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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Swimming...part II

  So, some time back, I wrote up a prologue to my swimming adventures.  Well, now that I'm squarely in the midst of what I kindly refer to "swimming torture", I've decided that some kind of update is warranted. When I started with QT2, I'd admittedly been swimming less than normal- my normal whopping twice a week had been reduced to once at times, thanks to marathon training, and also the fact that, without a triathlon any time in the near future, I just flat out didn't have any motivation to sink my body into cold water at 6am to suffer for an hour and a half.  Plus, I had completely plateaued at swimming months ago; the entire purpose of every workout became to swim 4000-4500 yards, with ~2000 broken up into distances that I would attempt to swim under 1:30/100y pace.  Sometimes I would easily, sometimes I wouldn't, and I'd never have any idea what was happening with my stroke.  Overall, I was not enjoying myself in the least in the water.  I knew that I should swim more frequently, especially as my biking improved and I became even more apparently swim-limited, but, for some reason, I just couldn't self-motivate myself.  My justification became that I probably just had so many form flaws I'd be just reinforcing them with more swim volume (nice, huh?)

  So, in came Mary, my former swim coach of a tri coach, who I'm now convinced was sitting rubbing her hands together (in my vision, she's cackling in a dark, creepy, candle-lit room...kidding...sort of), devising twisted and evil ways to prevent me from total embarrassment in the pro field that are really for my own good, as much as I don't want to admit it.  One Friday night in November, we managed to clear our packed, hopping social schedules to meet for some swim stroke taping.  Within 50m, she was thrilled- my stroke sucked.  This assuaged both of our worst fears, which was that I was actually swimming well, and was still that comparatively slow.  (My second worst fear, which was that Mary would make me to flip turns, was also calmed, when she accepted the "grab-the-wall-and-pull-and-turn" method I'd spent hours perfecting.  I had bigger issues).  Based upon my limited swimming knowledge, I kind of thought I had no catch.  I was right.  See Exhibit A:
Beautiful...
Part of the reason for this (at least, it feels that way to me) is because I crossed midline on my entry.  I blame this on cramming myself into the narrowest space possible against the JCC lane lines when I began triathlon swimming, to avoid the flailing arms of the old men swimming next to me.  See Exhibit B:
Checking the time while swimming is just depressing, anyways...
Finally, for my favorite picture.  It pretty much just sums up how jacked my stroke was (and, to some degree, probably still is-let's not kid ourselves).
This one got three red arrows!  It's a record!
  So, after some time spent analyzing in a Nazareth building foyer, I took the the pool the next week, armed with some actual knowledge (and drills).  I figured that the crossing midline thing would be easily amendable.  I started to swim with my arms further apart.  Sure, it felt awkward ("like a fat man", I would affectionately describe it), but, amazingly, I found that by not entering the water in front of my face, I could actually sort of get my elbows bent and kind of catch a little (*disclaimer: this is all in my own mind, because I haven't been refilmed yet.  I could be delusional).  I began to feel a little stronger.  Suddenly, I was aware that I had lats-they were sore (I never had understood the connection between swimming and strong lats before that, after all).  My swim volumes were still pretty low (~6k/week, still less than I had been swimming over the summer), but I was feeling better.  Within a few weeks, 800 time trial time rolled around.  I swam hard for the first time in months, and magically, after over almost a year of little to no improvements in the pool, with less volume, 16 seconds rolled off.  11:47.  Not fast for many, but for me, a breakthrough of sub-1:30 pace.  I reveled in Mary's genius.

    The next week came my meeting with Jesse.  His first response to my time trial time was to quite fairly question my lap counting ability, given my horrible race times.  We'd then probed a bit into the pool/open water disconnect.  "When you're a race situation, do you find yourself way to the outside, trying to find open water instead of getting in the group?"  How'd he know that?  "What is is about swimming in the group that scares you?"  I don't know.  I can't spot well?  Getting jostled?  Getting a noseful of water?  I guess I have no good reason.  "You haven't been in a pool yet," he'd told me.  "We're going to do a swim focus.  You're going to be in the pool 5-6 days/week."  Bring it, I'd thought at the time.  Finally-QT2 was going to force me to do what I'd needed for so long, but never had been able to muster up the motivation to complete on my own.  Sure enough, later that evening, five days of swimming appeared on my weekly schedule, including my now nemesis, "the Big Set".  I set out motivated...for the first few days, at least.

  A few days in came another 800 time trial.  Still basking in my recent sub-12 effort, I actually had some nerves going for this one (I also had a new festive holiday themed swimsuit, to raise my enthusiasm for cold water at 6am).  I counted laps carefully, watched the digital pool clocks, and hit my watch, spent at the finish.  11:30.  Again, still even close to top age group times, but better.  Minus 17 more seconds, and over 30 seconds faster than pre-getting coached.  14,900 yards later (as in, about 6,000 yards higher than my weekly swim volumes over the past two years), week 1 of swim focus was complete.  My entire upper body was sore.  My arms ached.  A head cold was setting in, leading the lovely sensation of choking on my own postnasal drip throughout my Friday workout.  My Christmas gift was two entire days away from the pool.  Followed by...is that for real?  I really have to do all those workouts again?  What is Mary thinking??  That Wednesday workout was the worst thing I'd ever done!  There's no way I could replicate that!  Well, yes...that was for real.

   I'm now four days into swim focus week two.  I did have to redo the Wednesday "big set" workout, this time with the not bad but annoyingly persistent cold, and it was both tougher and slower the second time around.  I was fighting with myself to finish- but I made it.  At some point during this morning's recovery swim, I realized that the form changes were gradually becoming more automatic- one positive.  I never knew that it could feel more wonderful to stretch out my arms than my legs.  Hopefully my patients haven't been noticing me yanking my arms across my body, reaching them overhead, contorting myself into weird positions, and massaging my knotted neck (I'd imagine it'd feel better if I could bilaterally breathe, thus saving me from turning it to the right hundreds of times a day) in order to ease the soreness and pain throughout the day.  I miss running.  But, it is what it is, and it is what I need.  So, whine as I might, I know this is for the best.  I'm no longer backing away from my weakness, deciding instead to engage in more enjoyable training.  I'm being made to attack it-full steam ahead.  My Christmas boxes were filled with new swimsuits, paddles, transition bags, and swim cords.  I still can't say I enjoy swimming.  As I've been pounding out the yardage over the past couple of weeks, I've been doing more than my fair share of whining.  Mary's been virtually enjoying my pain (given that a great number of patients claim that I enjoy inflicting torture on them, I suppose what goes around comes around).  But, here I am.  I know my coaches know what they're doing- I sure as heck didn't when it came to swimming, and I'm already grateful for the improvements I've made.  Assuming I make it out of swim focus alive, I'm trusting that it will help me come April, when I find myself waist deep in water with some of the best athletes in the nation, inevitably intimidated.  As for now, tomorrow is another tough one, but I'll make my way into the water tomorrow morning to take it on, ready or not! 

I couldn't resist one more...am I trying to turn to the right?  Nope.  I'm just stretching out my left side.


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