Saturday, March 28, 2015

I Am Ironfish

The title comes from a website called Fitocracy.  You log in, log your workouts, get points and level up as you get more points. It rewards workouts more or less like a video game.  Yes, it's for nerds. Nerds can be childish and not want to do things if it's not a game.  Yes, I am a nerd.

The site was designed by people who heavily weight the reward system to weightlifters and runners.  That's okay.  Plenty of people don't think swimmers are really working out. *shrug*  Plenty of people are wrong, but that's nothing new :)

Today I earned the quest badge I am Ironfish.   To earn it you have to swim 2.4 miles -- the distance you swim in the Ironman triathlon.  I swam 4500 yards (~2.56 miles), but who's counting, right?

Oh yeah, me, I totally am counting. :)

The description goes like this:

Guppies need not apply. The Ironman triathlon swimming leg is a daunting 3.86 km (2.4 mi). Swimming this far without stopping takes years of training, so this distance is only for true Ironfish.

This is slightly silly.   It doesn't take years to train for such a distance.  I've been training seriously since about last September. Call it six months.  However, yes, the first time you do it, it is a little daunting.  (180 lengths of the pool can make you feel like you're on a hamster wheel, just sayin')

And honestly?  For the real distance swimmer, this would just be... well, Wednesday.  

I'm getting there...

My basic training plan (yes, this is overtraining for the two-mile swim I have planned for the summer. I bet I won't regret it, though) is to carefully increase distance on normal training days.  About half the time, I have time for a longer swim. Other days, I need to do shorter ones to get to work on time.   Weekends, I have time, so they're my "longish" swim.

Then once a month I'll do a challenging swim like today.  It started with a test to see if I could swim two miles, then I increased the distance a little the next month, and today it was two and a half.

I've been told by other adult-onset marathon swimmers that the first time you swim 5,000 yards. it can be pretty exciting.   I'm looking forward to that next month.

It does amuse me that distances that used to make me happy look like warm-ups now.  I look forward to the day when two and a half miles looks like a warmup, too.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

After a Week Off

I was out of the pool for a week.  I was visiting family.  I totally could have chosen to go to a local pool there for a swim or two, but chose not to.

From a swimming time standpoint, it sure looked like a good choice.   I think I may have needed a little break.

But today just felt right while swimming.   I had the thought while doing my drills.  Now,  drills aren't my favorite thing to do while swimming, but after my little thought a couple of weeks ago, I've been pretty diligent about doing 500 yards of drills first thing every swim practice.  I know it just needs to be a thing, so I do it and I think it's paying off.  Certainly getting in and starting out with the kickboard just felt good.  It felt like I'd come back to my natural environment, being in the water.

I also had a thought.  I have swimming goals, don't get me wrong.  But I'm also looking at the big picture and long term. If I tie myself up in knots getting anxious about meeting them, I'm kinda missing the point.

The point is to have fun with this. Sure, sure, I wanna do some stuff that's hard.  That's real. But I'm also waaayyyy over-training for the events I want to do over the next six months.  Being well-prepared is great, and I'm all for that, but with my swimming volume, it's more like I'm training to swim a real marathon this summer, not a measly two miles.

While I've no intention of rolling back the volume, as I do have long-term goals that require it, I need to relax a bit about it.

The point of this is to have fun, for pity's sake.  I concede it's a weird, masochistic definition of fun sometimes, but there's still my inner six year old that needed to be pried out of the pool with a crowbar.

I like to give that kid some indulgence in my swims.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Flip Turns: Starting to feel natural

I think one of the things I like most about swimming is that you can learn some pretty complex physical skills with little risk of hurting yourself.

When I was in my mid thirties, I ruptured an ACL trying to do a flying side kick in a Tang Soo Do class.  Given my tendency to enbonpoint, perhaps that was foolish, but anyway...  I tried, and I learned that knee surgery wasn't the horror I was afraid it could be and that I could refrain from swearing in front of children in extremis.

However, I never did entirely get my physical courage back in terms of stability, and am very dubious about any kick above the waist any more. The only martial arts I've done since are a few T'ai Chi classes.

I'm not afraid to try things in the water so much.  You don't run any real risk of falling, even if you mess up the movement.  The scariest thing about a flip turn is whether or not you've gotten an adequate breath for the flip and glide.  And even that isn't a big deal, as you're not far enough under the water that pulling out and breathing is going to be a problem.  I suppose, in theory, you could give your head a nasty knock if you waited waaaayyyy too late to flip, but it's not something that generally runs through my head.

At first they do feel clumsy and awkward.   I'd given myself stern instructions that I was to do flip turns on a certain number of freestyle sets, then I had permission to drop them in favor of the open turn just to be able to enjoy my swim.

Then, on a longer weekend swim, I found I was just doing flip turns instead of open turns, even though I'd gotten my practice quota in.  They're just feeling more natural now.

This isn't to say that I'm great at them.  I'm not.  I'm not enough that they're slowing me down rather than speeding me up.  But that's part of the learning process.  I'm still gliding slowly to the wall, doing a somersault and then kicking off rather gently and corkscrewing over.  It's certainly not that tight flip and snap off the wall someone who is used to flip turns will do.

That's okay.  That they feel like a natural part of my freestyle sets is a good step, and I expect that after doing them ten thousand* times or so, they'll be a lot more expert.

* Not hyperbole.  I do think that it's going to take a few months.  But notice that's a few months, not years, of work!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Fat Ladies and Bathing Suits

This was going to be a rant about how hard it is to find a decent bathing suit for distance swimming when you're a plus sized chick.

Because I try to be fair, I do try to give any subject I'm ranting about at least the courtesy of a good Google search before I go off the deep end. And it turns out that several companies do offer bathing suits that will be okay for the plus-sized lap swimmer or distance swimmer.

Mind, they are unlikely to be cheap. I've seen good bathing suits on sale for as little as $40.  Never seen one in my size (~20 these days), confound it.  I tend to spend between $70 and $80.

Speedo is my go-to.  I can reliably find a Speedo in my size if I am willing to tolerate a choice of dark colors.  But hey, take heart, they fade like crazy, so get brighter.

That part had me grinding my teeth a bit.  It had been suggested to me that maybe I ought to try Tyr bathing suits, but when I'd looked for one, I didn't realize I'd been looking in the wrong place and was convinced Tyr didn't make suits in my size.  They do, but it's under Fitness Suits not Active Swimwear.  My bad. I forgot fat chicks aren't actually active.  *snarl*

But I did buy a suit. We'll have to see if they stand up to the chlorine better than my old Speedos.

Junonia?  That company does have me utterly grinding my teeth.

There are two suits that would be okay for any sort of distance swimming -- one an aquatard (which seems kinda cool, but I ain't spending the money on after reading about some of the *ahem* biological necessities of distances swims) and the other a very high-necked, low-legged suit.  I mean, chacun à son goût and all, but they're more expensive than their Speedo and Tyr counterparts and are just less satisfying, just sayin'. It's disappointing, because for a company that purports to support fat athletes, the pickings are slim and expensive.  Don't even get me started on the bathing dresses.  They're cute enough for playing on the beach, I suppose, but for any sort of movement where you start caring about drag? No. Just not. I wouldn't even body surf in them!

Which brings me to a thought about body image.   Now, to say that I have my own issues about it would be true enough. You can't be a fat woman in the English-speaking world and not deal with it.  But it does make me forgive Junonia (well, a little bit) for claiming to be for active women and then doing the whole swim dress thing and attempt at "slimming" thing. (As someone who sews her own clothes, news flash:  A design element might take off as much as a perceived ten pounds. At my weight, I can't be arsed to care about that -- certainly not when it's a garment that is meant to fit snugly)

I spoke to a woman I know about swimming as an option for exercise.  She's about my age, but if she's fewer than 10 dress sizes smaller than me, I'll swear off vodka for a week -- a whole week, I tell you!

She's about my age and tells me she hasn't worn a swimsuit in her adult life because she doesn't have a bathing suit body.

As you can imagine, I about died laughing at that, and asked her what in hell she thought I, who has GOT to outweigh her by 90 lbs,* do when I am training.  I also died a little inside to hear it.

I know the real answer to that.  She isn't thinking about the fact that there are lots of women heavier than she is out there in the water.  All she's doing is thinking she isn't good enough to put on the bathing suit.

There are times when I hate our culture.

* I used to be a diet counselor, believe it or not. I have a good eye for body size and weight.

Friday, March 13, 2015

450 Yards

I was emailed recently by someone on a fitness discussion board about to get started swimming for fitness.

It brought me up a little short, because in terms of my goals, I am the newest of newbies.  But in terms of this person's goals, okay, totally not.  She wanted to know how to get started swimming.  I've got the getting started part down pat, boy howdy let me tell you what!

I mentioned how I had gotten started lap swimming, commenting that at the time I only had 20 minutes to work out. I was a lunch break swimmer with very long hair.   I had to get to the pool, get into my suit, swim, shower, dry my hair and get dressed again then get back to the office inside of an hour.  So, really only got about twenty minutes of a swim -- thirty if it was warm enough for me to go outside with damp hair.

The reader expressed surprise that any advance could be made in that time frame.  And honestly?  A twenty minute swim would be way too short for me to consider now.  I consider anything under an hour a shortish swim.

But to say that it did me no good would be utterly false.  I made quite a bit of progress over about a year of swimming for twenty to twenty-five minutes on my lunch breaks.

I remember my first session very clearly.  I wanted to see how far I could swim in the time I had.  I was awkward with the crawl.  Like most newbies, one length and I was out of breath.  While that's often more a technique thing than a fitness thing, in my case it was both.  So I decided to swim a length crawl, and come back with breast stroke, then swim a length back stroke and come back breast stroke again.

I swam 18 lengths of a 25 meter pool.

But I did progress.  My goal was always getting in more lengths in that 20-25 minute range, so I would push.  I would try to do multiple lengths of the crawl.  I learned bilateral breathing.  I remember the day I was able to get 32 lengths in during my time frame (800 meters)  God, I was so excited about it, even if there was no-one I could crow to about it.  Non-swimmers wouldn't get it and the "real" swimmers would think it was about right for a warm up, but nothing to get excited about.

When people talk about swimming maybe not being great for fitness, or bemoan the minuscule places where they start, I can't help but think about that.  That first workout I did as an adult is smaller than my current warm-up. (Shoot, the workouts I was doing in August would be too short for me to consider much of anything  now)

I think about that when my long-term goals seem scary or overwhelming, or when I compare myself to people who are where I want to be.  Starting tiny doesn't mean you can't finish big.

*wrygrin*  At least, I keep telling myself that.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Flip-Turns and Tolerating Incompetence

In real life, I am a writer and a teacher -- specifically a computer applications instructor.

This came to mind very sharply as I was doing my morning swim.  I am learning to do flip turns, and while I can do one, it doesn't feel as fluid or natural as the open turn.  I don't pop out those sleek flip and glides a more accomplished swimmer does.   I'm still feeling like a kindergartner learning a somersault. So, it does diminish the pleasure of the swim a bit.

What brought my profession to mind?

In my role as an applications instructor, many of my students are professionally accomplished people, often with advanced degrees, who are used to a strong sense of mastery in their work.  This particular group is notoriously difficult when placed in a computer classroom.

I think as one gets older, one has developed a sense of mastery over many skills, so that by the time one is in one's mid-thirties or so, one doesn't necessarily work as hard to learn new things.  I break with many educators saying that it is necessarily harder for an older person to learn a new skill, per se.  At least, I don't think the knowledge acquisition is really the issue.

The issue is that being incompetent at something, especially when one is used to competence, is painful.  Tolerating that pain is an added problem when one is trying to learn a new thing.  It's why kids seem to be more "natural learners" in my strong opinion.  Sure, sure, one can learn well when one's brain is under development, but few children have any real sense of mastery at something from a young age, and they're used to trying, failing, being clumsy at what they're doing and don't feel it as strongly as this horrid, alien and painful thing.

I often wonder if children who are "naturally talented" at something  then go on to be no more than average in their lives, or are even underachievers as they hit their high school years may not be proof of this concept as well. They got the middle-aged mindset of taking comfort only in what they are good at far too young!

I remind myself of that when I am resisting doing drills (god, I feel so clumsy with the closed fist drills!) or when I trying to let myself off from practicing my flip turns during my lap swims.  I feel a certain responsibility to set the example for my students, so that they are slower to label themselves as "untalented at computers" and more willing to practice even when they feel clumsy at what they're doing.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Too Long for Dick; Too Short for Richard

'No, sir. Too long for Dick and too short for Richard, sir,' said Vimes, focusing on a point a few inches above Rust's head.
'Neither one thing nor t'other, sir.'  --Terry Pratchett, Night Watch

The pool was packed this morning.

To say I am a whiny baby about pool use density would be an understatement, mind you.   I grumble internally when I have to share a lane no matter how cheerfully I smile at someone wanting to join me,* and I never even have to circle swim. In fact, I dread circle swimming and am scared of it.


Okay, so I'm a slow swimmer, true.   But I am faster than most of the swimmers who are there for general exercise who are not really athletes (or wanna be athletes).

I am also much slower than the real athletes, and we don't have any designations for lane speed at our pool. (It usually isn't that crowded, so isn't an issue).

If it gets really busy, I expect things will sort themselves out, and I'll at least accept circle swimming with no more a grumble than I accept splitting lanes now.

What I really should be focusing on is getting my flip turns down.  I'm practicing them and while I can do one without kicking my lane mate, I don't have that tight flip and push-off judged to the fine degree that more experienced swimmers do. I still worry about getting that proper gulp of air and pull out of the glide too quickly because I midjudged when to breathe before the flip.

Why flip turns if I'm going for open water?

That's a good question. The only real answer I have is pretty much that in my mind "real swimmers" can do flip turns, so I need to learn how to do them.

And hey, I've never learned a skill and then was sorry in retrospect that I did, so why not?

* I have to put my inner three year old in time out for this one. They paid to use the pool, same as me.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Warm Pool, Cool Pool

Moving to a drills then laps format for my swimming has been a good move.

I know why I was resisting. I'd gotten into a groove of Long Slow Distance, and I'm like Kuzco.  I am utterly resistant to something throwing off my groove.

Problem is, I gotta get over that nonsense if I want to get better as a swimmer and especially if I want to get into open water swimming.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but large bodies of water have endless personalities and moods.  By their very nature they're not static. A groove ainta gonna help.

I had a personal best for time today.  And I learned something from it.

I ain't workin' hard enough in the pool.

Oh yeah, I show up, and yeah, that's really bloody important.  It's better than not showing up.  Simply showing up and working has gotten me better and faster than I was five months ago.  I'm not trying to denigrate that at all.

But I was comparing my times to some comments I'd made in a journal about eight years ago when I was saying that I was swimming a LOT faster than I am now.  I had chalked that up to only checking times on an analog clock that I could only squint at to see, and combining it with some wishful thinking.

But in doing the math and comparing it to some physical sensations I'm experiencing now, I realize that probably wasn't so.

It has to do with the differences in the pool in which I was training.

Eight years ago I was training in a pool that was primarily for a college swim team.  Getting in?  There was this shock of a chill and I had to hustle to warm up.   I used to judge how good my workout was by how hot my hair felt when it slapped against my back when I took off my cap.

Now?  I train in another pool that's closer to my house.  This pool is used by a local Master's team, but as a community pool is also used for aqua-aerobics and hydrotherapy.  It's warm.  I don't have to steel myself at all to get in and I'm no particular fan of cold water, just sayin',

I was trying some sprints, which I don't often do, and realizing that I was fantasizing about May coming and getting in that cold water conditioning that I'd been previously dreading. I was getting too damn hot in the pool.

That's what I've got to shoot for when doing at least some of my sets.  

But it also comforts me.  It means that cold water is unlikely to be as miserable as I've been afraid of.  I mean, I know really cold water kinda hurts -- even if you're experienced with it. It still feels better to know that it's going to push me to swim faster because I'll be able to generate more body heat.  I think that's going to wind up being a win-win.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Motivation is a Feeble Reed

What has mood to do with it? You fight when the necessity arises - no matter the mood! Mood's a thing for cattle or making love or playing the baliset. It's not for fighting.  --Gurney Halleck, Dune.
When I was in high school, one of the things upper classmen could do was choose English classes by topic covered. Some things were mandatory, like early American short fiction, but you could do a nine week unit in horror, or the Iliad and the Odyssey (which I did.  Had a great teacher and it was wonderful), or a unit in science fiction as literature. (Yes, this has something to do with swimming.  Hang on).

Of course I took the SF class.  We studied Dune.  The quote above stayed with me to this day.

I had my Saturday swim lesson to start learning flip turns (they're a lot of fun, even if I am learning them for a practical purpose) and as we were closing, my teacher, who is also a personal trainer, asked me how I stayed motivated to keep getting up to go swim every morning.  I swim every weekday morning at five thirty, you see, and then do one more workout on Saturdays.

I answered that I am not actually motivated.   She gave me a funny look, and then I quoted Gurney Halleck from the passage above and said that what gets me up in the morning isn't motivation, but habit.  I can assure you that I'm not all charged up and ready to go at five in the morning. Hell, no! I don't feel excited about getting out of a warm bed to brave the winter pre-dawn freeze.

I find motivation -- the sensation of being excited about a goal, a pretty feeble reed to lean on in terms of keeping going.  Oh, don't get me wrong.  I love to swim.   I can't think of a practice I really wanted to end and I can't think of a time I really wanted to get out of the water.   But yes, there are lots and lots of times when more sleep or just faffing around on the Internet or playing a video game seems more attractive.

That's why I don't rely on mood, motivation or emotion. It's also why I swim so very early in the 
morning.  It's habit that really gets me through.   I've made a plan and I follow through with it so my uncaffeinated, pre-dawn brain doesn't have time to come up with excuses why not.

This is also why I am a morning swimmer rather than an evening one.  I can come up with all sorts of reasons not to work out after a long day at work.  I have too much time to talk myself out of it.
I think motivation and excitement about goals have their place.  They can help you choose what to commit to.They can be great when you're really feeling it, really feeling energized and looking forward to training (that does happen, after all).  I think you should definitely latch on to and use that energy whenever it comes about.

But I think it's a crap thing to lean on for a long-term goal. Long term goals are usually long enough in scope and difficult enough that it is unlikely you will sustain a single positive emotion towards it the entire time.  Use the energetic honeymoon phase of your goals wisely.

Use that to build the habit that will sustain you through the times of not feeling it.