When I have a particularly poor run, which is every other run currently, or if I’ve had far too much of my decaf Chai to consider going on a run, I’ve taken to drowning my sorrows in the pool. I also go there to celebrate mini successes.
I like the sound of the bubbles whizzing past my ears, and the command I have over my body in the water. My breathing is more easily controlled in the pool than on land and my eyes and nose are at peace with all the water around. The water is forgiving of my flaws and I can paddle along without discomfort, seemingly more coordinated and less awkward in a semi-suspended state.
It is amazing that I enjoy swimming. When I was little, my parents enrolled me in swim lessons at the local YMCA. I dreaded those lessons. As my mother dropped me off, I used to pray that my swim teachers would not use the floatation device on me. The instructors routinely strapped this giant foam ice cube onto my backside and tossed me into the pool, telling me to swim. The foam cube positioned as such had the effect of raising my bum and lowering everywhere capable of respiration. As I had only evolved a means of expelling air from my derriere, I had to fight to live. Fortunately, this was not the only pool I had access to. My parents had a backyard pool and I was able to get ample practice swimming without that blasted device, ultimately preserving my affinity for the water. Ah, the memories.
Swimming has been a means to boost my running endurance and cardiac function, and it has the added benefit of being an exceptional calorie torching activity. As I run and swim, and swim and run, I find myself daydreaming about what scrumptious food I am going to pile in my mouth when I am through with my enormous fuel expenditure. Sometimes I visualize a giant chocolate chip cookie at the end of each lap that I am trying to earn by beating the other swimmers to it. Working out should make me want to eat less or at least healthier but I find it has the opposite effect. It is particularly dangerous to go grocery shopping directly after swimming as everything edible becomes my deepest desire and I indiscriminately stack my cart full of the entire store. Oh, I eat my share of kale and carrots, but life’s sinful delicacies become just rewards after powering through a mile at the pool. With swimming, I have discovered this voracious hole capable of consuming the entire contents of my refrigerator and freezer, all guilt-free because I’ve earned it.
The pool at my gym is a popular place most days, and I often have to share a lane with another swimmer. I immediately scan the lanes to determine the optimal partner most likely to inflict the least amount of damage as we pass each other. Most swimmers will completely ignore me as I survey my options, weighing their pros and cons, hoping I’ll pass them by for the next guy. If I waited for acknowledgement, I’d never enter the pool. Apparently, ignoring newcomers is the preferred code of conduct once you have a lane, as everyone loves the spaciousness and freedom of a solitary lane. I don’t take offense; the desire to fly solo is universal. However, when I own the lane I opt for the opposite approach and employ reverse psychology. I sense someone in need of a lane and I smile widely, giving my best “my lane is the fun lane” look, hoping that with my swim cap and goggles he’ll think I’m sufficiently crazy to let me swim in peace.
I also swim with earplugs that have a Shrek like attachment to facilitate their removal that can’t help but add to my daft appearance. I have no idea what excuse is offered for selecting a different lane, I just nod a few times with my goofy grin. So far, I’m rocking about a 25% success rate with this approach, which is better than my 0% success rate without any approach.
The selection process ought to be more arbitrary, but there are numerous key factors to consider, most of which I have learned the hard way. The ideal swim partners are skilled enough to stay on their side of the lane. If they can’t, it’s a matter of time before they plow into me. Proven fact. Anyone splashing excessively is also immediately eliminated from my selection process. Splashes are a breathing nightmare. In addition, swimmers who are too fast or too slow will not make my cut. If they have the speed of an Olympian I feel incompetent, and if they are too slow, I question whether my 10 laps were actually a mile; it confounds my counting. I also try to avoid partnering with those using a snorkel. They seem to have an unfair advantage in the pool, and who knows what they are studying under the water the whole time.
And lastly, my lane partner should not be trying to invent some novel form of stroke. There is an older gentleman at my gym who engages in some form of abdominal crunch stroke that involves no use of the arms or legs and solely relies on his stomach musculature to propel him across the pool. While innovative and intriguing to watch, it is not exceptionally effective and makes for sporadic, random splashes and should be reserved for solo lane experimentation.
I like to pretend that I am graceful as I glide from one end of the pool to the other. I’m certainly no master, though. I stick to uncomplicated slow pivots at the end instead of fast and fancy flips, and I don’t really know what my arms are supposed to be doing under the water. I’ve heard about some sort of “S” shape they are supposed to make, but that seems extraneous and I can never seem to get it right. I’ve tried to learn from other swimmers under the water, and in my informal observations only about 25% of swimmers actually attempt any type of “S pattern.” Most people just do straight old windmills. And I’m not the only one confused as I have witnessed others creating “C’s” or overzealous serpentine squiggles.
With my head submerged, I’m totally watching other swimmers. Sometimes I try to race them to the other end, and sometimes it’s just good old fashioned entertainment. Better than cable. From the proficient elite to the doggie paddling youth and the cult of stationary runners in the deep end, swimming becomes an arena of interpretive movement for all. Once I saw an elderly man at my gym perform at least fifty of his take on jumping jacks in the shallow end, landing on his butt and bouncing back upward to his feet. It’s all good though. I don’t pass judgement and I never feel like I’m being judged. I swim my laps the best way I know how and wash myself free of my running mishaps, life’s stresses, and the extra brownies I am totally devouring after I’m done. Time to bake another batch!