"It would definitely be a miracle if I were swimming." Does this sound like you? You wouldn't be alone. Not by a long shot. Forty-six percent of American adults are afraid of deep water in pools, and sixty-four percent are afraid of deep open water. Nonswimmers are a bigger "pool" of people than you would think. 

The most common response I hear to these statistics is, "That's ridiculous! How does anyone not know how to swim?" That kind of thinking drives me COMPLETELY NUTS, because there are a ton of completely valid reasons that people become adults that do not know how to swim. And not one of them is ridiculous. 

Not one.

Here. See for yourself.

One of the key reasons that adults choose not to learn is that they are embarrassed and feel a bit shameful about how they have never learned to swim. And honestly, there is no reason they would want to learn to swim when all that swimming has ever had for them is fear. Why would someone want to learn to do something that sounds terrifying and scary? Well, sure, there are some people for whom doing scary things is a fun challenge (people who like say platitudes like "do something that scares you every day," to which I respond, "oh ok, yeah right, man, I'll get right on that; meanwhile you go ahead and order your different drink from Starbucks as your item for the day"). However, for most of us go-to-work-take-care-of-the-kids-pay-your-bills normal people, spending precious free time purposely scaring themselves doesn't sound like a whole heckuva lot of fun. 

Another reason that people don't know how to swim as adults is that, for many people who grew up from childhood not swimming, there is a legacy of non-swimming in their families or culture. Sometimes this legacy is due to an incident that may have happened to them or an older family member that led to fear of water in general in the family. Sometimes it is cultural, meaning that their entire culture or family did not swim, and so swimming is a strange thing to be pursuing. Sometimes it is practical, meaning that they do not like to get their nice hair style wet, which is completely normal and understandable. If I spent sixty bucks on something lovely that I was proud of and that made me look awesome, I would not want to feel like I was wasting my money either.

Another key reason that people choose not to pursue learning to swim as an adult is that to do so means that they are exposed in a swimsuit in front of others. Not everyone loves how they look in a swimsuit. People at pools are often lounging around with nothing to do but look at other people walk by. It can feel a little like a fish bowl in there. It takes a whole re-frame of mind to want to swim bad enough that you can not care what people think about how you look. And not everyone is ready to go there.

What I am saying is that it takes a LOT of chutzpah and guts to decide as an adult that you are ready to learn to swim. It sometimes comes at the cost of a lot of comment from one's family, friends, and neighbors. It comes as a commitment to try something new.

The miracle of Miracle Swimming is that it is NOT scary, we do not push, we do not shame, and we do not care what you look like in a swimsuit. You only do what you want to do, as the easiest path to your learning is, as it turns out, you having fun.

And when you or someone you know is ready, we're here. 

Recently, I had the chance to talk to some really neat people from my past... people that I worked with during the summers of my college years. This place we worked, Philmont Scout Ranch, is sort of a camp meets national park, that employed (and still employs) over 800 seasonal staff every year. Some of these people are still close friends even now. This picture to the left is in 1994, the year that I worked with a small group called a work crew.

I remember thinking that these were basically the coolest people in the world, and that every person that I met there was just fascinating. I would go back to college so pumped and excited that I knew such amazing humans. 

Then, a few summers after I was done working there, I was looking at the pictures and reminiscing about them, and I was thinking, THAT GIRL WAS AMAZING! THAT GUY WAS SO AWESOME! I LOVED THAT GUY! OH! REMEMBER HER? SHE WAS SO INCREDIBLE! RIGHT? REMEMBER THAT? 

As I looked through those pictures, I remember being a little bummed because I was missing these awesome people. Well, I mean, I did have friends. It wasn't like I was bereft of happiness. But I thought, WHERE ARE THESE REALLY REALLY AWESOME PEOPLE in my life? Why didn't everyone else in the world have that special sparkle that these friends had? Couldn't we all just get in touch again and start a neighborhood together somewhere and just live next door to each other and..... and... 

...and then I realized it. 

I realized that when we went to that camp, we went there EXPECTING PEOPLE TO BE AWESOME. 

We went there absolutely certain that we were going to meet and hang out with amazing people. We didn't expect people to be boring, or superficial, or strange, or anything. We expected awesomeness unabated.

It was right then with the photo album in my lap that I realized that, in fact, awesome people were all around. I realized that by expecting them to be so, by looking for and thinking about and pondering on the great things about them, they became even more awesome. I realized that, back at our camp, by telling people how awesome they were and by talking about them to others in this way, we unwittingly built a culture of people who loved to be together. 

See, this is real community. Sure, every one of these people were imperfect, and they still are (chief of them, me). Some of them were annoying (me?), some of them were a little crazy (also me?), some of them didn't make the wisest decisions (definitely me). But by choosing the awesome parts to simmer on and live within, we smothered the little, petty, divisive criticisms of one another until they almost weren't even there anymore. 

So I put the photo album down and started living this way and expecting awesomeness in the people I knew. Becoming fascinated with them. Learning their story. Reveling in their little details. Glossing over their little idiosyncrasies. And not surprisingly, awesome people popped up left and right.

But up until recently, I had allowed some selfishness to overtake the awesome. A good friend reminded me, "Ali, if you're going to be continually critical of this person and that person and this gal and that guy in these little regards, pretty soon there aren't going to be any perfect people left." Whoa, humility, hello and welcome.

I realized again that I want to see people in the way that they were created to be seen. I want to speak truth into their lives when invited. I want to point them to their purpose. I want to love them the way that I've been loved by the One who knows me best. 

Because I want more awesome people in my life. Don't you?

And now we know where to start. 

Look left, look right.


Last time on the blog, we talked about what it means to have joy with food, in light of our culture's messages to us on WHAT we SHOULD eat, how MUCH, and WHEN. But we introduced the idea about how it might be possible that the body can be trusted to discern all of that on its own. I promised to give some examples from my own life on how it looks to listen to the body on what it wants and needs.

A typical day for me starts at 5:30 or 6 am, when I roll out of bed to meet clients from 7 to about 9 am. I'm a morning eater (note I did not say morning PERSON, ha ha!) ... meaning I'm really hungry in the mornings from when I wake up until about 11, and then my hunger tapers off some. My usual pre-client breakfast is a big blueberry/banana/PB smoothie, or cereal with granola and a banana, or some eggs if I'm feeling like something salty and savory. But normally, I like sweet things in the morning and I don't really crave protein. I'm not a big fruit-for-breakfast person, except for bananas, or if the fruit is whizzed up in the smoothie. I don't know. Maybe it's because fruit's cold, maybe it's too sour... but it just doesn't sound good to me when I first wake up. I usually fill my huge (and I mean YUUUUGE) Yeti Cup with decaf coffee that I take on the road. I don't do caffeine because it makes me nervy.

When I finish with morning clients, if it's summer, I'm off to teach swim lessons until late morning, and in between I grab some nut/granola bars, water, dried fruit, string cheese, boiled eggs, nuts, as I'm hungry and as I have time. When I'm done with morning lessons, I'm usually really hungry for something salty, like grilled chicken, nuts, egg salad, or salad with honey mustard dressing. I'm not really hungry for bread or pasta much, and I think I don't crave it because I don't digest bread very well, but also because my body gets most of its carbs from fruit which I do really like. If it's winter, I eat the same way, just not as much volume since my hunger isn't as strong from typing at the computer as it is with being in the pool.

Because of my bigger brunch at 10:30 or 11, I'm not usually hungry until around 2. Then, I usually am hungry for more protein, like ham or turkey, or some cottage cheese. Around now I start wanting vegetables like broccoli, carrots, and celery with peanut butter or Ranch (but not PB and Ranch together...eewww!). More handfuls of nuts. 

Most days, I'm teaching in the afternoons and evenings, so I usually get done around 7 or 8, which is later than most folks get off of work since I'm available for lessons after they finish work. After then, I'm hungry for a good meal - we tend to eat soups with rice, and various veggies with various meats. I usually want a plate with some kind of big protein and 2 veggie sides for the hubs since he's a traditional (read: Southern) eater. Sometimes we make cheese grits. We hardly ever have dessert, but not because we shouldn't but because we are usually no longer hungry after eating our dinner. 

I guess I tend to eat every 2-4 hours, but I don't really count - that's just when I can feel my blood sugar dropping and I get hungry. I never eat when I'm not hungry. On top of not sounding good, food when I don't need it gives me heartburn. I always eat in hunger Phase 2, which is as below: 

Phase 1) Hmm, I'm feeling a bit peckish. What do I want? I don't know what. Something. 
Phase 2) I'm hungry and I know what I want. That looks good. 
Phase 3) My stomach is growling and I'm starving! I don't care what it is, give it to me NOW! 

I think that it's important to eat in Phase 2 because THAT is when you can hear what your body wants. I don't look in the fridge to find out. I just think, WHAT DO I WANT? And then I go get it or the closest thing I can get to that thing. 

Here's the rub: I never tell myself that I can't have something or that something is bad for me. If I want something that's not nutritionally optimal, I remember that I'm not eating exclusively THAT all of the time, and I think it's much more OVERALL healthy to eat something that's a nutritional zero than to be mentally unhealthy by holding myself to an unrealistic, untenable, and un-fun eating standard, strategy, or range of foods, whole or not.

So there you have it!
1) I eat in Phase 2, which is always when hungry, not when not.
2) When eating, I stop when I am no longer hungry, not when I am full. Usually this is at the first moment when I sigh, ahhhh I feel better.
3) I don't think about what I "should" eat, I don't eat a specific diet or cut out food types or groups. I eat what I want to eat.
4) My weight stays slim, stable, and my hunger fluctuates according to my activity level.

Hope these examples helped you visualize what it means to me to eat by listening to my body. Next time, we'll explore what it means to stop eating when no longer hungry... what it means to "delay, not deny." 

This is a several-part blog post on nutrition from me, a trainer and coach, but it's not going to tell you what to eat. What? Read on.

This is something I get asked about a lot as a trainer and coach. However, today I'm not going to talk about what to eat for weight loss or optimal athletic performance. I want to talk about food and joy. 

Do those two words not go well together for you? Maybe there are weight issues, or body issues, or maybe you're trying to eat for performance so that you can go faster in your sport. In these cases, eating isn't always joyful - it's for fuel, or it's for a goal, or it's for trying a new way of clean eating or whatever. And then after awhile (and trust me, sometimes it's a long while), eventually you crave and eat that food that is "bad," or that you "shouldn't eat", or you have a "cheat" meal, or you say," I can't have a box of that in my kitchen because I'd eat the whole thing." And just for that moment, you feel bad about it. Sometimes you even feel bad in your stomach if it's really greasy. But anyway, even if it's just for a moment - what would you say if someone said that food and joy can go together ALL OF THE TIME? That you can have joy with every bite that you ever eat and never have food guilt or obsession again?

I doubt it, you say. Well, stick with me here.

Clean eating: this one of my pet peeves: what does clean eating imply? That there's a dirty eating. What does cheat meal mean? That most of the time you are following a rule, and that you have now thrown it off and cheated. What about foods that we shouldn't eat? That there are things that you should do that you are not doing. What does a "bad food" imply? That partaking is doing something bad. Does anyone like to be dirty and bad and be a cheater? I don't. That doesn't sound like joy. And I don't care if it's even for a few minutes, I don't want to feel like that.


Bear with me, don't send me an email yet or flame me out in the comments - there is a LOT of information out there in the web-o-sphere on nutrition and weight loss and sports nutrition and everything else under the sun having to do with food and non-food. There is really fantastic, solid, physiologically-based empirically-determined research done by a lot of people with lots of initials after their names who have an understanding of the human body that most of us can just dream about. And that's good and amazing and really needed, and I'm not taking away from that. We absolutely need to know what the body does and why. We need to understand what's happening in there. I'm just talking about the following three questions:

1) Are you hungry?
2) What are you hungry for?
3) If you stop eating now, is your hunger quiet for now, or not?

These are the questions that Meg Meranus (FYI, not a doctor, not a nutritionist) asks in her aptly-named book, Diets are Fattening. Based on her own experience and observations, she believes that food restriction leads to eventual weight gain, and that listening to the hunger cue can tell you a lot about what and how much you need. She blogs about it, has a facebook page, a $10 Kindle book. And I think she's onto something. And I'm not going to try to convince you that she's right, I'm just going to tell you my story.

In my former life as a young swimmer, I struggled with weight and body image issues, and all of my life I never really understood how it was that a human body maintains a weight by eating normally. 

WAIT, WHAT?? Ali, you've always been skinny! I've known you forever! You're naturally thin and you have never once been fat! 

And you would be right. I have been skinny. Because I knew how to maintain my weight by restricting my eating in terms of eating healthy foods primarily, and restricting portions, but it did NOT COME NATURALLY. I worked at it and I watched what I ate. After I got through with college and a dark period of eating way too little, I came to a normal healthy weight, I ate healthily. But I didn't think healthily - I could not figure out how to not constantly be watching what I ate. Sadly, I didn't realize that the hunger cue was the key to not worrying about how or what to eat. 

Worrying - some might say, Ali, I don't worry. I just care. I just have a concern about what I eat and what's so bad about that? I want to go fast or I eat like crap or I need to lose 50 pounds, Ali, can't you understand that? I do. I do understand that. But focusing on the food and what you should eat only ADDS to the amount of time that you spend thinking about food and what you should eat. There is ANOTHER way. Meg's book - which you could read if you want - talks about all of that; those are her three questions above. And the questions come from this general idea: the body you live in, whether you believe it was created by an infinitely intelligent eternal being, or came to be after years of evolutionary sharpening, has to know what the heck it needs. For life, for endurance, running after kids, running after elephants, whatever. It has to! Why does a dog eat grass? Cesar Milan says that they do it to fill a nutritional need or extra fiber. Now, if your dog can't figure out how to get the Pupperoni out of his Kong, and HE can know what HE needs, don't you think that your body with smartphone-wielding brain cells can know what it needs? In the natural order of things, there are instincts, and there is reason, and there is wisdom. We don't have many instincts in the sense that animals do, but doesn't your body at least have reason and wisdom?

Someone will say - hey, I'm going to the Olympics in 2016, or I want to go to Ironman Kona, or I just want to be the best that I can; I'm an elite athlete looking for top performance, or I'm looking to lose weight fast because I've neglected my weight over the years. To that I would say, then you should do what is right for you. You don't have to listen to this. You can go on a diet or eat healthily - you can do all of that now. But you HAVE TO LOOK LONG TERM. You have to look at whether there is complete and total joy for you on your quest. You have to look at whether the process of (quick or SLOW) weight loss or performance is creating a preoccupation with that one aspect of your life. Maybe you're like, YES, and that's fine with me. If so, great! If you want to count macros and cross off boxes and look at percentages, more power to you and I stand behind you in meeting your goal! As a coach, I will support you in every way possible! But that is not my personal philosophy, and I think that it's worth considering that planning and cooking and eating this way can contribute to an unhealthy and latent brooding about eating that certainly isn't complete and total joy all the time. 

If you are going to eat like that, we have to recognize that as a goal-oriented diet and not a sustainable lifestyle. 

Next time, I'll continue talking about how those three questions get answered in my life.

As the Saturday Night Live Coffee Talk lady would say, "discuss amongst yourselves."

What's it time to do? It's time to remember. Time to dig through the drawers and look for that swimsuit/tri-suit from last summer. That suit that still has the mud stains on it from when you did that one race and the water was so mucky that it left a neat long forever-there dirt-from-the-earth stain right down the middle that will never wash out. Remember that race? 

Remember how the bike was a little hillier than you thought, and you were reminded that you have that back injury from when you were 21 and doing trail maintenance work at that state park when you thought that you could move that really huge rock, but you really couldn't? What you could do was cause a disc herniation that would haunt you on hilly races, but then remember how you toughed it out and you rode your bike like the wind, herniation or no, and that wind was so amazing and it cooled you with the amazingness of convective cooling and you were super thankful for Newton who discovered/described this law: "The rate of heat loss of a body is proportional to the difference in temperatures between the body and its surroundings while under the effects of a breeze." Thank you, sweet Isaac, thank you for your happy discoveries.

Then remember how the run was so hot that you thought you were going to pass out and you grabbed that icy sponge out of the bucket and it felt SO AWESOME you guys, to squeeze it over your head? But then, there it went, trickling down your back, into your drawers, and down into your shoes, where your feet were now suffering from jungle rot for the rest of the race. Remember how it made your feet go 'squirk, squirk' and every time you ran in the proximity of someone else, they looked at you like, what is that sound? THAT SOUND IS SO ANNOYING. But you were like, whatever, man, I'm on my way to the finish line.

Remember also how there was that one skinny line of shade on the left side of the running path, and you ran in it like a bee looking for its hive, dodging people, running the tangents of the course so that you didn't have to take ONE SINGLE MORE STEP than you had to. Your main survival goal was to STAY IN THAT SHADE, dangit, STAY IN THAT SHADE, because the second you stepped out of it, it was like being beamed up directly to the surface of the sun where you stared the sun-god directly in the face and stuck your head into the sun-oven where he was baking his sun-cookies with sprinkles on top.

But then, like all things do, it came to an end when you ran across the finish line and remember how you could barely lift your knee so that they could remove your timing chip. And you were like, NEVER AGAIN, NEVER AGAIN. But then remember when that music was bumping bumping oonce-ing oonce-ing and they gave you your medal and everyone was like, GREAT RACE GREAT RACE, and you were like IT WAS! IT WAS A GREAT RACE! I WONDER IF I CAN STILL GET INTO THAT RACE NEXT WEEKEND.

Recently, I was made aware of a wonder of the modern world.... a fairly new spray that is supposed to - get this - REMOVE CHLORINE FROM YOUR SKIN! This is, as far as I can tell, the best invention evahhhh because chlorine is an annoying but necessary evil for us swimmers and triathletes. Here's the top 5 ridiculous reasons why:

(5) Chlorine is itchy. The stuff generally makes your skin feel like it's cracking into evenly spaced hexagons like the baked crusty earth of the Great Salt Flats out west in whatever state that is. Seriously. It makes shaking hands with you seem like you are wearing sandpaper mittens. But it's not itchy in the pool itself. It's only when you remove yourself, dry off, and are driving home that it attacks you with its evil tiny claws. Then you squirm like a rat in a cage in your car and wonder whether you would still be able to grip the steering wheel after you apply hand lotion (answer: NO).

(4) Your back is really far and awkward to reach with the only parts of your body that are equipped to apply lotion effectively - your hands. I am fairly certain that I quite significantly pulled a chest muscle two weeks ago attempting to apply lotion to my mid-back. I have yet to see my PT about it because I don't want to have to explain. If you are reading this, Andrew, I pulled it doing pushups.

(3) The kitchen spatula method of back lotion application (see #4 above) is only marginally successful in clinical trials, given my 'n' of 1 (which is me). I only resorted to this because I looked online and consulted my wise social media friends for a solution, but the only thing we found was a crazy handled massaging stick that was, like, 15 bucks, and looked like it might last, oh, you know, 15 seconds.  

(2) You look like a complete goofball applying lotion to your back with your kitchen spatula in the locker room, and sometimes you don't apply it because there are people there in the locker room. Then you twist and turn later trying to find the itch like a buck removing its antlers and end up pulling your chest muscle again.

(1) Last but not least, chlorine makes you smell awesome. People are constantly stopping you to say, HEY, you smell great. You don't at all smell like you work at the Clorox factory and use chlorine pellets for air freshener (not advised at all). 

Disclaimer: I have not actually tried this spray yet. However, in summary, I encourage everyone to try it out. If you don't, at least let me know what brand of spatula you recommend.

The number 1 swimming injury! Aside from being a click-baity title, which we fully admit, are you curious yet? Maybe you already know what it is. (Hint: it's not related to twerking or any such sort of thing).

Duh-nuh-nuh! SHOULDER OVERSTRESS AND IMPINGEMENT! On Oct 29, local Physical Therapist Andrew Walker (of PhysioWorks Huntsville) and I had the great privilege to do a seminar on this at a terrific running and multisport store in town, Fleet Feet Huntsville.

Andrew talked for several minutes about the anatomical structures that make the shoulder unique to all joints, and I discussed the four main swimming stroke flaws that can lead to the condition. 

The most common stroke flaws that stress the shoulder are (drum roll please):
  • Thumb-first hand entry (thumb-first entry leads to impingement; hand should enter with middle-finger first)
  • Digging for clams (or down-pressing - after entry, want the elbow to bend to face forearm backward instead of pressing directly down)
  • Wide S-pull (some S-shape in the underwater pull is ok, but a very wide scull at the beginning will load the shoulder too much)
  • Crossing over (letting the arm drift across the center line either at hand entry or underwater during the pull will encourage impingement)
Each of these stroke flaws increases the load on our shoulder muscles in such a way that our poor little shoulders cannot handle it. Either there is too high a stressor on them, or the stress is in the wrong direction, leading to impingement in the joints. 

If you couldn't make it to the seminar, there is a neat e-book you can always access online, here
E-books, yayyy, no papercuts! Feel free to send questions or comment here!

POOL GEAR MAKES ME WANT TO DO SOMETHING. But not in the way that you might think. See, I've just dropped a slim $20 on a new type of swim paddles (see left). Yayyyy! Tidbits of retail happiness! Buy all the things! 

Yes, I do feel all cool now (what, I wasn't cool before?) and I do feel more motivated to go to the pool to try them out and thus beat the inevitable winter inertia. But more importantly, new pool gear makes me want to do something different in my swimming. 

New stuff gives me inspiration for interesting sets to plan for myself in the pool. Sure, I could get in and swim a hundred miles straight every time I get in, but, hellooooo, I would rather do multi-level story problems hanging from my toenails in Alcatraz. I am reminded of my least favorite set, courtesy of one of my high school swimming coaches, the late and beloved Howie Auer: 8 x 1000 freestyle. When he would write that on the board, I wanted to shoot myself with a water gun and sink to the bottom. 

(I am not going to deny that I did not write all of his yearly sets down and predict when that set would occur and therefore skip practice on that day. I am not going to deny that at all. And I am not even going to deny sharing my list with my fellow teammates. And I am really not going to deny also going to the local ice cream shop (the inimitable Young's Dairy, can I get a witness!!?) and Glen Helen trails to frolic and enjoy the spoils of our supposed intelligence. Oops.)

Maybe it's my social-media induced short attention span, but nowadays when I plan a workout, I want FUN! I want different strokes, paces, strokes, breaths, etc, etc. And the swim research is showing that race pace training actually is more beneficial (fodder for another blog). So I guess if shaking things up with new paddles allows me to bury the water gun, I suppose I can part with a few bucks.

Good day Sweaters and Swimmers! Today, we are going to chat about one of the technological advances of our age. Ok, maybe of an age that has been here for awhile... THE MIRACLE OF UNDERWATER VIDEO.  Since the dawn of celluloid film, underwater video analysis has been one of the secret tricks of the swimming trade. However, it's not always been an easy (or cheap) trick.

When I was a youngster... (and here you need to say this part in a crotchety voice), "When I was a youngster, if we wanted to see underwater video, the pool had to have an underwater window that you crawled down into through some kind of sketchy trapdoor staircase, plus you had to have an over-the-shoulder VHS camera so that you could be filmed like a salmon in a fish ladder.  Your coach had to be brave enough to crawl through the spiders and the dank mold in order to have even a peep of the mystical underwater world. Then, once you were filmed, you had to sit there and freeze to death while your coach pointed out your stroke flaws and tried not to get electrocuted by all the wires on the pool deck. And don't even talk to me about making a copy to keep. That will be an extra $200 so that we can buy a VHS copying machine."

Well, 1990 self, here's what I have to say to that. Just a few choice words. Go-Pro. IPhone. Youtube. 

So, see? We should be so lucky.

But why be filmed at all?

For one thing, you would absolutely not believe what you can see. It is crazy! There are arms and legs flailing everywhere, there are bubbles flying. There are feet bopping here, there, and yonder. Whenever I am filmed, it reminds me a lot of those traffic cameras that take your picture when you are speeding. "Officer, there is NO WAY that is me. Oh wait, you have a PICTURE? Ok, yeah, I guess that was me." I can't hide with underwater video. It is all there in living color for me, ready or not! :)

Most interestingly, oftentimes I think I am doing something, when in fact I am doing the exact opposite thing. Even more often, I think I am doing something a LOT, when in fact I am barely doing that thing at all. Still don't believe me? See an example video analysis of me here. (If you can't critique yourself, you can't critique anyone). 

So you want to be an mermaid/merman in perpetuity? It's $55, and all you have to do is give me a call, and we'll set up a time to meet and film you (or you can even send a youtube link if you don't live anywhere near me), and you'll get a private annotated video that only you can see. 

Just get ready with your alibi.