(Timothy Clary/AFP Photo)

In January I started swimming regularly for the first time in about twenty years. When I wrote about it at the time I said that I wasn’t swimming for competition; I said that I was just doing it for myself. And I think I meant that. Now it’s ten months later and I’ve been steadily adding more and more to my workouts and swimming has pretty much taken over from my other exercise routine. I started off swimming 1000 yards three days a week. As I got more comfortable, I added a fourth day and then a fifth. Then I started edging up the distance. I was swimming faster and requiring less time to rest. I started keeping a log of my distance totals and every once in a while I would time myself. You know, just to see how I was doing. Nothing serious.

Of course there was absolutely nothing vaguely competitive about any of this. Racing never crossed my mind– not even when I caught myself secretly trying to pass the guy in the lane next to me. I found Swimplan and punched in some of the statistics I’d gathered over those first few months to establish a profile. I have really appreciated Swimplan and have recommended it to several of the other regulars I’ve met at the pool. That first workout added fifty percent more to my regular workout, and it’s kept steadily increasing ever since. Up until last week, I was averaging a total of 10000 yards per week. I’ve fallen into a comfortable routine — five days on, two days off — swimming Friday through Tuesday. On the three weekdays I swim over my lunch break; The pool is just two blocks away. On the weekends, I try to swim first thing in the morning.

Then a couple of things happened in rapid succession that altered my thinking. In one week at the pool I had three people ask me if I swam competitively: two mentioning the US Masters Swimming program, and the third talking to me about triathlons. At the time, this seemed like coincidence, but now I can say with some confidence that it probably wasn’t entirely coincidence. The Chicago Triathlon, the Wisconsin Ironman and the Chicago Marathon were all scheduled to run within about a month of the comments, marking the culmination of the summer triathlon season.

A goal is not always meant to be reached. It often serves simply as something to aim for. — Bruce Lee

I had a new goal. I’d accomplished most of what I’d sought out to do. I was comfortable in the water again. I was getting stronger and continuing to lose weight. I was feeling better about myself. The objective data was there for anyone to analyse: times were quicker, distances longer. It was time to step it up again.

So last weekend I signed up for Masters swimming. I joined a team and last night I attended my first official workout. The Chicago Blue Dolphins practice out of the UIC facility about a mile and a half from home on the southeastern corner of the campus. It has two gorgeous pools in the building. The large pool is a huge pool: eight lane 50-meter by ten lane 25-yard pool and a large diving well offset on the deep end. The small pool is a more typical six lane 25-yard pool. The workouts are challenging, effectively doubling the longer workouts I’ve been doing on my own through Swimplan. New drills, new techniques and coaches there to help make adjustments and provide encouragement.

From what I can tell, the competitive swim meet season starts in January, so I’ve got a bit of time left to practice before then. Regardless, it’s a powerful motivation and one I’m really excited about undertaking.