Today in the pool I swam next to two guys doing 100-meter repeats. One was clearly faster than the other, a tall gent who wore fins to keep up with his buddy. The faster swimmer alternated strokes from freestyle to breaststroke, butterfly to backstroke. That capacity for multiple strokes is the sign of an actual swimmer, one that has likely competed in either high school of college. There are still plenty of Master’s swimmers who keep at it as well, and when I see one of those older guys or gals doing multiple strokes in the pool, I tend to study their form. They typically know what they’re doing. We can all learn from each other.
Growing up, I swam at the Meadia Heights swimming pool south of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We had a local swim league and I rode around in sweltering cars with other kids to attend meets in Willow Street and other small towns. We ate Jello packets for energy and I learned how to do a flip turn somewhere along the way. I swam freestyle, breastroke and backstroke. Never much butterfly.
Once we moved to Illinois when I was twelve, all that swimming experience went away. There were no public pools within miles of our house in Elburn. Our home did have an above-ground circular pool in our backyard. In winter it would freeze over. Come spring we’d have to catch the toads that somehow got into the pool, then siphon out all those little insects called backswimmers. Once the pool was clean, usually not until late June of so, we’d invite some girls over to see them in their 1970s bikinis. Um, yeah.
Even if there had been a full-scale pool in Illinois, I don’t think I’d have continued in competitive swimming. My focus in sports was on baseball at that age. Our coach in Lancaster did not even allow us to go swimming on game days. That was a wise thing, because swimming all day in the drains the energy out of you fast.
By the time I hit junior high, I played basketball all winter. In high school it was cross country and track in fall and spring. There would have been no time for swimming.
So I didn’t start swimming again until my late 50s. It has been an interesting journey, but one that has its rewards too.
I only swam 1000 yards today, but swam it all at 80-90% effort. The workout started with one 200 yard swim at 3:46 and six 100s at a 1:50 pace. To finish off, I swam four 50s at just under 50 seconds. By the standards of most serious swimmers, that’s not much of a workout by. It only took me 20 minutes. That’s about the same general effort as running three miles. I do that with some frequency too. We shouldn’t diminish the value of any effort. It all adds up to something.
My swim form has improved enough that recent efforts over 1600 yards are encouraging. A week ago I swam under 33:00 for a mile. My goal is getting under 30:00 before we head to open water swimming in the spring.
Improvement is what all of us are shooting for in this multisport/triathlon game. Incremental gains. This morning, my wife ran a series of 400M repeats on the indoor track and averaged under 7:45 pace on all of them. Even a year ago that would have been tough for her. Watching her running improve is a fun thing to share.
We all try to improve where we can and at the rate that’s possible if we keep at it. While changing in the locker room after swimming I could heard the faster swim guys talking loudly in the shower. One of them said, “I try to swim 10,000 yards three times a week.” He went on to explain that when he swims in competitions, he makes sure to shave his body. “When I feel smooth, man, I feel faster,” he enthused. Then he added. “Once a year, I shave my back for one of the bigger meets. But a few days later it gets so itchy I could die.”
We’ve all got our crosses to bear. Some of them come from a razor and some hair.