When I was a little kid I was on the local swim team. It was something of a family tradition. I don’t remember sharing lanes during practice, but we must have, because there were a lot of kids, many more than there were lanes. But I quit when I was about 10, and my swim team memories are a bit hazy, kind of like my eyes after an hour and a half swim practice without goggles (seriously, I don’t remember wearing goggles at all…did I really not wear goggles or is my memory really that bad?).
The next time I took up swimming was when I was 21, at college. It was just for exercise, and I think it lasted about two times. The swimsuits the college made you wear were about 40 years old, I wore glasses at the time (pre-Lasik) and was totally blind, and then the second time I went swimming I had a head-on collision with a girl who had decided to share my lane–but without telling me so. I’d like to say that our collision led to me asking her out on a date and we ended up getting married and having kids and a minivan, but no, I was so shocked and annoyed that I just mumbled something to her about physics, got out of the pool, and never came back.
Because of that experience I detest sharing a swim lane. I don’t mind sharing a lake with 1,000 other triathlon swimmers, because we’re all headed in the same direction at a relatively similar speed, but swimming in the opposite direction as someone else in a constrained space gives me the willies and totally throws me off-form. This morning I arrived at the gym to find the pool full, and some people already sharing lanes. Normally, I go in the hot tub and stretch while waiting for a lane to open up. But a guy waved at me to share a lane with him, and I was caught off-guard because that’s never happened before, so before I knew what I was doing I was jumping in the pool to voluntarily share a lane with this guy. He stayed on the left and I stayed on the right, and that worked out as well as could be, although I didn’t like it.
Then the lane next to us opened up, so I swam under the lane line and started swimming there. It wasn’t five minutes before I was down at the end turning around, and luckily looked down the lane to see a guy swimming in my lane coming towards me. If I hadn’t looked up, I would have collided with him for sure. I had no idea somebody had jumped into my lane and had started swimming. For the next 20 minutes I had to deal with this guy, who apparently wanted to swim a loop, who was much, much slower than I am (not that I’m very fast at all), and whose feet were flailing all over the place. To add insult to injury, the guy I had just been sharing a lane with left just after this guy got in my lane, but another guy came along and grabbed the lane before I noticed. In other words, if I had just stayed in the original lane I would have been better off.
With all that in mind, here are some suggestions for effective sharing of swim lanes:
1. Most important of all, make sure the person whose lane you are getting into knows you’re getting into the lane, and that you plan on sharing it with them. I’ve had one head-on collision and almost had another today. I don’t know if these people assumed I saw them or what, but in the first case I didn’t and in the second case I almost didn’t.
2. To emphasize point #1, don’t assume they know you’re getting into their lane. I wear a waterproof sound system while I’m swimming, so if someone says something to me I cannot hear a thing they say, even if I’m out of the water and looking at them. I certainly can’t hear them if they say something to me while I’m in the process of swimming. If you and I don’t have a conversation, then chances are I don’t know you’re there.
3. Don’t do loops, just pick the right or left side. This means swimming speed doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t make things any worse for either swimmer. There is no purpose I can see to swimming in a loop, but I can see plenty of reasons not to, like me having to stop and wait for this other guy every second or third lap because otherwise I would have to swim around him.
4. Be sensitive to space while passing. I ran my elbow into the wall at least once today because the second guy I was sharing a lane with today was encroaching on more than half the lane and I was afraid his flailing feet were going to kick me in the face.
5. Oh yeah, when you ask someone if you can share their lane, ask them how much longer they have to swim. If they’ve only got 5 minutes, then maybe it’s better to just give them the courtesy of waiting those few minutes, and then nobody has to share a lane at all, and it doesn’t cost you much. I’d rather have the stress of someone sitting in a chair at the end of my lane waiting for me to get out than the stress of a possible collision with someone in my lane.
Thank you for reading and happy swimming to you…unless you get in my lane.