Mano-a-mano

Do you like to go fast?  Do you like to be first?  Can you stand being beat?  By someone of the opposite sex?

So I like to swim.  I decided to swim in a competitive sense in high school, as it was freshman year and I wanted to join some sort of team.  I considered all the different options (track, basketball, volleyball, softball, swimming), and since I had no real ability in any of the other, I chose swimming.  I had swum on a team as a child for one summer at the club we belonged to, but that was when I was probably 10 and hardly competitive.   At least it was something.   I remember going to that first week of practice, learning how to do a real flip turn and getting used to the sting of water going up my nose.  It seemed as if the other end of the pool was so very far away.

I could do nothing but improve at that point, and there was my opportunity.  I dug in. By the end of that first season I clinched a spot on the 4×100 free relay, and we collectively were fast enough to qualify for the state meet.  We got creamed, but we competed.  Over the course of 4 years I put in so many laps at my high school pool, and also at the outdoor long course pool in Tacoma during the summer.  I became I good swimmer.

And then I went to Stanford, never to swim competitively again.  Because, as you might know, Stanford does Olympians.  And as fast as I could swim in Washington State, the fish pond I found myself in in California was to big to cross.

Fast forward 25 years or so, and I am convinced by a very fit girlfriend to get back in the pool and try a master’s workout.  You know, with a coach.  No pressure, just the idea that a coach on deck gives you things to occupy your time while in the pool, and the fact that you are there with others in your lane will make you swim faster.  And further.  It worked, and I have enjoyed swimming for fitness for the past 5 years. (Plus you get tan!)

So this past Saturday I jumped in the very new and very nice high school pool near my house to swim.  No, it wasn’t a master’s workout, but I can now motivate myself through an hour of swimming.  Unlike master’s swimming, where you circle in the lane (always on the right side), these lanes are usually split, so that one person swims on one side of the line, and another on the other side.  On Saturday, I had the lane to myself, until a man of about my age and physical fitness level approached.  He stopped at pool’s edge, fiddled with his bright green IRONMAN swim cap, and when I got to the wall I invited him in.

The IRONMAN cap freaked me a bit.   This was a billboard to his fitness level.  But I figured he would stay on his side of the lane, and I would do my thing on my side.  If he smoked me, so be it.  I had gotten used to the woman in the lane next to me, who had a subtle American flag on her cap, glide by me as if I was crippled.   I could also watch his form underwater and maybe learn something.

I was in the middle of doing a set where I (attempted) to swim a lap underwater, then recovered with 3 laps of freestyle easy/medium.  He jumped into the water and started swimming, and after a bit I pushed off the wall and did my best aqua-girl impression.   Not to belabor the point here, but I realized quickly that I was faster than he was.  I was catching up to him on the under water bit, and then on the freestyle, I closed the gap and passed him.  I made a point of not using my legs to kick much as I did go by, as I didn’t want him to think that I was TRYING to beat him.  (And as an aside, I am a 2-beat kicker, which means I don’t use my legs much at all when I swim.  Only when I sprint.)

On lap 3 of our duet, after I had passed him while we both were doing freestyle, he disappeared.   I figured maybe he had switched into another empty lane, but soon he re-entered our lane, this time with fins on.

Oh yes.  Fins.

Now, for those of you who don’t swim, the warm up of any workout NEVER involves fins.  And 3 laps is not a warm-up.  Fins serve one purpose, and one purpose only.  You go faster.  So my male colleague put on his bright blue fins and pushed away from the wall.

Well you know what I did next.  I passed him.  And yes, I was working at it this time.  Still no legs to speak of, and my turnover was the same “oh, I’m just out here for a sweet morning gentle glide”, but man, did I pull the water from above my head to out past my butt.  I mean, I dug in.  We did this dance for a few laps, and then, voila, Mr. Iron Man added yet another toy.  Hand paddles.   These are basically hard plastic scoops that you wear on your hands to pull more water. And go faster, of course.

Anyway, anyway, anyway.   I share this because I think it’s so interesting.   This man could not just swim his own swim.

I can sort of relate, but not really.  I spend most of my master’s workouts working very very hard to keep up with the men with whom I share my lane.  Most of these guys have been coming to swim workout, every day, for something like 20 years.  One guy swam the English Channel last year, and they are quite fast.  Some days I have no time on the wall to recover, and yes, some days I put on fins for the longer sets so that I can keep up.  But I am part of a lane that circles, so if I don’t keep up, I’m going to have someone on my ass in no time.   And while that is a wee bit humiliating, it also creates a logistical issue of how to let someone pass you within a lane.

But this rec swim on Saturday was us in our own little piece of water, two parallel lines that would never ever bump up against each other.

Except in ego land, which I guess is a painful place to visit.

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