I’ve been getting back into lane swimming lately. Not entirely by choice.
As a kid, my folks used to say I was part fish I adored swimming so much. (Fitting, given I’m a Pisces). Then I hit 10 years old. I’d finished all the levels that I could for my age, and the next one required you to be 13 years old to pursue it. I could have joined a swim club or something, but then I hit early puberty. And then I went through a period where wearing a bathing suit around a bunch of pre-teen boys was not high on the list of things I wanted to do in my spare time.
I did eventually get that next swimming level, but aside from that and a lot of lake swimming while camping, I didn’t really spend much time in the water during my teens.
By my early twenties I’d moved past the bathing suit shyness (it’s a lot easier to sport DDs with confidence as an adult than it was as a teen), but by then I’d lost my form due to my many years out of the water, and I found that when I did attempt to use swimming as cardio, I just wasn’t very good at it.
If I was still part fish, I was no longer exactly the star of my school. Remember Dory from Finding Nemo? Yeh, she was more my speed.
So why am I back in the pool these days?
Well, about six weeks ago, I suffered my first running injury. I was half way through what was supposed to be a quick and painless 5 KM run when all of a sudden someone stabbed a knife in the back of my leg. Seriously, it hurt that much. Having never suffered a pulled calf muscle before, I tried walking for a few minutes and then slowly building up speed into a run. No dice. My right leg was out of commission.
I followed the advice of fellow runner and health practitioner friends of mine and spent the days that followed doing some serious RICEing (rest, ice, compression, elevation). I eased my way back into running by way of short and then long walks. Two weeks after the stabbing incident, I tried my first run. Way. Too. Soon. 3.5 KM in, I tweaked my calf muscle again.
With my usual cardio options (running, road cycling, spinning, fitness classes) on hiatus, I needed an alternative, and since there’s a pool at my gym, the choice was obvious.
This is actually the second time I’ve used lane swimming as a workout as an adult. The first was in 2008 when I decided to train for a mini triathlon as a fitness goal. At the time I was in the midst of a period of getting into better shape, and training for a Try a Tri seemed like the perfect way to ensure regular and varied physical activity.
That was the summer I first fell in love with running. And when I realized that in addition to using my bike as a form of commuting, I loved going for bike rides that started out as an hour before they suddenly turned into three.
I did not fall in love with swimming that summer.
Lucky for me, at 100 M, the swim portion of my Try a Tri was super short. I got through it without much training. Afterwards, however, I decided it was time to do something about my love-hate relationship with my favourite childhood sport. So I signed up for my first swimming class in almost 15 years. And I started reading about how to improve my freestyle (front crawl).
I’m still not as comfortable in the water as I was as a kid, but I’ve learned some important lessons about form that have made my occasional forays into lane swimming infinitely more enjoyable (and less exhausting).
Most important: keep you head down.
My natural instinct, especially in a pool where there’s an edge to bump into at each end, is to look ahead. But this creates drag. Think about how much harder it is to walk through water as opposed to diving through it. When you’re aiming to swim fast over a long distance, every slight adjustment to make your body more streamlined and reduce drag makes a difference.
I’ve been trying really hard to keep my head down during my past few weeks in the pool. To ignore my constant desire to look up in order to be able to situate myself. To know my place, relative to the edge, and other swimmers.
Instead I’ve been trying to trust that once I point my body in the right direction, I’ll continue to head toward what I’m aiming for as long as I maintain good form. To remember that my fingers will touch the edge (or another swimmer) long before I’ll crash into either with my head. To accept that my body knows what it’s aiming for, and how to get there, even without my looking out for it.
As these thoughts ran through my head during my swim last Sunday, it occurred to me that this is also the perfect metaphor for my life right now. In my job hunt, in my search for love . . . I know what I am looking for. I know the form I must maintain to get there. (I must do what I love. I must love myself.)
Now I just need to trust that having pointed my body in the right direction (a job in the not for profit sector, a boyfriend with whom I have the right kind of connection), as long as I keep my head down, I will reach the edge without crashing. And hopefully get there without experiencing too much drag.