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Practicing in the Water

Before Zoe was born I was a triathlete.  Love me some multi-sport summer fun.  I was never especially competitive or fast, but I loved having an excuse to get outside and crash around in the summer.  “But I’m TRAINING!”  I would holler over my shoulder, as I stepped away from the oboe, the dirty dishes, or the argument with Steve and biked across Chicago to do an open water swim or a long run. 

 I haven’t swum regularly since little girl was born. It just takes so long to drive to the gym and change and between the time I’m away from home working and the time I have to spend at home working I can’t justify any more time away from her.  But now that she’s in SCHOOL I have some morning hours to reclaim.

So for the past month I’ve been getting over to the Y once a week to swim.  The first time I slid into the water I almost cried at the beauty of it.  A couple of strokes in I felt sleek as an otter, slicing through the water with an effortlessness that running can never match.  I snapped right back into the slow and steady crawl I’ve always used, and enjoyed my first few laps, with the water streaming past my face and the bubbles gently rising on either side. 

But it took no time for the focused practicer in me to reassert herself.  By the third lap, I was thinking about rotation.  How much should I be turning onto my side with each stroke?  I took a few lengths to experiment with over-rotating.  How far should my arm be reaching in front of me?  I worked at reaching farther and farther, feeling the stretch all through the side of my body.  Boy, I seem to be breathing pretty violently.  Can I control that a little better?  How about my turns?  Can I start closer to the wall?  What happens if I tuck my legs more, or less?  I am not a serious swimmer, but I try to improve a little bit every time I go.

Somehow, this obsession with form and technique doesn’t arise when I’m running.  On the road I know my distances and there’s always something else to idly look at - a partner, a heron, a doggie - and the whole one-foot-in-front-of-the-other thing is fairly uncomplicated.   But in the pool it’s just back and forth, same scenery, same lane line over and over, and either I totally let go and let my mind wander which means that I forget which hundred I’m on which makes my orderly mind go crazy, OR I can pay attention to what I’m doing which means that I want to do it better. 

Of course on the oboe it is totally possible to practice mindlessly.  To rip through the same set of warmups you always do and pretend that having played them equals having practiced them.  Basically, though, since I was in high school I have always been working to improve my playing and musicianship, and that habit seems to carry over effortlessly to other technique-based activities.  Swimming.  Dicing vegetables.  Typing. 

Is this just a musician thing? 


  1. Great post! I, too, dabble with triathlons and long distance running and couldn't agree more! I liken the multi-sport training to the work I do with performing, teaching oboe, and teaching academic courses. Each endeavor uses different skills, but each one complements the other. The years of oboe training make us patient to spend long periods of time at something only to notice slow improvement. It also teaches us diligence to practice drills for better swim technique, etc. When I'm in the water, I'm in a totally different sound world and sometimes get lots of music "thinking" done because there aren't any outside sounds. But the toughest part for me is when I have an ear worm and swim a gazillion laps to the same tune in my head. Aiee! Welcome back to the pool and happy training, CG

  2. I am much much MUCH more likely to get hit with an earworm while running - deadly!

    Thanks for commenting!




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