On Good Days, I Swim Straight

9 Jan

Over time, it has become an efficient routine: swimsuit on, quick shower, flippers and kick board to poolside. Check the water temperature, perch on the edge and wrestle myself into my swim cap, jump into the water, goggles in place.

May the laps begin.

I find the water peaceful (unlike running – no music, no stoplights, no shoes that aren’t equally tight, no traffic) and settling into a rhythm is pleasant. Where I used to find swimming 40 laps (1.2 miles) daunting, I now find it relaxing. Breaking the stroke into many small parts, it is easy to focus on one at a time: on speed, on kicking, on breathing, on twisting, on stroking, on spearing, on pushing off.

Sometimes, for a split second or two, everything aligns perfectly. Moving through the water fast and effortlessly, like a solid torpedo, not even thinking about what I am doing and how I am doing it. The moment never lasts long enough for me to become prideful about my swimming but it lasts just long enough to make me hopeful that I will feel it again.

On good days, I swim straight. I don’t focus on what I can’t do (flip turns). I don’t get distracted by the splashing next to me. I use each 25 yard turnaround as a reset. If the last 25 yards didn’t go as planned, well, shake it off and try again. Very rarely do you get to reset in life every few seconds so it feels novel.

And I can think in a way that I can’t think when running or biking. Counting laps doesn’t take a lot of mental energy which leaves lots left for sorting out my life while I swim, turn, swim, turn.

I ease into the parts that I find difficult – breathing on both sides, breathing only once every other stroke, swimming without flippers. I didn’t even bother about these challenges until I felt confident in my 40 laps. But now, I work them in, a few more each time, noticing that what was challenging is not just hard and what was unpleasant is now just not as pleasant.

I tick off the improvements I’ve made. I know how to keep goggles from fogging up, how to efficiently turn at the end of the pool (I no longer stress about hitting it), about timing myself, I know how fast I’ve ever swam 25 yards and that it is quite a bit faster than my 40 lap average so there is room for improvement, I know how to swim straight (most of the time) and how to speed up when I race the person in the next lane (not that I tell them we are racing). I know how to nod when someone says “can we share?” and respond with “Yes” when they say “Should we split the lane” and I know longer stress about sharing with another person. I remember statements the swim instructor shared and spend a few laps wondering “Am I spearing the water aggressively? Is my elbow coming up straight and true before plunging again?”

I know that good swimming form is hard and that I am not a great swimmer. But I am less hard on myself in the water than on land. In water, I give myself permission to play and practice and observe. And hopefully some of that makes it out of the pool, into the locker room, and back out on the street with me.

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