## Thursday, January 12, 2006

### How to Count from A to Z

I have a 12 lap per mile track at Bally's ... Great thing: want to know your pace??? ... take your lap time and divide by five e.g., 40 sec lap = 8:00 mile, 35 sec lap = 7:00 mile, etc.

"Don't you lose count???"

Well, yeah. You can counter that two ways

1. Figure that you lap times are always accurate and consistent and however far you think you've run, IS how far you've run

2. Pick up a method I've "stolen" from Slowtwitch.com (keep in mind the author's doing swim workouts):

"Try letters," he said. "See, A-T. Use letters of the alphabet. That’s what I tell the kids to do. Letters don’t repeat themselves like numbers do."

Aha! That makes perfect sense! I almost wanted to swim another long set to test it out there and then.

OK, not really.

But my opportunity came soon enough. One Friday the workout called for a 1x1500. That’s three times through of A-T. Are you with me? So I say, OK, I’ll try it.

Remember, I deal with words for a living. Letters should be easy. I can’t begin to tell you how wrong I was.

I start the 1500 and the internal (infernal?) dialogue begins: "OK, A." Somehow that's not enough to keep my attention. So the mind wanders: "Let's try animal names. OK, anteater. Aardvark." This amuses me as I head into my flip turn. "B. Bear. Beaver." Flip again. "C. Cow. Coyote." This is fun. I work my way through the letters, then begin to founder when I get to the middle, somewhere around the Ks. "K. Hm....OK, koala." Flip again. "M...monkey." All well and good, but I realize I have no idea which lap is odd, and which is even within the alphabet. I think I've missed the letter L and now I've got to try to reconstruct in my chlorine-addled brain what number might correspond with the letter L. (For lion, by the way. Which makes me think of former San Francisco Giant Andres Gallaraga, the Big Cat. See how this works? It's a slippery slope, I tell you!)

Somehow I finish that 500 when I'm supposed to.

Clearly, I'm better off with numbers. But I'm keen to try to think in a new way, and I still have another couple of 500s to play with. So I forge ahead, still trying the animal names. I successfully navigate the ABCs and work my way into the murky middle again. "I...ibex. Whew, just in time, have to flip again." Flip. "J...OK, jaguar. Shaguar. Austin Powers. Groovy baby, yeah!" Soon my brain is running amok and I'm flipping without thinking what letter is next. What comes after J? Oh, right. K. Koala. Got that one. Now, L. For some reason, lion is gone from my subconscious and out pops...lemur. Followed by M...monkey. Then I ponder species and sub-species. Was it "fair" for me to choose monkey after I'd chosen lemur? Shouldn't I have chosen another subspecies? Isn't a lemur a kind of monkey? No? A primate? Suddenly I'm lost again. I am completely at sea, no idea where I am in the 500. S? Could it be time for S already? Nearly! We're just passing R. How I was able to figure it, I don't know, but it's upon me already.

R for...what? Reindeer? OK, reindeer. Now I can see the finish, the T is coming and I'm so ready to get to the end of this stupid mental exercise. It's only shown me that my brain is a scary place when left to its own devices, and that I'm the sort of person who apparently can't remember the alphabet. Thirty-six years old and I'm failing at a common schoolroom exercise.

S. S for...for...oh well, no matter, here comes the flip for T. Hooray! Now, T for...T for...T for...Titus Andronicus!

What the hell? What happened to T for tiger?

I haven't even read that play, and good God, another 500 is upon me. No time to worry about the kind of mind that would dredge up, and then spit out, the name of one of Shakespeare's lesser-known plays in the middle of a swim set.

I'll spare you my attempt at working through the alphabet by the names of common household fruit because I got hung up at D and that was the end of that. (Don't talk to me about dulse...not a fruit. Don't mention damson plum, either. I couldn't get that far.)

You would be right to think that surely, by now, I have learned my lesson. You can't steer a loose brain, and mine apparently springs free when left to ponder the alphabet in a pool.

Personally, I use ex-girlfriend's names (with a couple of cheats). Example: Amy, Becky, Cindy, Debbie, Elaine, Fran, Grace, Heather, I-leen, Joannie, Kat, Lori, Megan, Nancy, "Oh, her", Patti, ???, Robin, Sarah, Tracy, Ursla (from Finland!!!), Vicki/Valerie, Wendy, Yvonne ... I only need 24 to get through two miles, so I skip X and Z. Sure, some letters have more than one candidate.

Of course, there's a story behind each one. Sometimes I smile to myself, while clicking off a lap or two. I'm sure the girls think I'm smiling at them.

If they only knew.