I have religiously been swimming two to three times a week since June. I was aware that my form needed some work and I needed to build speed; nonetheless, I thought I was a decent swimmer. Looking out at my swimming peers at my gym, I do okay. I pass more people than pass me during circle swim. I can swim up to a mile without taking rest breaks. I don't make big splashes or wakes nor do I accidentally kick or smack someone with my arms like "some people". I thought I pretty much had this swim thing down, but would be even better off if I attended a swim lesson or two.
I caught wind of an open water swim workshop and decided that this was just what I needed. A week before the clinic, I started having dreams about being the only one showing up to class in a swim suit. I didn't even know what to wear to a swim clinic?! I didn't know what we were going to do at one. Who would be attending. Suddenly I was worried that perhaps, this swim clinic was out of my league. Lately I've been doing things and thinking later. I recently decided on a whim to go from brunette to blond. At the karaoke bar, I sang "Bette Davis Eyes" solo. I registered for races before I got doctor's clearance to resume any form of exercise. My typically sound decision making has been MIA for the last several months and quite frankly, things haven't been working so well for me.
I report to class, in my swim suit. The teacher was welcoming, knowledgeable and the other participants seemed eager and friendly. One guy was training for an Ironman and swam on the master's swim team three times a week, one gal had done several triathlons from sprints to half-Irons, and two others, like myself, were newbies with triathlon aspirations. We all hopped in the pool. I shared a lane with the Ironman in training. He seemed the friendliest and I enjoyed his conversation. By the time I had gotten my goggles on, he was heading back the length of the pool toward me. He was amazingly graceful in the water and hardly needed to come up for breaths. I uttered my mantra, live fearlessly, live fearlessly, live fearlessly and shoved off. I had nothing to prove here, only skills to gain. This is a swim clinic and I need some skills. In order to know what skills I needed and to be able to help, the coach had to see me swim. After our warm up, the coach shuffled us around. The two triathletes were to share a lane and the three aspiring triathletes were to share a different lane. The coach handed the two people that shared my lane flippers then gave us instructions for our first drill. Well, at least he didn't give me flippers I thought.
We were to swim on our side with the lower arm stretched out and shoulder glued to our ear. I haven't done swim drills since my childhood swim lessons. This all seemed very slow and tedious. I trusted that the coach knew what he was doing and hoped that we'd get through this drill business and get to the real swimming part, better yet open water part, as soon as possible. After my lane mates took off with relative ease, it was my turn. I pushed off, shot my arm out in front of me, turned to my side and sank. I did my best not to panic, kicked harder, tightened up my body and attempted to resurface. Once I did, I slowly and awkwardly zigzagged my way to the end of the pool under the watchful eyes of the coach. Thank God! I made it! My flippered friends were already at the opposite end waiting for me. The coach signaled for me to head back. By the time I splashed and gasped my way back the length of the pool, coach had a pair of flippers waiting for me. I eagerly accepted them.
The next hour was spent breaking down freestyle into its most basic components. Much to my surprise, there were many pieces to this freestyle puzzle, many of which I had never bothered noticing. Body positioning-- I'm supposed to be on my side? Arm motion-- I'm not supposed to circle my arms like a steamboat? Breathing-- I'm supposed to breath from both sides? Speed-- I'm not supposed to go as fast as possible? And seriously, what's with all that twisting? Rotating from side to side? No one at my gym does that! I quickly learned that the swimming I've been doing for the last nine months, in no way resembles the freestyle form I was now being taught. Oops! Swimming is a lot more complicated than running, cycling and even surfing! To become a better runner, I ran more frequently, and gradually increased my mileage and speed. To become a better cycler, I rode more and gradually added longer distances, hills and increased speed. I approached swimming with this mindset. I'd become a better swimmer if I swam more, swam harder and swam longer, right? WRONG!
Swimming is an art. It's all about form. Unfortunately for the self-taught athlete, this form doesn't come naturally to land-dwelling humans. I humbly plodded my way through an hour's worth of swim drills. It wasn't pretty. I was weaving all over the lane and kept crashing into the lane dividers. Until this evening, I had never done these embarrassing things in my swim practice. The lifeguard kept a close eye on me. The coach watched me with a concerned expression and offered thoughtful pointers and encouragement. The language was new and barely comprehensible. The motions were exotic and cumbersome. I was lost.
I had never been so glad or ready to get out of the pool. Was I ready for a tri? Did I need a swim coach? It's not like I am trying to be an elite athlete or anything. I just want to stay in shape, enjoy my training and have a few culminating events to keep challenging myself physically. I used to love swimming and was okay at it. Now I was a mess in the pool. I had so many things to work on. I couldn't remember how I used to swim, nor could I swim how I had just been taught to swim. What was I supposed to do now?
A week later, I went to a triathlon club meeting at my neighborhood rec center. Another one of my whims but one that fortunately turned out for me. I came away from the meeting with a sense of optimism. I was also armed with a list of helpful websites, books and DVD titles. Perhaps there was hope for me yet. My public library had the whole "Total Immersion" swimming series of DVDs and books. I checked them all out and proceeded to watch and read all I could about this "Revolutionary Way to Swim Better, Faster, and Easier". Sticky notes cover many pages, tips and drills have been scribbled on my notepad, I have forced my husband to listen to me read especially meaningful passages aloud. I have become a swim technique sponge. I am a very good book learner, but how would this translate in my first TI swim? Would I feel as awkward and out of my element as I did at my swim clinic and the one swim that followed? Would I be ready for my first triathlon April 17th? Did I need a swim coach after all?