Swimming also good for thinking time
As I lifted my head, I thought it was snowing.
Except snow doesn't normally drift down in large, foamy clumps.
It doesn't often fall right along the coast, either, especially not in the middle of summer.
Not that it had felt like summer much in the previous half hour. The front half of me had stayed warm enough, to be fair, but my back had felt pretty exposed.
Especially when the wind rushed low across the surface of the pool, like a swarm of those pond-skating insects swooping in over my head before lightly rippling the surface ahead of me and flying on across the Pacific.
I'm not sure I've seen a pond skater (of the insectivorous persuasion, at least) in New Zealand, and I'm pretty sure they stick to fresh water, but it certainly brought them to mind.
It was the "snow" that most grabbed my attention as I took a break, however.
I'd had a discussion with the woman behind the counter when I handed over my money about whether or not the waves were making it over the wall separating the salt water pool from the adjacent Pacific.
"They are, sometimes," she'd told me. "So you might want to stay out of that far lane."
I wasn't particularly worried. The pool at the southern end of St Clair beach is flanked by rocks on the long side and at the end, there's what I believe was the original tidal pool, providing a barrier to the waves.
It was just fairly clear that on this morning - which had already seen hours of torrential rain but was being punctuated by a brief appearance from the sun - the huge waves rolling in were about the height of the wall alongside the pool. And occasionally a crest reached slightly over, or sent foam floating down on to the water.
The fact that she was clad in a jacket and woollen beanie when I spoke to her told me all I needed to know about the conditions outside anyway. My earlier visits had made clear that the lifeguards rotated between the front counter and the pool deck, where they have an elevated seat, with a sort of plastic awning providing a measure of shelter from the elements on top and on the sides. Clearly she had already had a stint out there and was still thawing out behind the desk.
Just the type of morning to go for a swim, really.
I'm serious. For one thing, not too many other people are stupid enough to want to go, though at no stage was I alone in the pool. And it's often warmer in the water than out on rainy days like that, especially when it's heated to a comfortable temperature. That was the other thing the lifeguard at the front desk had been sure to tell me - the water was warm.
Wednesday was the second straight morning I'd braved such conditions, because what else is there to do on such a miserable day?
Not that I was there entirely for fun, however. A few trips to that pool and our own CBay in the last few weeks have got me back into what was once a good, healthy habit.
Swimming is the best all-round workout going, or so I've often been told. It has a low impact on the joints, because of the support offered by the water, and it works all parts of the body.
In the latter part of my university career, and at various times since, I've managed to get into a steady routine that's seen me swim regularly and feel the benefits.
It's when that habit's been allowed to lapse that it becomes more difficult to get back into it. For me, it always takes several swims to reach the point where I'm in a rhythm that allows me to swim a reasonable distance continuously, and by Tuesday, I was starting to feel I was getting there.
So I was going to get back in there on Wednesday, come hell or, quite literally, high water.
As it turned out, I wasn't really aware of either of those two elements as I ploughed up and down that pool, mostly swimming freestyle but occasionally reverting to breaststroke for a length to give my shoulders a break.
I beg your pardon if you're eating breakfast right now, but I find swimming freestyle uninterrupted always really makes me want to burp, which I can't do with my face in the water, so that always happens on the breaststroke lengths. Perhaps that points to a problem with my breathing.
Having my head in that water did largely insulate me from the elemental turmoil raging around me, however, apart from the odd cold wind across my back.
Some people think swimming up and down is boring, and there's no doubt it's repetitive, but it's also good thinking time, cut off to a degree from the outside world.
And every now and again, if you choose to swim in the right places, there'll be a memorable experience too, like foam from the tip of a high wave drifting down like snow on top of you.
Hopefully such experiences will keep me heading back to the pool this year.
- The Timaru Herald