Here’s my column from today’s paper:
I’ve never been much of a swimmer.
I love pools and summer and taking the kids, but when it comes to exercise, I’ve only ever chosen to swim when plagued by injury. Or during a brief period about eight years ago when I tried a few triathlons — which never went very well.
First of all, I hate open-water swimming. I hate being in a lake. I hate having my feet touch any kind of unseen, slimy underwater nature. And I’m afraid a fish will touch me. Or I’ll touch a fish. It’s ridiculous, but it’s true. In my first triathlon, I cried through the entire swim.
In my second, I hyperventilated and had to practically be smacked by a friend who was also doing it. I also swam into the guy next to me repeatedly. I tried one more triathlon and then hung up my goggles for good.
I’m just not a very good swimmer. My brother-in-law went to the Olympic Trials in swimming and coaches now, and once I asked him to give me some pointers.
“You can move your legs,” he told me.
See? I can barely do the basics.
But as I face the possibility of another overuse injury from running, and the impending doom that is the Boston Marathon in early April, I’ve had to rethink my training and spend a lot of time doing things I hate.
To try to get excited about it, I bought a new lap suit. And my husband gave me new goggles for my birthday. And my co-worker gave me some workouts and tips and met me in the pool a few times.
I’m still not great at it. I’m slow. I sometimes snap myself in the face with my goggles. I am so self-conscious that I get nervous if I think the lifeguard is watching me. And I try to go at off times, when it’s just me and a surprising number of men and women over age 70 who are pretty spry in the water.
But over the past month, it’s begun to grow on me. The long, slow glide through the water. The rhythm of it. The challenge of trying to swim a mile at once — which I can do now, easily. The knowledge that no bones are going to crack in the water. The feeling that I might one day have a defined upper body. I’ve even struck up a conversation or two with a few of the regulars in the pool.
Any sport offers camaraderie of some sort. In running, of course, you can talk with your friends as you go. In the pool, there’s less of that and more of a knowing nod, a little wave, or the knowledge that someone 30 years your senior is lapping you regularly.
Somehow I’ve come around to enjoying my time in the pool. It’s meditative in a way that running isn’t. I finish a run and feel energized and happy and loving life. I finish a swim and fantasize about putting on wool socks, my husband’s oversized fleece and curling up under a comforter to sleep the rest of the day. What is it about swimming that makes you so … sleepy?
I have about six weeks to go before I stand at the starting line of the Boston Marathon. I’ll be the one wearing goggles. Oh, who am I kidding. Water wings.
Jacqueline Palfy Klemond is a local news editor. She has done more than 3,300 push-ups so far this year. And she fully plans to run a terrible race in April.