Swimming v. Running

I was looking up some stuff about relative swimming v. running equivalents. Basically, however much distance you swim in a given time is multiplied by four to give a running/walking time.

I don’t entirely believe it. You see, while my swimming rate isn’t particularly impressive, I do swim about 1000 yards in half an hour. That’s okay for a fitness swimmer who doesn’t give a rip about competition and is just two weeks back in the water after a three year hiatus. Okay, fine.

That would translate into me walking 2.28 miles in half an hour. My best pace, when walking regularly, would be more like 1.53 miles in that amount of time. No, I’m neither fast nor in great shape.

Now, I do have pain issues when I walk that I just don’t have when I swim. Now, I don’t get out of breath when walking, but my hip starts feeling like sandpaper, or my feet cramp up or any of a number of things. Walking just hurts. That stuff doesn’t go away even after months of working out, and no matter what shape I am in. I also walk on a mildly hilly terrain, and I swim in a pool, not open water. That might be enough to account for the difference, but I doubt it. We’re talking a difference of .75 miles in half an hour. That’s a pretty big pace difference from where I am looking.

So, am I really working out that much harder in the water? It doesn’t really feel like it, though I do wind up getting an endorphin high from swimming that I just don’t from anything dryland At least, nothing that’s going to be requiring a specific pace for 30 minutes. 😉

I am trying to account for the difference and the only things I can figure are:

1. Your swimming heart rate is lower, so perceived exertion might be lower. It’s possible I simply DO work harder in the water because it’s just not uncomfortable.

2. I have a very high body fat percentage. That means I float extremely well. I exert NO effort at all to float. All exertion is propulsion, only. I’m not working harder. The workout is actually easier.

3. At a certain point, all swimming success is down to technique, and mine is just there.

4. The 4x dryland distance for equivalent pace is hooey. Forget about it and just work out every day because that’s the part that matters and not the minutiae.

I should probably take four and run (or swim) with it. I like swimming, it feels good and it makes me happy to do it, so who cares about the numbers, because hey, I work out for an hour, get red in the face and get my heart rate up for a half hour every day, so who cares about anything else.

Which does circle around to the fact I find applying high end athletic training techniques to everyday fitness is generally a load of hooey. If you’re competing in races, you’ve gone from everyday fitness to athlete, even if you’re the slowest of amateurs. That’s different from someone whose hobby is not being an athlete, but still lives in a body and needs to keep fit.

Playing Games

I didn’t go on a swim the other morning. I had a device problem and was up until around 11. Not going to get up at 5 in the morning and work out, then work all day on six hours of sleep if I can help it. I’m protective of my sleep.

I really did intend to give working out a miss that day. After all, one day more or less really isn’t a big deal.

But I got to thinking.

I’m party of a party fighting a boss monster on Habit RPG. Habit RPG turns the habits you want to build and tasks you want to perform into a role playing game. You have a character that earns points from completed tasks and habits that you program in. In certain categories, non-performance will cause you to take hit points, rather like rolling low in combat in a role-playing game.

Yes, the monster is goofy as all get out, but you know what? I knew if I did not perform the daily things I’d set myself to do, such as exercise, not only would I take a hit, the whole party facing the monster would.

Is it childish that I’m using this game as motivation to get things done?

I don’t really think so.

I used to. Even used to feel embarrassed with myself that I didn’t just want to do what I was supposed to and had to make a damn game out of everything. I got over it when I realized that a consistently clean house doesn’t trip my reward circuits like a dramatically messy house becoming clean. I will do what trips my reward circuits as easily as a rat in a maze, and the paradigm of feeling good at dramatic change sets up a cycle of requiring a stage where the house is messy. From a purely logical point of view, I certainly don’t want that. But a house that’s consistently clean because I’m earning points in a game does give the reward jolt. I don’t do stuff that doesn’t trip the reward circuits. (No-one does, by the way, but how they’re activated can vary from individual to individual.)

I like Habit RPG because it engages on several levels. It put you in a group of people who choose to be productive (peer pressure can be used for good!), it gives quick and immediate rewards for good behavior and it’s silly.

Don’t discount the quick and immediate rewards. It may take weeks or months to get in shape, but getting those points for avoiding junk food or working out are rewards that happen right away. This system makes it easy to get some artificial immediate jolt to the reward part of the brain while working on goals that might have long-term or abstract rewards.

If you were ever into RPGs, I gotta recommend Habit RPG as a system to check out.

The One You'll Do

After about a three year hiatus, I’ve gotten back into the pool.  Now, for a while after I left a gym job that got me a membership as one of the perks, I turned to walking as my primary exercise.

This isn’t going to be some rant about the superiority of any particular exercise.   In reality, there’s no such thing, no matter how much the steroid monkeys throw poorly understood research articles at each other.

Unless you are a professional or world-class competitive athlete, the answer for the perfect exercise is really is simple.  It’s the one you can do that you’ll choose to do on some pretty regular basis.

That’s it.

Sure, sure you might make a hobby out of your chosen activity.  To keep up interest, you might measure progress or learn about the activity.  It’s no coincidence that the physical activities I have loved best are extremely skill and form based.  But that sort of thing doesn’t matter as much as you think.  At a certain age, you’re only going to progress so far, and you’re only going to choose to devote a specific amount of time to being active (and by the way, half an hour a day and you’re good.  That hour a day stuff is about weight loss without diet change, not cardiovascular fitness).

The person who goes for a half hour walk every day, doesn’t measure distance or make a hobby out of performance, but Just Does It over a long period of time is actually in a better exercise position than the person who goes hammer and tongs at working out every few months for a few weeks, but then gets sick of it.

Heroic effort might be more interesting while you’re doing it, but I challenge anyone who does than (*looks sternly in the mirror*) to measure how that holds up against consistency.

Mascoma River Greenway Route Tour

So, here I am on a disused train trestle bridge having my hand held like a daggone three year old while my heart is trying to pound through my chest and I can’t stop myself from looking down through the gaps in the trestle to the Certain Death below.

No, in Real Life, I was in almost no danger. The ties were less than a yard apart and were mostly steady. Even if I’d fallen, there was no way in the world I would have fallen through ties that close together and strong enough to hold a train. Ah, irrational fears. Silly me, I thought to mention my fear of strange dogs to the organizer of the Mascoma River Greenway when I went on a tour of the prospective route. What I did not mention was my strong distaste for unprotected heights.

Lebanon, New Hampshire, never let it be said I do not love my adopted city. Virginian I may be, but I’m doing this for you, Lebanon. You need a greenway.

Most of the work for this greenway has already been done. See those railroad tracks? Railroad tracks mean a graded rail bed, and a very strong fill. You need that to support the locomotive. As you will see in this series of pictures, we do not have intercity rail to any great degree in rural New Hampshire. Like most of the rural US, we drive when we want to get somewhere quickly.

So, there’s all this work that was done at least fifty years before I was born, and that work still stands. The cuts and fills are still there, the structure of the bridges are still quite sturdy, despite Miss Scaredy Cat having trouble keeping her heart rate down going over one of them. This means all we need to do is get those rails up and make the surface smooth enough for bikes. Smooth enough for a bike means smooth enough for a pedestrian.

Lebanon is full of enthusiastic bikers and walkers. Many of us move here because we like The Great Outdoors, we’re relatively health-conscious, and most of us would just as soon keep down pollution using green methods of transportation.

Enthusiasm for safe and pleasant walking or biking, as well we recreation areas, can be seen even among the improvements put in by locals. At the beginning of the Greenway, just outside of the tunnel under Hanover Street, a young man chose to create a “pocket park” as an Eagle Scout project. As you can see, it looks wonderful and is a great place to hang out and enjoy a little piece of the Mascoma River.

There is also local support for the Greenway. As we were walking on the stretch of the trail between High Street and Slayton Hill Road that is open to the public, we saw an elderly local, cane in hand, who urged us most emphatically to get moving on the project, as she’d like to see it completed!

While we do not have the extraordinary work that would be required were we to be starting from scratch, there is still (in my own profession’s parlance) a non-trivial amount of work to do. Check out the picture to the left. As we crossed over the bridge over Slayton Hill Road, we moved on to the areas of the trail where the rails are still lying disused. See the trees growing up between the rails? Since the railroad hasn’t been active for a long time, plant growth is taking over. However, Greenway. This means that while we need and want a place to walk and bike, we also want plants and growth around us. This is intended to be a multi-use trail that will retain the natural beauty that our area has in such abundance.*

There is serious evidence that even the parts of the Greenway which have not yet been properly constructed are being used by residents. There are clear paths beside most of the overgrown rails and informal access points worn smooth by many feet. Even in advance of the trail opening, it is being used, telling us that improvements in walking or biking conditions would open it up to even more pedestrian and bike traffic, safely away from busy roads.

The estimated cost of the project is $2.1 million. Yes, that’s a fair amount of money to raise, but the payoff in terms of walkability, property values and safe, green transportation will be worth it.

You don’t think so?

How would you rather get somewhere?

I took the picture on the left today as we were walking over the 89 bridge. I know how I’d rather have gotten to the movie theater or Price Chopper!


* In fact, though I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to show it to you, I saw quite large and beautiful deer bound across the trail we’d just crossed towards the end of our hike.

Fitness Test

WOMEN:  Swim Test





>700 yards

>600 yards

>550 yards













very poor





This is a random fitness test I pulled off the Internet. You swim as fast and far as you can for twelve minutes. I’m older than is taken into account for this chart, for the record.

So, “good” means one can swim at least a quarter of a mile in twelve minutes.

I’m not very in -shape, but my regular, not trying excessively hard, and certainly breaking it up with slower strokes than the crawl swimming pace is about 12 minutes on a quarter of a mile. An all-out effort using only the crawl? Yeah, I’d break that 550 yards, no problem.

Either I am in considerably better shape than I give myself credit for, or this test might be a bit inaccurate. I’d love to think I’m in good shape and all, but I have this nagging feeling that if I take this as accurate, I’m kinda fooling myself.

Didn’t Swim

I thought that there was no lap swimming after I’d be getting home for teaching, so I prepped to lift weight, instead.

No, I didn’t work out first thing in the morning. On days when I’m teaching in the morning and opening the gym, I don’t work out before I do all that. I’m all for getting a workout done right away, but my cutoff for how early I’m willing to arise for non-emergency purposes is four in the morning. So no, won’t be working out before I open the gym.

Yes, I lifted for about a half an hour.

I hate going into a busy weight room when I don’t know the guys there. It’s just this thing I have going. And it was busy with some guys working with some trainer I’d never met.

So, I creep over to the bench press, get in my sets, then get over to my non-favorite squat rack (my favorite on was in use) and load up the bar to lift. I’m getting all these looks and it’s really distracting, but I go on with my workout. I know it can’t be because of how much I’m lifting. I can name six female gym patrons who regularly squat twice the weight I was working out with. I ignored it and concentrated on Savatage while I got on with my set.

After I’m done an unloading the bar, the coach dewd comes over to help me do so. I had to bite my tongue not to say, “For a ten pound plate. REALLY?”

Well, as it turns out, it was actually a good thing I bit my tongue. His comment, “You’ve got a good squat. What’s your sport?”

Okay, for the non weightlifters, being complimented on squat form is a high-order thing at the free weights. Being asked what my sport is makes me a bit giddy, what wit me having none. I don’t know for sure, but I’m half wondering if the looks were because my form was being pointed out.

I thanked him and commented that I don’t really have one, but I swim a lot. He told me he thought I ought to get into Olympic lifting.


In reality, I’m not strong enough to consider competing, and my focus really does need to be regularity of workout over competitions. But still, it was pretty damn flattering.

Though, I need to remember that half a bowl of oatmeal at quarter to five, while a so-so breakfast, is not going to be enough fuel for a weight-lifting session at quarter to one after teaching a class. I need to pack a bento on days I intend to work out AFTER I teach. I intend to avoid that, as I prefer to work out first thing in the morning, but still, I got it out of the way before I came home. So now I can relax with a good conscience.

But How Will You Improve, Part Two

Last week, I talked about exercise, improvement and whether or not to have goals.

A) My swimming time is definitely improving without extraordinary effort.  I swam 1050 today in half an hour while pushing enough to be a pleasant muscular effort.  I wasn’t feeling all gung-ho, but was just enjoying my swim.  A month ago, I swam 900 yards in half an hour.

B)  I do have an exercise goal.  My goal is to show up!

I still question the “Get better and better and better!” thing for working out.  Friends, I’m 42.  Not a teenager any more.  While yes, I do agree that we need to move our bodies to keep them healthy, we don’t have to be athletes.

When we talk about fitness, I really think “Fit for what?” becomes a genuine question to ask.  The Crossfit people have their own ideas about this.  I won’t argue too hard against them, but I will point out Crossfit was created as a training program for rescue workers.  If you want to be able to perform at that physical level, I think that’s cool.  Go for it.  But accept that if you’re not a rescue worker, it’s more of a hobby than a reflection on how you live your life on a day to day basis.  (And goodness knows I can think of worse hobbies!)  I wouldn’t call it a moral imperative, even if fitness websites do often have testimonials about some emergency and how glad they are they did <foo> sort of training because it helped them.

I do think, however, that looking at the life you live and deciding what you want to be able to do physically is a good idea.

For myself, this is my physical baseline.  I want to be able to:

  • Swim a mile comfortably
  • Walk two miles without feeling tired afterwards
  • Lift a standard copier paper box of books comfortably
  • Wrangle a snow-blower after a two foot snowfall (I live in Northern New England)
  • Be able to stack a couple of cords of wood in a day (see previous)
  • Be able to help push a car out of a ditch (again, see previous)
  • Be active enough that I think driving to a grocery store is a silly waste of gas.  This means being able to carry a heavy back pack full of groceries about a half a mile.
  • Be able to lift a suitcase over my head into the overhead compartment on a train or airplane
  • Be able to run from one end of an airport to another to catch a flight on too close of a connection.
  • Be able to give a four to six hour lecture on my feet being physically active and animated the whole time.  (I teach computer applications as well as rant about physical fitness.  If you’re not active and animated, you lose your audience quick).
  • Be able to change a 5 gallon water jug in a water cooler without spilling water all over the floor or throwing out my back.

Notice none of the goals are particularly exciting or dramatic.  I don’t have survivalist goals.  I live a heavily technologically-based life and I’m cool with that.  I grew up during the tail end of the Cold War fifty miles from Washington DC, a state capital, and about a dozen military bases.  I’m used to living on the slopes of Vesuvius, thanks.  If I sweated it, I’d be more of a basket case than I already am.  I can pretty much do all of the things listed above already, but it’s my baseline.   Every one of them can be achieved or maintained by working out a half an hour every weekday.

Do your desired physical abilities levels look different?  I bet they do.  Know why? You live a different life.  I do think it is a good idea, though, to sit down and give what you want to be able to do physically some logical thought.  What can you do now?  What do you want to be able to do?  Do you have any physical limitations that are a factor?  I do.  There’s a reason I’m an enthusiastic swimmer above and beyond my love of water, ya know!

I’m curious to know what other people’s goals look like, if you want to share.  I’m curious to know how they reflect real-world daily life v. numbers measuring athletic performance.

But, How Will You Improve?

Yesterday I heard of someone expressing concern about my thoughts on exercise from yesterday.

The gist of the concern was, “If you don’t work to improve and have a goal of improving, how in the world are you going to push enough to get faster/stronger/fitter/whateverer?”

That’s a valid question, and I got an answer to that this morning during my swim.1 I’d been swimming between 900-1000 yards in my half an hour. I swam 1050 yards today. (That’s 42 lengths of a 25 yard pool). Now, I’ve mentioned that I refuse to do the tooth-gritting, by the numbers pushing to improve, so am I going back on deliberately not having time and distance goals?

Not in the least.

I swam that fast, and pushing very hard, for the simple joy of it. It felt good. My body felt good. I was taking a sensual delight in muscular effort. I was enjoying the sunlight playing off of the bubbles trailing from my fingertips as my hand speared the water. The simple hedonistic feel of being supported by and moved through water made me happy and I was pushing hard for the sheer delight of it.

Kids do this – run around a field just because, WHEEE!!!!!! It’s time to RUN! Remember when you were little and rolling around on the grass, or climbing a tree or speeding along on your bike just because moving felt so good? I was not an athletic kid. I was bookish and sedentary. And I can still remember that sensation clearly – the joy of just moving. It’s not a child thing. It’s a human thing. It’s why every culture in the world has its dance traditions. Moving your body for the joy of it is natural.

That’s not to say mobility and pain issues aren’t relevant. If it’s raining Monday morning, and my joint are achy, chances are slim I’ll feel the way I did today during my morning swim. Instead of getting my orca on, I’ll plod through a half an hour of swimming feeling a bit clumsy and maybe not swimming that whole 1050. I don’t want the pressure or responsibility to constantly meet my highs. They’ll climb naturally, and will be egged on during those moments when movement just feels good.

And when it doesn’t, moving at all will take me another day closer to a session when it feels wonderful another time.


1 Yes,I write more when I am swimming. I get a lot of thinking done moving in the water. When I was a kid, I seemed to write more when I was doing a lot of bike riding, before I got my Walkman. I guess forward motion without any distraction is just good for my mental clarity.

Athleticism vs. Fitness

I am very tired of fitness writers applying competitive athlete solutions to the problems of everyday fitness. The fact the body needs to move is not an issue that only pertains to competitive athletes. As a corollary, just because a world-class athlete does something doesn’t mean that it’s needed for every-day fitness.

When you thumb through a swimming mag, you’ll see articles talking about how to shave fractions of a second off your time offering all kinds of advice. I’m not going to buy the special swimsuit made of Neptunium-coated fiber blessed by the Dolphin Gods because it will reduce my drag in the water by .001%. Nor do I think that for my daily workout, shaving off all body hair below the neck to reduce drag is necessarily crucial. That .001% might matter to an Olympic athlete a great deal. But I’m not a competitive swimmer. I don’t need to apply the problems of athletic competition to daily fitness. I need to show up daily for daily fitness. That’s a completely different problem, especially when being athletic is not generally the focus of my whole day.1

I recognize that many fitness writers are competitive athletes. It’s how they motivate themselves and they tend to like the mindset. There’s nothing wrong with being a competitive athlete, of course. It can be a good way to motivate oneself, if that’s to one’s taste. But what it means is that articles on activities are going to be geared to constantly improving athletic performance with a competitive mindset.

But I think the needs of people who have absolutely no interest in being competitive athletes, but are interested in making sure they get in enough movement to keep healthy are being completely underserved. It’s logical that it’s happening. Most people in the fitness industry do get there by means of having been a competitive athlete. Hellfire, I was as a teenager, myself.

What we need to see are more articles talking about consistency of exercise rather than training for competitions, or imitating training for competitions as a workout strategy. We need to talk about staying motivated when one hasn’t the slighted interest in treating exercise like a competitive activity. We need to talk more about modifications for physical issues. We need to talk about what being fit really means instead of implying you’ll be immortal if you’re thin enough, work out enough and take all the right vitamins.

I’d be curious to know what people who aren’t into the athlete mindset, but who still work out like to do and how they keep motivated on a daily level.


1 I mean, come on, I’m a writer and a teacher. While the performance art of teaching can be pretty physical when you’re trying to keep your students interested and engaged, it’s not like being a lumberjack.

Objective vs. Subjective in the Pool

I was looking up some material on working out and heart rates. Spinners, bless their hearts, aren’t even allowed to work out without a heart rate monitor. Back in the 1980s when aerobics was the thing, most classes would stop every so often to check your heart rate to make sure you’re working out in the target zone. I guess that sort of training rubbed off on me, because I do check my heart rate after a workout from time to time.

And according to some sources, going for the land-based target heart rate means I work too hard in the water. I generally match that ideal target heart rate for aerobic exercise just out of habit when I’m working out. But, the fact that you’re horizontal means your heart is beating 10-15 beats a minute less than for land-based exercise. I generally hit the land numbers and the theory is that this is pushing too hard.

Now this is nonsense. You know what working too hard feels like. It hurts, you’re gasping unpleasantly, and your heart feels like it’s going to pound out of your chest. You do not feel pleasantly mellow after such a workout with slightly elevated breathing and (if you’re fair skinned) a little bit red in the face. If you feel exhilarated and good, you’re probably not pushing too hard.1

I understand the desire to train by the numbers, and hit specific non-subjective goals. I prefer concrete goals, myself. Training myself out of doing that in favor of putting in that half hour working out is a lot more challenging than I would have believed. I still ask myself if I got in enough yardage swimming, or if I have pushed hard enough. Yes, in a way I’m teaching myself to tolerate being bored by exercise. I don’t tolerate boredom well, and I’m realizing that for some very limited things, it’d be better if I could just a little. I can be frenetically mentally active the other 23 ½ hours a day if I must.

It’s still hard because I want so badly to evaluate each workout beyond, “Did it happen for half an hour?” Even though I’ve gotten away from numbers, I’m still asking myself how I feel. Of course, that’s different every day, and often has less to do with how well I’m performing in terms of speed and heart rate, and more to do with how I feel emotionally about my form and power in the water. If I’m feeling clumsy in the water, I generally don’t feel like it’s been a “good” workout. When I get my Orca on, I feel fantastic, no matter what the numbers say.



1 This is the average exerciser we’re talking about here. You adrenaline junkies who get off on extreme sports are another breed entirely.