Wednesday, July 11, 2018


I got my butt to the doctor after really avoiding a proper checkup for several years.

Blood pressure at the lower end of normal.

Resting heart rate, same.

Standard middle-aged stuff all dandy... except...

Fasting blood sugar a bit elevated. Not meeting the diagnostic criteria for diabetes, thank goodness, but I can't be having with that. Ketogenic diet and weight loss it is (dammit).

I feel like in a way I have a doctor's note to blow off other things in my life in favor of swimming, so I can't say this is all bad.  Nope, sorry.  Can't clean the house, gotta go swim!  It's for my health,  and the doctor said I had to, buh-bye!

For the most part, a ketogenic diet ain't no thang for me, other than making it a pain in the ass to socialize. However, I like my bourbon from time to time. And after one blood sugar test after a drink, that's a big ole nope.

So, another thing about me.  I have like... zero chill. I am so not a mellow person. Do I ever take a stiff drink to calm down? Yeah.

I started looking for another way to try to stop spazzing (no just swimming isn't enough, even if I am mellow as hell after a nice workout) and figured, what the heck, meditating with mala beads is worth a try.  Yes, this has something to do with swimming. Just wait a sec.

I'm one of the least woo-woo people you'll ever meet, but 20 minutes focusing on just your breath does give your mind a break from whatever you're stressing or spazzing about. I've had some instruction in mindfulness meditation and can sometimes get to the point where I'm just in a zone where I'm not thinking anything and can totally concentrate on my breath. 


I also have some training as a martial artist.  One of the concepts that is a biggie as you progress is Mushin.  It means "No Mind."  It's when you're in this state where you are simply acting.  Your total focus is in the present (mindfulness again) and you're not thinking about anything.  You're just doing. Any athlete, of course, tries to get to this point -- not as a spiritual exercise, but more that you've trained your mind to focus completely on your activity. 

As I've mentioned in my previous blogs, my biggest obstacle to reaching many of my swimming goals is my brain.  I'll think about a shark video I've seen, or ruminate on an interpersonal problem, or fantasize about the snarky comeback I wish I could bring myself to say to nitwits in the locker room who think that weight loss is the best topic of conversation for the fat lady getting out of her bathing suit... you know, anything negative.  It's a superpower, what can I say?  The snark has its good points, but it sometimes isn't so nice.

So, I'd made this goal for myself this year only to think "Good thoughts" in the water.

It's fine, as far as it goes.

But I experienced something better in my swim today.  Because I'd been meditating, apparently not only had I been working on training my mind to clear itself at certain intervals, I'd been training my mind to clear itself when engaging in controlled and rhythmic breath.  I had a really good, productive workout and felt great afterward.

If you'd told me that meditation would help me get over my negative thinking in the water, I would have... Well, I wouldn't have laughed in your face, but I'd've gone home and grumbled about crunchy-granola peabrains who need to get a grip.

However, it can, and it does.

Mushin for the win.

Monday, January 08, 2018

Hiatus and 2018 Swimming Goal

I notice I haven't posted anything about swimming in about a year and a half.

This is mostly because I haven't done any serious swimming for about that period of time.

First was the San Francisco Sharkfest Failure of 2016.  I went all the way across the country....

... and totally bailed on a swim.  I may analyze that here, later.   It does drive this year's goal, though.  I need only to think positive thoughts in the water.  Screw speed. Forget anything else, but showing up consistently, and only thinking good thoughts when in the water.

See, I'm prone to thinking black thoughts when there is nothing to distract me.  Bad enough, so why did I take a year to try to work on it?  I could have worked on it in 2017, couldn't I?

I lost my infant granddaughter (she just stopped breathing during a nap) in February.  I could not face that blue line with nothing but my own brain.  I couldn't force my thoughts away from... well, anyway, I'm not going into horrific details.  I even bought a treadmill because I had a hard time leaving the house and the only exercise I could force myself to do was walking (running is evil) on that damn thing while listening to audiobooks.

At least I didn't sit for a year, I guess. 10,000 steps is good for something, anyway.

So this year, my real goal is that if I'm in the water, I'm only allowed positive thoughts.  It might seem like a weird goal, but it does seem that the thing that holds me back worst as a swimmer is my own damn brain.

Today's workout was a good baseline for where I am as a swimmer now. Clumsy, certainly, as I've been out of practice.  Slow, absolutely, for the same reason.  It took me forever to warm up properly, but when I did...

...It was awesome and it felt great.  You know how when you're working out and the adrenaline kicks in and it's all WOAH POWER! That was nice.

Thinking about this video was a nice way to have a good tempo, too. (Yes, I know.  Emotionally I'm still about twelve)

Sunday, July 03, 2016

On a lighter note....

Yesterday I was talking about how scared I was to get in the water and do a swim.

There was a flip side to it that was really funny -- the reaction I got when I got out of the water.

There was some sort of family gathering at Prouty Beach, not sure what, but they'd rented the shelter for the day.  It was still windy and chilly.  Most of them wore slacks and jackets.

I was the first person back, what with me only swimming a couple of miles and all.  The family was passing the time watching boats on the lake, knuckleheads swimming in water and weather no truly sane person is going to get in... you know, what you do when you're enjoying a weekend summer outing in what passes for summer in Vermont within spitting distance of the Canadian border.

I spotted the people as I was rounding the last buoy and was gathering my strength for the last push to finish my swim.  I was unsurprised to see them and that they were watching.  Seeing anyone swim in that chill and gray weather must be a bit of a novelty.  They applauded when I got out.  It was very kind of them and honestly, it felt nice.

I'm used to the reaction from training swims I've done closer to home.  I start from a little community beach on Lake Mascoma.   The "I could never do thats" are familiar.  They're also not really true.  You can't now because you haven't trained.  You could train for it if you felt like that was the way you wanted to spend your time.

I'm never entirely sure how to react, even so, and tend to fall back into being a Virginian, thanking them for being so kind and flattering.  I feel awkward, but being kind about something kindly-meant is never a wrong reaction, right?

One woman who was quite bundled up seemed deeply concerned about the cold and the wind.  She had something of the air of the experienced camper about her, and I suspect she knew that hypothermia was no joke.  She offered to let me come up to the shelter behind a wind barrier, which was very sweet.    But honestly?

My skin was chilled and I didn't fully warm up until five in the afternoon when I finally got into a hot bath.  However, inside I was plenty warm.  When I took off my cap, my head felt hot.  While being a hothead isn't always desirable, it's my marker for whether or not I'm trying hard enough in a swim.  I was swimming in 67F water, and yes my head was hot.  I told the woman she could put her hand on my head to see if I was okay, and she did, exclaiming with surprise to realize this.

"See, I'm perfectly safe," I said.  I even felt a little surprised I was able to say it.

When I do things, I'm always looking at the masters of whatever art or activity I'm doing.  I certainly haven't been doing open water swimming long enough to master anything, and that's cool.  I have a lifetime to work on it.  But I do often forget what it looks like to someone who doesn't do it at all.  Remember, I was freaking out before this swim and had to be talked down to get in the water at all.  I wasn't feeling like I'd done anything at all impressive.  I felt like I'd just barely squeaked by.  That's not what that little two mile swim looked like to the people on the beach.

I'm sure there's some Dunning-Kruger Effect going on there.  And that's cool, too.

Saturday, July 02, 2016


I was standing on Prouty Beach this morning, the occasional tear running down my face.

Dark clouds were moving like lumbering elephants across the sky, and the wind was shoving the water into small waves.  Air temp was somewhere around 60.  I wasn't sure quite what the water temperature was, but I had dipped my hand in and it was warmer than the air.

I did not want to be there.

I was cold, and the idea of getting colder was freaking me out.  I wasn't sure how well my kayaker was going to deal with the wind, and if it got much stronger, it might be strong enough to push him over.  While I knew that the water wasn't cold enough to do me more than discomfort if I were swimming hard, my kayaker was not a serious swimmer, and didn't exactly have my built-in wetsuit. Yes, he had a life-jacket.  Everyone, even the serious marathon swimmers who were being nice and kayaking for someone else that day, was wearing life jackets.  It's a good habit.

Anyway, I was standing on the beach thinking of bailing on the swim when one of those marathon swimmers who was giving up water time to kayak came up to me and asked me how I was doing.

"Not so great," I said.  "I don't think this is my day to swim."

"What's scaring you?" she asked.  She didn't bother to ask if I were scared or not. She's a real swimmer.  She knew better.  "You know, we all go through this sometimes."

Here's the thing. I knew she was right, and I was kind of grateful for the "we." I don't really know her entire swim resume or anything, but I know quite well that as a swimmer, I'm totally not in her league.

"Is it the cold or the waves?" she asked.

I shrugged and started babbling. "No it's not the waves and I know the water's like 67, but it's freezing in the air and I... I don't know if today's my day."

I was also undertrained, which I didn't mention.  While I've been working hard all winter, about three weeks ago, I had a freakout trying to get into a cold lake to start doing some training and hadn't done any real swims since.

"How far are you supposed to swim?"

"Four miles," I said.

"Well, you have some choices.  You can get in and try to swim the four miles.  You can decide to get in and do less.  Two miles, maybe or even just to the first buoy and back.  You can just decide today isn't your day and stay out of the water."

She didn't try to blow sunshine up my butt, but she did bring me around to realizing that I did need to make a conscious choice no matter what I did.  I was still scared enough of the water that I was babbling and not making a lot of sense when I was talking.

"Oh, I can totally swim two miles," I said waving my hand.  And I can.  Two miles is not a challenge.  It's just a weekend training session.  "And I know I shouldn't let the cold keep me out.  I'm doing Alcatraz in August and --"

"Then you do need to get in the water," she said.  "Go ahead and try for two miles.  When you get to the second buoy, you might feel so good, you do the whole four, or you might decide today's the day to swim two.  Just try to think of something positive to focus on.  Sometimes it can be something like, 'My ears feel really good.'  Just anything.  Smile underwater.  If you keep your head down, you won't have to worry so much about the cold air temperature."

So, I did get in.

This was a rougher swim than usual.  The weather really was challenging.  Swimming in waves isn't too bad a problem for me.  I spent my childhood on the Potomac, in the Chesapeake Bay and at Virginia Beach.  Waves might be a pain in butt to plow through, but I have bilateral breathing down pat and can breathe on any side I need to.  Swimming into the wind ain't the world's most fun and having one's kayak support constantly blown off course isn't ideal.

And yet...

Part of me was enjoying it.   I was worried and emotionally fragile, but I was out there, dammit, and that was good.  

But I confess that happy thoughts weren't going through my mind, but this:

I know it's dorky for a simple two mile swim to require a lot of bravery. I felt that way, knowing everyone else was swimming six or ten miles. Still... Getting in that water was very hard this morning. And thanks, Charlotte, for taking the time to help me out. I am deeply grateful.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

That's going to play hell with their data

My work was giving out Microsoft Bands for a fitness tracking thing.   I love gadgets, so yeah, I'll take one.  It's really kind of a cross between a fitness tracker and a smart watch.

Yes, it's utterly useless in terms of swimming or even manually entering swimming activity. However, I did get a little use out my fitness tracker.

Confirmed, yes, I sleep light. Also got my resting heart rate.


 Which at my age and weight isn't supposed to happen. That's for athletes.

 Oh wait...


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Step on THIS!

Like many an American company, my employer is interested in population health.  In fact, more so than most.  I work for a hospital. 

They’re pushing another “be more active” initiative that involves, yet again, step counts.  This gets me a slight eyeroll.  Show me a health professional attending to patients that isn’t getting in that 10,000 steps a day gold standard.  I mean, really!

However, they don’t only employ health professionals.  Take me.  I’m a total desk jockey unless I’m teaching a class.  (You can’t teach an effective class being sedentary. Good teaching is fairly active performance art)

To log your activity, they want you to use some sort of activity tracker (Fibit, Garmin… a few others).  You can’t manually add activity.  I guess it must be for some study or something, so they’re only accepting synced activity from a tracker.

I was all like, okay, I track my swims with a Garmin.  We’re all good, right?

Nope.  They only track steps. 

I was offended at first, but I think I’ve finally figured this one out. It’s not that steps are really is a good activity standard.  But it is easy enumerate and to track.  Give out a step counter, let it sync with your database and boom! You’ve got all kinds of data for your study to push certain types of activity.

Aaaannnd, here’s the swimmer.

Electronic tracking activity for a swimmer is hard.  It takes pretty sophisticated programming to figure out what in the hell a swimmer is doing, and tracking heart rate in the water uses devices that are mostly an expensive pain in the ass.

Still, I’m going to come out as “BAD EMPLOYEE DRAIN ON COMPANY RESOURCES SEDENTARY” after having signed up for this, even though I’ve already swum for about an hour before I go in to work.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Dramatic Improvement

I've been whining about my slow swimming speed on the blog enough to be a bore, I know.

So today, I do not whine but talk about a technique that has helped me.  Well, two techniques.

The first is a technique I learned about reading some Total Immersion discussions.  Yes, I know there's a controversy about whether or not these techniques are really all that effective or not, and goodness knows you can't plot a data curve from one point.

It's called Patient Lead Hand.  The idea  is that you don't start the pull until your reccovery hand enters the water.  Essentially, you've always got a hand leading and spearing the water.

The second technique was really more of a mental image than anything.  I saw that on the SwimSmooth site.  You visualize pushing the water with your stroke to the back wall.   If you keep that in mind, it helps with the early vertical forearm and several other aspects of stroke mechanics.

The last week or so, I've been cruising along at 2:42/100 yards for my freestyle sets.  While an improvement over last year, it's still really slow.

This morning I decided I was going to try this patient lead hand thing and the push the water to the back wall visualization for a week and see if there was any improvement.  I was expecting to take a speed hit.

Nope.   Today, my cruising speed was more like 2:32/100 yards.  Ten seconds per hundred is pretty big.  While 2:32/100 is still damned slow, it's an amazing breakthrough for me!