Are you experienced?

To keep myself interested in swimming, and to make it pretty much impossible to drop out of working out pretty regularly, I’ve signed up for a couple of open water swims next summer.

The first one I will do is Son of a Swim — a two mile open water swim through Kingdom Swim at Lake Maphremagog. It’s meant for new open water swimmers and signups are limited. This just suits me for a first open water event. It’ll be in late June, so I am going to have some time to get some open water practice in before I do the swim.

The second one is going to be the Boston Sharkfest. While it’s a race, I’m going to have to admit I’m really only swimming to complete this one. It’s 1500 meters, so is almost a mile.

I’ve asked some questions on a message board dedicated to marathon swimmers. (You, like people who swim the English channel and stuff). They’ve been very kind and have offered some advice, mostly that I need coaching to get my speed up. Annoying, but unsurprising. I didn’t really want to join a swim team, but for something as technical as swimming, I obviously need someone to critique my technique. So yeah, coaching.

I’ve also been advised that I need to bring up my swimming volume on some individual workouts. While common wisdom says you can swim in a day what you swim in a week, it’d be a good idea to make sure I really CAN do a couple of miles in a pool at some point before I try the open water stuff. So, I need to plan for a few much longer swims in the months ahead. That’s cool. I can deal with that.

The last part is relevant to the two mile swim, but not the shorter one — feedings.


I swim on an empty stomach most days. In the pool at five thirty, I really have neither time nor inclination for breakfast until after my swim. Given that I am generally hungry with a strong adjective in front of it after a swim, I’m okay with this.

But for longer swims, food of some sort is generally thought of as a good idea. Depending on the length of the swim, most marathon swimmers eat every half hour or so. Now, a two mile swim is by no means a marathon. (Cutoff for that is 10K, I think…) But, yeah, it’s going to take me a couple of hours to do the swim. I dunno… The idea of eating on such a short swim makes me wince.

On the other hand, this is advice given to me by people who are majorly into this, and ya know, like swim the English Channel and stuff. I can’t say they don’t know what they’re talking about. They do. They totally do.

What I am wondering is how that advice translates to me, the fitness swimmer who is signing up for a pretty small event just to keep herself interested enough to work out most days. I tend to snark non-elite athletes imitating what the elite athlete does. (Gatorade after a normal fitness class, or protein powder when you’re not a competitive bodybuilder, ferinstance).

Yet, these elite athletes are actually advising the whole feeding thing for this tiny little swim. (Not that it’s tiny to me. It’s huge to ME. But I’m comparing what they do).

Like the coaching, I am probably going to suck it up and follow their advice. Until I have experience doing this, I can’t know better, and I realize that.

The reality is that these swims are going to be a little dangerous. Not hugely so, of course, but there is risk involved. I could get hypothermia, I could get a cramp and have a hard time keeping afloat. I could panic out in the open water (yes, I’m a good swimmer, but being scared before an open water swim is not too unusual, and panicking happens among the inexperienced sometimes, and I am inexperienced). I could get too tired to go on in the middle of the swim, and it’s not like running where you can slow down and walk. You have to keep up the pace to stay afloat and keep up your body heat.

So, with all that in mind, I figure I don’t really have enough personal experience that might trump someone else’s knowledge, and until I do, it’d be suicidally stupid not to follow advice.

I’m still resisting the idea of sports gels, though… Lynne Cox got by on oatmeal cookies and warm apple juice, darn it!

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.

Goals, Strokes and Intervals

I’ve got a goal this year of reducing my swimming time from around a mile in 56 minutes to a mile in 40 minutes. I’m doing it because you should be able to do that comfortably in a pool before you start doing open water swims.

Swim workouts, like any workout with athletic improvement in mind, need to have some changing up component to it to keep the body challenged. If you do the same thing every time, it becomes a lot easier. Easy is often a legitimate goal, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not my particular goal.

So, I do some things to ensure changing up. Swimming sees its best improvement when you swim intervals. This means you’ll swim a distance as hard as you can, then another distance at an easier pace, switching things up throughout the workout. Yes, even marathon swimmers do this to train, even if steady is the goal when they get out on the open water.

For the past couple of weeks, my workout was either 1,000 yards or 1,200 yards swum in units of 100 yards with a length of breaststroke up, then swimming crawl back, then breaststroke up, then backstroke back. I’d sprint for the crawl because it’s a fast stroke.

As an aside, no the stroke is not actually freestyle, even if people often call it that now. Freestyle is an event in a swim meet, not a stroke. It is called freestyle because you are free to swim any stroke you wish. Most people choose the front crawl because it is the fastest stroke.

This was brought home to me when I was about six or seven at a swim meet. The event was the 16-18 year old men’s freestyle. We were swimming against a team that wasn’t quite as competitive as we were, and the Romagnoli boy swam the event *gasp* butterfly! The younger kids, including me, were freaking out, thinking that he’d be DQ’ed (disqualified) for swimming the wrong stroke even if he DID come in first, when the coach laughed and pointed out that freestyle means you can swim any stroke you want. Butterfly was a bit of a risk for the event, but he was very strong fly swimmer. Why not go for a challenge?

So, the stroke that you think of as freestyle is really the front crawl, ‘kay? And it’s a LOT faster than other strokes.

Those sets I was swimming, breast, free,* breast, back?

Today I decided to switch it up and swam free, breast, free, back. Instead of half my distance being breast stroke, half my distance became the front crawl. That 56:30 mile I’ve been side-eyeing? Today it was a 52:11 minute mile. (That was my pace, mind. I didn’t swim a whole mile).

So, why not just switch entirely to freestyle, right?


I could, but it wouldn’t be a great idea. That’s asking for a shoulder injury, and I’m not just doing this to get faster. The real reason my butt is in the pool is to get an efficient workout (swimming is good for cardio and full-body strength), and switching up the strokes means I work different muscle groups.

The other reason? That’s a little more embarrassing. I can do about 100 yards of the crawl before I get tired. The plan is to start working up to longer and longer distances of a single stroke as I get in better shape. My sets will stop being essentially a length of a particular stroke as I work up.

But there’s a lot to be said for essentially sprinting a length, then swimming another a slower stroke and alternating. That’s good, solid interval training, after all.

I also reached a goal today. I’d decided to try to swim ten miles in thirty days, and reached it about seven days early. I think my next goal needs to be a tad more ambitious. Since I swim a bit over half a mile a day, I think I’m going to make it a goal to swim 15 miles in the next thirty days. That’s more or less presuming I stick to my usual schedule, and a little bit over, so that I am going to have an impetus to bump up my yardage per workout in the next week or so.

Anyone else have any goals — fitness or not? I’m curious what people are challenging themselves with!
* Yes, see, I think of it that way, too!

We’ve Got a Long Way to Go

Swam 1200 yards in 38:17 today.

This is slightly disheartening. I need to be swimming 1800 yards in that amount of time by around August 2016. And in the short term, I’m really not getting any faster. In fact, I seem to be getting slower rather than faster.

I keep pointing out to myself that the reality is that I need to be in the pool moving for half an hour five days a week. That’s the baseline and what I need for my health. Any sort of open water swim or anything like that is only useful if it’s going to keep me motivated and interested. If it gets me not working out, or burning me out, it’s not useful. It’s actually detrimental.

That said, I do want to do the Alcatraz swim. It sounds cool. I’ve been reading some open water swimmer accounts — things like accounts of swimming the English Channel. They’re pretty cool, but I am wondering how much good reading these accounts is really doing me. A Channel swimmer is the elite of the elite, my friends. It’s like the Everest of swimming. In point of fact, considerably more people have successfully reached the summit of Everest than have successfully crossed the Channel swimming. (I think it’s like a factor of five to one)

So, comparing myself to these people and their training could be inspiring, but it could also be unrealistically discouraging.

I’m a solid, strong swimmer. No doubt about that. Compared to the general population, I’m pretty damn good. But to do the Alcatraz swim, I can’t be comparing myself to the general population. I need to be reasonably good even by competitive swimmer standards.

The reality?

I’m slow as hell. That’s a problem when you’re dealing with tides, currents and other things that you cope with in open water swimming. I don’t mean like, a problem where the pace boat and crew are going to get bored type of problem. I mean like an “It can kill you” problem.

So yeah, looking at my increasingly slower times over the past couple of weeks does have me wondering if I can even DO this. Should I be dropping back to just swimming for half an hour every weekday morning and leaving it alone?

I could. I really could. There would be nothing wrong with that. I’d be getting the exercise my body needs, which is the whole point of me getting up at five in the morning to head to the pool.


I don’t want to do that. I totally don’t. A mile and a damn half, even if it is in cold, open water with strong currents seems too damn doable for me to be able to let go of that. I doubt like hell I’d ever make a Channel swimmer, and that’s okay. It’s just that this seems too logically reasonable to let go of.

Then I look at my swimming pace times and wince and wince and wince.

It’s so early in the training, though. I mean, I just decided I wanted to do this a month ago, and I gave myself two blasted years to train for it. Maybe next year, if I haven’t improved enough to be reasonable, I could consider giving up, but it’d be silly to do so now.

What I’m really hoping is sometime in October 2015, I’m going to look at this entry and laugh my head off at how silly I was to be discouraged in a small backwards blip in the data. But the only way I can get there is to keep going.

That doesn’t entirely stop me from growling at my watch right now, or pushing to keep up with the lean, surfboard of a guy wearing flippers in the lane next to me, or wondering if I should be pumping iron to get my strength up, or feeling jealous of the dolphinlike grace of the kids doing their swim team workout in the lane on my other side.

I’m not even thinking about the cold showers and baths I’m going to have to start taking to get acclimated to cold water. I blot out the thought of marine life and possibly being attacked by a shark or seal.

I’m not even at a point where I need to even think about such things. I need to keep my eyes on 1800 yards in 40:00 minutes.

And in the words of Li Sheng, “We’ve got a long way to go.”

Harder than Heroic Effort

I’m not good at what I can only call a “tedious slog.” Short-term heroic effort? Hell yeah. Got that down and buddy it can be impressive.

There’s a downside to that. You’re either going all out, or you’re… Well, not. Going, that is.

What I am generally not good at, though I am trying very hard to learn, and getting better at, is patient dailyness. I can do the Big Huge Thing towards goals, but doing a little bit every day is much, much harder.

The problem is that over time, that little bit accomplishes much more than the periodic heroic efforts. The person who goes from no exercise at all to a marathon isn’t actually in better shape, long-term than the person who takes a walk every day. The person whose house goes from complete chaos to sparkling clean and staged for a real estate agent to show isn’t going to have a neater home, overall, than someone who does a little bit every day. The student who pulls the all-nighter doesn’t write a better paper than the student that breaks that up into increments, does a bit of writing every day and then goes on to do a bit of editing every day until the job is done.

I was in my late thirties before I really got started with the continual small effort thing v. Heroic Effort. It started with housework, which is really a fantastic place to start. I wanted a neat house, but nothing outrageous was really riding on it. Totally low-risk, which was perfect for this. I did a little bit every day, and forbade myself to put heroic effort into it. Over time, yes, my house is rarely more than fifteen minutes to a half an hour away from being okay with guests, and I wouldn’t die of embarrassment at any drop ins. When spaces get cluttered (a home is a dynamic process, not a showpiece, after all) I really do dedicate small amounts of time over a period of days to take care of them.

Where I am trying to apply this now is exercise. That’s a whole lot harder. For all that I am hardly slender, I do get interested gaining physical skills. You only have to look at a list of the physical things I’ve been into to realize that I’m all about the technical and easy to obsess about — dance, martial arts, swimming… They’re all activities that have a high level of technique, and experts at these activities really do dedicate hours a day to it.

But while the technical aspects are enough to keep me interested, my real goal isn’t mastering X skill. My real goal, as it pertains to exercise, is just to DO it for a half an hour to an hour a day five days a week. That’s IT.

I was thinking about it this morning when I was trying to decide if I wanted to swim today. I already did my M-F swims, but I was wondering what a mile would feel like and thinking, “Yeah, I have time today, I oughta try that!”

In reality? No, I shouldn’t. Not because it would be bad for me to swim a mile today. It totally wouldn’t. But it would be bad for me to give in to the obsession only to become tired of it next year. I need to be in the pool next year, too. This isn’t something like getting obsessed with Tudor history or lace knitting where I can put it down any time another shiny obsession takes my fancy. Working out can’t really be a hobby for me. For physical maintenance, I need to damn well be active for half an hour a day five days a week. I don’t even have to put Heroic Effort into it. I just have to show up and move.

Which circles back around to the consistent, daily effort. There is another thing that’s helping me learn that. You notice that I’m posting a lot more to my blog than I used to. I don’t post every day, but I do many days a week.

The reason I do is another small, daily practice. I write seven hundred fifty words a day as an exercise to keep my writing skills up. Some of those writing sessions are really more stream of consciousness pieces to write SOMETHING to get in my word count. But notice that as I do it consistently, the more valuable essays and stories actually happen.

It is the small, consistent, daily practice that builds up better into a lifetime of worthwhile work if you can make yourself do it.

Whoda thunk that it’d be harder than Heroic Effort?

Inspiration and Looking Good on a Cereal Box

If you’re into an activity, you probably have people you look up to. You know, role models. And, of course for swimming, I do.


One of them, I do have a hard time really calling a role model. No, not because of anything bad. I grew up around the corner from him, and he’s a little younger than me, so I mentally tagged him as a kid until well into high school when he got a LOT taller than I am! Jeff Rouse went to the Olympics a few times in the 1990s and won several medals.

I remember him as a skinny little kid regularly winning at backstroke in the Ferry Farm pool. We were on the same swim team, but I was never a particularly fast swimmer (I got a second place ribbon in back stroke once) and gave up the sport after a couple of years. Jeff went on to be a highly successful competitive swimmer. And that’s not the impression that I was left with, either.

Jeff taught me that you didn’t have to be a jerk to be a successful competitive athlete. Even when other people were being horrible to me, Jeff was always gentle and kind.

And he’s the sort of athletic role model you see often in the magazines.

The next swimmer who really caught my attention was not an Olympic athlete, and wasn’t someone young and hot that they’d use to sell cereal and razor blades. He caught my attention in the spring of 2007 because of the swim he was going to attempt.

He was going to swim the length of the Amazon River.

Friends, Martin Strel is insane.

He’s a distance swimmer. He didn’t exactly start with the Amazon, but he did a lot of crazy, long-distance swims before he did this one. He survived, but just barely. There were many days when he was doing his Amazon swim that when I was faced with a workout I didn’t want to do, I’d be telling myself, “Woah, Strel is swimming with piranha and goodness knows what else in the hot sun from dawn to dusk. I can take twenty minutes on my lunch break and knock out 800 yards, for pity’s sake!”

He also made me realize that being physical wasn’t just the province of people who wanted to look like models, nor is being active going to automagically make you look like one. There are other reasons than wanting a specific appearance to be physical, and they’re just as valid as the ones you see in magazines trying to make you feel insecure enough to buy their crap.
The person I look to most these days as a swimming role model swam the English Channel several times, swam the Bering Strait during the Cold War, swam a mile in Antarctica, and survived swimming in below-freezing waters in Greenland. Lynne Cox a freak of nature in terms of cold water survival, and I have no real intentions of trying to reproduce any of her accomplishments. (Well, *maybe* the Channel swim, if I do the Alcatraz swim and don’t chicken out due to fear of the marine wildlife. I have a great imagination and visualizing sharks and seals bumping into me in the damn pool is bad enough!)

Again, she’s another athlete no-one’s putting on cereal boxes even though what she does is so hard-core and scary that few people can even SURVIVE what she’s done. She’s taken swims in waters so dangerous that fishermen in the area don’t even carry life preservers because once you’re in the water, you’ll die of hypothermia before you can be fished out.

I’ll certainly never win an Olympic gold, swim the Amazon or swim in Antarctica. Honestly, I don’t even want to. But in the case of each of the people I’ve mentioned, they got to where they did and accomplished what they did from steady perseverance. Jeff had some serious disappointments before he got that backstroke gold. Strel trained for three years to do the Amazon swim and nearly had a heart attack towards the end. Cox kept going in Cook Strait even though storms slowed her down enough that she was swimming in shark territory in twilight* to get it done.

Honestly? I don’t have that level of sticktoitiveness. For my own modest goals, I don’t even need it. But do I ever say to myself, “Lynne Cox kept swimming during shark feeding time. You can get up and get in the safe, warm pool for half an hour today, can’t you?”

You bet I do.



* Sharks tend to feed at dawn and dusk

Seven Hundred Fifty Words

Today’s practice isn’t going to be fiction. That’s mostly because I don’t think I’m at the point where I’m up for writing a short story a day. I think one a week is really about the extent of what I’m up for. So, I need to come up with some ideas for one for next Saturday. I choose Saturday because I feel like I can take more time over it.

I bought one of those Timex Ironman watches — not because I am even vaguely interested in doing a triathlon (well, MAYBE one of those sprint distance one… Maybe. but probably not) but because I wanted a waterproof watch that could keep track of laps. I’m always concerned my time is inaccurate and that I’m fooling myself because I’m losing count of laps and stuff.

Nope. Even looking at the clock when I start and stop a swim has been pretty accurate. Even so, the watch is nice, as I can time my intervals and get a better idea of how I’m doing in my workout as I am going along without stopping to squint at a clock.

I’m going to be cutting out a corset today. Believe it or not, they’re not too hard to make once you get the measurements down. The Elizabethan Custom Corset Pattern Generator  works amazingly well to create a pretty serviceable, simple corset, as long as your measurements are accurate.The real issue is deciding where to put the boning and getting the edging neat. All you really do is make a canvas shell with channels in which to put the boning, sew the fashion fabric to the shell, use some sort of edge binding (I use quilting binding) around the edges, hammer in the grommets if you don’t care about period (I don’t), or make buttonholes for the lacing if you do care, and go. It really is something I’d use to teach someone who was interested in costuming to sew on. Yes, I really would.

I am hoping to finish the corset this week, and then get started on some steampunk garb for my husband. Though, because I am a big ole meanie, he’s going to be cutting out the fabric and lining himself. (Hates cutting out patterns we does. We hates it).

We’re going to be actors in a live-action Steampunk RPG at Carnage Con. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve actually never done anything like this before, so I hope it’ll work out well. I’m thinking mostly Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson for my Steampunk ideas, though until I see the script, I can’t be sure.

Yes, I’m making an Elizabethan corset as part of a Steampunk (which is usually late Victorian) costume. My argument is mostly that if Agatha Heterodyne, who is the quintessence of a female steampunk archetype, can wear what is essentially a renfair bodice during labwork, I should be good with a corset of slightly the wrong shape as long as I pair it with a skirt with the right shape bustle and a more Victorian look to a jacket and hat.

The thing with costuming of this sort is that I actually DO know something about period costuming, and I need to turn that off for this. Steampunk might take its inspiration from the late Victorian era, but from what I’ve found on the web, inspiration is really all it is.

Which is also fine. You really don’t see all that much period clothing at renfaires, or many historical reenactments, either. It’s like historical fiction. At a certain point you do have to pick and choose to decide how you want to present something.

For that matter, I wouldn’t want to wear an actual Victorian outfit with all the proper underpinnings anyway. That would be deucedly uncomfortable unless we were looking at some sort of Pre-Raphaelite reform dress, anyway. Which would totally not work in for a Steampunk costume, or I’d be doing it.

Still need to think about an idea for another story. I’d do a slice of life, but I can’t…

Never mind. Oh yes, I can.

You know, for someone who doesn’t read much horror at all, I really do come up with some creepy-ass ideas for stories. I wonder how many authors don’t read much of the genre they actually write. I’ve gotten advice that said to write what you like to read, but it seems I just don’t do that.

I can see it now, I’m going to be releasing this book of feminist horror stories. *facepalm* It would totally work.

Fitness, Exercise and Intersection

I didn’t actually ponder a great deal in the pool today. At least, nothing that is worth writing down. I thought about work and the way I’d like to teach some classes, and how happy I am that there seems to be a serious excitement about them. That was cool.

I even tried to come up with some subject to chew on so that I could write about it this morning, and totally didn’t. I’m okay with that. My goal isn’t to come up with neat ideas in the pool, common as it is and nifty as it is when it happens. My goal is to swim for 30-40 minutes and then get on with my day.

Swam a 1200 today, just because it seemed to be going well and I figured if I went over on time, I didn’t have to spend all that much time in the locker room. I am off today, so I can go home with a wet head.

It took 35 minutes, so that was all good. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to swim a mile in a half an hour or not, but it doesn’t really matter. The 35 minutes mattered.

I’m trying to decide on what to do for strength training. Sure, sure, I’m getting some upper body strength back in the pool — no doubt!     It’s awesome and it makes me happy. But in terms of preventing osteoporosis, swimming ain’t it. The things that make it wonderful for me in terms of getting in a workout without hurting joints in my legs are the very things I need to keep up bone density.

Well, sort of.

Studies are showing that it’s not only the impact that helps build and keep bone density. Weight training provides about the same benefit. Surprise, surprise, chickadees! Weight training is actually low impact. I’m sure that’s a lot of why I like it so much.

And that’s also a reason I’m trying to decide how to get back into it. I plain like it. Running can be good for you, too, and notice I’ve no plans in the world to start that up!

I wish that people that promoted exercise more did place more emphasis on finding something you like. And “like” can be really intersectional. I mean, I can think of someone who really likes to run, has plantar fasciitis, and just ain’t gonna be running because that’s a big nope now. Like does need to include “can” as well.

That’s where it gets hard. Just to run around saying, “Get your heart rate up for 30 minutes a day!” is fine for a lot of the population. I’m in that category now, myself, and believe you me, I’m glad I can.

But sometimes, it’s, “Sure, I can work out. But I’m going to have to get an extra three hours of sleep a night to do it. Gonna take over my job for me while I do that?” I went through a period of that about 18 months ago. It was terrifying. No doctor had anything for me on that. For a while, all I did was work and sleep. Then I started to get better, and I didn’t know why or how. I spent a fortune on tests that told me nothing. That’s some scary crap, let me tell you what. You want willpower? I was getting by on willpower.

I didn’t start feeling better because I started working out. I started working out when I started feeling better enough to do it, and it sure as hell wasn’t about losing weight, because I started to feel better after I’d gained some, and I’m not exactly slender. (No, I don’t think that’s what caused it. Correlation ain’t causation!)

So while I really do, no kidding, believe in being active and all that smack, I don’t think there’s any such thing as a universal prescription. Yeah, I’ll push swimming for people with mobility issues, because I know how beautifully it works for me, but nope, it wouldn’t work for everyone.

I wish health professionals would think about this instead of assuming people with baffling conditions are lazy liars. I find it incredibly frustrating to deal with, and I think it’s causing some serious issues with health care in general. Then again, the state of health care is another rant that’s going to take more than a blog post, so it would probably be better to leave that off for another day.

So, I leave with this question: What place does exercise have in your life, and why?

Pondering in the Pool

Swimming is where I do a lot of thinking. Now, at first, when you start to swim, what you’re going to be thinking about is swimming. It’s very technique based and focusing on stroke, the feel of the water, your body position in the water, the relationship of kick to stroke and your breathing rhythm are all so overwhelming that when you’re in the pool, this is what you’re thinking about.

This is exactly as it should be. You do need to take time to work on these things, because swimming is very skill-based.

But after a period of time, all of this will become ingrained in muscle memory and you’ll be able to put your body more or less on automatic — except for maybe keeping count of laps and the stroke you’re doing, if that’s your thing.

Then you’re just in the water. It’s not silent, for all that we portray underwater as silent in films. No, there’s bubbles, splashing, and noise. Maybe there will be whistles if you’re in on a swim team practice. I generally am not, so it’s the bubbles and the splashing. But that’s a background noise that tends to fade away.

Then it’s really just you and the water. Unless you’ve invested in some expensive electronics, you’re probably not listening to music or audiobooks. There’s no television like the elliptical users often have in gyms. There’s just you and your thoughts.

It’s a great time to write. No, seriously. This is where I get a lot of my writing done. I can fantasize about characters, or I can think about turns of phrase or subjects I want to discuss. It’s not like meditation, because the point of meditation is to clear the mind. I make no attempt to do that, but find things that are interesting and ponder them.

Recently, I took a survey on how to make gyms welcoming to people who are overweight. You’d think a gym would be a welcoming place for someone who wanted to improve physical fitness, but there is a kind of weird aura around it. If you’re visibly trying to lose weight, yeah, you can get a kind of patronizing cheering section. I say patronizing, because there is this presumption that only if you knew HOW to lose weight, you poor ignorant thing, you’d do it.*

But what if that isn’t a major goal?

That can be stickier.

Me? I don’t need a gym to be welcoming. It’s five thirty in the damn morning. I need a lane to swim in, or a place at the squat rack, and a place to shower and dry my hair afterwards to get to work. Leave me alone to work out and I’m dandy.

Oh yeah, the locker room.

It is a sort of unspoken thing that you have to earn your place to speak up and participate in casual conversation there if you’re not visibly an athlete. For those who don’t care about that kind of thing, it’s awesome, ’cause you get left the devil alone.

For more social creatures, and for people who really do like to belong, that can really hurt.

Thing is, there are times when one DOESN’T belong to the specific group. A lot of the people I see in the locker room in the morning? They’re often triathletes. You know, endurance athletes who log hundreds of miles a years running, biking and swimming? Friends, I ain’t. I’m in there to keep from developing a blood pressure problem, and that’s about the extent of it. You’ll never see me in a spinning class, and I hate running to the depths of my being.

Now, that isn’t to say I don’t belong in the gym. I do. I paid to be there, and if someone had a problem with me working out during “athlete time” they can make a fool of themselves by making a stink if they want to. I genuinely don’t think anyone does have a problem with me being there, and even if they did, I doubt anyone really wants to risk me getting acerbic, anyway.

But let me let you in on something. If you spend all your time telling someone they’re unworthy because they’re fat, that they don’t deserve nice things because they’re fat, and then make them feel like they don’t belong in a workout space because they’re fat, they’re probably NOT going to respond with my sigma-6 level of scrappiness.

So, if you see the fat person in the gym, try something really outrageous.

Treat ’em like a regular person. Works wonders.



* It’s a subject I’ve studied in some depth, and it’s unlikely as hell that the patronizing person has done anything but read a few badly-reported studies in fitness mags whose main goal is to sell protein powder, for pity’s sake!

Fitness Benchmarks

Do you have fitness benchmarks?  You know, things you want to be able to do physically (that are achievable.  Disabilities exist and are real) that do require a bit of work to maintain.

I thought about this today as I was getting some hot water for my coffee.  The water cooler/heater’s bottle was pretty much empty and needed to be switched out for a full one.

We get our water bottles in five gallon containers, so you’re looking at about forty pounds that needs to be picked up off the floor and manipulated with some reasonable level of delicacy to get the opening on the nozzle correctly and not spill or break anything.

Heavy?  Not particularly.  I can recall when I weighed about that, and my mother and father picked me up at that age with some regularity.

But over the past year, I haven’t been doing much physical, so while I could do it, and did (I think walking by an empty cooler if you are physically capable of switching it out without injuring yourself is kind of inconsiderate) it was definitely getting harder.

You wanna know if swimming puts on muscle? One month into getting back into swimming and it was enough easier to startle me.

Which brings me to the point.

What are your fitness benchmarks?  What are your indications that you might need to be a bit more focused on getting enough exercise?  I’m not talking about the scale here, or how your pants fit.  Those are fine goals if that’s what you’re into, but they’re a bit on the cosmetic side.  I’m talking the functional and physical benchmarks.   These are pretty individual.

For me, being able to manipulate forty pounds up through four feet of space with ease is definitely one.  Another is perceived exertion going up the hill to my house.  Can I lift a full suitcase easily from the floor of a train to the luggage rack without Red Cap assistance?  Is two miles a pleasant walk or something that makes me want a nap?  If I fall below any of those pretty modest abilities, I feel like I need to do something about it.

What are yours?