Monday, July 13, 2015

Serious Training* at Holly's River

I have a friend who lives on a small river.  It has a nice beach, and it's a fun place to spend a Sunday summer afternoon.  It's completely beautiful, quiet and private.  You almost never see other people around and it's just this lovely spot.

Bodies of water have personalities and quirks, and Holly's River is no exception.  There are parts where the current is gentle, and other areas where the current is quite strong.  There's a rock formation on one bank about three feet under the water where the current is pretty strong.  For some reason (I forget why) they call it The End of the World.  We make a game of approaching it from upstream, bracing ourselves on it for a bit against the strong current, then letting go and letting the current take us downstream.  Then we swim out of the strong part of the current, go back up a few yards and do it all over again.

You know, just the normal kind of fun people have playing in bodies of water and playing in the currents.

I got to thinking about those endless pools you sometimes see advertised and wondered if I could actually keep a steady enough pace to swim in the same place against a pretty fast current.  

That's harder than you'd think.  I managed to keep a steady pace measuring against a rock on the bank for a little bit before I lost interest then floated down to The End of the World and braced myself.

My friend, ever liking to challenge me, said, "Hey, let the current take you and see if you can swim back!"

The current is pretty strong at that spot, but hey, why not?  Not like it was really dangerous to try or anything. (Unless I inhaled water and cracked my head on a rock or something, mind, but I had people near me)

I did manage to make it, though it was hard and I was perfectly happy to let go and float back to the beach after I did it.   However, I did learn that to be able to do it, my form had to be really good.  You hear talk of getting a feel for the water, learning to grab new water, to push against it, and all of that.   When I was swimming against that current, I really started to grok what I'd been reading about.

Not that was why I was doing it.  It was fun.  I was playing.

I like playing in water with all its changing moods.   I consider it different from Serious Swimming but I think it's part of developing good swimming skill.  Yes, you need to practice in the pool with the drills and all.  I'd never say you don't.

But I think there is a lot said for playing just like a kid -- experimenting with what your body does in the water, and what the water does with your body.  Enjoying the sensations, but also doing the unrestricted goofing around and giving yourself little challenges to see what you can do in the face of the force that's so much stronger than you.  I am certain that a lot of my comfort levels in the water have much more to do with getting knocked around by waves at the beach and getting tossed off boats into the Potomac river than ever it did with formal lessons and the swim team.  I got over the whole "I can't see or touch the bottom" issue before I was ten.

Again, it's not that those formal lessons aren't necessary to the sport.  They absolutely are!  But I do wonder for people who are training for big water events if it really would help a lot of they'd get out into something other than still water and just play.   Bodysurf, swim against currents, let currents take you where they will, dive under waves, let a wave knock you over, play games holding your breath... all of that.

That theory isn't entirely out of left field, either. You often hear that children learn by play, and I think that's not entirely accurate.  I think people in general learn and expand their comfort zones with play, but I think that we adults get so serious and work-oriented with what we want to do that we forget how valuable the play part is.  I see it in my classes a lot. I teach software, and people come in all anxious and focused.  I try to break down that focus and reserve with jokes and goofy exercises.  I don't do it to be a comedian or an entertainer, but do it because I feel like when a person is laughing and engaged (you know, playing) they're most open to learning.

* I totally wasn't training.  It was play.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

I Have Come to a Decision

I got in the pool today after several weeks of being out of it.  No, it wasn't that I wasn't swimming.  It's that I was swimming in lakes.

So, some thoughts.

Swimming in a pool is a LOT easier.  I mean a LOT easier.  Lane lines, clear water and not having to sight make a significant difference. Fear of sharks and orca and huge anaconda easier to make fun of.  (Hey, when you can't see the bottom...  I know there are none of those things in a New England lake, but I have an excellent imagination!)

It's also too confounded hot.  And honestly?  Not as much fun.

I mean, I get out of a <65F lake red in the face after a swim.  What do you think it looks like in a 78F pool?  I took a cold shower after my workout this morning because my normal warm shower was uncomfortable.  Even so, I was wishing I had a more extensive makeup kit than I'd bring to the pool to cover my way too rosy cheeks when getting ready for work.

I like swimming in the lakes better.  Part of it is just that I live in New England.  It's just so confounded pretty swimming in a lake.  Part of it is the nifty factor.  It feels more adventurous, even though as far as open water swimming goes in a lake, my worst dangers are not checking in about water quality or an idiot on a jetski.  Seriously, jetskiers?  If you see a kayaker and they're waving at you, give 'em a wide berth. They may be escorting a swimmer.

But, oh Slow Swimmer, I hear you ask, how is this a decision?  Surely you, who make her living with words, know the difference between a decision and an observation.

Indeed I do.

My decision?

I'm training for a six mile swim for next summer.

Is this crazy?  Well, yeah, it kinda is.  That last event I did?  I swam a bit under a mile an hour.  There's no way they're gonna sit around for six hours waiting for me to finish that swim.  I am going to have to speed up by a rather silly percentage and it's possible I physically can't.  I think that's unlikely.  I wasn't pushing myself hard in the Kingdom Swim.  I was swimming to finish, not to be fast.

I see no real down side to trying, mind. I know what kind of training I'll need to do.  And I will have to throw in some *shudder* dryland work.  Okay, that's not fair.  I like weight training, which is what I intend to do.  I've just been avoiding it in favor of swimming.  But I'm about as strong as I can reasonably get from being in the pool and need to do something else.  Besides, swimming might be great for the CV system, but it doesn't do much for maintaining bone density.  Fortunately, squats are my favorite lift.

I am going to be starting with shorter, much more intense workouts and then bumping up the volume as I can tolerate more intensity for longer distances.

But last year I was going from no real exercise for two years to training for a two mile swim. I have a year of working out to build on, so I think it will go okay.

The other thing I gotta do?

Get rid of the breast stroke.  It's far too slow.  Oh, it's strong and I get there, but there's a reason in the Freestyle event people use the front crawl. It's astronomically faster.  Shoot, even I am about 35sec/100yds faster doing crawl than breast stroke!   I do a lot of breast stroke in the open water because my sighting skills are poor(and I often disagree with my kayaker about what constitutes a straight line to an object), so yes, that needs work as well.  So, part of my swim training is going to be tapering off using it.  Dammit.  I like the stroke. Sorry Cap'n Webb...

So, I have a hard year of training in front of me. But I've discovered something else.  If I commit money to an event, I will train to ensure I can perform in that event.  This keeps me going and training much more effectively than the idea that I have to exercise to stay healthy.  So, big physical goals that require the financial commitment of the event work well to keep me going.  I do hope that at some point I'll be so committed to swimming I won't need that, but I'm not there yet.