4.03.2009

"Thanks For Not Letting Me Drown!"

That's my standard greeting to the lifeguards at the Rec Center where I've been working out the past month or so. I say it with complete sincerity as I stumble out of the pool and back to the locker room most mornings. "Thanks for not letting me drown!"

About a month ago I had the grand idea that I should start swimming again. For those in the know, I was on the Monti High Boys Swim Team in 1987 (as a 7th grader). It was my only season on the team. I was short, skinny, and swam like a fish - an incredibly slow, very awkward fish. My greatest memories...
  • I once found out after a race that I was doing flip turns in front of the coach, a woman whose name I don't recall, with about a 1" hole in the seat of my suit. Realize the suit was an incredibly small red Speedo that I still can't believe I wore in public! Talk about "turning the other cheek!"
  • There were not warm ups small enough to fit me so I had a zip up, sweatshirt/jacket that went to my knees - no need for pants!
  • Once I was almost disqualified for swimming the breast stroke incorrectly. I came up for air every other stroke (kinda like some swimmers do the Butterfly stroke). Apparently this is illegal in competitive swimming. Of course I was so far behind, a DQ was really not necessary.
  • I also remember being picked out of the water by a Senior swimmer, turned upside down, then smashed on my back in the water - sort of in the manner you might see a professional wrestler do if they were swimming.
After that stroll down memory lane, I realize why I only had one season on the swim team. The biggest benefit was that I was always well liked by Mr. Cannon. He was the Head Swim Coach at the time, and the Boys Phy-Ed instructor.

Back to the past month...after 22 years of not swimming laps I decided to get back in the pool. We recently joined the Rec Center in Castle Rock and I knew that some exercise would do me good. I hadn't really done anything since I broke my foot last October ('08) and the negative effects were showing!

Finding time to get to the pool is tough. I decided that early morning would be the only real option so I'd need to wake up at 5 AM. Again, for those in the know...waking up regularly at 5AM is heresy! I really like to sleep in the morning. At almost 35 years old, I'm still able to sleep in (like approaching the noon hour) if given the chance. I also tend to stay awake into the wee hours of the morning. Nothing about me has been geared to early mornings.

I also decided that I need to get a routine going. So the plan has been to wake up at 5AM on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday & Friday mornings, and get to the pool. So far I've made it all 4 mornings only once (this week). All the previous weeks were 3 out of 4.

Progress...has been slow. My first morning I got up and out the door. I got in the pool and started flailing about in an effort to swim to the other side. My arms turned like windmills, my legs were doing a sort of running motion, and my butt refused to stay anywhere near the top of the water. I am proud to say I swam for seven whole minutes - and almost drown. I took on water like the Titanic! It was a mess. I hoped that I was just rusty...really rusty!

The next few sessions were more of the same. I felt like I'd forgotten how to swim. I added a few minutes to each session, but literally felt like I was dying throughout. My goal was to get to the other side without drowning...seriously. It was no fun. At all. None.

I started looking for advice. My Mom had been swimming more lately and I asked her about it. She said, "You sound just like your Dad. He hates swimming!" I thought, "Great, it's hereditary. I can't swim, or float for that matter, just like the generations before me."

Undeterred, and not wanting to resort to running on a treadmill, I went back to Google University. I didn't find much, but some little tips here and there. Then I remembered a blog post by an author I enjoy, Tim Ferris. He talked about never knowing how to swim, then moving to effortless swimming in days! Sounded like just the thing.

I read through his post again and found it very interesting. There was one tip in particular that stuck out...
Gents, don’t swim in board shorts. I tried this in Brazil and didn’t realize it’s like swimming with a parachute behind you. Terrible. Get some Euro-style Speedos and streamline. Be cool on the beach and opt for efficiency in the water.
The next time I was at the pool I looked around a bit (you know, trying not to be too obvious about ogling the High School Boys Swim Team or the much "wiser" swimmers around me). What I saw was that almost everyone used a slim, fitted suit of some sort. I was in my beach shorts. And still afraid of drowning!

After about a week of not drowning, I took the plunge and placed an order with SpeedoUSA. I didn't go so far as the old high school Speedo briefs - no one wants to see that! I did get a pair of shorts that look pretty much like spandex running shorts. Not the greatest look, but at least they go to my knees!

I got in the pool the following Monday morning (after forcing my sluggish frame from slumber) to test the new suit. I must say, I was amazed at the difference. It was like gliding through the water compared to my previous two weeks of clawing for life! I could hardly believe I was swimming in the same pool with the same body. Swimming wasn't effortless, but it was a whole lot less like slow dying!

In the past two weeks things have continued to improve. I've gone from that first seven minute morning, to swimming 31 laps (1,550 yards) in just under 30 minutes this morning! It's been quite a change. I no longer feel like I'm fighting for life in each lap. Instead I look forward to going to the pool, even waking up ahead of my 5AM alarm most mornings.

I'll have to continue to add time, and variety, but I'm glad I've been able to stick with it. I feel better most days, though a little tired once in awhile yet. It's been a good challenge!

Michael Phelps I am not, but 30 minutes of swimming feels pretty good. And I'm still thankful that the lifeguards don't let me drown!