Saturday, January 29, 2011

Works for Me! Unexpected Results from Swimming Change-up

I revisited the "pool of memories" in 2010
People once said I was a natural born swimmer. Well, some actually said (and still say) I was born a fish. But either way, at age 14, there was no denying it - my first, best destiny seemed to be as a swimmer. Because, unlike most swimmers, I started swimming competitively at age 14. I set a high school record two years later and became an NCAA All-American three years after that.

But swimming as a life-long activity is not nearly as easy to do as running (my anywhere, anytime activity). And if you live in a northern climate - for instance, Cleveland - swimming is all about logistics. You need a pool. And you need work-friendly pool hours.

Finding a pool close to home with decent pool hours and space for lap swimming has become increasingly difficult for me. My hometown recreation center has been adding aquatics programs during prime non-work hours, and thus, swimming laps comfortably (i.e., not having to share a lane with more than a million people) is only possible in the early morning or late evening. (Or on Friday evenings during what my husband and I affectionately refer to as the "Friday night loser workout.") But because running is my preferred morning workout, I now find myself trudging to the pool at 9 p.m. and skimping on valuable sleep.

The olden days: RPI's medly relay.
back when I had "football shoulders"
(that's me, the pinhead at far left)
It reminded me of my freshman year at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) when I joined the women's swim "club." We were relegated to practice at 9-11 p.m. - prime study hours when no one else would dare want the pool. Meanwhile, the men's swim "team" had more family-friendly hours of 4-6 p.m. We could not share pool hours because, besides the fact that we were only a club, the "pool" was a tiny five-lane hole in the ground in the dungeon... I mean, basement... of the gym. It was cold. It was dark. And we had to trudge through several feet of snow to get from the freshman dorms to the gym. But, luckily, the RPI women swimmers were given bona fide NCAA team status the following year, and we also got a new pool - complete with bleachers, a diving well, a paid coach and a coach's office.

So, yeah, a few months ago, I was having flashbacks of THOSE days. I was doing it all over again. And not liking it, all over again. If I actually watched prime-time TV, I would hate it even more.

Thus, when my employer offered a $300 reimbursement for gym membership fees to anyone who passed a fitness test, my main goal was to get that money and use it for a second gym membership -- somewhere close to home with a pool and, most importantly, favorable pool hours. Who knew a new pool might provide an additional payoff? Not me.

The additional payoff came in the form of a 25-meter pool (my regular pool is 25 yards in length). I saw a new pool length more as a fresh take on the same old boring intervals. It would be something different, something even a little harder. (Although, I could even see myself lollygagging through sets and convincing myself I was swimming fast because I had nothing to compare it to.) Secretly, it took the pressure off.

But reality eventually set in (note, reality = my competitive instinct). Only one set of data is needed to compare the next set to, and before long, I found new interval times and worked my sets just as hard as ever. But the change-up, however small it seems, was doing me good because I was enjoying the challenge of swimming different distances. By default, I increased my "yardage" by swimming the same number of laps I did in a 25-yard pool. Swimming "3000" in my new pool added 280 yards. (Yeah, I know you say "why not just swim another 300 yards in the 25-yard pool?"... but it's a mental game.. I think.. or maybe it's all about the number of flip turns.)

But, whatever it is, two days ago, I noticed an unexpected after-effect of swimming in this new pool. I did a workout in my other "short" pool only to find I can swim 100-yard repeats several seconds faster than I could a few weeks ago. For the first time in over 20 years, my times are well under 1:15 (closer to 1:10) while doing repeats on 1:30. It seems like an unusual and drastic drop, but it's given me hope for the future. I may never be as fast as I was in THOSE days, but, I still dream of one day being able to complete that Ironman swim well under an hour and hopefully out of the clobbering pack.


  1. Wow - if only you could now find a 30 yard or meter pool - lol. Several seconds off of a 100 (yard or meter) is dramatic!

  2. Believe me, I still think I dreamt it. It's a huge atypical drop in time for a 100, but I'm chalking it up to the fact that I broke out of a routine - I think I've been working harder in the water without realizing it. When I was young, I was able to whip myself into shape every fall when swim season started after taking the summer off. I have good form, so it's mostly about building strength.

  3. What a pleasant unexpected surprise! Neat!

  4. I’m confused. Why aren’t you wearing your super cool PxRx Racing shirt?

    Oh, and you’re crazy fast in the water. I can’t wait to see how St. George plays out.

    All the best,