Today was a breakthrough day!
I have been swimming for most of my life. I was taught to “float to the side of the pool” in case of an emergency when I was 6 month old – primarily so my parents could enjoy the many pool parties and beers of 1980’s AZ. When we moved to MA, we lived with my Nana, who had an Olympic length pool, and then we moved to the Cape, and my backyard was an aquatic dreamland. Not only was my house ocean front property, but it was a protected bay (smaller swells), and it had these enormous rocks that you could jump off of into deep water. (A story for another time – contrary to popular belief, we don’t know exactly where the pilgrims landed, but it has been narrowed down to 8 possibilities – and my backyard was one of the best options. There was a big rock that went all the way out to the channel, and could be walked up through the water, right into my backyard. John Howland also lived in my neighborhood, so it’s a good chance. If anything, it was fun to play “pilgrims” at low tide and walk up the rock with our “possessions”.)
Now having the ocean as your backyard does not necessarily mean that you’ll spend every moment of your summer swimming – you may just like falling asleep to the sounds of the waves, or riding jet skis and speed boats, or going clam digging or crab catching. We did all of those things, but what I did most of the time was swim. I was in the water from sun up to sun down. I actually lived, ate, and slept in my bathing suit all summer. I lived by the tide chart.
Then I moved to AZ when I was 17… and I didn’t swim for a decade.
How did that happen? I’m really not too sure. I remember being excited that we had a pool, but the reality of a pool in AZ is a LOT different from an ocean in MA. Basically, the pool was four feet wide and deep, and in 117 degree weather was about 95 degrees, so it wasn’t even remotely refreshing. Some people nicely say that it’s like swimming in bath water. To me it felt like swimming in urine.
When I allegedly fractured my leg last year, I started swimming as a way to keep my running fitness going. At first I was doing pool running, and then I started backstroking, and then I eventually started doing freestyle, and that’s when this whole triathlon idea took off.
When I would “train” swimming I looked at it as an opportunity to do some active recovery, to stretch out my body, and work the kinks out from pounding my body during my run and bike training. I often did laps of mixed freestyle and backstroke, but I never seemed to be able to get through the 2 lap breathing hump. After two laps of freestyle, I’d be exhausted. I eventually worked it up to 4 laps basically by forcing it, and decided that I was ready for Tri for the Cure. Well you know what happened there. So it was back to the drawing board.
Immediately after Tri for the Cure, I bought the book Triathlon Swimming Made Easy by Terry Laughlin. It seemed to have some pretty incredible claims and reviews, but every book I’d read referenced this guy and his swimming. He kept coming up on my day to day reading, so I finally said “Fine. Maybe I do need some help.” It’s the best decision I’ve made with my training to date.
I have spent the last 18 weeks doing no freestyle “lap” swimming. All that I have done, on every single swim day, has been drills from that book. I’m an excellent floater, but even I felt the benefits of this fine tuning that the drills take you through. At each level I progressed, and I felt the progression within the drills, but wasn’t really sure what it would get me at the end. There were drills that I loved, and drills that I absolutely hated, but I did them all, I tried to improve on them all before moving on to the next one. I practiced them in families, so that I wouldn’t forget the benefits of staying “stacked” while I was “zippering”. I followed the drills exactly as they were stated in the book.
The last week or so, I’ve been trying to get the last drill #13 to actually feel like my freestyle stroke does… or rather I’ve been trying to take the concept of “drilling” and move on to “swimming continuously”. It hasn’t been working that well. I was able to lower my stroke count without really thinking about it, but I was still struggling with the breathing part of it, and getting gassed after two laps. In fact I was becoming so frustrated with the fact that I had not improved my breathing at all, that I almost chose to do just backstroke today, and forget about freestyle for a workout or two. I just didn’t want to deal with my pent-up frustration over “wasting” 18 weeks of my life and not getting “anything” out of it. However, you know bull-headed me couldn’t get into the pool and not try it again…
… and that’s when everything fell into place.
I had decided to swim backstroke, backstroke, freestyle, freestyle in four sets, and then see how long it took me to determine how many more sets I could do in my 40 min recovery swim. However, once I started freestyling, I realized that it was really my #13, and that it was feeling super easy, AND that I wasn’t out of breath or exhausted when I finished my second lap. I could have done more – and so then I did my second set as backstroke, freestyle, freestyle, freestyle, and even that felt natural and without effort. So then I started counting my strokes, and I had somehow gone from 4 set strokes and 7 breaths for each lap to 6 longer set strokes and 3 breaths per lap!! So I just shaved off 10 strokes from swim per lap,a nd 4 panicked breaths! It was amazing. I felt exalted during and after the swim.
Some days it just feels good to know that hard work in training does eventually pay off.
In order to get my stroke back, I actively drilled for:
- 18 weeks
- 1,648 laps
- 41,216 meters
- 25.76 miles
And it was worth every lap!