Midway through this morning’s swim workout, I paused to glance at the lane next to me where my wife Sue was doing her 75m IM repeats switching from freestyle to backstroke to breastroke with each lap. She loves swimming, and grew up competing for clubs. Now she competes occasionally in Master’s meets. Mostly she swims to train for her Ironman events. This fall she’s doing the ocean swim at the Half-Ironman in Wilmington, North Carolina.
I grew up swimming as a little kid and even competed in meets between pool clubs over the summer. But once we moved from Pennsylvania to Illinois, pool access was not available in the small town of Elburn, Illinois. Being landlocked, I eventually turned into a runner. There was plenty of space in the Illinois cornfields to do that, as long as you could avoid the farm dogs.
Love and like
These days Sue loves to swim and gets in 2-3 workouts a week. I have grown to like swimming now that I can actually cover a few laps in the pool without flailing and gasping to a halt after 50 meters. But my stroke still needs work. Even though I know better, my elbows still come out of the water too low and my catch is inconsistent underwater. I’m improving, but there are days when the pool still feels like a struggle.
Sue feels a bit the same way about running. She took up triathlon almost ten years ago and has run a half marathon under two hours. But like me in swimming, there are a few rough patches to her form. Her coach Steve Brandes had her do strength and bounding drills this winter along with speed work on the indoor track. That whipped her into shape. She was running 8:00 pace in interval workouts when her normal race pace is about 9:00 per mile.
There are interesting similarities between where Sue still needs work on running form and my challenges with swimming. Both sports require form efficiency to perform well. Unless you train to develop the strength and form needed to sustain pace, things fall apart in a hurry.
Or worse, they sometimes fall apart slowly. It can creep up on you. Before you know what’s happening, you’re going slow as molasses. We’ve all been there.
Here’s the law that covers that problem: When endurance athletes get tired (and this applies to almost all of us) old habits tend take over. Yet it is ironic that we tend to revert to bad form right when we need good form the most.
That’s why we always need to train beyond good form in order to compensate for those times when we regress. At least in that mode, we’re only back at a midpoint.
Swimmers achieve this ‘overtraining’ effect by using pool implements such as floats, hand paddles, kickboards and fins. Each of these tools puts a stress on the body that trains the muscles to exceed the lazy norms to which we gravitate when tired.
The “feel” of good form
In running, the stretch effect takes place as a result of speed work. But a runner can also add range of motion and introduce form improvement using bounding, toe running and even running backwards to teach the body the “feel” of good form foundations.
Sue’s not super keen on tossing me advice while we’re both swimming. Afterwards she’ll sometimes point out problems she can identify from one lane over. I just like the look of her in that sleek swimsuit, especially with the tan lines she just brought back from Florida. I’ll admit I like the feel of that good form.
But I digress. Husbands will do that.
Handing out advice
I don’t always like to correct her running form issues during track workouts. But when pacing her in intervals I do give hints on how to maintain focus on good form. Mostly it is simple stuff such as “stay on your toes” or “drive you knees” to add purpose to the pace. These small measures can get us through bad patches. After we’ve completed the interval I might have her try a few things. This also works before we get started.
In essence what we’re doing is trading paces. She teaches me how to swim faster and I train with her to help her fun faster.
Out on the bike, it all happens in real time. She’s a strong rider and some days she gets the better of me, especially when riding her tri-bike in aero position. But there are days as well when I’m feeling fast and conditions favor my riding style. So we trade drafts like good cyclists should anyway.
When it is all said and done and we’ve showered and changed and hydrated and dined, it’s nice to be able to cuddle up next to her on the couch and share space with her until one or the other of us dozes off at our own pace. And that is divine. Because I love this woman.