When I swam in college, I had a teammate named Liz, who probably swam every event in the meet lineup at least once during the three years I swam with her. This versatility is unusual in a swimmer; we tend to be specialists who have one to three events we hone over the course of four years. But Liz’s ability to take on different events, distances, and strokes made her a perfect (or unfortunate, depending on how you see it) candidate for the ironman of all swim events: the 400 yard individual medley. Shorter than the mile by far, but just as grueling because of its demand that swimmers be proficient in all four of the strokes, this race was one I never had to swim. I was a middling backstroker, and my coaches used to make me swim breaststroke when they wanted a laugh. I was a butterflyer, an occasional middle-distance freestyler, and a relay sprinter—but I knew the theory of the 400 IM. You had to pace yourself on the ‘fly, especially if you weren’t great at it, work the underwater kick off the walls on the backstroke, keep the breaststroke long and strong, and get the hell off the wall and head for home with everything you had left in your lungs for the freestyle.
Remember, way back when, when I said I’d check in to talk about the book-writing process? Those of our readers who’ve written a book or two probably thought that promise was hilariously ambitious, and I’m inclined to agree. Continue reading