How Not To Be the Fat Ex-Swimmer

By Jane
I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while and, in fact, I did once. I wrote it in a Word document while on holiday this summer. I remember saving the file with the name “how not to become a fatass.doc.” I even remember where I saved it. Unfortunately, the next time I turned on my computer, it no longer existed. I searched through the entire computer and it was gone. I have no idea what I did, but it seems that I have to write this again!

I quit swimming when I graduated from college. In fact, I quit on the last night of the NCAA Championships in 2006. We parted on good terms, swimming and I. I was very pleased with the relationship and was equally satisfied with the way it ended. The problem, upon ending the relationship, was that swimming had kept me fit since I was 11 years old. I had some worries about the future of my waistline. I was pretty sure that I could get away with a few months of sloth before my metabolism would catch up with my lifestyle and I’d put on weight.

All of you reading this site know how much time it takes to stay fit by swimming. At an average speed of four kilometers an hour, swimming long distances takes hours on end. I was incredibly uninspired by the idea of “taking up” swimming again for the sake of not getting fat. And by uninspired, I mean that I was definitely not going to do it.

So I took up running. Anyone who knew me during my swimming career would be laughing by now. I hated running back then. A 5’4″ 200m breaststroker, I was hardly built for running. Not many swimmers are. At first, running was torture. I did myself no favours by taking up running in the middle of winter, when my throat, lungs and eyes would burn in the 33 degree Fahrenheit weather. On my first morning of running, I made it through only three miles… I had to sit outside for ten minutes on returning home (still in 33 degree weather) because I thought I was going to throw up. I didn’t, thankfully. I may have given up right then if I had!

The first month of running was no fun, either. Obviously, it was still winter and I was still a swimmer and the only thing that kept me going was the fact that running makes you look good. I did start to notice some improvement in my running abilities, however. I could run four or five miles comfortably and my legs no longer ached and burned when I had to walk down stairs. I fit into size three pants again. Life was excellent.

This is not to say that starting running doesn’t come with its fair share of difficulties. My ankles have given out at various stages of this venture; I’d take a short time off and they’d get better.
Next up were my knees. That was pretty awful, but luckily, I had a week-long conference to attend during my right knee’s problems, which was a forcible recovery period. Most recently, my hip attempted a mutiny from what has become eight mile runs. It looks like I’ve fixed that now as well.

The “fact” of the fat ex swimmer is total rubbish. It’s easy to see how swimmers end up gaining pounds when they leave the pool, as we’re accustomed to being able to eat thousands and thousands of calories a day and staying skinny. We’re almost universally bad or inept at other sports and forms of exercise, and we’re often burned out on exercise as it is. I am, however, of the opinion that running is the best (only?) way to keep fit. It is so very energy intensive, and yet it takes virtually no time at all. An hour run on a sidewalk that’s available right outside the door, or a two hour swim at a pool that I have to drive to and from? I know which one I have time for these days and which one is a weekend luxury, at best.

I’m not an expert on running, but I can share some thoughts about how I began this venture and what has worked for me:

  1. Run in the mornings. This won’t work for everyone, but I have no motivation to do anything after work other than lay around. It’s also usually cooler in the mornings, which is a plus if you’re dealing with a season other than the middle of winter. Running in the heat sucks a lot.
  2. Listen to music. There is no need to be discerning in your musical tastes. My running playlist is an embarrassment, to say the least. However, time seems to pass a lot faster when it’s passing by in four-minute intervals. Also, as the majority of swimmers know, music can be great for getting one “pumped up.” Being non-pumped-up is a fantastic way to run like crap and return home quickly.
  3. Don’t run circuits. If you’re going to run six miles, run three miles away from home and then turn around. Trying to run circuits that take you back home before you’re done only increases the likelihood that you’ll quit half way through. If you’re three miles away from home with no money and no car, you have to get home somehow and walking takes a long time. If you’re also running in the morning, you don’t have the time to walk home.
  4. Give “injuries” time to recover. I kind of hate using the word “injury” as it implies that you’re a very important professional athlete. However, if your knee, hip, ankle etc hurts, rest it for a few days. Even using correct form, running is pretty hard on your body. You don’t want to be going through hip reconstructions at the age of twenty-six because you kept pounding sidewalks while your hips were out of shape.
  5. Go running on Mondays. It’s very hard to go on Tuesday if you started the week by sleeping in.
  6. Imagine your results. Did you ever think about winning races and qualifying for meets while you were swimming? When it hurts really badly and you want to give the hell up and take up eating pancakes, think of yourself looking hot at the beach. Vanity and motivation go together like filet mignon and red wine.
  7. Get a dog. Yeah, this one isn’t going to work for everyone. However, having a high-energy dog is a good way to get yourself out the door, as you know that the dog will be bouncing off the walls if you don’t take him running.
My friend and co-worker Matt recently wrote this fantastic post about his own running. He also recently completed the Vancouver marathon, which is no small feat. There’s just no need to become overweight or get out of shape after you stop swimming at a highly competitive level… although as with everything that’s worthwhile, it takes some work.
  • krusty

    Have you considered taking up biking? It does a lot for keeping you in shape without the amount of beating running does to your body.

  • Lex

    Hi Jane
    Having safely reached my 60’s without any injuries so far – I am convinced the answer is to do as many sports as you can in moderation. I’m not wonderful at any of them but I still go swimming twice a week, running twice a week, cycling as often as I can, and kayaking weather and time permitting. I also have a dog and do quite a few agility events with her. This means I have a real choice of activities and never get sick of any of them.

  • Hi Jane,

    Quite interesting story. I’ve been running for fifteen years and it’s true that it’s the best way I’ve found to stay slim. I run about 1/2 hour once a week.

    However I also took up (recreational) swimming about 7 years ago and go to the pool two times a week. For me it’s very enjoyable as I have a good time with my buddies.

    I also discovered Total Immersion which really opened a new world to me. Instead of the drudgery of mindless lap after lap swimming, my swimming has become a mindful practice which is very pleasurable, a kind of meditation in the water where I focus on my technique and the sensation of my body as it floats in the water.

    Who knows, maybe this method could bring back your love of swimming?