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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Swimming Lessons

When I started competing in triathlons four years ago, my notion was that I needed to train, but I didn’t need trainers. I could see taking lessons for golf or tennis, I don’t even think Tiger Woods can naturally hit a golf ball without some instruction. But I knew how to swim, bike and run so I didn’t figure that a trainer could help me much.

I needed endurance and more strength. So I decided my success would come by putting in the hours, dividing my training time up between the three segments. That wasn’t a bad plan to get started, but after two years I could see that I wasn’t going to get much better without some expert help.

When I started training with Craig, he helped me realize that the greatest opportunity for improvement would come from improving my skills and upgrading my equipment. We agreed swimming should be the first area that I should focus on for skills improvement.

I was proud of my swimming technique, which I had learned when I was eight years old. Apparently there have been some advances in swim stroke theory since the 1950s. After Craig checked me out, he decided I should join his Masters swim program at the YMCA that met every Tuesday and Friday at 6 am.

There were five or six guys that swim regularly in the program. Most had been high school or college swimmers. They were a little faster than me. Okay, they actually gave me my own lane, so I could stay out of their way.

Swimming baffles me. Take the kickboard drill. All I have to do is hold on to the goddamn board and flutter kick. I run twenty, thirty miles a week, bike for hours – I should be able to hold my own in a drill that is just a simple leg exercise.

But no. The swim team dudes blow my doors off every time. And 200 yards just kicking – that’s not fun at all. By the end of four laps I feel like I’m kicking through jello. The only thing I hate more than the kickboard are the bi-lateral breathing drills – where we alternate which side we breathe on.

I’ve been breathing on my left side for forty years. Okay fifty years. When I try to breathe on my right side I forget everything I’ve learned about swimming. I can’t get my arms, legs and head to synchronize. If I drown in the pool, it will be while practicing bi-lateral breathing.

And then there’s sculling. I know sculling must be really important because every time I have had a private lesson with Craig, that’s all we do. I’m supposed to keep my hands in front, make figure eights, feel the water.

I didn’t think I would figure it out. Why am I doing this and is that a figure eight looking from the side or the top? Then one day Craig tells me to pretend I have a convertible and I need to clean the windshield by leaning over the top. Okay I can visualize that and now I’ve conquered sculling. And I sort of understand how it relates to swimming. Sort of.

My awareness of what I am doing in the water has increased dramatically. I think about my body position, swimming in the front quadrant, rotating my hips with each stroke, scooping the water on the “catch” (I think that’s where the sculling part comes in.)

Right now I’m like the golfer who has had a dozen golf lessons. He has a bunch of things to think about and when he goes to the course, instead of shooting 90 like he used to, he shoots 107.

That’s where I am today. But I think this year I will start to put it all together and there’s going to be a big improvement in my times. Stay tuned.

Workout: Personal training session with Nibra at the YMCA. I did frog walk laterally across the gym, then swiveled a medicine ball in the air clockwise and counterclockwise for thirty seconds and then repeated the lateral stretches. Then I did ten jumping jacks, ten pushups, nine jumping jacks, nine pushups… down to one. (I haven’t done a jumping jack since high school football practice. I thought they’d been banished). Then I did bands on my legs – lateral movement back and forth.

Bike – rode fifteen miles to a bike shop where I talked with a friend of Craig’s about the fit for my bike. More on that later.

Weight: 188.9 okay 189; but a lighter 189 than yesterday.

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