Fitness | Learning the Crawl Stroke

Fitness: Learning the crawl stroke | No Apathy Allowed

If you’ve been following my blog this year, you know that I’ve taken on the challenge of relearning how to swim. I had developed a fear of water over the course of my adult life, and knew it was time to overcome it. Although I still wouldn’t consider myself a strong swimmer, and still experience a bit of anxiety in deep water, I proved to myself last winter that I could swim by passing the German Bronze swim test.

Now I’m incorporating swimming into my cross training for the half marathon. But I knew there was still a lot left to be desired in my form, and I still hadn’t really mastered breathing with my face in the water. So when I saw a seminar on the crawl stroke offered at one of the public pools in Bremen, I immediately signed up.

I think I mentioned before that when Germans first learn to swim as children, they learn the breaststroke. So it’s what they know best. When I began lessons here in Germany, my swim teacher told me to forget about the crawl stroke — which is what I learned in the US as a child (although not well) — and started me off immediately with the breaststroke, which requires a completely different form, and is perhaps less technical and easier to master. Anyway, my point is: many Germans don’t swim the crawl stroke, which is why a group of 15 of us had signed up for a 4-hour seminar on a Saturday afternoon.

The group was quite varied in age, fitness, and ability levels, so although I was one of the weakest swimmers there, I didn’t feel too out of place. The seminar was set up to focus on breathing and body positioning (Wasserlage), with additional seminars in the coming months to focus on arm stroke and kicking.

So unsurprisingly, we began simply with putting our face in the water and breathing out. This was one of the things that I the greatest anxiety about (in fact, I entertained thoughts about not showing up at all). We practiced and practiced, using a variety of different forms and different exercises. I didn’t have too much luck with the exercises where we hung onto the wall, but started making improvements as soon as we began swimming forward with a kick board. Wow, I thought, I’m doing it!

Then the instructor had us switch gears and swim a few laps of breast stroke so that we could establish the rhythm of our breath. And wouldn’t you know it, suddenly I was able to swim the breaststroke with the proper breathing technique (instead of like a granny holding her head above the water). This was a huge breakthrough for me, because despite all my swim lessons, I still hadn’t managed to overcome my anxiety about that. But BAM! There it was.

After that point, everything seemed to click. I still need to work on breathing from my left side as well as my right, but that will come with practice. Plus I rocked at the kicking exercises — having learned the proper kicking form as a kid, I was sprinting past some of the German participants who were more used to the frog-style kick of the breaststroke.

I have a ways to go before I am able to properly swim the crawl stroke, but I conquered my biggest fear — breathing with my face in the water — so I consider that a huge success!  I’m looking forward to some solo practice time where I can repeat the exercises we did and gain more confidence with my form. I also can’t wait to refine my breaststroke, since the proper breathing technique will improve things a ton.

I still haven’t decided whether I will sign up for the follow-up seminar next month, since despite my personal progress, I was still lagging behind most of the other participants.  But I may just repeat this seminar again in January and see how things go. In any case, I foresee a lot of swimming in my future!

Which swim style do you prefer? Do you like putting your face in the water?

Bremen | Kuß * Rosa

Everywhere I’ve called home, I’ve had a favorite neighborhood restaurant. You know the kind of place I mean, right? Delicious food and a relaxed atmosphere that keeps you going back again and again. The kind of place where you celebrate birthdays with friends, and where you always bring out-of-town guests to give them an insider’s peak at life in your city. For me that was Tup Tim Thai in Seattle, Bogota in Brooklyn, Sigiriya in Berlin, and now Kuß * Rosa in Bremen.

Kuß Rosa

Kuß Rosa

Based in Bremen’s Neustadt, Kuß * Rosa was started by a local collective and named after the German socialist activist Rosa Luxemburg. The menu is written on chalkboards hanging next to the bar and change regularly depending on what foods are in season. Everything is organically grown or raised, and local when possible. There are plenty of vegetarian options. I can wholeheartedly recommend any of their lasagnas, quiches, and tarts. And the handmade gnocchi with spinach and tomatoes that I had during my last visit wasn’t half bad either. (That’s German for awesome!)

Kuß Rosa

Gnocci & Salad @ Kuß Rosa

The atmosphere is ultra relaxed and has a real neighborhood feel. There is no scene to have to fit into. There’s just comfortably old tables and chairs, good food, drinks, and a pool table in the back, if you’re in the mood.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? I think so at least. Next time you’re in Bremen and looking for an evening off the beaten path, make sure to swing by!

Kuß * Rosa | Buntentorsteinweg 143 | Neustadt, Bremen
Strassenbahn: 4/5 Schwankhalle

Race Report | Rykä-Frauenlauf 10K

It’s been awhile since I’ve run a race without actually racing it.  I used to do it all the time with shorter distances in NYC, just for the sake of enjoying the company of friends and a few thousand other New Yorkers.  Yesterday, I did it again for a totally different reason…

Although I’ve been doing well with my speed work and tempo runs, I can’t seem to get my motivation up enough during my long runs to maintain anything other than an easy pace.   Not the end of the world, but you know.  So my idea was to incorporate some race miles into my long run and using the adrenaline  to keep my pace up — fast enough to get a good training run in, but not so fast that I would need to collapse afterwards.


Since I had 8 miles up on deck for a step-back week in my training plan, the Rykä-Frauenlauf 10K race seemed like a good opportunity for that kind of run — small, only €7, and not far from home.  My plan was to take public transportation to the race, run the 10K, and then run the 2 miles home.   But as it turns out, I also got to walk/run the 2 miles to the race since the trams were blocked by an ambulance and there was no telling when the tracks would be free.  Bonus miles!

Rykä-Frauenlauf  10K

The race was two loops around Bremen’s Bürgerpark — a path I’ve gotten to know like the back of my hand this past year.  I planned to do the whole run at an even 10:16 pace, but my adrenaline had me hovering at about 9:45 for most of the race.  Since it didn’t seem overwhelmingly hard to maintain, I just went with it.  Towards the end, when all the other racers were kicking it into high gear, I made a solid effort just to keep my pace steady and remind myself of the extra miles on my plate.*

But as you can see from my splits below, as soon as those race miles were over, my pace got markedly slower.  Only part of that can be blamed on running through city streets rather than in the park.  A lot of it was mental.


Even so, overall I ran those 8.22 miles with an average of 10:08/mile.   It might have been more effective for my training to hold that all the way through — or even stick to the planned 10:16/mile — instead of letting the pace jump around so much.  But I’ll take it anyway.

Four more weeks of training to go!  Are you training for anything at the moment?

* It was a good thing I wasn’t racing it for time, since my timing chip malfunctioned!  It was on my wrist and should have beeped when I swiped it over the timing equipment, but nope. Spent a good 15-20 seconds trying to get it to work before one of the volunteers called my time and number out to be manually recorded.  I also didn’t stop my watch until after all the chaos was over, so I can’t even tell you my real time!

Running | Mind-Body Connection

At the moment, I am attempting to balance one of the biggest intellectual challenges I’ve ever faced with a fitness goal that’s pretty challenging in its own right. It might sound crazy training to run a personal best in a half marathon during the final months of writing my dissertation.  But I believe strongly in the mind-body connection and am convinced that running helps me stay focused and motivated when I’m sitting at my desk.

While some people use running as a time to think,  I love using it as a time not to think.  My brain is running in a million different directions of its own these days and training hard helps me shut it off for awhile.  I love speed workouts for their meditative qualities — when I’m giving it my all for 800 meters intervals, I can’t think about anything else in the world besides my breathing and the rhythm of my steps (even if I wanted to).  Clearing my mind is something I have a hard time doing otherwise, but I can always count on a good run to do just that.

That’s why I love the infographic below.  Although the physical benefits of exercise are clear, the mental benefits shouldn’t be underestimated!


Do you believe in the mind-body connection?  Do you exercise for the mental benefits too?

P.S. As part of my training, I’ll be running the Rykä-Frauenlauf 10K tomorrow.  I won’t be racing, but using it as a base for an 8-mile run and trying to hold a steady pace throughout.  Race report to come next week!

Traveling. Running. Photographing. Living.