In defense of swimming

I had never swum a single lap in the pool before 2015. I wasn't on the swim team in high school. I really didn’t feel comfortable going anywhere near a lap pool. It intimidated me because everyone who swims laps seems so serious and so professional. I would go to the pool to aqua jog when I was injured and just try my best to stay out of the way of the real swimmers.

In the summer of 2015 I trained and raced with a hamstring injury and plantar fasciitis all summer, treating both with temporary fixes to get through the pain so I could compete at NCAAs, USAs, and World Champs. That fall I paid the price for not taking care of the problems and wasn’t able to run for months while my body healed. I was crushing the cross-training, but was getting so bored. Any runner who has been injured (so, pretty much every runner) knows this struggle. At some points I wasn’t even able to spin or elliptical because of my plantar fasciitis, so I was stuck aqua jogging for hours on end. This boredom forced me to get out of my comfort zone in order to try something new. Enter: swimming.

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The first week I tried swimming I would literally swim to the end of the pool and back before I had to stop and catch my breath. The whole concept of not being able to breathe freely freaked me out, which in turn made me panic and breathe even harder! Since my teammate, Shalane Flanagan, is apparently a pro at everything, she gave me some tips as I was getting started. I had to learn how to pace my breathing and plan out my strokes. From there I just kept forcing myself to do it over and over again until I slowly got more comfortable. I wore racing buns and a sports bra and alternated between swimming and aqua jogging. I figured this might signal to the lifeguard and other legit swimmers that I was really a runner and then they might not judge me so much for my horrible form!

Since it was an olympic year and I really didn’t want to lose fitness, I was putting in 2-3 hours per day of swimming and other cross-training. I bought myself a waterproof iPod shuffle (available on Amazon) that I clipped on to my swim cap so that I could listen to music and podcasts to help make the time go by faster. 

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Two years later, I am still swimming even when I am healthy and running 65-70 miles per week. As I built in more miles I decreased my swim time, but I never gave it up completely. Now I substitute a 30-40 min afternoon run 2-3 times per week for an afternoon swim instead. I still breathe hard and get a good aerobic effort in, but I can keep my legs feeling more fresh for my runs and save the impact on my joints. I actually enjoy my time in the pool and see it as a type of meditation. Sometimes I use the iPod and listen to podcasts and sometimes I just listen to my thoughts and enjoy the alone time. This last year I’ve been using the Nike Apple Watch both in the pool and for my runs. It’s completely waterproof and even counts my laps for me! I love tracking my pace and seeing how I’ve improved over time.

Getting injured is a part of our sport. It’s a part of any sport really. The way you deal with the time off and rehab can dictate how you come back from the injury and how much fitness you retain. For me, swimming is a way for me to work hard without the impact of running. And I think it’s a great skill to have as my body ages and I can’t run as much (hopefully this is very far down the line). 

Okay, I love swimming. But hopefully now you understand why and maybe are even inspired to try it yourself even if you’ve been hesitant to in the past. And if you do, let me know! I’d love to hear your swimming success stories on Instagram or in my inbox.

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