Daisy Bateman

Whinesday: The Embarrassment of the Short-Distance Swimmer

As you may recall, I have been trying some new things in the exercise realm recently. That last one went fairly well, in the sense that I survived it and (I think) became a bit stronger, and got to feel unduly pleased with myself for getting up so early in the morning, but not so much in the sense that I wore too-old shoes to the first day and did something unfavorable to my Achilles tendon. Which means, if I want to have any chance of finishing the San Jose Half Marathon on the first weekend of October, I need to stay off it now and let it heal. But I still need to do my exercise, and there isn’t a heck of a lot you can do in the way of cardio without putting strain on your feet.

Except swimming.

I’ve always considered myself a passable swimmer. I learned when I was very small, in my grandparents pool and continued my education at the very summer camps of my youth, but I’ve never really gotten past the “pretty sure I won’t drown” stage of ability. But I thought I knew a couple of strokes (breaststroke and crawl*) and it seemed like a good interim exercise. There’s even a pool in our building!

(We will not talk about the part where I buy a swimsuit, except that I would like to share my theory that sport suit manufacturers make them extra unflattering on purpose, so that you will think you need to work out more, and therefore buy more swimsuits.)

My first clue that this wasn’t going to go as smoothly as I had hoped was about halfway through my first lap down the pool, doing the crawl, when I started to wonder if I was going to make it all the way to the end without taking a break.** I did make it, eventually, and even managed to do it a couple more times before giving up and doing the rest of the workout doing what may have been the world’s slowest breaststroke.***

I knew I needed help, and I thought I knew the place to get it. The gym at my work has a pool, where they offer something called “Masters Swim” three days a week. And, despite my general policy of never being in a swimsuit in a place where I might be seen by my coworkers, I decided that this was the place for me.

So, when Monday came I showed up, paid my fifteen dollars, changed in to my torture device and went outside to find out what this was all about. Then I went back inside, because no one else was there yet and I felt kind of weird hanging around by the pool.

My first indication that I had something wrong was when I found out that the group wasn’t being led by one of the gym employees, but by a guy who works in one of the other businesses in the complex, who just happens to be very into swimming. My second hint was when he had me swim a couple of laps to see “where I was at” and the long pause when I was done. After that I kind of stopped counting.

I won’t bore you with the details, but the short version is that everything I was doing was wrong, starting with the breathing and going from there. The group leader (whose name I heard and promptly forgot****) spent almost the entire time trying to tell me how to do it right, culminating in one particularly embarrassing moment where he actually held my midsection so he could show me how I was supposed to be twisting from my core.

Not helping matters at all was the fact that everyone else in the group were a) very good swimmers who had clearly been doing this for a while and b) extremely fit Asian people. Meanwhile, there I am, lumbering along in the first lane like evolution’s missing link between humans and manatees.

So, now I’m looking for a different way of going about this. My friend Karen has recently created a website and ebook called Teach Your Kids to Swim and I figure I might start there, though considering that it’s geared for toddlers it may be a bit beyond my level. Aside from that, I’m doing a lot of calf stretches, thinking healing thoughts, and trying the eliptical again this weekend.

*Apparently, people who actually swim call this “freestyle.”
**In my defense, it’s a very long pool.
***The other woman in the pool, who was easily old enough to be my mother, lapped me about eight times. She could even turn around while she was still under water.
****That one’s okay; he forgot mine too. As I was leaving, he said, “Bye, Mar. . .” and then it just sort of tailed off.

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