Posts Tagged ‘swimming’


Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

It had been a nice morning.

Woke up early and walked over the hill to my predawn swimming workout. I could traverse the back way, even as early dark as it was at 4:45am; a bright full moon, directly overhead, illuminated. Cross-country, as the coyote goes; night owls flying silent on the hunt.

Enjoyed a great workout in the diving well, set up as it was for short-course meters. Even though the team is on taper workouts leading up to a meet this weekend, there were some challenging sets. Several 200’s pace, followed by four fast 50’s had my chest heaving. I was alive with exertion and consumed by the effort. The usual people were going faster than me, and the usual people were chatting up a storm between sets. Par for the course – like I said, a great workout.

I chose to walk back home, this time taking the “urban route,” i.e., on the bike path alongside Golden Valley Road. A longer route, but being paved in asphalt, it’s an easier walk, especially after the hard swim. Slow and steady, up the hill – traffic whizzed by frantically.

Halfway up the hill, after the point the redwood post fence takes up, I saw a small creature, still and lifeless, right in the middle of the bikeway – a little bird.

I don’t know how long it had been there, but I doubt it was long. I suspect it had been flying fast and low, swooping down. Unaware of the bustling traffic, it must have struck a windshield. I imagine it stunned, and upended. Then tumbling out of the sky and landing, coming to rest in my path, not too long before I got there.

I noticed the bird, but walked past – in the habit of being anxious to start my workday, soon to be pounding a computer keyboard at Starbucks – I steadied on.

Then it occurred to me that this little bird deserved more consideration from me. What would it take for me to pay some small respect? Not much, so why not? I turned back.

I pulled a paper napkin from my pocket (editor’s note: Michael never travels without paper napkins) and used it to grasp the bird by its legs, and I lifted it gently. Past the edge of the bike path, and beyond the post-fence, I leaned in and pried up a good sized rock. The void left by the rock, where it had rested in the soil, was the perfect size to lay the bird. Back went the rock, gently. I found about six other stones of varying size and I used them to shore up the edges of the site. On top I placed a nicely shaped, medium sized rock. The memorial was complete, a cairn that enshrines a small bird; I continued with my walk.

So what is the point? If nothing else let his be a reminder to pay attention to the cairns. They are all purposeful, whether to mark a waypoint for fellow travellers, to serve as an impromptu work of art, or as in this case, to be a memorial. You never know what may have prompted a person to stack rocks one upon another, but maybe it is worth contemplating. Also, what things in our lives deserve attention, but don’t get it? I don’t have the answers. All I know is that this small bird got some consideration from me today, and I am the better for it – I am enriched by not letting its passing go unnoticed.

As I said at the beginning, it had been a nice morning, and now – yes – it still was a nice morning. It was simply not the same morning it would have been had I not looked down and built a cairn.


Olympics Ongoing

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

Out of habit I often find myself checking Google news, but now that the Olympics have started I have to to be more restrained. I will follow swimming, gymnastics and some track & field. I don’t want any spoilers, so less reliance on news aggregation (sorry Google!). For example, tonight it will be Phelps and Lochte vs. the world in the 400m IM. My pick is Lochte.

Back in the Pool

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Been so busy clearing out my house in Downey for new tenants that had to forgo swimming this week, until this morning. It felt great to be back in the pool. Although, due to special events at my regular aquatic center, the team had to practice at an alternate pool in Newhall. Despite the being slightly too warm for great swimmimg, it still, great to be swimming before dawn.

Rise, Walk, Swim, Rinse, and Repeat

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

A typical morning sequence

Even though abnormally hot during the previous Santa Clarita day the cooler night air cascades through the open window and over me in my bed. In these predawn moments I anticipate the alarm; it will be unwelcome and abrupt.

Then, 4:50am – it blasts; I can tolerate one push on the snooze bar without being too late to my swim. I do it, one push.

Roll out of bed and stagger to the bathroom; wash, and brush. I am moving around, but barely awake. I have found that my early morning swimming is just an extended form of waking… even once swimming I will feel lost in a transitional state.

Even as the morning sky is lightening, yellow, pink to blue, to night overhead, the planets, Venus and Mars, still shine brightly, unwilling to yeild to the approaching sun, yet they will – inevitably, they do.

Socks and shoes on the porch, poised like firemen’s gear, ready to go, always. Two squirts of hand lotion to counteract the drying effect of the chlorine.

The walk begins towards the gate, and then out into the wilderness. As the gates swings shut behind me I scale the steep embankment to start my 2 mile hike through relatively untouched Califronia Coastal Range terrain. Still in Northern Los Angeles County, and yet I live next to wild country.

Up to the first prominence, the highest point in my trek. A pause to deeply breath in the morning air. I turn slowly and I can scan the entire horizon. Pockets of low lying fog fill in small portions of the valley. Otherwise the sky is clear, and as it will be for the entire day.

Rabbits scurry through the brush. I’ve seen rattlesnakes, and I’ve heard them – whenever that happens I am glad for the warning. Evidence of coyotes, but no sightings. They leave rabbit carcasses and scat; they roam, and stick to their pack. This is their land, theirs and the other wildlife, yet, I walk through it as if it is mine.

Time goes by fast as I approach the pool, invigorated by my pre-swim walking warm-up.

Then poolside… I adjust my goggles, secure my earplugs, and then launch. I dive, limbs fully extended and my body sleek, I pierce the surface of the water. Immersed, alive, several dolphin kicks before starting my stroke. I will work hard; perhaps several thousand meters in 90 minutes, and yet it is as if I am still asleep.

It won’t be until after I’ve hauled myself out the water and showered, and started the hike back home, that I can claim to be fully awake. I will do this all again tomorrow.

For me, this is being fully alive, yet knowing – this is transition. Between sleep and wakefulness, conscious and engaged, but as if in a dream.


Swimming Freestyle – Propeller or Paddle?

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

some water

Call me crazy if you want, but four or five times a week I wake up at 4:50am, brush my teeth, hike cross-country about a mile and a half to the pool, and then, I swim for about ninety minutes with the Santa Clarita Masters Club. Exercise or hobby? Who knows, who cares – it does not matter because that is not the point. What I want to talk about is … paddle?, or propeller?

The context is the front crawl, which is the most common stroke used when people are said to be swimming freestyle. In her excellent NYTimes blog post Gretchen Reynolds addresses the question as to which provides better propulsion. Is it a propeller-like, motion (also called “sculling” in the post) in which the arm moves through the water in a s-shape in order to provide propulsive force? Or is it a paddle motion for which the arm digs into the water flat, is then moved straight back towards the hip? Spoiler Alert: the conclusion of the various studies and research and presented in the post is that the paddle motion is better.

Whew… what a relief, because, that is the technique I have gravitated towards, and that is the way I use my arms in the water currently. When I was first learning, the propeller approach was more in vougue. I never mastered it then, and basically forgot about until years later when I became more serious about swimming as my primary form of exercise. For me, my enjoyment of my time in the water has been steadily improving in proportaion to the improvement in my technique and efficiency.

An interesting aspect is terminology of the post and the various studies it references – terms from fluid dynamics such as lift and drag are used. As an aerospace engineer myself such usages tend to grab my attention, even when they are used in non-conventional ways.

There are several reasons why paying attention to technique will benefit any swimmer. First there is a rule of thumb that swimming follows the 80/20 rule. Performance derives 80% from efficiency and 20% from raw physical power. As such there is much more room for improvement by focusing on technique over strength and power. In addition proper technique reduces the chances of injury. There is nothing worse in swimming than to be sidelined with a nagging shoulder injury that could have been avoided or mitigated with better attention to technique.

For me, I am glad I found this article, and I’m happy it was consistent with what I’ve learned and what I practice.