Ah yes, the trials and tribulations of being a competitive swimmer.
At this time of year when the days are short, the tan from your winter training camp has long ago faded, and the glory of summer and the outdoor swimming that it brings feels like it will never come, our motivation can start to sag. We begin to look longingly at the shorter seasons of other sports like basketball or football.
As a reminder of why our sport is so special, here are 24 reminders of the things you learn on your way to becoming a kick-butt swimmer–
1. All you need to swim is a suit and a pair of goggles. Uh, wrong. You need your pullbuoy, kickboard, 4 different sizes of hand paddles, swimmer’s snorkel, spare goggles, tech suit, drag suit, training suit, swim fins, and a garbage-bag sized mesh bag to hold it all in. And then your water bottle, energy drink, post-workout shake and post-workout snack.
2. You won’t always love training, but you’ll always love the results. There will be days when you loathe going to workout, where the last thing you want to do is strap on your suit and bang out another early morning workout, but you will always love the thrill of seeing your hard work pay off in competition.
3. You can deck change faster than Clark Kent in a phone booth. Late for your race? Deck change. Ripped your suit? Deck change. Don’t want to use the locker room with all those grubby public swimmers? Deck change.
4. There really is no better feeling than standing up to anchor a winning relay. Those moments will etch themselves in your memories for life: Standing on the blocks, your brain and stomach exploding with race-time adrenaline while your teammates are going buckwild in the stands. It’s for those moments that we do what we do.
5. There’s hunger pangs, and then there is swimmer hunger pangs. Swimmer’s appetites are legendary, and even though Michael Phelps’ 12,000 calories per day diet was completely overblown, the suggestion that a swimmer could do it was plausible enough that the bogus story was rebroadcast by NBC and other major news sources.
6. That explaining what it is to be a swimmer to your non-swimmer friends is a bit of a lost cause. No, we don’t know Michael Phelps, we don’t swim laps – we swim yards or meters, and yes, you can laugh all you want about the fact we wear a Speedo – we wear it rather happily in the company of fit members of the opposite sex – who are also wearing them.
7. The location of flag poles and pool-side ladders, and awareness of which of your lane mates you need to duck your head and fold your arm when you swim past them. Nothing gets your attention faster than banging your hand against a ladder or a flag pole. Nevermind the moving targets that include paddled-hands, and that dude whose breaststroke kick is so wide he could hit both lane lines on either side at the same time.
8. Long term planning. The gap between the beginning of the season and championship season for swimmers can be anywhere from 6-11 months. That is a long time. To keep yourself motivated and jacked up to work hard in the pool 10 times a week takes some intelligent planning. Whether it is short term goal setting, focusing on cycle-specific goals, or best of all – taking things one day at a time, swimmers learn how to plan for the long haul.
9. Even though all we wear is a suit, cap and goggles, swimming is not a cheap sport. Travel, hotels, swim fees all add up, especially considering that swimming is not a 3-4 month season, it features 11 months of travel and competitions to help mom and dad’s pocket get a whole lot lighter in a hurry.
10. Pool deck space at meets is first-come, first-serve. Nothing like a 1500 person swim meet to be held at a tiny 25 yard pool to make you feel like you are apartment hunting in Hong Kong. It’s dog-eat-dog, and in order to find enough space place your bag and towel you need to get there nice and early. Late? Looks like you get to put your gear under the stands. Sweet.
11. The importance of laundry. Nothing wakes you completely quicker than putting on a wet suit the next morning. It’s understandable that after a long PM practice the last thing you want to do is empty the metric ton of swim gear in your bag (see #1, #21), but to be fair, no one should expect to make decisions that involve the future when in a state of sizable carb-deficit.
12. When your shoulders go numb and on auto-pilot. During those epically long sets, after the fifth 1000 yard rep, your arms and shoulders lose feeling, and yet you swim on, as though on auto-pilot.
13. Practice is the time where songs go from so-so to the top of your current playlist. If you walk into practice with a song in your head, by the end of practice you can’t wait to go home and download it. Nothing turns a song from lukewarm to “gotta-have’it!” more effectively than singing the chorus of said song a kajillion times over the course of a workout. Which goes to show, if you wanna maintain your hipster status, avoid the top 40 stations on the way into the pool.
14. The awesomeness that is training in your own lane. Oh, the glory to swim in the rarefied waters of your own lane.
15. On the one day of the week you are allowed to sleep in, you totally will… For about an extra 15 minutes. No matter how exhausted your body is, no matter how hard you trained, when that one morning completely off comes around you get an extra fifteen minutes, and not a minute more. Sigh.
16. The shelf-life on moping is very short. Having a bad swim happens to everyone. False starts, DQ, injuries all happen – but when you’re at a swim meet you don’t have time to dwell in negativity – there are more races to race.
17. You’re part of a huge, tight-knit community. You know how motorcyclists and joggers do that thing where they wave at each other when they pass one another? Well, we’re cooler than that. You can buy a motorcycle, or strap on a pair of running shoes and go for a run. Swimmers forge a bond over thousands and thousands of hours in the pool, of long trips in the back of the parents’ mini-van, of the shared triumph of winning a meet.
18. Choosing a lane to warm up in at a meet is an art. I was generally the last person out of the pool during meet warm-ups. The last 15 minutes and the first 15 minutes are almost always the quietest. It’s that middle, the white creamy part of the Oreo, that is a nightmare. Where every single swimmer at the meet is in the pool at the same time, all doing something completely different.
19. Learn a lot about yourself while staring at that black line for hours on end. Not having the constant distraction that slide over us like an avalanche over the course of the day means that we actually get a few minutes alone with our thoughts.
20. Anti-fog goggles? That’s cute. We understand that underwater music players don’t work for serious swimming, anti-fog goggles are a myth, and that messing with a swimmer’s taper is the quickest way to incur their wrath for life.
21. If you have anything to do after practice, you do it before sitting down. Because there is no chance you are moving for at least an hour soon as your butt hits that couch.
22. You’ll learn the rules of the road long before you ever take a road test. Circle swimming? Check. Passing while shoulder-checking and not bumping into the swimmer next to you? Yup. How about swimming in a lane that is reflective of your speed? You know it.
23. Nothing will get you training faster than knowing a cute member of the opposite is watching. “Is that lifeguard checking me out? Wonder if she knows that I’m holding 30’s on this set. Sick.”
24. You’re way tougher than you ever thought imaginable. Coaches can be cruel. They’ll give you a preview of the next day’s swim practice, which usually runs along the line of a distance fly or free set. That night you’ll lay in bed tossing and turning, visions of failing shoulders and missed intervals splashing around your brain until you wake up the next morning in a cold sweat, thinking of all the excuses you could use to duck out. Eventually you make it to practice, do the assigned warm-up and start the main set. Whether it was the time you did 10×200 fly, or a 5k for time, whatever it was… You did it. Sure, it hurt, you struggled, but you stuck with it and ultimately kicked that set’s butt.