Thursday, March 22, 2007


I don't start physical therapy until April 2, which means I'm on my own for another week. That hasn't proved the best place for me to be - I'm reminded of that fact each night when shots of sharp pain wake me up and some unlikely hour. Still, I'm dying to get this ball rolling. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

That's how ended up at the edge of the public pool today, blinking in a bewildered haze at the rush of swimmers crawling up and down every single lane. I arrived there a full 45 minutes later than I intended to. (That's about how long it took me to find my swimming suit, which I'm fairly certain I haven't worn once in nearly two years.) Finally, a teenage lifeguard walked up to me and explained that I could swim in a lane with someone else, as long as we kept a circular pattern. That sounded insurmountably complicated, so I pretended I forgot something in the locker room and waited in the shadows until someone get out. Appropriately, the free section was marked "Slow Lane."

I slipped into the water and it was cold. Freezing! I contemplated for a second jumping right back out, but I remembered that I was here to exercise and I'd probably warm up. So I took my first tentative strokes through the icy water. The feeling was vaguely nostalgic. When I was a kid, I was a natural in water. Never much of a swimmer - I never learned the technique and never really tried to. But I could maintain buoyancy for pretty much as long as I wanted. I used to spend the better part of a day crawling along the Bear Lake shoreline, looking for adventure. Adulthood has instilled in me a healthy (read: manic) fear of drowning and water in general, so swimming and I had parted ways.

But as I sliced through the water today, I felt a soothing release of bad energy that has been building up like plaque on my soul. The minor pain that accompanies pretty much everything I do - even walking across parking lots - had all but sloughed off, and I felt that now was the time - if there ever was a time to do so again - to go hard.

So I started ticking off laps, kicking gently with my legs and pulling hard with my arms. The echoing noise of the pool building roared and faded as my head bobbed in an out of the water. Every once in a while I would zone out and catch myself regressing into a lopsided sort of dog paddle. Then I would shake off the laziness and focus on raring back. I told myself I would keep swimming until it hurt or until my open-swim hour was up - whichever came first.

I was on lap 58, feeling dazed and a little sleepy, when I decided fatigue was probably going to come first. That's when a man with only one leg approached the pool on crutches and jumped in the lane next to mine. Watching him launch past me was the quick shot of inspiration I needed. He and I swam several laps pretty much side by side, with me pushing my best effort to keep up with a one-legged man. Then he got out and I thought - I have this hour in me yet.

I finished up lap 86 at 2 p.m. Time to get out of the pool. I wondered how many more I could do. I know it's not a good idea to push too hard in something you're not remotely in shape for ... but the idea of endurance swimming seemed so appealing at that moment.

I felt great and the buzz lasted almost 45 minutes - long enough for me to take a shower, drive over to Sandy Beach, and walk about a half mile along the shoreline. I was hoping for a photo safari of sorts, but the lighting was really flat, and it was raining. I was thinking about turning around for those reasons when I first realized that I was really feeling tired - tired enough that curling up in the sand for a little nap seemed appealing. Not only that, I was seriously dehydrated - dehydrated enough to have little bit of head swim going on, complete with a sore throat. Apparently, I had better workout than I was trying for.

When I got home, I did the math - 86 laps in a 75-foot pool equals 6,450 feet, which equals 1,965 meters, which equals 1.2 miles. It's funny to think that all of that effort will only net a mile and change in the water. An hour at that heart rate on a bike would probably put me at least 20 miles down the road. But I do know I wore myself out, pain-free. I think I'll go back tomorrow.