The Longest Mile

The Longest Mile

I love swimming laps. But what happens is I get out of the habit, and it's hard for me to rally to get to the pool. Recently, I decided it was time to start swimming again.

I saddled up, made it to the community center, and got to choose between two pools. Indoor and outdoor. The indoor pool was LOUD, and as someone who is pretty sensitive to noises, I decided to go outside. The pool was mobbed. Screaming kids were everywhere. Families were crammed in the pool, but the single lap lane was mostly clear. A woman holding onto a raft stood in it but begrudgingly moved once I got in the lane.

I started to swim. Immediately I noticed how dirty the water was. Sticks and bugs and all sorts of crap floated in the water. And then kids would come into the lane, and I would swim over them before I realized they were in front of me. Once, a hulk of a kid, probably tipping the scales at 260, cratered into my lane. I swam into him and it was like being absorbed by a padded wall.

As it was my first swim back in a while, I expected it to be hard and feel like it was taking a while, and those things rang true. I like to swim a mile, seventy-two laps in a twenty-five yard pool, which is what the front desk had told me it was.

I swam for basically a year in that dirty outdoor lane. I got a weird sunburn on my face in the shape of my goggles and swim cap. The burn made me look like a Star Trek alien and was not at all professional. By the time was done, I was so hungry, I had to stop at the pharmacy for a snack before driving the five minutes back to my house.

But, I was very happy I swam. When I went back a few days later, I saw there were two people in the outdoor lane, and only one in the inside lane. So, inside it was.

Immediately, I liked the indoor pool better. Yes, kids were screaming in that echoy space that is an indoor concrete pool, but underwater it was dark and calm. The water was clean, and the sun wasn't shining into my eyes while I did backstroke.

I finished my mile much quicker on that second swim, and I felt way less exhausted. I was pretty excited. I was seeing gains so quickly.

The third time I went back I went straight to the indoor pool. An old man swimmer, classic in his masters swim cap, speedo shorts, saggy chest, and unadulterated excitement at being in the pool, was just finishing his swim.

"You get the whole lane to yourself," he told me. "It's your turn to work out."

I thanked him and then he asked me if I liked the indoor or outdoor pool better. I told him the indoor pool because it was darker and less chaotic. Less children to swim over.

"I like this one because it's shorter," he said.

What? What?

"It is?"

"Yeah. I can hold my breath the entire length of this one. I can't outside. I think it's maybe thirty-three yards? This indoor one is twenty-five yards."

"Huh," I said.

I swam my mile, once again finishing and feeling pretty great. But I had one last thing to do. I went to the floppy-hair teenager lifeguard and asked him how long the outdoor pool was.

He completely panicked at the question, whispered something, and like an old lady I told him I couldn't hear him. He finally managed to communicate that his manager was outside, and she would know.

I found the manager outside and asked her how long the pool was.

"Oh. It's like twenty-five meters? Or yards? Whichever one is longer, I think?"

While this lifeguard was not a NASA candidate, I thanked her anyway and went home. Once home, I told my husband the story, and ever the scientist, he used GIS to measure the pool. The outdoor pool was just under ninety feet, so the old man was right.

"So I didn't make serious fitness gains between swim one and swim two. I just swam longer," I said.

"You swam approximately an extra third of a mile," he told me.

And for not having swum in a long time, the difference between swimming a mile and a mile and a third is huge.

"I don't know if I've ever swam that far before," I said.

"So looks like you're making gains then."

"Can you make gains on your first day?"

"PR. Day one. Keep going back and who knows what'll happen?"

But I knew what would happen. If I ever had to swim in the outdoor pool again, I'd be swimming fifty-four laps, not seventy-two. What kind of measurement is a mile and a third? Not the kind of measurement someone with athletically amplified OCD can purposely swim to. Just thinking about it made me uncomfortable.

A mile and a third. What even is that?