It hasn’t been easy, learning to swim again. Three or four years ago the process began with 25-yard gasping efforts in a tiny little pool within the X-Sport fitness facility.
Then came strained sessions at the Master’s Swim program held at Marmion Academy, a private military and Catholic-based high school near our home. The natatorium has hosted many great swimmers, including Olympic Trials qualifiers and Illinois state champions.
But I am none of those. I stare at the records on the wall and wonder, “What kind of animal can do that?” 47 seconds for 100 meters? (I think that’s one of the records.) I will never be even an echo of a shadow of the likes of Michael Phelps. And I’m good with that.
Progress has generally been slow for me. Looking back, some of the form flaws such as the deep arm pulls I was doing early on, are outright comical. No wonder I struggled in the water. If you were going to set a person up for failure in the water, you’d do all the things I was doing.
Over time and through repeated rounds of advice, my swimming form has genuinely improved. I still only do freestyle, but at least I now understand the “catch” phase of the stroke, and high elbows, how to hold my hands and rotate the body.
There are still flaws to work out of course. That’s true for almost every swimmer. Old bad habits die hard. New bad habits form out of fatigue or mental laziness.
The trouble with swimming
That’s the trouble with swimming. The number of things going on in the water is exceptional when it comes to the degree of difficulty just to do the basic task of moving forward. With running, there are mechanics to consider in order to move in an efficient style, but there is no water to push around. Only air and gravity slow you down.
But swimming. Hooo boy. Little things such as lifting your head a little each stroke can add seconds to your per-100 time. Unless someone points that out or you see yourself n a video, it may not be obvious.
And that’s why real progress, the kind you can see on your watch, is so tough in swimming.
I’ve been averaging 2:00 per 100 for a very long time. That’s not fast. If I went all out, I could perhaps manage 1:55. Granted, I’m not doing flip-turns either. Perhaps that’s an indication of that skill flaw too.
But I could always see people swimming past me at a much faster rate. So it wasn’t about flip turns.
Yet this morning, something changed. I swam a series of 100-meter intervals at 1:45. That’s a lot faster than I’ve been swimming. Near as I can tell, it has something to do with keeping my head down just that bit to become more of a bullet shape. That and some relatively consistent swimming of late has added a touch of strength to my stroke.
My humble goal is to get down to a 1:40 per 100 pace and then train up to hold that for 800 meters or a mile. I’m not fatigued now swimming 800 meters as a distance, at least not in a wetsuit.
But this weekend’s sprint triathlon may not be wetsuit legal. That’s a marginally new possibility for me. The most I’ve swum in open water without a wetsuit is 400 meters in the W-shaped course at the Naperville Sprint Triathlon.
At least there’s a degree of confidence building. Having a little breakthrough, however humble it may be, is a sign of progress even at my age. And progress is good. In everything.