Monday, November 3, 2008

The Playlist

A couple of years ago, when it became clear that my switch from running to swimming was going to stick, Mr. Coach and the little Coaches got me a swimming-related Mother’s Day gift – one of those in-water music players, a Finis SwiMP3, to be specific. My yardage doubled overnight.

My SwiMP3, the first model available, was a clunky-looking thing with big earpiece flaps and a control module that sat on the back of my head. I looked like I was part of a medical experiment. As a result, I never failed to get a lane to myself. The second and current model is much smaller and doesn’t scare off as many Zippy the Two-Lane-Wide Breaststroking Pinheads as I wish it would.

My playlist is a constantly evolving work-in-progress, but I have come to rely on a few rules of thumb:

1) AC/DC’s "Thunderstruck" is not a good warmup tune. I find that my vital signs in water are way more susceptible to musical influence than they ever were while running, and you do not want to take the heart rate up over 160 on the first lap. So right now my warmup music is typified by slower, smoother but mildly upbeat stuff: Weezer’s "Island in the Sun" followed by Dan Fogelberg’s "Netherlands" (shut up, he was totally underrated), chased by the Tupac/Dr. Dre remix of "California Love." I had high hopes for that Ben Folds/Regina Spektor tune, "You Don’t Know Me," but decided its syncopated rhythm does funny things to my stroke cadence.

2) Kicking and disco go together. Sorry, but this is also true. The legs will and do respond to the fast 4/4 beat of a drum machine. R&B can be good, too. Hip Hop usually has too many tempo changes and some of the sampling, if other people can hear it, is going to...ooh, actually that might work to get them out of my lane. Never mind.

3) Songs that build to a stirring climax are great in theory but rarely work in swim reality, and there’s one simple reason for this – volume changes. The "white noise" of the water gives you a fairly small range of hearable volumes and you really can’t change the volume on these headsets while you’re swimming. So, while the Foo Fighters’ "Let It Die" would be the perfect tune to power you on a run up a mountain, in the pool you’re either going to swim in a sloshy silence for the first half of that song or else suffer hearing loss worse than your grandfather’s on the back half. Either way, you’re never going to get the full effect.

But the truth is I actually have been using my SwiMP3 less and less these days. I’ve gotten to the point where the tunes are becoming more of a distraction than an aid during the meat of a workout.

It’s kind of like that crossover moment in a track career where the newbie stops showing up in a color-coordinated Nike singlet and compression shorts with Oakley wraparound shades, and starts showing up in t-shirts almost as old as themselves, baggy shorts and a pair of imitation Ray-Bans.

It’s called progress. But unfortunately a crossover moment like this also means that I’m about to get my rest intervals cut.

Progress, yes, but not my favorite kind.

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