Going the Distance

I did a ton of swimming over the course of about a year after I had some trouble adjusting to running. I am still having trouble, but every time I come back to it, I have a slightly different problem, which I step back and resolve, eventually to uncover a new problem. (At this rate, by the time I can actually run regularly for more than a few months at a time, I expect to have among the most perfectly balanced physiques and flawless mechanics known to humanity.)

Swimming was a way to get deeply engaged while recovering from some of the problems I had, and San Francisco makes it easy. I am a little claustrophobic in a pool (as I discovered during the coaching sessions I did to help me develop a clean freestyle stroke). San Francisco has a park in the bay with a nearly 300m buoy line, and I probably did more than 99% of my meters there, starting right after my first coaching session by going outside to do my homework instead of trying to figure out the pool’s schedule. I got a lot of the same environmental pleasure from swimming that I got from running (much of which I did on trails within Golden Gate Park) – a slight sense of isolation makes me feel good, and the occasional sea lion sighting or near-miss with another swimmer was no big deal.

I had a mini-panic of documenting places I’d spent a lot of time as my move date approached. This isn’t a great photo of Aquatic Park, but I was running out of time.

I did a mix of wetsuit only and with fins, in part depending on distance. I found after a mile or so that it was easy to add distance from a physical point of view. I am basically an aerobic engine with cyclist legs, so this was particularly true if I had fins on – it was practically a case of “lie down and watch the miles go by.”

As I prepared to move to Baltimore, it was pretty clear I wouldn’t be able to continue swimming as conveniently and pleasantly as I could in San Francisco, and I gave a little thought to what I wanted to be sure to do. Fitocracy has in-site challenges for various distances for the triathlon sports – the longest swim distance is 10km. Challenge accepted.

I doubt I ever really believed I would swim that far. I was pushing my distances out, and I was joking with others about 10km being some kind of obvious benchmark, but I was never a fast swimmer, and the sheer time commitment posed risks such as getting so chilled I couldn’t operate my car afterward. Also, I never quite adjusted to how much more I needed to eat to support swimming – I struggled to maintain my weight as my distances climbed. (I’m not complaining exactly, but it was challenging enough to make me suspect swimming was not a long-term thing.)

Of course, as soon as I committed to move away from SF, I started seeing stuff like this all over the place! And it didn’t hurt that this was a typical view from my bike commute to work.

When I got my move date more or less nailed down, I looked at the calendar and figured out how many weeks I had to bridge the gap between my longest swim so far and 10km, which by then had firmly settled itself in my head as Important. In May, I had a little over 2 months to work up from around 6km, so there was a very real possibility I would fail. I tried to swim about twice a week – 1 short swim + 1 long one – and then I don’t remember what happened, but I got busy or distracted and ended up out the water for almost a month. When I got back in, I figured I’d try for 8km but give myself a pass if I only made it 5, and then give myself 2 more tries to hit the full 10km.

June 16 was a beautiful day, and as I approached 7km, I was happy to just stay in the water. I had “only 3k to go” – no problem, as I had just done it twice and then some.

I was ready to move.

I never did visit this place when I lived there. Maybe I can go as a proper tourist sometime.

All photos from my Instagram stream.

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