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by Rebecca A Eckland

December 1, 2012

How to live in water

Listen, Land Creature:

Runner who has traversed miles in solitude. Miles of steps on dusty trails and lonely paved roads under your feet. You climbed a mountain once and gazed down on the panorama below you as though you’d conquered it all.

But now there’s the nag of tendinitis in your lower limbs. Cracking stress fractures in your feet. Sprains. IT band syndrome. Joint aches and pains that don’t seem to go away any more. You fear your life as an athlete is over.

So, you decide to swim

I’ve hardly ever met a runner who loves to swim. Most runners I know hate it, complaining, “Water makes me sink.” Or, stink (I’ve never met so many people who hate chlorine.)

You crave those endorphins, though. Maybe you need to swim.

Or, step back. Need is a strong verb, after all.

But try.

Dive in.

The Gear

You’ll need:

  • Suit: Consider your suit your most fashionable accessory. You get to choose a color and a cut. It’s not quite the prom, but you can pick something snazzy—just as long as it’s something that fits and that doesn’t loft like a sail in high wind at every turn.
  • Cap: Trust me; buy one.
  • Goggles: Think of them like you might have thought of your running shoes—quintessential swimming gear. Not convinced? Try swimming sans goggles and tell me how fun that was. Goggles need to fit. And after so many yards or meters, they will need to be replaced. Just like shoes that last for only 300 miles.
  • Toys: Not yet.Fins, paddles, buoys in due time

The Medium

Forget what you’ve learned from running: that more strides per minute equals a faster pace.

This isn’t the land of turnover. At least not in the beginning.

You’ve got to learn to glide—to “feel the water.”

Once, a Master’s coach stuffed a digital metronome in my cap. I must have been turning my arms like plane propellers. “Move when you hear the beep,” he said—beeps like you would hear in an ICU. I did, unsuccessfully.

But I learned. From that, I understand swimming’s oddity: you have to slow down to go fast.

You’ll have to get stronger.

And learn to breathe to a slower cadence.

The Crowd

The pool. There are rules here. An order. Learn them.

No more solitary spaces; swimming is an individual-team sport.

You will have a lane to swim in, with others. At least one person will be in front of you, probably. Give that person five seconds of personal space.

If you feel a hand tapping your toes, move to the side at the turn and let that swimmer pass.

Know your interval.

Learn your strokes.

Know you will get most of this wrong ... at first.

You’ll grow muscles you never had.

Your lane mates may become your friends.

Most important: you’ll have a lifetime ahead of you to swim.

You are an athlete, still.


  • Triathlon


  • Triathlon
  • New Swimmers