Saturday, April 19, 2014

On learning to love the pool

At first, swimming was just that thing I had do so I could make it through the triathlon. Last year, though, I found myself loving open water swimming.

But the pool was still the pool, and up until recently I equated lap swimming to running on the treadmill.

I'm down injured right now (still.) Since February, swimming has been all I've been allowed to do.

(It stinks.)

(One tiny upside: It's an excuse to wear sneakers to work every day.)

(But it still stinks)

(Occasionally I miss my heels.)

(Just occasionally.)

But in the past two months I've really embraced swimming, and brought myself to a point where I look forward to getting in the water.

LEARNING TO LOVE THE POOL STEP 1: BE A BETTER SWIMMER

Last year, I just wanted to get good enough to make it through the race. But since the running shoes are hung up for the moment, I might as well learn how to do this correctly.

That's by no means knocking the people who taught me how to swim. Randall's tips ring through my head to this day.

A friend from work and I signed up for a master's swim program in March, and this was really helpful. The coaches helped me with my stroke. I wasn't bringing my arms far back enough, making too small a circle, not reaching far enough, focusing on this was a godsend.

Then they told me that I was picking my head up too high to breathe. This was and still is harder to master, but I'm working on it! A woman at the Y gave me a good tip: try to keep one goggle in the water (don't actually do it, but try). It's working!

In the master's class I learned the proper way to do breast stroke, I learned the fly kick, and the back kick (which I love and use for all my cool down laps.)

I've gotten a lot faster, which has made swimming much more enjoyable, because I feel like I'm actually getting good at it instead of flailing around in the water counting laps.

The lifeguard at the Y even asked if I was on the swim team yesterday.

(Perhaps we all look like we're in high school when we're wearing swim caps and goggles.)

STEP 2: EMBRACE THE THERAPEUTIC BENEFITS

When I step out of the pool, I feel so cleansed, even though the first thing I want to do is shower.

The mental health benefits of running and cycling are wonderful and I miss it, but swimming is different somehow. The New York Times even wrote about it.

The pool is the only place where I'm forced to detach myself from my iPhone. If there's a chance work or someone might need me, they get the message that they're probably getting used to seeing by now: "I'll be off the grid for an hour or two. I'm going swimming."

Sometimes I even tweet it, so there's no question, I'm inaccessible to the outside world when I'm in the pool.

Swimming in itself is so mechanical. There's so much to the stroke and the kick. There's so much counting involved, laps and strokes. As a result, everything else in your head gets pushed out.

Then, when you get out, you're thinking clearer. That lede I didn't know how to write? That thing I couldn't think of before? That's when it comes to me.

It's good to get a break.

(Usually no one misses me.)

STEP 3: HAVING A PLAN

After seeing someone else with it at the Y, I ordered this book for myself: Swim Workouts for Triathletes by Gale Bernhardt and Nick Hansen.

The book has 75 swim workouts, drills, training tips and plans. Right now I'm not following a plan but have been doing the endurance workouts and really like them. They're anywhere from 2,200 to 2,600 meters and take me a little over an hour. Yesterday there were sets of 3-5 laps, alternated with drills and kicks.

I really only have one speed in the pool, so I'm not that good at doing the workouts that require you to vary speeds, but I'm getting better. Having workouts broken up really makes them go by quicker, and the tips in the book have made me a much better swimmer.

(I really hate that buoy.)

(The book's authors love it.)

SO…

I can't wait to brush the dust off the Asics.

But I can deal with the pool for now.

High elbows… catch… follow through…

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