Friday Reflection: Loneliness of the long-distance swimmer

In my younger days, there was a widely known book called The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner. I never read it – probably because I can’t run out of sight on a dark night. However, as a lifelong lap swimmer, I often reflected that the long-distance swimmer is even lonelier than his or her running counterpart.

A runner can occasionally converse with a running partner, but for a swimmer to do so is very challenging, if not life threatening. The swimmer is there, alone and muted, for the duration. Lap swimmers can suffer from ‘black-line fever’, which is totally unrelated to road-users’ ‘white-line fever’. Both of these phenomena can be mind-numbing but the good news is that the former is a healthy pastime while the latter can be deadly.

Long distance swimming does have its compensations. When I am doing my laps at the local pool, I solve all the problems of the world. With no-one to interrupt me, I can meander into any issue and come up with a solution. If only the powers that be would take heed and listen to my earth-shattering revelations.

More realistically, I can claim that I have solved less serious problems but problems of greater personal relevance. For example, one of my hobbies is woodwork – an activity at which I am competent but untrained. There have been a number of occasions when I have struck a problem while working on a project. It might be how best to make a drawer or which way to fit a door. The ruminative processes that take place while lap swimming have often led to my grey matter coming up with a plan of attack that is worth undertaking. How’s that for a rewarding fitness program?

Lonely lap swimming can also be meditative and relaxing. It can destress the stressed. It can provide a level of relaxation not often available on land, with the head above water. But … there is a serious downside and one to be studiously avoided. The long-distance swimmer should never enter the water just after listening to one of those overwhelming songs such as Bruce Springsteen’s Achy Breaky Heart. When that happens, the exercise is no longer relaxing, it is akin to brainwashing.

One day I plan to read that long-distance runner book. That’s the plan, but the reality is that it will probably remain unread. As such it will join another book whose title I am often quoting but will probably never read, Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps.

Are you a regular swimmer? Would you recommend it to others?

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