The water in the pool at 5:30 in the morning can seem like a shock to the skin. Three lanes down one of my fellow swimmers sat at pool’s edge taking deep breaths. She was trying to work up the gumption for that first plunge. “I didn’t used to mind that part,” she told me with a wan smile.
Such are the differences between being a gumptious teenager and a 20-something getting herself in shape for a late-summer Ironman Triathlon. Yet she aptly illustrates the early morning plight of so many different people in the pool. It’s often cold getting in, but once you’re in, the effect of the cool water on your skin is hardly noticable.
Better late than never
About 15 minutes into our workout, another gal swimmer walked with her swim bag slung over her shoulder. She stood by pool’s edge and announced, “It takes soooo long to get here.” She lives on the same block where I used to live, so I get that loud and clear. It was hard cutting through town to reach the pool. If there is frost on your window in the morning the going goes even slower the first mile or so until the defrost kicks in.
But every workout counts, so it’s better late than never.
So late or not, you hop in the pool. But then your goggles fog up if you left the swim gear in the car overnight because they’re still freezing cold. That’s the other effect of morning temperature changes.
The contradiction of the Blue Glove
I recently read an interesting article on the proper way to hold one’s hands during the swim stroke. It recommended not holding the fingers tightly together. This seems counterintuitive. Yet so many things about swimming are like that. Who would think the best way to effect progress would be to rotate your body in the water?
While swimming this morning I felt a few moments where the sensation of moving my hands through the water indeed felt magical. Then between intervals, I waved my hand through the water just letting the feel of the liquid flowing around my fingers. I imagined the result looked like the blue swirls behind the Dreadful Blue Glove in the movie Yellow Submarine. We all know the Blue Glove started out as an evil tool of the Blue Meanies. But by the end of the movie, the glove learned the value of LOVE.
All you need is love. And to breathe.
So while I’m still not quite at the point where I can claim that I love to swim, it’s getting there. I can’t yet let my thoughts roam. I still have to concentrate on the entry angle of my hands into the water. Then comes the catch and pull and that roll of the body with each stroke.
My breathing technique has also improved immensely. It seems so simple. Breathe Co2 out the nose. Breathe oxygen back in the mouth. Let it happen. Don’t force it. Once in the while I still catch a mouthful of water. It happens.
This morning the ridges of muscles along the side of my body were sore from weightlifting two days ago. I’d isolated the ‘lats” with pulley pull-downs and could feel the lats and core straining to hoist 90 lbs. for 10 repeats each, times four. “I’ll be sore in a couple days,” I told Sue during the ride home after the workout.
No sport is more incremental by nature than swimming. Every tiny angle of the hands or arms or body either effects or affects forward motion. To effect forward motion means using your arms, legs and body to create propulsion and flow. These things help you swim more efficiently. Hopefully faster.
To affect forward motion means allowing any part of your body to create drag. This occurs when hips and legs drop or the head is raised out of the water. These things cause a swimmer’s progress through the water to slow.
Truth and time
Swimming involves such simple physics and yet is so goddamned complicated it is like trying to sort truth from a Sean Spicer press conference. Getting to know the feel of an efficient swim stroke requires time in the pool. It’s the same thing with riding the bike. Efficient cycling only comes from TITS. Time In The Saddle.
Thirty years ago I read a book by John Jerome called A Sweet Spot in Time. The book posited that it is possible for athletes to find a “sweet spot” in performance through a combination of practice and mental rehearsal that leads to a place where engagement is effortless.
What a sweet dream that would be in the pool! A few of my fellow swimmers have obviously learned how to swim with enough efficiency to casually enjoy their time in the pool. They can swim well enough to let the mind wander. That means one can ‘let it happen’ rather than constantly focusing on the next thing necessary to keep forward progress going.
Let it roll
That’s the goal for anyone that swims. To effect progress through the pool rather than letting the water affect how you move. Learning to effect a good stroke is critical because sooner or later, those of us in triathlon find ourselves in open water with no walls to reach or places to stop in order to catch our breath.
Yet last summer I walked down to the water at Pleasant Prairie and started a 750 meter swim in a large lake. Right away, a new kind of freedom in the water came to me. My arms cramped a little at 400 meters, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the swim. I walked out of the water elated to have some so far in a year’s time.
This morning the speed portion of the workout called for ten 75-yard intervals on the 1:40. I did all ten in 1:26 show me, and that means progress is occurring.
It has taken a long time to reach the point where I can effect a good workout rather than letting the workout affect me. That’s called a turning point. Hope you’re finding your way to those moments in all you do. Run. Ride. Swim.
If you have any challenges in your progress, send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll either try to answer them myself or find out the answers from the other experts in my life.