Friday, January 14, 2005

The Swim

I wish I had discovered swimming twenty years ago. Actually, I did--I swam quite a bit to train for triathlons--but I can honestly say that I never enjoyed a single stroke. Nothing ever felt right, I was a boat anchor in the water, and my objective in the water was to train for races.

In July of last year, I started swimming again out of desperation, because every other workout I was doing seemed to be injuring me at an alarming and mystifying rate. So I thought that if I swam, maybe the water would protect me to some degree.

It was just as horrible as I remembered. I swam four hundred meters the first day and thought I was going to die. Thrashing around in the water is a good way to get exhausted in record time, and that's what I was doing. Plus the injuries I was struggling with had just destroyed my fitness level. I didn't have a choice, though, so I kept going to the pool.

After a few months, a funny thing happened: I started to look forward to swimming. The water was cool and quiet, and when I was swimming, so was I. In the years since Eli was born, I've become a more anxious person, which is probably a normal consequence of parenthood. One of the most difficult parts of parenting is that when anxiety builds up, you rarely have a chance for it to unwind. That's just not how the world works anymore. I almost always feel an undercurrent of anxiety in my life, in me. I realized tonight, though, at some point during the swim, that I never feel it when I'm in the water. I feel calm. It's the only time I feel that way.

What's ironic about the feeling I get is that I ran tens of thousands of miles in my life and only rarely got the sense of well-being that has been called "runner's high." And it usually took me several hours to get it when I did, which meant it usually only happened when I was on a long run in preparation for a marathon. With swimming, though, I get it almost every time now, and I usually only swim for about forty-five minutes.

I think the other facet of swimming that appeals to me so much is the privacy. As a parent, privacy essentially vanishes. I'm accessible all the time--if I'm not at home, I always have my cell phone. It's like being Batman without the costume. As you can easily tell from reading this column, though, I'm a loner to some degree, and always being "on" runs deeply counter to my nature. I think it runs counter to the nature of many people, but in this day and time that's just how our lives work.

Except when I swim.

I have a goal for my swimming this year, which I'd like to commit to this space, because it will make me work harder in the pool. I want to swim a mile in thirty minutes. That is nothing for a good swimmer, but I'm not a good swimmer, and it would be a real achievement for me. I would be as proud of doing that as I was of any of the marathons I ran. So that's the number and I guess we'll see.

Site Meter