Three years ago I could barely swim and vowed to get to respectable levels before IM Wisconsin. Last year, with Louisville a non-wetsuit race, I got even more serious. I put a lot of time, study, and reflection into swimming and this is a list of stuff that seems to be working.
1. It’s easy to forget how to swim. Before my 10-day vacation, I was dialed in pretty good, but this morning it was a flopping baby. After 1,000 or so meters, I “sorta” had it back, but why can’t it be just like riding a bike? When I’m not on vacation I swim shorter distances more more frequently.
2. Form isn’t everything. While form is definitely something, once you get it “close” upper body conditioning is the key, and that too seems to fade fast. Paddles really seem to help me relax and focus on using the strength of my lats, and I also use a pull buoy 80% of the time.
3. Flexibility matters. Today, there was a girl next to me with fins doing that crazy on-your-back thing up and down the pool. She looked like she was made out of rubber and when she turned around to swim freestyle, she was unbelievably smooth . . . and fast.
4. Work on your turnover. For the longest time I was all caught up in my reach and glide and thinking about all kinds of BS, but if you get decent extension and turn your arms faster (with comparable catch and pull) you will pick up several seconds in your 100. Of course, you need to build conditioning to do that.
5. Relaxing isn’t always easy, but . . . it is crucial. When you’re relaxed, your form and flexibility improve because you’re not thinking about it as much. So much of relaxation is repetition, but I often repeat mantras like, “breathe, relax,” on each stroke and it puts me in a better state.
6. Don’t hesitate. My left arm doesn’t have the same range of motion as my left (nor is it as coordinate) so I’m constantly telling myself to “let go” with my left arm. Just let it flow in a rotation that is perfectly timed with my right arm pull.
7. Clear the fog. I used to have problems with foggy goggles until I started letting them soak to adjust to the water temperature before I swim. I just lay the pull buoy on my strap and do arm circles or whatever for 5 minutes and my goggles are gold.
8. Pull yourself. A lot of people refer to it as pulling yourself over a barrel or a wall instead of pushing water backwards. When my hand enters the water, I try to find that pressure from my wrist to my elbow (the wall) and literally pull it back. The key here is pulling with your lats, but also using the other side extension as leverage.
9. Drink. I never used to have a water bottle at the pool, but now it’s mandatory. It definitely keeps my energy level a little higher and, maybe more importantly, lowers risk of dehydration/exhaustion, which I always used to battle after long swims. I typically put a scoop of some kind of electrolyte powder with the water because it’s easier on my stomach.
I have fallen in love with swimming because it used to scare the crap out of me but it’s morphed into a fun challenge I chip away at every day. For the record my IM Wisconsin swim was 1:20, IM Louisville was 1:06, and I fully expect the Chattanooga current to whisk me under an hour.