I finally went to masters' swimming! For years various friends, coaches, and husbands (OK, just one husband) have been pushing me to do this. I finally gave it a try, and of course it was great, and now I am hooked. Huge thanks to my friend Suzanne for encouraging me to join and then being the nicest and most welcoming lane-leader ever. And for not laughing at me. At least not while I was around.
Just in case any readers are considering a similar move, here are the things I was afraid of, and how reality compared:
Swimming into someone: Turns out swimming with random people and their weird-a** strokes at the YMCA is good practice for this. I am OK at sticking to my side of the lane. Although I think I brushed up against someone in the next lane a couple times--sorry about that.
Flip turning smack into someone: I think this would have been a bigger deal two years ago. I've been flip turning for 3 or 4 years now (I've lost count), and it really is natural to me now, so it wasn't too hard to do it with other people coming and going. Also, from the occasional times I've had to circle swim at the Y, I've gotten so annoyed by the people who don't know the way to do this that I think I learned by strong counterexample how to do it reasonably. Although if you're reading this and you were there, and I was being annoying, please let me know!
Not being able to do anything other than freestyle: Well, that is pretty much still true. My instruction in other strokes dates back to Red Cross swimming lessons when I was about 10, and I'm still coasting (or not coasting) on that. We had some "short axis" drills, and while I mostly got in theory what I was supposed to be doing, when I tried to do it I was very, very slow and probably very, very painful to look at. But the drill sets were short enough that I didn't get lapped. Worse than that was the set of 4 x 150 kicking on back with fins. The kicking part was fine, but up to now my method of turning when on my back is to kick or swim until my hands bump into the wall, stop, turn around, have a cup of tea, and go. When I got about 25 yards behind the leaders in one lap, I stopped to watch what they were doing, and I realized (duh!) that they were doing flip turns. Like real backstrokers. I attempted to mimic this for the rest of the set, but I definitely need more practice--I had trouble ending up on my back (I tend to turn toward the side automatically during the flip, I think) and once or twice had to do some emergency flailing around to get back where I was supposed to be in the lane. Plus I snorted/swallowed a ton of water. But I just sat out another 50 at one point to catch up, and all was good.
Not being able to keep up when doing freestyle: I expect this is all about lane assignment, but I was fine any time we just swam, even on the longer sets. Of course that is easy to say from the position of 3rd or 4th in line, because I was riding a nice big draft the whole way--thanks again, Suzanne!
Getting yelled at by other swimmers: I won't lie--I know other people who have gone to this group and have encountered less-than-friendly lanemates. I was totally prepared to deal with that, but then as I said, the coach put me in the nicest lane ever, so it wasn't a problem. In general, though, my anxiety about this and just generally about whether or not I'd be able to cut it made me understand a little more why new people who want to come to our tri team track workouts are so nervous about it. It is always scary to join a new group of people doing something you're not sure you're very good at, but really I think it's the job of those of us who are veterans to help those people over their fear.
The cockroaches: Turns out we swim in the pool that does NOT have a cockroach-infested locker room. My husband swims in the other pool at the university, and his cockroach stories have made me fairly squeamish. But apparently they leave that pool to the kids' swim team. Kids are much better equipped to handle cockroaches.