The miles don’t matter, do they?

Trunk Bay, St John USVI, July 2021.

This week, in a swim group I follow, someone asked the inevitable question.
How many miles did you swim this year?

Quickly, the numbers started rolling in as swimmers posted their totals.
487 and 204 and 849 and 103 and 1312.

Some swimmers were proud of miles completed after returning to the water post-injury or illness. Others swam channels, and some did small distances in water that required chipping away the ice before dipping. Often, swimmers prefaced their number by saying “Well, it’s not much but…” Some lamented Covid pool closures, and some swam open water every single day, in places I’ve only dreamt of visiting. Some swam a lot, and some swam a little.

Swimcrest Aquatics, Amherst, MA, 2021.

Every year, I see a post of this type and something happens.
Immediately, I start comparing myself to the anonymous faces behind the numbers.

Wow! That person did THAT much? How did they manage it? Do they work? Do they have kids or a partner? Maybe they’re just that much faster than me and can get that much yardage done in the amount of time it would take me to swim half of that. (Because like every swimmer, I know there is ALWAYS someone who is faster, someone who will swim longer, someone whose stroke is so beautiful, it inspires me to work on my own.)

It’s not the only time of year that I think about miles covered. If I’m totally honest, I obsess about the numbers game all year long.

I compare this month to the same month in the previous year, and the year before that. I look at my six month total and calculate whether doubling that will get me to my yearly goal, and whether that will be equal to the year before, or more. I wonder what it would take for me to bump up to what I perceive as the next level.

Hampshire College, where my team practices so so very early.

I’ve covered a lot of miles this year. More than a lot of people, and perhaps my largest total ever. I’ve been fortunate enough to swim in some stunning locations, and to realize some long held swim dreams. I’ve remained injury-free, and the pools I love have remained open and accessible throughout the year.
I am incredible lucky.

Making friends on the Big Island, Hawaii, June 2021.

Even so, that number lurks.

I often question whether there a number that will ever feel like enough. In some ways, definitely not. I have big goals, and simply put, they often require putting in the miles to achieve.
I’m already committed to some swims next summer, and they will necessitate serious training. I’m excited and ready to begin, and as always, reminding myself that this is all a CHOICE.

I choose to swim because I love it, because it makes me happy, because the water is the place where I find peace and the closest I get to meditation. I swim because the water is so welcoming and because being outside and away from the rest of the world is a magic salve for, well, everything.

Lake LBJ, Kingsland, Texas, November 2021.

I could say my mileage fixation is different with my running, and in a way it is. I don’t have overall yearly mileage goals for that, but each run, it feels important to measure the distance, to know how much ground I have covered, and to have the proof on my watch to tell me.

A disaster occurred the other day when I stopped to deal with something for my running buddy, my dog, and forgot to turn my watch back on after we resumed running. How much had I done? Did my run “count” because it wasn’t accurate on my watch? (Okay, yes, of course it “counted” but how would I record it in my log? Because of course there is a log.)

Ouray Hot Springs, Ouray, Colorado, February 2021.

I am a person who loves a to-do list. I love crossing things off and reaching goals, however large or small, and having a mileage goal feels a bit like checking a box on a significant “to-do.” But it can also become paralyzing and sometimes turn swimming into a job, into a series of calculations rather than just an experience.
“I’ve only done this many yards this week. I have two days left so I have to do this many each day to get to where I want to be.”
“Crap. I’m so tired. I really want to take the day off, but I won’t get there if I do!”
“I swam more than usual this week. Should I bump up my weekly goals? Try to do this every week?”

Lake Mattawa, Orange, Massachusetts, Summer 2021.

It feels pretty absurd to worry about any of this in a set of years when the world is upside down. When so many individuals and families are suffering in a seemingly infinite number of ways. When life is totally unpredictable, even more so than usual. When pools across the world are closed, and swimming is an absolute luxury.

Maybe it’s a way of making sense of some of the uncontrollable chaos were are all facing. It’s a way to order a tiny part of my universe at a time when there is no order, too many surprises, and so many things are out of our control.

Mill River Recreation Area, Amherst, Massachusetts, Summer 2021.

When my clients swim, I don’t care about their yardage or how much distance they cover during the day or the year. I care about the quality of their swimming and how the strokes look and feel. I care about whether or not we are getting them closer to reaching their swim goals, and I would much rather see good quality swimming than yardage for the sake of yardage. I care about efficiency and joy in the water. I care about helping people become swimmers for life.

In fact, I often encourage them to swim without thinking about how much they have done, especially when in the open water. I am not, however, so good at taking my own advice.

Maho Bay, St. John USVI, September 2021.

My New Year’s Resolution, which I will fail at, is to not worry about the miles.

Given that I know myself well, I think it’s more realistic to say that I promise to do at least some swimming without a watch, without a means to calculate my yards, without the pressure of time, and without always forcing myself to do just a little bit more, go a bit farther.

Chelsea Piers, NYC, Summer 2021.

So how many yards did I swim in 2021?

And you did too.