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Hear Today, Gone Tomorrow

Nov. 1, 2012

by The Rabin Law Firm


Let’s face it — there is not much you can do while swimming. No talking, no sightseeing, no playing endlessly with random electronic training aids. And, if you are training to swim for a race longer than 20 feet, you’ve got some boring hours ahead of you. Solutions? I’ve tried many.

Singing– First, my singing is awful and bothers even me. Second, if you do this in an open water environment, you risk attracting previously unknown forms of marine wildlife. Third, the people swimming past think you have gone off the deep end (yes, intentional pun).

Counting laps or strokes– At about the third length I am already wondering – “is this three laps or twelve?”

Look up occasionally at the clock and count the time that goes by– My goggles fog up by the end of the first lap. Besides, I much prefer to imagine I have been swimming for two or three hours than face the reality of actually seeing the clock, and knowing that I have gone for a whopping two and a half minutes and am ready to get out.

Waterproof iPod! Like almost everything else in the world, swimming would be better with music. So, with great delight, I discovered that there are a bunch of ways to get an iPod into the water without destroying it. And, further to my delight, my fairly new waterproof iPod shuffle has been underwater for several hours and still works fine. Unfortunately, it turns out that the iPod is not the hurdle. The problem is the headphones.

When I first ordered my iPod, I also got several different kinds of headphones. Of the three that I received, two didn’t fit enough for me to even leave the house with them. The third one seemed good. I took it to the Y and, after wrapping the earbuds around the straps of my goggles, and clipping the iPod to the straps of the goggles, I very carefully lowered myself into the water, like somehow going in the water more slowly would be an easier test of the waterproof capabilities of this thing. And whoa! As I slowly submerged, the sounds of Earth Wind and Fire stayed with me even when the atmosphere didn’t. IT WAS AWESOME!

I stood back up out of the water, smiling, looking around the Y pool like I was James Bond, the President, and a lottery winner all combined. I ruled. With my giant grin still plastered on my face, I ducked my head back under the water, pushed off from the pool, and, with the Earth Wind and Fire horn section blaring away, immediately realized that a hard shove away from the wall with two gently placed earbuds is not a wise thing to do. Both sides were yanked out by the water rushing by. I was back to silence.

I took the two steps back to the side of the pool and put the earbuds back in, but now there was no sound. There was water in the earbuds, and there was water in my ears, and as we know from those childhood days of trying to talk to each other underwater, the sound doesn’t travel all that well in this environment.

I climbed out of the pool, earbuds dangling, and wandered over to my towel. I dried off the inside of my ears and my earbuds the best I could. I reinserted them, went back to my lane, gingerly jumped in (carefully keeping my head above water) and prepared myself again, while the Tower of Power told me I ought to be having fun. I slowly swam away from the side of the pool. Ecstasy. The earbuds stayed, and so the music stayed, and so the smile stayed, and so the new and unbelievable enjoyment of swimming stayed too. For about four lengths.

The head-turning and my swim speed (apparently too rapid for my earphones but incredibly slow compared to the rest of the world’s swimming pace) had overcome the required airtight seal between the earbuds and my ears and water got into the right side. I now had the muffled screaming of Mr. James Brown on one side, while the tight-knit sounds of the hardest working band in show business clearly came through on the left. It was better than nothing, and it would have to do. And it did. For another 3 laps.

Back to the side of the pool, back out of the pool, back to my towel, back to the wiping, back into the pool, and away I went for four more laps. At this point, I didn’t know which was worse. The boring sounds of swimming, or the mental exercise of trying to figure out exactly which song was now being forced through the tiny but impenetrable wall of water between the headphones and my eardrums. Is that Elvis or Janet Jackson?

Realizing that I didn’t have all that much time left, I kept swimming. Besides, if I took off my iPod and laid it at the side of the pool, and someone came by and took it, I couldn’t live with myself knowing what future agony I had caused that person when he or she tried to make this thing work underwater.

That night I thought about it, and it came to me. The answer, of course, is simply to wear a swim cap. Ha! Earbuds, I will beat you. So, next swim day it was off to the pool with the earbuds and the (dorky) swim cap. Attach everything, wind the earbuds through the goggle straps, carefully position the swim cap over the ears and earbuds, crank up the sounds of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and get ready to go. Or not. Before I could even get in the water, the stretching and pulling of the swim cap dislodged the earbuds. I took the swim cap off pulled the earbuds out, took a deep breath and did the whole routine over again. This time, I made sure the swim cap was not pulling in any one direction when I released it on to my ears. Hmmm. This might actually work. Here we go.

Six laps and another wasted day at the pool while I spent 20 minutes fiddling futzing and nursing with these things trying to make them fit properly. In the end, the swim cap came off, and I finished out the last few minutes of my allotted time slot swimming with my earbuds dangling in the water behind me.

Of course, I knew how to fix it. Off to National Aquatics, where I picked up a specially designed swim cap that has larger ear coverings and extra space that should fit the earbuds. I thought: This not only will provide less of a strain on the earbud, but the pocket around the ears provided by that cap will result in less of the feeling that somebody is taking a small poker and ramming it through my ear canal. I can’t wait to finally be able to swim with music.

The next swim workout was more nerve-racking than my last race. I had butterflies in my stomach, and couldn’t wait to take off swimming with Lenny Cravitz cranked, laughing at everyone around me who could only hear the sound of their own bubbles. And, it worked. For 15 minutes. The greatest 15 minutes of swimming in my life. Then, the water slowly worked its way in under the swim cap and between the earbud and my ear, and I lost the melodic urgings of Stevie Wonder.

Apparently, swim caps are not the answer.

The next attempt was with the same earphones but with different sized earbuds on. And this was going to be a big test because I was swimming the CNY Tri Club Jamesville Beach 1.2 mile swim. At that point, it was the longest swim I had ever done. Form, breathing rate, stroke count, heart rate and everything else went out the window. My sole focus was on swimming with music.

I started slowly, but not for athletic reasons. I just wanted the music to last. And, much to my surprise, it did, minute after minute. I felt like a baleen whale, swimming along with such a big grin that I was sure I was sucking down krill and all kinds of other microorganisms through my teeth. I am also pretty sure that it was the grin that finally knocked the earbuds out of place, caused the magic seal to be broken (almost like peeing for the first time at a bar) and for the dreaded muffled music sounds to come back. My first (and so far last) 1.2-mile swim nevertheless went by very quickly, as I spent most of the last half simply trying to figure out what song was playing in the background.

Because I hate to lose, and because I get obsessive about pretty much everything, I refused to give up.

Fast forward to the present where, after trying numerous different styles of headphones, different size earbuds, different techniques and quite frankly anything else short of witchcraft, I have discovered something. The answer, as always, is duct tape. Not just duct tape, but a combination of machinery, equipment, positioning, and also duct tape. The specifics are too lengthy to include here. Send $4.95 plus shipping and handling and I’ll print out the formula.

In the meantime, you should know this: swimming with music is better. Not because the soothing sounds of your favorite artists pass the time, but rather because screwing around with your equipment distracts you so much from the monotony and boredom of swimming, that before you know it you have done a full length swim workout! Not all actually swimming of course, because you have spent most of the time fixing your equipment, but at least your heart rate is still extremely high. I think it is just stress.