Icy ocean swim: ‘flow state’ or reality check?

Eric Zelz | BDN
Posted Sept. 15, 2011, at 6:40 p.m.

I recently read an article about finding happiness in a cold ocean swim. I was totally sold and decided that I would indulge myself the next time I had the chance. The article said it would put me in a “flow state” and make me feel like a million bucks.

By now you know that I have made it over the age of 60, which makes me your classic baby boomer. I am classic in that I think I can do whatever I want, despite not having done it for years. This would include a swim in the Maine ocean.

In fact the last time I swam at all was in a triathlon in a local lake. At that time, I hadn’t swum even a tenth of a mile in about 30 years. Nonetheless, I was once a competitive swimmer and I believed that a lot of the effort involved is in your mind. I figured I was perfectly capable.

I may tell you that before doing anything like this you should check with your physician, but I have to confess, I did not. What can happen in a few decades, anyway?

I had a great triathlon and won in my category. My biggest dismay when I swam in the race was that a photographer from the Bangor Daily News took a picture of all the women swimmers from the rear and my picture, from the rear in a two-piece bathing suit, was in the paper not just once, but also in the annual Pictures of the Year issue. Even more astounding was that people actually recognized me half dressed from the back wearing a bathing cap! Oh yes, they also make you wear your age on your leg and arm.

With the article about the joy of a cold ocean swim in mind, I did one of my regular 5-mile runs to the harbor to meet up with my husband, Dan, to go for a sail. It was about 70 degrees and I was really hot when I got there. Dan wasn’t there yet, so I had a few minutes to contemplate the water. I took my shoes off and put my feet in and that made them feel pretty darn good. I was wearing lightweight running clothes, and by the time Dan arrived, I had decided to swim out to our boat.

He said, “it looks closer than it really is.” And he was right. I lowered my overheated body into the freezing cold harbor and started swimming. It was cold. Really cold. I had just run five miles so I was tired. Exhausted, actually.

Fortunately, the tide was coming in, so there was a lot of current headed in the direction of our boat. I was almost there when Dan came along in the inflatable and gave me a ride the rest of the way. Yes, it felt good. I measured the distance later with my GPS and realized that I had swum about a quarter of a mile. A day later, the soreness is beginning to wear off, but I think I finally get the picture that something I could do years ago isn’t quite so easy at this age.

Let’s see, how can I fit “practice swimming” into my schedule?

Noelle Merrill is the executive director of the Eastern Area Agency on Aging in Bangor.

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