Michael's Happenings

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Friday last week saw my 20,000th length in a swimming pool this year tick by. Each length is only 25m, not a league (5.555km) as in the famous book, and all lengths were swum at a pool, not in the sea. But after swimming over 100 times this year (okay, 110 on Friday), I finally hit (and passed) the 20,000 mark. My normal swim is now 200 lengths, but with variation across swims. Sometimes the variation is because of time constraints, meaning I only have a very short time available to swim. Other times there are “non-conducive conditions” to settling into a long swim, such as too many swimmers of different capabilities in a single lane – which is a polite way of saying the other swimmers swim too slowly and so I get out rather than get increasingly annoyed. Hence while my “normal” swim is 200, my actual average for the year is 182 lengths per swim.

All lengths are freestyle (or “crawl”). I try to stop as few times as possible, often swimming continuously, although in recent months I’ve started stopping once or twice per swim to check in with my fellow swimmers for a few minutes. This morning I did 206 non-stop. My record is 300 non-stop, and I’d like to hit 400 non-stop before the end of the year so I can meet Effy’s challenge to me (although to be precise, Effy’s challenge is 400 in a single swimming session, not non-stop – I just want to see if I can do it non-stop). I don’t ever get bored in the water.

In the closing days of 2019, I wrote out my priorities for 2020. I was going to write “swim 400 lengths a week,” but with many of the other priorities having a 5 in them – e.g., “begin with 5 minutes” – I thought I might as well just go for 500 lengths (why not). And it had a nice ring in the statement I went for: “Swim the Michael 500” is close to “drive the Indy 500,” the latter of which I will never do, but the former of which was a stretch goal at the time that I wanted to challenge myself to accomplish. For all of 2019, I’d only swum 10,416 lengths in 89 swims, for an average of only 117 lengths per swim (just under 3km). The most I had ever swum in a single week was 468 in mid-December, and 10,416 lengths across 52 weeks is only 200 lengths a week, so the idea of 500 a week every week was a significant uplift.

My swimming year started the week of January 6 (once we were back from holidays), but it took a couple of weeks to ramp up to 500. The first week was 434, the second 446, and then I hit over 500 lengths a week consistently for the next 9 weeks (min 502, max 606). Mid-March I was going well, having clocked 5640 lengths in 11 weeks, compared to 10,416 for all of 2019.

And then the COVID-19 lockdown took effect in New Zealand, and the pools were closed. For 57 days. I counted.

When the pools re-opened in mid-May, while I should have swum 9500 lengths by then, I’d only done 5640. I was 3860 behind already, and it was May (month 5 of the year). My choice was simple: write it off as a sunk cost, or refuse to allow the interruption of COVID to take me off my intent for the year.

I took the second. All my swimming data was migrated from my journal into an Excel spreadsheet. Week by week. Swim by swim. Averages, shortest swim, longest swim, total count for the year-to-date, by week, by month … everything. And in mid-May when I headed back to the pool, in order to re-capture the lengths that the lockdown had stolen from me, my average per week had to hit at least 629 for the rest of the year. I swam once the first week – 102 lengths after being out of the water for 60 days – and then did 646 the week of May 18, 644 the next, then 660, then 780, and then an average of 810 until the week of August 17, by which time I’d made up all of the stolen lengths in only 15 weeks, not the 33 weeks remaining at mid-May. I swam 1060 the next week – mainly to hit the monthly challenge on my Apple Watch – and then apart from a 200 length swim on Monday, took the first week of September as a rest week. And then I was back into it, with a new goal of 800 per week – or “20for20” – the conceptual “I’m thinking about it” challenge of swimming 20km a week for the next 20 years. I imagine I’d be a fit almost 70-year old by then.

I swim because … it gives me space to think and ponder.

I swim because … my feet are too busted to run anymore (and I only took up running because I hadn’t committed to driving to the pool regularly).

I swim because … it gives me a whole lot of “life” to enjoy in addition to the “work” and “family” commitments that require much of the rest of my time.

I swim because … I am a swimmer.

Categories: Michael's Happenings