Adventures in Swimming

I do my best to find time to swim a mile as many days a week as I can.  Except Saturdays, because the kids are home in the morning and I work all day and it’s just too much.  And then there are days my swimming ambitions are thwarted because either I or one of my kids is sick, or a project gets in the way, but typically I would say I swim at least three times a week.  I don’t know how much good it’s doing, but it can’t hurt, and it sounds like something I should be doing, so there we are.

Anyway, since all that time at the pool is taking up a sizable chunk of my life it seemed worth a blog post.  At least, it seemed like a good idea in my head as I was going back and forth in the water for 45 minutes one morning.  Here’s everything I have to say about swimming:

The big advantage to swimming is that even when something hurts during any other exercise (like my left knee, which I think one of my kids leaned on too hard when I was sitting cross legged and it’s been painful for months while I walk) I can still swim.  And I like a form of exercise where I come out cleaner than I started.  The disadvantage is I’m dependent on going somewhere specific to do it.  (I envy that a runner can just kind of open his or her door and go.)

There are two places I swim.  The first is the Y.  (I joined the Y back when Ian was deployed the first time because there was a free six-month membership offer for families of active duty soldiers at the time.  We didn’t do much then beyond hang out in the play room when the weather was bad and I needed to get the kids out of the house, or occasionally sign out a racket ball court and let the kids have at it smacking balls off the walls and ceiling.  Anyway, we’re finally getting our money’s worth out of the place with as often as Ian and I go now, so that’s good.)  The pool at the Y is small, and it takes me 36 laps to do a mile.  There are three lanes (out of six) designated for lap swimming that get squeezed down to two during water aerobics in the morning.  The Y is usually crowded in the morning.  Sharing a lane at the Y gets a little tight but most of the time it works out okay.  The exceptions are if I end up with Splashy Guy (who is a middle aged man who swims at a good clip but lets one of his arms drop straight down onto the water in such a way when he does the front crawl that he sends water everywhere) or Blind Andy.  I like Blind Andy, and I’m impressed by anyone who can swim blind (although I suppose crossing the street blind would be scarier) but he uses flippers and a snorkel and moves way faster than I do.  I know I slow him down when I share a lane with him because he waits to hear when I get to the end so he knows when it’s safe to move again.  Ian uses the treadmills and the weight room at the Y, so I go there when the two of us are able to get out and exercise at the same time.

The other place I sometimes swim is the county pool.  It’s closer to home and it’s bigger.  The lanes are wider, there are eight of them, and it only takes 32 laps to do a mile.  If I go there to swim in the afternoon I sometimes literally have the whole place to myself.  There have been days I’ve seen the poor lifeguards watching me paddle back and forth and wondered if they hate me for making it necessary for them to stay there, or if I give meaning to their lives by being the only swimmer to potentially save.  (I suspect the former, but can’t prove it because they are always unfailingly polite.)  The county pool also has diving boards and a basketball hoop.  I go to the county pool if Ian and I are exercising at different times and I don’t need to go all the way to the Y, or after school when we can fit it in our schedule with the whole family.  I do laps while Ian and the kids play, and then I join them when I’m done.  The big advantage of family swim is if I get the kids’ hair washed in the showers it counts as bath night.

The biggest differences between the two pools are the amenities.  The Y has towels (although I tend to think of them as ‘exfoliating towels’ but they are still towels I don’t have to lug there myself), more private showers, a scale, a hot tub, bigger lockers, lotion, a TV, hair dryers….  Plus if we go to the Y with the kids there is a small pool for them nearby that they prefer because it’s warmer.  The county pool is more utilitarian, but in some ways smarter.  I’ve never understood the carpeting in the locker rooms at the Y because they just generate a damp mildewy smell, and the county locker room is all tile which seems more practical to me.

The Y also has a thing that’s like a salad spinner for swimsuits.  There are all these instructions on it about pushing your suit far enough down before pressing on the lid which starts it spinning to get the bulk of the water out of your suit.  I learned the hard way that it really means what it says, because I nonchalantly put my suit in there any old way one morning and the thing ripped my suit to shreds.  Now I’m kind of paranoid about shoving my suit all the way down.

Luckily I buy my suits online so it wasn’t hard to replace.  I hate shopping for swimsuits, but doing it online is less painful.  The great irony about wanting to swim to get into better shape is that so few suits seem designed for swimming, particularly if you are not a size eight or under.  There are serious swimsuits for people already in shape, but bigger suits tend to have goofy straps that fall off your shoulder if you move too vigorously.

To keep my hair from becoming completely fried from chlorine I put a bunch of conditioner on under my swim cap.  I’ve seen no difference between special swimmer’s shampoo and what I normally use in terms of helping my overly chlorinated hair, but the conditioner under the cap thing helps more than anything I’ve tried.

My skin always smells like chlorine, so I started using a floral scented body butter for when I get out of the pool.  Now I smell like flowers that have been watered with chlorine.

For the most part swimming is a fairly safe activity, but once I left my razor in my bag facing the wrong direction and sliced the crap out of my thumb in the shower at the Y one morning.  That was no fun.  I couldn’t stop the bleeding long enough to get my bra on without making a mess, so I ended up heading home essentially naked under my coat which was way less sexy than it sounds.

One of the more unexpected results of all my swimming is that the bottoms of my feet aren’t cracked anymore.  I’ve had problems with cracked heels my whole life, and as a kid my toes and heels used to bleed.  I’ve always wanted cute feet and have tried any number of lotions, but I think the regular soaking in chlorine has killed whatever caused the problem.  Who knows?  Anyway, I finally have cute feet.  Not the bodily improvement I was expecting for all the effort, but go figure.

The biggest obstacle to fitting exercise into my life isn’t time so much as boredom.  I hate wasting time, and I find exercise frustratingly dull.  It’s very hard for me not to think about all the other things I’d rather be doing.  So I’ve been arming myself with gadgets to help combat the elements of exercise that I find irritating.

My first, best gadget is a lap counter.  I Googled the idea one day when I couldn’t stand spending all my time in the water keeping track of what lap I was on anymore.  I found this, which is a waterproof device I can wear like a ring, and I push the button on it with my thumb every time I reach the wall at the shallow end of the pool.  Now I can think about whatever I want, and somewhere around the 45 minute mark I check the lap counter to see if I’m done or not.  I love the thing.

The more extravagant gadget I treated myself to for Mother’s Day this year.  There is a company that waterproofs regular iPods, so I ordered one with a set of waterproof ear buds.  I’ve never owned an iPod so it took awhile to figure out exactly how to get it going.  The first problem was that my laptop’s version of iTunes was more than five minutes old so my iPod Shuffle was mystified.  We got that solved, then had to figure out how to find what I downloaded once we got it onto my player.  My first swim with the thing I listened to a 15 minute Freakonomics show and then it started repeating.  Now that I’ve had some practice I’m on track and can listen to interesting things like This American Life or Fresh Air.  I know most people would probably use it to exercise to music, but I have to choose music very carefully or it will bother more than it will entertain me.  (A few years ago I used to go to Curves, and as much as I liked the exercise routine I don’t think I could go back there and literally face the music again.)

Swimming while learning something and not having to count laps has been a big improvement.  Anything that helps me keep it up and not want to quit is useful.  And I feel good on those family swim days that my kids see me diligently getting my workout in.  Plus it’s more fun to watch them splashing around and waving to me as I go by than it is watching the synchronized feet of the water aerobics people at the Y.

I have no idea how Ian and I will fit exercising into our lives once school lets out because that three hour block of time in the morning has been so great for us getting out together.  Above and beyond my gadgets the biggest motivation to exercise has simply been that my husband goes to do it with me.  His encouragement has made a huge difference, and that extra time we get alone together on the drive to the Y and back has been really nice.  With summer vacation comes the return of our tag team lives, but we will find a way.  Besides, I’ve gotten used to smelling like a bottle of bleach.  How can I give that up?

(No way could anyone ever pay me enough to get me to post a picture of myself in a swimsuit, so here is Mona a few years back during her hat phase.  Nothing says born in Wisconsin more than a winter hat in the pool.  Or something.)

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