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It’s wintertime in the Northeast, and therefore it’s hard for me to convince myself that Yes, going to the pool today is an awesome idea.

But the truth is, once I get over the initial hesitation about plunging into a large body of water when it’s only 19 degrees outside, I really do enjoy swimming.

It’s one of the reasons this blog is named so, because swimming became my new form of cardiovascular meditation after my hips protested to the jarring nature of running. When I couldn’t achieve peace of mind through the open air, I dipped my face into water instead.

Sometimes I fantasize about creating some kind of swimming/5Rhythms hybrid. I haven’t had my gym’s pool to myself in a long time, but maybe one day when I do, I’ll create a water-based Wave. I mean, pool aerobics has been around forever, synchronized swimming is an Olympic event, and grandmoms are now taking Aqua Zumba classes. It’s time.

If that doesn’t work out, though, I’ll just think about how the act of being in water and swimming is its own little 5Rhythms Wave in and of itself.

Flowing: The art of adjusting to this new, wet environment, testing a pool’s depths. Where do my feet go? How can my arms support me? Where should my head be so I don’t swallow sea salt or chlorine?

Treading water.

Staccato: Treading water is tiring after a while. I need to move ahead! My arms need to go Thwack, Thwack, Thwack! Kick, kick, kick, Head up, head down. Freestyle! Breaststroke! Butterfly!

Doing laps.

Chaos: Doing laps is so repetitive; I go so far, hit a wall, turn around, and then hit another wall again? You’ve got to be kidding me. Where’s the fun in that? I need the ocean, somewhere expansive to move freely. Ahhh, yes, waves and currents, sloshing seaweed and sticky sand. Oh fuck, a rip-tide?! Shit, I’m going under, where’s the shore? Short gasps of air, choking, limbs thrashing.

Drowning.

Lyrical: Finding the surface. Air. Breath. Earth under feet. Allowing the calmed waves to cradle my exhausted body, strength returning in my oxygen-deprived muscles, arms and legs finding comfort through a combination of treading water and a gentle freestyle.

Taking long, luxurious laps.

Stillness: My body is one with the ocean. With my head underneath the water, I can hear my breath consume every cell. Salt on my skin, sunshine on my face, buoyant as though I’m in utero again.

Floating.

Ocean

Thanks to a sleet/snow/sleet storm on early Saturday morning, “long walks outside” have temporarily been suspended as a potential exercise option. The weekend is usually my time to bundle up, fire up my podcast-stuffed iPod, and head out for a long walk, but Mother Nature dumped just enough crap on the streets and sidewalks that any “walk” would be more of a waddle as I try to stay upright on an uneven surface of leftover crusty ice.

Day 1, Saturday, was bearable. I spent most of the morning/early afternoon taking down Christmas decorations and cleaning the downstairs and went swimming at the gym an hour before closing. Actually getting myself to the pool was a feat straight out of my previous post, having to drive down slushy streets and tip-toe over a parking lot of black ice before stripping down to barely nothing and jumping in a large body of water.

I don’t like swimming on consecutive days, so Sunday I woke up with a challenge. How to earn those endorphins?

With that, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to introduce you to the most desperate workout in history: Living room walking!

Materials needed: (a) a long living room, clear of furniture; (b) a 10-pound weighted vest, to increase the chances of actually sweating and getting a workout; (c) an optional set of stairs, to add some glute/quad action; and–the most critical element–(d) a TV, to kill the time that will seem to drag on forever and ever…and ever.

I walked back and forth, back and forth, back and forth for 2.93 miles. For people who run, that number is nothing. For people who living room walk, that’s a freakin’ marathon.

It could not have been done without support from one of my favorite people of the moment:

I’m looking at you, Felicity. And Noel, Ben, Julie, and Elena. A Netflix subscription with wifi streaming makes living room walking soooo much more bearable. Felicity is one of my latest Netflix guilty pleasures. I don’t know why I’m so into it. I watched it in college (her school years coincided with mine), but I stopped watching it after Season 2. And now, at age 31, I’m totally hooked. It’s so cheesy! Ben, Noel, Ben, Noel. Ugh, just make up your mind, girl!

I don’t know if my other current guilty pleasure is better or worse:

Only Netflix would introduce me to an Australian teen drama that’s essentially a TV version of Center Stage. Sure, there’s some legitimate dancing involved, but for the most part this show is about unrequited love, schoolgirl crushes, prima donna ballerina snobs, and rough-and-tough boys who are ashamed to admit they love ballet. I’m hooked. And–100% totally true confession–I used the show as inspiration to get myself to the pool on Saturday, pretending I was a serious student at the “Swim Academy” and had to get to practice. Just swap a leotard for a Speedo, pointe shoes for flippers…same difference.

So, there you have it. Living room walking with Felicity and Australian teen drama-inspired swim workout. I just need to add a Golden Girls squat-and-lunge routine, and I’m on my way to becoming the triathlete of geekdom.

How long has it been since you learned a brand new skill?

I am still gloating a little after recently overcoming a big fear of mine that required a bit of bravery and a lot of practice.

I’m talking about the FLIP TURN.

I swim about three times a week, and while I am always trying to improve my speed or technique or endurance, there are few new NEW tricks to learn. Once you master the act of learning how to swim (which for me was, oh, early elementary school?), you’re pretty much set. Skill acquired.

The last big pool accomplishment that had me smiling in my Speedo was honing the backstroke. Before that, I could certainly swim on my back…but it probably couldn’t technically be termed a “stroke” by any means. But with some time, practice, and patience, suddenly it all clicked and I could get from one end of the pool to the other, on my back, in a straight line.

One thing I’ve always wanted to do but was always too afraid to try was the flip turn.

Image source: Instructables.com

While I am proud of myself for being able to swim 40+ laps without stopping at the wall and putting my feet down, changing direction without the flip turn is a bit choppy and adds just the slightest little time-suck to an otherwise fluid and flowing workout.

I tried a flip once, back when I first started a regular swimming routine. I hit my head on the wall, swallowed a mouthful of water, and knocked my goggles off. Never again, I thought. I’ll just leave that to the pros.

But now it’s been more than two years since I took up swimming, and I’ve been spending my down time in the hot tub eying the “pros” as the do their laps–swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, FLIP! It looks so fun! So elegant! And man, it gets you off the wall FAST!

A few weeks ago, I had the rare opportunity of having the gym pool all to myself. I finished my normal workout and spent a few minutes afterward stretching out my back against the wall.

The wall. Hmmm…

With the place all to myself, I figured What the heck? If I flubbed up, at least I would be spared any embarrassment.

And I did flub up. I flipped too early and missed the wall, I flailed my arms around too much, I angled myself way too low and pushed my body not straight out but straight DOWN, into the pool floor. Ow.

I got water up my nose, in my mouth, in my goggles. But the place was all still mine, so I kept going. Flip, cough, adjust goggles. Flip, cough, adjust goggles. Over and over again. I kept at it until the pool taste in my mouth was overbearing and my nose felt swollen with saltwater.

Between that and my next attempt, I consulted the King of Consultants for Acquiring New Skills: YouTube.

(No, not to watch airplane videos but to watch people demonstrating the flip turn!)

Miraculously, I had the lap lanes all to myself again during my next visit to the gym pool (it was a sign; this NEVER happens). There was a couple in the regular section, but it was evening and the interior lights still hadn’t been turned on yet, so it was quite dark and mysterious, a perfect time to practice in the shadows. I dedicated about 20 minutes post-workout to flipping, starting a few yards away from the wall, swimming toward it, and turning upside down.


My two biggest problems were (a) getting water up my nose, and (b) getting water in my goggles. With time, I realized that this was happening because I was being too aggressive with the action. Yes, it’s important to forcefully exhale through your nose when turning, but not with such gusto that you end up inhaling on the upswing. I toned down the breathing and approached it like a yoga breath, and less and less water got in my brain. The goggles situation improved after I stopped grimacing my face so much when flipping. By keeping my face relaxed and not getting it all in a nervous bunch when flipping, my goggles stayed in place–no water in my eyes.

By Swim #4, I was ready to incorporate the turns into my laps, even though the thought of doing so seemed exhausting. I didn’t understand how so many people say the flip turns makes swimming “easier.” At the beginning of my workout, it was not. I became out of breath wayyy earlier than normal and was still dealing with some water up my nose and in my eyes. But I stopped, adjusted everything, and went about with my laps, trying not to pause for too long to regroup.

Just last night was my first full lap workout with real-looking/feeling flip turns. I finally found the rhythm, that sweet spot right before the wall when to stick my arm out in front of me and flip myself over. I had to stop only a few times when my breath didn’t quite synchronize with the location of the wall, but for the most part, I was swimming like one of the “pros” I envied just a few weeks ago.


I was utterly exhausted when I got in my car, but the thrill of learning something new gave me enough energy to smile during the drive home.

What’s the last new skill that you acquired?

Swimming is my primary workout and I love doing it, but here’s the truth: Swimming is hard!

I used to run, and–by comparison–that was easy-peasy. I could wake up at 5:30 a.m., throw on some running shorts and a jacket, do a few warm-ups, and head out the front door in a matter of minutes.

The prep work for swimming is not as straightforward (unless you are fortunate enough to have a lap pool at home).

First, there are–ahem–bodily maintenance issues down there to worry about before you go bearing your half-naked self in a public pool. As in, you just can’t go three or more days without using a razor if you’re going to be wearing a Speedo (you may be able to let this slide if you stick to the skirted suit variety). Fact: If you’re a chick, regular swimming requires regular shaving.

Next, especially if it’s winter, it’s essential to dress in layers. Can’t just head out the front door in your suit and sandals! So, first you must remove your ever-so-snuggly-and-warm pajamas and stand stark naked before wriggling yourself into your tight-as-skin swimsuit. Cover up with pants and sweatshirt, and remember to pack a hat to cover your post-swim soaking wet head. Wear sneakers to leave the house but pack flip-flops or sandals to use within the pool area at the gym. Remember your swim cap, goggles, ear plugs, and towel, as well as any other “tools” you require (e.g., flippers, pull buoy, waterproof MP3 player).

Exit cozy and warm house, scrape the frost off your car, and navigate the snow-lined roads to drive to the gym. Cause it’s 20 degrees out and you’re going to jump in a pool. Yay!

Once you’re at the gym, exhausted from shoving your lion’s mane of hair into a 2-inch-wide rubber cap, layers peeled off, standing poolside, the next challenge is to just simply get in the water. Goosebumps, purple skin, chattering teeth…of course I want to immerse myself in a large body of water!


Hopefully, a lane will be open for you to use. Unlike running, where the entire world is your domain, swimming requires a very specific space. My gym has only a few lanes (see above), and if it’s a busy morning, your grand plans to work out may be foiled.

I try not to dilly-dally when jumping in the water. I’ll stand on the top step, water up to my shins, adjust my goggles, and…whoosh! Like ripping off a Band-Aid. All at once, just jump in, entire body submerged. Try to catch my breath. Jump around a bit to trick my body into believing that standing neck-high in water is totally, 100% normal on a frigid winter day.

The first few laps are awkward, slow, and exhausting. My body acclimates to the change in temperature, environment, and motion. My rhythm is out of sync, my arms and legs not quite yet understanding how they’re supposed to work together. I take more breaths. I want to cling to the wall after my third or so lap, but I don’t let myself. The key is to keep going until you pass the threshold of initial awkwardness.

If you’re bloated or gassy or feel a burp rising through your esophagus, everything becomes 10 times harder. Your mid-section feels like it’s sagging toward the pool bottom, a lead weight wedged between your stomach and intestines. There is no such thing as a “walking break” in swimming laps. You slow down, you sink. Unless you stop midway to doggy paddle (which can sometimes be just as exhausting), there is no choice but to keep going, dragging your lead-like body through the water, which now feels more like a thick barley stew.

For me, everything finally *clicks* somewhere between the 7th and 8th lap. My arms and legs fall into the proper choreography, my torso no longer hands like a dead weight but begins its rhythmic rotation with each stroke. I feel like a child on a bicycle as the parent lets go of the seat…I’m doing it! I’m balanced! Oh, so THIS is how it’s supposed to feel!


I keep reminding myself to use my whole body to propel through the water, even though the tendency is to focus all my strength on my arms. But the power must come from the core and radiate down to the hips, legs, and feet and up through my chest, back, and arms. Sometimes I use visualization to remind me about this, imagining a pulsing golden orb in my navel with its light expanding to all of my extremities. The moment I let my mind wander to only my arms or head or hands, the motion gets choppy again. When the visualizations fail me, I physically touch my core, placing my hand against my belly button region for a second. Work from here, I think. Sometimes I need to do that over and over again; other times, the motion comes effortlessly, and I feel like I’m dancing in water.

The exhilaration I feel after a swimming workout is similar to that from running. I feel strong; my muscles ache happily from plowing through resistant water.


But now I must get out of the water, which may be even harder than getting in. The cold air hits my wet skin; I run to the bathroom. I wring out my hair, wipe down, struggle to wrestle my clammy feet into socks for the drive home. Showering takes longer than normal because I am forced to wash my hair to rid it off that icky pool smell. My hair, stressed from being shoved into a rubber swim cap, falls out more easily in the tub as I shampoo, and now my hands are plastered with strands of foot-long wet hair, which I can only remove by sticking to the shower wall.

Lastly, I reach for my razor and shaving cream and peer down. And thus the cycle begins all over again.

My workplace has a plate of leftover Halloween candy sitting out for all to grab at, and I was super-excited to see that it contained Reese’s Pieces, one of my all-time favorite candies (thanks to the Conehead sundaes from Friendly’s that defined my childhood dessert experiences).

Just as I keep returning to the plate to grab an extra piece of candy or two, November (what with Thanksgiving and all) is a good month to remember that life is like a box of chocolates leftover Halloween goody bag, and each day has something amazing to grab at and devour.

What am I thankful for right now?

• That Monday being Halloween meant all the local youth were out trick-or-treating, so the gym pool was completely child-free during my lap time. I could actually use my ear plugs for their primary purpose–to keep out water–rather than as a means to block out the sounds of high-pitched squealing and excessive splashy-splashy.

The sound of silence.

• For using my sister’s birthday as an excuse to carb-load during the most amazing brunch buffet of crepes, French toast, potatoes, waffles, and made-your-way omelettes.

• The mutual love of breakfast sandwiches I share with my husband, and the fact that he does not mind having “brinner” once per week. Related: That Bryan won’t eat his sandwich until I give it my trademark little sandwich hand press. Also related: The amazing parmesan/spinach/roasted red pepper (“Popeye”) bread from Great Harvest Bakery that I use on either side of my egg whites and turkey bacon and that melts ever-so-wonderfully in the toaster oven.

• That my mother has taken a sudden interest in proper footwear and is encouraging me/providing financial assistance to purchase foot-friendly shoes. However, I’ve been doing this for years; “Old Lady Orthopedic Shoes” is practically my middle name.

Dolled up weirdo in orthopedic walking sandals

• The magical $20 bill I found in my wallet this morning that prevented me from having to buy overpriced “credit card” gas. “Twenty bucks regular…CASH.” Yeah, you better give me the $3.15 rate. Related: OK, the $20 wasn’t actually magical. It was the “Here, treat yourself to something nice” grandma-secretly-shoves-a-$20 bill-in-your-palm money I had totally forgotten about receiving during the aforementioned family brunch. Ahhh, adulthood. Where “something nice” = paying cash for gas to avoid an extra 10 cents per gallon.

• Even after digging into all that leftover Halloween candy, a dentist check-up that ended with the relieving “No cavities!” exclamation from the doctor. Related: The hygienist’s comment on the marked improvement she noticed from me finally taking her advice and getting an electric toothbrush already.

What’s something you’re thankful for today?

This past week has been a little dizzying, and Bryan and I have been trying to ho-ho-ha-ha-ha our way through a testy George Foreman Grill, a cracked kitchen sink and the installation of a new one (shout-out to my dad, who spent about 2.5 hours squeezed into the bowels of our kitchen cabinetry), and the demise of Bryan’s 10-year-old Hyundai and subsequent purchase of a new (used) car, complete with test-driving vehicles on a windy, rainy Wednesday night in rush-hour traffic.

Whee!

As such, I’ve neglected to pay tribute to the honest-to-gosh things that have recently put a smile on my face. Of note:

Late-Season Tomatoes

As usual, our tomato plants showed promise at the beginning of the season, produced a few good ones (the rest were devoured by squirrels and rabbits), and then withered into nothingness somewhere around late August. We went on vacation in early September, completely neglecting the plants and never once looking back. Yet abandonment makes the vines grow stronger (or perhaps it was the 279 gallons of rain we got this summer), because earlier this month these guys made an appearance on the sagging, droopy plants:

And they were amazing! Firm, red, with very few seeds, and not the least bit watery. Bonus: We got to them before those darn squirrels.

Toddler Time

As I’ve already mentioned, I am in love with my friends Emma and Peter’s daughter, Bella. She is a one-person show, and she is so entertaining that I could see people paying to witness her side-splitting expressions, silly dances, and toddler babble. I recently got to hang out with her all afternoon during her 2nd birthday party, which featured almost zen-like gift unwrapping (surely to turn into monster shreddage-unwrapping by next year), train rides on Thomas the Tank Engine, and the requisite cake time!

(Not pictured: Bella’s grandfather leaning a little too far back in his chair and falling to the garage floor in slow-mo. We all held our breath…and then busted up laughing as he gave the thumbs-up from the ground.) 🙂

Our gift to Bella was Disney related, of course: a baby doll version of Ariel. I brainwashed Bella into acknowledging that it was her most favorite present of the bunch, and it was a success.

Two-year-olds don't quite grasp the concept of "Say Cheese!"

My impression of Bella

She played with the doll all evening, much better than the time as a newborn she broke out into tears when her momma placed the Mickey Mouse plush I purchased in her arms.

She even crafted a seasonally appropriate thank-you card for us:

Indian Summer

The same weekend as Bella’s birthday, Bryan and I went down the shore for the day. The forecast called for temps in the mid-80s at home, so we took the opportunity to experience Ocean City in October. It was surprisingly warm (what ocean breeze?!), so much that Bryan had to buy a pair of shorts on the boardwalk and ditch his jeans.

I was excited to walk on the sand without a beach tag and, since lifeguard season is over, pose contemplatively on the algae-covered jetty.

We intentionally parked several blocks away from the main boardwalk so we could get in plenty of walking time, making us feel a little less guilty for indulging in super-huge slices of pizza and frozen desserts. (It also balanced out all the time we spent sitting in traffic on the drive home, since the rest of the world had the same idea about going to the shore.)

Where one slice is enough!

We played a round of miniature golf and took note of all the migrating monarch butterflies fluttering over the boardwalk wildflowers. I wish I had a picture of the butterflies—they were all over the place!

Ego Boosters

I don’t toot my own horn much, but two personal accomplishments last week really made me beam: (a) I found out that I passed a super-hard exam I took last month that officially makes me an Editor in the Life Sciences (complete with credentials that no one but our little circle of nerdy editors will understand), and (b) a triathlon coach at my gym praised my swimming skills. I told her that I was interested in taking her freestyle swim lessons (intended to improve your technique), and she looked at me and said, “Nah, you don’t need that.” I went on to explain that other than childhood lessons at the Y, I’ve had no other training and was looking to improve my form. Again, she said, “I’ve seen you swim. You’re fine.” Maybe it’s because I feel like my hip slows me down and that it compromises my kick, but few times when I swim do I feel confident about how I’m putting it all (kick, arms, breathing) together. My little pseuo-panic attack back in June wasn’t really boosting my self-esteem either.

But apparently I’m just a smidge above OK when it comes to editing and swimming. It feels awkward, but I guess I’ll give my ego horn a little ::toot toot::

Nature Walks

Every morning during my walks through the park, I see the changing leaves, curious deer, and sometimes even a wild turkey or four. This will be a separate post to come, though. Too much excitement to cover in this already overloaded post!

Today marked my first-ever guest post (ever!) on this World Wide Web thingeroo. I typed it all up in my own WordPress account and then scratched my head and thought, “Hmm, now how do I get this to the hosting blog??” Clearly, I am a novice. 🙂

Appropriately, the post is over at the Healthy Disney site, which combines my two passions: Disney and health! (Many thanks to Pete for letting me know about its existence!) In my first guest post, I write about my experience swimming laps in our pool at the Wilderness Lodge.

Read the post here!

Sleepy swimmer

When swimming became my primary workout regimen in the spring of 2010, I stuck to two strokes: freestyle and breaststroke. When I realized that the leg movement of the breaststroke was doing my bum hip more harm than good, I became a strict freestyler. Every now and then I’d flip over and attempt the backstroke from one end of the pool to the other, but, um….I sucked. I couldn’t kick fast enough to stop my legs from sinking, my arms were all over the place, I could not stay in a straight line and would constantly drift from side to side, and I was deathly afraid of smacking my head on the edge of the pool, so I’d always stop several feet before the lane actually ended. It was embarrassing, because there were 70-something-year-old women in skirted swimsuits who were more composed on their backs than me.

So I stopped. I stunk at something, so I gave up. My ungraceful floundering coupled with my ongoing fear of hitting my head against a concrete wall was my excuse to bail out.

But, like any time one sticks to the familiar, things stagnate. Sure, I added some speed intervals and kickboard circuits to my freestyle workout. I even created a modified breaststroke in which I stuck a foam noodle over my waist and used breaststroke arms to propel my buoyed bottom from one end of the pool to the other. But one stroke is a limited repertoire. My hips were capable of doing the backstroke; it was my scaredy-cat brain that was holding me back.

So at the start of this summer, I consulted my #1 resource for swimming how-tos: YouTube. I watched clip after clip of professional swimmers demonstrating the stroke, standing in my living room doing backstroke arms, looking like a wackadoo windmill. I learned how to use a pull-buoy underneath my neck as a beginning step in getting the leg motion right. I took my newfound tricks to the gym and found that, although, they helped, I was still really slow and awkward. Who knew that such a relaxing, chill stroke could be so difficult?!

However, I decided to persist this time. I’d go to the gym, do my 30 laps of freestyle, and end the swim with 2 laps of a sloppy backstroke. My plans were foiled whenever the pool was crowded and I had to share a lane; no way was I endangering the safety of my lap companion with my wayward arms and legs.

Somewhere along the way–I don’t even know how or when it happened–I got good. Not great, not awesome, and certainly not master-level, but an honest-to-god good. I remember going from one end to the other–in a straight line–feeling like all my body parts were in the right place. I had speed. I ended just about a foot away from the wall. It felt right. Like your first time “getting” headstand in yoga, when all the weight is distributed in your arms, your core is tucked, and there is no pressure on your neck or eyeballs. Oh, that‘s how that’s supposed to feel!

I tried to break everything down and figure out exactly how my arms were moving, the precise flutter of my feet, but then everything got messy again. It seemed the more I analyzed each motion, the less graceful the stroke became. The trick–aside from learning to go with the flow (literally)–was to keep my core engaged, tuck the tailbone, and keep a steady drishti (eye gaze) just a few inches ahead in the direction I was going, using my surroundings (pool ladder, signs on the wall) as clues to when the wall would be approaching. Oh, and to breathe. (You would think it would be easier to remember to breathe when your face is actually out of the water, but I was always gasping like a dying fish).

So. Core engaged. Steady focus. Astute awareness of surroundings. Breatheeee. Sound familiar? Lil’ bit of yoga? Lil’ bit of instructions for life?

Granted, sometimes the best intentions go out the window in times of stress, no matter how hard you try to apply these basic principles. And I still have days when my backstroke looks like a game of Pong, me bouncing from one side of the lane to the other. But I’ve learned over the past few months that practice and commitment really do work, and when life knocks me down I’ll just get back on my back again.

Lately I’ve been discovering that some of my best workouts happen when I’m just winging it, when I leave the house for work in the morning with not a clue of what I’m going to do for that evening’s workout. I’ll always leave with a bag of random gear in hand–yoga mat, sneakers/socks, shorts, combination lock for the gym. Sometimes I use ’em, sometimes I don’t.

Don’t get me wrong, structure is great. In fact, it is somewhat scary for me NOT to have a solid plan, because I am normally a very.structured.person. I like to be home by 8 on weeknights, ensuring me enough time to stretch before bed, get the next day’s outfit together, prep the coffee maker, make tomorrow’s lunch. I wake up by 5:30 every morning so I can do my “routine”–more stretching, some breathing, a little yoga, a few hip exercises before hitting the shower. I have difficulties being spontaneous, because in my mind, I already have a plan.

When it comes to working out, though, I’ve been finding that I get discouraged if I start the day at 8 a.m. thinking, “OK, tonight you will ride the bike for 30 minutes and then do 10 minutes of abs and an upper-body workout.” My body doesn’t respond well to repetitive motion exercises like biking or the elliptical, so the instant I tell myself that’s what I have to do, I already start hating it. Nine times out of 10 I’ll still follow through with it, but I’ll leave the gym feeling meh instead of yeah!

As I mentioned in this previous post, sometimes just tossing a medicine ball for a few minutes sparks a spontaneous and exhilarating workout. So this week I’ve been making an effort to just wing it, or–to tie in with my blog’s mission statement–to go with the flow. Here’s what happened:

• I woke up early last Saturday because I thought I’d go swimming before my friend’s pool party later that evening (hey, what’s wrong with a little double dipping?). But as the morning wore on, it was clear that I was never going to get my butt to the gym; also, it was beautiful out that day, and I hate wasting sunny skies and summer weather by being inside. So instead of a bathing suit, I slipped into some shorts and sneakers and headed out for an aimless walk. Two bathroom stops, one organic juice purchase, a red iPod Nano on the fritz, and 7 miles later, I arrived back home, in just enough time to clean myself up and change into that bathing suit for my friend’s party. There, I played around with a kickboard in the pool and treaded water in the deep end for a bit. Long walk AND some light swimmy-swim. Score!

• With my hair still heavy with chlorine from the previous night’s party, on Sunday I headed back into the pool for a lap workout. But because I got a decent night’s sleep and had coffee recently infused in my system, my body was primed for anything but light swimmy-swim. A huge burst of energy came out of nowhere, and my normal ho-hum out-and-back lap routine turned into fast-forward, high-powered workout. In my workout log, I actually termed it the “Woah, Speed!” swim.

• Monday was probably the most satisfying of winging-it days. It was the day before the summer solstice, the weather was warm, the sun was brilliant. I felt like I had to honor this day and soak up as much daylight as possible (aaaah, the bittersweetness of summer solstice, the commencement of my favorite season yet also the beginning of the end of what feels like round-the-clock sunlight, happiness, and rainbows). I drove to the nearby Red Bank Battlefield, which is ever-so-gradually becoming my go-to spot whenever Mother Nature is dressed to the nines (Side note: It’s a national park, so there are rangers on site. Rangers, with government patches on their shirt sleeves, wide-brimmed ranger hats, and official-use golf carts to drive around the property. I love rangers! It makes the place feel so official. It reminds me of Ranger Rick magazine!) There, I threw together an impromptu workout of walking around the many winding pathways, climbing the steep steps several times, doing some triceps dips on park benches, and attempting to do a chin-up on a tree branch (FAIL, because the branch ended up being a lot higher than it looked).

The sun wasn’t ready to set yet, so I set up camp (plopped down my yoga mat) on the big lawn that faces the Delaware River.

I did some basic yoga stuff (lots of sun salutes), but I had on my iPod and the music was calling for me to dance. I did stand on my yoga mat and do a lot of dance-inspired asanas, but the sprawling lawn, glowing sun, sparkling river, and overall beauty of the day were just begging me to bust out some free-form moves. I’m ashamed to admit I was held back by fear of what others in the park would think of me, this girl dancing in the grass. My body ached to express itself in such a picturesque environment, and even though I felt insulated by the iPod ear buds that separated me from any passersby’s comments, I held back and did not dance how my body was requesting to. I moved and grooved with reservation; it was nice, but not 100% fulfilling. How come I think it’s acceptable for someone to sit on a park bench and play the guitar while singing along, but I fear that dancing is totally weird? Argh. Still, a pretty decent combination of random stuff that made me sweat and get my heart rate up.

• Tuesday morning, I was listening to my otherwise chill Grooveshark playlist as I did my morning stretches when Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” clicked on. Suddenly, I was on my feet and dancing. Hard. What was supposed to be a few minutes of gentle yoga postures turned into a spontaneous dance party, and by the end I really needed my morning shower. (Note: This happened again this morning as I was listening to Florence and the Machine’s album [Lungs] for the first time. Seriously, how can one NOT be moved to dance to “Cosmic Love”?! Note II: It’s the song they’re playing with the trailer for Elephants for Water.)

• Thursday night is supposed to be my non-negotiable hot vinyasa class. The studio is 2 minutes from my office, I love the teacher, and it’s one of the few studio class I get to take each week. I had my mat and change of clothes packed, but when I left the office I suddenly just didn’t want to go to class. It was insanely humid outside already. I wasn’t looking forward to getting home no earlier than 8:00 p.m., missing the group number of So You Think You Can Dance as I showered, and rushing to make dinner. I still wanted to do yoga, however, so instead I came home, took the laptop upstairs to my yoga room (which, given the weather, already felt like a hot yoga studio), and did a 75-minute Jivamukti podcast. I love that the classes are recorded live, so when I Om, other students are Omming along with me! (Many thanks to all the yoga teachers out there who record their classes and put them online; taking a “live” class is so much better than listening to someone speak into a microphone in a recording studio.) I still feel like I’m getting that community experience…plus it makes for a wild experience when the music the podcast teacher plays during savasana is the same as what my hot vinyasa teacher would have been playing at that time!

I was winging it, but that security blanket of familiarity was still rolled up under my knees, supporting me along the way.

Ever since having to give up running last year, I’ve turned to swimming as my main workout. My gym has an indoor, heated, salt-water pool with 25-yard lanes, and there I do my laps. In the year and a half I’ve been swimming, I have definitely progressed. I don’t fatigue as easily, my lap times have improved, and I feel more “in the flow” when I move, rather than just chopping furiously through the water.

I see my husband and friends competing in all these 5Ks and races and stuff and have been bummed that there’s nothing like that for swimming. (Typical triathlon relays don’t count, because swimming in the open water is nothing–NOTHING–like doing solo laps in heated, aquamarine pool.) So when I saw an advertisement for a duathlon (swimming and running) (a) with a relay option and (b) that took place in a pool, I felt like I couldn’t turn it down. My husband Bryan agreed to be my running teammate, but then once it came time to send in the entry form, I got cold feet and let it sit for a while. I don’t consider myself a competitive swimmer! I may swim faster than the 50-year-old man in the lane next to me, but then along comes a 17-year-old girl from her high school’s swim team, and she butterflies my ass out of the water. I swim because it’s a good workout. Because it doesn’t bother my hip. Because on 90 degree days it just feels darn good to leave the hot car and jump into the cool water.

Finally, I talked myself back into doing the event, mostly because I didn’t want to be a hypocrite for whining about there not being any pool-related competitions, and then when the opportunity arises, for me to turn it down. Also, Bryan sent in the check and kind of bypassed me in the process. 🙂

After a week of above-average temperatures extending into the 90s, Saturday, duathlon day, started out a chilly 56 degrees with only a high of 79 predicted. I reached into the back of my dresser to pull out the sweatpants and hoodie I thought I had tucked away for good until at least September. Even though the swim event was taking place in a pool, the pool was outside. Outside, unheated, and chlorinated.

This picture pretty much sums up my feelings about how things went:

That’s me, after my 500 meters, panting like a dog, dubious that I had really only swam 10 complete laps and not the 25 like it had felt, and way disappointed at my time. In my practice runs at the gym, I clocked in between 7:12 and 7:38 for 10 laps; however, the lengths between the two pools are not exactly equal. My time for this 500m was 11:02.

It started off the moment I jumped in the water–it was COLD. Not Atlantic Ocean cold, but much colder than what I was used to. I instantly felt my chest tighten, and I bobbed up and down trying to warm up. Once I started swimming, I felt OK for the first half of my first lap…and then I looked to see how close I was to the wall, and there was a lot more space to go. My body was so used to hitting the wall after so many strokes, and in this bizarro pool everything was just a tad longer. The gap in between where my mind said “wall” and where the actual wall was felt like miles, and with that thought my brain went into full-blown panic mode.

The sensation that resulted was probably akin to a panic attack…not being able to breathe, feeling like you’re going to die, just wanting someone to end your misery. It wasn’t exhaustion or panting, just more like someone flipping an “off” button in my lungs. I attempted to keep swimming at this time, but it didn’t last very long. I had stop several times in the middle of the pool, stand in place, and regain my composure. Then I’d swim, swim, swim, STOP AND BREATHE FOR DEAR LIFE. I heard Bryan on the side of the pool shout my name for motivation, and that made me feel worse, because I just could not get my act together, not even for my husband.

The first five laps were a mess. At the gym, I normally follow a stroke-stroke-stroke-breathe pattern; now it was stroke-breathe, stroke-breathe. Just focus on your breathing, my yoga mind told my floundering body. Visualize that oxygen pumping throughout your body, and the rest will fall into place. I could have done an hour of pranayama practice before this event; none of it would have made a difference. (Also, it’s a bit hard to do alternate nostril breathing while swimming.) I totally lost count of what lap I was on, and because I had my mondo earplugs in, I couldn’t hear what the timers on the side were saying. I could have been on lap five, maybe lap 15. I had no idea. I just keep on swimming.

Things began feeling slightly better somewhere between Lap 6 and 7. I frantically thought of a mantra I could repeat, and I stuck with Om Namah Shivaya, the only one that came into my head at the time. It would work for a few strokes, my mind would drift off, and then I’d have to corral it back in again. I also tried to focus on fluidity–You’re dancing! I told myself. Just move with grace through the water, approach it like the Flowing portion of 5Rhythms.

It was some of the crappiest dancing I’ve ever done, but the pep talks and visualizations helped me complete all 10 laps without dying, giving up, or requesting to finish the race in the baby pool.

As I said, my time was 11:02. I pouted and moped, but then I saw someone swim without once putting her head in the water, and I felt a little better.

An hour later, it was time for the 5K portion. Bryan started off strong, but the less-than-ideal road conditions (being forced to run on the sidewalk and dodge yard sale-goers) slowed him down and flattened him out mentally. He still ran a relatively fast 23-something, but it wasn’t his normal time.

We both sulked back to the clubhouse with little gray clouds over our heads and the Charlie Brown Christmas Song playing in the background (sorry, had to throw in an Arrested Development reference there!).

However, despite our mediocre times, we came in first place for the team category of the event! Alone, our times wouldn’t have gotten us any prizes, but together we took home a $20 gift certificate for the local running/sports store.

There’s no “I” in duathlon…teamwork rocks!

About the Author

Name: Jennifer

Location: Greater Philadelphia Area

Blog Mission:
SHARE my practice experience in conscious dance and yoga,

EXPAND my network of like-minded individuals,

FULFILL my desire to work with words in a more creative and community-building capacity;

FLOW and GROW with the world around me!

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