Morning Swim Practice – The 50 Meter Jungle

by Dean Ottati 6

February 03rd, 2015 Lifestyle, Masters, Opinion, Training

It’s a Friday morning in January.

stock, Morning practice, morning swim practice (courtesy of Dean OttatiIt’s dark. It’s cold. It’s been a long week at work, and an even longer 4 block week at practice. I’m tired, I’m fatigued, and I don’t really feel like swimming this morning. Coach Kerry probably has some nightmare lined up for us like ‘5 on 5’ or monthly ‘200’s’ (Some of the practices are named, one of them is literally called “Nightmare on Creek Street’) . It would be so easy to sit inside, drink coffee, and read the paper instead…

Yet I find myself in the car heading to Master’s practice anyway. As I come over the hill, I can see the lights and the mists rising from the pool. The scene, and my mood, match pretty well with a passage I remember in a book from my teenage years, written over 40 years ago: The 50 Meter Jungle by Sherm Chavoor. An unnamed reporter describes the scene at another pool perhaps 70 miles from where I am now:

“It looked like something out of Dante’s Inferno, or maybe a witch-and-wizard’s convention in Yellowstone Park. The temperature of the air was thirty five degrees; so, with the three swimming pools heated to about eighty, they were generating mists swirling up about forty feet. The only illumination came from below, from the underwater lights of the pools, and through the mists, it looked something like hell. The swimmers, struggling back and forth, two in each lane of each pool, were barely visible and gave me the impression of tortured souls in purgatory. Flitting about from one group of tortured souls to another in each of the pools was a medium-sized, gray-haired, pot-bellied creature who was snarling at the tortured souls and yet flattering them in the same breath. Through the mists he looked like Mephistopheles himself, or maybe some sort of statanic first sergeant – except for an incongruous green-and-white striped umbrella he was carrying to shelter him from the rain.” 

I pull the car into the lot. I hesitate again. I so much want to kick my feet up and put my feet on the proverbial dash board. The trouble is, once your feet are up on the dash it’s all too easy to leave them up there. And soon enough, you are no longer living the life of a swimmer.

“Do the thing, and you will have the power.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I grab my gear and head into the locker room…

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6 years ago

Really well written. Captures the sense of dread and mystery I always felt pulling into the parking lot at 5:30 in the summer.

Thanks for this.

6 years ago

“And soon enough, you are no longer living the life of a swimmer.” What a beautiful and poignant line.

My favorite workouts are those early days of summer when the steam rises out of the 50M pool. Makes me feel like I’m getting away with something. Right now it’s a 20-minute slog through snow and ice in -5 degrees to swim indoors. Not nearly as joyful, but still worth getting up at 4:20 for.

I remember that quote from 50-Meter Jungle. Must have read that book dozens of times when I was a kid. Thanks for the reminder and the well-written article.

6 years ago

Nice Dean! It’s dark, it’s cold, and it’s exercise and teammates.

Dean Ottati
Reply to  Ken_H
6 years ago


You raise an excellent point. Teammates are one of the great joys of swimming Masters — Especially when they are willing to lead the lane! 😉

About Dean Ottati

At various time in his life, Dean has been a summer rec swimmer, an AAU swimmer (yes, he is that old), a swim coach, a swim team director (social suicide through volunteerism), a meet director, a starter, an official, and just about everything else a swimmer/parent can be.  He currently …

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