water aerobics classes and cocktail sipping. But if you’re in the pool to swim and swim hard, you want it cool.

The water at WAC was cold Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. It was terrific. I told the people at the desk — who were swamped with complaints — not to rush on fixing on the water heater. Then I traveled for Thanksgiving, and on Friday I swam in a YMCA pool in Atlanta that was easily 10 degrees warmer. And the water aerobics class there looked a little cranky. Maybe it was too hot even for them.

Any pool is a good pool when you’re in it. But a cool pool is a great pool.


How to Swim When Your Pool Is Closed

Swimming is not an optional activity for me. I swim two miles a day, five days a week. I don’t ask myself whether I’ll swim on a given day any more than I ask myself whether I’ll eat lunch. On rare occasions something comes up, and I can’t swim, and on those days I deal with it as the mature adult I am. But I don’t enjoy a day off. I work best on two miles a day.

This Monday, however, after I walked across campus to the pool, I encountered this sign.

This is a bad sign. My photo. Oct 2015.

This is a bad sign. My photo. Oct 2015.

There is something wrong with the roof over the pool. I assume it’s related to the incredible amount of rain we had in early October. In any case, the roof may cave in, and the pool has been drained, and no one knows when it’s going to open again.

But swimming is not an optional activity. Every day I heat up leftovers in the office microwave and eat them for lunch; if the microwave broke, would I stop eating lunch? Of course not. I’d figure out another way.

By the time I got to the pool at lunchtime Monday, the fitness center was already working on another way; they had called Westside Aquatic Complex to arrange for us to swim there. Westside is a county rec center; it’s 10-15 minutes drive away from campus. We swam there when our pool was closed for renovations in late 2013, and Westside swimmers come to us when their place is closed for meets. It’s a beautiful facility, and I’m happy to swim there when I can.

So I went back to my office, found the WAC open swim schedule on their website, and rearranged my whole life so that I could make there for lap swim for the duration. Their open hours are not the same as our open hours, but I cleared a space in the middle of the day, moving my responsibilities around, and I have just enough time to make it there for two miles of swimming if I don’t mess around.

And I’m not going to mess around. I can waste time with the best of them, but I was trained at a young age to get my homework done so that I could go to swim practice. This is the same deal, thirty-plus years later. It’s just a matter of remembering what’s important.

I swam at WAC Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday this week, and I plan to make it Friday as well. It’s not exactly easy. They don’t have a swimsuit water extractor (or any permanent lockers) there, so I have to keep a wet swimsuit in my car all day; I hang it up when I get home, but it doesn’t dry overnight. I’m carrying around a wet towel too, which isn’t great, and my shampoo is going to spill in my gym bag at some point, because it always does. Oh, and I’m wearing jeans to work for the duration. I don’t have time for grown-up clothes.

But you can’t just stop swimming because of some inconveniences, big or small. I’m fortunate to have another pool to swim in. And I’m less than five miles from my 500 mile goal for the year. I’m pretty sure I’ll swim that 500th mile at Westside.