fitness · swimming

Pandemic swimming: more fun than the regular kind! (Say what?)

Like others on the blog, I enjoy a nice splash in the pool. And like others on the blog, early in the pandemic my regular swims were probably the thing I missed most (after hugs). Here in Ontario we’ve been able to get back in the pool for over a month now, but that doesn’t mean things on the swim front have been back to normal, exactly.

To my great surprise, I’m totally ok with this.

(Two photos of Thames Park Pool in London, Ontario. One shows kids splashing under a waterfall in the kids area; the other shows the detail of a 50m lane, with a kids’ wading entrance and waterslide in the background.)

I am a hyper-competitive human; I really like going fast and beating others when I’m pedalling or swimming or even yoga-ing. (NB: I realize this is Not At All The Right Attitude in yoga; I’m working on it, I swear.)

I am also, however, not a gifted swimmer. I like swimming, and I can do almost every stroke (butterfly eludes me, alas). But I’m also bottom-heavy, and I struggle not to drag my lower body through the water on an angle. I’ve never trained as a swimmer, so my stroke ain’t anywhere near perfect. For the last few years, I’ve been swimming twice a week with more gifted swimmers than me, and that’s helped a lot. But I’m not exactly going to be Michael Phelps-ing my way up the lanes anytime soon. Or ever.

So swimming, in the before times when lots of people could share a lane and swim together and overtake each other (or creep up behind one another and tap the slowpoke’s toe, what I like to call The Bop of Doom), was a mixed bag for me. Splashing in water = YAY! Swimming with fast people while Type A = performance anxiety and stress! Fretting about why my split time is slower than last week FFS = more anxiety and more stress, plus a soupçon of disappointment in self.

And swimming in the after times? Well I’ll tell ya.

I’m incredibly out of practice on the stroke front, and sore from head-standing with the amazing Alex and bouncing around the countryside on my road bike, and yet – IT IS SO MUCH MUCH MUCH MORE FUN.

A young girl in a purple stripy swimsuit blasts into a swimming pool. Her eyes are closed, she’s blowing bubbles out of her mouth, and her arms are splayed. SHE IS HAVING AN AMAZING TIME IN WATER!

When the world crashed to a halt for me on 12 March, the day after my last shared lane swim, I had no idea it would be until mid-July when I’d get to freestyle up the lane and breast back again. But that’s how it rolled out.

My home city decided to open a limited number of pools this summer, after we entered Stage 2.5, and to make all swims “open”; that is, great fun for kids, but no real lanes to speak of (unless it’s a rainy day or you catch the pool at exactly the right time, and the one sort-of lane is mostly empty of frolickers).

Meanwhile, my work city crafted a booking system that lets registered users book themselves into both lane swims and open swims exactly one week in advance; this means swimmers are guaranteed their preferred time slot, but you have to be really quick about it – lane swims in the two large pools book out within a minute or two of registration opening. Given that I travel to my work city irregularly right now, that’s meant I’ve only had one opportunity to book into my beloved former neighbourhood pool, Thames Park.

A white male swimmer breaststrokes up a 50m lane at Thames Park pool while a lifeguard watches. I was so excited to go for a swim I forgot to take any pictures of ME!

It was a warm early morning in late July when I rolled out of bed and threw the dog in the car to make the 1.5 hour journey up the highway; my swim was booked for 9am, and I had work meetings and a haircut following. I dropped the dog with my folks, aka her besties, and drove to the pool. Thankfully, we were permitted to use the toilets in the change room, where I pulled off my dress to reveal my swimsuit underneath. We were also permitted to bring our own gear with us, so out onto the deck I marched with my pull buoy, my kick board, my goggles and my training fins.

Once on the deck, I found I was nervous but everyone else was chill; I sensed a lot of “regulars”. When the announcement came that it was 9am we chose lanes and jumped in; there were exactly enough spots available for two people to share a 50-m lane. This was a huge treat; morning swims at this gorgeous pool are super busy under normal conditions, and I usually end up swimming there alongside the Phelps-types. Cue stress response.

But today? Under sunny blue skies I took off up the lane; much too fast to start, I realized when I got to the other end and was winded. I breasted back, enjoying the feeling of stretching my sore, sore quads and hamstrings, and then tried to moderate my thrill on the way back up, preserving air for the return trip.

In the before times I’m hard on myself in the pool; even though swimming is cross-training for me, I like to push to ensure I’m getting good cardio along with a range of movements. On this sunny morning, though, I gave myself a “first swim in four months” pandemic pass and let myself do all my favourites: lots of kicking, goggles on my forehead while I took in the happy sights of my fellow swimmers and the guards, the children’s play area and mini-waterfalls all around; lots of pull to practice my stroke gently and give my shoulders some love. I breasted more than usual – I love breast stroke! – and decided not to care that I wasn’t pushing myself to improve! improve! improve! my rusty freestyle crawl.

I mean, who cares? It’s a pandemic! Nobody in this lane to compete with. And see above re not exactly Michael Phelps anyway. Why not just enjoy this amazing, sunny, body-hugging time in the cool splashy water? Especially after the spring and summer we’ve had.

Back at home, I’ve been practicing a similar attitude in one of my local outdoor pools. The sweet little 25-yard job in my neighbourhood park isn’t open for the summer, but the slightly bigger, newly renovated number over the highway bridge is, and after long rides on my bike I drive over, queue up for a few minutes, and then jump in the water just to stretch myself out. I love doing figure-four stretches at the deep end ladders, or star-floating on my back and grabbing my ankles to do a water-supported bridge. I swoop and dive, stand in the shallow end to stretch my quads, and take in the sight of happy kids developing and nurturing the deep love of water that I cherish, too.

A stripy beach ball floating on sun-dappled water. BLISS!

Isn’t it weird that it took a global pandemic for me to remember that swimming is about joy? How about you, friends? Have these strange times helped you reconnect with movement that you’d forgotten brings you joy, too?


6 thoughts on “Pandemic swimming: more fun than the regular kind! (Say what?)

  1. Two people in a 50m lane? That sounds amazing! Happy to hear you’re finding joy in swimming these days.

    1. I know right?! It was fab. I didn’t even have to say to her, “want to split”? She just took up residence on the side next to me and we ignored each other. 🙂

  2. Booking swim times in my city (at my preferred pool – only a few are open) is cutthroat. I just snagged the last spot for two weeks from now. Whew. They only open one day at a time, so I’m having to remember to sign up multiple times per week.

    Other than the booking, swimming is great. One person per lane, the system is smooth and the staff & lifeguards are great. My only beef is the 30 min time slots. You can book two back to back, but then you pay for two and it’s already fairly expensive.

    1. I’ve heard variations on this a lot, Lauri, and I’m with you. I set my alarm for 2 minutes to 9am the week before my swim and I just kept hitting refresh until the clock chimed! When I was at the pool, one of the swimmers was sitting on the deck with her smart phone and doing the same for the swim one week out. I guess we are all getting used to it, though I will be grateful for the return to “normal” swim conditions, whenever that is. 🙂

      I hear you about the time slots – 1 hour is more kind and reasonable, I think. But I also appreciate how much the municipal rec facilities have taken a cost hit from COVID, so I also don’t mind paying a bit more. That said, my home city is an accessibility-focused place, and I have only paid for a swim once so far! (If there’s a heat warning all swims are free, and sometimes I think the staff just decide not to care. Lots of people living on the poverty line in my area, so I’m grateful these spaces are available to all of us.)

  3. I miss swimming! My gym is open, but far too many people won’t wear a mask in the gym. The employees wear them, but they won’t enforce the rules for the members. I’ve only been back a few times since the pandemic, because I just don’t feel safe. I too loved having a lane reserved just for me. I was able to swim without any distractions, and I got lost in the rhythm of my movement. Swimming is kind of a Zen experience for me. I’ve decided that it might be okay to return to the gym when our number of Covid-19 cases goes down enough that New York doesn’t have people from our state banned, or quarantined for 14-days. Until then, it’s walking and bike riding for me.

    1. Totally with you! Even here in Ontario, where our numbers are quite decent comparatively, and people are pretty rule-oriented, I don’t want to go back to a gym anytime soon. There are way too many variables, and mask-scofflaws are a big one. Rest assured that pools are comparatively safe; as long as you get into your lane with minimal contact with others, the chlorine mitigates the viral danger. A great excuse to get our zen on!!

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