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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Why I Hate The Breast Stroke

I hate exercise. Riding a bike to catch the scenary is fun; playing Marco Polo in the pool or a friendly game of tennis with a friend--this isn't exercise. It's being actively social.

Exercise is a regime where one puts oneself through a standard set of movements designed to build muscle mass, lose fat and reshape one's body inside and out. Members of this family do LONG bike rides at high speed, or work out hard in a gym with heavy weights, or row on a rowing machine for 30 minutes or more, or run on a treadmill or an equillateral for 30-45 minutes, etc.

My favorite alternative to all this sweaty stuff is swimming. Exercise swimming is not "fun" per se....it involves moving at racing speeds through the water from wall to wall nonstop until the requisite number of laps have been swum. Racing speed can be done in any format: crawl, backstroke, butterfly, breast stroke. At speed, these will all burn calories and really wring out your body.

Unfortunately, it's summer time. The pool at which I swim (while the Husband heads for the gym) is lovely but also increasing crowded with people who are clueless about lap-swim protocol.

There are three lanes. The lanes are clearly marked in Hebrew and English as "Slow Lane," "Medium Lane," and "Fast Lane." This anticipates that the slowest swimmers will swim in the slow lane, the fastest swimmers in the fast lane and the rest of us in the middle.

But this is Israel, where lane lines on the highways are merely suggestions. You don't seriously think anyone pays any attention to the designated lane signs? Good, because they don't. Those of us who swim in this pool year round and consider swimming a serious form of exercise which needs to be done correctly find ourselves stymied by the mind-set of the summer swimmer who wants to do the breast stroke in the fast lane -- except that she swims at a pace so slow that any toddler could walk to the end of the lane before she reaches the wall.

WHY is she in the fast lane? Maybe because the other lanes were "crowded" and only one other person was in the fast lane. Maybe because the fast lane is next to the kiddie area so she's close to her children. Maybe because she's TOTALLY MENTAL and really thinks this semi-wading-in-molasses breastroke is really Olympic material. Maybe she's illiterate and can't read the signs. Who knows?

I don't care. I just know she's ruining my workout, which requires 25 laps at racing speed without stopping.

But I have to put on the brakes for Mrs. Wading-In-The-Fast-Lane because as I make my turn, pushing off the wall, and streaking for the far wall, I bounce off her foot mid-lap, where she is doing -- the breast stroke!!

The breast stroke in the Olympics is a wonderful race to behold. The breast stroke as done by native and tourist women of indeterminate age and very slow speed at this pool appears to be a device whereby one "swims" after a fashion, but the idea seems to be to get wet without really getting one's hair wet or breaking a sweat. Heaven forbid one should disturb one's "do" or breathe heavily!

Protocol kicks in here. Like driving, when one is swimming laps and a faster swimmer comes up behind you, it is polite to allow that person to pass. Since the lane lines are divided by a black line, any passing usually involves the faster swimmer passing ON the black line in order to minimize the risk of collision with a swimmer coming down-lane from the opposite direction.

People who do lap swimming for exercise all the time are aware of these protocols, including the politeness that requires that a slower swimmer at the wall give way to the faster swimmer who was on your toes all the way down the lane.

This is usually No Big Deal.

Until we run into Mrs. Wading-The-Breaststroke-In-The-Fast-Lane. (Or the Middle Lane--I'm generally a "medium" swimmer and my gripe is aimed largely at people who are SLOW swimmers but don't want to use the Slow Lane because it already has 4 other slow people wading in it....)

When we have two or three medium swimmers doing their laps in the Medium Lane, Mr/Mrs. Slowpoke screws up the laps. It's very difficult to pass when the lanes are crowded, as one does not want to collide head on with an on-coming swimmer while passing -- but it's almost impossible to pass these Slowpokes doing the breaststroke--because they not only swim incredibly slowly, they also swim incredibly badly. The breaststroke is a quick, collected burst of energy -- unless Mrs. Slowpoke is doing it. Then its a slow, ungainly waving of the arms and legs in a fashion which takes up the ENTIRE lane AND the black line. Picture a Giant Sea Turtle in motion and you'll know what I mean. Not only does this make passing breaststroking slowpokes almost impossible, it also means that even when one is swimming downlane on the opposite side of them, one gets a kick in the rib or a hand hitting one's head or a finger in the eye---because these folks can't keep their appendages in their own lane.

For the first few months of the summer swim, I tried to be patient and tolerant. No more. You swim slow in the Fast or Medium Lane, you better swim well because I'm going to run right over you.

Three of us were swimming hard last week in the fast lane and I was coming off the wall on a turn when suddenly a large blue whale jumped into the water directly in front of me. She missed landing on me by inches. (Another protocol--you don't get into the lane until its clear at the entry point.) I stopped and backpedaled to the wall, where I met the two other lap swimmers in my lane, staring in outrage and amazement at this tubby woman who had jumped into our lane as we were all turning or coming up on the turn -- so she could do a dog-paddle-speed breaststroke up the lane. The other two swimmers were men. They didn't know what to do--after all, the newcomer was a woman. The look on the closest guy's face was "What chutzpah!!" I signalled "Watch this!" and took off at full speed. I bumped into her toes, grazed her legs and passed her so closely that she was unable to spread out her arms and legs in the usual hog-the-entire-lane-and-half-the-other-lane breaststroke done by portly summer waders.

Recall that the whole point of the breaststroke is to preserve the hair-do. One does NOT want to put one's head into the water for fear of ruining the do.

As I crawled past at warp nine, I also geared up my kick to make sure she got LOTS of water in the face and on the hair do. My compatriots got the idea immediately and both had splashed into high gear right behind me. In short order, Mrs. Hog-The-Lane was passed by three very irate, very fast and very strenuous swimmers who made sure she got a face full of water from all of us. Her "do" got drenched.

She moved to the Slow Lane.

Every day is like this. Rarely am I fortunate enough to share a lane only with other lap swimmers who know what they're doing. Inevitably, someone decides to do a lazy breaststroke, hogging a lane-and-a-half, and throwing everyone else off their stride. (I need to add that there is not only a slow lane, but a free area where one can wade, breaststroke, dog-paddle, float or do whatever without being in a lap lane. Of course, the Breaststroke Wading Contingent never goes there--it's full of slow people!)

I can hardly wait until September....


Blogger Jack Steiner said...

I swam competitively for a number of years. Every now and then I'd go out of town and have to find a pool to train in.

It used to make me insane when I ran into people such as you describe.

Thursday, August 2, 2007 at 10:40:00 AM GMT+3  
Blogger aliyah06 said...

I swam competitively as a kid/teen...thanks for affirming that I'm NOT crazy and these feelings are normal!

Sunday, August 5, 2007 at 7:26:00 PM GMT+3  
Blogger Jill said...

I may sound a bit naive...but don't they have lifeguards to monitor and enforce the proper pool protocol? Sounds like hazzard swimming is you ask me.

Saturday, August 11, 2007 at 7:47:00 PM GMT+3  
Blogger aliyah06 said...

Ah, yes....but the bulk of lifeguard duty is keeping the kids OUT of the lap lanes and making sure the kids don't drown each other while playing in the non-lap section, and the old folk don't suddenly keel over in the pool...they tend to let the lap lanes police themselves. Unfortunately.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007 at 8:06:00 PM GMT+3  

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