I’ve been procrastinating. I’ve been procrastinating in making the move from running to something different. A few weeks ago it reached the point I knew I had to take action. I was going crazy – obsessing about my foot and also uptight from not getting the stress relief that comes from exercising. My only real options seemed to be swimming and biking. (I love aerobic exercise. My foot could not take a lot of physical pounding.) I love to bike – but not in the winter. In fact, winter biking is over the line for me. I refuse to do it. I just can’t stay warm. That left swimming, which carried with it it’s own set of issues.
Fortunately I was put in swimming lessons at an early age. Therefore I’ve always been comfortable in the water. I could be out in the middle of the ocean, get thrown overboard, and I’d be fine. I wouldn’t panic. I have, however, never been able to become as relaxed and comfortable swimming laps as I could running. You know when you’re out running and your mind seems to disassociate from your body? You’re thinking about various things. You’re enjoying the rhythm. It’s almost as if you forget you’re running. You’re moving along the ground and you’re in total bliss. You’re floating – like you’re in a balloon. Well – suffice it to say I’ve never been able to achieve that swimming. Swimming laps has always involved tremendous amounts of gasping and having the feeling of drowning. Couple that with the prospect of getting into cold water and it’s easy to understand the procrastinating.
I conclude I must have issues with my stroke. That has to be the reason I struggle to swim. Being the analytic I am I decide to get a 30 min private lesson so I can have someone evaluate my stroke, point out my issues, and help me get to that relaxed state in the water. I really dreaded doing this. When I’m learning something I like to be very alone. I have a hang-up about doing things well in front of others. So having an expert swimmer look at me swim – well – this was going to be embarrassing. And it was a lose-lose situation: Either my stroke was bad (lose) or my stroke was ok but I just couldn’t and didn’t enjoy swimming (lose).
I get to the lesson and, of course, the first thing the guy has me do is swim 50 yds while he watches. I finish and he’s chuckling. “I have to say – your stroke looks pretty darn good!” I tell him how I end up gasping all the time. He suggests I swim another lap, but this time he swims behind me to get an idea of my pace. We finish the 50 yds. He stands up in the water and he is gasping and says “You’re going REALLY fast for someone who wants to swim relatively long distances. SLOW DOWN!” We talk some more. He has me do various things. He gives me some pointers and then the 1/2 hr is up. One thing that I realized is that I have done nothing to develop upper body strength in the last few thousand years. I’m a runner for heaven’s sake! What do I need upper body strength for? Well in the water it’s pretty darn important. So the two things I need to focus on are 1) slowing down and 2) developing my upper body.
I found this experience incredibly freeing. My brain could now settle down and focus on learning to swim and building my endurance, just as I learned and built up my endurance when I started running. So for the last few weeks I’ve been swimming. I’m averaging 3-4 times per week. While small the progress is undeniable. I can swim longer now without stopping than I could when I started. Getting into the (sometimes cold) water is now a non-issue. I’m also finding that using the whole body is greatly helping my balance and hip strength.
Finally and possibly most importantly: Swimming makes me feel fantastic. I’m so incredibly relaxed when I’m done. No, it doesn’t compare to running and I’m still very much looking forward to when I can run again. But until that time this is a great alternative which I highly recommend.