A Crowded Boat on Murky Waters

Four days of swimming last week were days of fighting my inner demons in the pool. From fighting with my body rotation to counting my inefficient strokes, lately I've found these waters to be a very unfriendly place. Until I started talking to people.

A girl in my lane has not been in the pool because of work, and now she can't swim without her fins. My coach is recovering from surgery and can only swim half an hour. Another woman leaves the pool 15 minutes early every day so she can pick up her children at school. And we all seem to hate the choppy waves from too many people in the lane, as we choke in chlorinated water when we do breast stroke. However, we are all swimming, in spite of our own mental war. 

In our everyday life, we all believe we are alone fighting our battles, but we only need to look around to realize that, in these murky waters full of our demons and our struggles, we are all in the same boat. 



I'm a visual person, I know that. Some people need long explanations to understand complicated issues, but not me; I need an image. However, this week, a few words made me understand not only about swimming, but also unearthed something I had forgotten about myself.

In my previous post, I talked about going back to basics. In his blog, John described swimming as "pulling the body past the hand" while I had always visualized the hand moving behind the body. Suddenly at the pool, I remembered his tip and the body just understood and rotated itself perfectly. A little shift in my perception made it click in my brain. Even the coach congratulated me on my stroke!

I remembered how many years ago, I also struggled with learning how to roller blade. I tried and tried, and while all my cousins and friends were rolling around, having fun, I sitting by the sidewalk next to my ignorance. My uncle took me aside and said, "it's like walking in wheels," and all of a sudden, his words clicked on my brain. I started to roller blade as if I had done it all my life!

This little deja vu reminded me that there are many ways to learn.  We know that different people has different styles of learning, but we forget that even for us, that click can happen when we least expect it; we just have to be open to it!

Photo courtesy of Getty Images


Dry pondering

Going back to basics is not admitting defeat, it's admitting our constant search for perfection. So while I'm bedridden with a virus that had obviously extended his welcome period, my husband found a great blog that talks about the basics of swimming form.

The post even includes a simple workout that is more form focused than distance focused.

I'm bored at home so I'll try it in an indoor pool later today.



Pool infection!!!

Today, my husband joined me in the pool. He barely recovered from his two-week cold today (we've been passing the germs to each other), so he was tired and I saw him resting by the wall a few times. But then, I noticed a very interesting phenomenon.

After recovering from my own illness, I feel heavy and out of shape in the water, but I keep kicking and stroking saying its temporary. However, watching my husband rest at the wall today gave me an excuse to quit and take a break myself.

Excuses are contagious, but so is motivation. When I am swimming out with a very motivated group, I feel I want to keep going, even if my limbs are telling me they can't. This "infectious effect" is very palpable in any workout. But it is so easy to miss in other environments. Like friendship, like relationships, like a job.

Now that I'm transitioning careers, I realize how important it is to find a company with a great team, smart, motivated people that will keep me challenged and push my skills so I can be my best. I'm looking for the right kind of infection. And I know I'll catch it soon!


Just had to try

A couple of weeks ago, I got a bad cold that kept me away from the pool -and the blog- for a while. Finally, last Friday, I jumped into the pool and had the hardest workout I've had in a long time. I was heavy, slow, out of energy, and when I was about to quit and leave the pool early, the coach said something that made me think he was reading my mind: "it doesn't have to be pretty, all you have to do is try."

I looked around me and I realized that even though I had not been in the pool for almost two weeks, I had not gone back to the last lane. I didn't put my absence as an excuse for going back to the beginners. I was the last one in my lane, and yes, it was not pretty, but I still finished all my workout. If I hadn't, I would have only cheated myself.

I realized that I'm the same way at work. Projects have to be ready on time, no excuses. And although sometimes something has to give, I try as hard as I can to finish what I started. In my case, the blog had to give, and I'm sorry I didn't try to write about anything else.  But I learned something else: even though this is a blog about life lessons through swimming, I shouldn't always need water to reflect and learn. I guess I cheated myself there.


Up to my neck in water

In the pool as in life, there are things I can control, things that I can work around and other things I shouldn't waste my time on. The hard part is telling them apart!

Sometimes my shoulder hurts because I pushed myself little too hard. Some days the wind is harsh and the water is too choppy. Somedays my goggles go on strike and keep leaking after every flip. I can be annoyed, complain, or get out of the pool. But other than that, there is not much I can do.

What I can do is focus on what I can change: I can focus on my kicks if my shoulder is having a bad day; or practice underwater kicks to avoid the choppy surface; or skip the flips for one day and enjoy my swim without them. My body and my decisions are all things I can control and help me solve the problem in creative ways. Sounds easy, almost intuitive.

But in life, when I find myself up to my neck in water, telling apart what I should fight for and what I should let go seems a lot harder. A hundred of projects on tight deadlines, an unhealthy environment at work, a toxic friendship... Are they worth finding a solution for? Are they worth fighting for? Or should I leave the pool altogether?

The solutions on dry land is the same as in the pool: take a break, look around and think out of the box. There will always be thing that are under your control. And if there are not, leaving the pool is always an option. If  you're lucky, there will be a warm shower waiting for you outside!


At the tail of the lion.

A while ago, I was in a job where I had been for years. I loved my job, it was fun and challenging. But after seven years, I had grown and the job hadn't. I knew it; everybody around me knew it. But month after month, inertia kept me there, miserable. It wasn't until things hit rock bottom when I realized it was time to leave. For good. I thought I had learned my lesson, but today at the pool, I realized that every story repeats itself.

For weeks, my husband has asked me why I keep going back to the last lane. I keep telling him, I am not ready to "upgrade for good." Today was no exception. I was in my lane with maybe 10 more people and after 15 minutes, I was completely frustrated. It was chaotic. I tried to pass some swimmers just to realize that the bottleneck was three people ahead of me and the swimmers behind me were as frustrated as I was! Eventually, I asked the coach at what interval was the next lane swimming. I didn't wait for his answer. They could have been going at light speed. I rather try than stay where I was. And it was the best decision I could make!

Reading my older posts, I realize that this frustration has been a recurring theme for a while. It took me three weeks and 15 minutes of frustration to finally acknowledge that I was never going to be ready for the next lane if I stayed in the old one. The only way to find your new road is to start walking... or swimming, so I did. I switched lanes for good and I am not going back. I might be the last swimmer in the new lane, I might not make the times and might need to take a break every now and then. But my decision has been made. Yes, it is scary. Very scary. But so was leaving my job, leaving my old life behind and starting in a new school with people that looked way smarter than I was. Yet, I survived and I succeeded. Why would this time be any different?

An old proverb says "It is better to be the head of a mouse than the tail of a lion," and I cannot disagree more. Being the head of the tiny beast means that it is as far as you are ever going to be. Being in the tail of a bigger monster means you'll have a lot of fun trying to make again to the head! 

(Photo from Steve Kay)


Inspiration out of the water, the LA Marathon!

We overslept this morning and we missed our "lactic pool workout," so instead, my husband and I decided to cheer the runners as they passed Mile 22 around the Brentwood.

We saw the "Elvises" running with their wigs, Marilyn with her floating white dress and an inspiring group of students run LA with kids that looked too young to have the discipline to train for a marathon, yet they were running it! Young people, old people, people running for their kids, people running barefoot, people without legs pushing their wheelchairs uphill... it was an inspiration!

Yet also inspiring was how my husband kept cheering the runners who at Mile 22, after the hardest uphill of this marathon, were starting to give in to their minds. As he said it today, he was yelling so loud so he could be louder than the runner's voice inside their heads saying "just walk a little." He has no voice now, but 9 out of 10 runners started running again with a smile.

There you have it, you never know when you will find your inspiration today. It can be in runner with a costume, in a kid with will power... or sometimes, it sleeps right next to you!

We didn't bring a camera but lots of people did. Here's a funy group of people that printed photos of their friend Dave and were passing them to strangers! That's me in the back while Scott was running behind some runner.


Swimming, Living and Being Selfish

There are two I's in swimming, which means that when, I'm under water, all there is, is me. I am in a different element that's thick, quiet, and feels distant from daily life. That is until someone yanks me out of my zone!

In our hectic days, we rarely have enough time to focus on just ourselves. Swimming is my time. My mind is listening to my heartbeat and my breathing; I can feel how the water moves around my body, and how turning my hand one inch closer feels better than before. I can focus on the details to be better at something I enjoy. Some days I want to see how fast I can go and I'm first on my lane; somedays I want to experiment and go slower; those days I move to the end of the lane so I don't bother other swimmers. But occasionally, they seemed to be bothered nonetheless. There are those who get offended if I want to swim ahead of them or that insist that they are slower and refuse to go ahead, but keep on puffing behind me.

There are also two I's in living, but we can't live our lives ignoring the world around us. So I'm reaching out to you to see how you deal with putting yourself first sometimes, and not others? Do you ignore people? Are you blunt? At work, at home, how do you say "I'm in my zone, don't bother me" without sounding selfish?


Out of control!

This weekend, I read a quote from Mario Andretti: "If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough," and today in the pool, I couldn't stop thinking about it.

The sunset was at its full when I got to the pool, but the beginners lane was too full, so I put on my super powers (my fins) and jumped in the more advanced lane. It was fast, it was out of control and it was awesome! I didn't make the times and towards the end, I had to take a breather while the other swimmers kept going. But I tried very hard and even though I failed, I succeeded at pushing myself today. 

Most people are afraid of failure, but if we don't fail, it means that we are not challenging ourselves. I was probably not swimming as fast as Mario Andretti drives, but I certainly lost control, and it felt great!



Yesterday was a bad day. Maybe it was all the recruiters ignoring my job applications; maybe it was the three hours stuck in traffic; or maybe I was just in a funk, but in days like this, I just want to crawl in a cave.

Counting yards, repetitions and seconds, was not in my list of priorities (along with smelling like chlorine and having pool hair), so I was not looking forward swimming. But working out generally helps me relax, so it was worth trying.

I swam in automatic. I had no idea how the set was, how long or how fast. One girl offered me to lead and I simply grunted "No, thanks". I just let my lane mates swim ahead and I followed along. One hour later, the bad mood had stayed at the pool and I was feeling like a normal human being. In fact, my workout was rewarded with a couple mojitos that night!

Sometimes, the only alternative to not doing anything is to allow others to guide us. So next time you're having "a day", lend the driver seat to somebody else in order to stay on the road.



Some prefer doing it with their hands wide open. Others, press their thumbs really tight. Me? I realized today that I'm more of a loose-hands kind of girl.

I was following the instructions of my coach. He said, "experiment! What is comfortable for olympic swimmers might not be comfortable for you." We swam 50 yards with our hand wide open (I felt relaxed, but I wasn't moving). Then, we tightened our thumbs on the side (really painful after 50 yards!). Then, we cupped our hands (a lot of motion, but it was also a lot of arm work). And then, we tried relaxing our hands (pure bliss for me, but not for other swimmers).

I was reminded again that we are not all made equal and therefore, there are no absolute truths that apply to everyone. How many wars have we fought trying to impose our ways to others? How many times have we insisted that things be done our way? How many times have we found ourselves doing things the same old way just to change it one day and realize how much better the new way is?

So, play a little. Dare to experiment! There is more than one way to do things and the real winner is the one who tries them all... and choses the best one for her. I did. Will you?

A good debate abut different hand shapes when swimming


Learning to lose

Today was the Pentathlon meet and no, I didn't participate but I was there supporting my husband, Scott. He flew around the water with flying colors and I was a proud, cheering wife from the deck.

A lot of fellow swimmers asked me why I wasn't participating. I thought it would be obvious: I just stopped swimming with fins and I'm very slow in the water. From swimming a speedy 100 yards at 1:24 with fins a month ago,  to panting the same 100 yards at barely 2 minutes, I already know I'm slow. Realizing that I'm the slowest of the slowest would be devastating to my ego and I rather not see it in paper. Fear, you ask? Absolutely, I say!

But today, there were swimmers of all types, speeds and ages, even an 82 year old woman who finished a butterfly set. She finished it! No matter how long it took, no matter what position she got. She got all the way to the end.

Watching her, I realized that, like in life, swimming is not about the competition, but about the taking the plunge. Being a professional marketer, stop trying to be get first place will a tough habit to break. But I guess it's never too late to start losing.


Not alone in these waters!

Surfing the web, my husband and I have found other swimmers' blogs, so check them out:

Tony so happens to write the SCAQ blog for the masters group where I swim regularly and he shares a lot of info about swimming news and cool water gear. I met him in person last week; he has been swimming forever and it shows in the pool!

Rob's RobAquatics says a lot about his personality. He shares his workouts (thanks) and his adventures in the water. I haven't met him yet, but he'll be in the Pentathlon this Saturday, so I'm looking forward to share a few words.

I'm sure there are more swimmers splashing around, so I'll go back to these waters!


There is no better way to end a hectic week than with a hectic swim. And even better if you get a tip from the pros!

Today, we swam mainly sets of fifty, really fast, really powerful. But there was a new discovery: the coach suggested not to breath on both sides (something that all other coaches recommend... but no olympic swimmer does!). "He said, breath every two strokes, every time on the same side. Try both sides and then pick your favorite. You will see." Oh, did I!

It was like I had a fuel injection engine all of a sudden. I didn't get as tired as quickly, and after a while, I got dizzy from getting so much oxygen! But I had enough fuel to keep going. I will keep practicing doing the one-side breathing on sprints. I felt pumped!

Sometimes, the the smallest things make a huge difference. The only thing we have to do is try!

But today, it is not only about me! I want to invite everybody this Sunday 7 at 10 am to cheer up my husband who is racing in the Caltech Pentathlon, in Pasadena. For directions click here. You will meet a lot of inspiring swimmers and cool people, and after the swim, we'll share a breakfast for champions. They'll be hungry and so will I!


A break from life

Today, life took over: I had a thousand things to do, I was in pain from working out yesterday, it was cold... and by the time I saw my watch, I was already late for swimming. Going seemed pointless. Yet, I picked up my husband and we jumped in the pool.

And that's when life stopped. Or maybe, that's when it began. There was nothing other than pulling, breathing, kicking, and huffing and puffing underwater. Nothing else for 45 minutes but me.

In the lockers, one of the girls shared that she had lost over 30 pounds dieting and exercising, and she told me her goal was to look like me. I was flattered, yes, but also embarrassed, because she didn't know yesterday I flaked and today I almost didn't make it either. I felt that I almost betrayed the water, the team and myself.

My lessons today:
1. A short swim is better than no swim. When you don't want to do something, do it at least a little.
2. Even if you are not trying, things happen. Whether it's building nice shoulders, achieving better conditioning or just receiving a compliment, they will happen as a reaction to what you do.
3. There is always someone watching and you can be someone's hero without knowing. That's why you should strive to give your best. And even if no one is watching, there could always be a mirror around...


Pushing to Pull

After three days of allowing life to take me away from the pool, on Sunday I decided to come back with a splash and attended a racing workout intended for swimmers who are going to race.

When I first jumped in the pool, I couldn't stop thinking what the heck I was doing there! I was sharing the lane with swimmers that could make it from one end of the pool to the other in the time it takes me to blink. My mind was playing tricks on me. I couldn't breath, I felt I was in their way, I felt I wasn't moving, I was freaking out! And that was just the warm up!

Then, we were supposed to jump off the blocks, like olympic swimmers. The girl in front of me smelled my fear and suggested I jumped from the edge, which I did... only to have my goggles pulled out of my face by the splash after every jump. Now, to add insult to injury, I was swimming blindly as fast as I could, slapping the lane lines with my hands and feet. "I don't belong here," I thought. "I want to get out."

And so I did. But instead of giving up, I walked to my swim bag, got my tacky-pink (and blood stopping tight) spare goggles and went back in the water. And now, with the chlorine not burning my eyes, and my hands and feet in the water, I was finally able to focus on just swimming.

"Keep pulling," I was thinking. "It's just 25 more yards". So I pushed myself. I was tired, but I kept swimming. First 25, then 50, then 75. I kept pulling long strokes, kicking fast and pushing myself as hard as I could. When I got to the other side, the coach said "1 minute, 2 seconds". That's how fast I swam 75 yards, and I was so proud that my mind finally shut up. I did belong there, with people who are pushing themselves to be better.

When things in life are going bad and we feel we are sinking, that's when we have to push ourselves the hardest. It is so tough because it means that we are about to break the hurdle, it means that we are almost there. Like the last question in a hard test, or the last pounds when we are on a diet. So don't stop pushing, or if you are in the water, just pull harder. You might not break any world records, but you will break the chains that are holding you back!


A new R&R

The last two days of swimming were some of the strongest workouts I have ever had in the water.

Two nights ago, I did the whole workout with no fins and no paddles in an 82 degree pool. It was as energy draining as it rewarding. I worked on my kicks and my stroke and finally, I was fast on my own! The coach asked me to go to the faster lane and even there, my lane mates praised how strong my stroke was. I was so proud of myself! But so tired, that I got home and went straight to bed (no blogging).

Yesterday, I stayed in the lane the coach had suggested earlier. I started swimming with no fins, but I was too slow for the other swimmers. I put on my paddles, but I was still too slow. I put on my fins, and even with them, I was struggling not to fall behind such fast swimmers. I gave all I had in me to keep up, and after one hour, I was pooped! No energy for blogging that night either.

This morning, after two days of giving 100%, I slept, and slept, and rested. I ate a chocolate croissant for breakfast, I didn't go to swim and I had a glass of wine with popcorn and croutons for dinner. Feeling guilty only lasted a second. It wasn't the best diet for an athlete, but it was what my body wanted so it was definitely a reward for a job well done.

When we are on a roll, we forget to take the time to thank our bodies and our spirits for doing a hard work. Everybody needs some R&R. Rest and Relaxation might make active souls like me feel guilty, but athletes call it Rest and Recovery for a reason. I call it Rest and Reward!


Ripping the rut from its roots

Today was a tough day; applying for jobs that won't make me happy, recruiters that don't call back, emails that never get returned... the last thing I wanted to do was getting in a bikini and going to swim in the cold. But my husband insisted and I didn't have the energy to fight him back. He said, "leave it all at the pool, give your all and you'll feel better." Yeah, whatever.

But even the ride towards the pool made me feel better; and by the time I made it out of the water, the bad day was behind me. I focused on my kicking and trying to glide. So much focus on improving myself made me realize that, at least in the little things, I am in control.

Most of the times when we are stuck in a rut, the first thing we do is withdraw from the world. But we need to snap out of it, rip the sadness out off its roots and get moving. We can't change a crapy day, but we can definitely change the way we look at it!


Mermaids and the Titanic

This weekend, after our regular swimming session, my husband and I stayed at the pool to record underwater videos of each other swimming. That way we could see our stroke from different angles and discover ways to become more efficient in the water.

For weeks, we have been watching videos of Michael Phelps and other olympic swimmers. They look like mermaids (or mermen) in the water. They glide so smoothly, so effortlessly... But watching myself under water was closer to watching the Titanic crash. There were limbs all over the place, things didn't move the way they should and my stroke was so slow that the video looked in slow motion! It was heartbreaking and demotivating to the point I couldn't watch anymore.

But today, two days later, I am a lot more positive. I have always complained that I am too slow in the water and at least, now I know why. My new task then would be address the (whole lot of) things that I'm doing wrong. Today, I focused on kicking with my legs closed and without bending my knees.

Watching our mistakes is indeed one of the hardest things we can do, but unless we become aware of them, we have no chance of improving ourselves. Improving my stroke will take a long time, but changing one mistake at the time, I hope someday I can be a mermaid too.


A lane excuse

Today it was sprints: swimming as fast as you can for short distances. Sprints are a lot of fun because you can give 100% if you know you're just going to do it for 30 seconds or so. You get to the end knowing that you gave your all, and then you plenty of time to catch you breath and do it again. Today, however, the coach decided that he was not going to give us time to rest. We kept going 100 yards after 100 yards with maybe 5 seconds rests.

When I'm swimming with fins, it is a lot easier to rest; I kick a little harder once and glide effortlessly. But the guy in front of me didn't have fins and by the last 25 yards, he was slowing down. His slowing down forced me to slow down as well, so every time I felt him in front of me, I had to take a forced "gliding" rest. After a few hundreds, though, it was annoying. His bubbles ahead of my were annoying, his choppiness was annoying... and because we were not resting for more than a second, I couldn't tell him to let me go ahead of him. I was stuck.

Suddenly, I noticed the lane ahead had only two people and a girl there asked me if I wanted to join them. I hesitated, thought about it for another 100 and then I switched lanes happily! Ha! It only took 200 to miss the "forced" resting sessions. After 75 yards of giving 100%, I missed the bubbles, I missed the choppiness, I missed having an excuse to slow down and rest for a bit. But I was so tired... that I took my rest without having an excuse; just because I needed it (sound of ego deflating).

How many time do we blame others around us for not letting us reach our potential? The boyfriend who doesn't like to go hiking, or the mother that doesn't cook healthy food are our excuse for not working out or loosing weight. Having and excuse is easy and changing is hard, so we leave things like they, and feel stuck, blaming others for not changing.

Just change lanes... and leave your lame excuse behind.


No one to blame but myself

Today at swam at night with swimmers I hadn’t met before. It was a fast and very rewarding swim (with fins, this time). But in the last 100 yards, the coach wanted us to time ourselves giving 100%. I have been postponing timing myself because I really don't want to know yet. But today, I took the challenge! I told the lady behind me to go ahead of me so I could be free to go at my own speed, but she insisted she was slower. I went first and before reaching the other wall, she started bumping me with her head. I had to stop and let her pass, ruining my timing… and my swim.
After the swim, talking with my husband, I discovered why I was so mad: When working out, as well as in life, we should not allow others to ruin our plans. We know our limitations, we know our goals, so we give them the chance to go first, to get out of our way. But if they pass, then their rights have been revoked. Many times we have a coworker, a boyfriend, a sibling who maybe with good intentions want us to stray away from our plan. Ultimately, we have the power to decide if we give in and live with the guilt, or to put our foot down and assert our rights.
Lady, you made me mad today, but you taught me a lesson. Thanks.

True victory is victory over yourself.

Until today, my H2 fins allowed me to speed behind the faster swimmers in the “ego lanes”. My fins have been my crutches, so I decided to have one finless day every week; and today was the first.
Reality check! I was the slowest in the slow lane! A superhero with her powers stolen. But although I was a slow swimmer, I knew my progress was faster. It was a humbling workout that reminded me speed is not a sign of progress because the only one I’m competing against is myself.