There was a time when each week, I’d spend about 15 or 16 hours in the pool training. High school and college were days of 2+ hours of afternoon practice Monday through Friday, 3 morning practices a week, and one long killer Saturday usually starting with dryland and followed by at least two hours in the pool. I can’t possibly imagine training this hard now that I’m in my mid thirties, nor would I want to, but lately when I think about how much time I was able to spend in the pool, it feels like a distant luxury I took for granted.

Since my return to the pool about 3 years ago with masters swimming, part of my workout planning meant finding the time to actually go to the pool. It helped at first that I worked from home and lived around the corner from my gym, but I still tried to cap myself at about an hour or an hour and 15 minutes so that I wasn’t losing too much time at work. My typical routine was to show up at the pool right before 8am (after dropping my kids at school), use my lunch hour, or swim in an empty lane during my kid’s evening practice (before I started coaching). Writing my own practices was a factor I never had to consider when I was part of a high school or college team.

Even within my little hour +, I could easily write a workout that landed me somewhere around 4k yards, give or take a 500. On the busy days when I came in without a pre-written workout, I had the time to take a few minutes between sets and think of the next set on the fly.

Now, with 2020 and pandemic life, my time in the pool has changed again. Moving back to Florida gave me an opportunity to swim with a rather large masters team, but I don’t get an opportunity to go more than twice a week at best just between my kids’ and my husband’s schedule. This means I’m left with the second best option, to swim at my local Y on my own.

I’m thankful for this time, but I’ve also been finding it more and more frustrating the longer we have to operated under covid restrictions. For one, it’s hard to swim alone all the time. At my local pool in TN, I was at least able to make friends with some other regulars and we’d sometimes get to swim sets together when we coordinated our swim times. Now with rigid restrictions for both signing up for lanes and a time slot, I’m on my own.

Not only is it lonely (and hard to motivate yourself), but the time limit is 45 min. This may seem like a long time for a strength workout or a run, but swimming is a different kind of sport, and 45 minutes is pretty short. Usually if I get there early, the lifeguards will post up 5 min prior to the hour and let me get in, which helps, but that’s not always a sure thing. So I plan for 45 min, and do the best I can.

Even doing my best, there are side effects to this new model. I often feel rushed in the pool, racing the clock to get in exactly at the top of the hour and not one second after. I also feel pressured to squeeze as many yards in that small amount of time as possible, which has it’s own downstream problems. I can’t warm up as long as I want to, leaving me feel a lot more tired both during my workout and after (I know there are some coaches out there making a case for short warm-ups, but I am a long warm-up kind of girl). I can’t build in a ton of rest, which makes me tired on my main set(s). My physical fatigue outside the pool has been more frequent and more intense than I’ve ever experienced before, making it difficult to cross-train. Although I’m swimming 3-4 times a week, I don’t feel in shape. I also feel that my technique has suffered – drills take time, time I often feel I don’t have. When I didn’t have a time limit, I’d build drill work and recovery into the workout in some way nearly every day. Now, that’s a bigger challenge. Ironic that shorter workout times seem to leave me feeling more tired overall.

There is good news – I’ve found small ways to tweak my swimming experience to be more enjoyable over these past couple months.

I find the most helpful thing for me is to show up with a pre-written workout – no more writing workouts in my head while I’m warming up and performing on the fly. If I go in without a plan, I waste time and I have a greater tendency to change the workout it if I’m feeling a little unmotivated (lazy).

It also helps if I simply tell a friend I’m going. I spend many of my mornings chatting on the phone with my good friend over coffee (or in the car on our way home from school drop off), and sharing our intended gym times with each other helps me hold myself accountable.

I have a more rigid source of accountability, too. Part of the beauty of this new reservation only system is that I have to book my time slot in advance, which forces me to plan my swim days during the week. If I’m a no-show for my time slot, I’ve just taken a spot someone else could have used, and I certainly don’t want to put that bad karma out into the universe!

For me, the main source of frustration is balancing quality vs. quantity. I rarely go over 3k in the pool these days unless I make it to a masters practice, and even 3k is pushing it in 45 min if I want to do anything other than boring aerobic sets. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for repeats (as you’ll read about next week), but if variety is the spice of life, repeats won’t keep me motivated to stay in the pool long-term. I simply have to accept that I will have low yardage days to fit in some drill, kick, stroke work, or much needed recovery – equally important to raw yardage.

The pool is usually my sanctuary for clearing my head of frustration, so it’s been difficult that this year it’s sometimes been the source. There are days I’m really, really tired of the 45 minutes I get, and I kick myself for not fully appreciating the luxury of a flexible schedule. But I also realize how lucky I am to have a pool (two actually) to swim at, and so I try and stay positive. There are so many swimmers out there that still have no place to train, and no end to the restrictions in sight. I can’t imagine how hard that must be. Sometimes I have to remind myself of what I have, not what I don’t have, a tough lesson I should apply to aspects of my life outside the pool as well. And of course at the end of the day, I’ll never complain about being forced to have my own lane…

I hope you’re all able to make time for yourself, whether it be short and sweet or without limits. Happy Swimming!

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