Monday, August 06, 2007

The Beginning Triathlete (Me) and Swimming

As you all know, I have joined a swim class in my journey to do at least three triathlons before the season is over. I may not make that goal, but I'm willing to do some duathlons instead of triathlons. Last swim class, I wondered (for the first time) as I swam, "Why the hell am I doing this?"

Up until this past class, the lanes have always been 25 meters long. But this pool can transform itself through a device—I'm not sure what it's called, but it's similar to a dock—that can be moved up and down the width of the pool. So in this last class, the lanes were 50 meters long. Once down and back was 100 meters. Because I regulate my breathing so poorly and because I'm still susceptible to panicking, I have needed the brief respite at the end of a 25 meter length.

During the 50 meter swims, I often had to keep my head out of the water for a few seconds, while swimming along in a backstroke position with only one arm extended. This way I didn't stop in the middle of the lane and cause a traffic jam or look incredibly stupid and wimpy. The group of swimmers most likely know I'm a wimp anyway. I freely admit my lack of swimming chops and am willing to be the last to launch from the wall. It's just embarrassing when the first person to go laps me. But it only adds fuel to my fire.

See, though it scared the hell out of me to look down that 50 meter lane, I knew it would push me. You'll never know you can do it if you don't have someone—a coach, a parent, someone who wants you killed—pushing you. Sometimes I think Dee*, the coach, wants me killed. She tells me that I need to breathe less. "Try one, two, three, breathe; one, two, three, breathe." She also tells me that I don't need to breathe until I feel my leg muscles burning.

This is good advice. But I have a hard time not making love to the air. As I swim along, I feel I must breathe with every right arm stroke. When I learned to swim, back in '84, they told us to ONLY breathe when our right arm came out of the water. And they taught us to do it with EVERY stroke. So naturally that's what I want to do. And when I took the swimming class in college, there wasn't a whole lot of coaching going on.

So, these are some of my tips for the beginning triathlete swimmer:

▪ Get a good swim cap.
▪ The less you breathe, the more calm you'll be and the better you'll swim.
▪ Breathing on the left side is as good as breathing on the right side.
▪ You should always have a hand in front of you—don't drop your left arm until your right arm is in the water.
▪ Your body should never be flat—that means your hips should be rotating as you move forward.
▪ As you kick, your legs should move from the hip, not the knee.
▪ The launch is as important as anything else. You can get a good 10 - 15 feet without actually swimming much. Learn to launch well.
▪ Swimming well is as much an exercise in controlling your breathing as it is swimming.
▪ Swimming is also learning how to not panic and trust yourself.

It's really hard to remember all that when I'm swimming. But I'm working on it.

I don't know how other people make it through a triathlon without someone to help them swim better. I wouldn't be able to. At the end of our most recent session, by pushing myself, I was able to go 50 meters without stopping. It nearly killed me, but I did it. In a few months, I plan to be able to effortlessly go 100 meters. Maybe more.

*Dee did the Panama City, FL Ironman. The other coach will be doing an Ironman in a few weeks.


Em said...

I'm proud of you for doing this. One of my few regrets in life is that i have yet to learn to swim. I know, I know, it's never to late blah,blah, blah...but the at the moment, the thought of making a fool of myself while drowning isn't something I want to do.

I'm glad the new cap helps.

Aries327 said...

Thanks Em! It ISN'T too late. You should do it. You don't have to start right now, but at some point. In any case, it doesn't get easier until you start doing it.

I'll be in Utah in a week.

Dani said...

Niks, I am the same way. That darn claustraphobia mom has passed down to us! But goggles and being able to see helped me a ton to feel less claustraphobic, and keep my head under water longer. Do you wear some? I'm assuming you do, but if not, get some.

Nathan Marx said...


You are inspiring me to get out and move my fat bumb. Now that it is cooling down, I need to get out and get that cardio going. I really need to drop a few dozen pounds that have been hangin around for too long.

Aries327 said...

Yeah, Nathan, we all need to keep the fat off. It's one or the other, you know: either I exercise like crazy or I'm lazy like crazy.

Wherever you get your inspiration, because I need it too. I get it by reading about other people doing really hard things. Anyway, I'm glad I can inspire you. Can't wait to see you guys!