Swimming and Snowballing

Me: I think it’s time for me to write a blog post.
The Prince: I guess it’s going to be about swimming.
Me: What in the world makes you think that?

Yes, it’s going to be about swimming. And it’s going to be about how things can snowball.

So, I’d had this Life-Eating Project for about a year, and I’d been quite ill for a few months before that. Between the two, I had not exercised much in about eighteen months. Once the LEP was over, and I took care of important family business (like getting my son off to college), I decided I needed to get a little more active.

Now my husband and I love to walk, and when it’s nice, we do. We also live in Northern New England where the weather is often not very nice. And, we can be good at finding excuses not to work out after a long day. But both of us are good at morning exercise, and what with our empty nest stuff going on, we decided that we’d start going to a local gym — him to do whatever weird people who like ellipticals and stuff do, and me to get in the pool like anyone who has good sense.

As I started swimming (my usual swim being about 900 yards because I was out of shape), I made a crack to my husband about swimming from Alcatraz. He really wants to take a trip to San Francisco, so in an effort to get me interested, he commented, “Okay, let’s do it in 2016!” (Our travel money for 2015 is kinda already committed to other trips).

I said yes. Then I realized that while it might only be a mile an a half from Alcatraz Island to Aquatic Park, I might want to do some research to find out what might make this a little bit of a challenging swim.

Remember, this started out as training for a mile and a half open water swim two years hence. This gets important later.

So I start reading. I read about tides and currents and cold water and hypothermia and the cold water goddess Lynne Cox. Then I start reading blogs of other open water swimmers and I discover that marathon swimming is actually a sport. In fact, and this is the cool part, it’s a sport you don’t have to get skinny to do.


Then I get to thinking that I need something to keep me committed for the interim (two years is a long time to hold interest for what is a somewhat modest goal) and I signed up to swim the Boston Sharkfest. I signed up to do it without a wetsuit mostly because finding one I could afford in my size ainta happenin’. So fine, I’ll learn cold water.

The recommendation is that you can swim a mile in 40 minutes. My best time on a mile is about 48:30, and when I started it was more like 56:00. So, speed goal. Yes, I’ll get there in time for the swim.

In looking for open water advice, I also signed on to a marathon swimmer’s board, and found myself interested in some open water swims about an hour and a half north of me. So, in another fit of insanity, and also to keep my training interest, I signed up for one of the shorter swims — a two miler.

One of the people on the board recommended that I try at some point this winter to swim that two miles in a pool to see if I could do it. My training schedule is such that I tend to do my “long” swim on a weekend morning. And it was only 2000 yards. A mile is 1740, so I tend to mentally tag 1800 yards as a mile for my pool training purposes. So we’re looking at a little under twice the distance I have ever swum in my life.

Figuring this morning would be a good time, I decided to make the attempt. I had a standard swimmer breakfast of a big ole bowl of oatmeal (with apples, ’cause that’s what I like) and a mug of coffee because I am a caffeine addict.

When I got in the pool, I was questioning the wisdom of this. I mean, I normally do my swim before breakfast, so I’m not used to swimming with anything in my stomach. (Not to mention the fact that my normal breakfast is bacon and eggs, so not as carb heavy as what I’d had this morning) I felt weighed down and sluggish for the first 300 yards or so, wondering if I was even going to be able to do my normal swim.

After that, I guess my body was pulling on that oatmeal for fuel because I felt better and was just cruising along. I had to share a lane for about half an hour, but after that, had a whole lane to myself. I love having a lane to myself.

After an hour, at about 2100 yards, it hit me. Holy mackerel, I can do this! I’ve got it in me, and I’m not too tired. (And holy mackerel, am I hungry!)

At 3000 yards, I had to have a chat with my left calf. It started cramping up on me.

CALF: Hey, slow down! (CRAMP)
ME: Not a chance. Former ballerina, remember? (FLEX) I am taking no shit from YOU.

So, with my left foot as a sea anchor for a bit, I swam on, then switched to breast stroke to give my pointed feet a change.

At 3200 yards, I started feeling sad. I didn’t want the swim to be over. My shoulders then informed me they were going to hunt down and torture my ego if I did not stop when I’d completed my planned yardage. So, I did.

At 3600, I stopped. I felt good.

I didn’t feel so good for a minute when I got out of the pool, though. both calves decided to cramp at once. While I’m sure the pool did not need to be treated to the sight of my rear end while I stretched that out, I didn’t want to be hobbling to the showers. Being a former dancer, I do know how to deal with calf cramps, and so I took care of it immediately.

I’m still a little wistful that the swim is over. I think…Yeah, I think that while I’ll still be doing Alcatraz in the summer of 2016, it may not be my biggest swim.

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