Swimming… slowly…

Today, I was back in the pool again, trying desperately to remember what I’d learned three years ago when I finally got a couple of lessons from a swim coach. The March 10 Pasadena Triathlon is looming, and now that I’m making some good progress with running and biking, I’ve got to get that third event nailed. It’s been a year since I last had any swim practice, so I was a little rusty.

I was working on being able to cross the 25-m pool with continuous swimming (and breathing, don’t forget the breathing). And it amazed me how tiring that alone was! By about 20 m my body wanted to stop (or was desperate for a proper breath). I found that I was having a lot of trouble getting air on my left side, so switched to breathing every two strokes, always on the right, to see if that worked better. It did. That doesn’t mean I should neglect my left side practice, but at least I was getting some air.

I found that initially with my unpracticed, inefficient “freestyle”, it took me about 40 seconds to cross the pool. For comparison, I tried crossing it while swimming on my back. That took almost the same amount of time, with HALF the exertion, and I could breathe freely. (The only drawback, of course, is the lack of visibility ahead, but I can live with that.) Now if this were generally true, it seems that the freestyle would be less popular. So I hypothesized that it must be possible to greatly improve my freestyle speed, otherwise everyone would be back-stroking. With renewed gusto, I kicked off and powered across the pool freestyle and made it in 30 seconds, which is certainly faster, but it totally wore me out. I stared back across the pool and thought, “How am I ever going to make it through 150 meters?”

For comparison, apparently the women’s freestyle speed record (for a 50-m swim) is 2.11 m/s (Britta Steffen). I’m managing something like 0.8 m/s over 25 m, so I have lots of room for improvement. Perhaps I can glean some tips from this brain-bedazzling analysis of the freestyle stroke. Or maybe these freestyle drills would be more immediately useful.

One heartening thought about the real race is that, even if I were to stop and take breaks at the end of its 50-m lengths, I now know it can’t possibly result in more than 5-6 minutes total of water torture. If I were actually able to maintain my above pace, I would complete the swim in 3 minutes. I very much doubt that will happen, but now at least I have some bounds on the expected duration. And I can always roll onto my back if the crawl is killing me! (Part of me wonders how embarrassing it would be to do the whole thing on my back. The rules say you can use “any stroke” you want, after all!)

An extra challenge, of course, is that during the triathlon there will be other swimmers in the pool with me. I will have to dodge kicks and flailing arms and not lose track of where I’m going. I doubt I’ll get the chance to practice that before race day, so I’ll just have to learn on the fly.

After half an hour of practice today, I was shot. Both of my triceps are sore, and some various back muscles are unusually vocal. I guess that means that I was doing something useful with them, but at the same time, it boggles the mind just how weak some muscles can be!

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  1. Umaa said,

    January 15, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    (Knew it already.)

    I think you perfectly captured how I feel when doing freestyle. However, I find that my freestyle is faster than my backstroke, so you must have a speedy backstroke! Glad to hear you’ve resumed your training! Good luck!

  2. What I Learned Today » Blog Archive » Runner’s Knee said,

    July 20, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    […] any sort of regular running, but I soon found that I really loved doing it (far more than, say, swimming). In March, I successfully entered and completed the Pasadena Sprint Triathlon — what a high […]

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