Lap Swim Wars: Sexism in the Pool

I’m a lapsed athlete. Or maybe a binge athlete.  At any rate, since about 2000 I have been a fairly consistently involved in marathons, triathlons, long distance cycling and bike-touring.  The intensity level varies but there was usually something going on. 

The Ladyfriend and I both did an Ironman triathlon 8 months after the Babylady was born.  Logistically speaking, training for Ironman with a newborn is a nightmare.  When it was over, I was done.   It is now 18 months since the last big race day and I’ve yet to begin exercising “for real.”  Sigh. 

I’m calling for a comeback.   I’m easing back into regular running.  Which is as painful as it sounds.  If you are a runner you will likely remember  that  those first few weeks of regular running feel ridiculous.  I am huffing & puffing and feel as though I have never run a day in my life.  Not at all like someone who has run 3 marathons (or 5 if you count the 2 Ironman triathlons) and countless half-marathons.   Slow. So slow.  Clumsy. Unnatural. It kinda breaks my heart a bit. 

I’m swimming also. I really love to swim laps. I love the feel of the water, the smell of the chlorine, the smoothness of the glide, mindless repetition…love it.  I was never on a swim team, but have been in pools as long as I can remember and was a lifeguard/swim instructor forever (just like my dad and brother). 

I don’t do flip turns. I only swim freestyle. I don’t use equipment. I just swim.  And I’m good. Not swim-team-super-duper-speedy. But I can swim forever very efficiently and am pretty much better than most anyone else swimming when I’m at the gym.   No, no need to be humble. It is just true, in this case.  (*in all fairness, this is “gym swim”…not masters or swim team, etc- I’m not THAT cocky!). 

One of the reasons that I love my gym is that, generally speaking, the pool is not crowded.  Unless it is peak times I usually can score a lane by myself for a lot of my swim time.   If there are 2 swimmers, we split lanes, which is far better than circle swimming unless you and the other swimmer are doing the same workout at the same pace. 

And yet. I hate putting on my suit. I hate walking to the lane. I hate getting back out of the pool.  Basically, everything leading up to/following swimming is awful.  Body image is harsh stuff.  I have not lost my pregnancy weight. I don’t feel strong and confident in my body.  Or even connected to it actually. 

So, when I walk on the pool deck- a chubby middle-aged queer lady in an ill-fitting speedo– I want to be invisible. 

How-frickin’-ever.  Men. Boys. Get over your sexist selves.  It is 2010, not 1910.  You do not own the god damn pool. 

I’ve written a bit about this before here. Lap swim is not for the faint of heart.  Sexist pool shenanigans happen all the time.  Men do ridiculously sexist behaviors in some form or another every single time I swim laps with them. 

Today’s reluctant “splitter”  was the “water murderer.”   Crappy swimmer just beating the hell out of the water.  It might have been the noisiest “freestyle” I have ever heard.   Plus, he got started off with me all wrong.  Naturally, he ignored me even though I know he saw me.  I waited till he made his next lap and had to see me.  He appeared irritated and took off thrashing swimming again.  Listen up jerk, when I am notifying  you that I am will be splitting the lane DO NOT pretend to not see me. 

I know he saw “chubby middle-aged queer lady in an ill-fitting speed” and decided he was a). better than me and b). he shouldn’t have to share the lane with me.    So, you know, he didn’t share.  He occupied way more than his half of the lane.  There were near blows to my head on each lap as he thrashed back and forth partly in my half. Lucky (for him) he didn’t actually make contact with my head. 

So, as a public service announcement to male swimmers everywhere, I post the following guidelines on how to conduct yourself in a somewhat civil manner at the pool: 

  • You see me. So don’t act like you don’t.
  • You get half, I get half.  That is why we call it “splitting” and not “60/40-ing” or 70/30-ing.”
  • If we are circle swimming, get in the correct lane. No, just because you are a guy doesn’t guarantee your entrance into the fast lane.  If I am faster than you, do not keep pushing off the wall right in front of me.  Accept that I am faster and get over it.
  • I know you think you are sneaky when you wait on the opposite wall  & push-off at the same time I do. But, I know what you are doing.  You can stop trying to situate yourself so you can see if you are faster than me. You are not. Get over it.
  • Do not stretch in the water wearing your speedo or spandex shorts using the entire wall. Remember? We are sharing?  That means I am unlikely interested in seeing your tightly covered boybits on my half as I’m approaching.  Or ever really.
  • Yes, I do notice that you think you are “all that” when you are taking (yet another) wall break after slapping the water for 2 lengths.  I know you aren’t doing a timed set.  You are just a really bad swimmer.
  • I’m amused that you get your spandex all in a bind because you have to share a lane with the chubby middle aged queer lady in an ill-fitting speed only to then watch you go sit in the sauna after your 15 minutes of swimming/posturing.
  • Don’t be such a sexist.  You might be stronger in general.  But swimming is a great equalizer.  My efficiency & endurance will kick your strength’s ass every.single.time.

I may be out of shape.  I may seem like “just” a chubby middle aged queer lady in an ill-fitting speedo. But step aside this lady is still an Ironmama.  Show some respect. 

Ironmama, ready to swim


The worst pic- we look completely possessed! But we are the Ironmamas!

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13 Responses to Lap Swim Wars: Sexism in the Pool

  1. di says:

    as always, you rock my world IronMama!

  2. Travel Mommy says:

    Well said – you are a GREAT swimmer and Ironmama! Remember… the guy I knew who was training for the AZ Ironman…when I told him your swim time he was very impressed! The amazing thing was you doing the Ironman just 8 months after Lucy was born! Male chauvinists are a pain to society!

  3. ohbriggsy says:

    I COMPLETELY agree with you Meg. While we swim at different locales, it is the SAME story. Everything from taking up so much more than half the lane to only swimming 1-2 laps and then taking up the entire wall for minutes on end, to swimming straight into me and making water go up my nose and sinus’ cuz I’m diving down to avoid smashing into them in my lane. Dudes – back off and have some respect of the space!

  4. ohbriggsy says:

    this is sonja and i love this post meg!

  5. Sarah says:

    Meg, I sympathize. I am a very good swimmer (not great, but still very good) and I get the same crap at my gym. And the body image stuff. Oy. It sucks. As we both know, the best revenge is to outswim those idiots. Sometimes I do it while only pulling just to prove my point. 😉

  6. aastricker says:

    I’m not a swimmer (not good at it), but I completely sympathize with the “sucks to start running again after a hiatus” blues. I’ve been not running since Thanksgiving and am trying to work my way back up to a respectable distance. It hurts. And, it’s embarrassing. But, it’s got to be done. Keep it up!

  7. Great post! I’ve experienced this as well. I get so tired of people thinking they are better than me, when in the end, we are all equals. It’s amazing how much sexism exists in the pool, at the gym and even in the work place.

    All we can do is share our experiences and do our best to treat others the way we want to be treated. Keep up the thoughtful blog and best of luck in your training!

  8. Thanks everyone for the awesome comments! It is maddening that this is so pervasive!

  9. shells says:

    I’m so glad you found my blog on lap rage! ha! doesn’t matter where you are in the world, it’s all the same!

    I’m also a binge athlete! A sporadic half-marathoner, that’s what I am! My next ‘project’ is the Oxfam Trailwalker 100km walk in 6 days…eek!

    Enjoyed your blog immensely! Go Ironmama! And g’day from Melbourne, Australia! 😀

  10. Beth says:

    I feel like saying, “Dude, I totally get that you were the awesomest swimmer in the world in high school, or whatever, but this is a gym pool and I pay the same frickin’ dues you do and if I have to take a sec to catch my breath or fix my damn goggles, there is no reason to try and drown me with your MASSIVE KICK TURN!” Whatever.

    I am with you on the body image stuff, too. When I am doing the bootcamp thing, I feel like a slug rolling around on the ground. Probably no one else is looking at me, since they are all in pain, but I feel like they all are.


    I am totally going to swim laps tonight!

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  13. irisdb says:

    yeh. im starting to think i experience sexism in the pool. not sure it has anything to do with how i look except that im female and possibly look like i will roll over and take it…. but seems like some men can’t countenance being passed by a women. or if you are going to pass them on the lane-turn they make it difficult to do so. some folks are genuinely hapless swimmers with poor sense of personal space, but after get the measure of the situation and i ask myself, is it likely he would do that to another man and the answer is no. i get lane rage. adrenalin kicks in and end up in a heated exchange. very out of character. almost always they have ‘posh’ voices, with the arch (superior) tone of entitlement. there’s one guy in the pool, a regular who is a very agressive fast swimmer with a massive kick turn, but at least he is agressive to everyone certainly not just to women. makes a difference that to me & I have never had a problem with him.

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