Signs you are No Longer a Lapsed Swimmer

There are a lot of us out there – the lapsed swimmers. Former club and college swimmers who burned out after all those years of before-dawn practices, missed social opportunities, dry skin, enormous appetites, and general exhaustion. We walk away from the pool that last time, thinking “thank God that’s over.” We’ll never go back to kick sets or goggle marks, suit hickies or bashed in fingers from your paddle-wearing lane mate with the wingspan of a California condor. No more coaches hollering at us from the deck, and no more lungs burning from devilish hypoxic sets.

But for many of us, as we go about our daily lives at work and at home, the call of the chlorine is too much to resist. Before we know it, the pull of a former addiction has overcome us, and we’ve drifted mindlessly back to our old ways. If you’re afraid that you may have a problem and that you’ve been sucked back into the deep end of a lap pool, here are a few warning signs to look for:

  1. Your chlorine reddened eyes cause your boss to ask oblique yet probing questions about your feelings towards recreational drug use.
  2. The person in the airplane seat next to you idly wonders who got carried away with the bleach on their last load of whites
  3. You start digging up old meet results to see exactly what your splits were in your best events. Not that you’re comparing.
  4. The guy you’re dating casually sends you an email with links to chlorine removal products for hair and skin
  5. Your coordination returns to aquatic-based default settings; i.e., you bounce off of doorframes, run into corners of desks, trip over trash cans, and walk into plate glass windows (this didn’t actually happened to me recently. Please ignore the swollen lip and bruised ego…they aren’t relevant here.)

If any of these sound like you, I’d like to say there’s help out there for your recovery, but honestly, I can’t be bothered to help you find it. I have to go to bed early so I can get up before dawn to go swim.

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0430 I Hardly Missed You

I haven’t seen the ass crack of dawn on a regular basis in a very long time. In high school I regularly got up at 0400 to make it to the pool in time to jump in by 0445. In college, the hours were slightly more reasonable – we had a 0530 start, with the pool being only a short walk away from the dorm.  But partway through college, I suddenly stopped swimming completely due to a case of burnout that resembled the landing of a large meteorite into the Pacific Ocean. The result was a large crater smack in the middle of my swimming motivation that I couldn’t get around and I couldn’t cross. So I turned my back on swimming altogether, until one day, years later, I turned back around and realized the damn crater had filled with water.

So I swam across.

It has been a slow slog since then (much slower than when I was in college, to say the least) to get myself back into any kind of decent swimming shape. The motivation comes and goes, and I’ll improve for a few months, but then, especially in the dark, cold winter, it will drain away again and I’ll lose any sort of swimming fitness I built up.

So, with that in mind, it makes perfect sense that I would sign up for a ten mile swim, right?

Yes, ten miles. Swimming. All at once. Which means that sh*t just got real. As in, I need to train for this, seriously, between now and October. That’s right, that’s six whole months of swimming my ass off, figuratively and literally. Six months in which I can’t flake out and lose motivation or I’ll end up hating myself at about mile five of ten. I can’t half-ass this race like I’ve done on some races in the past few years. I can’t rely on a few thousand yards a week and muscle memory from when I was a teenager. Therefore, I will be once again getting up at the ass-crack of dawn on a regular basis in an attempt to wrangle my recalcitrant body into the sort of shape that can handle swimming for four hours plus at a time. In a river. With currents and chop.

I’m glad I have until October.

Here I go…

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New Race Calendar!

I have updated my race calendar for this year. It’s looking like it’s going to be a busy summer!
Check out the race calendar tab for the details. If I can pull this off, I’ll be a happy camper come October.

My challenge now will be to get my mind right for some really long training swims and most of all, sorting out my nutrition, both on land and in the water. I have a carb/sugar issue that’s currently kicking my butt. I’ll need to get that under control ASAP…(ice cream, I’ll miss you.)

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Changing my Game

For several years now I’ve been dealing with a neck injury that, while (hopefully) not catastrophic, has been painful enough to get in the way of my BJJ training. When I came back to my BJJ school a few days ago, I let my excitement to be back hamper my judgement and I started playing with techniques that aren’t necessarily the best for my neck.

Then, the morning after my second class, I woke up with serious, whimper-making, nose running pain in my neck and shoulder. I couldn’t turn my head either direction, raise my arm, bend over, or breathe, without wanting to cry. Don’t ask me what happened – I have no idea. I can only guess I got too enthusiastic about something or other in class the night before.

So here’s the problem. I’m a guard player. I’m actually relatively decent at fighting from my back. I can only guess that it stems from being fairly light weight and not having much success at controlling heavier, stronger opponents from the top when I first started training. (There was one notable episode in which a big newbie got frustrated with me being on top, grabbed me by the belt, and threw me against a wall. Not kidding.) In guard, I can use my legs to control a bigger opponent, move quickly enough to prevent getting smashed, and generally control them a lot better.

Now that my neck prevents me from putting a lot of pressure on my upper shoulders – getting stacked is a bit scary these days, even if I could totally work with it prior to the injury – I need to figure out something else. Different attacks from my back, more top game, just a generally different approach and strategy. I almost feel like I’m starting over again, but I’m trying to look at it as if I were just shoring up some weak spots in my overall game. And I’m trying really hard to remember to tap early and often as soon as someone puts pressure on my neck. Not my strong point, but it’s something I need to get good at or I won’t be able to train at all.

Here’s to learning new things!

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Lake George Open Water Swim 10K Race Report (or: Why am I doing this again?)

When I signed up for the Lake George Open Water Swim 10k, I did so with about 2 months of training under my belt following a long 2013 of swimming an average of once or twice a month. I had some legitimate and some not so legitimate reasons for my lack of physical activity that year, but the bottom line was that I was way the hell out of shape. To add to that, I hadn’t raced a real, non-current assisted 10k since, well, college. And let’s not go into how long ago that was. I figured that signing up for a 10k would force me to suck it up and start training like I meant it. And, for the most part it did. I even managed to squeeze in a 5k race and several long LCM swims during my several months of training, including a 9,700m swim that, while infuriatingly short of the full 10k, gave me confidence that I would at least be able to go the distance.

However, I had some strategery issues that will require some work if I’m going to do this race again next year. Since central New York is an awkward place to get to, in my infinite genius, I decided the best thing to do was to save a vacation day and drive the full 7 or so hours to Lake George the day before the race. In other words, a long-ass road trip.

Lesson Learned #1: Do not do a long-ass road trip the day before your 10k.

By the time I arrived, drove 45 minutes past the hotel to check out the race course (which was already marked, thankfully), then drove 45 minutes back to the hotel, I had been on the road for almost 9 hours. I was exhausted and cranky and almost dreading the race the next morning. When I woke the next morning, I was still exhausted and cranky and dreading the race. How would I finish the damn thing if I couldn’t stay awake for it?

Lesson Learned #2: In the Lake George area, hotels go quickly. Make reservations early so you don’t end up staying 45 minutes away from the race start.

#2 meant that I had to be up about an hour earlier than I would have otherwise. Following the long-ass road trip, this was no bueno. Once I shoehorned my way out of the covers, I ate my pre-race PB&J, had some truly terrible hotel coffee (seriously…worst ever), and headed out to the lake for check in and warmup. I use the term “warmup” loosely, here, since the air temperature was probably in the low 60s and the lake water was barely in the 70s. Perfect temperature for racing, but somewhat bracing when you’re only jumping in for a few minutes to loosen up. However, while unpleasant, it did have the effect of waking me the hell up.

The organizers worked hard to keep the event moving on time, so following a safety briefing, we were immediately shepherded into the water in numeric order. We waded out to the start buoy and waited for the start, most of us shivering uncontrollably in the chilly water. The mood among the swimmers was congenial, however. The quotes of the day occurred when one lady, while wading up to the group, said “Oh, hey, I found a warm spot!” We all burst out laughing (she realized what she said and looked horrified), then I heard someone off to the side pipe up with “Don’t blame me, I’m just busy enjoying my own warm spot.” Open water swimmers…we’re all really just a bunch of mental 12-year-olds.

Lesson Learned #3: Do not sight off of kayaks.

After what felt like fifteen minutes (probably only 5) of standing in the cold water, trying not to think about what caused that warm spot, the starter eventually hit the horn. We took off on the first loop of 4, and I managed to keep myself from sprinting to the first buoy like a startled rabbit. Somehow, I ended up way on the outside, which is generally not where I like to be. At one point, I got clobbered in the head by an overly friendly swimmer and had to flip on my back momentarily to pull my goggle strap back onto my head. But by the end of the first half of the first loop, I’d worked myself into a good rhythm and was (I think) the leader of the chase pack that was just behind the lead pack. And then at the first turn, disaster struck. I went around the turn buoy and spotted the red buoy that marked the return side of the course. Or so I thought. It turns out that the buoy was in fact a kayak of a strikingly similar shade. I had a feeling something wasn’t right, but I continued to follow that damn kayak until something told me to stop and look around. And damned if the course wasn’t almost 50 meters off to my left. I swore mightily for a moment, then proceeded to haul ass back on course. It took me a full loop and a lot of effort to get back to the group I had started with.

Once back with the pack, and rather frazzled, I spent the rest of the second loop tag teaming two guys and a lady who were irritatingly similar in speed. One of us would pull away, then the rest would catch up and pass…back and forth, repeatedly. I decided that I would put on a big push on the third loop to try to drop them, then hold them off on the fourth.

Lesson (partly) Learned #4: Don’t bonk.

Did I mention that they were irritatingly similar in speed? I stopped at the feed station at the start of lap 3, and the lady I was swimming with did not. She pulled ahead, but I was hauling as hard as I could and caught her before the far turn. But then, I couldn’t drop her. She and one of the guys from our foursome stuck with me like a burr in my britches almost the entire way around that third loop. The two ladies out front working hard, the guy most likely taking a nap or putting together his grocery list as he drafted behind us.

And then, the piano fell. The hammer dropped. I hit the wall. Whatever tired cliché you want to use, it happened. I felt my blood sugar plummet, my arms got weak and shaky, and I had nothing in me that could keep up that pace. I’m not sure whether it was a nutrition or hydration issue, if it was a training issue, or if it was a combination of both. Whatever it was, I couldn’t keep my stroke rate up, and every pull I took was a weak shadow of what I’d been doing just moments before. Needless to say, I got dropped by my mini-pack. I stopped longer than usual at the feed station at the start of the fourth loop to see if more calories would help pull me out of it. It took until the far turn on the fourth loop before I started to feel normal again. By then, though, the damage was done. I picked up speed, but the group I had been with was long gone and I swam the last loop entirely by myself – I couldn’t even see the swimmers on the course in front of me. Occasionally I would lap a slower swimmer, but that was all the company I had.

As crappy as I had felt just a half a lap earlier, rounding that last green buoy and heading for the finish was a huge relief. It was a combination of “Holy crap I’m glad that’s over with” along with “hey, I did it” and some “why the hell did I think this was a good idea?”

I staggered inelegantly across the finish line somewhere between 2:30 and 2:40 – my goal had been to get under 2:30 – positive this would be my last 10k for a very long time. Now, a few days later, I’m not so sure. I really think that if I can train consistently for longer than a few months at a time, and if I can manage to tell the difference between a buoy and a kayak, maybe next year I can hit the 2:20s. And this brings me to my next point.

Lesson Learned #5: Oh, I remember now. This stuff is addictive.

 

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Pool Stress

I’m not sure why, but I suck at swim meets. Maybe it’s a holdover from the stress of competing as an age grouper, but when I show up at a Masters meet and get that swim meet vibe, I get all tense and stressed out. My shoulders turn into bricks and my calves try to cramp on flip turns. Whee.

I did the 1500 at Nationals last week, which was intended just to be a bit of a speed warmup for the 10k next weekend. It went about how I expected it to, which is to say, not nearly as fast as I would have liked. But, I did split it pretty evenly, so thats something. And at least this time I was in a middle lane and one of the faster swimmers in the heat, instead of on the outside lane getting my butt whooped in demoralizing fashion.

So. Last event before the 10k is done. Starting to get a bit nervous, especially since I just realized I’m procrastinating on all the planning I need to do to get myself squared away for the road trip up to Lake George and for the race itself. Maybe I’ll just go to bed and worry about it tomorrow at work.

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Submerging Myself

After a full year of doing exactly nothing athletic – I barely swam, and I trained BJJ maybe once every month – I decided in the spring of this year to sign up for the US Masters Swimming 10k National Championships. I needed something to break the inertia, and there’s nothing like a big race to get me moving again.

What I’m getting myself into.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And hey, no biggie, right? I can whip my flabby ass into shape in time to swim 6.2 miles at the end of August.

To that end, I have been focusing almost entirely on swimming and am on hiatus from BJJ until September. I have discovered that I am ridiculously impatient about how long it takes me to get back into fighting shape. I made some maybe not entirely realistic goals for myself regarding how fast I would go in that 10k, all while not having swum more than 3,000 meters in a practice since…well, probably the ‘90s.

My first real test came at the Steelman 5k swim, a choppy lake race that totally trashed my arms. I came in at a time that, if I split evenly, would just about meet my goal time for the 10k. I placed second in my age group, but I was toast, and I know realistically that I wouldn’t be able to hold that pace for another 5k.

Then, I did a training swim in a 50m pool . I came within 300 meters of meeting my goal of swimming 10,000 meters in 2.5 hours. I would have finished the last 300 if they hadn’t started switching the lane lines from long course to short course. It was just too much for me to start dolphin diving between them. Once again, arms were toast, this time extra crispy.

We’re now coming in to the final stretch of getting ready for this thing. I have Masters Nationals (of the pool sort) this week, and the 10k is the following weekend. I’m hoping I can find some speed in the pool and still be able to crank it out for hours in a lake a week later.

But whatever the result, it’s good to be back.

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