(Guest post) Distance swimming– what is it good for? Everything!

Here’s a guest post by Michele M (posted by Catherine W)

Content note: This post contains some talk about eating disorders.

Last week, I swam 10.3 miles in the Tennessee River in 5 hours and 8 minutes. I used the race to raise money for a family with two small boys who just lost their mom, at 34, to breast cancer. She was one of my closest friends. This race was not my first long distance swim and it is certainly not going to be my last. But this one was special insofar as it marked a transition in the way I think about my body, what it is capable of, and how I have been treating it. I also came to realize more than ever that women are badass (duh). More on that later.

Me, pre-race, with my son.

Me, pre-race, with my son.

 

I have always had a hard time declaring “I’m an athlete” without simultaneously assuming everyone must know I am an impostor. Despite growing up doing ballet and swimming competitively, apprenticing with the Atlanta ballet during college, and today, staring at a shelf full of trophies from numerous races I’ve completed, even ones where I was first or second female overall, I feel like a fraud when I even try to think privately to myself ‘yeah, I’m an athlete.’ I think this is because deep, deep down inside I am still battling the demons of anorexia and bulimia and over the years, I have added long-distance swimming and triathlons to my repertoire to beat those demons down even further. And all those eating disordered voices have been pushed down and out pretty far, so far in fact that they are almost mute and unrecognizable. But I would be a liar if I denied that a huge part of what drives me to swim farther than most humans care to run is a fear of uncontrollably gaining weight. Swimming absurd distances, ironically, lets me obsess over eating for very different reasons. Turns out, that if you are going to swim 5, 6, 10, 13 miles in open water, you need to EAT. Like, a lot. Who knew?

I’ve loved reading the posts on this blog and one written by Megan Dean recently really hit home with me. Responding to Google’s new fat-phobic feature that lets you know how many cupcakes you will walk off on a particular journey, she said she has actively tried to keep calories out of her life, instead focusing on fitness and food for the pleasure they bring her. I couldn’t agree more, and I wish it were an easy thing to do – to simply ignore all that data. But it’s shoved in our faces more and more each day. My Apple watch constantly reminds me I have ‘x’ number of calories left to burn for the day, and I get praised by the myriad of apps I have whenever I complete a workout, with something along the lines of “you burned soooo many calories today! Way to go champ!” Thus, rather than try to ignore it all, I have learned to use this information to remind, convince, and re-convince myself that 1. I am totally burning enough calories and will not uncontrollably gain weight and that 2. Yes, I am, in fact, an athlete.

Data also help me to train appropriately. With endurance racing, the problem often is not getting enough fuel or not getting the right kind. For this 10 mile swim, I really had to focus on my diet, but not in the obsessive calorie-restrictive ways I have been accustomed to as a ballerina. And it just naturally seems to happen that when I train for long distances swims, I pack on a few extra pounds. Training for the first major swim I did – Swim Around Key West, a 12.5 mile ocean swim – I was miserable because the scale just kept creeping up. Same thing happened with the 10k swim I did last year in Tampa. But finally, this year, I decided to just embrace it and see it as a sign that I was training correctly. Besides, the weight always levels back out when I return to a more running-heavy routine.

Moreover, when you gaze out at the array of bodies participating in these absurdly long swims, the variety of shapes and sizes is astounding. I recall thinking to myself as I prepared to hit the water the other day that half the people here look like they eat cheeseburgers and chug beer as a professional job (I think nervous, not-entirely-appropriate thoughts before races). And you know what? Every single one of them kicked my ass. Well, nearly all of them. I came in 85th out of 105 swimmers, even though I averaged 30 minute miles for over 10 miles. I got beaten by a 14-year-old boy, a 65-year-old man, many, many folks who appeared to be in way less shape than I, and, wait for it…a woman who was 31 weeks pregnant (she beat me by about 2 minutes). It is always a strange mix of humility and pride that I feel after one of these races – knowing that I got creamed by so many amazing swimmers, while also knowing I am capable of doing something very few people in the world will ever be able to add to their résumé.

Bodies of all sorts, ready for the water.

Bodies of all sorts, ready for the water.

 

More bodies-- this is what fitness looks like.

More bodies in swim caps– this is what fitness looks like.

 

The winner of this race, Sandra Frimerman-Bergquist, swam it in 3 hours 17 minutes, nearly 2 hours faster than I did. Of course, I was in awe of her time, but what struck me the most was that it was a WOMAN who won this race, hands down, by over 15 full minutes! And the next TWO swimmers were also women, who tied with a man at 3 hours 30 minutes.

Audrey Yap and I, along with Caren Diehl and Cassie Comley (a Sports Psychologist and Sociologist, respectively), recently co-authored a chapter in the forthcoming MIT Handbook of Embodied Cognition and Sports Psychology about stereotype threat and female athletes. We focused on martial arts, swimming and surfing, in order to show the ways stereotypes are maintained or disrupted in these sports. It was striking to find that in marathon swimming, the supposed gap between male and female performance is not as drastic as it is in sports like running, and when you start looking at major distances like the English Channel or the Manhattan Marathon, women often outperform men.  So, going into this race, I knew all that, but still, to see it happen in real life (not that I saw these fast-as-hell women finish – they were the ones waiting for me, drinking beer, looking like they didn’t even swim ten 19 minute miles) was nothing short of exhilarating. Women of marathon swimming are some of the most badass people I’ve ever met.

Sandra, at the finish.

Sandra, at the finish.

 

So yes, this race was super inspiring in so many ways. It was the first long distance swim I completed after having my son 16 months ago that I genuinely felt proud of (I completed a 6.5 mile swim 5 months postpartum, but it was too soon after birth and I was just not in shape for it). It was also an important stepping stone toward the next race I’ve challenged myself to do: a Half Ironman in April. (I think I can safely say I have the swimming part down).

But I was reminded, as I began to really hit the wall around mile 6, why nutrition and cross-training are so important. I could probably stand to do better at fueling my body, especially for Ironman-distance triathlons. And I could definitely stand to do more strength training. Old habits die hard and the phobia of turning into a ‘big woman who lifts weights’ keeps me out of the gym more than I’m proud of. But it would have been nice to have slightly stronger muscles to power me through that horrible 6-7 mile spot where I wanted to quit.

To this end, I’ve hired a coach to really help push me to my full potential in all three sports, but also in nutrition. And that means counting not calories so much as nutrients, electrolytes, and weird things like base salts. Most of all, it means letting go of what my body might start to look like the more I train. Thanks to the women who kicked this race’s ass, and to all the feelings I had getting out of that water after 5 hours of swimming, I was encouraged to keep working toward the most difficult goal I’ve ever set forth for myself: to love my body for what it can do, not so much for what it looks like. I’m never going to be able to beat the ‘skinny demons’ entirely, but becoming the strong and resilient marathon swimmer and triathlete I am today sure has made it easier to land a solid punch in their skinny-obsessed faces.

Me touching the finish buoy for my official time.

Me touching the finish buoy for my official time.

 

Michele is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Arkansas State, mom to a 17 month old who is the size of a 3 year old, partner to an Engineer/poet, and guardian of 2 dogs and 2 cats: Darwin, Tesla, Cixous, and Nom Chompsky. She is currently working on a book with University of Georgia Press, “Minding Dogs: Co-Evolving Cognition in the Human-Canine Dyad”.

Me and Dory just keep swimming

By Marthafitat55

You may know about Dory, the little blue fish with the positive attitude from animated Pixar film Finding Nemo. Despite the challenges she faces with her short-term memory, Dory focuses on moving forward. “Just keep swimming,” she says, and off she goes.

Not a picture of my pool, but close enough. Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

I wrote last month about the universal design aspects of our new recreation centre, and since then, I’ve been going to the pool three times a week, channeling my inner Dory. Unlike Dory though, I have been taking notes about some of the things I’ve learned so far.

My usual routine before the pool opened was to get two weight training sessions in a week, and complementing that effort with some floor work at home and trail walking a couple of times a week. My walking partner had to take a break around the same time I got introduced to the new pool.

My first two times in the pool I managed six laps each time. Almost a month later, I get in 10 to 12 laps a session depending on the time I have and whether or not I want to spend some time in the therapy pool playing with the currents. The main thing though is I have picked up my endurance and my speed.

I’m really enjoying it for several reasons. It’s a great way to kick off my day and I get it done by 8 so I am washed, dressed, and ready to work by 9 a.m. I work from home so it’s a good feeling to be at the office by the start of business.

It’s something I can do with my family. My husband and I both have busy work lives; swimming is a place where we engage in idle chatter helping us leave our work preccupations at the door.

I also find it very relaxing. There’s a very meditative feeling to swimming laps, where you go up to the deep end of the pool and then flip back to swim to the shallow end. The repetition is soothing and you don’t have to think hard about the motion.

When I am lifting weights, I am super conscious about my form, ensuring I am in the right position to lift or squat. I’m hyper-focused, in fact, on what my hips and knees are saying, given their previous injury experiences.

In the pool, my biggest risk is running into people. I wear high-level prescription glasses but don’t use them in the pool. As a result, I only see blobs, and sometimes it could just be a trick of the light, while at other times, it could be a person. So far I have avoided any collisions with either people or walls.

The biggest benefit I have found is how helpful the buoyancy of the water has been to my hips and knees. Unlike the trail walking, with its uneven pitch and occasionally slippery gravel (and in winter, sheets of ice), there is no stress placed on my knees or hips in the pool.

In fact, going swimming the day after my weight training has helped ease the tension and stress different muscles feel after a new workout or exercise variation. Swimming helps me get moving more quickly and it has noticeably improved the fluidity of my lifting.

Overall swimming has given me a new appreciation of how our bodies work differently on land and in water. I’m aware of the resistance water can give you against a current in the same way running or walking uphill forces your lungs to work harder. Most importantly, it’s lots of fun and, for me at least, easy to fit into my schedule.

I’m glad I have found a fun activity that complements my weight training instead of working against it. How about you, dear readers? What kinds of activities are you employing to add interest and variety to your fitness goals and objectives? What are some things you have learned from mixing up your fitness tools?

— Martha lives in St. John’s and enjoys weight training, trail walking, and swimming.

Water, water everywhere– touring pools on vacation

This weekend I’m in South Carolina at my family’s annual cousins picnic.  My mother and her cousins and their kids (and their kids) have a get-together every year, and people take turns hosting.  Pools play a prominent role in  these reunions, as two of our regular hosts– my sister Elizabeth and my cousin Lee– have in-ground pools at their houses.

I’m a real sucker for pools and hot tubs (and indeed, any watery location for splashing, swimming, and floating).  Whenever I’m traveling, I try to stay at a hotel with a pool.  It’s a low-key way to get a little serenity and purposeful or playful movement.  It’s also a great antidote to the cramped conditions of flying.

Friday night was pool visit number one.  My sister’s family is lucky to have a backyard pool (which, FYI, requires a lot-a-lot of maintenance).  Here’s a picture of it taken by my very talented niece Grace:

View of a blue-water pool, wit two reclining chairs on its patio, backed by a black wrought-iron fence, and lake in the background.

View of a blue-water pool, wit two reclining chairs on its patio, backed by a black wrought-iron fence, and lake in the background.

Here’s a night view, with my nephew Gray:

My sister's pool at night, with blue-green water and underwater lights, with my nephew Gray ready to take the plunge.

My sister’s pool at night, with blue-green water and underwater lights, with my nephew Gray ready to take the plunge.

My favorite way to shake off travel fatigue is to immerse myself in water.  We frolicked and floated and attacked each other with large squirt guns (Gray is an expert at this), and got out of the pool, relaxed and mellow and smiling.

Saturday was our family reunion, and I drove my mother and two of the three kids to Myrtle Beach, SC– a three-hour drive.  Boy, was I ready for another pool experience.

Luckily, there was another pool awaiting my pleasure.  It’s this one:

An L-shaped pool with elevated hot tub, with a large patio, assorted arm and recliner chairs, and dunes in the background.

An L-shaped pool with elevated hot tub, with a large patio, assorted arm and recliner chairs, and dunes in the background.

It’s quiet here, but for most of the party there were a lot of folks (ages ranging from 6 months to 75 years) engaged in traditional pool-party activities.  My nephew Gray (age 12) spent about 7/8 of the reunion in the pool– not a bad call.  Tip: if you end up talking politics at a family gathering, it’s much more pleasant to do so in a pool.  Things just can’t get too heated (ok, that was my attempt at a silly joke.  Forgive me.)

Today I’m at a big hotel on the beach, spending a couple of nights with my sister and her kids before heading back to Boston (and tackling as-yet undone syllabi and other work to-do items).  The ocean is lovely.  However, there’s a coastal advisory about higher winds and rip currents, so actual swimming in the ocean is not advised.

Not to worry–pools are coming to the rescue.  Today (in fact, as soon as I post this), we are headed down to explore pools and hot tubs and lazy rivers.  Who knows, maybe we’ll discover a splash pad?  Here are a few pics of them:

A big patio with a blue-water pool and loads of reclining and arm chairs.

A big patio with a blue-water pool and loads of reclining and arm chairs.

Another undulating shape of a pool at dusk, with one of the high-rises in the background.

Another undulating shape of a pool at dusk, with one of the high-rises in the background.

A hot tub under a roof; there are 5 other hot tubs under the stars. Ahhh....

A hot tub under a roof; there are 5 other hot tubs under the stars. Ahhh….

So readers, what are your views on pools, and in particular seizing the opportunity to take the plunge?  I’d love to know.

Feminist Fitness Love Stories

Happy Valentine’s Day, Feminist Fitness readers! We love y’all—all 16,000 of you!

In honor of the day, I collected some stories of sports and fitness love from some of our bloggers and readers. I asked these questions:

  • How did you and your sport first meet? Was it love at first sight?
  • If it’s a long-term relationship, how has your love changed over time?
  • Are you polyamorous about your love sports/activity relationships?  How do you manage to keep those different relationships going?

Readers, we’d love it if you would share some of your own sports love stories in the comments section. If we get enough, I’ll put them together for another blog post.

Love and fitness is not a new topic for the blog. Check out previous posts here and here and here   and here.

For inspiration, here are some of their stories below (slightly edited).

J on swimming: It was an arranged marriage when I was 11. My dad decided I needed an event for the Maccabi Games (Jewish junior olympic-style event), and he was a swimmer as a kid. It was the only time he’s been successful as a yenta.
We got really serious from ages 12-21, and spent all our waking hours together in college. Then we broke up when I found cycling and didn’t see each other for more than a decade.

I’ve come back to the sport in the past year after a knee injury, and we’ve fallen in love all over again. Switching from breaststroke to freestyle is a fresh new perspective. Plus, the gear is better now – who knew goggle technology had such room for improvement?  I just have to avoid looking at those (fast!) times from our youth together.

Swimming and I are both major Dan Savage fans, so yes, we believe in ethical [infidelity]. I cheat on it with cycling, kayaking, and hike/ski/snowshoeing on the weekends. And it cheats on me with Michal Phelps (but can you blame it?) The great thing about swimming is having a workout, lane buddies, and coach to motivate me on the days when I’d rather out out with Netflix, instead.

C on running and cycling: My long term relationship is with running, but mostly it’s the lover I am cuddling with on the couch with Netflix, comfortable and familiar and a good affirmation and reassurance from someone who’s known me a long time and still loves me despite my changing body and ebbing and flowing.  The new energy comes from my embracing of cycling, where I’m living fantasies of being the hostage trapped in the hotel with the FBI agent who wants to have their alpha way with me.  I have yet to have the threesome with these two I’ve been planning for years.  Maybe a duathlon in June 😉

A on Taekwondo: I was a child bride. My father arranged it all. Now I couldn’t see my life any other way. We had some time apart in my wild undergraduate years, and things were understandably tempestuous in graduate school, but now we have a mature understanding. I brought in rock climbing as a relatively new but stable partner. It’s more of a summer thing.

K on downhill skiing: A friend of mine invited me to go skiing.  I replied, “I don’t ski.”, which surprised her. I also found it really intriguing that she just EXPECTED me to be into skiing.  I needed to know why.  Her reply intrigued me more, “It fits with your personality.”  That was it.  My skiing crush started.

The first time I went skiing I knew I was bound for a lesson, but at what level? I took one trip up the bunny hill.  I got off the chair lift in one piece, no falls.  Nice.  Then I started sliding down the gentle terrain.  So far so good.   Gradually the speed was picking up.  I don’t know how to brake on these things.  Well, I thought, I know one way to stop.  And, I plopped over.  It sure was fun.  🙂  That was January 1999.  Since then I have gone from being a novice who needs to learn control to an expert who can explore the entire mountain.

I am not a cheater!  I keep things separate by season.  For example, I used to race sailboats.  I got burnt out on that and switched to cycling.  I can only handle one major commitment at a time.  😉

J on cross-country skiing: I flirted with my sport for a few years before committing in earnest. I built a deep relationship during the long winter nights above the Arctic Circle in 2000. Daily (or really, nightly), skiing provided a mental antidote to grueling work hours away from home, and a physical antidote to the other coping method – obscene alcohol consumption.

My love – and it’s really part and parcel of why I love what I love – is a continual process of learning and loving more deeply. There’s always room for growth, and given the nature of my chosen sport this can continue even as I age.

XC skiing is not a new love, but it has retained the passion of a new love. The feeling I get from using my whole body in a coordinated way is unparalleled. I retain many casual relationships, but am faithful to my true love.

Me on cycling, scuba, kayaking, yoga: In life and sports, I’ve had several different loves. Cycling is family—I’ve known it my whole life, starting with my first bike at 4, training wheels off at 5. My real appreciation for it has been in the last 12 years, once I started road biking in earnest, as well as mountain and cross biking. Even when I commute on my beater bike, I can still feel that sense of liberation—I’m moving under my own power, going exactly where I want to! Cycling will always be there for me, and I’m grateful for that lifelong relationship.

Yoga is the friend with benefits I reconnect with from time to time who is very accepting of my busy schedule, and is there to make me feel good. It’s not romantic—never has been—but can be therapeutic when I need some TLC. We’re seeing each other on the side now, and the nice thing is no one ever gets hurt.

Scuba is my new mad crush. We met on a vacation in Australia on the Great Barrier Reef, and I was infatuated right away. I’m now getting certified here in Boston, and am going to Puerto Rico for diving in March. Will a vacation fling survive the cold New England waters of reality? We’ll see.   But I’m sort of hoping it turns into something long-term.

M on cycling: The earliest phase of my long love affair was a yellow and black Murray that I got for Christmas at age 6. My dad took me outside, all set to give me my first lesson in staying upright on two wheels, and giddy with excitement, rode off down the street, no lesson required.

After using my bike mostly as a means to get to my friends’ houses, I was given my first “real” bike – a road bike with impossibly skinny tires. I remember riding it on the wrong side of the road because I was too afraid to have the traffic at my back and I felt no joy in that saddle. It seemed so fragile to me. I quickly traded it in for a hybrid and at the same time, some of my friends started mountain biking. It was 1992 and this was cutting edge where I was from. I joined them on my hybrid and couldn’t get enough of it.

It wasn’t long after that I purchased a mountain bike and proceeded to have lots of fun on dirt for many years until I got the nerve to get back on a road bike.  It was 2007 when I heard of this thing called “cyclocross”. I tried a race and adored it. Now as the sport has expanded, and mixed terrain rides on ‘cross bikes are becoming more popular, I feel I have come full circle to the days of riding my hybrid through the woods. This is what I had been waiting for all along. Recently I was riding my ‘cross bike on some local trails with a goofy smile on my face the whole time, feeling just as I did in those early days of love.

P on cycling: I fell in love with my partner and cycling at the same time. He is a cyclist and athlete, and I knew when our love was new that cycling was going to be important in my life. I didn’t realize HOW important and central it would become. Now, after teaching cycling and riding across country, I still remember fondly the first day we rode the Minuteman Trail together and he gave me a gentle push – a push that propelled me into love with him and the sport.

L on running: My sport/first love is running. It was definitely NOT love at first sight. In fact, we didn’t like one another one bit upon being introduced. I forced myself to engage with running for a long time. Slowly, very slowly, our relationship developed and became stronger. I went from only being able to run with others, to only being able to run with music, to finally, being able to run alone and sometimes even without music. It was then that our love blossomed (though as I note below, we are no longer monogamous).

It’s definitely been a long-term relationship: almost 20 years now. Since our courtship became a solid relationship, we’ve been pretty consistently in love for the whole time.

Though I’ve dabbled with others (biking and swimming, primarily), I’m pretty loyal to running. I confess that I also met Ashtunga yoga over twenty years ago. Though we had a casual relationship for several years (I was so young!), we had a falling out. I don’t think I was mature enough for yoga. But seven years ago we met again and for the past six years, I’ve been dividing my love equally between running and yoga. Because they are complementary and not competing for my love in any way, we have a pretty nice polyamorous thing going!

K on cycling: I fell in love with my bike in the summer of 2013, on a trip to Morzine in the southern French Alps. Until then I’d just ridden a lot and thought, ya, this is fun. In Morzine I learned something more: that my bike and I, together, could climb mountains. Not super fast but faster than most, steady and solid. It felt incredible, liberating.

On that same trip a woman my age, a former racer and now coach, told me how talented she thought I was as a rider; that praise hit home like you would not believe. I’d never been talented at sports, EVER. I’d been teased as fat and inept and uncoordinated as a kid. My high school gym teacher used to call me “retard.” (No, really. Thanks, Mr Elgie.)

Since then I’ve ridden with pride, hugged the road, so grateful for my awesome strong body and my lithe, speedy bike. Her name is Ruby. (No, really. Thanks, Ruby!)

Tracy on swimming: she’s blogged about this here, which will inspire everyone to get in the water very soon.

 and Samantha, on Cycling: A Love Story in 3 Parts:

  1. I fell in love with riding a bike as a kid, as one does. I don’t know how old I was. Maybe 8. The bike had a purple banana seat and sissy bars at the back. It was the 70s. This isn’t me but it looks like my bike. We moved a lot when I was growing up, following my father’s work as a baker across Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. At some point the bike stopped coming with and I stopped riding but I remember that bike. I remember learning to ride a bike and I loved the freedom it gave me to come and go.
  1. After more than 10 years of not riding, a friend was riding from Ontario to Newfoundland and she gave up in Halifax. Too many hills and too much rain and bad weather. She decided to complete her trip by bus and ferry and left me her beautiful bike for the summer. It has gears that worked and you could actually get going pretty fast. I started commuting everywhere by bike and said goodbye to the bus. Shortly before she arrived home I took her bike into a bike shop and said I wanted one like it. I couldn’t afford one like hers, it turned out, but instead I bought a pink Raleigh hybrid commuter bike. It was stolen only a a few years ago after I passed it down to my mother.
  1. After steadily commuting for years, I got into running. Approaching my 40th birthday I started running 5 kms 10 kms, and then training for half marathons. A friend who’d done a half ironman suggested we train for a triathlon and we signed up for the Running Room’s triathlon clinic. I also worked with a bunch of serious cyclists who noticed the running and increasing fitness and who said maybe I was ready for a real bike. I bought my first road bike–a red Cannondale, the first in a series of Cannondales–and took it out for a spin with my triathlon training group. All of a sudden I was at the front, not the back, and chatting with people I never got to run with. My friend had to stop for a bathroom back but he told me to keep going and that he’d catch up. I ended up waiting at the car for what felt like forever. He never caught me. Whee! Zoom! I was once slow (running) but now was fast (on the bike). I’ve never looked back.

So readers, if you have love stories to share, please tell us.  And we’ll keep sharing the love…

end

Swimming to beat the heat (Guest post)

N

Not a bad way to spend weekday mornings

Mid-December I was struggling with the seemingly enormous task of returning to some semblance of my previous fitness level when I read here about Sam’s run streak. I thought it was a great idea and the concept of ‘little runs’ consistently is quite appealing.

I think on any day I could get myself out of the house to jog for a mile. Multiply that distance by 3 and all of a sudden I build a wall of expectations (too far, too slow, too tired) that create a barrier to getting out the door.

Backing up a little. I was cleared by my GP to return to exercise in August after a long hiatus. Starting slowly I began with regular sessions in the gym, returning to swimming when my local open air pool re-opened in October, occasionally cycling with a local club and becoming a semi-regular at my local ParkRun on Saturday morning.

My long term return-to-fitness goal is a long course triathlon. But for now, I was lost. Standing at the bottom of this fitness mountain looking up and trying to develop a program that would fit all my expectations and needs it was all a bit overwhelming.

My fears were exacerbated by the searing heat of the Adelaide summer. We have already had numerous spells over 40C degrees (104F) and can expect several days over 45C (114F). I am not a little person and I find I get distressed running and cycling in the heat (anything over 30 degrees really). In fact, just thinking about it makes me anxious. So all in all, I didn’t know where to begin. But I knew I wanted to start.

One morning, shortly after reading Sam’s post I was in the pool and I thought to myself. “I should break this down, I always work better with a plan. Breathe, is my stroke okay? Stretch that right arm out. Where was I? Oh yes. Break this down. Breathe on the left, oops, cough, ugh, I really have to work on that. Yes. Break this down. Breathe. I should remember think of this in more detail when I stop swimming.”

Swim-uary was born. My commitment is to swim every weekday in January and February 2016. Focussing on improving my swim technique and endurance through summer seemed like a pretty good idea when starting down the barrel of a scorching summer.

I joined up with a local training group and we have swim squad on Tuesday and Thursday mornings so that will give my fitness and technique a good kick. Most other days I hop in with a tentative aim to swim for 30 mins non-stop. Ultimately my goal here is to swim sub-30 minutes for 1500m. Like running a 6 minute kilometre, swimming 2 minutes per 100m is a benchmark for the also-swims among us.

But I’m not pushing for that every day. The first step each day is to get to the pool, get in and start swimming. In the first few minutes I check-in with how I am feeling. Some days I know that it will be a cruisy 30 minutes and I just enjoy it. Others I’m checking in each 5 minutes – am I still wanting to go on? And reminding myself it is okay to stop if I am tired.

Not setting a specific time, distance or even a program beyond “swim” or “get in the pool” takes the pressure off. On days where I’m just not feeling up to it I can play around and relax or work on something specific. Yesterday was one of those days, so I worked on my tumble turns. Maybe by the end of Swim-uary I will have them mastered? Maybe not.

Breaking my return to fitness down to something manageable has already helped. I no longer feel I am circling the bottom of that fitness mountain looking for the beginnings of the “best” path up. I’ve turned face-on and every day I take another step, however big or small, up.

I already have the next step in mind too – “Run like the win-ter” has a nice ring to it don’t you think?

Swimming with no men– McIver’s Baths and single-sex spaces

Since I’ve been in Sydney on sabbatical, I’ve had the chance to go to a few of the incredibly beautiful rock tidal pools here that are built on the ocean in a protected area for swimming. One of the most famous, Wylie’s Baths caters to serious swimmers, people with kids, and anyone who wants to enjoy sun, surf and sea in a pool where the waves wash over you. Here is a picture from my visit there.

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Right next to Wyle’s baths, in Coogee beach in Sydney, is another pool—McIver’s Baths. What makes McIver’s Baths special is that it is a women-only space (young male children are allowed, as well as female children of any age).

McIver’s is also special in that it has been a women-only bathing space for well over 100 years. It is reputed to have been a historical location where Aboriginal women bathed, and was formally constructed with changing rooms in 1886. The McIver family took over running it until it was taken over by the Randwick Ladies Amateur Swimming Club, which has held the lease on the place ever since.

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There have been objections to the exclusion of males from the pool throughout the history of McIver’s. Most recently, in 1995, a man complained to the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board that he was barred from the baths on account of his sex. The city council responded that there had been no complaints of this nature, and the lessee stated that they couldn’t afford to build changing rooms for men. (It is also true that Wylie’s baths, which admits everyone, is 450 meters away).

A blogger writing about the history of McIver’s added this about the case:

The women’s pool was traditionally used by older women, women with disabilities, nuns and others who preferred privacy as well as pregnant women and older people with arthritis who enjoyed the pool’s private sunbaking area and didn’t want to go to the beach, indulge in mixed bathing, or be bothered by men. Thursday was traditionally married ladies day. Girls’ schools held water safety classes at the baths, which were popular amongst the Islamic community. The club’s free lessons had helped Islamic women and children gain confidence in the water and some Islamic women contended that it was the only place their faith permitted them to swim. The medical profession argued that Coogee’s women’s baths were the only place where women who had suffered disfiguring operations could comfortably bathe.

As I was going in on Saturday I saw some Muslim women in hijabs and tunics, with their full-length swimsuits underneath. They were leaving the bath, carrying inflatable pool toys with their kids in tow. As I changed I saw women of all ages, sizes, and nationalities hanging out on the rocks (some sunbathing topless, some reading), swimming, wading at the edge, and chatting with other women. A bunch of the women were swimming topless, some in their underwear—as if they had decided impulsively to stop by for a swim, but hadn’t brought a bathing suit with them. No suit? No problem! Others (like me), were in bathing suits, long-sleeve rash guard shirts, with goggles and cap, doing laps.

Now, I’ve spent a lot of time in women-only activities—I play on a women’s squash team, I’ve road and mountain bike raced in women’s fields and I’ve taken a zillion dance classes that were almost entirely women. And I’ve enjoyed the feeling of camaraderie you get in a women’s locker room. Tracy has blogged eloquently about that experience here .

But I really really like this space. I like the friendly vibe, the feelings of safety and relaxation that other women told me they felt here, and the freedom to swim or read or sunbathe unfettered by suits or judgment. In particular, I saw several larger women swimming, hanging out, smiling, and walking around with none of the self-consciousness that I’ve witnessed (in myself and others) countless times at public pools, gyms, and beaches. This is not to say that women are uniformly non-judgmental, but rather than this place—a place for women-only—seems to dictate a congeniality and solidarity in attitude which I wish existed at every swimming pool on the planet. Tracy has blogged here about women-only races and offered some responses to those who think they are unjustly exclusionary.

If readers have qualms about dedicated women-only spaces, let me know—I’d like to hear them. I’ve not offered any arguments here, just said that my experiences and observations were overwhelmingly positive.  But if you’re ever in Sydney you should go. Among other reasons, the entrance fee is only 20 cents!

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My taking it easy weekday triathlon

My plan had been to do a mini triathlon on the weekend. Do all three activities with very long breaks in between.

Two weekends ago I rode the MEC Century. Last weekend the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon.

Now this weekend was gong to be the ice cream run but I decided to give it a miss. There’s also a weekend long heat advisory but that’s not the whole story about ditching the ice cream run. See here for that.

Instead, I decided to make it a triathlon weekend by getting in one bike, one run, and one swim.

Part 1, Saturday morning: Bike 60 km with Jeff and Jacquie

That was actually our Plan B. Plan A was riding with our local cycling club. But their long ride was 170 km, and their short ride was 110.

And here’s what the weather looked like.

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Heat advisory: Temperatures will peak in the 30 to 32 degree range today and Sunday. Tonight will be a very warm night with overnight minimum temperatures in the 20 to 23 degree range. Humidex values will be near 40 during the afternoon hours today and Sunday…

Heat warning: A heat warning has been issued for a swath of southern Ontario from Windsor to York Region as the hottest weekend in three years is expected. Intense heat may trigger strong storms.

Heat and humidity is a guarantee this weekend across southern Ontario and Quebec, with Sunday poised to be the most oppressive day as temperatures reach the 30s while Humidex values approach ridiculous.

In light of all that we decided on a short ride, just 60 km total with our friend Jacquie.

And even though it was an oppressively hot day, I got three personal bests on Strava. Also had a great time catching up with Jacquie.

Part B: Run 5 km in the neighborhood. Fine. Stinky hot Sunday but I did it.

Part C: Swim in the quarry at St Mary’s

That never happened thanks to the loud, wet, wild, and windy thunderstorms that typically follow hot humid weather here. Action plan, weekend triathlon, aborted.

Monday morning I was feeling a bit dispirited by the whole thing. Less riding and running than of planned thanks to heat and no swimming thanks to thunder and lightning. Bah.

But I realized it was still doable.

Instead, I had a taking it easy, weekday triathlon.

I started with dog jogging with Cheddar. I’m trying to teach him to run with me following the advice of our guest blogger here. We got about 3 km of mostly jogging. That was Part A.

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Then my bike commute to work on my cross bike. I don’t race on the bike path but I went pretty fast anyway thanks to being late for a meeting. That’s Part B.

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And Part C, swimming with Nat and friends! Hi Nat, hi Terry, hi Bev, hi Phyllis!

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Thames Pool

An everyday triathlon, in the wrong order, with very long transitions!