Saturday, February 28, 2015

Drilling Basics

What with one thing and another, I have not been feeling the swimming love. Being slapped with how slow I am is discouraging, it's February during a colder and snowier winter than we've had in years and I am struggling with something kind of childish.

For those who don't swim, let me clue you in: swimming is almost entirely form-driven. Everything you do with swimming is about reducing or preventing drag in the water. Yeah, it's mostly physics, and dealing with a powerfully resistant medium.

Know what else is mostly physics? Martial arts.

Know what else is entirely form-driven? Dance (specifically ballet, but other dance is as well).

So, why do I bring that up on a swimming blog? This is where the childish part comes in. I do need to get faster. To get faster, I need to improve my form. I'm taking classes and all that smack, but what has me not feeling the love?

Drills. Don't like 'em.

For someone who comes to swimming from a non-athletic or non-physical background, there would be some excuse for this. I have none. None at all. I spent fifteen years of my childhood and early adulthood studying dance and martial arts.

Every single ballet class starts with a warm up of a series of basic movements. This is utterly standard. You'll see it anywhere you look. The students don't whine about doing these drills. It's simply an accepted part of the class. I can't ever recall a complaint about starting out with the barre exercises.

Martial arts? The style I studied first was an obscure Okinawan one called Isshin-ryu. The first thing you learn are the fifteen upper and lower basics. The really skilled martial artists drill these every day. No flashy or fancy kicks, no intricate moves more suited to a movie set than an actual fight, just very, very basic punches and kicks. If you wanted to be a good martial artist with a solid base, you'd drill these every day, even if your goal was a spinning back kick ending with a floor sweep.*

Me being resistant to doing drills and wanting just to swim distances without thinking about it is about as foolish and childish as you can get. I know full well from my own background how important basics drills are. But no… I wanna rack up the miles when I go to practice.

I need to come up with some version of the upper and lower basics that will start my swim practice, just like the barre exercises or the fifteen upper and lower basics in Karate. That just needs to be how I start my practice, no matter what. Everything I've ever done that is form-driven does this. 

Swimming is no different, and I know it. I only have limited time to practice, but a set of 500 yards of some basic drills at every practice would improve my swimming to no end. I need to stop focusing on the yardage and trust that will come as my form improves.

I'm going to throw this in as my basics drills, each one just 100 yards:
  1. Single Early Vertical Forearm Single-Arm Drill Right
  2. Single Early Vertical Forearm Single-Arm Drill Left
    These first two drills focus on Early Vertical Forearm – a technique where you're keeping the elbow high and dropping the forearm perpendicular to the bottom of the pool early in the stroke. This reduces drag quite a bit. I won't go into the physics of it much here, but you can click on the link for an explanation.
  3. Slow arm recovery with hesitation
    This helps with timing on the pull.
  4. Closed Fist Drill
    Closed fist drill is meant to break you of using the hand entirely on the pull and use the forearm as well. That may sound kind of silly, but what has more surface area, your hand or your forearm?
  5. Kickboard
    I do not kick from my core nearly as much as I should. Drilling that and concentrating will drive the movement into muscle memory better.
Certainly swimming is an integration of movements involving the entirely body, but drilling on specifics is important, I know it, and I need to stop screwing around and start making them as regular a part of my workout as barre exercises or the fifteen upper and lower basics were for my other practices.

I am also going to a class today to learn how to do a proper flip turn. Meaningless for open water, but I feel like a dork not knowing how to do one.
* For the record, no, I never did learn to do that.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Facing Disappointment

I competed in the first swim meet (of a sort) that I've done since I was about eight.  Being in my mid-forties, let's just say it's been awhile.

It's called a Postal Swim because you aren't swimming at a specific location, but doing the swim while being observed and then sending in your results. Used to be via mail -- hence "post" but these days the results are submitted electronically like everything else.

I got an email with the preliminary results today.  I knew I wasn't really all that fast, but I am going to have to admit my heart sank when I looked at the results.

Out of 166 competitors in my sex and age group, I was 158.  The top performers in my category were more than twice as fast as I am.

*sighs*  Okay, so I wasn't last.  And I know I was competing with people who'd had a more serious competitive background than just a few summers in grammar school.  Or that had been swimming seriously and consistently for more than a six month period, for that matter!

But that's still damned disappointing.  I knew I was slow, but I hadn't had it really spelled out to me how painfully slow I really am.   It even makes me wonder if I have any business attempting the open water stuff,

'Cept, I'm going to anyway and am going to continue training for it until I'm barred from events or something. Then it's probably just going to be on my own and friends with boats pacing me...

Monday, February 23, 2015

Snarking Sports Drinks

Chubby Mermaid
Courtesy of Peter Vinton Jr. Art and Illustration.
Me darlin' Spoose.
I swam 4,000 yards on Saturday.  I know, for the usual marathon swimmer, that's just an easy training day.  See the subtitle of my blog? See the word "aspiring?"

Yeah.  So, get off my back, you nutcases, I'm working on it. I swam over 10,000 yards in the past week, so I'm definitely working on volume.

It was a personal distance record for me; and took me an hour and fifty-four minutes.

About once a month, between now and the end of June, I'm going to be doing a swim that's simply going for distance -- challenging myself to swim further than I ever have before.   March, I'm probably going to see if I can hit 4500 yards.  To be honest, I am probably physically capable of doing that now, but I really don't want to court a shoulder injury and am ramping up distance at a fairly steady rate.

Last month, when I went for a personal distance record (3600 yards.  I'm doing a two mile open water swim this summer, and it was recommended that I try and see if I could swim two miles.  Totally can, thanks) I got a horrific cramp in my right calf about 3,000 yards into the swim. Now, I am a former ballerina, so I take no shit from calf cramps, and gave my foot a really hard flex, swimming with my right foot as a sea anchor for a bit until that nonsense went away.

But still, I did look up cramping in swimmers online to see what I came up with, and wouldn't you know it, lack of hydration can do it.  Had I brought water with me for that 3600 yard swim?

*grin* You know I didn't, right?

I brought a sports drink with me for the Saturday swim.  Now, I tend to snark them for the casual exerciser.  Unless you have a specific medical condition, it's pretty unlikely you even need water for the average workout under an hour, much less calories or electrolytes.  I find people who are not endurance athletes with their sports gels and their sports drinks kinda funny to be frank.

Though I am going to have to admit, when you start racking up the hours, yeah, maybe a sports drink is a good idea.  I brought some for my recent swim because I'm kinda experimenting with what I need for longer events in terms of nutrition and hydration.  I took a swig about every half hour during my 4,000 yard swim.  No calf cramps at all.  Whether that was due to the sugar and salt, or if it was more due to the hydration, I am not sure.  Yes, yes, an experiment with too many variables.  I should be ashamed myself.  My money is on the hydration, to be frank.

But, anyway, I do think that for longer swims, I'm probably going to at least drink some juice or something.  There is still something inside that offends me about sports drinks.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Being a Slow Swimmer Can Be Discouraging

When I am I am a slow swimmer, that's not some kind of modesty.  I'm quite slow.  I don't mean I feel inadequate when someone zips along in the lane next to me.*  I mean I have like... ya know... hard evidence with numbers and stuff.

The US Master's Swimming Postal Swim posted some preliminary results.  The Postal swim is a race (used mail in the results, hence Postal) where you get in the water and swim as far as you can for an hour. Average for my age category?  A bit over 3400 yards.

I swam 2200.


Now my goal isn't to be spectacularly fast, but the recommendation for one swim I want to do is to be able to swim a mile in a pool in 40 minutes.  At that speed, I would have had to have done about 2650 in an hour. Put another way, I swam a mile in 47:08. I need to be able to do it in 40:00.

I get discouraged when I look at the numbers, I admit it.  And it probably isn't either fair or reasonable with myself.  I just took some swim lessons and yes, my speed is definitely improving,  But to be honest?

Yes, technique can always be improved, but mine was never so egregiously bad that I'd see a huge, dramatic improvement in pace after lessons.  Improvement, yes.  Dramatic, no.  The worst you can say at this point is that I can't do a flip turn.  That's going to be good for about a 2% improvement on  my speed.  That means I would have swum a 2250 rather than 2200 in the postal swim, by the way.

And it won't count for anything in open water, anyway.

As technique-based as swimming is, I'm less and less convinced my lack of speed is really a technique thing.  I suspect it is more a fitness thing and an effort thing.

You see, I train wrong.

I love swimming distances. Just put me in the water and let me go.  That's what I like.  I'm constant, I'm steady.  My technique has been compared to a machine, and the adjective "diligent" has been used more than once.

That's not a problem. In fact, for what I want to do, it's a plus. The problem is the slow part.

Guess how you don't get faster.

I broke down and took lessons hoping I could avoid what I've got to do next.  I'm not sorry I took them.  My technique has improved as has my speed.

What's next?  <shudder> Interval training.

I know why I'm avoiding it. I'm obsessed with getting a certain number of yards in when I train, and I have at most 45 minutes in the morning to get those yards in.  Interval training means you have to go hard, then actually *gasp* stop and rest for a few seconds before swimming the next set.   Which will translate into fewer yards per session.  Yes, yes, I know, this will help me speed up.  When I speed up, the yardage I'll be able to get in will go up, too.   I know throwing long term in favor of right now is a fault of mine. You're not telling me anything I don't blasted well know!

I've got to suck it up and do it, it seems.  But because I am totally immature and need lure of pleasure to do anything, my weekend sessions are still going to be those long sets and meditative distances I so love.

*  I don't actually feel badly about people in lanes next to me because I'm pretty much in my own head when I am swimming and generally feel pretty good in that moment.  It's why I do this.  The act of swimming feels good.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

It's Cold!

I live in an area of the country that is noted for cold and snow.

And still, we are getting hammered this year.  We've had several weeks of colder than usual temperatures with some snowstorms thrown in.

As a swimmer, this doesn't mean much unless I am having a hard time getting to the gym (which has happened a few times). But cold?  *shrug* The pool runs somewhere between 78 and 80 degrees.  For me, this is borderline too warm to swim hard in comfortably.  Though it is nice to get in when I first start the swim.

So, after my swim the showers were busy, and people were making chitchat, as we do in the shower, when the subject of  the cold came up.  One of the people commented that she always finds it difficult and unpleasant to get in the water at this time of year.  She found the initial shock bothersome.

I'd've laughed and called her a wimp. but what with her being a much more dedicated athlete than I am, as well as a faster swimmer, I kept my confounded mouth shut.  I have no room to tease on this one.

But I do find the self-talk interesting.  When the weather started turning cold, I did have an initial sense that it was going to be rough to get in the water over the winter.  But when I got logical about it, I realized that by any sane standard, not only was it not going to be (I worked for the gym at one time and I know at what temperature they keep the water!), the real problem was going to be getting all comfortable in that warm, indoor water.

In fact, I have to say that when I am feeling uncomfortably cold -- say when my hands hurt and are clumsy thawing out from snow-blowing the driveway, or when my feet feel like ice cubes when I am sitting around the house (I keep it at 65F in the daytime) writing or not doing much, it kind of makes me nervous for the open water swims.  I use an electric blanket on my bed, for goodness sake!

There are schools of thought that encourage people who want to adapt to cold water to make sure they're exposing themselves to cool ambient temperatures for other activities than swimming.  Lynne Cox wore sandals in the winter as well as light clothing as part of her training for her cold water swims.  Other open water swimmers encourage similar types of training.

I'd promised myself to only worry about getting swimming technique down and my swimming volume up for the winter, and that for this summer swim season, May 1 was soon enough to start worrying about getting into open water cold.  I do have a plan to do some very short (and increasingly long) swims after the spring thaw.

But I am still a bit apprehensive about it, and wonder if I really should start preparing now.  My shower has ample opportunities for cold water, and I can wear lighter clothing than my usual wool sweaters in the house.  Shoot, I can even go outside in lighter clothing every now and then for short periods to get myself used to it.  Though I expect exercise would be cheating. A brisk walk and I am comfortable above 25F in a sweater, as long as I am moving.

Then again, maybe that should be comforting, as I will certainly be exercising pretty hard doing the open water swims.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Being a Wanna-Be and the Power of Showing Up

As far as marathon swimming is concerned, I am definitely a wanna-be.  The longest distance I have ever swum is a little over two miles, and that was in a pool.  As the title of my blog implies, I am also a fairly slow swimmer.  I can't even do a flip turn (yet!) At my present skill level, the really cool distance swim are more in the range of dangerous pipe dream than they are any sort of reality.

I'm okay with this.

I know that sounds crazy, but I'm totally okay with being a wanna-be right now.  It's the wanna-be that gets me in the pool pretty much daily.  It's the wanna-be that gets out my checkbook to pay for lessons to improve my speed and form.  It's the wanna-be that's pushing me to swim longer distances in my training and pushes up my weekly mileage.

I wouldn't be okay with it if I were more talking about than doing, mind.

I got to thinking about this during my morning swim when I glanced over at a gentleman swimming next to me.  He swims every day for about 25-30 minutes.  He doesn't use any stroke that'd be recognized by a competitive organization, nor does he do the drills that the "serious swimmer" does.  Definitely a fitness swimmer rather than an athlete.

But here's there.  Patiently, consistently, he is there every single morning, and he does his thing.  He doesn't need the lure of achievement that I seem to just to be motivated to work out.

While I do strive hard to become a better and faster swimmer, the gentleman in the next lane keeps me grounded.  While having goals and working towards them is great, I think it's important not to forget that being patient, consistent, and just showing up has its own power.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Me and Swimming

Why would someone who has several blogs start another one?

Mostly to avoid boring the living daylights out of anyone who isn't interested in swimming.  While I have other blogs, most of them range all over the place with my various interests and obsessions.  This blog is going to be about swimming.

My swimming resume is less than impressive. I was on a swim team as a child.  I quit because I disliked the current coach.  To my grade school mind he was mean. Certainly he was harsher than any coach I'd had up until then.  So, I bolted.

I didn't really swim very seriously again for many years.  That didn't mean that I didn't pretty much live in the water most summers. All  my life, recreation has mean being in rivers and on beaches.

When I was about thirty, I moved quite far north and much further inland than I was used to and lived in a situation where beaches and water recreation was much more rare.

I got back into swimming as exercise when I realized I needed something to do that would be easy on my joints.   I worked for a college that had a swim team, and you could get a membership to the pool.  Since there was a deal with the insurance plan that if you worked out a certain number of times a week over a three month period, you would get a reimbursement to the membership, it seemed like the perfect plan.

I didn't realize until that time how important being in water was to my well-being. Swimming got me through tough emotional times, and enhanced the joy of the good ones.  Being in the water regularly was not only strengthening my body, but soothing my mind.  While I've never been one for sitting in lotus meditating, yes, like many people who swim, swimming is when I order my thoughts, recenter my emotions and let my mind run free.   I get writing ideas and work on refining them in the water.  I come up with ideas of sweaters I want to knit, or solutions to professional problems while swimming. For all that it's a physical activity, it's  my time to think.

For nearly eight years off and on, though, swimming was a workout I loved, and not really a serious athletic endeavor.  Whether or not I swam was more driven by whether or not I was presently being careful to get in my workouts for health purposes.

That changed last summer.   I was physically out of shape and a little ill from a seriously draining professional project and I needed to get back to exercising.  Wanting something pleasant, I did get back into the pool.  As I was working up to longer distances, I joked to my husband that I was thinking it would be fun to swim from Alcatraz Island to shore.  People do it all the time, after all.

My husband, who really wants to get out to San Francisco, said, "Yes, do it!  Next summer?"

Well, our travel money for 2015 had already been committed to other trips, so I suggested 2016.  He agreed.

And I realized that maybe I ought to do a little research to see what sort of training was really necessary for the swim. While I knew that I could swim the distance (it's only about a mile and a half), I figured that chances are good that the distance had little to do with the challenge of it.

Which is true, of course.  It's about currents and water temperature---- oh, wetsuit.

I'm 5'2" and quite heavy. I'd have to get a custom wetsuit if I really wanted one that fit me. AND that would cost a gut-wrenching amount of money.

Well, as it happens, I found a community of completely insane people who do these sort of swims just in bathing suits.  There are well-documented methods to condition oneself to cold water tolerance. Yes, I could earn the money for a wetsuit in the time it's going to take me to train, but something about the purity of "Channel Rules" appeals to me.

So training...

To keep myself from being lazy because that Alcatraz swim was two years away, I signed up for another swim -- the 2015 Boston Sharkfest.  That's only about 1500 meters across the mouth of the Charles, but still... I have to train to keep from embarrassing myself. 

In researching, I read Lynne Cox' Open Water Swimming Manual, then Swimming to Antarctica, then went on to read the blogs of some open water swimmers.  This lead me to wonder if maybe marathon swimming really is the sport for me, and signed on to a marathon swimming discussion board.   It was there I learned about some local open water and marathon swims in large lakes near our area.  So, in a fit of insanity, I signed up for one of the two mile swims.  This focused me even more and is keeping me on track and in the pool.

If the wisdom is that one can swim in a day what one swims in a week, I'm... well, I'm overtraining by a factor of three. But I doubt anyone has ever been sorry to have overprepared for a swim.

Oh, the name of the blog?

My name is Noël.  And I'm a slow swimmer.