Friday, June 10, 2011

thoughts on swimming.

Happy Friday!  Wow, this has been a busy and fun-filled week.  The summer weather is making me feel laid back about everything, we've been spending our afternoon hours playing outside, and school is in wrap-up mode.  I have a week and a half left until the freedom plan begins.  I'm not so much in need of a break from teaching as I am in need of a break from packing lunch boxes and backpacks. 

I've been thinking about triathlons and how much fun they are to train for, so much variety compared to a long-distance run training plan.  It feels more like fun than homework to me as the marathon plan sometimes did.   If you are looking for a way to mix up your exercise routine,  I think you should do a triathlon, too.

I had my first swim this week after not swimming for a whole year.  I was surprised how good it felt.  I just dove in and swam a half mile (33 lengths of the pool), took a little break, and then swam another (almost) half mile.  The only reason I stopped is because I got kind of bored.    I was quickly reminded of three truths of swimming for exercise:
1. The worst part is making yourself get into the water.
2.  The best part is when you are done, and your face is hot and flushed, and you pull off your cap and dunk your head into the water and it feels so cooling.
3.  Swimming makes you hungry in a whole-body kind of way, and much of your time swimming is spent fantasizing about what to have for the next meal.  I have a few swimming friends from high school who are reading this and I bet they remember doing kick sets and talking about the many foods we were craving. 

I grew up swimming and was on competitive swim teams from the age of 9 through 18.  I also played soccer and dabbled in softball, but swimming was the only sport I stayed with long enough (I swam year round for a few years in high school) that I had success.  

When I first decided to sign up for and train for a triathlon right after Reed was born, I was in the opposite situation that most triathletes are:  I was a strong swimmer who needed to learn how to run.  Most triathletes are runners or cyclists who have to learn how to swim, or have to learn to be comfortable in the water.  I have a few friends who I know want to do a triathlon but have a lot of anxiety about the swim.  For me, I wanted to do a triathlon and therefore I was forced to figure out how to run 3 miles.  I remember very vividly that my only goal for the run during my first tri was to not walk, and I remember that seeming impossible.  3 miles?!

I understand that swimming can feel very scary for some, because even though I can swim in a pool with my eyes closed, or without concentrating, my breathing gets a bit panicky in open water.  Especially if I can only see dark water beneath me, it just kind of freaks me out.  I like swimming next to a kayak or where I can touch the bottom much better.  However, once I get into a rhythm and get going, even in the middle of a deep lake, I can get to a place where I really love open water swimming.  It is so calming.  Breathing out in a stream of bubbles.  Feeling the different pockets of warmer and then colder water pass over your body.  Hearing nothing but the sound of your own breathing and gentle splashing.  It's kind of amazing.

If you are at all afraid of swimming, I'm talking to you.   Just like I did with running, you just have to give yourself a lot of time to build up your endurance and comfort level.  From my experience watching other people learn to swim longer distances, you will notice a big difference quickly.  You will swim a few laps, and then you will swim a few more, and then you will learn to relax your breathing and find a rhythm.  After a while, you will find your mind wandering while you swim.  You won't be thinking about when to breathe anymore.  It will become automatic.  You'll start daydreaming about what you will eat after your swim.

The swim is the shortest part of a triathlon.  It's the kind of thing that is almost over right about the time you realize you are swimming in a huge pack of people.  I've done triathlons in open water twice and in a pool once.  What I found in the open water race is that you are so preoccupied by getting out of the way of other arms and legs (I've been known to be feisty when I get kicked by another swimmer's legs) that you hardly realize you that you are in open water at all.  You are only concerned with finding a good pocket of water to swim and looking ahead at the next buoy you are aiming for.  And next thing you know, you are heading for shore.

I have seen a lot of swimmers in triathlons swimming slowly, swimming breast stroke, back stroke, side stroke, just basically doing what they can do to keep moving forward.   You can do that, right?
And doesn't this look inviting?

The awesome blogger Caitlin over at Healthy Tipping Point is about to do another triathlon after working very hard to conquer her debilitating fear of swimming in open water.  Here is a recent post in which she succeeds in an 800 meter (1/2 mile) lake swim and talks about the strategies she used to complete it.  I find it totally inspiring how she was determined to do an open water swim even though I think she would say it was the scariest thing she'd ever faced.

Enjoy your weekend.  Maybe you'll go swimming!

p.s.  There are 5 now 8 of us in for the Clean Food Challenge (see post below) so far, but you should still consider joining us!


Lisa said...

Wow, I am definitely one of those people who are afraid of the swim. Your post actually made me think about it more than I've ever done. Maybe I do have a tri in me at some point...Thanks :)

jenn said...

I agree, Lisa! Thanks for making me think, Emilie. Swimming scares the hell out of me, but I suspect I have a few tri's in me.

Suzanne said...

I think that's funny how you describe thinking of food the whole time you are swimming. I grew up a competitive swimmer, but I was a sprinter. Which is not to say I didn't do miles in practice. I still think it's boring to do many laps of freestyle, and I mix it up by changing my stroke every 4 laps. Soon we'll have a pool in my backyard -- I can't wait! But it will only be 35 feet long, so I'll have to get used to shorter laps.