There is a difference between “everything you do in a pool or lake” and “swimming.”
I knew this. I learned to swim in a lake in Maine, from a neighbor. I spent enough time in the water as a child on those vacations, in living across from a beach as a small child, and at sleep away camp, that I knew the basics. I remember the lessons, teaching me what I understand now is called the ‘freestyle’ stroke.
I assume it’s called freestyle because if you tell a human being to swim, and they’re smart enough not to doggie paddle, this is the style of swim they would pick. It’s apparently also called the front crawl, which is appropriate, if only for me, because it accurately describes just how slow I was moving.
I changed into my bathing suit, which has a palm tree on it, which is mostly only relevant to let you know exactly how not serious about swimming-as-exercise I am. I ditched my bag and towel by the pool and thought about stretching, before I realized I had no idea what muscles swimming was going to exercise, and that I didn’t particularly want to stretch on a pool deck surrounded by strangers with no shirt on. At that point I eased myself into the water and tried to look like I knew what the etiquette or process around lane swimming was by flexing at one end of my lane and watching for swimmers more serious than me, which includes everyone from Michael Phelps down to kids wearing floaties. Soon enough I saw that no excuse for chickening out lay before me, and I set out on my first length of the pool, only promising that I would do 1 lap until I knew better just what I was getting into.
Pretty much immediately I realized three related things. One, in those lessons in Maine, I swam in a freshwater lake. Two, I did not have goggles. Three, chlorine in your eyes stings. Now I knew all these things, but putting them all together meant that I did not know how to relate breathing to my position in the water, because putting my head under for every other stroke to blow out, and up in the air to breathe in on the other, didn’t work because I was pretty much immediately blinded by chlorine. Unwilling to let a little thing like suffocation or blindness get in the way of my triumphant return to the world of fitness, I soldiered on, holding my head above water, turning my stroke into somewhat of a mix between a doggie paddle and a front crawl.
As I puffed through the water on my first lap, I noticed that because I had selected the lane closest to the edge of the pool, that I had a life guard hovering over me. She was about 16 and maybe 105lbs soaking wet, so if she needed to pull me out of the water she was going to need that baywatch looking red floatation device she was carrying in addition to a small miracle. She seemed aware of this fact, and of the very real possibility that this would become necessary, so she paced alongside the water, consciously or unconsciously matching my pace pretty closely.
At first, it felt restful. Hey, I’m swimming! People do this on vacation! Man, this doesn’t make me tired at all! I did 10 laps (20 lengths) before taking my first break, and when I stopped, I felt heat rising to my skin, and substantial work having worn into my muscles. As I set out again, another lifeguard switched in and took the position alongside the pool. I began to suspect that maybe they had drawn straws and selected shifts based on which was most likely to have to fish me out of the water and perform CPR. When the third lifeguard came on, I started to wonder about why it had taken me two shift changes to swim a grand total of 30 laps, but that’s what you get when you try something new.
Around lap 27, I got a vicious charlie horse in my leg, but I was able to struggle my way up and down the pool three more times. Ebulliently proud, I hustled out of the pool to dry off, and started asking anyone in a red shirt how long the pool was. The first two had absolutely no idea. The third knew it was 25 something. The fourth seemed pretty confident it was 25 yards. I’m guessing that one was crazy, and it was 25m.
Either way, I swam about 1500 somethings. It took a long time, but it was good, and set me up for my valiant return to running on Friday. That post is coming soon!