By Oliver Poirier-Leroy (SwimSwam)
Swimmers are an awesomely unique bunch. We smell consistently like industrial-grade solvent, count tiles for hours on end, and even in the midst of a massive week of training there is nowhere else we would rather be. Here are 21 difficulties that competitive swimmers engage in doing the sport we love:
1. You live in a perpetual state of sogginess. From daylight to sundown you are in various degrees of wetness. You never quite completely dry after morning workout, and then after the PM practice you are so bagged that you pass out with a wet noggin, leaving a nice wet mark on the pillow.
2. You know the 7th circle of hell is reserved for the swimmer who leaves the wall and cuts you off. During a meet warmup this type of thing isn’t terribly shocking or surprising – it’s kinda like Thunderdome in there – but in an otherwise empty lane? Yeah, no excuse. Bonus points if the swimmer cuts you off, and then does mega wide breaststroke kicks with a kick board vertically held in their outstretched arms.
3. “This top? Or the next top?” Swimmers value the precious seconds and minutes between sets and reps. One extra full minute of rest can mean the world in the middle of a razing workout. This mildly subtle delaying technique of playing dumb and word-semantics with coach’s instructions can provide that highly prized extra 60 seconds of rest.
4. Losing count in the middle of a set. With the great power of leading the lane comes the great responsibility of keeping track of the intervals, distance and reps. Every so often focus and attention will be lost, and the number of laps will be completed, instigating a game of “do I short it or do I go long on it?” Knowing that your teammates will often follow you regardless of choice, you’ve got an important decision to make.
5. We train thousands of hours in order to drop as little as a couple tenths of a second. Swimming is a sport that is measured in hundredths and tenths of a second. Races – especially those of the splash and dash variety – are often decided by fingertips. In order to gain that sliver of an advantage on the swimmer in the next lane we invest countless hours and laps into those mini-seconds that decide triumph and glory.
6. We smell like chlorine all the time. Apparently. There’s a meme for swimmers going around that says, “Chlorine is my perfume.” But like anyone who applies the same scent to themselves multiple times a day, we don’t even notice the smell anymore. (Unless you swim in a bromine treated pool. In which case, I respect you dearly.)
7. Pool-side water slides instill a bit of fear. For those swimmers that make a living off training in the gutter lanes they have another set of obstacles to steer clear of outside of their lane mates hands and heads: ladders, flag poles and yes, even the over-hanging lip of a water slide.
8. Uneven pace clocks are a fixture of every local pool. For those of us that are unlucky enough to be without a digital clock at our neighborhood pool we make due with the old school hand-sweep clocks. One of the laws of local public pools is that if there are two or more of these clocks, at least one of them will be off by approximately a second or so. The uneven pace clocks usually results in times going one way being especially quick, while going in the other direction results in some below par results.
9. Unrequested high fives. You’ll be swimming along, rhythmically cruising at a moderately awesome pace when – whammy! – a hand-slap with a teammate will send you hurtling into a state of stinging pain. Extra pain points if the swimmer donating the hand slap is wearing a paddle.
10. Teammates/parents/coach/lifeguard/random public swimmer who stand directly in front of the pace clock. When you are mid main set and you’re already mostly out of breath you rue having to waste precious energy and oxygen yelling at someone to pick a different place to stand, but alas, sometimes it has to happen. Yeah, it would be great if you didn’t do that.
11. Having an awful song on loop in your head for the entire workout. A good, high BPM song can help you get through a tough workout by distracting you and also giving you a good rhythm to swim to. On the other hand, when it is a song that you detest, and yet you somehow know all the words, it can make the practice feel even longer than prescribed.
12. We occasionally really envy swimmers who have mastered our “off” strokes. It’s hard not to watch teammates who rule at the strokes we stink at and not feel some envy. For myself it was watching breaststrokers with a mixture of awe and frustration, for the timing between stroke and kick was something I could never master. Even though we love and prize our bread and butter strokes, there are still those times where we wish we could excel at the other ones as well.
13. “I need to get out early.” Generally applied before the start of practice, this swimmer has already aligned a convenient excuse for getting out early. Reasons cited vary from too much homework, impromptu family road trip, or needing to let the dog out. Whether the excuse is true or not doesn’t matter as how convincing the delivery is (and how good of a mood coach is in that day). Swimmers understand that overuse of this line waters down the effect, so use with caution!
14. Having a garbage bag-sized amount of equipment, but forgetting your fins on the day you get to finally use them. Whether coach does this on purpose always was a mystery to me. After dropping hints and quasi-pleading to be able to use fins for some ultra fast (and fun!) water-parting, you look into your trusty little mesh bag only to see that they aren’t in there. Oops.
15. Explaining to a non-swimmer that caps don’t keep your hair dry. It’s one of many awkward conversations swimmers enjoy with their non-swimmer friends. From asking if you “won” your meet, to trying to explain what dryland is, the ultimate conundrum for the non-swimmer is understanding why you wear a cap…and still have your hair get wet.
16. “DQ” and “DFL” are the two worst results you can incur at a meet. For non-swimmers DQ refers to a dairy inspired fast food chain. But for swimmers it means a wasted race; false starting, extra dolphin kicking, or unevenly hand-touching. The DFL, on the other hand, refers to a swim that may have been technically correct, but placed you dead friggin’ last in the results.
17. You wait 4 hours at a swim meet to swim a minute long race. Swim meets can drag on, especially those competitions with one pool and competitors numbering in the thousands. You kill time by playing cards, binge watching TV shows on your tablet, and posting Facebook statuses about how your butt has fallen asleep from sitting on the metal bleachers.
18. You are pleased when the meet P.A. announcer says your name properly. Much like a substitute teacher you inwardly tense up and cringe as the announcer works his way down the lanes, getting ever closer to you and your triple-hyphened last name. Sweet relief and gratitude washes over you when the announcer manages to hit that 18 syllable last name with flying colors.
19. When someone blows past you doing breaststroke while you are doing freestyle. There are those moments as a swimmer when you think you are totally and utterly nailing it. Your stroke feels great, your kick crisp, and your walls tight and quick. But when someone bombs past you doing backstroke or – gulp – breaststroke, that confidence and self-belief gets washed into the gutter.
20. Not touching the inside of your new goggles to have the anti-fog last. You are not exactly sure what makes the inside of goggles anti-fog, but you know that it doesn’t last. And so for a couple workouts you have to summon every ounce of willpower within you to not stick your fingers on the inside of those goggles.
21. Missing the wall on a one-turn race. In August at the US Nationals Michael Phelps proved in the 100m freestyle that whiffing on a turn happens to even the best swimmers in the world. If you are lucky you get the tippy-toe push off, worst case your toenail grazes the wall and you have to kick in a streamlined position from a dead stop.