July 15, 2009

And this was how the giant buoy got anchored in the tiny pond

This morning I was thinking it would be cool if there was a website showing conditions at Puffer’s Pond. Water temperature, air temperature, maybe a wind reading.

Then I figured you could probably hack together some kind of home weather station with a cell card and a buoy, and have it “phone in” its data on a regular basis—just check in hourly with a quick blip of data. Then you could build a website to store the data and show stuff like daily temperature curves, a trailing average of temperature at a given time of day over several days, air/water temperature gradient, and maybe start predicting swimming conditions based on current conditions and the weather forecast.

Then I realized what I really wanted was for GoMOOS to plant a buoy in Puffer’s. Is that so wrong?

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March 29, 2008

Symptoms of a lasting problem

I was in no kind of shape to swim at New Englands this weekend, but I find that I’m watching the results with interest. I don’t always understand the times, but knowing the faces that go with some of the names helps a great deal.

And I still find cool stuff. For example, if you look at the 400y MR results from late yesterday, you’ll find, in the 25+ age group, a team which is evidently made up of one family, two generations: two men at 51 and 53, and two more at 23 and 25.

And you can find that my team set at least two New England records, one being my brother’s relay. (Two and a half seconds off the old mark.)

The team is 4.5 points ahead after the second of four days of competition, defending the title we won last year. That’s not a very big margin when the point totals are already in excess of 1,500. In the overall rankings, I found that the Austrian Swimming Federation (AUT) has 18 points.

Now Playing: Punk As F*ck from Know By Heart by The American Analog Set

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November 29, 2007

I'm definitely not in shape for that

I got a phone call last night from a Maine number I didn’t recognize.

It turned out to be one of my relay teammates from last year’s record-setting performances. He was scraping around trying to put together relays for this year’s meet, and wanted me to swim a backstroke leg on a medley relay. I laughed for a bit, and then (once I figured out he wasn’t really joking) pointed out that the last time I had, in fact, been in a pool swimming laps was also the last time I’d done the backstroke leg in an MR, and I’d considered it a minor miracle that I didn’t disqualify the whole team for illegal turns.

So not only was he asking me to swim my worst stroke, but I’m not in shape to swim any stroke at all, right now; I’ve been running too much.

I feel a bit bad about it, because I know it would be fun. But I really couldn’t get ready that fast.

Now Playing: Waco Lake from Abigail by The Nields

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March 25, 2007

I'm getting too old for this

Three-day meets, I mean. Four-day, counting last weekend.

  • Races: 10, 5 individual and 5 relays.
  • Yards raced: 2350, 1850 in individual events and 500 in relays.
  • Yards in warm-up or cool-down: Well in excess of 3,000, I’d guess.
  • Points scored: 19 by myself, plus part of relays scoring 66 more.
  • Points by which we beat the next team in our division: 1849.5
  • Hours spent at the Harvard pool: I prefer not to think about it, but on Saturday alone, at least ten.
  • Strokes swum in competition: three.
  • Years since I had last done a backstroke start from the blocks: 16.
  • Individual races where I beat my best previous time for that yards distance: 5.
  • Races where I nonetheless didn’t beat the time predicted by my meters time last December: 1.
  • Times I haven’t yet listed, because I will inevitably come back to this entry someday to see how fast I was:
    • 50y BR: 37.09

    • 200y FR: 2:22.67
    • 500y FR: 6:33.45
  • 20 oz. bottles of Gatorade consumed: 3.
  • Tubs of Gatorade powder used in multiple refills of those 20 oz. bottles: 2/3.
  • Chocolate chocolate chip cookies consumed: I lost count.
  • Blade shaves: 2
  • Alumni of The College present for a group photo: 8, plus one parent. (Oldest, class of ‘59; youngest, ‘02; one other from my class present on Saturday, but not on Sunday for the photo.)
  • Alumni of my high school swim team present and swimming: At least four, starting in the 50+ age group. One other spotted in December but not here this weekend.
  • Relays disqualified (“Deeked,” an abbreviation for “DQ”) by those alumni on Friday night: 2. (My brother blames his club coach, who said, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”)
  • Number of chances I had to deek a third relay today with illegal backstroke turns: 3. Illegal turns: 0.
  • Number of heats by which the field size for the men’s 100y IM exceeded the men’s 100y FR: 3.
  • Number of swimmers claimed for the whole meet: 850.
  • Number of masters swim meets in the world larger than this one: 2.

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March 23, 2007


I think that’s a PR. Certainly it’s the fastest I’ve done a 100y free in this particular swimming career; maybe I was faster in high school, but I don’t remember it. I’m getting used to not being last, but I hadn’t expected to score age group points (four) in this event, which had 25(!!) heats of eight swimmers.

It’s gotta be the cap. (Yes, that’s a blue lobster.) I pulled it on for the first time right before the race, sealed it over my un-hydrodynamic ears, and off we went.

Maine Masters cap

I had a 28-second relay leg, too; it was a mixed relay, so we scored 24 points just because there weren’t many teams contending. We’re currently standing fourth overall for points, and leading our division.

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March 20, 2007

Relay time

The team is getting wound up for next weekend’s meet. After distance day we lead club scoring by 25 points. (A curious quirk of the way U.S. Masters Swimming is subdivided is that “New England Masters” is its own massive club, with an internal “workout group” competition; everyone outside “New England,” which includes Connecticut, Maine, and at least one New Hampshire club, competes with each other.) I gather that there are more swimmers coming down for this meet than we’ve sent for years, and since masters swimming scoring rewards a lot of “splashes” as much as quality performances, high turnout is the first step to a winning score total.

Today we got proposed relay lineups. I’m in a mixed sprint relay on Friday night, and alternate for two more on Saturday. Unlike the meters meet in December, relay age groups here are not based on the sum of ages, but instead are determined by the age of the youngest swimmer in your relay. The trick is to assemble the youngest relay you can while staying above a particular age-group break point. If you’re 70, you can swim on any relay; if you’re my age, you can only swim on 18+ or 25+ relays.

It felt a little to me as though the lineups were drawn by a score-optimizing algorithm, though, the sort of program that never rests its key players. I wonder if I won’t wind up swimming at least one of my “alternate” slots on Saturday, and maybe picking up another one on Sunday, when the all-stars start wearing out.

Update, 3/21: Plenty of people, apparently, were unhappy with yesterday’s draft. Another round came out today; among other changes, I was promoted from alternate on the short MR. The wording of this email implies that while there are 40 relays proposed, they expect as much as 25% “shrinkage.” I expect there will be a lot of relay re-alignment on deck this weekend.

Now Playing: Fists In My Pockets from (Places) by The Shiftless Rounders

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March 17, 2007


While I was counting laps for my brother, I mentioned to a high school teammate of ours (who wound up ahead of me in our later event by about a minute and forty seconds) that he was going back to Maine before my race, and I wasn’t sure who was counting for me.

My brother had apparently mentioned this to others as well, because in the half hour before my race, both Jon and a Maine Masters teammate, Bill (second in the 70-plus age group) asked me where I liked the lane counter—of course they were counting laps for me! Bill agreed to check and see if Jon was there, and then said he would return to the start side and watch from there.

So I did my twenty laps—not many of them under 40 seconds, I’m afraid, but actually a much more consistent pace than I felt like I was managing—feeling like I was being passed back and forth between Jon and Bill, checking in every twenty-five yards for a shot of encouragement.

I didn’t actually see either of them, just the numbers Jon would stick under the surface counting off the lengths; nor did I hear them much. I saw the swimmers on either side of me, the one on the outside who wanted to go under 13:00 and crept away from me after the first 300 or so, only to turn up in passing range with 100 remaining (I caught him,) and the one on the inside who zipped my suit up before the race and probably beat me by a length. (We unzipped each other once we emerged on deck.) I heard the swoosh and rumble of the water and my own motion in it, the bubbles and gasps of my breathing, and that was pretty much it.

The time is pretty good. It’s 23 seconds better than my best, the only other time I’d raced this distance, and it should move me to fifth on the club list for the age group, which I’m pleased with. I’m not sure, but I think the first half was the fastest 500y I’ve ever done; that’s likely to change next weekend. Both halves were faster than my 500y from my first New Englands three years ago. I also didn’t finish last in my age group; there was another swimmer, probably in my heat, who finished about five seconds behind me.

I scored ten points for the team, not as many as some people who made the wet and slippery trip in today, but probably my favorite reward for the work.

Now Playing: Can’t Hardly Wait from Pleased to Meet Me by The Replacements

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Splashy day

There are, perhaps, eight inches of wet, wet snow out there. (I haven’t measured, and it drifted a lot out here.) But the meet website says we are on as scheduled. Twenty laps at 39.5s per lap is my task.

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March 13, 2007

Terms which have dramatically different meanings depending on which of my interests is involved

“Race conditions.”

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March 12, 2007

Master of none

Since I set my goal in January, I’ve been splitting time between running and swimming. I think the official evaluation is that I’m in decent shape overall, but not terribly good at either sport right now.

I’m running around 30 miles per week, generally off four runs a week. Usually one of those is a long run (10-12 miles is “long” at this point), one is speedwork, and the other two are usually just easy jogs, but last week one included hill repeats.

The other three (or four) days I’m in the pool. I’ve discovered that the day after a long run I don’t have a lot of pop in my kick, and I wonder if my total lack of zero-exercise days might not be wearing me out a bit. I’m scaling back some this week, because Saturday is goal-race day: one thousand yards in the pool. If I don’t have the endurance now, there’s not much I can do about it; I’m just doing fin swims and short sprints and hoping I can sustain a good pace all the way through.

Maybe swimming in my brother’s old Powerskin suit instead of the nylon-mesh drag suit I’ve been training in will give me the same feeling as switching from regular running shoes into spikes? I can always hope.

Now Playing: This Is It (Acoustic Version) by Ryan Adams

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March 8, 2007

Well said, sir

I don’t think this requires further comment:

Frazz comic from March 8, 2007

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March 6, 2007

It continues

Oh, this cartoonist has been where I’ve been…

Frazz comic for March 6, 2007

Now Playing: Close My Eyes from Smile by Ride

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March 5, 2007

Abject humiliation

What else would you call it when you get smoked by people twice your age?

Frazz comic strip from March 5, 2007

(I’m sure this strip will vanish in a few weeks…)

Now Playing: St. Robinson In His Cadillac Dreams from This Desert Life by Counting Crows

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February 26, 2007

Toughen up

One of the bright ideas my brother had for this swim meet was the “toughen up challenge.” Last year, this was essentially a sprint meet—I think they called it “the churn”—with all 100s and 50s. This year, he introduced two five-event series: 200y in each stroke, plus a 400 IM, or 50y in each stroke, plus a 100 IM. In each event, times were age-graded (according to the world records in each age group, apparently, but age-grading is a black art to me) and summed. Lowest resulting time wins.

Of the 78 people who entered (nearly 40 deck entries! No wonder we were busy at the start of the meet,) almost half entered one of the challenges. As a result, we had some event imbalances. It’s not unusual to have three or five heats of a 50y race; it is unusual to have four heats of the 200y butterfly.

I had fun with the meet manager software generating the heat sheets, results, etc. This is the same package used for many track meets, and the same one I used for the Amherst Invitational, and there are a number of good reasons. It slurps up results directly from the timing system, it understands all the age groups and paper needed, and it “sanity checks” numbers (if you try to seed someone for one event using a time from another one, e.g. a 50y event using a 200y time, it catches your oversight almost before you do.) There are a lot of annoying UI quirks—a lot of menu items don’t produce menus, but act like buttons, for example, and lots of windows “lock out” other windows until they’re closed—but the things it gets right make people willing to tolerate the quirks.

Swimming has advantages and disadvantages over track racing. One advantage is lap counting; with touch pads at the end of the pool, not only do swimmers get lap times to the 100th of a second, but the timer can see how many laps they have completed and how many are remaining. (The timing system knows the event distance and shows a lap countdown for each lane.) The timer just has to keep an eye on the swimmers to see who misses the pad, which happens sometimes in events with open turns. This can’t be done on the track; you can’t use the camera to clock every lap.

The disadvantage comes from the need to line up every swimmer with a heat and a lane. If someone leaves the meet early, or if you don’t have the time and personnel to enforce positive check-in, you have to re-seed the entire meet if you want to avoid leaving empty lanes for every event that swimmer entered. And re-seeding means everyone who is there gets confused about which heat and lane they’re actually competing in; unlike on the track, the officials don’t take responsibility for getting athletes properly set up for each heat. (There aren’t enough officials.) Swimmers are expected to know their lane and heat, and be there ready to compete, and re-seeds make this difficult for them… so even though we were using seven lanes (with the eighth reserved for warm-up) we had some heats go off with only four swimmers. We probably swam three or four more heats than were needed, just because we couldn’t re-seed to account for no-shows and scratches.

Now Playing: Mercy Of The Fallen from The Beauty Of The Rain by Dar Williams

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February 25, 2007

29.41 and 1:05.02

I scored a swim meet yesterday. I’ll write a bit more about that experience later, if I can organize the observations into something worth reading. (I have a love-hate relationship with Meet Manager.) This is about the swimming part.

I meant to swim the 200y free, but the combination of a nasty cold this week (my third in six months, which I’m really unhappy about,) and a plethora of deck entries (72 entered swimmers, a pretty big crowd) led me to scratch out of that event, which was early on the program, and go for the 50y/100y option instead. After all, if breathing deeply makes me cough, why shouldn’t the solution be entering races which don’t require breathing?

That was pretty much how the 50 went. I got a fair start (goggles on) kept my head down, kicked hard, and tried to bring on tunnel vision. It turned out to be a fairly effective mind set; 50y is credit-card spending, with the payment not due until well after the event is over. I’d say that the time was a PR, but I don’t think I’ve played at sprinting before so I think it’s my only time for the event anyway.

Another safe start in the 100y, and the published splits tell me I hit the first 50 of that one in 31.78—not too shabby. The most memorable part of that race was how little I had to think about what I was doing. I didn’t remind myself how to turn most effectively, how to kick, anything. I just got in and raced. What I remember was looking across the pool and trying to beat the people in the other lanes. (I did, too; I won heat 3, not that anyone’s counting.) 33.24 for the second half for a 1:05.02, just off the 1:04 which my brother reminded me I swam last year in Exeter. (How does he remember my times when I have to look them up?)

Then I hopped out and slithered over to the scoring table to announce the next heat while trying not to drip on anything significant and not to wheeze too audibly into the mike.

Now Playing: A from Maybe You Should Drive by Barenaked Ladies

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February 23, 2007

Crossing in the mail

I got email this morning (late last night, actually) from the NEM-SCY meet management, warning me that today is the last day for regular entry, and I should register online if I didn’t want to pay late entry fees.

I mailed my entry last week—Thursday, if I remember rightly, well before this Tuesday’s postmark deadline—and since it’s only traveling to Arlington, I expect it has been delivered by now. According to the website, they’ve only actually processed what they received as of a week and a half ago, and have “hundreds” of unopened entries. Who knows how many people like me are going to get that email, assume their entry has been lost in the mail, and re-enter online? I wonder if, by attempting to encourage pre-entry, the meet management has created a lot more duplicate-entry headaches for themselves.

Now Playing: What Do You Want Me To Do from Bring ‘Em All In by Mike Scott

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February 4, 2007

We don't mess around

I was sealing up my hour swim entry and cast my eyes over the rules again. I noticed that since the race is open for the entire month of January, there is a provision for swimmers who change age groups (“age up”) during the race. Specifically, they are allowed to enter twice: if they swim twice, once in each age group.

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January 30, 2007


There aren’t many days left in January, but I’d been having a hard time coordinating the pool schedule and a lap counter to get in for the one hour postal swim. We finally went in last night, and even so it took several minutes to sort out a lane—there are very few lap-swim times where there’s an available lane at the University pool.

So I was cold and in a hurry to get going once I got in the pool. As a result, I didn’t take the extra minute or two to loosen up the goggles I was wearing, not my usual pair. They were too tight, and while the good side of that is a nice, dry seal, the down side is that after twenty minutes or so you really want the damn things off your face.

There’s not a whole lot to say about the swim itself; for me, it was just a lot of swish and splash, since I could neither see nor hear much of anything happening above the surface of the pool. I focused on staying relaxed from the beginning, and possibly as a result, I felt like my form didn’t break down much in the course of the hour. I was trying to get a long glide off the wall from each turn and keep my stroke smooth.

Comparing my splits with last year, I was out ahead from very early on, starting with the 7:05.7 first 500y and right up through 3,000y (43:36.6, nearly 45 seconds and, at the pace I was swimming then, a full lap ahead of last year.) However, my “fourth thousand” push wasn’t really there; I thought I was working harder, but maybe the combination of fatigue and pushing made my form break down and my work less effective. I haven’t broken down the splits closely enough to find out where I was slipping, but I wound up with a total of 4,120y—4,100 plus not-quite-another. (The pool has five-yard increments marked on the wall, and swim rules allow you to measure that closely.) So I almost squeezed in another lap, but not quite.

Oddly enough, I consider this an improvement. It means that, over eighty laps, I was averaging nearly a half second faster per lap, which is not insignificant. Also, the opening 1,000y of 14:22.56 while swimming easily is a confidence booster about what I could do if I was pushing over that distance. Plus, swimming for an hour makes a measly 1,000y race look short.

And I got to take the goggles off at the end. That felt better than stopping did.

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January 24, 2007

Enough with the athletic metaphors

I am writing a homework assignment, and had to stop myself from labeling the questions “Warm up” and “Main set.”

Now Playing: Empty glass from I’m on my way by Rich Price

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January 13, 2007

Number Four

I have my goal for the spring.

When I was home last weekend, my brother spent some time skimming our swim club’s top ten lists to find out where I was ranked. I’m ranked in a bunch of short course meters events, just because SCM is sufficiently oddball in the northeast that the only meets are held in places like BU or Wheaton with a movable bulkhead allowing the pool to be configured for it. Except in the 100m BR (where I am the only club member of my age group ever to swim the event, and therefore hold the record,) I’m ranked third behind my brother and whatever club member held the record before he broke it.

In SCY, where there are a lot more meets and therefore more opportunities for other people to swim fast, I’m largely invisible. I’m ranked in exactly one event: the 1000y free from two years ago. My 13:49.18 ranks me 7th in the age group. What’s more, there are targets in front of me; it’s only 20 seconds to 5th, and about 38 to 4th. (There is then a gap of about two minutes to 3rd.)

I was thinking about those three marks in front of me yesterday while I was in the pool; I was also thinking about Amby’s plans to race the mile. I wasn’t very motivated for the set I was doing, a ladder I’ve done a dozen times before, but as I approached the “top” of the ladder I realized: this was easy. I was chewing up this workout in a way I never had before—maybe not in terms of absolute speed, but psychologically I felt charged up the way I seldom do in a swimming workout.

I’m signing up for the 1,000y at New Englands again this year (it will be March 17, which means my brother will have aged up and out of my age group. This opens up the possibility of some secondary goals.) I want to move up on that ranking. I’d like to be number four. That’s a lousy place for Olympics or Olympic Trials—Pre’s place from Munich, Don Kardong’s from Montreal—but I’m not swimming a kiloyard in the low 11s without performance enhancing drugs or flippers. Fourth will be fine: 20 laps in 39 seconds will get me there with room to spare.

Fifth wouldn’t be half bad, either. But I’m training for fourth.

Now Playing: Fire from Revenge Of The Goldfish by Inspiral Carpets

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December 27, 2006

Swimming with the champions

Why finish high school? So you, too, can go to the alumni swim meet and cheat like mad.

This was my second time at the meet as an alum, and no mention was made of the team’s status as defending state champions. Alumni were announced by name and class year, the list followed by, “and those guys are the swim team.”

Events are largely whimsical, and they’re all relays. What’s important here is that the alumni—including the coach—are aware of this, and do whatever necessary to stay more or less even or slightly ahead of the current team. Sometimes this isn’t necessary; some of us are still legitimately fast. Others… well, on at least one occasion, as I waited to tag off on a relay, the coach leaned over to me and said, “Go now, and dive under him.”

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December 26, 2006

Record setting performances

What fun is a record you didn’t know you held?

My brother did a little research and discovered that not only do I have a share of two club relay records from the other weekend, but in this race in 2005, I set the club’s 100m breaststroke record for the 30-34 AG. In other words, nobody from the club in that age group had ever entered the event before. (Nor has since, apparently.)

“Don’t get too excited,” he added. “Son ages up next year.”

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December 19, 2006

Scoring summary

The results from the swimming leg of this weekend’s competitions are posted. I actually managed to score more points for the team as an individual (18) than on relay teams (56/4=14) but a 32-point total is higher than I usually manage, and that’s all from the relays. The high point list shows that the four of us from the relays were 8th, 9th, 73rd and 132nd in point scoring; with 250 men on that list, I’m slightly behind halfway on the list. Together, we scored 340 points (plus a few more from the other three in a third relay) out of 1410 scored by our team. That only got us fourth; we beat Connecticut, but couldn’t take down two New York teams.

The 50m splits from my 400m swim are illuminating; if you ignore the first one (which includes a block start and is therefore artificially fast) there’s a little bell curve in there. I was telling Joe on Sunday evening that a 400m swim is not unlike a mile run, and my 100m (two-lap) splits show it; when I run a mile, the first lap is pretty quick, the second and third progressively slower, and I pick up for the fourth. The 200m looks pretty much the same, but on four laps instead of eight; I pretty much blew my chances of hitting my seed time in the third of four laps. Clearly, I need some endurance before I try to do multiple races in one day again.

Our club records for the 100-119 age group are 400m free relay, 4:35.65, and 200m free relay, 2:00.70. Unimpressive as those times may be, they’re probably not going anywhere until Zach can recruit some more fast young guys; we totaled 116 this year, so next year we’ll be too old.

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December 17, 2006

Another day, another record

Three races in the B.U. pool today. My brother loaned me his older “fastskin” suit, one of those full-body suits like the Olympians wear, and this was the first time I’d ever raced in something quite like that. After squeezing myself into it (since my brother is generally larger than me, I’m not sure how it got so tight,) I looked at the mirror and thought, I have really skinny legs.

(More after the jump.)

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December 16, 2006


The funny thing about relays at Masters meets is that nobody wants to do them. The really good swimmers sign up for a full slate of individual events without considering the relays, and those more my speed figure we won’t be asked. So when it comes to meet day, nobody is ready to race, unless something was organized in advance. What’s more, with the relays usually coming at the end of the meet, a lot of swimmers just want to get dry and go home.

For me, the 400m free relay was all I was swimming today. I orbited the warmup pool while all three of my teammates did the 400m IM. They were plenty happy to have me, for two reasons: one, everyone on the “other” relay our team entered had opted out, so we were the only team entered. Two, the average age for the four of us put us in an age group where there is no club record for the event. As long as we got around without a DQ, we’d set the record, and next year this particular team will be too old to break it anyway.

They figured on going slowest to fastest. This also meant that IM swimmers got the most rest, since it meant I started. (My payoff was that I got a “legit” 100m time, since my split would be the only one from a legal start.) I got a fair start (i.e. my goggles stayed on) and pretty much just sprinted. I don’t remember feeling like the (meters) pool was any longer than the (yards) pool here at the University. Turns weren’t pretty, but I really did feel like I was moving quickly.

When I tapped the wall, I had to look up and figure out if leg two had actually left. He had. The others were telling me “1:14” before I could even get out of the pool. Leg two was swimming with a broken ankle; a 1:10 for him, I think, then 1:09 for leg 3 and 1:02 for the anchor, my brother. So we went about 4:35 (the results aren’t posted yet.)

I swam 1:14 last year, too, with (I think) better training. The calculator on the Great Bay Masters site suggests that’s worth a 1:06 in yards, which is about two seconds off my best.

They tell me they’re putting me on two relays tomorrow. There are 200m and 800m free relays and a 400m MR, so I assume they mean the 400m MR and the 200m free, but I’m swimming the open 400m and 200m so I may be a little wobbly when the second relay rolls around.

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Thinking back, before I started this morning’s race, I thought maybe I’d only run a flat 3,000m once, in 1994, on Williams’ grungy little nine-laps-per-mile track. I’m pretty sure I’ve never raced on a banked track, and it’s been at least ten years since I’ve raced indoors at all.

I didn’t leap to the front of my heat, but I didn’t exactly fall to the back, either. We spread out pretty quickly, and for the first two laps I pretty much just sat on the rail and tried to avoid being spiked while everyone determined to be in the front pack found their way around me. I heard “39” and “41” for the first two splits, but didn’t feel like I was working quite that hard.

Finally I was at the back of a definite pack, and I tried to make an effort to stay there. Around four laps in, that pack started to break up, and found myself trading the rail with someone coming up from behind. We passed the first K in 3:26, a shade faster than I’d expected but nothing I was going to turn down.

I think I fell asleep a bit in the second K. Not literally; I just wasn’t working on picking out targets and pushing myself. The laps were going by tolerably fast, nobody was passing me, and I felt like I could handle things, but in fact I was slowing down. 3:33 for the second K, with enough second fractions that the actual 2K time was 7:00. Time to get on the horse. It also helped that I was now catching and lapping runners who weren’t all that slow; after ten laps, you only need to be four or five seconds per lap slower for me to lap you.

I opened up my stride and started concentrating on form, pushing with my arms and getting a good kick off each stride. I could hear that I was pulling away from the people who had been right behind me for most of the second K, and I could also see that I was really blowing by people I was lapping. I finally got up and sprinted the last lap, covering the last K in 3:24 for a final time of 10:25 (splits don’t add up due to rounding.) It didn’t feel too bad; I think I’d do it again, particularly if I could get myself concentrating in the second K. I think I could probably slice at least ten seconds off that.

Just now I dragged out my old log books to see if I was right about how long it has been. Turns out I ran 3,000m four times, starting with that 9:53 at Williams (which followed a 4:29 1500m; I should have read the signs and figured out that the longer the race got, the better I’d do,) and the only time I was over 10:00 was when I’d run a mile (4:57) and 800m (2:20) first. My PR, only ten years old but 11 in February, was a 9:44 at Brown. I guess some things are better left to memory.

I’m due back at BU, this time at the pool, in a few hours. They didn’t need me for the medley relay, which was mid-meet, but they do want me for the 400m free relay this evening. It turns out the team doesn’t have a mark in the record books for that event for a team with average ages under 30; with my brother and two 25-year-olds, we’re going to set one up. It may be my only chance to set a swimming record…

Update, 12/17: Results are posted. Turns out I only ran 10:26?

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December 15, 2006

Executive summary

My brain is toast. I have about five posts I want to write, but they’re all too long.

  • Finals: It’s all over but the gradin’. I’ve been neck-deep since Sunday night; I’m short on sleep and haven’t been to the grocery store for so long that scurvy is starting to be a legitimate concern. Today I shaved and got a haircut so I’d look a bit less like a shipwreck survivor.

  • Academics: I am, based on what my professors, an average student at best, and my math background is deficient. (This is not news.) However, I am in great demand as a TA; Professor γ was counting on having me another semester, but apparently while Professor β doesn’t want me in her research group, she does want me as a TA… and the department chair thinks I’ll be most useful with neither of them. (It looks like I will be both TAing and doing a Masters’ project in the spring with yet another professor, who I’ve mentioned before but I will now officially dub Professor Σ for brevity.)

  • Apparently the University has had some small national notoriety in the past few days due to some so-called satire published in the campus conservative rag which some think crossed the racism line. I haven’t read the inflammatory text in question, and I think while there’s nothing wrong with holding the responsible authors and editors up to the ridicule of the University community—or, at the very least, explaining why their biases are wrong rather than simply chastising them for holding them—I also think that multiple public responses from the President’s office both overstates the importance of the publication in question, and lowers the President’s office. The editors in question are in a hole; let ‘em figure out for themselves when to stop digging.

  • Racing: I will be at BU all weekend. Saturday morning I’m running a 3,000m on the track (I need to get out my old college logs and see if I even have a PR at that distance) and apparently that afternoon I’ll be in a relay or two over at the pool. (My team is looking for a good finish at the SCM meet.) Sunday I’m swimming 400m and 200m free, and more relays if I can still stand on the blocks without shaking at that point. Word is there’s wireless in the pool, too!

Now Playing: Boat from Let’s Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later On Tonight by Marah

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February 21, 2006

Long wait over

Fifteen years after I last hit the pool for my high school, they finally won the big one. The Press Herald calls it “three years of frustration,” but my brother’s note in his email was, “Try twenty-five years.” (The Times Record quotes the current coach, one of my brother’s former teammates, saying “This is a team 30 years in the making.”) It seemed like every year we were favored to run the table, and every year we fell short, almost Sox-like.

Now Playing: The Shore and Stars by Austin Hartley-Leonard

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February 5, 2006


I decided on Friday night to do the mini-meet at Exeter this morning. I got up with the cat and got up there in good time, though my directions were faulty (I had directions to the campus, but not the pool.) This was a relatively small meet, though not as small as the one I did at Simon’s Rock last year, so I had no trouble getting registered and getting 800y or so of warm-up, including a bunch of starts, before they cleared the pool.

(Exhaustively boring report below…)

Continue reading "Payoff"

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February 4, 2006


The problem with being in a city, where I could theoretically find anything, is that I don’t have the time to look for it.

However, I really need to track down my own swim cap if I intend to do any more races. I emailed my brother asking if he could loan me one for tomorrow’s “mini” meet in Exeter. I need to stop setting him up like this.

I think I have one you can borrow. You did the 5K postal swim, right?

Now Playing: Cherry Lane from Cold Roses by Ryan Adams & The Cardinals

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January 13, 2006

One Hour

I got my USMS membership card in yesterday’s mail, and today I swam my first competition of the year. I went over to the University pool and swam a distance for the One Hour Postal swim.

The One Hour is a regular January event in which, some time in the course of the month, you simply swim for one hour while some other brave soul watches and takes splits (every 50y.) Once finished, you fill out the entry form and mail it in. Someone in Ohio collates the entries and publishes the results in February.

A generously agreed to spend an hour of her time watching me go back and forth. I’ve never done such a long stretch of swimming without a break, so I was a bit apprehensive, but I figured as long as I didn’t get in over my head early on, I’d be fine. For a conservative goal, I worked out that one minute per 50y lap would be 3,000y total. I never thought through any more ambitious goals. I suited up with an older race suit and a cap (unusual for me,) figuring anything that saved energy early on would pay off later.

I planned to start out easy, but according to A’s split sheet, it took me about 500y (7:14.5) to settle down. From there on, the subtractive splits for each lap are almost monotonous: a long string of 44s, with an occasional 43 when I started thinking too much. I split 14:40.8 at 1,000y, 22:02.1 at 1,500y, and 29:26.6 at 2,000y, which is the first 45.

At 2,000y by my count, I figured (accurately, as it turned out,) that I must be at least halfway, if not well beyond. I made a deal with myself to hang on to a steady pace through 3,000y (again, by my count; I had no idea if I’d missed or skipped a lap somewhere.) At 3,000y, I could start pushing, because however bad it got, I wasn’t going to be going too much longer. I can see a series of slower laps in the third thousand, probably as a result of this. But once I reached 3,000y (44:20.7) I started cranking. I wasn’t sprinting, but I was making an effort to push the pace, which mostly meant thinking faster. The 45s and 44s became 44s and 43s, and I see a few 42s in there. From 3,000y to 3,500y was 7:08, which is pretty quick for me; I was 7:16 from 3,500y to 4,000y (58:44). If I’m reading the sheet correctly, those were the second and third fastest 500y segments. I got in one more lap under the hour, and another length (4075 in 59:52) but 4,100y was past the hour mark.

I’m pretty pleased with that distance; it’s not extraordinary, but it exceeded my modest expectations. I’m more pleased with the splits; being that steady for an hour, and that fast, says a lot for being able to hang on to a more aggressive pace through a 1,000y or 500y race come April.

It looks like I get to count the extra 25y, so my official distance will be 4,075y. If this year’s results are anything like last year’s, that will put me around 50th out of 90-odd in my age group. (It looks like my brother was 4th.)

Now, to finish filling out the entry for mailing in.

Now Playing: Silver Machine from A Box Of Birds by The Church

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January 7, 2006


I spent this morning soaking in Blodgett Pool—actually, creeping back and forth across it, doing drills in a freestyle clinic put on by Cambridge Masters Swimming. My brother put me on to the clinic last month at the meet, and eventually just signed me up for it as a Christmas gift. (I wonder if my 100m thrashing might have prompted that.)

I’ve got a packet of material from the clinic that I should really go through, but this was probably the first time since I learned to swim that anyone has sent me back and forth across the pool with the sole purpose of seeing how I do it, and telling me how to do it better. We focused on body position and pull. I hold my head a whisker too high, which tips my feet down; that’s pretty easy to fix. Harder is my pull, though some of the body position drills (rolling from my hips) will help.

They had underwater and on-deck video cameras to tape us and show us our form, which is a very striking way of demonstrating what we’re doing. Seeing my left arm pulling wide to the outside without much angle to the elbow on the underwater camera is much more vivid than any demonstration: I don’t need much prompting to see what’s going wrong.

After about two hours in the water (much of it spent getting quite cold,) I did feel like I was faster—or, at least, like I could swim the same speed with less effort. It’s also clear to me that I will need to get in the pool on Monday and nail these things down before I forget them.

Given that I’m not swimming New Englands this year, I’ve spent some time over the last few days plotting what I will do instead. I’m hoping to do the hour swim sometime before classes start again, which means soon; I just need to make an appointment with my lap counter and screw my courage to the sticking point, or something like that. It looks like there’s a meet in southern New Hampshire sometime in February which may be interesting; they’ve got mostly short stuff on the schedule, but also a 1650y, “time permitting.” However, there are more meets in Maine than anywhere else in New England this winter, which is pretty pathetic when you consider where all the swimmers are actually located.

So I’m thinking seriously about making my goal meet the Colonies Zone SCY meet in April. It’s the weekend after the Boston Marathon, but it’s also going to require some travel: it’s being hosted by Patriot Masters at George Mason.

Now Playing: Angels Of The Silences from Recovering The Satellites by Counting Crows

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January 6, 2006


There’s a picture of me in the current newsletter of my swim team. The online version is much clearer than the photocopy I got in the mail. The photo is from last month’s meet, and the part I find amusing is that both of us in the photo are wearing shirts from marathons. (Mine is from the NYCM; his is a bit more obvious.)

Posted by pjm at 11:40 AM | Comments (0)

December 6, 2005


Maybe I should’ve guessed something was up when I saw that the swim coach had his parka on. Turns out there was an issue with the heaters. Not for the pool water, but for the airspace. The pool, as it turned out, was just fine as usual, particularly as we got warmed up.

He seems to have nothing more to add for my freestyle form, but that just establishes that there’s not much more wrong—not that there’s nothing I could make better. I’m thinking about my turns more, as well, which means I’m blowing them as often as I’m getting them right.

I know I’ve promised some longer posts, but I’m jammed with deadlines.

Now Playing: She’s So High from Leisure [US] by Blur

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December 4, 2005

The frustrating part is that I know I could do better

My events for today were very early in the meet, so even though we’re only about halfway through the day, I’m already done.

I took full advantage of the sprint lanes this morning, doing eight or ten starts off the blocks while they were open, then moving to the warm-up pool when they closed the competition pool to start racing. I had more good starts (functional goggles) than bad, so I was relatively confident. I also was borrowing a cap from my brother, with the idea that having it on over the goggles might help keep them attached.

Continue reading "The frustrating part is that I know I could do better"

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December 3, 2005

Disaster management in the pool

It’s been a few hours since my only race today; I have two tomorrow. The wireless connection is sketchy but mostly usable.

We got here in time to check in, but without a whole lot of time to warm up in the competition pool; they were setting up sprint lanes (where you can practice a block start, then get out at the other end of the lane,) as we checked in. After changing, I did a few laps in another lane before moving to a sprint lane to try my first block starts since New Englands in April. They didn’t go very well—in the first two, my goggles wound up around my nose, and on the third, they stayed on but filled with water. Then we were whistled out for the start of racing. I wasn’t terribly confident about my start.

I mentioned this to my brother. “All you need to do is get in the water,” he said. “It doesn’t need to be perfect.” In other words, do what you can to protect the goggle seal.

Continue reading "Disaster management in the pool"

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Colonies Zone Short Course Meters championship

Good grief, there are a lot of people at this meet. I suppose because it’s the whole Zone (Virginia and north) and not just New England, but we’ve got the Wheaton pool jammed full. It’s incredible.

Among others, I ran in to a high school cross-country teammate. He was one of those who struggled through cross-country season, then (being built like Gumby) was a really good swimmer, particularly in backstroke. He’s just come back to swimming in the last year, after burning out in college, and seemed really pleased to see me—specifically mentioning how much he liked watching “us” (me and the other front-runners) running. It was quite a lift.

Wireless is sketchy but usable. Full report on my race is on the way. They have a video camera on the pool, hooked to a Tivo on the deck running about twenty minutes delayed, so you can go over and watch your race when you’re done; as a result, some of the report is based on what I saw and was aware of during the race, and some of it I learned later.

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November 28, 2005

Harvard has it in for me

My brother sent an email the other day with the rumored dates of the New England Masters SCY meet in the spring. Unfortunately, the first day, Distance Day, is the first Saturday of my university’s spring break, and I have plane tickets to go somewhere warm that day. The remaining three days are the following Friday, Saturday and Sunday; I expect to be returning from somewhere warm on Saturday, and I doubt I’ll want to swim on Sunday. (I could be wrong, of course.)

This is unfortunate, but it’s probably the only time that NEM could get the Harvard pool: around Harvard’s spring break. And when I balance “several days away from the miserable New England March” against “a chance to swim a big, competitive meet,” getting away from March wins every time.

When I get a few minutes, I’ll need to start looking for another target meet for the spring.

Posted by pjm at 2:03 PM | Comments (0)

November 22, 2005

I must have wanted to do this for at least ten minutes

…because that’s how long it must have taken for me to fill out the entry form for this meet. Actually, maybe fifteen, since I had to use a calculator to figure out my seed times; this is a SCM meet (Short Course Meters) and almost all the short course meets one usually does are yards. In fact, the last time I raced SCM was in high school, where Boothbay had the only meters pool in our league. (Bates had a pool with a movable bulkhead, so they could swim SCY or SCM, but it was set for yards when we had meets there.)

Anyway, I used my times from last spring’s Simon’s Rock meet and piped them through the calculator to get some seed times. I have no idea how accurate they are, but I’ve noticed that I seem to be pretty close to the median in the ordered time lists, rather than closer to the bottom as I’ve come to expect.

Now Playing: Paint A Vulgar Picture from Strangeways, Here We Come by The Smiths

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November 9, 2005

It seldom hurts to ask

I emailed the University swim coach to ask for help.

A. pointed out that this was unlikely to get me anywhere, since most varsity coaches have their hands full with their teams, but I figured the worst that could happen was that he just wouldn’t reply. I introduced myself, explained my swimming situation (bored and plateaued,) and asked for advice. I figure I need some combination of three things: new workouts, a long-range workout plan, and some feedback about my form.

After a long time with no response, I got email saying, yes, he’s really busy, but come to the Advanced Swimming phys ed. class three mornings a week, and he’d expand their workouts for me.

I’ve been to two, now, and it’s a good start. I’m doing the “advanced” workouts, and while the yardage is well within my range, the intensity of the workouts is a good bit higher than I was maintaining on my own. Most of the sets have 20- or 15-second recoveries, which is not much at all. It’s work, no question. There’s also a senior Mechanical Engineering major who is just about my speed, so I feel like I’m working out with someone.

The downside is that these don’t really constitute a training program, other than the progressive nature inherent in a class. Also, because the skill level of the class is largely lower than my own, it seems unlikely that we’ll be doing any butterfly drills, for example.

I’ve actually registered to take the class next semester. I can’t get credit for it, so it’s a little pointless, but I feel like it may balance things out somewhere in administration-land.

Of course, the coach mis-heard my name when I came to the pool on Monday, so he’s been calling me “Mark” for a few days. (It should be obvious, but for those who don’t know me, that’s not any fraction of my name.) I’m trying to think of a graceful way to make the correction, and I’m half tempted to just let him go; we both know what he means, after all.

Now Playing: Uniform Grey from You Were Here by Sarah Harmer

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October 15, 2005

Workout group

This morning I swam with one of my brother’s workout groups. (This is the team I’m registered with, but I’ve never met more than three or four of them before; one is required to be registered with a club to compete in many Masters events, particularly New Englands, and I can claim more association with them than with most clubs closer to either Amherst or Medford.)

Swimming with a group is both easier and harder than I expected. I am not the slowest one in the pool by any stretch (though I suspect that my brother and I were at the young end of the group, which tips that scale a bit.) I can keep up—but I can’t sustain the pace as long. We closed the workout with a set which involved swimming 50y free repeats, reducing the time by a second with each repeat until recovery time vanished.

(An extended aside: Swimmers, unlike runners, will do a set “on X” where X includes both the interval and recovery. A set “on 60” means a new swim starts every time the second hand makes a full lap of the clock, and a set “on 2:30” starts a new swim every two and a half minutes, regardless of how long the last swim took. A runner who reported doing 800m repeats “on 2:30” would mean they had run each 800m in two and a half minutes; they have said nothing about their recovery time.)

The first trick of this set is simply figuring out when to start; the math is more challenging than any single swim. Roughly, the first and second swims start on 60 (60s for the first cycle,) the second on 59, then 57, 54, 50, 45, 39, 32, 24, 15, 05, 54, 42… some time around here, I arrived at the wall after everyone else had left, so the workout was over for me; it was two or three more repeats before everyone else fell off.

In an earlier set, I discovered that my backstroke still has issues, and my fly is downright dysfunctional. But that comes as no surprise.

(This is also the place with the optimistic scale. It told me I am nearly half a cat lighter than last time. That may have something to do with weighing in before breakfast, of course.)

Now Playing: Tracks from Under The Big Top by Rosemary Caine

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October 7, 2005


Nobody is allowed to gripe about their workout when the man in lane 1 leaves his right foot on the deck with his sandals.

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October 3, 2005

Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny

There was, for a while, a theory in developmental biology which suggested that all species went through each phase of their evolution in the course of their development to adulthood. The theory—known sometimes, now, as “Haeckel’s Lie“—has been largely discredited, but I still think of it in the pool.

While I’ve made some gains in strength over the last few years in the pool, much more of my improvement has simply been form. I’ve learned how to breathe more efficiently, control my body roll, kick more powerfully, streamline longer when I push off the wall, and get more distance from each cycle of my arms.

As I get tired, though, these advances desert me in roughly the reverse order I picked them up, a sort of reverse ontogeny of my swimming form. I seldom let myself get tired enough to thrash the way I see some people do, but it would come eventually.

The point of training, of course, is to push back that degeneration of form, to be able to swim the length of ever-longer races while maintaining efficient form. To evolve, in fact.

Now Playing: Georgia O from Play by The Nields

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September 27, 2005

Turtle progress

The University pool is not much bigger than the one at the Amherst Middle School where I swam last winter, but at least they put in the lane lines. It was crowded early in the semester, but I suspect many students are finding it hard to fit undirected exercise in to the cycle of hard studying and intense relaxation. In the morning, there is always a lane for me. The lanes aren’t as wide as they are at the College, so it’s harder to split them. I imagine the University swim team practicing in shifts. All things considered, though, it’s not quite as bad as I was led to believe.

Turning up regularly is paying off. I frequently feel sluggish or tired during the warm-up, but I’m making it through slightly longer sets again. Sometimes, early in the main set, I’ll find my hands fidgeting between repeats, waiting to pull on the water again.

I note this kind of subtle changes because I don’t time most of my repeats, so it’s not easy for me to see progress beyond what I can feel. It’s very easy to see progress in running, but for me, not so much so in swimming. I can only check how I feel completing certain sets, and pay attention to my form. It pays not to thrash around, so I’ve been concentrating on smoothing out my stroke and maintaining good body position, and that gets me through the sets quickly enough.

I’m thinking about asking the University coach for some help. I’m too advanced for the PE swim classes, I think, but I could probably benefit from some more direct coaching.

Now Playing: Fortress by Pinback

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August 24, 2005

Like running, but not

I realized today (eight, nine, turn) that the reason swimming is so different for me than running (ten, eleven, turn) is that it’s not really like running at all—it’s like steeplechasing (eight, nine, turn.) You hit a consistent number of strokes/strides, then perform a quick gymnastic maneuver before getting back into your stroke/stride as efficiently as possible. The pool I’ve been in introduces another quirk—a current which makes “down” and “back” a different number of strokes. Still, it’s pretty fun to watch the wall going by when you can do 25m in eight strokes.

I’ve also re-discovered that one of the growth phases in any racing sport is finding a distinction between “hard” and “easy.” The distinction eventually gets refined into various stages of “hard,” including one which focuses on the balance point between “pleasantly difficult” and “painful,” but that first step of “hard” and “easy” is the fundamental one. I did a workout this afternoon with only three reps: 600m, 400m, and 200m. They broke up, though, into hard/easy sections; the 600m, for example, went 50m hard, 50m easy, 100m hard, 100m easy, 150m hard, 150m easy. It’s an accomplishment, for me, just to do the workout; to have a “hard” pace which is different from “just get down the pool,” and an “easy” pace which is actually relaxed enough to allow recovery. It’s the same step I made, coming up to high school cross-country, when I started running variable-pace workouts and intervals, and learned about stress and recovery.

I doubt I’ll be in that pool more than once or twice more, due to their closing next Wednesday and my varied schedule before then. No tragedy, that. It’s been very convenient to have a pool so close to us (it’s barely a five-minute walk) and the fee for the pass is very reasonable, but there’s no dedicated lap-swim time and unless the pool is largely empty, I’m constantly having to steer around someone else (i.e. a clump of frolicking kids during “Adult Only” hours, or, on at least one occasion, the “lifeguards” goofing off.) And there’s the nonsensical “clear the pool every 50 minutes” rule/law/silliness. Maybe if they plopped in some lane lines (the hooks are there, in the wall,) it would be more usable, but the fact is they aren’t set up for lap swimmers, the same way my night school wasn’t set up to prepare students for graduate programs.

Now Playing: Girl by The Blueskins

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August 23, 2005

Short pool

Even if it is, in fact, a state law and not just a pool rule, that just makes it a silly law instead of a silly rule.

(Background: I had just turned into the final lap of a 2000m workout when the lifeguards whistled me out; they were clearing the pool as they do every 50 minutes. Good thing I wasn’t trying to do a 3000m set?!?)

(And, I might add, these lifeguards do not inspire one to follow rules obediently. On which more later, if I still feel peeved.)

Posted by pjm at 5:38 PM | Comments (1)

August 19, 2005

Long pool

There is a park out our front windows, and at the other end of the park is a pool. We arrived too late to get much use from it, but since I won’t be in the University pool for a few more weeks, I trotted down yesterday to get a $15 pool pass for the days remaining until it closes at the end of this month. The staff was brusque and prickly as you might expect yesterday when I was signing up, and in fact, they were a bit difficult today when I showed up today, as they were kicking the kids out for “adult swim” time, to collect and use my new pass.

Practically nobody turns up for the adult swim hours. When they kicked the kids out at 4, I got in, and I was the only one in the pool until they closed at 5. (I didn’t swim the whole hour; nobody got in after me.) I believe the pool is 25 meters (not yards), aka “short course meters,” and it has a current: it takes me eleven strokes swimming towards the building, and nine swimming away. A 25y pool with no current is either eight or nine strokes, depending on how tired I am. I asked a lifeguard if it was 25 yards; he was uncertain and suggested 27 yards, which would confirm my 25m theory, since 25m is 27 yards and three inches.

The lifeguards were a crew of high school and early college age kids, and typically uninterested in someone who only went up and back in the pool, but the adult staff was fascinated with me. When I was leaving, the woman who had given me my pass asked if I was a “serious swimmer.” I’d only done 1500m, and a good in-season winter workout should be twice that; I was doing 2,000y to 2,400y in Amherst. I wasn’t particularly self-impressed, but I guess it made me about as serious an athlete as they ever see there. I told them I would be running more than an hour a day if I could, so half an hour of swimming didn’t count for much in my view.

They were still pretty impressed, and it clearly had changed their attitude towards me. Instead of being yet another person ignoring the rules (the multitude of posted and printed rules in that place is staggering) and making their jobs difficult, I became someone who was positively interested in improving myself with the service they provided, and they started telling me which hours were the best times to come and have the pool to myself, which is actually very useful information. I also suspect they’re overlooking some of the more inconvenient rules for me, like the one which would appear to keep me from leaving my pull buoy, kickboard, paddles, etc. on the wall while I’m not using them.

Now Playing: The Shore and Stars by Austin Hartley-Leonard

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August 3, 2005


If I was running these days, I wouldn’t be.

As I waded back to shore at Puffer’s Pond yesterday afternoon, I stubbed my toes on a rock—not particularly hard, I thought, but I did trip and splash.

By an hour or two later, the second toe of my right foot (yes, the lame paw) was looking bruised, and by bedtime about half the toe was an attractive grape color. I iced it a bit, then taped it to the third toe and hoped for the best.

It seems likely that there’s some tendon damage; at worst, it may be broken. It’s not aching in quite the same way this morning as it did last night, so I’m hoping the bruise dissipates and I can stop taping it after a few more days.

Fortunately, due to a former phase of foot issues which I thought might be helped by taping, I have a lot of athletic tape around.

Now Playing: Insomnia And The Hole In The Universe from Secret Samadhi by Live

Posted by pjm at 8:57 AM | Comments (0)

August 1, 2005


There’s no way I’ll get all the mental posts from the weekend done. So, bullet points. I will expand if someone thinks any of these are that interesting, but somehow I doubt it.

  • I figured, based on map-site estimates, that we’d get to Montreal around midnight if we hit all our exchanges. But first, I got held up on 91 in Greenfield (before I even got out of MA!) and then beat my brother to West Lebanon by nearly an hour. We wound up bound for Burlington right around 8, and we still made it to the hotel by 11:30. Apparently the map sites budget too much time for crossing the border.

  • I don’t think I fully appreciated the degree to which Montreal is a francophone city. I snapped back into my travel mode where I don’t really expect people to understand me when I talk to them.

  • The swimming World Championships are much smaller than track. It’s clearly a big deal, but I’ve seen high school basketball games with more seating (and higher attendance). I realized that one advantage to sitting in the press section is that you have heat sheets and results handed to you during the meet. I missed that, a little. On the other hand, since the swimmers touch every 50m and stay in lanes, they’re able to split out every race and track progress in very fine detail, which is nearly impossible on the track (just ask anyone who’s tried to split multiple athletes in a 10,000m.)

  • We had lunch with the pseudonymous wolf angel, at a hip little place called Kilo. Needless to say, there will be no pictures posted, since the cats did not attend. We carped about everyone else’s concept of what IT departments are for. She delivered us to the top of Mt. Royal, where we gawked at the scenery before hoofing it back down to the Metro.

  • Despite the size of the crowd, when the Canadian woman was swimming for second in the women’s 800m free, it was loud.

  • On the drive back to the border, we passed an (ahem) exotic dancing establishment shrouded in smoke from a neighboring barbeque. We raced for the obvious joke… “That place is smokin’!”

  • The locals looking for a bar at the convenience store in Barre—having apparently closed down the Applebee’s next door—definitely had the potential to get me in trouble by laughing at them. I managed to contain myself.

  • After midnight, you can drive from West Leb to Amherst in an hour and a half, assuming you don’t meet any state troopers. (Vermounties?) Total travel time from Montreal to Amherst, including a few stops: somewhat less than 5:30. So, not as close as New York and Boston, but somewhat closer than Philadelphia.

Now Playing: Wildflowers from Wildflowers by Tom Petty

Posted by pjm at 2:15 PM | Comments (0)

Maine Powah

I think the first world record I saw in person was Michael Johnson’s 400m in Seville at the 1999 World Championships. Since then, what with the women’s pole vault going up a few centimeters every year and a few fast indoor meets, I’ve lost count of how many world records I’ve witnessed. I’m pretty sure it’s still in single digits, though.

As projected, we saw another one Saturday evening. Ian Crocker, who as a high schooler trained in the same pool my brother did, had nearly half a body-length lead by the time he reached our end of the pool in the 100m fly (called “papillion” on the scoreboard.) He beat Michael Phelps by over a second, and put up a world-record time of 50.40.

Somewhere around Iberville on the way home, my brother was telling me about the things the embedded-circuit engineers in his office screen on internal-use boards. One of them was a power contact. The label? “Maine Powah.”

Now Playing: Disturbance At The Heron House from Document by R.E.M.

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July 29, 2005

Real fast now

It’s time to depart on my barnstorming tour of the North. It’s as good a time as any to figure out if my passport has been revoked.

My brother has stopped short of promising a world record in the 100m fly*, but he’s definitely indicated that he expects to see one. I’ve seen world records at world championships before, and the first one—Michael Johnson for 400m in Seville ‘99—probably happened faster than this one (if it happens) is likely to.

I’ve only ever been to Canada for sports events.

* Eeugh: FINA does all their results in PDFs. The IAAF site is much, much better.

Now Playing: April Fool from Grave Dancers Union by Soul Asylum

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July 24, 2005

Drinking salt water

Yesterday, my father and I kayaked beside my brother as he swam the (roughly) 2.4 miles from Peaks Island in Casco Bay to East End Beach in Portland.

En route

(Forgive me for that photo; it was taken with a cell-phone camera from a bobbing kayak.)

Unlike this morning, when A and my father ran a road race in East Boothbay (not far from this sign,) I did not feel any stirrings of inspiration to try a similar feat myself.

Posted by pjm at 8:41 PM | Comments (0)

July 22, 2005

Better swimmers

The pool was crowded this morning. All the usual suspects were there, plus a few others. Fortunately, they had more lane-lines in the pool than usual; sometimes they’ll just put one row in and let the rest of us follow the block-line on the bottom. The lane lines damp everyone’s wake a bit (with no lines, the chop can get dramatic,) and allows two people to share one lane.

I was on the end, and you could say I was sharing my lane when I started out. There was a tiny little frog, no longer than my index finger, sitting on the gutter-shelf right at the waterline. His head stuck out, but the rest of him was submerged. I wondered if the chlorine bothered him.

As I warmed up, my wake gradually bumped him halfway down the gutter. Eventually he vanished; I don’t know if he went up on the deck, or under me and into the rest of the pool.

Now Playing: Merry Christmas, Mr. Jones from Bob On The Ceiling by The Nields

Posted by pjm at 9:21 AM | Comments (0)

July 15, 2005

The setback

Today is the one-week mark from my last run. I was feeling abnormally footsore after runs last week, and on Friday at the office I started getting the old feeling of tearing in my arch. By Friday night I was feeling symptoms of “classic PF” (as opposed to the bizarre PF-like issues I had last year) which included the sensation described by Ned as “like someone was driving a nail into my heel.”

So I stopped running. I went on a long ride in the Quabbin Sunday, carrying Gatorade for A’s run, and on Monday I paid my dues to use the town’s outdoor pools this summer. I’ve been in the pool three days now, and the other two days I’ve cranked to work on the bike. The pain in my heel is gone, but the arch is still sore. As long as it hurts, I’m not running.

Needless to say, this is frustrating; I thought I was on the way back, and I’d even run the annual July 4th road race in my hometown. Ten years earlier, I’d won it (mainly by running my competition literally into the ground on a hot day,) but this year I jogged it with a former high-school teammate who was short on training miles. I don’t think the race set me back; I don’t know what it was. And I still don’t know what’s wrong with the foot; everyone I ask tells me something different. I just know that it hurts, and running makes it worse.

On the up side, I’m encouraged by how easy it has been to get back into swimming. I thought I would have lost a lot of fitness, but I did 2,000y workouts both Wednesday and today. I’d do more, but the lap-swim time block is small, and I need to get there earlier to put in more yards. I’m hoping to work in some lifting, too.

This isn’t a long-term solution, though. The drawback to all these alternate exercise methods (swimming/lifting/biking) is that they require preparation and, in some cases, access to facilities. If I can run, all I need are my shoes and some time; I can do it any time in the day, from nearly anywhere. To swim, for example, I need to plan to be at the pool during lap swim hours (and, hopefully, not the “lap/open” block, which means dozens of kids who don’t understand lane etiquette.) I need to have suits, goggles, a towel, etc., much of which needs to be collected from various drying racks. And I need to drive to the pool.

And in August, when we move, any habits I can develop now will be disrupted.

Now Playing: Seasons Changed from My Friends and I by Patiokings

Posted by pjm at 11:10 AM | Comments (4)

July 8, 2005

Fear and loathing in northern New England

It seems likely that my brother and I will be barnstorming up to Montreal for one day of the FINA World Championships. (I’ve been to two World Championships in Athletics, the IAAF’s track equivalent, but never a swim meet I couldn’t be competing in myself.)

Anyway, since I no longer have vacation days, the roughly 36-hour tentative plan goes like this:

  • Leave work at earliest reasonable hour.
  • Meet in Hanover, NH (or in the neighborhood) and park one car.
  • Drive until Montreal, probably arriving at some single-digit morning hour. Sleep until…
  • Morning sessions. Rounds of a few events. I bet the swimming 1500m is nothing like the running 1500m.
  • Explore what parts of the city we can reach before…
  • Evening session. Local-boy-makes-good Ian Crocker faces off against Ian Thorpe in some painful sprint event. I’d bring a Maine flag, but nobody could tell it from the flags of a few dozen other states.
  • Leave Montreal, probably sometime in the area of 9 PM.
  • Leave Hanover for home, arriving at some absurd single-digit morning hour.
  • Sleep all day Sunday.

I’m thinking I may need some of these. Or at least massive quantities of tea.

Posted by pjm at 4:53 PM | Comments (1)

May 6, 2005

Another season ends

There was a sign on the College pool door this morning with exam-week hours, which can be boiled down to, “Only open while I’m at work.” Exam week is next week, so today was the last morning I’ll be swimming there for a while. Sometime in the summer they will have afternoon hours I can sometimes make, but for now, no.

Later today, I saw a terse “in memoriam” note on the College’s website for “Henry Dunbar ‘44.” If I have my connections right, that was “Hank” Dunbar, the swim coach when I arrived at the College. My brother, who swam in the same conference, knew him as the coach who walked the deck with his pant-legs rolled up and gum-boots on. The collection of photos and All-American plaques in the upper gallery of the pool is named The Dunbar Gallery now, so I have been swimming under his name for a while now; unless things have changed, the crew has a boat named for him as well, since he was a former coach of that team.

I don’t think I ever talked to Hank, but my first-year roommate, a swimmer, was recruited by him and was sad to see him retire after that first season. He was a strong personality, for certain.

Posted by pjm at 3:13 PM | Comments (2)

April 13, 2005


Dear pjm,

We’re happy to hear of your attempts to involve us more in your exercise efforts. That little run on Tuesday morning was quite refreshing, and the new shoes are quite nice to us.

That said, we’re more than a little sore today. We appreciate the swimming workout this morning, but alleviating soreness through more work is not, shall we say, the most logical route. You may want to get off your little anti-pill-enabled-exercise high horse and try some Vitamin I. You can make as many jokes as you please about being “still a teenager in hex,” but you are getting older.

What’s more, the swimming might be more effective if you kicked the low-grade cold and trained the new blood some more.

Perhaps you should consider riding to work rather than running tomorrow. Think of it as friendly advice, but think of it, OK?

Your legs

P.S. Could you have a talk with your back? It won’t stop whining. It’s annoying.

Now Playing: Columbus from Heyday by The Church

Posted by pjm at 3:46 PM | Comments (0)

April 11, 2005

Row upon row

The NEM-SCY meet handles results distribution by printing out some 140 pages of sticky labels (three columns, ten rows) with everyone’s results, sorted by swimmer’s name. I downloaded the PDF tonight to take a look. Three swimmers with my last name occupy five rows plus: sixteen marks. One is mine. Six go to a distant relative in Rhode Island. The remaining nine, over half the total, are my brother.

I say, next year let’s hunt up a fourth and enter as our own team.

Now Playing: What Are You Waiting For? from Back to Me by Kathleen Edwards

Posted by pjm at 7:55 PM | Comments (0)

April 3, 2005

Positive split, negative effort

Runners have a term, negative split, which means to cover the second half of a distance faster than the first half. (Unfortunately, it’s only easy to explain why it’s “negative” with calculus.) I wanted to negative split today’s race—swim the second 500 faster than the first. A careful negative split is a good way to race, because it allows you to finish fast; it’s also the best way to run the Boston Marathon, because it leaves you strong for the Newton hills. I reminded myself of that as I stretched and fidgeted behind the blocks waiting for the race. And I remembered my brother’s pacing advice, which was “comfortably fast.”

I got a good start and kept my goggles on. The first lap doesn’t count, because the block start gives you a pretty big advantage. I didn’t see the counter my brother was dipping in at his end of the pool; I think he kept it out for a few laps to let me settle. Or maybe I wasn’t looking up enough to see it; he was probably swinging it side to side, which is our code for “back off.” I was out pretty quickly, twelve seconds ahead of my intended pace at 200y, but I didn’t know that. I was in an end lane, so there was only one swimmer beside me, and I put half a length on him in that 200.

I settled pretty well, and felt quite good through halfway. I knew by the time I reached the 500y point that I was going to finish without blowing up completely, which was reassuring. I also knew it was time to get cracking. At 6:51, I was still nine seconds ahead of pace, but I’d dropped three seconds in the last three laps, and now the counter was dipping up and down, the code for “push harder.”

OK, no worries. I’m negative splitting. I started what I hoped would be a Culpepper-esque drive for the finish. Alan Culpepper, who won the Olympic Marathon Trials last February, has a way of building his pace up gradually from a long way out, so he’s at a flat-out sprint by the finish. There’s never a big move, just a continual raising of the stakes. That was how I started working: just push a little more, each lap.

That worked for about three laps. By the fourth it was clear that my lane neighbor was negative splitting much more effectively than I was. He was picking up ground on me again. I figured out afterward that he had a rival on his other side that he was trying to catch, but I wanted to hold him off. One or two laps later it was clear that I wasn’t going to manage that; I was turning faster, and actually gaining some ground on my turns, but he was just plain swimming faster, and my arms couldn’t pull all the water they could reach.

I kept pushing, though. At about 800y I realized how people could swim so hard they puked. (I didn’t; I just identified for a moment.) But just 200 to go, and I’ve done so many 200s.

I wound up with a good last 100, and finished in 13:49.18, beating my seed time by almost eleven seconds. I was, in fact, last in my age group, but with a surprise: I was 9th, not 7th, and quite close to 8th. I was seeded over a minute and a half behind, but some slower seeds had been slipped in since they printed the psych sheets. So I did both better and worse than I had expected. I was particularly pleased with my 6:51/6:58 halves; just a year ago, I swam 6:49 for a straight 500 at this meet. And even though I hadn’t managed the negative split, I’d definitely pushed much harder in the second half than I had in the first. It was a negative-split effort, even if the execution wasn’t perfect.

My brother and I, between us, scored 25 points for Maine Masters. He scored more than twice as many as I did, though: he won his (our) age group in his event.

I think I’d do it again.

Posted by pjm at 12:55 AM | Comments (0)

April 1, 2005

One kiloyard

Because of everything else, I haven’t been thinking too much about what I have to do tomorrow. Specifically, race twice as far as I’ve ever raced in a pool. I only think about it when I’m in the pool, and the (otherwise empty) College pool seems about as far from the organized chaos of the NEM-SCY meet as you can get. (Think Penn Relays, if you’ve ever been there.)

I should be anticipating a bit, maybe doing some positive visualization. I should at least be getting mentally ready—“morally ready,” as I once heard it expressed in Russian—to swim twenty laps. I know I can cover the distance; I did it this morning. But this morning it was broken up into segments. (Including four block-starts, just for confidence.) It’s what kind of pace I will set, whether I will settle into something I can maintain, if I’ll be able to maintain form to the end.

This should be like a conference meet, because it’s the big race at the end of my season. But I haven’t really been looking it in the face. It doesn’t feel like the end of a long training buildup, either because my training really hasn’t been all that good (though, I suppose, better than last year) or because I can’t get that motivated about training for swimming.

At least this year I have a team.

Now Playing: Diamond In Your Heart from Spirit Touches Ground by Josh Clayton-Felt

Posted by pjm at 11:18 AM | Comments (1)

March 28, 2005


They posted the psych sheets for New Englands this weekend. I didn’t plow through and figure out where I would be seeded based on my times from earlier this year, since I’m only swimming one event. It’s really an exercise in masochism, anyway: in the 1,000y freestyle (“deep end,” since I decided to risk losing my goggles in trade for the one- or two-second advantage conferred by starting from blocks rather than starting in the water,) I am seeded 31st out of 50, and even that is something of a technicality. Six of us guessed we’d swim 14:00, so we’re all “tied” at 31. Some of us are sandbagging, and others, like myself, are optimists.

My brother is seeded fifth in the 1650y free, which was cool enough, but then I checked the sheets sorted by age group. All the four in front of him are under 30. Then I scrolled down to the 1000, and discovered that I’m seeded last in my age group by about a minute and a half.

Now Playing: Guitar Song from Strangest Places by Abra Moore

Posted by pjm at 2:08 PM | Comments (3)

March 25, 2005

It pays to exercise

…after all, I found a penny on the bottom of the pool this morning.

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March 18, 2005


In discussion on a listserv, the difference between being dedicated and being committed came up. It’s a breakfast metaphor: the chicken is dedicated, but the pig is committed.

Yesterday I sent in my entry for the NEM-SCY meet, and I committed myself to swimming longer without stopping than I have before (that I can remember.) I decided to skip the big weekend, since they moved most of my events to Friday; on Saturday, I would have had to swim 200br and 100fr and hope for a relay, which didn’t seem worth the drive in to Boston and back. Maybe next year, when I’ll pretty much be there. Instead, I’m signed up for the 1,000fr on “distance day,” the first Saturday. I seeded myself at 14:00, using the 6:40 500 I swam the other week as a gauge. I figure I can do two sevens. I hope.

I have two weeks from tomorrow. And I just read, on the CD I’m preparing, about the “Porsolt Test”:

The Porsolt test (also called the forced swim test) was originally developed for screening new antidepressants. Rodents are placed in tanks filled with water for about 5 minutes and the amount of time spent swimming (escape behavior) versus floating (behavioral despair or “giving up”), as well as the latency to first float is recorded. The sooner that an individual floats is an indication of depressive-like symptoms.

Cheerful. I’m not sure what that says about my pool time, but I don’t like it very much. What does it mean if the subject throws himself in the tank?

My brother is swimming the 1650fr on distance day, so we agreed we would trade off lap-counting. We’d both rather have someone we know doing the lap-counting; he told me a story of having his counter forget his race once.

Now Playing: The Ugly Underneath from Nonsuch by XTC

Posted by pjm at 2:04 PM | Comments (0)

March 8, 2005

Beat your age

I was talking with one of the other competitors at the meet this weekend. He’d turned 70 in January and was looking forward to being top dog in a new age group. (This is how you can recognize successful masters athletes: they look forward to birthdays.) He told me about one of his training partners and his goal for the 100 free: swim faster than his age.

Coincidentally, the previous weekend I had a short discussion with another reporter about masters sprinters who could “beat their age” over 400m. I think the hundred-yard swimming equivalent is probably reached by more athletes, but at my age either one is flat-out impossible. Even world-class athletes have to be well past 40 to start thinking about that sort of standard.

Look at it this way: to have beaten my age on Sunday, I would have to be 68 or older (more than twice my current age.) To beat my age in a track 400m, I’ll have to wait until I’m at least 55, and even at that age I’ll have to run times I haven’t seen since high school. These guys are really good.

Which made me consider that most of what I’ve done, both running and swimming, has been more the result of good conditioning and well-directed training than that sort of extraordinary talent.

Now Playing: Sit Down from Getting Away With It…Live (Disc 2) by James

Posted by pjm at 10:18 AM | Comments (0)

March 6, 2005

The language of achievement

Runners and swimmers use different language to describe their races. Specifically, the past perfective verb used to describe times. Runners will use the specific verb of their event: Paul Tergat ran a sub-2:05 marathon. John Godina threw the best mark of the indoor season. Swimmers, however, just use forms of “go.” So I would say, “I went 6:40 for the 500 free.”

I noticed my brother using this form a long time ago, but now I find myself saying it too, because “swam” sounds uncomfortable in the mouth. Maybe the root of the idiom is uncertainty about the past perfect form of “to swim,” which is one of those old, old verbs which declines by changing its vowel rather than with a suffix. Modern verbs (“to google,” “to blog,”) don’t do that. Swim, swam, swum. Sounds weird, doesn’t it?

Now Playing: I Send A Message from The Swing by INXS

Posted by pjm at 9:42 PM | Comments (0)

I could swim faster if I wasn't so tired (reprise)

Skiing for an hour thirty probably isn’t the best way to rest in advance of a swim meet, but the time was available and there was plenty of snow on the ground at Notchview. I did need to scrape the skis and put on red wax (for above-freezing temperatures; the last few times I’ve been up there, I used purple below-freezing wax,) but otherwise all was well. The four times I fell, it was mostly clumsiness, not speed. I stopped before I got too tired. I think.

Today’s meet was a two-hour affair in which I swam the same three events I did at New Englands last spring, but in a slightly different order. I seeded myself with my New Englands times, both because they’re my last competitive marks, and because I figured I was faster now, and it’s nice to beat your seeds.

That said, though, after the petty nervous agitations of thinking I was late (I wasn’t) and getting off-course (the directions called for leaving the Mass Pike at Exit 2, West Stockbridge, but West Stockbridge is not Exit 2,) I got a decent warm up and settled in with just one thing to worry about: getting three decent starts which didn’t involve my goggles coming un-sealed. (Details in the extended entry…)

Now Playing: Untitled (bonus track) from Green by R.E.M.

Continue reading "I could swim faster if I wasn't so tired (reprise)"

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March 5, 2005

Watch this space

This page is currently 404, but they tell me that tomorrow it will have the results of the meet I’m swimming.

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March 4, 2005


When I was researching my uptime rollover issue, I found several discussions which suggested that uptime is actually measured, at the kernel level, in units known (I am not making this up) as “jiffies.”

Jiffy turns out to have several definitions, but in the case of uptime it is .01 second, a “tick” of the computer clock. (It is stored in a thirty-two bit register, which means it will count to 232 or 4,294,967,295 jiffies, which is ~42,949,672 seconds, ~715,828 minutes, ~11,930 hours, or ~497 days… it makes sense now.)

The idea of the “jiffy” as a standard unit of measure tickles me. In this vein, I’ve decided to give up taking mass measurements in pounds. I’m now measuring only how much I vary from an arbitrary “marathon fitness” milestone, using cats as my unit of measure. Since the cat’s mass varies somewhat, the number is pretty fluid, but this is not a value which can be measured with great precision in any case. (It can be measured with depressing accuracy, but precision and accuracy are not the same thing.)

Right now I’m up by about 1.2 cats. Once I get my weekly mileage back where it should be, I should be able to trim much of that in a jiffy.

Now Playing: Wake from Yellow No.5 [EP] by Heatmiser

Posted by pjm at 11:40 AM | Comments (4)

February 18, 2005

Playing at a sport

Proving once again that I am not the swimmer that I was a runner, I am only now beginning to iron out my competitive swimming season. I would never train this way, running, without a clear vision of the competition I’m training for, but even though I’ve known since November that I would swim the New England Masters SCY meet again, it didn’t occur to me until this weekend that they might have changed the order of events (it’s a four day meet across two weekends, Saturday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday, though I only swam the second Saturday last year.)

Sure enough, the men’s 500 free, which was my target race last year, is on Friday this year, which means I can’t swim it. (Can I just use abbreviations from here on? Ask if you’re confused. Thanks.) The 100 BR has also moved. I’ll still do the 100 BR, but my options on Saturday are severely limited, since I can’t swim fly and my backstroke, while functional, isn’t much fun. It looks like I may have to focus on the 200 BR, which is brutal enough to make my brother, who considers it reasonable to swim fly in the 100 FR, grumble under his breath. If I was willing to stay over to Sunday, I could also swim 200 FR, which might be interesting.

I’m toying with the idea of going in for “Distance Day,” the first Saturday, and swimming the 1000 FR. They swim that and the 1650 on an entirely different day because they’re so long (especially with several heats) and boring for those not swimming or counting laps. My brother specialized in these races in college, so he’s likely to race that day as well.

Also, I decided not to swim unattached this year; I’m registering with Maine Masters, so maybe I could swim one of the Saturday relays. They’re always scrounging the deck for relay legs.

I’m contemplating going over the Simon’s Rock Invitational on the first weekend of March. Maybe they’ll have a 500 FR; either way, maybe I can re-learn how to start from blocks, and get myself some seed times.

Now Playing: World War 24 from Love Is Hell by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 11:12 AM | Comments (0)

February 15, 2005


I wonder if I can actually do this quickly.

  • Back from PDX. Lost sleep. Much work remains.

  • Photo gallery project is now in use. It doesn’t look like much, but compare with the old way. If you don’t see the advantages, it’s because you’ve never maintained a website of any size.

  • I’m thinking about a swim meet before New Englands. There’s one at Simon’s Rock at the beginning of March. New Englands might be not as simple this year; the events are on different days.

  • A student is having trouble with her computer. She took it to the university computer center and was told one of our disks caused the problem. Tomorrow morning I have to call the computer center and find out what their reasoning is. I think they’re trying to avoid doing a warrantee repair.

  • I could waste a lot of time reading (and trying out) the articles in this.

Posted by pjm at 7:35 PM | Comments (0)

January 14, 2005

Going nuclear

I have a particular shirt which, by long habit, I wear when I have to get up particularly early for a workout. It helps that it is bright red, which may be why I picked it for pre-dawn runs before catching early busses from Pennsylvania to NYC. But mostly it amuses me.

It comes from a time when I participated in the judging of a t-shirt contest. It is a race shirt from an early-morning run (6:00 A.M.) at an annual meeting of the Midwest Nuclear Tester’s Association—the MNTA Scramble. The name works on at least three levels in that context (the breakfast meaning, the running meaning, and the “avoid nuclear catastrophe” meaning) which is part of why I find the shirt amusing. But that’s only part of it. The real reason I like this shirt is the design on the back, in big block letters with a stylized atom (a little globe of a nucleus with sunglasses and a grin, surrounded by orbiting electrons) replacing the “O.”

It reads, “UP ‘N ATOM”.

What, is it just me?

Now Playing: Ode To A Butterfly from Nickel Creek by Nickel Creek

Posted by pjm at 9:27 AM | Comments (2)

January 12, 2005

Degrading gracefully

I have a gift certificate to the swimming mail-order place where I get my suits. I couldn’t figure out how to use it on a web order, so tonight I called them and discovered I can’t use it over the phone, either; only with a postal order.

In web design, we use the term “degrading gracefully.” I like it a lot. It means that you accept that not everyone will see your site in all the glory you intended, but you arrange for fall-back positions. You may not look as good in IE5/Mac as you do in Firefox, but it’s not obvious what has broken. And if someone arrives at your site using Lynx, they can still read your page, and it makes sense. And they aren’t made to feel like they’re missing out. (For example, there’s a built in mechanism for frame-based sites to show something to browsers which don’t support frames, but usually developers just put in something ugly, like, “You should consider upgrading to a better browser.” That’s ungraceful degradation.)

In a wider context, degrading gracefully is about being aware of where your system might fail, and being ready for the failure. It means not showing error messages to the user, unless they also explain how to avoid the error—and it’s even better to fix the error transparently, so the user doesn’t know what’s happening. From a customer-service standpoint, this is really the only way to approach things: you give the customer the most convenient option, then the next most convenient, then the next most convenient. You don’t offer them a “convenience or stone age” decision.

My experience with the swim store made me think: there are probably still some people out there who think, despite all the levels and layers of encryption, that it’s not safe to order on the internet. And some of those people may not have our printed catalog. They might find our titles online and want to order. Where’s the fall-back?

I wonder if it might not be a very user-friendly and graceful degradation to offer an order-form bail-out option. It would present a printable page which includes all the information the customer had already filled in (shipping address, items and quantities, etc.) with only the payment information to be manually filled out by the customer. They could fill in the payment details and send it off, about fifteen steps easier and faster than the degradation the swim store offered (I had to request that they send me another catalog.)

At the very least, there should be a PDF of an order form for the hard-copy Luddite.

That’s degrading gracefully. Online order to form-driven printout to PDF order form, and only then if that fails do you have to request a catalog.

Actually, they should have accounted for gift certificates when they first set up the website ordering. That would be really handling things well.

Posted by pjm at 9:15 PM | Comments (1)

December 28, 2004

Shoulder update

I did a swimming workout with my brother on Sunday, and did about 1700y, which is a bit more than half of what I “should” be doing, but about three times more than I’ve done in one session since Thanksgiving, due to the shoulder. Sure, a lot of it was pushing the kick board, but he also showed me the three different “sculling” drills and I did quite a bit of that. Sculling involves hauling oneself down the pool without, say, moving one’s arms above the elbow. I think of it as proof that you actually can get somewhere with a lot of hand-waving.

The three drills focus on hand position at the catch (hands out), halfway through the stroke (hands at shoulder level) and at the end of the stroke (hands at waist level.) They really load your forearms. He showed me how the catch involves loading a series of muscles from forearms down to the shoulders, and since all of them are pulling on the others, a weak link will eventually strain. Then he showed me how different degrees of torso twist involve different chains of muscles, and thus perhaps my tendency not to breathe on the left is responsible for me straining my left shoulder and not my right.

I wonder if I’ll be functional in time to try the One Hour Swim this year. I wonder if I’ll be able to do it somewhere I can get a lap counter.

Now Playing: Sound from Getting Away With It… Live (Disc 2) by James

Posted by pjm at 12:45 PM | Comments (0)

December 10, 2004

Pool running

Now, having said I answer questions, I need to answer Julie’s question about pool running.

Pool running is, well, it’s running in a pool. There’s a pretty good explanation (and a photo!) in this article:

For the uninitiated, pool running is simply running in the deep end of a swimming pool. No, not across the bottom of the pool. Instead, you wear a specially designed foam belt that allows you to float in an upright, running position. Once you’re floating, you begin to run-—like a cartoon character—-with your legs turning, but your body not going anywhere.

They’re a little off, because I do tend to go places; I do a 50y “lap” of the College pool in about four and a half minutes. And, I know people who prefer not to use the belt. One hitch is that it takes some concentration (at first) to stay upright and not lean forward and paddle with your hands; at that point, you’re not pool-running, you’re swimming. It helps a lot to have a lot of deep-water space; the College pool is made for water polo, so it’s at least eight feet deep at its “shallow” end; I can go end to end without touching down, which I can’t do in pools with a stand-up end. (I love the pools with separate diving wells; I’ll do laps in the diving well instead of in a lane.)

The College also has a tiny little “warm-up” pool, only four feet deep, which runs across one end of the main pool, behind the starting blocks. On more than one occasion, the coach would put eight or ten runners in there and have us properly running (on the bottom of the pool, that is, not floating) around the outside until you could see a bit of a whirlpool starting (a vortex in the middle of the pool, etc.)

Then he’d start picking people out, one by one, and tell them to reverse direction and run against the current we’d made, until we’d reversed it. When I think about it, it was a pretty good way of doing strength drills without a hill.

Now Playing: Mary Jane’s Last Dance from Greatest Hits by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Posted by pjm at 10:30 AM | Comments (1)

December 9, 2004

Getting girled

I got girled last night. This will take some explaining.

The phrase comes from A.’s girls, who apparently picked it up from the boys’ team. The boys got “girled” if one of the girls passed them on a run; this was, for them, something to be avoided. The girls picked up the phrase and rendered it ridiculous by applying it to nearly anything, including pedestrians of all varieties, pets, and slow-moving traffic.

When I got in the pool last night, one of Ned’s women was already pool-running. Within two or three turns, she looked likely to overtake me and pass me, but one of her teammates joined her and the two of them weren’t moving as quickly. They were joined by Dave, so that made four of us. Eventually, this threesome did pass me, so I suppose I was “girled” twice.

I’m not taking this too seriously. After all, the speed at which one moves in the pool, particularly when “running,” doesn’t have much relation to how hard you’re working, right?

Pool running is infinitely less interesting than swimming an actual workout. (Given how boring I find workouts compared to running, I might as well park my brain in my locker.) I have memorized the three relay teams with which my freshman-year roommate is still on the record boards. Soon, I’ll have the times down as well.

Now Playing: Mr. Right Now from If You Lived Here You’d Be Home Now by The Nields

Posted by pjm at 1:40 PM | Comments (2)

December 4, 2004

Busted, too

You know, I when I titled the original shoulder injury entry “Busted,” I didn’t know quite how appropriate it was.

I tried swimming last Monday. I made it through the warm-up, and figured out that it only hurt if I kept my elbow locked at the catch; if my elbow was bent as I pulled through, no pain. The evaluation from Thursday’s massage: it’s (probably) a pectoral.

I should note, for the record, that runners don’t have pectorals. They come from swimming or from sports which reward, say, lifting. Quoth the therapist, “Maybe you should try moderation.”

“Well, I have tried a new sport each time I get injured…”

I’m pool-running now. And biking; tomorrow I’m riding with the illustrator. This might hurt.

Posted by pjm at 8:24 PM | Comments (0)

November 19, 2004


I had to bag this morning’s workout halfway. It was supposed to be a 100-200-300-400-300-200-100 ladder, but I could feel twinges in my left shoulder as early as the warmup. By the time I reached the main set, I realized that I was trying to find a way to pull through with my left arm that wouldn’t produce a stabbing sensation in the shoulder, so I stopped. (Another rule of running injuries: if it’s affecting your form, stop.) I suppose I could’ve finished the set if I’d switched to breaststroke, but have you ever done a 400y breaststroke? I’d pass out from anoxia before I reached 300.

Best case scenario: this is just a strain from Wednesday night’s set, which involved a great deal of “pull” work. (For non-swimmers: A “pull” set involves holding a buoy between your legs, so you can’t kick, and swimming with paddles to increase the resistance your arms pull against. The complementary set is “kick,” which is where you hang on to the foam board and, well, kick.) Since pull puts a lot of load on the arms, I could easily have strained something. I’ve got a forced week off coming up, with the pool closed for the Thanksgiving break, so there’s time to heal something which can be healed.

It also reminded me of a joke in my running circles, that the best way to really kick a lingering injury is to get a different one. The classic example was the woman suffering from ITBS who tripped and broke her wrist in the fall, but discovered that her ITBS was gone. Maybe if my swimming is screwed up, I’ll have to go back to running to stay in shape. (That’s a joke. I think.)

Worst case scenario: a damaged rotator cuff is the swimmer’s equivalent of an ACL injury (or a torn Achilles, for runners.) They don’t just heal themselves. Past a certain point, I’ve heard it’s usually only fixable with surgery.

Now Playing: Love Is Hell from Love Is Hell by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 10:36 AM | Comments (0)

November 5, 2004


One of the obvious signs of getting “into shape” is that things which used to be difficult no longer are. Generally, for me, that means covering greater distance or stepping up to bigger weights, but it also means doing the same workouts with greater ease. Perhaps three thousand yards doesn’t leave me as wasted as it did two months ago.

A less obvious sign is a need for more warmup. When I was in high school, I remember running a mile of warmup for workouts and considering that sufficient—all I really wanted was to break a sweat. In college, we shot for two miles of warmup, and I got used to that. I wanted more than to be warm; I wanted to feel loose and ready to run hard.

After college, I ran for a while with a crew of marathoners who scoffed at any day with milage numbered in single digits. Warmup was at least three miles, with the same distance covered as cool-down after the workout. (On at least two occasions, this meant track work became a seventeen-mile day, with eleven miles on the track and six more of warmup and cool-down.) For most weekend road races, I ran as much or more warming up and cooling down as I did racing; at a 5K, I would run the course once for warmup, race it, then run it again for cool-down. I only skipped it for races like marathons, where the first few miles of the race can usually be used as a warmup.

The funny part was, I needed this. My body had become so used to covering great distances that a single mile really wasn’t enough to wake me up. (This is quite literal; when I ran in the mornings, I could usually cover a few miles before becoming fully awake.)

It’s not just physical. The bigger a coding project I attempt, the longer it takes me to wrap my head around it and make significant progress.

I’m seeing it in swimming, now. I have three basic sets, all around 3000 yards; two of them use a 800y warmup, and the third only 500y. And I’ve noticed that when I do the set with the short warmup, I can’t really dig in to the first part of the main set.

Now that it’s November, the college team has started morning practices four days a week. I will have to shift my swimming to the evenings, which is going to really disrupt my routine.

Now Playing: I See Monsters from Love Is Hell by Ryan Adams

Posted by pjm at 11:15 AM | Comments (0)

October 25, 2004

I could've used the sleep

There was no lifeguard at the pool this morning, nor did one show up in the half-hour I waited before giving up and heading home. I’ll get my workout in the evening session, hopefully; still, I wouldn’t have minded staying in bed. Probably they set their alarm for 6:30 PM, or something like that, which is my favorite stunt for missing the alarm.

A small group of regulars sat on the deck and grumbled good-naturedly while we waited. After being mistaken for a coach last month, this morning I was mistaken for a student, which was (briefly) gratifying.

Now Playing: Round Here from August & Everything After by Counting Crows

Posted by pjm at 4:42 PM | Comments (0)

October 15, 2004

Off the groove

They’ve been waxing the floors in the gymnasium at the College this week. While they dry, we’ve been entering and leaving through different doors. On the one hand, I don’t get to walk by the solemn, self-confident team photos from sports the College no longer contests, and wonder what happened to the players on the 1939 baseball team. (I’m in some of these pictures, but not in the part of the hall I pass going to the locker room or the weight room.)

On the other hand, yesterday I left by the back door and walked up the hill the way I used to after practice every day. The leaves are changing, and the view south from atop the hill was pretty spectacular. The College has maintained this view through some judicious land purchases and leases, essentially allowing the southern part of town to develop so long as it’s not visible from the campus. One of the results has been the preservation of a lot of very nice open space; another is this view, pretty much hills and trees straight back to the Holyoke range, where Bare Mountain and Rattlesnake Knob look back at the viewer. The hills in between, “Mounts” Castor and Pollux, were apparently named for twin maple trees on their crests when they were both cleared farmland. The northern twin is gone, or subsumed by other trees, but if you look carefully from Bay Road there is still a flaming red maple at the crest of the southern hill.

The hills look like a storm-tossed sea in a Japanese painting, or a seriously rucked-up rug. From here, there’s nothing placid about them, though you’d think there would be. I wonder how many students stop for a few seconds at the top of the hill when they pass by, and look out, and think about the world beyond the little microcosm they’re in. I know I used to look, but I can’t remember what I was thinking about.

Or do they at least look out and think, “Whoa.” Especially since they cut a row of tall pines on the first-base side of the baseball field, the view is pretty clear.

Jolted out of my routine, I managed to forget the half-full mug of tea I had left in my locker while I swam. I expect it will be iced tea when I go back tomorrow. I wonder if the under-dose of caffeine on the day is responsible for my current low-grade headache.

Now Playing: Weirdo from Between 10th And 11th by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 3:20 PM | Comments (0)

October 13, 2004

A space of my own

I have a locker at the gym now. Not just the empty locker where I hook on my own lock while I’m swimming, but an actual locker with my name associated with it in the database and a college-issued combination lock. I didn’t think they’d do that for someone not either paying tuition or receiving paychecks, but I suppose if they’re letting me use the facility at all, the locker is not a big step. (And as a dutiful donor to both the Annual Fund and the Friends of Athletics, it’s not as though I’m a charity case for them.)

I’m finding that not only do I feel more at home (and less like a burglar,) but I have altogether too many useful ideas about getting around work-project sticking points in front of the locker, where I have nothing to write them down on. I may need to stash a notepad in there.

Now Playing: Fair from the album “Whatever & Ever Amen” by Ben Folds Five

Posted by pjm at 9:14 AM | Comments (0)

October 8, 2004

Indeterminate manifesto

When I arrived at the gym to swim this morning, there was an orange flyer on the door announcing in block letters, YOU ARE MORE THAN YOUR ABS.

I got a grin out of this one; it struck me as typical of the deconstruction attitude, because it didn’t really replace the idea it destroyed. I imagined the hapless borderline-obsessive fitness-center-goer dumbstruck in front of the sign, thinking, “They’re right! I am more than my abs! I’m a mathematician! I’m a cook! I’m a musician!”

I also imagined the hard-core athlete, walking past and thinking dismissively, “Well, duh. I’m biceps, triceps, quadriceps, lats, pecs, trapezius, etc. etc….”

At some point in my swim, the thought, “Someone’s gotta tell Men’s Health…” crossed my mind.

When I left, I saw the sign had been moved to the front of the assistant football coach’s desk, so whatever the intentions of the sign-poster, the athletic department seems to be going with my second interpretation.

Now playing: Buffalo from Hologram of Baal by The Church

Posted by pjm at 9:54 AM | Comments (0)

October 1, 2004

Selective memory

I took a long time to get going, in the pool this morning. I’d say I was close to halfway done with the set before I began to hit on all cylinders; I was so far off, I did a few open turns (as opposed to flipping them.) I had to be a little more mindful of relaxing and reaching out in front of me to get a full stroke.

I was thinking to myself, “This ‘getting in shape’ business is hard work.” And I realized, as I thought about it, how much I choose not to remember about being in shape when I was running.

It’s easy to remember the fun stuff. The long runs where I was floating past the scenery and felt like I could go for days; the races where I stretched myself from the start and knew I was going to finish well if I could just hang on; the times I got antsy holding back behind another runner and seemed to be able to put him well behind me just by thinking about running free for a few minutes.

What I haven’t been thinking about was the dues paid to get there. Prying myself out of bed before the sun through the winter and watching my step for black ice. Clueless dog owners. The track workouts where the start of every repeat was an exercise in self-delusion. (You can’t look at the whole workout; you just put the repeats on the plate one at a time.) The weird chemical smell of sweat when I’m really, really depleted on a long run.

I’d tell you that this is all worth it, but the funny part is that I probably wasn’t thinking so at the time. Even in [the race I won][1] I don’t remember allowing myself much jubilation.

I can’t find the poem I’m thinking of online, but I believe it’s by Donald Finkel: “Interview with a Winner.” It’s in The Runner’s Literary Companion, and it ends something like this:

What did you win?
a chance

What’s next for you?
next week’s race

that wasn’t it either

Maybe I just want to be back in the game, entropy be damned.

Now playing: 3 Strange Days from School Of Fish by School Of Fish

Posted by pjm at 12:39 PM | Comments (1)

September 15, 2004


Students are so much fun when they’re up too early in the morning. Take, for example, the one I found pacing outside the crew coach’s office when I went in to swim this morning.

Student: Do you have a pen?
pjm: (looking in swim bag) No, sorry.
Student: Are you a coach?
pjm: No…
Student: (increasingly confused) Are you a student?
pjm: Thanks, no, I graduated years ago.
Student: (gestures at coach’s office) Do you know…
pjm: No. (Putting two and two together, getting four) Are you making up a swim test?
Student: Yes, but…

At that point, the door I’d just come in through opened, and the crew coach arrived, on time for a 7:30 appointment… this student was about to write him a note asking where he’d been, I suppose. I wonder what she’d think of the track coach in my day, who was so routinely thirty minutes late that we spoke of “Banda Time.”

Five minutes later, though, as I came out of the locker room headed for the pool, she was standing outside the women’s locker room, again looking flustered.

Student: Do you know the combination?
Student realizes as the words leave her mouth that the whole point of a combination is that people like me don’t know it.
Student: …oh, of course not.
pjm: Nice try, though.

She passed her swim test, so all is not lost.

Now playing: Radio Free Europe from Murmur by R.E.M.

Posted by pjm at 10:51 AM | Comments (0)

September 12, 2004

Note to self: pay attention

The other day, I noticed a curious bruise on my shoulder. Not really a bruise, because it wasn’t sore, but discolored. I couldn’t figure out what it was from, but figured it might be related to my return to the weight room earlier in the week.

Yesterday it looked red, like I’d been scratching at it, but I knew I hadn’t been scratching. The plot thickens.

Today, in the pool, I realized that when I reach forward with my right arm at the beginning of a stroke, my shoulder brushes my chin. It seems like more regular shaving might be the only remedy required here.

Posted by pjm at 7:48 PM | Comments (0)

September 2, 2004

Schedule shift

It occurred to me after last night’s swim that I won’t be in Puffer’s Pond too many more times this year. The water is still a comfortable temperature, but that won’t last more than another week or two. On the other end, starting next week, I should be able to get in the college pool on somewhat more reasonable hours. Relatively speaking, of course.

The ultimate schedule flexibility would be running again, but considering how good the PF was not feeling this morning, I’m a little way away from that, still. (Just for fun, today it’s both arches that are aching. Left foot, what did I do to deserve this?)

I had to double up on shirts today, riding in to work. It’s cooling off. I used to wonder why cyclists needed that bizarre article of clothing, the “arm warmer,” but I’m beginning to understand; my core is warm, because my heart is working (and because my core is usually warm,) and my legs are warm, because they’re working. But my arms, for the most part, are just along for the ride, and they’re freezing.

Now playing: Just Like Fred Astaire from Millionaires by James

Posted by pjm at 3:11 PM | Comments (0)

August 12, 2004


There was a dog at Puffer’s Pond the other day. This isn’t strange. The dog’s person was standing on shore, pitching a ball out into the water, and the dog would swim out after it.

Again, not too memorable. What I remember was the way the dog looked like an old wooden powerboat, particularly with its tail sticking straight up out of the water behind it like a flagpole as it paddled out.

Now playing: Check It Out from Play by The Nields

Posted by pjm at 12:54 PM | Comments (0)

August 11, 2004


After I swam yesterday, I took a chance and stepped on the scale—checking my course, I suppose. The news was not entirely bad, so I celebrated with jelly beans. Which may be counter-productive, but never mind.

Ever since I went to the pool last Thursday and found it too mobbed to get a lane, I’ve been in an exercise funk. I’m getting sick of swimming in the pond; I like being able to see my environment, and in Puffer’s I’m pretty lucky to see my hand pull under me. I also have to poke my head up every five strokes or so to make sure I’m not about to plow into someone’s inflatable raft, which inhibits flow. Yet the hours at the pool are tight enough to keep me from swimming there on days when I go for PT, which, as it happens, is three times a week.

So I missed a whole series of days, though I did walk a lot on Saturday. And I just can’t get wound up to get back in the pond. I bring my gear but at the end of the day I don’t want to thrash around the pond; I want to sit on the couch.

The PT Assistant this morning, aside from expressing accomplishment when she made my foot “crunch,” suggested I need to mix things up a bit. I think that’s what I was doing last winter, getting ready for the NEM-SCY meet; I also had a sense of purpose. But what else can I do now? Machines are on nearly the same limited schedule as the pool, because they’re at the College too. Besides, as I’ve noted elsewhere, I loathe exercise that doesn’t take me anywhere; I tolerate treadmills and can only run on the track when I have a specific workout to concentrate on.

The PTA suggested rowing, but it looks like I’ve missed the season on that one. (I laughed politely to myself when she said she wanted to try rowing; she does not have the long levers that pay off in that sport, even less so than myself.) I’d take out a kayak, but where would I keep it? I’d blow my savings account renting from EMS. (Assuming I’m correct that they’re renting some of the ‘yaks they’ve got down there.)

If the thunder I’m hearing keeps up, I’ve got a ready-made excuse to skip today’s swim.

Update: The sun came out. I didn’t quite have the pond to myself, but pretty close.

Now playing: Black Boys On Mopeds from Bob On The Ceiling by The Nields

Posted by pjm at 3:12 PM | Comments (0)

July 28, 2004

Peaks to Portland

People are starting to find this page with the search term “Peaks to Portland swim” because I mentioned that particular bit of lunacy in an injured-runner tantrum last month.

First, the disclaimer: I have no connection with the Peaks to Portland swim. I’m a poor source of information about it, and I’m sorry you all ended up here.

Unfortunately, the organizers (the Greater Portland YMCA, as near as I can tell) haven’t seen fit to put up a permanent web page with information about the event, so I can’t even direct you to a more useful website; this is the best I’ve seen.

The summary, for those looking just for an overview, is that a hundred or so aerobic monsters, sometimes including my brother and/or sister-in-law, swim about two and a half miles from Peaks Island in Casco Bay to the East End Beach in Portland.

This year’s edition, featuring only my sister-in-law, is this Saturday, unless there’s a weather delay.

Update: If you’re looking for results, as of Monday the only place I’ve found them is the PPH story from Sunday. I don’t know how long it will be online, though.

Now playing: Kid On The Train from Spirit Touches Ground by Josh Clayton-Felt

Posted by pjm at 1:38 PM | Comments (2)

July 22, 2004

Battened down

It’s not that I don’t have anything to say. It’s that I don’t find any of it very interesting. I’ve spent the day wobbling back and forth between magnetic resonance imaging and a particularly exacting sampler disc, and pretty much everything else that has crossed my mind seems either too complicated to get a grip on, or too trivial to talk about. (I know, that’s never stopped me before.) Maybe the time to think about things and the opportunity to write about them will overlap in a few days.

Yesterday, swimming in Puffer’s, there were sections that were cold, but there were other large pools within the pond that were as warm as bath-water from the sun, and I could reach down through them and touch the cold layer underneath.

Now playing: Happiness by Elliott Smith

Posted by pjm at 4:08 PM | Comments (2)

July 18, 2004

Big, red bugs

Saturday evening there was a family birthday dinner (not mine) featuring lobsters which, if not running free that very day, had at least been crated and floating live in the New Meadows river less than an hour before arriving at our plates.

I’m not a great fan of lobster (heresy, I know,) but I made my way through one. My younger niece, however, was not fond of them at all, even though she didn’t have one on her plate; she didn’t want to sit next to one (not likely, since the only non-lobstered plate was her father’s) or even smell them. She wanted to eat on the porch, and have someone eat out there with her, but since everyone had a lobster that wasn’t a solution either.

“Don’t tell her they’re big insects,” I whispered to my brother.

She was a bit happier when the lobster wreckage was (eventually) cleared away and replaced with cake and ice cream.

Now playing: Mr. Right Now from If You Lived Here You’d Be Home Now by The Nields

Posted by pjm at 9:45 PM | Comments (0)

July 15, 2004

Making do

I was too late to swim at the pool this afternoon, so I did two laps over and back at Puffer’s Pond. It was relatively chilly, but I was pleased to find that I was able to cross the pond without exhausting myself, as long as I stood for a minute on either side and let my head stop spinning. The fourth crossing had me flailing a bit, so I stopped there.

After two crossings (over and back,) I found when I put my head up that it was raining. I scrambled up the bank to put my towel and shoes under cover, then got back in the pond for another lap. There was no lightning, and I was already wet. The shower was past by the time I finished and headed home.

Posted by pjm at 9:59 PM | Comments (0)

July 14, 2004

Thinner than water

I still don’t have the well-trained blood I could have hoped for. At the beginning of the month, I was swimming 2,000-yard workouts without too much difficulty. Since I donated, I’ve had to push myself to make it through 1,000 yards. My form is fine, and I’m strong enough, but I have much less endurance than I’m used to; I just feel drained, and my arms are shaky for a while after I get out.

Tomorrow I am going for physical therapy for my foot. I still associate physical therapy with repetitive exercise, but apparently there’s more to it; on Monday the doctor gave me a prescription for something powerful they’re apparently going to administer at this PT place. Something that sounds vaguely electrical and ends with “-phoresis,” which, thanks to too many textbooks on genomics, I associate with DNA separation. I suppose it’s too much to hope for a freak accident which gives me super powers?

Now playing: Greeting Card Aisle from All of Our Names by Sarah Harmer

Posted by pjm at 7:50 PM | Comments (0)

July 9, 2004

Under the porch

A drawback to time in the pool is that you can write off two days of sneezing as the effects of accidental inhalation of chlorinated water. By the time I figured out it was a cold, I’d missed my window of zinc opportunity.

I spent last night largely on the couch, finishing one book and starting another. Watching the cat sleep, and have his sleep be disturbed by thunderstorms. Drinking, sometimes orange juice. Taking phone calls for (and from) A. Rebuilding my blood volume.

I hope my ears stop popping soon. I have a caching binge planned for the weekend. I want to hit everything left within eight miles of home (six caches) and make a dent in the ten-mile radius (eight more, but several are multi-caches.)

Or, I could just crawl under the porch and come out when I feel better.

Now playing: Judas from Wonderland by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 11:47 AM | Comments (0)

The man with the coffee

When I was home, I heard about the death of my high school swim coach, Denny Bunn, by way of an effusive editorial in the local weekly. I’d actually been thinking about Denny (we only called him “Mr. Bunn” when he was substitute teaching) quite a bit lately, as I spent more and more time in the pool. He was the sort of guy who made you miss him when he was gone, and even though he and his wife had left town for Florida several years before, we still wanted to tell stories—to wake him, I suppose.

We told about how he spent some time urchin diving in the dead of winter—cold, dark, dangerous work that Denny was not only overqualified for (we couldn’t say with certainty if, in his time in the Navy, he had been with the SEALs or underwater demolition, but we agreed that it didn’t make much difference) but seemed willing to do on a volunteer basis, just for the challenge.

We talked about how he took a few of us down to UNH one winter to go orienteering—one coach, three kids, and I couldn’t have had my license more than two or three months, so I was six feet tall when he asked if I could drive. He must have known.

We talked about the time we were getting ready for the annual 4th of July weekend triathlon, where his wife was the race director, and some of us did a practice swim in Center Pond. Center Pond isn’t very deep, created, like several inlets on this section of river, largely for the ice trade. Those of us who had spent the spring running were thrashing along, and Denny was playing; then, once, he porpoised and found himself nose to nose with a snapping turtle. According to the story, he then stood up out of the water to show us the turtle, which he had by the hind flippers.

The time we led him out on a big loop through some very rocky trails in West Bath with his dog, Nate, and I worked out that Nate had been on longer runs than I had. (That was before 20 miles became my gold standard for a “long run.”)

How, when I was living in Pennsylvania, one of my co-workers returned from the “Wife-Carrying Championships” in Bethel and asked me, “Do you know Denny Bunn?” One more connection in a wide circle of… friends? Teammates? Training partners? Accomplices?

“We” was always a different set of people. Denny and his wife didn’t have any children—none in the house, anyway. They adopted entire schools.

We didn’t talk about the cookouts at their house. (“The burgers are ready, are there any buns?” “Yes, two.”) Or mention how he convinced me that I could finish an Olympic-distance triathlon on high-school training. How he kept me out for two years of swimming despite my clear lack of anything like an aptitude for the sport; I remember a post-practice discussion on the pool deck which foreshadowed one I would have two years later with my college advisor, as he pointed out that quitting was probably the worst thing I could do in terms of my own stress level. How we had taken a school bus to Bar Harbor to swim against MDI, started the meet at some ungodly hour (9 PM?) then took the whole bus full over to Sandy Beach in the morning and ran screaming into the ocean. In January.

We never figured out how two people with such powerful southern accents turned up in mid-coast Maine and made so many friends so quickly. I suppose we couldn’t help it. We were wondering what we’d done to make them stay.

It’s been years. I imagine, in that time, hundreds more high school kids had Denny pass through their lives, probably with a bigger splash than he made in mine.

Damn, we were lucky.

Posted by pjm at 7:10 AM | Comments (23)

July 6, 2004

The beginnings of a thought on zeal

About two hours ago, I was sitting in front of the Hampshire Bicycle Exchange, skimming a list of open water swims and meets in July.

I’m a bit late, of course; I missed the deadline for the Bay State Games and I’m honestly not sure if I’d be ready, on Saturday, to do a mile (presumably in the ocean) in Ocean City, Maryland. Leaving aside the driving I’d be doing to get there, of course.

Between that and the new bike, you’d think I’m getting a triathlon season going, but of course, I’m not running. (One of the bikers at my former workplace, and there were many, once told me, “A lot of cyclists are injured runners.”) For one thing, aside from some specialized training (for the transitions) triathlon training is largely about doing a half-assed training program for three different sports, rather than doing any one well. It’s too much like how I live my life, frankly, for me to want to do that as recreation.

That said, the thing that really spooks me about triathlons are triathletes. (I can say this because I have actually completed more than one triathlon.) Not because of the many pejorative names applied to them in the track-geek sites, but because of the level of zeal involved. It’s the same with cycling, actually, and the problems are similar. If I wanted to be taken seriously, I’d need a new bike which I have no room to store, a wetsuit, and bog knows how many accessory bits. I’d have to speak knowledgeably about my transition times, using the “T1” and “T2” shorthand. Etc. etc. until you’re sick of it. I don’t care that much.

I want to ride my bike to work and back. Maybe I’d like to claw my way around one of the local trails that allows bikes, or do some low-grade trekking, but I can barely take care of the bike that I have. I don’t want to have to make a triathlon kind of commitment. Running is easy—all you need is a good pair of shoes, really—but there are even some people who want you to make a big commitment to that (the sport, not just the shoes) before they’ll take you seriously. I think I’ve earned my bona fides in that sport even if I pull back from the commitment for a while, but the zealotry in other sports makes me cautious of even trying them.

I think sometimes people love something so much, they make it difficult for others to enjoy it because they want everyone else to love it just as much as they do.

Swimming’s pretty easy that way. I’ve liked the reception I’ve had there, though I haven’t spent a lot of time hanging out with swimmers other than my own family. The commitment in swimming is about learning the sport: getting comfortable with the strokes, building your strength and endurance, learning the techniques like flip turns and training sets. I feel like I’ve been given a chance to enter this sport with an incremental commitment, to get back according to what I put in and not be pressured for more.

Maybe I should go up to Jenny Thompson the weekend after next and do the long course meet?

Posted by pjm at 9:34 PM | Comments (0)

June 23, 2004

Summer has truly arrived

Puffer’s Pond is warm enough for swimming. I went back and forth, end to end, back and forth. I have no idea what kind of distance that represents, but it was around half an hour (give or take) and my arms are tired, which is enough for now.

Now playing: Kiss Me On The Moon from This Town Is Wrong by Nerissa & Katryna Nields

Posted by pjm at 6:38 PM | Comments (0)

June 16, 2004

Medical limbo

So, the doctor isn’t a fan of ESWT. “There aren’t any long-term studies,” she tells me. “You could go, spend $3,000 that’s not covered by your insurance, and have the problem recur in a year.”

She mentions surgery. I grimace. She adds that that would be a last resort… after a year or so. I add, mentally: Another year. She refers to “jogging.” This is not, in itself, a bad thing, but it does mean she doesn’t really understand what I’m talking about when I talk about running.

She thinks there is a rupture and/or adhesion of the plantar fascia. I’m not sure I understand what an adhesion is. She gives me an order for an ultrasound at the local hospital, to get a better look at the “soft tissue.” If the ultrasound is inconclusive, we’ll try an MRI. I haven’t figured out what she plans on suggesting based on the results of these tests.

It may be irrelevant, though. The hospital for which she gave me the paper doesn’t do ultrasounds on feet. (Just the more obvious applications, I suppose.) I’ll either need the doctor to intervene with the hospital, or send me to another hospital. Except she’s not in the office today. Nobody is.

I leave voice mail, and head for the pool.

Update: I can go to a hospital in Springfield, at a very odd (late) hour next week. I assume this is so I get a technician who understands feet. The whole thing of having ultrasound on my feet is making me identify, just a little bit, with Zeus.

Now playing: Into The Great Wide Open from Into The Great Wide Open by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Posted by pjm at 3:40 PM | Comments (0)

June 8, 2004

All about envy

Yesterday the pool re-opened for the summer. The hours aren’t quite as good as during the school year (noon to six, no morning or evening hours) but if I do summer hours at work, it’s doable. I can handle this until Puffer’s Pond is warm enough for regular workouts.

As I pulled in to the parking lot, I saw the track coach bounding over towards the track. I could tell he was on his way to a workout, because he had his spikes in hand. He ran a 3:44 1500m in Boston last weekend and looks like he’s in good shape. There was a lot of spring in his stride. I envied him so much I practically drooled.

After the workout, once I’d had the bad news from the scale (course corrections are due,) a father with his kid in the locker room asked if I was a runner. “You’ve got the build for it,” he said. That’s the only way to call it, since the “Greenfield Winter Carnival” shirt I was wearing gave no indication that it was from the associated race. It’s funny that even though I feel like I’m a long way from the runner I used to be, I’m probably a lot closer than I feel, and relative to most… well, as you get closer to the asymptotes, those incremental differences get bigger and bigger.

I’m trying to get I have an appointment to talk to a doctor about ESWT, which is a new treatment for PF. I’m not sure where it’s offered; I might have to go to Boston.

I’m thrashing in the pool again, thanks to too long away. I managed a mile, and I’m not too sore today, but I won’t get that far today. I’m wondering if I shouldn’t just bag running for the rest of ‘04 and really put my effort into swimming. Too bad it’s too late to train for (let alone enter) the Peaks to Portland swim.

Now playing: The Blonde Waltz from Us And Us Only by The Charlatans

Posted by pjm at 3:27 PM | Comments (1)

June 6, 2004

Asymptotes, or The Search for Perfection

In the absence of actual running, I am considering “ultimate performance” goals. Race times are quirky and unpredictable: too reliant on the race-day weather conditions and the course itself. So I’m concentrating on fitness.

  1. Find the “elbow” of the power-to-weight ratio curve.
  2. Reduce resting heart rate to 1 bpm.
  3. Increase max VO2 to 100. (VO2, simply put, is the efficiency at which your body is capable of extracting oxygen from the air you breathe.)
  4. Get drug tested.
  5. Calibrate best times at all distances to conform to the curve described by Pete Riegel’s equation, t2 = t1 × (d2 / d1)1.06
  6. Swim… ah, just read about Michael Phelps, who “can manipulate water like no human since Moses.”

Phelps’ flexibility is most visible on the blocks, after he hunches over and awaits the horn of the starter.

A few competitors shake their arms of nervous energy. The guy in Lane 4—reserved for the fastest qualifier—raises his rapidly but fluidly above his spine until the back of his hands meet with a “WHAP!” that is audible throughout the natatorium. Phelps repeats the motion, calling to mind a bird flapping its wings.

The effect is like Tiger Woods pumping his fist at Augusta National on a Sunday afternoon. You are racing for second. I can do things you can’t.

Now playing: God Only Knows from James by James

Posted by pjm at 11:03 AM | Comments (0)

June 3, 2004

Just in case you were wondering...

…Puffer’s Pond is still too cold for swimming. I checked, but only made it about halfway across before wising up. I need about five more degrees.

Now playing: Next Lover from Seven by James

Posted by pjm at 7:55 PM | Comments (0)

May 7, 2004

Get it done

That’s what the head track coach at The College (now ex) used to say. It was his reflexive motivational phrase: “Get it done.” At the end of the season he’d post results from New Englands and Nationals with the scrawled notation, “Got it done.”

I was thinking about that this morning when I saw the reading period hours for the pool posted on the gym door. Next week will probably be my last in the pool, because I won’t be able to make their sparse open hours over the summer. I’ll have to find something else to supplement my running with while I try to not over-stress my hopefully healing foot. Eventually it will be warm enough to swim at Puffer’s Pond, but I haven’t been so bold yet. Hypothermia isn’t my thing.

One option is biking to work. It’s probably about six miles one-way, mostly through UMass. And the week after next is Bike Week. Great timing. Now get it done.

Now playing: My Friends from End Of The Summer by Dar Williams pjm rating: 5 (of 5)

Posted by pjm at 4:17 PM | Comments (1)

April 28, 2004

Truth in advertising

I agree with Sherry that it can be entertaining to watch the search strings people use to find you. But I spotted one today which I just can’t let stand. If you’re coming to me looking for advice on “faster swim turns,” you need to move right along. The other week I nearly gave myself a black eye with my own knee while doing a flip turn; I think I need help as much, if not more, than you do.

Is there any way I can reduce where I come up in Google for some terms? This is why I haven’t mentioned a certain ex-WRSI personality with a show on Air America recently.

Now playing: City Full Of Ghosts from the album Bring ‘Em All In by Mike Scott

Posted by pjm at 3:37 PM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2004

I could swim faster if I wasn't so tired

I’m back. I could probably write for hours about all the minutia of the meet, from the mechanics of competition-pool warmup to the amusement I (apparently) provided the starters with my starting technique (which I can best describe as “graceless.”) I’ll try to stick to some highlights.

  • 500 free: I got an goggle-full of water at the start, but fortunately, only one. It mainly only bothered me on my turns, where I had to close my eyes to avoid my precarious equilibrium from being completely whacked by the sloshing puddle in my eye. It took me about three laps to get settled, and I was moving well enough that I never felt (as I used to about this race in high school) that I would never be finished. In the last three or four laps, I could see the guy inside me in lane six just ahead of me, and I hammered to keep up with him but couldn’t, quite. The fact that I still felt capable of hammering is a good sign.

  • I counted laps for the Instigator, who also counted for me. This involves taking a large plastic sign and pushing it down at the end of the pool to show how many lengths have been completed—1, 3, 5, etc. to 17; then instead of 19 both digits are blocks of orange: last turn. I used the sign also to telegraph to him his progress relative to some pre-set split times he hoped to hit. Side-to-side, no, out too fast. Up and down, yes, pick it up now. He was out a bit quick, less than a second, but then he faded. “Not enough distance base,” he explained.

  • 100 breaststroke: Another goggle-full of water, but in this race, it doesn’t matter all that much. All you need to see is the wall. I did a decently-good job of maintaining effort through the race. My brother said, “That looked like it was painful.” I thought he was talking about the race, but it turned out he was talking about my start.

  • Laugh-till-you-choke moment: in an attempt to refuel between races, I tried a U-Turn bar. Talk about frightening names for something to eat. “How did it taste?” asked my sister-in-law’s friend Heather. “I mean, the first time?”

  • 100 free I was in the third of… I don’t know, twenty-three heats? As usual, I was the youngest in my heat, the only one under 40, in fact. This time I got a clean start and had close competitors on both sides to race with. I thought I did pretty well, for the third race of the day. I should note that in this event, I was not last.

  • My brother missed his Friday heat of the 100 butterfly, so instead he took a liberal interpretation of the “free” in “freestyle” and swam fly instead. (Crawl happens to be the fastest stroke, so “freestyle” is usually the same as “crawl”—but not necessarily.) His time would have placed him fifth if he’d done it Friday, but he was probably more tired on Saturday.

  • The title of this post comes from a shirt I spotted on deck. I didn’t feel all that tired, myself, until I was driving home.

I told my sister-in-law afterward that from a March perspective, I thought I could have done better, but from a January perspective (when I started training) it had gone remarkably well. We agreed that I could easily have shaved a bunch of time had I been better with things like starts and turns. And, I observed, “I wonder how I would have done if I’d started training in November instead of January?”

I’ll have to see how running is going. If I’m still gimping around next fall, I might have to start early on my New Englands training.

Posted by pjm at 9:52 AM | Comments (0)

March 26, 2004

Off to the show

The home page for the meet is posting results pretty quickly after the races (I’m checking up on the family now—we have a first, two seconds, and a fifth, to date,) so unless I get on a public terminal and have a burning need to say something, that’s my news for a day or so.

Posted by pjm at 5:11 PM | Comments (0)

One for the team

I think one of the things I’m missing these days is a team.

I say this because I’m listed, for tomorrow’s meet, as “New England Masters—Unattached.” If I had known the organization of things before I started, I could have joined Maine Masters, where I know at least two of the swimmers, but it turns out that MMSC isn’t a sub-group of NEMSC the way, say, UMAMa is. There’s the group that swims at JFK Middle School in Northampton, but I think it would be a little weird joining a team when I’ve never dipped a toe in their home pool. (Same problem with UMAMa, actually.)

It’s part of the “misery loves company” philosophy, I think. If I’m representing something bigger than myself, I’m less likely to slack off when things get ugly. I have to hold up my end. And when I’m done, I’m more likely to be satisfied with what I did. By myself, well, it’s just me, and it doesn’t matter that much.

That’s how it was in high school, when I ran (and, sometimes, swam) for teams which tended to win more than they lost. (Our cross-country team went undefeated through the conference meet when I was a senior.) In college, for the most part, being on a team was about practice; we showed up each day and hurt with each other. Sort of a “misery loves company” situation.

When I was preparing for my (ultimately disastrous) Boston run in the spring of 2000, I put a bit of time into deciding what to wear. At the time I was running a fairly big website and was generally racing in a singlet with its logo and the domain name. But instead of running past a few hundred thousand marathon spectators with our URL, I opted to wear the company Corporate Challenge uniform because I was one of ten or twelve from the company running that year. I wanted the feeling of being one of several, even among the thousands who ran that year. (Actually, I would rather have worn the uniform of the guys I trained with but I had to take a paycheck in to account.)

I’m teamless, nowadays, and when I’m in shape to run, I race in my old college uniform. I had an offer to join the Dirigo RC when I wrote an article about them for New England Runner, but joining a Maine-based team while living in western Massachusetts seemed a bit uncomfortable. Likewise the B.A.A. and GBTC, both of which have some sentimental appeal for me (I know a lot of runners on both teams, and GBTC is, or was, the club of Bill Rodgers.) There’s Sugarloaf (affectionately known as “SMAC”), which is local but lacks a certain, uh, competitiveness. (In other words, I could slack off in a race and know they wouldn’t care. Not quite what I’m after.)

Tomorrow, I’m racing in a slate-blue (“navy,” according to the catalog, but it’s not like the “navy” I know) suit which is about as close as I can come to my high school colors. There will be three of us there, actually (and no, they’re not both related to me.) It won’t be the same, but maybe I can pretend for a few minutes.

Posted by pjm at 4:44 PM | Comments (0)

March 24, 2004

Pysch sheets

New England Masters has posted psych sheets for this weekend’s meet. A psych sheet is simply a list of swimmers in each event, sorted by seed time. This is supposed to get you mentally ready for who you are competing against. I am seeded:

  • 102nd out of 127 in the 500 free (the Instigator of this circus, by way of comparison, is seeded ninth),
  • 90th (eight-way tie) out of 124 in the 100 breaststroke—and I will not beat that seed, and
  • 188th out of 211(!!) in the 100 free, though I will probably beat that seed.

Not bad for a guy who hasn’t waited for a gunshot on pool blocks for thirteen years, I suppose. However, a bit of perspective: when sorted by age group I am last, or next to last, in every event. (I’m tied for last in the 100br but I’m not likely to swim 1:25.)

A phone conversation with the Instigator last night revealed that I will likely be sharing a heat, in the 500 free, with Arnie Green from Maine Masters. Green is a member of the Maine Sports Hall of Fame and was an All-American swimmer at Yale and a nationally-ranked age-group miler.

He’s also 72 and has recently had a hip replacement. And he’s only seeded ten seconds behind me.

Posted by pjm at 10:30 AM | Comments (2)

March 23, 2004

Bar fight

I got back in the pool last night. Among other things, I learned that my feeling of comfort and smoothness in the pool sprung mostly from just getting in regularly; with a week (plus) off, I was flailing and splashing again. Hopefully that will go away by Saturday, when I race.

A lot of the set last night was 50s from block starts. Starting from blocks in swimming is very unlike starting from blocks in running. In running, you’re using blocks to push yourself forward and slightly upward. In swimming… well, for me, at least, it amounts to throwing myself at the water in such a way that I arrive in the pool with my goggles still sealed to my face and a certain amount of forward momentum. Should I fail in the latter, I lose only a few yards of space on my competitors in the pool. (Since I will probably be the slowest swimmer in my age group in all three events, I will most likely be seeded with good swimmers from significantly older age groups.) Should I fail in the former… well, I don’t like the idea of swimming ten laps with goggles full of chlorinated water. So, I practice.

The result of my block-work was a red chest and an eye-catching little cut on the bridge of my nose where my goggles were pressed in to my face with each start. I look once again like I’ve been in a bar fight, but this time it doesn’t involve stitches.

Posted by pjm at 9:44 AM | Comments (0)