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Saturday, November 2, 2013

The year review part I: Swimming (Jennie's favorite)

   Now that I'm (mercifully) 3/4 of the way through my offseason, I've had plenty of time (mostly while putting things away and cleaning things out-yikes) to reflect a little bit on where I've been and how I've come along in the past year.  I thought that some sort of year-end reflection would be appropriate.  Summarizing a year, though, is really kind of difficult-how do you organize it?  What's relevant?  With that, I decided that I'd just go through and give a little synopsis of what I did/changed training-wise on the swim, bike, and run, and how that translated on the race course.  Tonight's version?  My favorite thing to talk about (sarcasm): the swim!

The swim

   So, obviously I made a good deal of progress in swimming this year.  In 2011, I was generally a ~33-35min 70.3 swimmer, and my training consisted of two swims per week, totaling about 8-9000 yards.  Not much.  In 2012, Mary took over, and I began swimming four days per week, totaling about 15-16000 yards in my build weeks.  As for my race times?  Well, they didn't really budge much.  My 70.3 swim times still hovered at 33min (on the reasonably accurate courses), and I swam a pair of 1:09's in full Ironmans.  This was frustrating, for sure, but I at least finished the season with a glimmer of hope, as my 1:09 in Florida was swam in rougher, slower conditions than my 1:09 in Placid.  Still, I lost out on a lot as a result of my swim-so again we looked at ways to increase the swim stress. 

   So, this past season, every Monday-Friday, day in and day out, I started out in the pool.  5am alarm (sometimes snoozed to 5:10...or 5:20), 3k-5k yards/day, 5 days/week, ~20k/week most non-recovery weeks.  In addition, Mary made nearly weekly trips up to the pool, which proved to be invaluable.  We tweaked parts of my stroke-first we worked on my catch, then we worked on the back half (finishing my stroke led to some big breakthroughs in pool TT times), then we worked on bringing my left arm out and my right arm in.  Targeted drills were introduced on recovery days.  Mary didn't throw too much at me at once-swimming isn't natural to me, so giving me 30 different things to focus on all at once would have just led to complete implosion.  It wasn't rocket science or magic; it was just solid work and thoughtful guidance.  And at first, I just chipped away a bit.  High 31's in 70.3s.  A 1:07 non-wetsuit effort in Texas.  Nothing huge, nothing breakthrough.  I kept at it, though.  I kept the stonecutter in mind-"Look at a stone cutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before."  It would give eventually, I kept telling myself.  Just put in the yards and the effort.  And, sure enough, the rock finally did crack in Placid.  I pr'ed my first loop on the way to a 1:03 day-I wasn't going to be leading any races with that, but it did enough to keep me in the game.  Still, I felt like it was a fluke, just a result of having a nice whirlpool thanks to the rolling start- my pool times hadn't really budged in a few months.  But then I managed to back that up with a 1:02 in Tremblant three weeks later-a time that I thought would only happen years from now.  In Kona, I lowered that non-wetsuit best by another minute. 

   The race improvements weren't all strictly from fitness, though.  A good portion of that came from tactics.  In the past, I'd shied away from swimming in groups, and I just had flat out been getting dropped in the initial sprint off the line.  Somewhere along the line, it occurred to me that my pathetic, asthmatic little lungs suck the most in the early stages of any swim workout I do.  600-800y, with a little bit of pushing, is really what it takes to get me into the groove.  So, my "casually stroking around a little bit while dreading the impending swim" version of a warm up just hadn't been cutting it.  In Placid, for the first time, I really made a conscious effort to get into the water early, warm up for an extended period of time, and throw in some ~30s pickups in there.  I also figured out the start-start next to the women you want to swim with, not behind them.  The very slight amount of energy I saved by doing that meant that I could dial down the effort just a hair for the first 50 yards or so-which mean that several minutes later, when the pace settled, I'd still find myself with others.  I was fortunate enough to get into some good for me groups in my last few races, which pulled me to some breakthroughs.  Even with those breakthroughs, though, my swim is still my obvious weakness, and I'm losing too much time in the water.  But, shaving off seven minutes was more than I had been hoping to achieve, so I'll take it for the year. 

   As I move forward from here, I know that I'm going to have to push twice as hard to squeeze half as much (if I'm lucky) improvement out of myself.  I have, very reluctantly and with a great deal of complaining about my feeble lung capacity, my overwhelming desire to breathe, and Gus, the wad of phlegm that lives in the back of my throat and chokes me when I swim, started doing flip turns.  I just decided to start doing them after Tremblant (I think I just wanted an excuse for sucky swim splits other than over racing burnout), and I discovered that I had some residual muscle memory from my days of swim club at the age of 12.  They're literally one of the most uncomfortable things I've ever done in the pool, at any speed.  My swims these days more or less go something like this: swim, slow down, try to breathe and finish my last stroke close enough to the wall that I don't have to go too long without air, flip turn (usually I make the wall, although sometimes I end up at some weird angle as I try to push off), frantically flail to the surface, gasp, spastically resume swimming while being absolutely sure that my lungs are in fact exploding, regain some semblance of lung composure, realize that the rest of my body feels weak from the lack of oxygen, regroup, swim normally for about 5 yards, by that point, and then repeat.  It's fun.  Unfortunately for my lungs, Jesse already had to go and issue the "all flip turns" ultimatum (I had worked out some little "open turn every 100" bargain with myself beforehand), so awful discomfort it will be!  Other ideas that have been thrown out there for my swimming have so far included a sixth day in the pool (aww..bye, weekends off.  Bye), and master's swimming (which scares the living crap out of me).  So, time will tell, but I do know that hard work and consistency pays off (novel concept). 

   Therefore, even though last year I put up some splits that I sort of doubted would ever be listed next to my name (I swam a 1:37 100y free-breathing every stroke-at that swim club's "C" meet-that is, the consolation meet for those that couldn't make the A or B standards.  Seriously, I sucked), I'm going to just convince myself that maybe I don't have to be terrible at swimming.  If playing swimmer and doing fancy swimmer things like flip turns is what it takes-then so be it, I'm game.  2014 is certainly going to take more work in the water, but if I can get myself to T1 with less of a deficit to make up, the end will justify the means!  

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