For unknown reasons the high school pool is closed until further notice. People who swam there while I was on vacation said it was especially chilly recently, indicating that perhaps the heater was broken. Maybe it will open in September. Maybe it won’t. It looks like I’ll be swimming at the lake through the end of the season.

Last Thursday, Pat, Jennifer, and I swam the half-mile to the dock and the half-mile back. Pat and I are roughly the same speed in the pool, and we paced each other. Jen, on the other hand, is one of the fastest swimmers at the pool. When I looked forward to sight, I would often see her doing the back- or breaststroke to keep from getting too far ahead of Pat and me.

This morning I was back at the reservoir for another mile, this time with John the Irishman and Phil the Ironman. Phil is typically quite speedy, but he’s tapering for Ironman Mont-Tremblant this weekend. Without someone faster to chase, he seemed content to put in the distance without overdoing it. Usually when Phil passes me, I can only hold on to his pace for a few yards before he’s out-of-touch. With today’s more leisurely pace, though, he gave me the perfect opportunity to practice my drafting.

Drafting has been hard for me. Usually when I attempt to draft or pace off someone else I’m worried about getting too close and bumping into them, which slows us both down. Or I feel like I’m swimming in a whirlpool tub, my vision obscured by the bubbles from the kicking of the person I’m following. I’ve learned that you can get almost the same benefit by staying just to the side of the lead swimmer, as long as you stay within the V of their wake. That’s what I decided to try today. Phil had started from the beach shortly after me, and when he passed me, I swam toward him and settled into his wake. It took about a minute to convince myself that I wasn’t going to bump into his feet or legs. After a while I started focusing on my stroke mechanics again, making sure that I was getting the most of my effort.

It was pretty amazing how well that worked out! As I got more comfortable, I started swimming closer and really getting the benefit of the draft. A few times I had to hold back to keep from swimming past Phil. Other times he started to ratchet up the tempo a bit, and I slipped back to be directly behind him, trying to get comfortable being more-or-less blind to where I was going. (Fortunately, Phil doesn’t create a huge amount of turbulence.) I realized that the water starts to feel differently during the catch when you’re getting close to someone’s feet; it’s a little harder to grab, if that makes sense. (I did accidentally “tickle” his feet a couple of times when I pushed harder and he let up slightly. He assured me afterward that it wasn’t a problem, since he knew I was there.)

As I swam next to Phil for the 15 minutes back to the beach, I reflected a bit on how open-water swimming has helped me be more patient. I’m either on my way out or my way back, but for the most part I’m swimming a straight line for a dozen minutes at a time or longer—unlike at the pool, where I’m changing direction (and possibly stopping) every 25 yards. A couple of years ago, I had to tell myself to have faith that I would eventually get there. I still need this reminder from time to time, but it’s much easier to believe. Basically, I’ve gotten more comfortable being in the moment rather than at my destination.

While I was having this little conversation with myself—taking care to keep Phil within reach—I started to notice the world changing a bit. Usually, we finish a swim in full sun, which lights a notch of trees I use as a landmark when returning. (It’s easy to find the dock; you either see it or swim into it. Coming back involves a little more attention.) Today, however, the sky seemed to be getting darker. Soon it was foggy, and I couldn’t see the opposite side of the lake. I wasn’t concerned about getting lost; at worst we would swim some extra yards. I was, however, glad that I’d come to the place where I was doing something more process-oriented rather than focusing on the destination I couldn’t actually see.

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