Either you’re a swimmer or you’re not. False dichotomy though it may be, there is an easy test to see which camp you fall in. When someone tells you, “Let’s swim half a mile.” do you answer, “Sure! It only takes me 4 or 5 minutes to run a half mile so this should be a piece of cake!”? If so, you are not a swimmer. If you answer, “How far is a half mile? Like … 10 laps?” you are not a swimmer. If you even think, “Are goggles and a swim cap really mandatory? ‘Cause the former make my eyes bulge like Marty Feldman and the latter is just ugly.” then you are not a swimmer. (Although you are wicked good with your ’80′s movie trivia!)
If you just snap your goggles into place, jump into the pool with nary a whimper about the cold and start stroking, then you are a swimmer.
I don’t think I even need to tell you which camp I fall into. My first pool workout with the Gym Buddies went swimmingly – you knew that was coming! – all the way up to the point where we actually got in the water. Our Y being, well, our Y, naturally there were no lanes open for actual swimming as they prefer to keep 99% of the pool available for elderly aquatics classes that oddly resemble square dancing in slow motion. So we were banished to the “leisure pool” where we did a pool workout that I got from Fitness magazine. It was ridiculously easy. We tried everything we could to get our hearts pumping but instead we ended up comparing our pedicures while sculling in random circles around the pool. (Gym Buddy Megan’s toenails were a classic red, mine were a zombie-esque blue and Allison’s were naked, poor thing. Knowledge you needed; you’re welcome.)
Since Gym Buddy Megan is training for a sprint triathlon that includes a half-mile open water swim clearly pedi-sculling and otter-rolling over a beach ball (which is awesome fun, by the way) were not going to cut it. So we did what we had to do and started swimming some laps. In the 3-foot leisure pool. It only took two laps before the old folks attacked.
“You’re not allowed to swim in the swimming pool!” yelled a white-haired gent without a trace of irony.
“Yeah,” chimed in a woman who was obviously very invested in keeping her bouffant dry, “this is a LEISURE pool.”
“Well I happen to find this very leisurely,” Allison explained sweetly as we backstroked around them like some sort of rogue synchronized swimming team taking hostages.
The next day we were back in the pool again but for real this time. There was one lane open for lap swimming and we intended to use the heck out of it. No matter that it was already occupied by three other women which would make six of us in one lane. We optimistically snapped on our goggles (I borrowed mine from my eight-year-old – I’m Batman!) and plunged in.
“So … half a mile,” I said. “How far is that exactly?”
“I dunno,” Allison replied. “Let’s ask the lifeguard.”
“Do you mean a swimmer’s mile or a land mile?” he asked in return.
Allison started to answer but I interrupted her with, “Whichever one is shorter.”
After giving me a long considering look as if to decide whether to address me as an adult or the child I was acting like, he answered, “A swimmer’s mile is 35 laps.” (Another way to tell you are not a swimmer is to be unaware of the controversy surrounding how far a swimmer’s mile actually is. There is calculus involved.)
We sighed with relief. “We can swim down this thing 35 times, no problem!” Allison chirped.
“You do know that a ‘lap’ means down and back, right?” he added.
No, sir. No we did not know that. (I must point out here that Megan did, in fact, know this but she was not there at this juncture and so it was just Allison and I, as clueless as one can be in Batman goggles.)
“Okay, we got this. We just have to swim down there 70 times!”
“No, wait,” I pointed out, “we have to halve that!”
“So … that’s … ” Crickets.
“Half of 70 is 35. And half of 30 is 15 plus 4 which is… 19!” I announced erroneously.
“I thought it was 18,” Allison said, also wrong. (Why oh why did they have to pick an odd number?)
“Why didn’t we just ask the lifeguard for a half a mile in the first place?”
“Well we can’t ask him now. He already thinks we’re idiots.”
“We are idiots.”
“Let’s just start swimming and see how far we can get, ok?”
We made it four laps before we were clutching the side of the pool and gasping for breath. I will tell you this: In five years of trying every conceivable workout I have never been so close to vomiting as I was in that moment. There are workouts and then there is swimming. It was a gut-wrenchingly, head-to-toe achingly, can’t-breathe-for-at-least-3-life-threatening-reasons brutal workout. For the first time I understood why people watch the Summer Olympics for events other than gymnastics.
I was ready to be done. But Megan was already off like a fish, ahead of us by 10 laps or so, and Allison was on a mission. We pressed on for the full half mile. (-ish, my counting got a little garbled. Turns out I can’t even do basic math when my Batman goggles turn out to be complete duds and yet I have to drive home so I can’t lose a contact thereby forcing me to swim with my head out of the water the entire time making me almost as ridiculous as the Bouffant Lady.)
The next day I was sore everywhere, just like several of you warned me I would be. The strangest part was that I was most sore right under each butt cheek, where my leg joins my derriere. Who knew I even had a muscle there?! The worst effect though was – heaven help me – the Gym Buddies freaking loved it. LOVED IT.
Sensing lap workouts long after August ends, I broke down and bought a decent pair of goggles. I still hate swimming. But I hate it a little less than I used to. Plus, I have to admire a workout that brutal. It never has gotten much easier for me – every swimming workout feels like choreographed drowning – but I did love how it made me feel when we finished.
Are you a swimmer? Have you ever done a triathlon? And if so – be honest now – did you pee in the lake?!
After reading your essay, I must conclude that I am not a swimmer – and especially not in that no-nonsense “let’s get down to business” way. I’ve been swimming since I was about 8, but yet had never heard of a swimmer’s mile, so I must truly be clueless about swimming. I do know that I really like swimming. I like that it’s hard and not everyone can do it. I love the pain I feel the day after. I love how swimmers’ bodies look and the fantasies of mine looking like that too one day. So, does that make me a swimmer?