Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Water Can be a Humbling Place...

In my personal opinion, the biggest deterrent for people to begin participating in triathlons is fear of the  water. For those who were not brought up swimming in some capacity, the swim portion of the race can seem like a daunting task.  I cannot count how many people that I have talked to about getting into triathlon that have said something along the lines of:

"I would love to get into triathlon, but I cannot swim at all."


"I would seriously drown if I was ever put into open water with hundreds of other people."

What I looked like 9 months ago...
I can tell anyone from personal experience that anyone can learn to at least be competent in the water with practice and enough determination to improve.  My road to becoming a swimmer has not been easy and has been a long process.  I actually first attempted to learn how to swim about 9 months ago when I began this road to becoming a triathlete.  I had taken swim lessons when I was younger til the age of like 5, but other than that had absolutely no experience in swimming whatsoever.  However, when I began this training, I figured, "How hard can swimming be?  I am an athletic person who normally picks up on things pretty quickly; this should be no problem..."

O how wrong I was.

The first day I went to the pool, I borrowed some goggles, put on my trunks, and hopped in the water to perform what I thought was freestyle at the time.  This is how the workout went.  I swam 1 length(25 yards), felt like I was drowning, rested about a minute, and then attempted to do the same thing again.  This went on for about 20 minutes to which point I was exhausted and got out of the pool and thought that I had done a decent workout.  I had maybe swam 400-500 yards, leaning towards the former.  

What I actually look like now...
It was after this workout that I felt like giving up on triathlon all together, but I was able to convince myself that it would get easier with time and kept going back.  As I had mentioned in a previous post, by the time that I did my first triathlon, I averaged about 2:45/100 yards for a 300 yard swim.  For anyone that knows swimming, that is really, sadly slow.  To put it in perspective, yesterday at my Master's Swim class, I swam with a 69 year old women who had recently won the Illinois state meet for her age group with a time of 1:17, but we will get to that story later.

Anyways, I was able to keep improving by simply watching videos online and taking the advice of some articles that I had read.  After getting to the pool about 4-5 times a week for about 4 months, I was able to complete my first half ironman swim which is 1.2 miles and was able to get my short course 100 time down to about 1:55/100.  It was at this point that I(with strong encouragement from my mother) decided that I needed to join a Master's Swim group in order too see any more improvement.

What I would like to look like someday...
Again, any swimmer can tell you that becoming a good swimmer has very little to do with how hard you can kick or how fast you can move your arms.  Form is everything.  You need to learn to become efficient in the water.  I am still far from efficient, but after joining the Master's class and taking some harsh criticism for my form from Coach Sue...  ;)   I am down to about 1:32/100 yards after only about a month of training with her.  

However, the title of this article is "The Water Can be a Humbling Place..." and I wouldn't be doing anyone justice if I did not poke a bit of fun at myself for how far I still have to go with my swimming.

Yesterday, at my Master's class, I was put in a lane with two women who had been attending the group for a few years.  One was a woman in her 40's who had swam in college and the other was a 69 year old former olympic qualifier who consistently wins state and national meets for her age group in multiple events.  

Before the swim even began, the 40 year old turned to me and said, "If we are moving too slow, do not be afraid to pass us."  

Coach Sue overheard this and said, "Do not be intimidated by this kid; he is a newbie swimmer.  He will be chasing you guys all session."

She could not have been more right.  From the moment the workout started, I was struggling to hold on.  The workout was actually pretty fun.  We warmed up, did about 1800 yards of swim golf, and cooled down.  For those of you who don't know what swim golf is, here is a link to a brief explanation.  

The purpose of the workout was to not necessarily go fast, but to drive forward with each stroke and make each pull as efficient as possible.  However, in order to keep up, I had to push for about 1:33-1:35/100 yards for the entire workout which is TOUGH for me!

Sue was getting a kick out of watching me struggle to catch my breath at the end of each set before attempting to go again.  In the end, I truly enjoyed the chance to work with these ladies and hope that they will let me in their lane next session as well.

In conclusion for today, anyone can learn how to swim if you are determined enough to make it happen.  Do not let fear of the water be a reason why you do not try a triathlon.  Steps to make it happen:

1.  Get in the water
2.  Get in the water again
3.  Join a Master's Class
4.  Get in the Water more

Do you see a pattern?  Make it happen.

My Master's Class

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