You know that feeling–the one where you know you’re onto something–you’re learning, growing stronger in that area, and you just know that you’re on the brink of a major breakthrough? That’s kind of how I felt about swimming this past month. During practice, we’d been slowly building distance to where, now, we’re consistently swimming over a mile and a half each hour, with all kinds of drills and fitness-building sprints mixed in.
Up until now, the sprints were killing me. I felt like I was frantically clawing and thrashing through the water, and pretty much getting nowhere. My fastest 100m time was at about 1:45–not terrible for a beginner, but not great. All I’d get was a whole lot of chest heaving for my efforts, and maybe a mouthful of water or two, if I was really spinning out there. Awesome.
The SMC pool finally opened its doors after a month off. Hallelujah! The warmer, swankier facility was a welcome change from swimming in the barely warm Culver City Plunge during this ridiculous Southern California cold snap. I met Mikey last Monday for class at 7:30 in the evening at the long course pool. She made me do a timed 100m marker set. My result: 2:16. Ridiculous. It was the slowest time I’d gotten almost since I started swimming in the first place.
“It’s like you’re weighing yourself down,” Mikey said. “You’re spinning your arms and shortening your stroke because you’re getting all panicked. You’re acting as your own obstacle.”
It made a lot of sense. So much of being an athlete is mental. Anticipating the hard work of sprinting, I panic, lose my form, and end up clawing through the water like an 800-lb sea tarantula. Mikey suggested that, instead of thinking about the speed first, that I should set up my stroke for the first 20% of the sprint, then focus on going faster, and then, for the last 10%, focus on strength. I did two 50s on that principle, and felt a little bit more confident.
The next evening I had team swim practice, and, admittedly, I was a little bit nervous that, perhaps, I was losing my swim mojo. A bad swim time can worm its way into and infect your psyche like so much pool water in the ear canal. Surprisingly, though, right away, my stroke felt long and strong, and I started breezing through the warmup drills.
Coach Riz said my elbows weren’t high enough out of the water, that my stroke was a little flat.
“Imagine that there’s an eyeball on your elbow, and you want to tilt it to look at the wall as it comes out of the water,” she said. Oh boy, the weird things coaches say…but, it worked!
Suddenly, my push through the water became even stronger. I began to glide forward, stretching out, tilting, and pulling, pointing those elbows up, and feeling effortlessly powerful.
Coach Jason shot his pointed finger down at me with a grin on his face, “THAT’S the stroke that you’re going to use all 2.4 miles!”
By George, I’d got it! Now, for the build set. Blerg.
I mentioned to Riz that everything fell apart for me during the sprint. She told me just to focus more on a stronger pull and kick through the water, that with those two things alone, I’d be faster.
Somehow, that advice quieted my anxious mind. I pulled harder, kicked harder, and went, well, faster on my sprint sets. Finally, I was beginning to understand the mechanics of speed through the water.
Back to SMC this morning, I brought my new technique and put it all together for sprints: long strong pulls, fast arms, and strong core. We didn’t time our sprints (except for 100s we did with fins on, which doesn’t really count at 30 secs), but I kept up with one of the advanced swimmers in the class, who I could never touch before (and she had flip turns to her advantage). I can’t wait to see my time improve!
1) Keep calm and swim on. Even a speed drill is not grounds for panic.
2) If the rest of your stroke is correct, focusing on your elbows helps give you power.
3) To swim faster, don’t lose your technique–just pull harder and kick harder.
4) Just like bad run days, there are bad swim days. They don’t last forever.
5) When it comes to things that your coaches tell you, if it sounds crazy, it just might work!