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.

New Year's Musings

It’s a new year. I thought about New Year’s resolutions and really the only one I could come up with was to develop the habit of hanging up my swim towel and bathing suit immediately upon returning home after my workout.

But I like that resolution. You see, the resolution presumes that I’m going to be swimming, after all — a habit I’ve developed pretty solidly since the middle of last August or so.

I’ve been looking at my progress. It’s been so-so. I’ve dropped my average mile time down about eight minutes. That’s cool and all, but I need to drop it down another eight before some swims I intend to do this summer.

So, yeah, coaching. I’m lousy at accepting coaching, but in the Rule One* category, I really need to. Open water swimming can be dangerous. The “can be” moves to “is” if you don’t follow Rule One. And that’s going to mean coaching.

I’m eyeing the idea of developing a tolerance for colder water with a bit of despair. I hate cold, and I train in a pool that runs between 78 and 80 degrees. While I’m completely happy to put this off until about May or so, I’m going to have to get in the water then and start building up a tolerance. I signed up for the Sharkfest in the non-wetsuit category.

I did not do this out of any real macho sense. I did it because I’m five-two, and even if my diet goes well, will be weighing over 200 lbs by my swimming events. They simply do not make wetsuits in my size. Sure, sure, they make them for large people, but they make them for people whose size is at least in part due to height. For someone as short as me? Not so much, and certainly not for a price that won’t make me curl into a little ball sucking my thumb. Women my size are not often athletes. It happens, yes, but we’re not typical.

And yeah, I’ve got some pipe dream ideas about swims I’d like to do. But the only way to make a pipe dream a reality is to take daily incremental steps. One of those steps is most certainly developing cold tolerance.

I’ve been reading Loneswimmer a lot because he seems to obey Rule One (except for his habit of swimming alone 😉 ) and has written some detailed material on the biology of cold reaction and hypothermia. I suppose living in Northern New England near a really great hospital might come in handy. One would think they’re moderately expert in dealing with hypothermia.

There are other things I will be doing this year. Not so much resolutions, but things I need to do more, or do less. One of them is simply to create more. I need to knit more, write more blog posts, and sew more. Not want to. Need to. I do think the measure of a life revolves around what one creates. I don’t necessarily mean objects, mind. It could be a home, a family, a piece of software, a community or an idea. But I do think as humans what we do that matters most is in what we create. So much so that if I spend more time consuming than creating, I feel badly both mentally and spiritually.

It’s probably why I rather like cosplayers, the SCA, indie gamers, little bloggers, and all of that. It might be a little hobby, but it’s creating!

So what am I creating as a swimmer? A stronger, healthier body? Yeah. And it’s why I got into it. But to be honest, I keep up with it because I like it, and I’m happy when I am doing it. Probably I need something in my life where I turn off the information input flow and just BE for a bit.

*grin* And if you argue that means that turning off and not creating for a while is important, I’ll point out that most of the ideas for this article came to me while I was face down staring at that black line. I don’t listen to music or anything like that when I swim. I let my mind roam, poke at problems, and use my time in the pool to think. (When I am not trying to do a certain amount of math to quantify my workout, that is!)

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions? If you do, are they guided by a principle in your life? If so, what are they?

* Do not be a fu^h^h^h fornicating idiot.

Concern V. Concern Trolling

This article is part of a project to write 750 words a day for 100 days without breaking the chain. Today is my 100th day.

So, I can achieve goals. This is a happy thing, and it’s not what I want to talk about.

I want to talk about the difference between concern and concern trolling.

I have, a couple of times after a workout, been asked if I was okay. To put this in perspective. I am short. I am fat. I wear about a size 22 (US) in clothes. I am fair-skinned, which means that if I am working out hard my face gets red, yes, even in a pool. That’s never going to change no matter how much weight I lose or how athletic I become. It’s the way I am built. But, it becomes a big deal when someone assumes that the fat lady working out is a walking heart attack. As an aside, I just took my pulse. 66bpm. Lowish end of normal. Haven’t taken my blood pressure recently, but it was never high. I’m a swimmer, for pity’s sake. We tend to have lower blood pressure when we’re not trying to kill ourselves in endurance events.

A few weeks ago, I had someone (who I don’t know and haven’t seen in the gym since) say after my workout while I was drying my hair, “Are you okay? You know, maybe you’re pushing yourself too much. You ought to be careful about that.”

It got under my fingernails, and I can only say if you don’t believe fat people have self-control, keep in mind that I did simply say that I was fine and even smiled while I did it.

The reason it got under my fingernails is contrasted strongly by someone asking if I was okay after my workout today.

As some background, I hit the gym quite under slept. For whatever reason, I could NOT fall asleep early enough to get in my usual sleep ration and woke early even in spite of that. But I was feeling more zombie than chipper and I did kind of plod into the pool to get in my swim.

Normally when I swim, my pace is very steady throughout a set. My sets have specific patterns, and I work hard on good stroke technique throughout them.

Today wasn’t like that. I kept forgetting where I was in the middle of sets, my stroke form was off, I even inhaled some water and had to cough it out. Instead of jumping out of the pool and getting on with my day after my swim, I lingered in the water for a bit, rubbing my sleepy eyes and wishing I could just float for a while.

More background. This particular lifeguard is incredibly observant. She knows workout patterns, stroke styles, lane preferences, and even typical workout lengths for all of the swimming regulars. (This is way above and beyond what’s needed for a lifeguard, by the way. It’s more like what you’d look for in a coach). She *knew* what my normal workout looked like, and knew that today was a struggle.

When she asked me if I was okay, that wasn’t concern trolling. She knew what my swims looked like and could see that I was off today.

This is NOTHING like some stranger coming up to the fattest woman in the locker room who happens to still be a bit red in the face to give her advice on a workout she hasn’t seen.

Prickly as I am, I actually do appreciate concern. I really do. It felt nice to know that the lifeguard knew my workout patterns and was concerned enough to comment on a variation.

But the difference between concern and concern trolling in my mind has a lot to do with whether or not the person is qualified through expertise and observation to make that judgment. Even if that person in the locker room were a cardiologist (and don’t think she is, as I work at the hospital and know most of them on sight), she would not have had sufficient data on my workout patterns, heart rate, blood pressure or other factors to be able to make any sort of decent judgment about that. She saw a fat chick who was red in the face (I was no longer breathing hard, having showered and dressed) and decided to put in her two cents.

Concern is great, but for concern trolling, I wish those people would keep their yaps shut.