Category Archives: swim stories

Watching a pandemic crush my goals under its foot

I opened my planner the other day and found a note on a sticky tab that I had written in January. It was a list of goal times that I was aiming for by August to qualify for the National Senior Games. Sad to say, our state qualifying games were canceled due to coronavirus concerns. Even sadder to say that I’m nowhere near those ideal times. Perhaps I set my sights a bit high in January, particularly with the virus on the horizon.

While I’ve been knocked off track for achieving my swimming glory this year, I need to recognize that I made progress, even in these weird times. Our pool was closed for nearly two months and, short of building something in my backyard in the dead of winter, there was nowhere to swim. Since the pool re-opened, I swim 3-4 times a week for an hour each time (assigned lanes and times, of course*). Depending on my plan for the day, I can do between 2000 and 2500 yards. I’ve not done this much swimming in years and plan to push further if the pool continues to stay open.

I worry a bit about what will happen in the next few months with coronavirus, especially as it gets colder and people head back indoors. Epidemiologists predict a second major wave at that point. It would pain me to stop swimming come fall, just as I’m starting to make progress. But I also need to be realistic about the changing virus situation and plan ahead for the next corona-wave. Will I ever hit those times on the sticky note though?

My cycling distances have been less than what I planned, primarily because we’ve had some pretty crappy wind lately. If I have the choice between swimming or cycling in a 20 mph headwind, swimming will win every time. This next week should be better, weather -wise, and I can up the miles then (hopefully).

I’m also considering trying to run again. Other than dog walks, I haven’t been rambling on two feet for any appreciable distance in some time. Running is more convenient than either swimming or cycling, which can chew up 2-4 hours a day. It also meets social distancing requirements, for when the pool shuts down. It may be painful to start, but it seems a necessary next step.

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I have to say that I’m starting to feel a second wind in my work with the renewed exercise intensity. I’m feeling more successful physically, and that seems to translate into feeling less burned out. This is a good thing. I’ve been struggling with writing lately, but the writer’s block is loosening. And I’m less likely to spill my guts about frustrations with my job. The disappointments, microaggressions, and push-backs are still there, but I can now shut-out those aspects of the work because I’m having success elsewhere in life. I have a singular work goal at this point: finish these project analyses and reports. Nothing else really matters for this short-timer.

I also continue to see slow, but continued weight loss — a total of 15 lbs since March and 35 lbs since I was training for a bike tour last summer. Not rapid, but steady. While I’d love to see the needle move faster, what I’m doing now is sustainable over the long term. Plus, I’m happier and feel fitter. I might not be able to turn back time and undo the damages, but I’m putting things in place for a productive future after finishing this phase of my career.

At this point, my clothing is looser and I’m starting to fit into smaller sizes. I have a whole wardrobe of fitness clothes that I’ve bought over the years but couldn’t wear them. Cycling shorts and jerseys that didn’t fit last year are perfect this year. I actually look like I might know what I’m doing on a road bike with the proper outfitting.

So while the coronavirus has crushed many of our plans for this summer, it has also created new opportunities to improve my fitness and endurance. I have to believe that this pandemic will end someday and I plan to be ready for when it does end. The best I can do is to continue to put things in place for when that happens.

*Side question: why do old guys disregard assigned lanes and times in the pool? More than once, I’ve had to ask one to leave the lane when it was my assigned time. And they act like I’m putting them out when they are cutting into my swim time. How do they come to expect this level of entitlement? I can only imagine them shitting a brick on the deck should some one cut into their pool time. Rant finished.

Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

A self-isolating vacation

I finally took a little time off from work last week. This essentially meant that I didn’t walk into my home office to write on my work computer. Other than that, little changed in my day-to-day activities. Such is the mark of self-isolation.

I was a bit reluctant to take vacation time, seeing that I wasn’t planning to travel during this phase of the pandemic. However, my brain has been screaming for a break as I plow through my report writing — it’s so dry and such a slog. I hope that taking a break might help speed up my thought processes once I return. We will see how that goes tomorrow when I sit down at the computer again.

My plan was to get some work done on our growing list of backlogged home maintenance tasks. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as productive as I would have liked because I spent more time relaxing than tackling projects. Fingers-crossed that taking a more restful break will produce more productive writing.

I started my staycation with a 30-mile bike ride with a friend last Monday. I got pretty dehydrated with the heat and wind, even in the early part of the day. Under more normal times, we would plan our route around a coffee shop for refreshments. But not this time because coffee shops are much less inviting with a potential virus lurking. Nope, this ride was work the entire time. I didn’t have enough water, and the last 8 miles were pretty sluggish. I had no problem maintaining the requisite 6′ social distancing.

And then, the weather changed abruptly and we ended up with 6″ of wet, heavy snow by Tuesday (June 9th!) morning. The power went out several times during the night and the alarm on my computer battery backup woke us at about 1:30 am. I spent 20 minutes crawling around on the floor in pitch darkness, trying to get things shut down and the alarm silenced. Our big white dog was so distraught, and I had to negotiate with her for space under my desk.

The first day of vacation wasn’t going as planned. 

I had wanted to finish painting the trim on the house this past week, but the cold, wet, and wind following the snowstorm made that problematic. We instead decided to tackle the piles of accumulated stuff in the basement. Kids’ toys, old clothes, books, sports equipment, and tons of tools/boxes/clutter from our parents vacated homes. We didn’t know what to do with all of the stuff from the houses we inherited at the time, so we ended up moving most of it into our unfinished basement. My spouse has the packrat gene and wanted to go through it all — slowly — to get a better idea of what was there. Mind you, this was about 10 years, so the mountain of accumulated junk wasn’t about to move out of the house in a week.

None of it sparks joy for me. At this point, I’d prefer to get a dumpster and be done with it. If we haven’t needed it in 10 years, can’t we just get rid of it? 

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On the plus side, I did manage to get in some decent workouts during my staycation. A couple of bike rides, plus 3 swimming sessions. Not that I’m training for anything in particular — at least not for this year. We already have re-signed-up for several postponed events, and I’m hoping that the baseline workouts that I’m doing now will pay off in the future. I’m putting more effort into swimming these days because it’s one place that is likely safe from the coronavirus with all the disinfectants that they use. Unfortunately, the push to open businesses continues, and the facility is seeing increased use. That means more potential exposure to the virus.

Even though I continue to use the community rec center, I still think that some of the re-openings are premature and that there will be continued waves of COVID-19 as a result. I recently read about a survey of epidemiologists where over 80% would not use a fitness facility for at least 3 more months — and half of those responding wouldn’t use a facility for a year or more. That certainly gives me pause. These are people who study the spread of infectious disease, and they wouldn’t risk exposure over the short term.

I still question if it is really safe to go back to the pools.

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And now it’s Sunday and my precious break is nearly over. I don’t think it was long enough, but I should probably get back to finishing off the tasks at hand. I’ve written in previous posts that my planned fieldwork for this summer has been canceled with the travel restrictions. I’m in total wrap up mode from now until the final day before retirement.

I don’t know if I want it to go really fast or really slow.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Re-defining open

Our community recreation center recently re-opened on a limited basis. Classrooms are off-limits, as are the showers and dressing areas. But the cardio areas and lap pool are available, by reservation. Meaning that you need to call ahead and reserve a lane or piece of equipment. You get temperature checked as you walk-in and need to wear a mask at all times, except when you are in the water. Four swimmers are allowed in the pool at a time, in every other lane. You come dressed to swim and leave in a wet bathing suit. I now understand what wearing a diaper feels like.

There are more lifeguards on deck than there are swimmers at this point. Lots of repeated disinfecting of things that no one really touches, like ladders and bleachers. Given the level of attention given to these tasks, I’m pretty certain that coronavirus is not in the building. But one can’t be too cautious with this novel virus. There’s so much that we don’t know about it, and it’s best to side on the more disinfected end of the spectrum.

I swam twice last week, on Thursday and Friday. This was the first time since mid-February. I definitely could feel that I hadn’t been in the pool for a while. I did 2000 yds on Thursday and 1900 yds on Friday, which isn’t too awful given the long break from the pool. The events that I’m planning to swim are a long way off (now 2021), but I have a long way to go to be more competitive. Being permitted to swim now will help in the long run. But the extra training time won’t be worth it if I end up sick.

I’m now wondering if anyone should be using the pool at this point in time. Yes, the state has allowed recreation centers and gyms to open, with stringent restrictions on capacity. But, really, does anyone fully understand the implications of doing this? We live in an area that has seen fewer cases relative to the number of people living here. That is changing as the virus continues to spread in more rural areas. Our state is one of the few with an uptick in cases recently. It would be good to know if this is due to the recent re-opening of a variety of businesses and facilities.

For now, I will likely continue to swim. This really is an ideal time for a lap swimmer, with reserved lanes and times. There is no crush of swimmers in shared lanes. There aren’t any kids yelling and jumping off the diving boards. But such restricted use of a community facility seems such a waste. There are only a few other recreators in the whole place — is it worth the expense to be open for such limited use?

Photo by Benjamin Basch on Unsplash

Some of my realities in the time of COVID-19

Confession: I put on dressy clothes and makeup to get the oil changed in the car yesterday. Having this as the highlight for my week is where I am at right now.

COVID-19 reality is settling in as we continue to adjust our plans for this summer and fall in response to the pandemic. My spouse, oldest son, and I are doing the safer-at-home thing here together. Our son has not yet flown the nest and works part-time from this house. I also continue to work from home. I greatly appreciate that I’m able to telework and am still being paid. I must admit, however, that it is difficult to maintain focus at times. I spend more time than I should on painstaking details. Still, I can work on my projects without a lot of distractions since I have few places to go to these days.

Our main daily concern is what we will have for dinner — or what I plan to cook. This nightly meal seems to be holding us together, and I’m getting more adventurous in my efforts. They don’t realize it, but I’m slowly turning us into vegetarians as we use up the remaining fish and meats in the freezer. I read about the conditions in slaughterhouses for workers and animals and am having a harder time stomaching meat-based protein. I feel guilty for subjecting other beings to all that suffering. I was vegetarian before the boys were born, and it seems a good time to shift back to that.

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As far as our fun events planned for this summer, everything, save for one charity ride, has been called off. I suspect that this ride, scheduled for the end of August, will eventually be canceled, as well. I’m hoping that things will improve enough that it might go on. It’s one of my favorites — an all-women event with mimosas at the end. The reality is that bringing several hundred or so cyclists into a small area to start a ride, and then rejoining them to drink at the end, isn’t a smart thing to do during a viral pandemic. So I’m not holding my breath on this one surviving.

I keep thinking that this HAS to end soon. But I suspect that we are going to live with the threat of this virus for a long time. Partly because of the nature of a novel virus, partly because of the mixed-bag response to stemming the spread — on so many levels. The end of the pandemic doesn’t mean a return to anything close to “normal.” Like 9/11 or the 2008 recession, we’ve all been changed by this. Whether we like it or not, the old normal doesn’t exist and the new normal is really uncertain.

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But back to my reality.

At this point, about all I do for outside entertainment is go for bike rides and some hikes, now that the snow is finally disappearing from our remote part of the world. It’s pretty open here and easy to avoid people for now. That will be changing after Memorial Day next week, when people flood to the mountains, virus or no virus. The gym re-opened yesterday, and frankly, I’m leery of going back at this point. It seems the exposure risk could still be quite high in an enclosed space, despite the constant cleaning of the facility. We’ve all seen how unsanitary people can be in a gym. Now is not the time to be sharing sweat — or breathing the same air, for that matter.

My pool also re-opened recently. The current plan is to have people call ahead and reserve a lane for swimming laps. I made an appointment to swim today, but feel a little uneasy about doing so. Should I be doing this now? Should we be re-opening these places? Am I endangering others by wanting to workout in a pool? Is the rich chlorine environment enough to kill off the virus? I’ll have to see how it goes.

I do kind of like having an assigned time and lane to swim in. There’s no lane sharing and lots of open space. Selfishly, I’d support that approach long-term. At the same time, there is no access to locker rooms or showers at the facility. You come dressed for swimming and leave in a wet bathing suit to go shower at home. That part is going to suck.

What might suck even worse is not being able to hang out in the sauna or hot tub afterward. That was so 2019.

Photo by Vera Davidova on Unsplash

View from the starting block

It seems 100 years ago that I was a collegiate swimmer. I wasn’t an outstanding competitor. I set no records and was mainly an “also swam.” Back then, I swam mostly because it was a good work out that forced me to show up. I was part of a team and fed off of the camaraderie. I was good enough to not be dismissed, but not good enough to be remembered. But being a small fish in a small pond suited me well.

I never really liked the pressure of swim meets and was fine with never competing again after college. Once I hit grad school, there just didn’t seem to be much time for the pool. My swim career was largely over.

Swimming as a senior athlete

Fast forward nearly 4 decades. I’m standing on a starting block, knees shaking, and wondering what I’ve gotten myself into. I signed up to compete in swimming at the Senior Games in our state. It seemed like a good idea at the time, with the gentle urging from a friend who also wanted to compete. At this moment, standing on a tiny square platform above the edge of the pool, I’m not so sure that I should be doing this.

I still swim laps when the spirit moves me, and have a bit of kick of speed when the moon and sun are properly aligned. I’m faster than most of the old guys in the next lanes during my morning fitness swims. But right now, I was about to dive off a starting block during the pre-meet warmup. They don’t allow the use of starting blocks at my rec center pool, so I wasn’t able to practice any starts. I would need to do a crash course in diving immediately before my events. I figured I could get in at least 10 practice dives during that warm up time. Should be plenty, right?

As I climbed up onto the block, I wondered when (and why) they had been raised so high off the side of the pool. I could fall off this thing and do some considerable damage. And what if (god forbid) I do a belly-flop and cause a tsunami wave in the pool? I’m not small, and there is some additional mass stretching this bathing suit. Would everyone stop and stare if I caused some serious waves? Would I need to be rescued if it were a particularly lousy dive?

I bent into a position that I sort of remembered from years ago and, on the count of three, pushed outward off the block. I hit the water and maybe went a bit too deep to compensate for fear of generating a huge splash. Coming up, I looked for evidence of waves slapping the sides of the pool. Everything seemed to be okay, and no one appeared to have been thrown to the deck. So it was a good one.

I had just made my first dive and was slightly ecstatic. I told the young lifeguard that it was my first time off a starting block in 35 years. He was genuinely unimpressed. He had no idea that he had just witnessed a significant lifetime achievement. The accolades were silent that day.

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My first event was the 50-yard freestyle. I climbed back onto the block, shaking from excitement, and chilled from freezing pool temperatures. The horn blew and we were off. Up and back. I was the first one to hit the wall in my heat. I looked up as the referee came to my lane. He looked at me, then at the clock, and then back at me. Did I do something wrong? Did he suspect cheating because I don’t really don’t look like I should be able to move through the water with any speed?

Neither. He told me that it was a really nice swim. Little did I realize that checking on the swimmers and the timing devices is just what referees do. I don’t think I’d ever hit the wall first to know this.   

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I had five more events that day. That’s the fun part about Senior Games — you can sign up for whatever events you want to try out. Most states host an annual game, with every other year being a qualifying year. The top 3 competitors in an event are invited to the National Senior Games (aka, Senior Olympics). I qualified for a few events and managed to make it to the National Games in Albuquerque in 2019. I knew that my times were nowhere near what they should have been for the National Games, but what the heck. We went.   

Being a small fish in the small-state-pond was gratifying, but the National Senior Games were a much larger pond. Literally. It was held in the largest pool that I have ever seen. There I learned that there are some seriously fast women in my age group. As a recreational swimmer, I was out of my league.

And then I began to wonder: what would happen if I actually worked at this? What if I tried to get fitter, stronger, and improve my stroke? And what if I could go off a starting block more than 10 times a year?

I was re-bitten by the swimming bug. My goal would not be just about fitness, but about becoming a competitor again. Sometimes I feel that I left things undone in my collegiate years. I know so much more now about working out, dedication, and nutrition. How much better could I do this time around?

I’ve looked into getting involved with US Masters swimming, but there is no program within an hour from me. I don’t even like spending the 20 minutes on getting to the pool across town, let alone drive over an hour on crusty roads at 5 am to go swim. But if I want to get better, then working with coaches and being with like-minded pool mates would help tremendously.

It depends on how badly I want to try to do this. And when I can get into any pool again with this current epidemic.