Swim Lesson #1

Posted: April 17, 2011 in Training
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Friday afternoon I met up with Coach Claudia for my first swim lesson.

Last Sunday Claudia qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships by placing 2nd in her age group at the Galveston Half-Ironman.

1.2 mile swim – 33:45

56 mile bike – 2:36:50

13.1 mile run – 1:40:10

4:54:49 overall including her swim to bike, bike to run transitions.  Pretty darn impressive.

Less than a week later she stood along the edge of the pool instructing me on the proper way to breath out my air into the water, rotate my body to grab a breath and repeat. 

It must have been painful at times for an amazing athlete like Coach Claudia watch me struggle to swim the length of a 25 meter pool.  Each time I tried after a few smooth repetitions I would lapse into a rookie mistake.  I would forget to breath out and hold my breath.  I would not blow out all of my air, which would make me try to breathe both out and in quickly when I surfaced.  I would swallow water.  I would tense up and forget to glide.  I would go too fast …. all because I could not quite get the hang of my breathing.

Scene of Lesson #1

Now here is the good news.   There actually is some.

I have been fortunate to have some natural athletic ability when it came to trying new sports.  Running, cycling all came very natural.  My form was not something I really needed to work on or change – it was just a matter of building endurance and of course learning the various “tricks of the trade” so to speak.

Apparently with the swim, I have a few things going for me that I do not have to “learn”.  Better yet, I do not have a lot of bad habits that I need to unlearn before I can move forward.

My lower half does not drop in the water and drag – I am able to simply plane up and go.  Apparently this is something that aspiring triathletes struggle with fairly commonly.

My stroke is long and my elbow position is as it should be.  Again, nothing to fix there, just some minor changes to the position of my fingers as they enter the water and the path I make with my pull arm underwater to maximize the amount of water I can move.

I swim straight, without a dominant side dragging me one way or the other.  Thanks to the core work and strength training I have been doing for years now very dilligently.

All of that was and is very encouraging.

Now if I can just get a handle on that breathing, we might be on to something.

Of course if you ask me, the fact that I need to somehow increase the number of laps I can swim without stopping from 1 to 77.2 or the number of meters I need to increase from 25 to 1,931.2 is still pretty daunting.

I was walking with Dawn, Landry and Kayla around the neighborhood just two nights ago and Dawn and I were talking about the swim.  What I was fearful of and how it seemed so difficult to learn.  Would this be the one thing that keeps me from being able to transition from the marathon to the triathlon as I get older.

She asked me,“when you first started running, how far could you go?”

I thought back to 2005 when I truly had just started to walk over my lunch hours.  41 lbs. heavier than I am today, I could hardly run at all.  I looked up the street to a distant light pole, less than 1/10 of a mile away and I pointed.  “To that light pole up there.”

She glanced up the street than over at me and said, “See, there you go.”

On Saturday morning fresh off of my swimming lesson on Friday I laced up my Brooks Ghost 3 running shoes and snuck out of the house for my Saturday 6.25 mile run.

The wind was still, the temperature was only 48 degrees.  Although my wind and stamina is not all the way back from the time I needed to take off due to my knee injury – it just seemed like too perfect a morning to just “mail in my run.”  If I was 100% normal, it would have been a Ricky Bobby day if there ever was one.  I wanted to go fast and decided that I would try to run some 6:50’s.

I left the house at a comfortably hard pace and locked in as I climbed uphill over the first mile.  Without looking at my watch I tried to keep my effort constant, pushing just a little harder on the uphills so I could stay under 7:00 min./mile pace.

I raced up over the dam at Brushy Creek, around the lake, back up hill and down to the house.  Gradually increasing my effort over the final two miles.  My mile splits were:

6:53, 6:52, 6:53, 6:54, 6:56, 6:47 with a 6:42 closing 400 meters.

An extremely positive development and very consistent run on my way back from my injury.  The best news was that for the first time since the Austin Marathon I did not think about my left knee a single time during my run.

I knew that when that finally happened I would be back.

Not too shabby after a 5 week absence.  Now it’s just a matter of balancing my 5 runs per week, my two cycling workouts, 3 swims and 2 strength training sessions.  If we are able to put in a solid May and June by the time NYC Marathon training starts on July 5th, I should be every bit as ready to train for the marathon of my life.

Hopefully stronger and faster than I was heading into Austin in March.

I have a feeling that the work in the pool on what used to be my “Rest” days from running is going to help with our endurance, flexibility and strengthen our core.  Lookout NY, if I can get the hang of this breathing we might have a surprise or two for you in November.

In the meantime I am going to continue to do what I do.  Gather as much information as I can about the swim.  Listen to my coach and to my body and work as hard as I can to get better.

What was once 1/10 of a mile is now 26.2 miles when it comes to me running.

What is today 25 meters will simply need to become 1,931.2.

I once needed to learn to run 262 times as far.  Now I only have to learn how to swim 77 times as far.  I may never end up being a strong swimmer, that is definitely a possibility.  But the one thing I know I can do is work as hard at it as anyone ever has.  I’m pretty sure if given the chance, Dom would be in that pool right there with me, telling me to relax, breath easy and stay focused.

It really is otherworldly down there in the pool.  I need to find a way to make myself just as comfortable swimming lap after lap as I am running sub 7:00 minute miles.  By the time the Austin 70.3 rolls around in October of 2012, I will have 18 months of swimming under my belt.  We just may burst on to the triathalon scene here in Austin and surprise some people.

There is a whole other group however that I don’ think will be surprised at all.  They were the ones in the ponchos in the rain last May in Pittsburgh when we ran that second marathon for Dom just 13 days after Boston.  Or the ones who helped push me to that sub 40:00 minute 10K time last October at IBM. 

We’ve got this.  It’s just going to take a little bit of time.

  1. Wymberley says:

    Swimming will feel natural soon enough. So many adults write it off if they did not learn as a kid. It is a very frustrationg task for a teacher too! Coach Claudia must be a special lady…
    Just kidding. I’m sure you will be amazing in time for October. It sounds like a blast; Im doing my first Tri in Uvalde, TX in just two weeks. It is a sprint.
    200m swim/ 10 m bike/ 2 m run/ 200m swim
    Sadly, running is still MY weakest leg. But we just keep going!!

  2. Tom M says:

    Love it, Joe! Love the way you enhance the value of your swim lesson by taking life lessons from your experience, your wife, and your coach and using them as knowledge-multipliers. Your introspection is acting here as a catalyst to focus and grow what you’re doing here.

  3. Matt says:

    Joe, I know you will conquer the swim. You work hard and running and I know you will work just as hard, if not harder at the swim. I think too, that you are right about being a better runner. The tri work will make you a stronger runner. Good luck. I look forward to follow your training.

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