For the past six weeks, I have been training for my first full Ironman. Thus, for the past six weeks, I have been forced to endure one of the cruelest forms of torture known to mankind – lap swimming. I have never been a particularly fast or strong swimmer. Case and point: When I became a lifeguard at age 17 for my summer job, I couldn’t swim with my face in the water. I didn’t know how. I choked on the water and simply could not blow bubbles. I swam the entire required 500 yards for the test with my head out of the water, in what had to have been the world’s most pathetic attempt at freestyle. In case you were wondering, the only reason I passed was because the instructor made me promise I would learn to put my face in the water by the end of the summer.
Eventually I did learn, and I became a swimming instructor too. Yes, I was responsible for teaching small children and terrified adults to swim. I was actually very good at it because I’m good at the techniques of each stroke, just not at doing them quickly. However, I avoided swimming as much as possible because, well, it’s hard.
There’s no getting around it though – swimming is part of the Ironman, so I have to practice. My coach designs sadistic swim workouts for me and I drag myself to the YMCA during my lunch break to do them. I have even made friends with one of the lifeguards, who apparently has taken an interest in my training and times my laps each week to note my progress. With regards to swimming, I have developed a mantra: “This sucks, but I absolutely love it.” I do not love swimming, of course, but I’m trying to convince myself I do while simultaneously validating my hate feelings.
There are a few main reasons why I dread my swim workouts each week:
1) I apparently am allergic to chlorine.
Um, no one ever told me that chlorine makes you sneeze for about 50 years after you go for a swim. I don’t remember ever encountering this problem when I was a lifeguard and swim instructor, but maybe it’s because I didn’t ever put my face in the water. And it looks like my refusal to do so was totally valid! Now, I sneeze for hours every time I get out of the pool after one of my workouts. The combination of wet hair and a red nose is not my best look at work after lunch.
2. Some people insist on turning the pool into their own whirlpool/tsunami/hurricane/other tragic weather event.
Obviously, there are very smooth swimmers who barely move the water at all when they are swimming. There are also people who insist on churning up as much water as humanly possible during their laps. Since starting my training at the YMCA, I have encountered mostly the latter. When I was obsessively watching the Olympics this year (seriously, on my phone, at home, in the doctor’s office, at lunch, all the time), the commentators would always remark about how unfortunate it was when one of the Americans had to swim next to the wall because of all the waves from the other swimmers bouncing off the wall and hitting them. To be honest, I thought they were being a bit dramatic – until I swam next to the wall with ONE other tornado-swimmer in the pool. Holy crap! It was like biking uphill into a 40 mph headwind. And somehow, I turned my head to breathe at the exact moment that a wave was about to hit me in the face and go directly up my nose.
3. Swimming is the world’s least fashionable sport.
It’s really hard to look good when you’re swimming. I get that everything is very high tech, but anything as clingy as a bathing suit is pretty much inherently unflattering. I just don’t feel like America needs to see that much of my thighs. Also, swimmers all look like aliens when they have on all their stuff. It doesn’t even matter what the print on the bathing suit is because you can still see wayyyy too much of my body for my personal comfort level.
I have to say, as much as I dread getting into the pool, it isn’t really so bad once I’m in there. My biking and running have greatly improved my endurance, so it doesn’t feel nearly as hard as it used to, even though I am still not going very fast. The worst parts are getting in and getting out. I guess I should be thankful, though, because swimming in the pool isn’t nearly as bad as the swim phase of a triathlon. At least no one kicks me in the face.
Tell me: How do you make swim workouts more fun? Or, how do you tell the crazy tornado-swimmer to chill out?
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