Friday, December 28, 2007

Of Finding Passion and Risky Behavior...In the Pool?

Unlike many, the swimming part of triathlon didn't terrify me. I was more distracted by the running distances, since I knew they were far flung from my normal plod-around-the-local-U that I was used to.

But the swimming made some sense to me. First: get in the pool. Second: swim freestyle (or some approximation thereof) for as far as you can muster. Third: get out of the pool and try not to trip on the way back to the locker room.

Easypeasy, right?

Ah, the chuckles I get from this.

Because OF COURSE it went nothing like that. When I first started swimming, I was an awkward ball of nerves, with my attention closer on whether the suit I was wearing made me look like an idiot and whether I was going horribly slow compared to the person next to me. The senior next to me. There was a lot of thrashing and meaningful, serious glances at the big clock on the wall.

At first, I was following a plan that was focused simply on distances. One day would have a 200 warm up, 3x200 at "moderate" pace, some kicking laps, and a cool down.

Looking back, all I can think is...boooooooring.

It wasn't a waste of time. I think if you asked any coach, they would say time in the water isn't wasted time, especially at the beginning of your relationship with the pool. So, my pace started getting better and my confidence in the pool certainly increased. I stopped pulling at my bathingsuit and started wondering what a pull buoy was. And soon, as the road began to lead to Ironman, I started working off of plans that were more intricate -- special drills focusing on form and finishing ladders "on" certain numbers. I started wearing a watch to the pool and feel more in command of myself there.

It was all very exciting and I was building some strength in the pool.

But still, I wondered whether this was really what turned people on in the pool. I read a lot of bloggers posting about killer workouts they had in the pool and I didn't really feel like that. Don't get me wrong -- the days when I would top off 4200 yards in one effort were amazing. I don't think distances like that will ever get old.

But I was bored with my work there, and it showed in my effort. I would cut things short or skip cool downs. I just didn't have my heart IN it anymore. Nothing was new to me there -- it was just a different combination of numbers that I had to get through so I wouldn't drown at my next race. I had plateaued on my times, and was at a loss as to how to get faster. So I maintained and slugged it out.

Recently, though, I've found a new passion for the pool. And this has lead to some risky behavior. Or maybe it's reversed. Let me explain.

It coincided with my coach entering the scene, but it wasn't just because of the Elf's influence. It was because I decided that I would start challenging myself in all the three disciplines this coming year.

I would start actually pushing myself in a way that had escaped me before. No longer was it about getting through the distances. I had already felt what 2.5 miles in the water felt like, I already knew how loudly my knees screamed on a half mary trail run, and how my tail end threatened secession after the 90th mile on the bike. For some reason, I think I needed to get those experiences out of the way first.

But it was time for a challenge. CHALLENGE, in all caps.

So part of my goal to challenge myself for '08 was to pick a coach who was creative, enthusiastic, and very experienced. Well, duh. That was the easiest part. But then to follow each and every thing she told me to do.

So. I did the dolphin kick drills when she told me. I figured out what "IM" meant and became less afraid of each of the strokes. I looked up what drills were supposed to look like on and mimicked what I saw. I watched youtube vids over and over again to see exactly what the hand was doing at every point, what the elbows look like. I went out and got myself my first set of paddles and figured out how to use them. I learned to kick without a board to develop balance and I no longer get water up my nose when I'm backstroking (although I do tend to bump into lane markers when I'm not paying attention!).

They are all little things. All little things.

But they are making a huge difference for me in the water. No...I'm not fast yet. I'm not swimming IMs in the local swim meets and, no, I still don't impress that one guy who comes to the pool and effortlessly swims 10 stroke freestyle lengths.

No. But there is a major difference now.

I look forward to swimming. I get excited when I have a cool set in the pool with something new I've never tried before. Now I finish my collection of 2500 meters in my little lane and wonder where the time went. I kid you not.

Everything I do in the pool is looked at in a new way. No longer do I slug through 6x300s at a "moderate" tempo (what the heck is "moderate" anyway?). Now my 300s are a mixture of paddles and polo swimming (with your head out of the water), sighting practice, and different breathing patterns.

And I've actually done the dreaded FLY public...and lived to tell the tale. Had I not tried it, I never would have known what a great core workout it was, nor would I have used those other back muscles that get left out when all of the freestyle fun is going on.

But more so, had I not tried something so far out of my normal routine, I never would have felt like a swimmer. Like a real, honest to goodness swimmer.

Each time I hit the water, I have a goal. Often I have something new to try, or at least an interesting combination of skills I already have. And I never leave bored or wondering why I even came.

All because I decided, with my coach, that this was the year to try something new. To push the envelope and really sculpt myself into an athlete.

I used to be an athletic person who participated in a lot of athletic endeavors.

Now, I consider myself an athlete. Because pushing limits is what athletes do. And that's what I do now.

So...with that said...I thought I'd include an example of one of my workouts, prepared by her majesty, Queen of the Elfen forest. Even though I no longer make my specific workouts public (it's the Elf's work, after all!), I think sharing this may inspire others to get out there and try some new things in the pool.

Wed, Jan 2

Warm Up
300 swim
3 x 100 kick (50 dolphin kick on back no board, 50 free kick with board)

Drill Set
10 x 50 Distance/stroke drill (count strokes for first 25, drop 1-2 for return 25)(ri:10)

Main Set
4 x 400 on 9:00
#1 - swim freestyle, every 4th length done as backstroke
#2 - swim freestyle, every 4th done as FAST
#3 - pull with paddles, breath every 3 for first 50, every 5 for next 50, repeat
#4 - swim with flip turns* OR streamline kick off of each wall push off (hands clasped, tucked between arms, and KICK to flags before taking first breath)

* see? this is what I mean. I've never done a flip turn. Alright...not since I was, like, ten years old. Next Tuesday? I'm doing flip turns. No matter how intimidating they are, I'm doing them. Scary and fun, all at the same time. Like scun, or fary. Or whatever.

Cool Down
200 swim easy

It's not as scary as you'd think and the rewards are HUGE! Go, try it, be creative. Take a risk. I promise it will be rewarding!


triguyjt said...

flip turns???great. you are becoming one with the water.
hey sorry about askiing about mountaineer on previous post. i failed to see you had devoted blog space to the race account for 07. i will check that out. keep training.

Lesser is More said...

I definitely hit that point of slugging it out last year in swim workouts. I keep reading and watching videos to try to develop my stroke. Swimming appears, at least early in the season, exciting again. I hope the excitement continues for you. Keep this post handy for later in the season!

Wes said...

Having just graduated from "base training" all of last year to doing my first "drill" yesterday, I know exactly what you mean :-) I even did flip turns, but only because I was wearing fins and paddles and pushing off the walls with paddles is a pain in the butt!

Who knows... Maybe I'll even try one of those fancy strokes this year like back or fly ;-) Somehow, I doubt it :-)

Cliff said...

I am not afraid of the distance..i am afraid of 3 x 100 kick. No backboard?

PS - I can't kick at all :)

Curly Su said...

great workout-- thanks!

21stCenturyMom said...

Dolphin kicks on back - no board? YO! That is some core strengthening magic and so hard.

I am just figuring out how to push myself in the pool. It's all about kicking harder for me.

I'm so glad I have a masters program or I would not know what to do in the pool. Great workout!

LBTEPA said...

I can just see you smiling as you are writing this :)

Donald said...

This was a great post, but based on the title, I was expecting something a little, um ... different. I thought it might be one of those only-during-engagement stories. *Sigh*

Duane said...

Happy New Year!

Steve Stenzel said...

I took a risk once. Long story short: I nearly lost my right nipple. Now, no risks for me.

We both know that's a lie... I'm nuts.

Happy New Year!!!

Erin said...

This made me howl: "It was just a different combination of numbers that I had to get through so I wouldn't drown at my next race." I think we've all been there. And the I'm-so-bored-I-just-might-drown workouts too. Interesting perspective on how to spice up ANY workout. Keep it up!

Tea said...

I've always been one to love swimming, but when it came to pushing myself, I'd back off. If you run out of breath running, well, you stop running. You run out of breath swimming, and well, you drown.

Once you find you zones and how to control your speed and breath, it's the best thing out there. :)

Stef said...

I did the dolphin kick on my back for the first time ever today. Also very recently (I think actually today) did I realize I am a swimmer. A new swimmer, but a swimmer nonetheless. Love your posts about your training and can really relate because hiring the ELF is one of the best things I have done for myself in a long time.

Keep it up you are going to kick some serious butt this season!

Jesse said...

Good blog. Almost makes me want to start my swim training early... almost ; )