A Stroke of Inspiration

Last weekend, I had a swim workout on the calendar and congestion in my nose. My yardage had been low in December and January and my recent times reflected that. Triathlon season starts in a month and a half, so time was ticking. My schedule only allows for two swims a week, so skipping one is a big deal. I did an internet search for “swim with a cold” and found everything from “[the] pool is just one big neti pot!” and “it cleared up my sinuses,” to “skip it and rest” and “[it] can cause a condition called myocarditis.” The voices in my head argued. Don’t be stupid! Don’t be lazy! I finally decided to go, but I’d temper the workout and mix in some drills.

My swim workouts are usually get in, get out, and get on with the day. I like to concentrate on the fitness aspect of swimming, and I hadn’t done drills in months. After the warmup, I alternated 25 yards of fist drill and catch-up drill for a total of 200 yards. When I checked my watch, I was surprised at how fast the split was. Fist drills are always going to be slow, so I knew that the catch-up drill was doing something for me. I thought about it for a few moments. I knew there would be a pause to my stroke, so I had focused on a forceful pull. The extra time had also allowed me to better finish my stroke and so I traveled farther with each effort.

Water is about 800 times denser than air, so swim technique is paramount. I had been sabotaging my own efforts by starting a new stroke before reaping the benefits of the previous one. I continued the workout, swimming my intervals while focusing on pull strength and stroke length. I thought about how rhythmic Sun Yang’s* stroke was. My pace per 100 yards dropped below 1:40, which I hadn’t seen in months. Swimming, like so many things, has technical aspects that must be mastered to achieve proficiency. Like a kid who wants to be able to play piano without learning the scales, I want to just dive in and go without taking the time to develop my skills.

I don’t claim to be any kind of swimming expert. I have other issues with my stroke. My knees bend too much during the kick. I lift my head too far out of the water when I breathe. Swim technique is so involved that it can be overwhelming. I feel for all of the adult-onset swimmers out there! I’m fortunate that three years of high school swimming polished off some of my rough edges. For the near future, I will focus on the lessons learned from the catch-up drill as I continue to build swim fitness. After that, I’ll see what can be done about the other flaws. This experience reminded me that if I am serious about getting better, I can’t neglect the technical aspects. There are no shortcuts across the pool.

Workout data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/271515605  Note: The last 100 was probably 1:33, not 1:39. It said 1:34 when I popped out of the pool, then it took me a few seconds to realize that I hadn’t hit the lap button squarely.

*Sun set the current world record in the 1500 meter freestyle by swimming 14:31.02 at the London Olympics. This video shows him swimming in slow motion. It’s almost hypnotic.

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