Thoughts while swimming

I’ve been in the pool a lot with this plantar fasciitis, which I have mixed feelings about. I’m incredibly grateful to Coach Cowboy and Teacher Runner for opening my eyes to the possibility of swimming as a workout and not just a pastime. And the Celt has put together some great swim workouts that sort of simulate speed work in the pool, which has been hard, but fun, except for the whole lack of oxygen issue. But swimming is not like running. It’s not just my strong desire to breathe, though that’s part of it. I think my brain does something different in the pool. When I’m running, I can get into a sort of meditative state. It’s a great chance for a long rambling conversation, but if I don’t have someone to run with, I seem perfectly able to have those conversations in my head. With a little mental nudge, I can even get my mind to work on problems and sometimes make progress solving them.

The pool is different though. I swam a mile straight through last week and I tried to figure out what I do think about when I’m swimming. First, it turns out that I can’t sustain a single thought for more than a lap. For whatever reason, when it’s time to turn around, it’s like hitting re-set and my head starts over again. So any brilliant insights that are going to occur have to happen in 30 seconds or less, about how long it takes me to swim 25 yards. Also, counting laps in the pool is kind of a project. I do have a swim watch that would probably keep track of laps for me if I bothered to learn how to use it and remembered to press the lap counter button. Neither of those things is terribly likely so instead I count every 100 yards by moving my water bottle one tile and every 500 yards by moving the kickboard one tile. As I considered this while swimming, I thought – what is this, base 5 counting? Base 500 counting? The Incredible Mervus or Aidan would probably know, but I don’t. Turn around. What is this, base 5 counting? Base 500? Would Mervus or Aidan know? Turn around. Repeat, for however many laps are in a mile, which I always forget though I know it’s 1650 yards.

When I get tired of my 30 second attempts at insight, my brain switches to a kind of whale-song melody. Ahhhh-OOOOOO-ahhhh. Ahhhh-OOOOOOO-ahhhhhh. Ahhhhh-OOOOOOO-ahhhhh. This weirdness goes along with my breathing and when the whale song starts, I sometimes think about swimming form, which also comes to me only in little pieces. Roll your shoulders more. Pretend you’re pushing down a box. Yes, fast swimmers do alternate breathing, but you never bothered to learn that. Ahhhhh-OOOOOO-ahhhhh. With all that jazz going on in my head, I have to focus a little to remember which lap I am on, which is why I need the water bottle/kickboard system because counting beyond 4 would be truly impossible. Every now and then my brain flashes to “Damn this water is deep!” or “When the hell is this going to be over with?” but those both induce a sort of pseudo-panic so I try to stick with the whale song and the counting. Last week during that straight mile swim, I finally got a little meditation groove going, which was actually quite nice, even kind of pleasant.

So, that makes me wonder – if you swim, what do you think about in the pool? Is it different from running? Am I the only one who gets that weird whale song thing?

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