Monday, December 21, 2015

Swimming Resolutions

The older I get, the happier I am with things that are simple.

This year's swimming goals are about as simple as you can get them.  Show up for practice.

Am I bored and tired and not feeling it at five in the morning?

Show up for practice.

Am I wishing I could go to bed later instead of the same time as your average third-grader?

Show up for practice.

Am I thinking I could probably still do okay in my upcoming events even if I blow off this one?

Show up for practice.

There are no real problems I have or issues I will encounter that will not be improved by this one, simple resolution.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Nightmares and Morning Miles

If you're an open water swimmer, have you ever had a swimming nightmare?

I had my first Sunday night.  It was about sharks. I was swimming in deep blue water.  It was so blue it was almost as if I were swimming through deep blue ink.  The water was cold, and my skin looked even paler than usual when I looked through it.  It was also nighttime,   My mom was my spotter for the swim.

So I'm swimming along and I see this enormous shape gliding under me.  It's more like the size of an orca, but it's white and is sleeker, not moving with the bouncing glide more common to the orcinus orca, but with the straight lines you associate with Carcharodon carcharias, the Great White Shark.*

Then I look around.

The water is teeming  with these bad boys, gleaming blue-white in the inky water and moonlight, and sliding by with silent menace.

"I can't finish this swim," I say to Mom.

"Of course you can't," she said, utterly calm.  (Which I am pretty sure she wouldn't be if she saw me swimming with a school of Great Whites).

So, I get out onto a floating dock to wait for a boat to pick up us.  But the sharks keep gliding by, bumping the dock.

It took me a minute when I woke up to realize that the swim I was going to do tomorrow was in the pool and not in that shark-infested midnight-blue bay.

I was most distinctly swimming in a bay, interestingly enough.  I'm sure my mind pulled that from my thoughts on the Alcatraz swim I'm going to do next August in San Francisco bay.  Of course the increased shark activity has been a concern for me, even if I do know that it's unlikely to be a concern for that swim.

It freaked me out enough I had to talk myself into swimming in a pool the next morning, reminding myself that no matter how freaked out I was, there was no down side to training in a warm pool that morning.  I'm already swimming with the most dangerous animal on the planet every damn morning, so stop being a whiner!

I've been upping my swimming distance.  I'm up to a swimmer's mile every morning, which is a nice sweet spot.  I'm a slow swimmer, so unless I'm pushing, this takes about forty-five minutes.  It's a nice, emotionally satisfying distance, too,

This is still quite a short distance, but that's about as far as I can go in the time I have available most mornings.  I could swim a whole hour some mornings and starting in the New Year, totally gonna have to.  But that's the limit of the time I have before I have to go to work or get on with my day.

Weekends, I can dedicate to longer swims, which is my general habit, anyway.

The goal is to get in about 10,000 yards a week for the next three months or so, then bump it up to 15,000 yards a week in the spring.  

Junk yardage?

Maybe...  But I think at my weight and fitness level, there ain't no such thing!

* Yes, in the wild, both are dangerous, I know!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

More Gummi Bears

I need to start stretching again.

Like many things physical over the past few years, I'd let that one slide.   After an especially rough session lifting yesterday coming dangerously close to breaking Rule One* in terms of how much I increased the weight, I am noticing a reduction in fluid range of motion.  Yes, I'm sore, but this is more than just delayed-oneset muscle soreness (DOMS).  This is a tightness in my joints that means something else.

It wasn't too bad in the pool, but when I tried to hook my bra on after my shower, reaching behind myself was difficult.  I also had a problem with my calf cramping a little during my workout.  This is unusual for me for anything but a very long (for me) swim.  I also find that the more I swim, the more heel pain I experience on the mornings after.  Yes, you'd think that swimming doesn't exacerbate plantar fascitis. I can only guess tight calves and pushing off a wall and going into a full toe-pointed extension isn't helping.  Ballet again.  When I point my toe, I do it hard.  The pointed toe, floppy feet thing is actually kind of hard for me to do.  Amazing what happens when you train to a movement young and do it for several years.

That's a clear indicator stretching is called for. Besides, I know perfectly well that stretching helps reduce repetitive motion injuries on complex joints.  You know, like... shoulders?

I don't stretch nearly as much as I used to.  I come from a ballet and martial arts background -- both activities where you stretch a LOT.  The only activity I can think of offhand where you do more is yoga.

I'm actually used to being reasonably if not astoundingly flexible.  I'm totally not right now.   That's not something difficult to deal with, though.  Put on a little Marvin Gaye in the evenings and stretch out... this is the opposite of a bad time. I used to have a dance instructor who was inordinately fond of Marvin Gaye for the warmups.   It's a nice way to chill out of an evening, and I'll be able to put my forehead on my shin in no time.

I know this is a swim blog, so talking about the other physical things I do might seem a little off-topic.  But swimming is well known as a whole-body activity, and integration of strength, endurance and flexibility are all important to swimming well.

The swimming itself is going well.  I've limited my breast stroke sets to less than a fifth of the workout.  Since it used to be more like a third, I'm totally okay with this.  I'll probably wind up dropping breast stroke sets alltogether at some point, though I freely admit that I'm not too thrilled at the idea of my entire swimming working being the crawl.  It's not really my favorite stroke.

I also really need to be more strict with myself about flip turns.  I really don't like them much, but I know that for distance, it's better to do them than an open turn.  So, yeah... I need to suck that up, too.  It seems that a lot of this process is sucking up the parts I don't like. :)

I'm pushing to increase distance pretty hard, but trying not to be crazy about it.  An injury that keeps me out of the water is really worse than not training at all, so I'm keeping an eye on Rule One and also keeping an eye on that gummi bear jar.

Ah yes, the jar.  It's filling up nicely, isn't it?   It's an interesting motivator to show up regularly.   And it takes away from the all or nothing approach to which I am often prone.  For me, I want things to be perfect or I don't want to do them.  For this workout tracking method, even if I don't get in my yardage or my time is off or whatever, it doesn't really matter all that much.  The most brilliant training session where I'm on, slicing through the water like an orca, getting personal bests on speed and feeling like Neptune Himself still count the same as the ones where I feel tired, slow, and clumsy, inhale water and have to stop halfway through to cough that out of my lungs, have my goggles and cap fall off and keep getting distracted by the guys I'm sharing a lane with who REALLY needs to cut his toenails.

Both of 'em are still one gummi bear in that jar.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Conquering the Mighty Mascoma Lake

This morning as I was doing my swim, I got to thinking...

I always get to thinking when I am doing a swim. Ever notice how many swimmers are also writers? 


Anyway, I was thinking about what I would need to do, and what kind of training I'd need to put in.

Right now, I'm doing a full body freeweights workout twice a week and am swimming four times a week. I'm sleeping really well, boy howdy, let me tell you what!

Saturdays are my longer swims, as that's when I have the time to do them. I'd like to work up to swimming three or four miles at least one Saturday a month to get myself used to the volume for the six miler.

As I was swimming this morning, I was thinking about the advice a website was giving about attempting a six mile swim, what one's training volume should look like when and what sort of open water experience one should get in before the swim.

One of the suggestions was doing a four or five mile swim early in the season before the Big Swim. As I was thinking about it, I realized that Lake Mascoma is four miles long. As I was thinking more about it, I got to wondering if anyone has ever actually swum its length. I mean, probably someone has. Four miles isn't exactly an epic swim by the standards of people from whom I take advice about stuff like this. So I am sure someone has tried it.

But it isn't Official. Nor is there anything I can find online with people talking about it. So, that's going to be one of my swims for next summer.

I love this lake. It's where I first spread my open water wings, so to speak. It's where I conquered my fear of cold water. Shoot, it's just plain a beautiful place to swim. It's a small lake (about four miles by about a half a mile) and doesn't frighten the new open water swimmer with unrelenting vastness, but kind of cradles you between green hills.

I still need to work out the logistics of swimming the length, as I'll want a kayaker with me, and we'll want to figure out how to handle the car and other things. I have no idea if there is a place at both ends of the lake where one can put in, so it's possible we'll need a larger boat than a kayak to get to the right place.

In the interests of not having any controversy around my not-at-all-epic swim, though, I'll post a GPS report of it. :) Unless there's some sort of Mascoma Lake Swim Association that has an independent observer to verify it or something. (There totally isn't. It makes me want to start one in fun)
*grin* That almost makes me want to turn this into some sort of swim challenge with some locals. There are open water swimmers in my area, and the pool where I train has someone on the Master's team who won the SF Sharkfest one year.

But then it would turn into a race. They're a competitive bunch, which is more or less what keeps me off the Master's team. I swim to complete, and the only person I'm competing against is me yesterday. (Winning so far!)

So, maybe not, as a race would suck the fun out of it.

But barring bad weather, or bad water (Mascoma has been known to have problems with e. coli and algae blooms), probably the second weekend in June is going to be my target day. It'll be a good way to make sure I've been training enough.

I'm feeling a little sad about the close of open water swimming right now. Last summer was such fun and I really had a blast doing these swims. I'll get in the pool to train and the water is too warm, and I feel too confined and it's just not the same.

But that being said, I also love the pool. It's where I can concentrate on getting stronger and faster, it's still swimming (Swimming>NotSwimming. Very important equation), and I can let my mind free to think about things, and no, it's not always thinking about my next swim!

Still, I think it would be cool for swimming the length of Lake Mascoma to be a local Thing. It'd be fun, it's a nice, attainable challenge, and it's a beautiful lake to swim in.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Lunchtime Swim

I don't often do a lunchtime swim these days.  I usually do my swim in the mornings first thing.  Yes, I try to have my butt in the pool by 5:35am.  Increasingly difficult as the dark of the Northern Hemisphere winter approaches.

I didn't have to go in to an office today. Ordinarily on such a day, my husband and I will still hit the gym before we do our thing.   Today, however, he had to go in extra early. This wouldn't have left us enough time to for our workouts, showers and getting to work.  We only own one car and damn'f I'm going to walk to the gym at 0 Dark Thirty.

I could have driven him to work, but I wanted to sleep in (since I could and all).  Lazy, that's me.

So, I decided to do my morning's work, and take a break to do a swim at lunch time.  It's been years since I did that, and it brought back memories of my Adult Onset Swimming.

At the time, I worked for a college and my building was about a block from the gym.  Employees could get a ridiculously discounted membership at the pool, I needed exercise, my joints were hurting, I was prehabbing ACL surgery (middle-aged women who wear plus sizes should not do jumping side kicks in Tang Soo Do, just saying!) and I was feeling insanely homesick in the mountains and yearning for water.

That pool was a match made in Heaven.

I had an hour for lunch.  I had to rush to the gym, rush into my bathing suit, do about a 25 minute swim, rush to shower, dry my (waist-length) hair, get dressed and rush back to my office.

Even though the workout was really SHORT, I enjoyed it and did get much better at swimming.

My boss used to urge me to swim, as apparently I was mellow as a little lamb after I'd gotten out of the water.  I always found that funny.

I went on swimming and lifting dumbbells for a few months before my surgery.  There was a hiatus while I couldn't get in the water while the incisions healed, and a little longer so that my physical therapist could clear me for swimming. (I was forbidden breast stroke for a bit)

After my ACL surgery, I was so excited to be allowed in the water again.  Didn't even mind having to use crutches to get to the pool, but if want to feel vulnerable, have knee surgery, use crutches on a wet pool deck, take off the brace and try to get in and out of a pool with no ramp!

I didn't have to rush my swim today, and wasn't feeling in any way vulnerable.  (Goodness, the surgery was nearly nine years ago!)  It was just nice to talk a walk at lunchtime, do a swim and enjoy the spectacularly beautiful sunny New Hampshire fall weather.

I will always, however, have a soft spot for that college pool.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Training Jar

I do so love my Saturday morning swims.  I can take longer, I don't have to share a lane as often and I can zone out and let my mind float where it wants to in a way that I can't seem to get into as much when I am rushing to get the workout in before work and still leave myself enough time to dry my hair and put my face on before going out to meet the world.

Yes, a sensible person might say I could cut my hair.

I will point out that the very fact I have the sport I do means I am not entirely a sensible person.  And no.  Not the hair.  Just not.

Part of my pondering this morning was trying to decide what my swims next year are going to be.   What's reasonable?  What's possible?

To be honest, I've thrown out reasonable for at least one of my swims.  It's going to be a serious stretch to train for it in a way that my training last winter to swim two miles was not.

I'm okay with that, as I have a year of training under my belt.  Last year, I had gone pretty much from a couple years of being a couch potato to a two mile open water swim.  The leap is steeper in some ways for next years swims, but the base is considerably stronger.

Next year I'm going to do:

  • Kingdom Swim - 6 mile course.  Unfortunately, six miles is just under 10K, so it won't quite be my first marathon.
  • Alcatraz Sharkfest - 1.5 mile course.  Prepping for the Kingdom Swim will do for that just fine.
  • Boston Sharkfest - 1500 meter course.  Good end to the summer open water season

This is going to mean more rigorous training, as well as more dryland.  For now, I'm not swimming on days I am lifting, but starting in January, that's really going to have to change.  The recommendation is that I'm up to swimming 10,000 yards a week by March and 15,000 by May, and really should be doing a bit more than that.

It's doable, certainly.  Though it is possible the smell of chlorine is going to sink permanently into my skin by then.  I'm hoping the early summer training in lakes will help wash that out.

As part of training for the six mile swim, I may swim the length of Lake Mascoma, just for funsies.  It will be a good opportunity to work out feeds and things, and it's about four miles.  That'd be a good distance to practice a longer swim, check on times, coordinating sighting with my kayaker (me darlin' hoosband), and get in some chilly water training.  Besides, it's a really pretty swim!

I'm less stressed about how I will handle chilly water than I was last year.  That was actually really scaring me until I actually got in the water and realized that once you're over the shock, it's not so bad.  I'm no Lynne Cox and I am hardly a lover of cold water, but summertime New England chilly isn't a horrible stretch.  I'm considering not using my electric blanket this winter, though I wonder if it's even necessary.  I did okay in Lake Memphremagog last year.

On the other hand, there's a tiny part of  my brain yelling, "Fine, do your swim, but don't get cocky!"

This is a wise part of my brain, as I do have a tendency to overconfidence!

I have also decided just as a cute tracking device, I'm putting a gummy bear in a jar each time I do a swimming workout.  There's an expression to keep people too tied up with how good a single workout happened to be versus whether or not a workout happened at all.

Each workout in preparation for an event is another jelly bean for the jar.  If your jar is full, you're prepared.

Being of a somewhat literal turn of mind, and also pondering what I wanted for feeds during the marathon swim, I thought it would be cute to get a jar and put gummy bears in it with the idea that if the jar is full, chances are good I swam enough to be prepared for the event.  I have no real idea if I'm really going to want solid feeds or not, and I figure that even if I don't, a metaphor with a strong visual is always a good way to keep me motivated.

I've got a long way to go.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I Love LSD

No, I'm not doing drugs.  Well, not beyond alcohol and caffeine, but that's socially acceptable and legal in my state.

LSD, when discussing athletic events, stands for Long Slow Distance.  Generally, it is considered a running term, but it can apply to swimming as well.

I love me some LSD.  I can just get in the pool and go, zone out on whatever my tiny little mind wants to chew on that day -- be it the nature of the universe or how to fund my next Big Swim.*

However, LSD is not how you get faster, nor is it how you get faster to swim long distances, dammit.

So, I've being much better about throwing in more intervals in my training.  I even do the thing where I go as hard as I can, so I have to rest a few seconds between intervals.  (I know that's really how you're supposed to train, but I totally feel like I'm cheating when I do it.  Don't laugh at me.  I know I'm insane.  I can't help it.)

I've spent the last eight months or so griping out how slow I am.  Okay fine.  I'm totally a turtle.

 But I took a look at this from last year where I was really pushing it and doing my best.  I know this from comments on Facebook discussing how fast I was going and how happy I was and how I was pushing to occasionally keep up with the fastest swimmer in the gym in the lane next to me:

Then I compare it to this morning's workout.  Close to the same distance, but I wasn't really pushing all that hard.  In fact, it was a slacker workout because of a go-live at work that is a bit distracting.

So clearly improvement, significant improvement, is happening.  Astronomical?  Nope. But it's happening.

I need to remember that when I complain about how slow I am.  I'm still getting better.

And I still prefer LSD to intervals..

*You simply would not believe how much it costs to get across the United States in the summertime, you really wouldn't!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Okay, I'm about to get All the Hate, but I gotta say it.

Swimming doesn't make you very strong.

*covers head and waits for storm*

I'd promised myself that I would start doing some dryland work this fall/winter training season for a lot of reasons.

  • I'm middle-aged and need to think in terms of bone density.  Swimming does bugger all for that.  You want weight bearing exercises and I can't think of anything much more weight bearing than a barbell squat. (I'm nuts.  It's my favorite lift)
  • I had been advised to get some weight training in by a swim coach.
  • Honestly?  For all my cracks about the awfulness of dryland training, I rather like pumping iron.
I did my workout upstairs in the weight room this morning and holy crap, I am much, much weaker than I thought I would be.  I mean, benchpress only the bar, and squatting less than a hundred pounds?  For me, that's weak.

I do meet one of my real-life strength benchmarks* -- can I easily change a five gallon water bottle in the office?  Yes.  It only weighs forty pounds.  (If one of my male co-workers offers, I thank 'em and say yes with a bright smile, but I grew up in the South.  You tend to do that).

Did swimming take me from where that was hard to where that was easy?  Yeppers.

But that's as far as it could take me in a year.  When I was lifting a lot, I was much, much stronger.

I know there's some debate on how much good strength training does for swim speed.  And goodness knows I cannot afford to lose speed!

I'm training anyway for a few months just to see where it goes.  I figure there's no real downside to getting a bit stronger, and if it screws up my swimming, well, I pay the same price at the gym to be in the pool as well as the weight room and can go back to pool only training.

I have a feeling that in my case, though, I'm going to see some speed improvements.

* I wrote it several years ago. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Turtle in Boston Harbor

I was actually kinda scared here

I'm having a hard time with writing this one, as I am not really sure what I want to say about it.

I swam Boston Sharkfest today.  It's a reasonably easy swim as far as open water swims go -- 1500 meters across the Boston Harbor.

Thing is, I wasn't prepared.

I had not been swimming enough and possibly might have been advised not to attempt it if I'd admitted it to the race organizers or had any coaching at all. (Though if I'd had coaching, I doubt I would have been unprepared).

I wasn't last. I was second to last.  Sure, sure, dead last is better than did not finish, and even did not finish is better than never tried!

I was lucky.

The day was perfect, there wasn't much wind, the water was like glass, and was quite warm for mid-September in Boston (68F).

And even being unprepared, I loved it.   I was scared going in, worried that I had lost any cold water conditioning.  I know that sounds goofy for 68F, but a couple of people around me were in wetsuits and congratulating my bravery for swimming skins.  The minimal training I'd done had been in a pool at least ten degrees warmer, and even any minimal open water swimming I'd done had been a month before off the Virginia coast.  Warm. (Didn't do any when I went to Bermuda.  That wasn't lazy, but merely lacking in time because of the ship's schedule.  I need to go back and correct that!)

So, I was pretty nervous before this swim.

But once I got in and realized the water was merely cool rather than cold, all I had to do was swim.
There's a relaxation that comes from finally getting in the water.  All you have to do is swim and do your best.

I also think that the reality is that I'm going to be nervous before most swims I do, and that's okay.  I mean, I'm am experienced teacher and I get stage fright before a class, for pity's sake.  I figure as long as being scared doesn't paralyze me (and it generally doesn't), I can just check that off as a standard emotion I get before an event and just go with it.

I had to do a lot of the event breaststroke.  Yeah, yeah, it was good enough for Captain Webb and all.  I say that all the time.  And goodness knows it got me across the harbor just fine.

That doesn't change the fact I've got to buckle down this winter -- throw in some weight training and even <shudder> some dryland CV work.

Still I did finish!  And what also important?

I had fun.

It wasn't on purpose, but this pose is highly reminiscent
 of the image on the Isshin-Ryu patch - Mizugami

Monday, August 24, 2015

World Marathon Swimming Day

Nothing great is easy. -- inscription on the memorial to Captain Matthew Webb, the first person to swim the English Channel
 A group I participate in, the Marathon Swimmers Forum, has declared today World Marathon Swimming Day.  In 1875, Captain Matthew Webb swam the English Channel.

I could say I did an open water swim today to commemorate that, but honestly, I'd already planned to do it.  That isn't to say that I didn't think about it today.

This particular swim is rough on me in a way other swims aren't.  I'm always last in this crew.  Always.

I hate being last every single damn time.  Sure sure, you can say the whole "dead last is better than did not finish" or other platitudes, and it's not that they're wrong.  There is some level of nobility in never, ever quitting.

But sometimes that's also a cold comfort.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Spotters, Sharks and Swimming in the Ocean

My family did their weekly Beach Week last week.  As always, we had a great time.

For some years I'd been meaning to try to swim from Rudee Inlet to the Pier (or vice versa depending on the current.  Yes, I'm a wuss)

It turned out, you kinda can't do that and obey the Safety Rules of the Beach.  They've extended the surfing area to 5th Street near Rudee Inlet. *shrug*

For that matter, I didn't swim all the way to the Pier, either.  People fish from that.  Forget the bait drawing larger animals that might take a chunk out of me. Have you ever had to cut a fishook out of your flesh?  I'll take reasonable precautions to avoid that, thanks! So, what I thought was going to be close to a mile swim was about half that.  Yes, baby swim.  Laugh it up.

I was going to do the swim the minute my husband got to the beach, and have him be my spotter on the shore.  That might have been a safety overkill, since I was swimming less than 25 yards from shore and in water that was never more than neck deep.  But anyway, I wanted a spotter and I really wanted my husband.  He's familiar with my swimming style and would be able to spot quickly in the unlikely event I got in trouble.

As it turned out, his knee was giving him enough trouble that while he was willing to walk on shore as my spotter, I was not willing for him to do it.  So, for the first swim, my son was my spotter. The second swim, which I hadn't entirely planned to do, my father was my spotter.  (He seemed so eager to do so. I think he just wanted to see me swim)

I found out several things during these swims.

I found out swimming through swells is pretty fun and comfortable.  While I'd picked moderately calm days to swim, it wasn't exactly Lake Atlantic (a term my family uses to gripe when the waves aren't big enough to body surf).  That actually surprised me.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm a very experienced body surfer and have been playing in waves quite literally since before I could walk.  I just figured that the waves would be an irritant and difficultly for proper forward motion doing the crawl.

Nope.  Not at all.  Though I find I am very glad I'm good at bilateral breathing.   Made it easier to spot on shore and check for waves!

I'd been swimming exclusively in fresh water lately -- pools and lakes.  The extra buoyancy of salt water makes a significant difference in how I balanced in the water -- but it also was a speed assist.  Well, some.  There was another, more dramatic factor.

I broke a speed record on both swims by  an extraordinary amount (as in those 40 minute miles I've been grinding my teeth about).  Do I think there was an assist from the current?  Yeah, a whole bunch!  But it was still cool.

I also discovered something else.

After one of my swims, my brother asked me if was afraid of sharks.  My answer was a short and clipped, "Yep" before he started regaling me with stories of some great whites that have been tagged and go up and down the East Coast.  He even asked me if I ever look them up on the tracking website.

I do and I shouldn't.

I'm *really* scared of sharks.  I was swimming North, so every time I looked to my right, I kept peering down into the water to look for shapes.  Visibility wasn't great (never is there) and that made me even more uncomfortable.  I was swimming juuusst at the dropoff between shallow and deeper water and yes, I know enough about shark hunting patterns that it made me nervous -- especially with bull shark sightings being all over the Hampton Roads area news for the summer. It didn't help that I didn't see a lot of dolphins on that trip.

I did ask the lifeguard where they did their PT and when he said, "Right out there in the water." I figured it was a reasonable risk, gritted me teeth and did the swim.  Any sharks that were close to me (and statistically I know there were) were either not hungry, not human aggressive, or didn't see my shape as a prey silhouette.

It was very interesting to me that the part of the swims that were actually the hardest (and in reality they were totally easy swims) was my own imagination.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Serious Training* at Holly's River

I have a friend who lives on a small river.  It has a nice beach, and it's a fun place to spend a Sunday summer afternoon.  It's completely beautiful, quiet and private.  You almost never see other people around and it's just this lovely spot.

Bodies of water have personalities and quirks, and Holly's River is no exception.  There are parts where the current is gentle, and other areas where the current is quite strong.  There's a rock formation on one bank about three feet under the water where the current is pretty strong.  For some reason (I forget why) they call it The End of the World.  We make a game of approaching it from upstream, bracing ourselves on it for a bit against the strong current, then letting go and letting the current take us downstream.  Then we swim out of the strong part of the current, go back up a few yards and do it all over again.

You know, just the normal kind of fun people have playing in bodies of water and playing in the currents.

I got to thinking about those endless pools you sometimes see advertised and wondered if I could actually keep a steady enough pace to swim in the same place against a pretty fast current.  

That's harder than you'd think.  I managed to keep a steady pace measuring against a rock on the bank for a little bit before I lost interest then floated down to The End of the World and braced myself.

My friend, ever liking to challenge me, said, "Hey, let the current take you and see if you can swim back!"

The current is pretty strong at that spot, but hey, why not?  Not like it was really dangerous to try or anything. (Unless I inhaled water and cracked my head on a rock or something, mind, but I had people near me)

I did manage to make it, though it was hard and I was perfectly happy to let go and float back to the beach after I did it.   However, I did learn that to be able to do it, my form had to be really good.  You hear talk of getting a feel for the water, learning to grab new water, to push against it, and all of that.   When I was swimming against that current, I really started to grok what I'd been reading about.

Not that was why I was doing it.  It was fun.  I was playing.

I like playing in water with all its changing moods.   I consider it different from Serious Swimming but I think it's part of developing good swimming skill.  Yes, you need to practice in the pool with the drills and all.  I'd never say you don't.

But I think there is a lot said for playing just like a kid -- experimenting with what your body does in the water, and what the water does with your body.  Enjoying the sensations, but also doing the unrestricted goofing around and giving yourself little challenges to see what you can do in the face of the force that's so much stronger than you.  I am certain that a lot of my comfort levels in the water have much more to do with getting knocked around by waves at the beach and getting tossed off boats into the Potomac river than ever it did with formal lessons and the swim team.  I got over the whole "I can't see or touch the bottom" issue before I was ten.

Again, it's not that those formal lessons aren't necessary to the sport.  They absolutely are!  But I do wonder for people who are training for big water events if it really would help a lot of they'd get out into something other than still water and just play.   Bodysurf, swim against currents, let currents take you where they will, dive under waves, let a wave knock you over, play games holding your breath... all of that.

That theory isn't entirely out of left field, either. You often hear that children learn by play, and I think that's not entirely accurate.  I think people in general learn and expand their comfort zones with play, but I think that we adults get so serious and work-oriented with what we want to do that we forget how valuable the play part is.  I see it in my classes a lot. I teach software, and people come in all anxious and focused.  I try to break down that focus and reserve with jokes and goofy exercises.  I don't do it to be a comedian or an entertainer, but do it because I feel like when a person is laughing and engaged (you know, playing) they're most open to learning.

* I totally wasn't training.  It was play.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

I Have Come to a Decision

I got in the pool today after several weeks of being out of it.  No, it wasn't that I wasn't swimming.  It's that I was swimming in lakes.

So, some thoughts.

Swimming in a pool is a LOT easier.  I mean a LOT easier.  Lane lines, clear water and not having to sight make a significant difference. Fear of sharks and orca and huge anaconda easier to make fun of.  (Hey, when you can't see the bottom...  I know there are none of those things in a New England lake, but I have an excellent imagination!)

It's also too confounded hot.  And honestly?  Not as much fun.

I mean, I get out of a <65F lake red in the face after a swim.  What do you think it looks like in a 78F pool?  I took a cold shower after my workout this morning because my normal warm shower was uncomfortable.  Even so, I was wishing I had a more extensive makeup kit than I'd bring to the pool to cover my way too rosy cheeks when getting ready for work.

I like swimming in the lakes better.  Part of it is just that I live in New England.  It's just so confounded pretty swimming in a lake.  Part of it is the nifty factor.  It feels more adventurous, even though as far as open water swimming goes in a lake, my worst dangers are not checking in about water quality or an idiot on a jetski.  Seriously, jetskiers?  If you see a kayaker and they're waving at you, give 'em a wide berth. They may be escorting a swimmer.

But, oh Slow Swimmer, I hear you ask, how is this a decision?  Surely you, who make her living with words, know the difference between a decision and an observation.

Indeed I do.

My decision?

I'm training for a six mile swim for next summer.

Is this crazy?  Well, yeah, it kinda is.  That last event I did?  I swam a bit under a mile an hour.  There's no way they're gonna sit around for six hours waiting for me to finish that swim.  I am going to have to speed up by a rather silly percentage and it's possible I physically can't.  I think that's unlikely.  I wasn't pushing myself hard in the Kingdom Swim.  I was swimming to finish, not to be fast.

I see no real down side to trying, mind. I know what kind of training I'll need to do.  And I will have to throw in some *shudder* dryland work.  Okay, that's not fair.  I like weight training, which is what I intend to do.  I've just been avoiding it in favor of swimming.  But I'm about as strong as I can reasonably get from being in the pool and need to do something else.  Besides, swimming might be great for the CV system, but it doesn't do much for maintaining bone density.  Fortunately, squats are my favorite lift.

I am going to be starting with shorter, much more intense workouts and then bumping up the volume as I can tolerate more intensity for longer distances.

But last year I was going from no real exercise for two years to training for a two mile swim. I have a year of working out to build on, so I think it will go okay.

The other thing I gotta do?

Get rid of the breast stroke.  It's far too slow.  Oh, it's strong and I get there, but there's a reason in the Freestyle event people use the front crawl. It's astronomically faster.  Shoot, even I am about 35sec/100yds faster doing crawl than breast stroke!   I do a lot of breast stroke in the open water because my sighting skills are poor(and I often disagree with my kayaker about what constitutes a straight line to an object), so yes, that needs work as well.  So, part of my swim training is going to be tapering off using it.  Dammit.  I like the stroke. Sorry Cap'n Webb...

So, I have a hard year of training in front of me. But I've discovered something else.  If I commit money to an event, I will train to ensure I can perform in that event.  This keeps me going and training much more effectively than the idea that I have to exercise to stay healthy.  So, big physical goals that require the financial commitment of the event work well to keep me going.  I do hope that at some point I'll be so committed to swimming I won't need that, but I'm not there yet.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

You Have Great Endurance!

My husband was bragging on me at work the other day, which was sweet.  He told me one of his co-workers commented that I must have amazing endurance, because she gets winded swimming two laps of the pool.

People do look at the middle-aged woman given to serious enbonpoint, watch her swim for an hour in a pool or around a lake and they do express they're impressed, especially when they compare it to their own swimming skill.

Here's the thing.  If you don't have a lot of practice swimming, just jump in the pool and go, you'll be hanging on the edge gasping, staring at the fat lady in the next lane just gliding along, and wondering if she's a freak of nature or something.

She might be, but she's probably not.

Swimming is about technique. The better your technique, the easier it is, and the more effortless it looks.  My own husband will comment after I have been working very hard in the water that I make it look easy.

But there's a flip side.  I'm the barest beginner at this sort of thing, and I'm really not that fast or strong.  Sure, sure, I'm strong enough to swim a couple of miles and that's cool.  But it takes me close on to two hours to do it.

The common wisdom is a 4:1 conversion between running and swimming, so using that calculation, my best swimming pace over an hour is slightly under a 12 minute mile and my Kingdom Swim was more like 15 minute miles.

That's a brisk walk, friends.  Not as impressive as all that.

Friday, June 26, 2015

It's a Dialog, Not a Fight

I'm sitting here right now using a website called 750Words.

The idea behind it is that you do a freewrite every day of seven hundred fifty words.  That's more or less three pages of material, and is based on the Morning Pages idea Julia Cameron talks about in The Artist's Way.

I've never read it *blush* but I do like the idea of daily practice.  I've been using the site for a few years now, and try to write that seven hundred fifty words every day to keep my writing skills sharp.  Yes, practice is important in any endeavor if you want to gain mastery!  (Can't tell I am a teacher, can you?)

Because I do try to come up with seven hundred fifty words a day and I'd rather it be on a subject rather than random drivel about how HARD it is to come up with a topic every day, I do make mental notes about what to write.

As I was thinking this morning and deciding on what I wanted to ramble on about today, I was struck by some language that is often used when talking about marathon swims.  They're words of conquest and winning against bodies of water.

That kind of language is a speed bump to me.  I love water.  I have loved water my entire life.   My parents tell me a story of when I was a young toddler and the family was staying at the Halifax in Virginia Beach.  My grandmother (I called her Nanny) and I were at the water's edge.  Nanny was sitting in the sand holding me and I was splashing in the waves that washed up over her legs.

Then an unexpectedly large wave hit that knocked Nanny and I down.  She had good reflexes and was able to keep hold of me, as well as keep my head above water until the wave receded.   Even though I am sure that scared Nanny quite badly, I am told she treated it as a fun adventure for us rather than something to be afraid of.

Even now, older than Nanny was then and of quite matronly proportions, I still get out in the waves for family Beach Week and body surf with my dad and brother.

But what I have been taught from early childhood is that water is the ultimate power.  That water is bigger and stronger than any human.  (Daddy used to whip impromptu physics lessons on my brother and I when we were body surfing to prove this WITH SCIENCE.)  That the best way to deal is to show water lots and lots of respect.  That no, getting out on the water isn't the safest thing you can do, but if you show the water that respect, you'll do better.

I suppose it's like John Blackthorne said in Shogun.  "The man who's not afraid of the sea'll soon be drownded for he'll go out on a day he shouldn't.  We be afraid of the sea, so we be only drownded now and again."  (Remember, in the early 17th Century, "fear" and "respect" had closer connotations than it does in 21st Century English -- see the King James translation of the Bible against other more modern translations.  I'm not sure if Clavell was intending to be that subtle, though.  As a writer, he generally wasn't)

It's not that I don't get where they're coming from when they say they've "conquered" the English Channel or something.  It's the challenge that's really being spoken of and that is certainly an amazing victory.  I wouldn't even say it's a bad way to look at it.  It's just alien to the way I think of it.

For me, it's a more intimate thing, and less about conquering the water and more about the interaction and communication with the water.  It's dancing together, or a sparring match.  If you don't think a sparring match can be intimate communication, all I can say is you really REALLY need to watch a scene in Pacific Rim!  They got it better than I've ever seen it portrayed in film. And the idea of the serious disparity in strength isn't weird to me in this.  I'm five two and female.  MOST of my sparring partners in training were a lot bigger and stronger than I am.

I guess I feel like it's more that the body of water allows you to swim it -- if you CAN.  You have to train and gain the ability.  Then, on your particular day to do the swim, the water decides if it's going to allow it that day.  It might throw challenges your way, sure.    It might test your training.  It may humble your arrogance.

It's why for me the language of conquest doesn't work.  At least not in terms of the water as an adversary.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Back to Training

I took a few days off from swimming after the Son of a Swim, but got back in the water today.

I admit it, I wanted to enjoy the "Hey, woah, I did it!" for a little longer before I started critiquing the swimming.  'Cause there was a lot to critique.

My next swim is going to be the Boston Sharkfest.  I'm intimidated about this one because it's actually a RACE where people are gonna be all competitive and stuff and be wearing expensive wetsuits and kick other swimmers and swim over them and all that nonsense.  I'm just not gonna look like I belong in this crowd.

I'm going to admit something right here.  I don't give much of a rip how fast I go as long as I can complete the swim in the time allotted.  I think they give you the shepherd's crook at  fifty minutes, which is pretty ample for a 1500 meter race, and even I can do better than that in a pool.  My open water skills, however, aren't so hot and I keep falling back to breastroke for sighting.  So, I'm buckling down in my training and have quit screwing around with so much breastroke in favor of you know, like swimming the crawl as fast as I can for intervals.

Intervals in the open water, at least the way I am doing it, seem to involve a lot of counting.   So, I'll swim 100 strokes as hard as I can, catch my breath for a bit, then swim as hard as I can again... lather rinse and repeat for a mile or so.   It's not scientific, but it'll get my speed up.

Since I really don't give a damn about competing, why did I sign up?

Mostly at the time I thought it would be a great open water challenge that I could reasonably train for in a year's time.  At the time I started up, I hadn't done any real working out for nearly two years and was in terrible shape.  1500 meters seemed like a reasonable challenge I could train for.

Yes, I did sign up for this in ignorance.  Perhaps it will be fun, but I admit that swimming in a crowd of people who have just GOT to win? After I read all the descriptions of what open water races look like, I'm not so sure about the fun part. I don't mind training hard, but I do like the pristine semi-solitude of the lake swimming I've been doing.

Again, I'm competing against me yesterday.   I want to swim from the King Neptune Statue to the 14th Street Pier in VA Beach.  Maybe even throw in 14th Street Pier to Rudee Inlet for dessert.  (These swims hover around a mile, but the surf will be a fun challenge) Next year, I want to do a longer swim at Son of a Swim -- the four or six mile.

Oh yeah, and Alcatraz.   Need to start planning that one for 2016.

The challenges are about challenging me, not a competitor.  And I'm okay with that.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Son of a Swim

Well, I definitely lived up to my blog's name today.

I've been training most of this winter to do the Son of a Swim in Lake Memphremagog.  It's basically a chance for people to qualify for marathon swims, or for people like me, who just want to try something a bit challenging.  There are six, four, and two miles swims you can do, and the slots are limited, so boat and kayak supervision is quite close.  It's an incredibly well-organized an amazing fun.  I'm quite grateful to Phil White for giving me the opportunity to try the two mile swim.

People are often nervous when trying something new, and I was no exception.   I've swum two miles (in a pool) and I've swum in open water (for a mile or so) but I'd certainly never put in two hours in 65F water, and I was nervous, not really knowing how I'd react to being exposed to cold water that long without a wetsuit.  The most I'd ever done was slightly under an hour.

So, when I woke up this morning and the local air temperature was 45F, I freely admit that I was pretty scared.  I had no idea how I was going to handle that, or even if I was physically capable of doing so.

But since I'd committed to doing the swim, and the air was going to have four hours to warm up before I got in the water, I figured the best thing I could do was just take things one step at a time, and the first step just involved me riding in the car while my husband drove to the lake.  I knew I could handle that part.

I tend to relax as we move from the mountains closer to "big water."  It's just this weird thing.  I grew up near the Potomac River, not too far from the Chesapeake bay.  I figure there's something about the air pressure or some other thing I'm not conscious of sensing.  I tend to relax as we drive INTO Boston as well, and goodness knows there's nothing relaxing about driving in THAT city!

Apparently Lake Mempremagog is large enough to have the effect, as I was feeling "big water" and calming down.

I'm sorry to say this didn't entirely last.  As we parked at the beach, got our gear and headed down by the water, I was greeted by the organizers, and asked how I was doing.

"Terrified," I yelped.

I was.  There was a fairly steady breeze and it was chilly.   We parked our stuff near the water, and against my husband's advice, I went over to dip my hand in.  I'm a better physicist than my husband.  I knew the water had been measured at 65F the day before, so was likely to feel warm compared to the ambient temperature.  It did, and I calmed down a bit. Well, a little.

The safety briefing calmed me down more.  Remember, I grew up with the idea that recreation involved quite large rivers and oceans, and we spent most of our summers out on the water.  The organizers clearly had equal experience and the briefing reflected it.   I felt quite good about that.  While water is stronger than I am and accidents DO happen, it wasn't going to be because of foolishness on anyone's part if it did.

That calm only lasted until we got in the water.  For whatever reason, the shock of the cold seemed a lot more intense than my training swims, even though by all accounts I'd been swimming in comperable temperatures.   I started with my usual breast-stroke warm up (don't laugh at me, it works for me) and when I tried to put my face in the water, it was enough of a shock that I couldn't regulate my breathing for a moment.  I even mentioned to my husband (who was kayaking for me) that I was not sure I could swim with my face in the water.   The ever calm and gentle coach, he just said, "Do what you need to.  We've got plenty of time."

That was enough for me to calm down and switch to freestyle.  By the time we reached the starter buoy, and rounded it, I was in a groove and realized that, yes, this swim was possible.

I could spend this report of the swim critiquing my training, of course.  While I was diligent in working out, I could also see many changes I do need to make in my workouts.  But that's really only afterthoughts.

The swim was the swim.  You know what was wonderful?  I was out in that water, and I  had no other concerns or worries but simply swimming.   I didn't really even have to worry about sighting or anything like that, because hey!  I had a kayaker right beside me to handle that.

The only thing that did get tough was the fact that we were dealing with a steadily increasing wind, and increased chop.  Since I don't have a lot of experience with that, it could have been worse than it turned out to be, and that's because of another swimmer.  While in general, one of the things I adore about swimming is its opportunity for solitude, I do find that community can really help.

You see, before we got in the water, the wind was a subject of discussion. One of the other swimmers (I am embarrassed that I spaced on her name, but I did catch that she's swum the Catalina Channel) commented that was great because it would be just enough to practice swimming in rougher conditions without being too bad.

That comment kept me from being thrown by the chop and instead treating each time I was thrown by the small wave patterns or getting a mouthful of water instead of air as an experiment -- a way to play with the water and find my groove in changing conditions.  It was an exploration rather than an irritation and it really helped. Being able to control attitude is important out there!

I did fall back to breaststroke a lot, something that was brought up to my husband (I didn't hear it, I was too busy swimming) asking if it was a cause for concern.  Thank goodness we trained together because he was able to reassure observers that it wasn't a sign I was doing badly, but merely a typical pattern in my open water swimming. (Yes, one I need to get rid of, but gimme a break.  I was only able to train out in a lake for three weeks!)  I told him if he's ever asked again, to tell them I was merely getting my Matthew Webb on and that I was okay. :)

But the thing that kept going through my mind as I was marking my progress by those orange buoys wasn't so much the cold, even if it was.  It wasn't the wind or the mild chop.  It wasn't that I really do live up to my blog name in how slow I swim.  It was this.

Every bit of it was amazing fun and I want to do it again, only for longer.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Get In the Open Water

Q. I have limited or no access to open water. Do I really have to practice in it?
A. Yes, you need to swim in open water regularly. The only way to practice open water is in open water and all those articles telling you otherwise are lying. If it’s fresh water, train in fresh water, if it’s sea water, train in the sea.
I was thinking about this very thing this morning as I was doing my training for an open water swim next week.

You have no idea how glad I am that I wasn't dumb enough to ignore this advice.  Swimming in open water is very different from swimming in a pool.  You think that black line doesn't mean much or do much for you, but it totally does.  It gives you a line to follow.  The dimensions of the pool mean that you have a very clear idea of your progress (judging distance when your eyes are about an inch above the water is a lot harder than you think!).  You get a groove on in the pool that you don't in a strange environment.  You'll deal with temperature differences.  You deal with how you breathe differently until you get used to the chill.  I'd say that a wetsuit doesn't make as much of a difference with this as you'd think, except I have no idea.  Never wore a wetsuit before. You might be dealing with the fact you can't see the bottom.

I was kind of startled by this today in my training.  I swim in a lake that's murky green starting about a yard down, mostly.  Which is fine.  I knock my imagination unconscious for the duration of the swim and don't worry about it, knowing I'm in a lake where wildlife is considerably less of a danger than waterskis. (Yes, I train with a kayaker beside me. I am not entirely an idiot)

But the funny part was when we were moving closer to shore to stay away from motorized vehicles.  I look down, thinking, "What the hell is that?" only to realize it's just leaves and I can see the bottom of the lake.

But while you can work on fitness and technique in a pool, the reality is that Loneswimmer is so very right.  Training for an open water event without getting in the open water is foolish.  The conditions are very different and you need to be able to cope comfortably.  An event is the wrong place to find out how you deal.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Happy Like I Had Good Sense

My Kayaker Risked Life and Limb to Get This Shot.  No, Really

One of the things that has been strongly recommended by people who, like, actually know what they're doing, is that I need to get in some open water practice.

Dear oh lord are they right.

I blew off a morning session in the pool today in favor of an open water swim (I spent about the same amount of time in the water, by the way!) after work.

It was amazingly good fun.

I had tried a swim on Saturday in this lake.  The air was cold and the wind was high enough that there were little whitecaps, even though the lake was really only about 4 miles by a half mile.   But Saturday was a little bit of a challenge.  I wasn't sure of what I wanted to do for training and was really only getting in the open water to see what it was like.

I had a great time, and I learned a few things for the next training session.

Today, I took close to an hour swim.    The day was much warmer (as was the water), and as you can see, the lake couldn't have been more calm without being an actual swimming pool.  The orange paddle is from the kayaker (my darling, supportive husband) who braved the unstable kayak to take a few pics.

I have learned something.

I cannot sight for crap.

Oh, I'm trying and trying and practicing and practicing, but the movement is still new enough I cannot get into that zen swimming groove that is so awesome.

And swimming in the lake was so much fun that I didn't really care.

I loved it.  There is something that is so much more... real about swimming in an open body of water rather than a pool.  I want to do it again tomorrow night.  I know I need to get open water practice for my Kingdom Swim (I'm doing the baby Son of a Swim) in a couple of weeks.

I'm so eager to do it again.  I know I don't sight well, and I need to practice.  I can't wait until I do it well enough that I can get in the zone swimming in the open water like I do in a pool.

As my grandmother would have put it, when I'm out there on the water, I'm happy like I had good sense.

Monday, June 08, 2015

"Surviving the Swim"

When I do searches on open water swimming, more times than not the advice seems to be geared towards triathletes who want to "survive the swim."

Which is cool. I want everyone to survive their swims.  And unfortunately, it doesn't always happen.

What gets to me about it isn't that it's recognized that yes, there are dangers inherent in open water swimming.  So there are, and it's important to be aware of them.

It's more that when you're dealing with triathlete advice, the advice is about getting through the damn swim so you can get to your bike. It's about the race.  It's about getting through this unpleasant thing you're not all that great at to get to the good stuff at which you're competent.

That's not where I'm coming from with swimming.  I genuinely, no kidding, swim because I am a total waterbaby, only run if chased, find that bike seats hurt my butt, and in general find most land based exercise (barring dance, martial arts and weight lifting) considerably less interesting than knitting or reading.

I love the water.  I love being in the water.  I love the challenge of seeing if I can cope with cold water.  I am excited about the challenge of dealing with unpredictable weather conditions, and learning new swimming skills.

Survive it?

Well, yes, that's the plan. But I do it to glory in it. Because it's fun.

It seems that except for a very small group of marathon swimmers (and even they are far more competitive than I ever intend to get!) open water swimming is becoming one third of a triathlon event rather than an activity in its own right.  I say activity rather than sport.  I do it to do it, not to compete at it.

It's not that I have anything against triathlons.  Totally don't.  Don't have anything against other people being into hang gliding or mountain climbing, either. It's just not my bag.

But, as with anything else, I find myself really on the periphery.  I'm a swimmer who loves to swim and is only trying to be better than one person.

Me.  Yesterday.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Need More Open Water Practice

Outdoor Temp: 67F
Estimated water temp: 57F  (according to  I don't think it was that cold as I wasn't really uncomfortable)
Wind speed: 10MPH
Distance:  Not sure.  I was swimming in East Nowhere, New England and GPS is spotty enough it kept blinking out.  Between 400-550 yards.  Not very far at all, but at least 100 yards further than this map shows.
Time: 22 minutes.

Because it was cooler and windy, I almost blew off the open water swim today. I didn't blow it off for two reasons: My kayaker tried to remember when he'd last been in a kayak and it had been a few years.  The other reason was that I wanted to see how I'd do in less than beautiful conditions, since there's no guarantee the conditions for the swim I'm doing in a couple of weeks are going to be any better.

You can't swim from the boat launch and you can't put a kayak in from the swimming area, so my kayaker (my husband) put in and kayaked under the bridge to meet me at the swimming area.

The swimming area has lifeguards and I asked if there were any rules against swimming past the buoys, and explained I'd have an escort kayak with me.

He said he wouldn't get in trouble if I did swim out, but that he couldn't be responsible for me past the buoys.   Fair enough.  I just didn't want to get the kid in trouble.

So, I swam out to meet my husband and see if we could get a rhythm going.

What I learned from this swim:

1.  57 F is chilly, but not really all that uncomfortable to swim in.  It's about 45 minutes after the swim, and I'm in a cotton robe.   My exterior skin is still cool and it was tingly warming up, but inside I'm perfectly warm and comfortable.
2. I need to get a feel for how far I've been swimming so I can get an appropriate open water pace going. Thinking in terms of pool lengths isn't going to cut it.
3.  My sighting skills, while not great, aren't as abysmally bad as I feared.  Practice, yes, but the way you do it makes sense to me.
4. Swimming into wind and chop is hard.  I need more practice doing that so that I can be comfortable.
5.  My kayaker is good swim support, and I need to stop checking in with him to make sure HE is okay! (I see myself as the water baby, and I know my husband isn't entirely, so I have this mental switch where when we're in the water, I need to be looking out for him.  I can't do this and focus on the swim.  Besides, it's his job to look after me if he's kayak support and I'm swimming, and he does it just fine)

It all boils down to the fact I simply need more open water practice. I think I'm going to be doing some more sessions after work in the evenings over the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Fast bathing suits and other rambling muses

When my mother was a little girl, getting new tennis shoes for the new school year was something of an event.  She and her brother and sisters, upon getting the new shoes home, would lace them up and then have races to test how "fast" those new shoes were.  Fast tennis shoes were a big and important thing in 1950s Richmond, VA, apparently.

I gave that a lot of thought in the pool today.  You see, I bought some new bathing suits.  My old one (yes, just one, and yes, I know that's a way to have your suits wear out really fast if you swim every day) had worn out badly, was sagging and was even getting to the point where it had a bit of a gap at the chest. (I am a full-figured gal, after all).

My swim speed has also been slowing down discouragingly in the past couple of months.

Well, today, I wore one of my new suits.  (Speedo ultraback -- believe you me, nuttin' fancy).

You know how tennis shoes can be fast?

So can bathing suits.   My hand to God, I made some personal records for freestyle today.  Not that this is impressive to anyone but me.  I'm pretty damn slow.

Even so, it was kinda surprising.  Yes, I know drag makes a difference, and the new suits were the way I like 'em -- slightly tight.  I like some compression in my torso for a bathing suit.

Possibly it was enough to reduce some drag.  I suspect also that feeling better after a serious cold that kept me out of the water for a bit had something more to do with it.

I cannot help but grin, though, and chalk it up to my new "fast" bathing suit.

Bathing suits still are a bit of a grumble factor for me, though.  I just bought three and spent over two hundred dollars for the damn things.  The last time I spent that much in a go for clothing, it was for fabric for a whole summer wardrobe!  I spend more on bathing suits than I do on any other single item of clothing I own.  I'd make 'em myself, but when I am honest with myself, I don't have the equipment nor the skill to make a good one that would stand up to what I do in the water -- never mind where in the world I'd find the right fabrics!

I am still considering a small modification to one of the ones I just bought, though.  It's navy blue.

When I was a little girl, I had this bathing suit I LOVED, I mean LOOOVVVEEED.  It was navy blue and had an goldfish appliqued on the front.  I just loved my fishie bathing suit so much and was furious when I got older and outgrew it.

I am so tempted to get some orange fabric an thread so I can sew a goldfish onto my navy bathing suit.

I could wear it when I do the Son of a Swim two-miler I have coming up in a few weeks.  Though I suspect that love my new fast bathing suits as I do, and how happy the orange fishie would make me, the time is simply much better spent getting my groove on for some open water work.  I still haven't spent much time in any open water training and I'm starting to get nervous about it.  I mean, I know I can swim two miles, no problem.  But there's no real substitute for getting out where there is no chlorine and lanes and learning the techniques you can't learn in a pool.

I'll be headed out to a local lake this weekend to try.   Need to pick up a kayak paddle for my husband, too, so that he can paddle along beside me and we can get some practice in as a kayak/swimmer team.   Even though it's only a short swim by marathon swimmer standards, I'd like to get some practice in with passing me a water bottle, too.  I've read about some people who use a water-bottle and retractable dog leash combination for that sort of thing, and I think it would be a good idea.   Still, want to practice.

One of our local ponds has Open Water Wednesday events in July and August where you can swim a mile of a marked course to practice your own water skills.  That comes too late for my first swimming event of the year, but I figure I'll still do it, as it'll be great for my Sharkfest swim this fall in Boston.

Friday, May 08, 2015

It's Just Wednesday

In doing the fifty mile challenge for my gym, I’m cranking up the volume on my workouts so that I don’t get behind this month.  I’m going to be training while on travel, but it won’t count for the purposes of the gym challenge.  So, to stay on track for that, I need to get in about 12.5 miles this month at my gym.

That’s not really an issue.  I have about 13 training sessions to do it, and volume will be good for my swim at the end of June.

Back last fall, I was swimming between 1000 and 1500 yards a session usually close to 1000.  I didn’t challenge myself to swim 2000 yards until quite late in November.  The intent, barring weather and car troubles, is to swim every weekday morning with the occasional weekend challenge thrown in.

So, 2000 yards was a challenge that I saved for the occasional weekend swim.


It’s just Wednesday.

My challenges are over twice that.  It’s also still a laughably short distance for the stuff I’m aspiring to.  But that’s okay.  It’s consistent progress and fortunately distance swimming is not a sport only for the young.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Spring Scream

Okay, I finally got in open water today.

I was visiting a friend who is letting us have an old kayak, and was talking about conditioning myself to swimming in cold water, and mentioned that I was planning to do a cold water swim this weekend.  A short one, obviously.  I might be crazy, but I don't want to hurt myself.

She lives on a small river and we are of a size.  She asked me if I wanted to borrow a bathing suit and we'd go for what she calls a Spring Scream.  (You jump in cold water and you scream)

My best estimate, from checking on fishing reports of local lakes and taking into account that a shallow, but flowing river is probably a little cooler, is that the temperature was about about 50F (10C), give or take a degree.

The day was unseasonably warm for Vermont, and there was little wind, so I agreed to go for it.  I got in three times, swimming a few yards (breaststroke) each time and getting out -- just to acclimate myself and test how I could handle it.

Was it cold?

My word yes!

What it wasn't was miserable.  I'd been turning the showers to cold occasionally and sticking my hands in cold water all winter trying to brace myself.   Instead of acclimating myself, I think I was psyching myself out for it to be awful.

It wasn't awful.  It was exhilarating!  

It was also comforting.   My open water swim is in a month and the lake is going to be a lot warmer than the water I was in today.  I freely admit I'd been scared of how cold it might be.


Not so much.  I was worried it was going to be awful rather than exciting.

It's exciting.

Monday, May 04, 2015

50 Mile Club

Like many gyms with pools, my gym has this little challenge they put out every year where you try to swim a certain distance over a period of time.

Ours is the 50 Mile Club.  From May 1 to August 31, you log the yardage you swim and try to log at fifty miles over that time.  The head of the aquatics program is the lifeguard on Monday mornings.  She came up to me with a card already filled out, presuming I'd be doing it.

Yes, I will.  Probably will even complete it for the first time.  The times I've done it in the past I've run out of steam. But I have an event in September I need to keep training for.

In reality the challenge is about 12.5 miles a month, so it's not really all that outrageous if you're training for something. Even in a crap month, I've been doing that, so yeah, I'll be making it this year. They do count 2000 yards as a mile, so the real challenge is more like 56 miles all told. But who's counting?

Yeah, you guessed it.  Me.

This is really gotten me thinking about bumping up my pool yardage for my training sessions, because no open water swims or swims I do that are not in my gym count.  I'm going to be away for a fair whack of May, and while I'll be swimming, it won't be in my usual pool.   Weekends, I'm going to be in the open water, getting used to colder water, learning sighting, training with my husband who will be my kayaker for a swim I am doing in June and getting a feel for lake swimming.  I figure a few sessions out on a lake will give us a good idea of how we work together, 

For all that I will be doing the 50 Mile Club thing, what I am really itching to do is finally get out in the open water and see what more I need to learn and train for.  I feel like I've done 'most everything I reasonably can in a pool, other than keep up my form and fitness.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Not According to Plan

So, the story I told myself was that I'd be dipping a toe in the open water starting May 1.

Yeah, right.   I took a look at the water temperatures of some of the larger local lakes.  Water temperature is still in the 40s.

I'm a beginner open water swimmer. Holy crap am I a beginner.   No, I'm not going to make my first open water attempts in water under 50F.

I'm basing this decision at least in part on an article on LoneSwimmer, called Introducing a precise open water swimming temperature scale.  The article is tongue in cheek, and funny, but it makes a point.  No, as a beginner, I don't belong out in the cold open water just yet.

Though I am getting concerned.  I have about seven weeks to get ready for a swim in Lake Memphremagog, and that water is going to be cold by my standards.  I need to prep for that and I'm not sure when things are gonna warm up out here enough for the beginner.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Flip Turns and Resistance in Swimming

I blew off flip turns for most of my freestyle sets yesterday and had something happen.

I enjoyed the damn swim.

*head scratch*   See, now I do swim for exercise and I do challenge myself to do hard things, but at the end of the day, it's something that's really meant to keep me interested enough to keep working out.  

Still, I can't really stomach the idea of completely blowing off flip turns as a training strategy.  Sure, sure, there are swimmers that do open turns and when I get into the open water in a couple of weeks (brrrr!) flip turns aren't going to be a factor.

Part of the reason I do this is actually professional.  No, I'm not a swimming instructor or coach (HA!) or anything like that.  But I am a teacher and I do teach adults.

I want to break through that Learning a New Method resistance and see how and why it's happening.  I work at a medical institution, and one of the biggest things I see in my job is resistance to changing how something is done in terms of computers and workflow.  

These are smart people I'm talking about.  A large portion of them do have to have ongoing education in their fields, so it's not like Learning a New Thing is even alien to their work.   But oh my word, can changing how something looks or works on a tool get the grumbling and even resistance.

So, that's a lot of my own motivation for not giving up on the flip turns.  I mean, I can do one (Did more like 33 this morning).  But it does interrupt that flow-- the zone I get in when I am swimming and love so much.  That's a lot of the resistance for me,

I figured out one that when pushing off for my first length of breast stroke this morning.  I love the feel of that glide, so I oughta love a flip turn, right?  Nope. A flip turn when I am swimming hard takes up so much air that I am gasping when I come out of it.

Back to that first glide as I started my morning swim.

It was shallow.  I mighta been a foot under the water at most.   When I do a flip turn, I'm more like two or three feet under water (depending on whether I am flipping at the deep end or shallow end).  I go way too deep when I do my flip turn.

So, I tried something this morning and did my flips a lot more shallowly (is that actually an adverb?)  Turns out that sorted out the breath issue. So now my flips are clumsy and off center.  Still, it was interesting to realize that might have been a lot of the problem.

My goal really is to be able to just swim and get into the zone as I'm doing it, so flip turns are going to have to be a whole lot more automatic before I do that.

This does help my empathy with students who really just wanna get into their zone professionally and resent the interruption of the changes in method with a tool.

Friday, April 17, 2015

90% of the Game is Half Mental

When you read about swimming you read a lot of advice about form, training techniques, and all that smack.

Obviously crucial stuff, since you have a physical body that is going to be doing an endurance thing. So yeah, your body needs to be ready.

But I'm noticing something about the people who are doing the really crazy and amazing stuff. They still talk about the physical and they talk about the training.

Then their voices get kinda low, thoughtful and quiet.  And they start talking about the fact that it's the mental stuff that really makes or breaks you.

It's true, of course.  Once your body is prepared, and you can't skip that, it's revolves around what's going on with your mind.

This is especially tough for swimmers.  We spend enormous amounts of time in our own heads. Our minds run all over the place.   If you have a good imagination, it can also be very freaky.

I have a good imagination. The movie Jaws came out when I was a child.  I'll never see it. Am I scared of sharks?  Yes, I am.  Seaweed brushing against me when I am body surfing makes me shudder.  The intellectual knowledge that I am never more than about 25 yards from a shark when I am playing at the beach is something I have to beat down hard, but I do because I want to enjoy being in the water.  I can tell myself that few are human aggressive, that I don't do many swims at twilight, that there are almost no shark attacks anywhere I am likely to swim on regular basis and the thoughts still come back. Shoot, I have found myself imagining all sorts of scary denizens of the deep when I am in the confounded pool.   This is not where your mind needs to be when you are swimming out in the open water.  So, I have to guard my mind and imagination carefully.

This has me mentally griping right now.  One of my favorite authors has just come out with a new book, and I can't read it.  Not if I want to do open water swims and not psyche myself out.  This is worse than being on a diet while training, I tell you!

Monday, April 06, 2015

The Comparison Trap and the Next Step

I may have overstretched myself doing that two and a half miles.   My shoulders were hurting for several days and I wasn't feeling too great.

That kinda scared me.  I have some ambitious swims I'd really like to do, and the idea that a piddly little two and a half mile swim set me back scared me for what I'd like to accomplish.

Here's the reality:

I got back into swimming seriously in October and it's now the beginning of April.  On top of that, it wasn't like I was getting back into swimming with a base of having been diligent about working out to support me.  Oh, no..

I hadn't really been working out seriously for two years.   The reality is that going from nothing at all for a couple of years to being able to swim two and a half miles in a span of six months is actually just fine.

The only reason it doesn't look fine is because I am comparing myself to world-class athletes.  I'm looking at my progress and comparing it to English Channel swimmers, for God's sake.  At my level, it's kinda dumb.

I need to stop thinking about the big events and stuff I want to do and concentrate on the ones I have scheduled next.  What I have scheduled next is a two mile open water swim.  The two mile part, I've got down pat.  What I need to start looking at is getting in the open water experience, and even that's got a few weeks before I need to worry too much about it. It's April, I live in Northern New England. I ain't puttin' a damn toe in open water until May 1, and I'm getting my husband to read the hypothermia chapter from Open Water Swimming Manual before then so that he knows what to do if I get myself in trouble. (Of course, I've already read it.  I'm gonna re-read it, too!)

What I need to do now is just keep swimming six days a week, stop filling my head with nonsense I'm not ready for yet, and get ready for what I have planned.  The only way to get there is to concentrate on the next step, anyway.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

I Am Ironfish

The title comes from a website called Fitocracy.  You log in, log your workouts, get points and level up as you get more points. It rewards workouts more or less like a video game.  Yes, it's for nerds. Nerds can be childish and not want to do things if it's not a game.  Yes, I am a nerd.

The site was designed by people who heavily weight the reward system to weightlifters and runners.  That's okay.  Plenty of people don't think swimmers are really working out. *shrug*  Plenty of people are wrong, but that's nothing new :)

Today I earned the quest badge I am Ironfish.   To earn it you have to swim 2.4 miles -- the distance you swim in the Ironman triathlon.  I swam 4500 yards (~2.56 miles), but who's counting, right?

Oh yeah, me, I totally am counting. :)

The description goes like this:

Guppies need not apply. The Ironman triathlon swimming leg is a daunting 3.86 km (2.4 mi). Swimming this far without stopping takes years of training, so this distance is only for true Ironfish.

This is slightly silly.   It doesn't take years to train for such a distance.  I've been training seriously since about last September. Call it six months.  However, yes, the first time you do it, it is a little daunting.  (180 lengths of the pool can make you feel like you're on a hamster wheel, just sayin')

And honestly?  For the real distance swimmer, this would just be... well, Wednesday.  

I'm getting there...

My basic training plan (yes, this is overtraining for the two-mile swim I have planned for the summer. I bet I won't regret it, though) is to carefully increase distance on normal training days.  About half the time, I have time for a longer swim. Other days, I need to do shorter ones to get to work on time.   Weekends, I have time, so they're my "longish" swim.

Then once a month I'll do a challenging swim like today.  It started with a test to see if I could swim two miles, then I increased the distance a little the next month, and today it was two and a half.

I've been told by other adult-onset marathon swimmers that the first time you swim 5,000 yards. it can be pretty exciting.   I'm looking forward to that next month.

It does amuse me that distances that used to make me happy look like warm-ups now.  I look forward to the day when two and a half miles looks like a warmup, too.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

After a Week Off

I was out of the pool for a week.  I was visiting family.  I totally could have chosen to go to a local pool there for a swim or two, but chose not to.

From a swimming time standpoint, it sure looked like a good choice.   I think I may have needed a little break.

But today just felt right while swimming.   I had the thought while doing my drills.  Now,  drills aren't my favorite thing to do while swimming, but after my little thought a couple of weeks ago, I've been pretty diligent about doing 500 yards of drills first thing every swim practice.  I know it just needs to be a thing, so I do it and I think it's paying off.  Certainly getting in and starting out with the kickboard just felt good.  It felt like I'd come back to my natural environment, being in the water.

I also had a thought.  I have swimming goals, don't get me wrong.  But I'm also looking at the big picture and long term. If I tie myself up in knots getting anxious about meeting them, I'm kinda missing the point.

The point is to have fun with this. Sure, sure, I wanna do some stuff that's hard.  That's real. But I'm also waaayyyy over-training for the events I want to do over the next six months.  Being well-prepared is great, and I'm all for that, but with my swimming volume, it's more like I'm training to swim a real marathon this summer, not a measly two miles.

While I've no intention of rolling back the volume, as I do have long-term goals that require it, I need to relax a bit about it.

The point of this is to have fun, for pity's sake.  I concede it's a weird, masochistic definition of fun sometimes, but there's still my inner six year old that needed to be pried out of the pool with a crowbar.

I like to give that kid some indulgence in my swims.