Category Archives: Swim

Nemesis number one

Effort – 1, ability – 0

I imagine the slightly sardonic, droll tone of the football scores announcer on the telly. And it’s not as bad the headline suggests. This is a post about a positive learning!

Preparing to glide?

Preparing to glide?

As a swimming technique, relaxing was never really going to work for me, fearful of drowning, panicking in water, unable to breathe, even with my head above water, without hyperventilating.

Time, persistence, gentle encouragement and mickey-taking later and I can be in the water – well I use the term advisedly, I mean the pool, with no-one in my near vicinity – without panicking. Indeed I can swim. But it’s a lot of effort. Really it’s a lot of effort.

But I said at the time, I felt the playing field was now level and instead of having to concentrate on breathing and getting to the end, I could concentrate on improving form, function and technique. I’ve taken my first tentative step (stroke?) down this lane.

Recently I went to try out a swim training session at my local triathlon club. Revelatory it was. Swim coach Carol was brilliant. The first thing she said to me, after watching me do some lengths, was that I was trying to swim too fast for my ability (now the headline will make sense). Slow it down, she said. I managed to ask, with conscious, deliberate effort – won’t I sink? (rather than asking – won’t I drown?). Evidently I have not sunk, or, indeed, drowned. Focus on the glide, she explained. I didn’t know what this was, let alone ever thought about it or tried it. I did remember having read about it and not really cottoned on to what it is.

Anyway, I’m now concentrating on swimming slowly. It is less physical effort, and I’m still getting to the end of the pool as many times. Just slower. But possibly with better form. I’d like to think so. It took a bit of time to adapt the breathing – I had to hold my breath for longer because my strokes were slower; little accelerations of the heart rate. All now OK on the heart-rate front.

It had never occurred to me that rate of perceived exertion (RPE) had anything to do with swimming. I’ve read it regularly in the run magazines (OMG, am I going to be buying swimming magazines now, too. I shall need to do more day-job work, to feed my growing magazine habit), where it vaguely makes sense but I don’t know what it’s supposed to be doing.

Perceived exertion made sense immediately in swimming. After a slightly panicky warm up, which I now know will pass – it’s just my heart rate getting up to swim speed. The same happens, without the panic, when I start out on runs. Heart rate has to get up. That’s all.  Anyway, after warm-up (and emotional settling down), the new, slow swimming is about a 3 on the perceived exertion scale.

As far as I can see, increasing the rate of exertion means moving arms and legs and hips a bit quicker. Then, as Carol suggested, all-out 8-9 is a big effort when all form and technique goes out of the window because you’re trying to be quick. And, yup, that’s how it happened in training. And I didn’t panic, I just couldn’t get enough air in, quick enough.

Bottom line is my new training is to focus on slowing down my swimming, concentrating on form and technique – and the glide. Speed will come later, I’m told.

I can handle that, I reckon.

However, I have already been told that my kicking has deteriorated to virtually non-existent while I’m concentrating on the glide. Flip. Too much to think about.

Tumble turns

Enough to get your head spinning

Enough to get your head spinning

I must have been doing okay with the swimming, because S and M decided it was time to teach me the tumble turn. Cue dramatic music.

Do a handstand in the pool, then tip over, I was told. I’m very literal. I could do this.

Now tuck your chin down to your neck, breathe out and don’t actually do the handstand, and bend your legs. I could do this.

Basically we’re doing roly-polies in the water I was told. OK I remember roly-polies (forward rolls) from when I was six, and maybe even a bit older. We had gym classes in those days.

Anyway, it got tricky after this.

We moved to the edge of the pool. Put in a half turn I was told.  Oh, I said, how do I do that then?

I managed one, even found the wall.  No idea how I did that. Pure beginner’s luck.

It went downhill after that. I know, I know, there are no hills in water, that’s one of my mantras. It went somewhere funny, then. Weird, rather.

Was I supposed to be rolling then turning, or turning then rolling?
How come I ended up at 90° to where I was supposed to be (against the wrong wall in the corner of the pool?)
How come I ended up going too deep, on the bottom of the pool, albeit the shallow end?
When I come swimming in from three strokes away, breathe, turn, roll? No breathe, look down, roll, turn.
Aim for the T of the black line.
Make a rocket with my arms.

Wayyyy too much information, all at once. I could do the handstand, even the roly-poly without a wall nearby.

OK, possibly not too much information for an intelligent woman, but certainly too much to transform into action. And disconcertingly, I was very quickly, really quite dizzy and disorientated, after just a handful of attempts. Simply had to call time on the training.

Ooh, deary me. I felt quite seriously dizzy, disorientated, discombobulated and nauseous.  I just stood in the shower for a bit, hoping warm water would bring me back to stillness. Very weird sensations. I guess it was just my body doing something it hasn’t done before. Mind you I had to lie down for 45 minutes when I got home, which journey I made very slowly. The headache lasted quite a bit longer.

Maybe I just tried to do too many all at once.

After further sessions, I’m pleased to report this has been a once-only experience. Maybe it was as simple as me not having informed my brain beforehand what it was about to attempt. Anyway, I’ve done several more tumble turn training stints without incident. And without being able to do them, but I’m getting better. I can see progress.  Mind you all this is from a stationary start. Not sure what will happen when I come at the pool edge having swum a length…

Swimming not drowning, volume 6 – swimming

OMG. I can swim. I can be in the water and control the panic, not even panic, regulate my breathing, and not have my stomach roiling with volcanic fervour. Wow. I have to say I wasn’t sure I’d actually meet this nemesis head on, let alone have a chat and wave him goodbye. This is huge. HUGE. Even huger than that. This is bigger than running a marathon, at least in terms of the mental hurdles, barriers and invisible pitfalls.

OMG. I can swim.

May was a big month. I went from the trauma (too big a word? Didn’t feel like it at the time) of the hideous triathlon swim at the beginning of May, to being able to swim at the end of May. Now, whether I can swim in the washing machine turbulence of another triathlon is another story, but I’m a happy bunny for now. Big month in personal development.

I’d gone straight back to the pool after the triathlon determined just to do lengths, and build up. I jettisoned my training program, did my 16 lengths, moved up to 20 lengths and built to 40 lengths (1 kilometre) by the end of the month. By mid June I’m up to 50 lengths.

I’d drawn a line in the sand half way through May – regardless of my headspace, when I can swim a kilometre, I’d say that I can officially swim. Actually with hindsight, I could probably only draw that line because I could already feel the imminence of actual swimming.

Adding lengths has been tricky. I’ve been getting kind of floppy with extra lengths, stroke technique kind of goes out of the window, but I guess it’s just because I get tired. It’s hard work swimming that far.  I need to build strength and endurance. And stroke technique.  I know my legs are virtually useless in the water, trailing behind me like some sort of split ribbon of uselessness.  Training’s probably going to get tough now…

But … the playing field is finally level. Now I really can start to work on form, function and performance.

I can’t tell you how much of a difference it makes to have the splendid S and marvellous M there, not only to listen to my every nano-improvement, but they make encouraging noises and even offer praise. Take the mickey too occasionally, but that’s no more than I deserve, like S retorting to my enthusiasm at having swum my very first kilometre (40 lengths) … a mile is 64 lengths.  Yeah, OK. There’s another target. Happy with kilometres for the moment.

Rhythm and blue really was a seminal mantra for me. Head rotates totally skyward. Plenty (relatively) of time to breathe. And any issues I have with breathing, I just have to think languid arms, high elbows, slow it down, all the time in the world to breathe. And if that’s still not enough, I can breathe every two strokes rather than three. Basically I have breathing strategies now for when things aren’t totally smooth.

My heart rate is another big winner. Up ‘til quite recently, my heart would be racing away at 130-140 beats. I so can’t keep that up for long, it just exacerbates a panic response. But my heart rate has calmed. I’m now finishing my lengths with 100-110 beats, which is totally calm and manageable.  Everything’s calmer. And, just like running, I need 4-5 lengths to warm up (10-15 mins running) – where my heart rate does increase quite dramatically before settling into an exercise rhythm. This is just warm up, it happens with running, it’s not panic and desperation, just normal warm up. It all settles down as the rhythm establishes.

Not sure if I’ve mentioned my stomach-panic before. It seems to have been my third location for panic response. Didn’t the Romans or the Greeks, or someone, think the stomach was the pit of emotions? When I first started this swimming lark, I tried to think about cooling my stomach by imagining a block of ice in it, then I decided that would make me sink. You know, 90% of icebergs are under the water. But how something imaginary can make you sink I don’t know.

I have been aware that after a while my left arm seems to lose the plot of stroke formation. It’s all a bit weak and not pulling its weight, or indeed mine. I’ve been struggling to get it to rotate on its long axis properly, not able to get my elbow out of the water first, or get little finger out of the water first. It was a bit like it had atrophied on the spot and was this useless thing half lifting, half flopping all over the place. I’m sure it wasn’t that bad. Felt quite like it though. Not that I panicked. I’ve just been doing my running thing of plodding on. You know, if you just keep going, the distance gets covered. Wow but I need some swim endurance and strength building.

But it all seems to have fallen into a rhythm that I can do. I’ve got a breathing pattern I can handle. My heart rate is no longer going nineteen to the dozen. Everything’s been happening. I just have to think about, concentrate on doing the distance. Now it’s like running, one step in front of the other. Now I can build endurance.  Now I can re-focus on form, function, technique, even speed a bit further down the line. A whole new world is opening up. The playing field is level. And just to mix my metaphors, I am finally on the first step.

And have I mentioned I can swim?

Swimming not drowning, volume 5 – rhythm and blue

Rhythm and blue? This is all blue (Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania)

Rhythm and blue? This is all blue (Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania)

This is a sea-change mantra. If there is a pun there I fully intended it.

After the horrible tri swim on at the beginning of May (see Sprint finish, shame about the start), I went back to the pool two days later determined to do my 16 lengths, if nothing else to prove to myself that I CAN do them.  I did. It wasn’t easy, but I did. And I still didn’t drown.

Aside: I met someone else the other day who was in the same swim wave as me. They said it was totally like a washing machine in the pool. Good and accurate description, I reckon. And horrid, too!

Back to the pool.  I also tried counting strokes per length.  34.  Not great, I’ve read the ‘norm’ is between 11 and 30 (ouch). The splendid S said I need to stretch my arm out as I reach forward.  And she told me, yes, my legs should be straight and kicking from the hip, not the knees (back to buttock-clenching I guess).

I decided for the rest of May, I’m not going to restart my drills, I’m just going to do lengths, and just going to do crawl. I’m just going to keep going. Must complete.

I upped my length count to 20 by the middle of May. Clearly I can do it. It’s not that I can’t do it. All the screwy stuff is just in the head. My head. I was discussing it with G on the arbor. She convinced me to work on the whole experiential learning as a method to overcome. I can evidently do the mechanical stuff so I don’t drown. The rest is in the head.  If I keep doing the swimming and don’t drown, surely there comes a point when the brain will give up telling me I can’t do it. Surely?

I think I know what went wrong in the triathlon. I never got into a rhythm. Swallowed half the pool in my first length. Panicked. That was it. Game over. I need to let myself absorb the fear, slow down, as in think calm heart, calm head, calm stomach (not necessarily slow down my stroke), and let myself ‘settle’ into a rhythm. I need to draw on parallels with running.

I must always think about parallels with running. I started off there with 5 mins jogging. Now I have run for 4 hours (less is better over marathon distance). It always takes me 10-20 minutes to ‘warm up’, to get into a rhythm. The rhythm is dictated by my breathing, okay, so clearly that’s what I need to work with.  But swimming is rhythmical, there are set places to breathe. I can control my stroke rate/speed etc so that I can breathe when/how long I need.   Mmmm interesting thesis…

Here’s my new mantra:  rhythm and blue. As in blue sky and rhythm of stroke. As well as rotate my shoulders 45° with the high elbow out of the water part of the stroke, also rotate my head (yes, I know I’m already supposed to rotate my head, it seems I keep forgetting that bit). Then my head is facing nearly all the way upwards, facing blue sky (okay (i) if I was outside and (ii) if it was a sunny day). Anyway with all that I get to go ‘blue sky, breathe’ I can pause my high elbow if I need more time to breath. Simples. Surelys?

The splendid S reckons I’m over-analysing (no reflection on normal life then, at all) and I should think about something else entirely.  She does her times tables. I suppose I could bring across from running my imaginary conversations with my buddies. Could I do that? Could I possibly reflect and plan while I’m swimming? Even the thought of it (of not thinking about breathing) is causing a stir of anxiety in the pit of my belly as I write this.

I bemoan the fact that it’s not getting any easier (by which of course I mean the panic/ breathing thing). The marvellous M prosaically points out that when I started back in October I could only do half a length then had to stop/tread water/do breast stroke because I was exhausted. And now I’ve just done 20 lengths and only one of those breast stroke. My heart rate still ends up at 130+/minute but maybe that’s another story.  I got to 20 because I was going to do 16 (so 8 x crawl, 1 x breast, 7 x crawl – my original tri strategy). But I decided to add on 4 x crawl, just to see if I could. I could.

I definitely need to bring across more running stuff – completion.  I reckon I need to just do lengths, and more lengths. Don’t necessarily time myself. Although both M and S (must be a joke there somewhere, whichever way round I write them) talked about doing the same number of lengths faster. Maybe later.  So maybe 24 lengths next time. Or 20 without any breaststroke.

A huge running import thing is the time it takes to settle into a rhythm. In swimming I need to allow myself 4 – 5 lengths of panic/analysis while I find whatever it is I optimistically call a rhythm.  Go back to early running days. What did I do? How did I improve, replicate that approach in the pool. So longer runs/swims; fewer walks/rests ‘til there are none; must complete, must complete. Don’t worry about time.  Increase speed later. I’m only now thinking about strategies to increase my running speed (nemesis number two). In the early days it was all about time on my feet.  So now it needs to be all about time in the pool, pocketing lengths…

It’s the third week of May now.  I know I need to move my headspace from “where’s my next breath coming from?” to “I can swim now”. My last four visits I’ve jumped straight in and done 20 lengths (half a kilometre), no warm up or anything, so, like running, using the first 4-5 lengths as warm up.  What I have recognised – like running – is my breathing wants to be, not erratic, just – changed – as I move from static, stationary, resting, to active, running/swimming. This is normal (I keep telling myself). This is not a panic response to being in water. Recognising this I’m hoping will be a sea-change moment. These ‘warm up’ moments pass and I move into what I’m hoping will become the normal rhythm of swimming (as it does with running).

I think the moment is not far off when I might make that headspace movement. I can at least envisage a time when it will be so. In fact, I’ll draw the line in the sand.  If it doesn’t happen earlier of its own accord, I’ll force my hand (head?) when I can swim 1 km (40 lengths) without pausing at any end.  That will surely mean I can swim…

Rhythm (after warm-up) and blue (sky breathing). Repeat. Nothing else matters.

Swimming not drowning, volume 4 – strength

Nearly swimming at Roland Garros at the end of May

Near-swimming at Roland Garros at the end of May

Strength always seems to be associated with endurance. More strength, better endurance.

It’s now early April on my watery plough to meet nemesis number one. I do hope it’s a happy ending.

M had suggested so much new stuff to do last time, I think I’m going to call this the beginning of the new regime:
a)       do existing programme
b)       add in drills with flippers and paddles
c)       take fewer rests between drills
d)      spend more time in pool – build endurance
e)       keep a log e.g. of times/heart rate

I’ve decided to deal with a) more time in pool and b) start with shorter rests rather than no rests. Baby steps…

M reckons it is my leg work that’s making me exhausted/breathless. He pointed out a couple of swimmers in the pool who’d been doing lengths for ages. But he said, barely using their legs. This makes sense for me. I get very breathless when doing my ‘just legs’ drills, with/out floats. Maybe I do need to re-evaluate this after all. I thought hindsight had suggested my breathlessness was in my head, but maybe it is a combination.

Legs not efficient. I think I’m still trying to build in the idea that legs should be straight. That’s a lot of buttock-clenching to do that. In fact I read about someone who clenched a literal or virtual (I can’t remember) monetary note between his cheeks. I occasionally think about that in training, trying to do the same myself to see if it might help. Actually, I should count as measurable progress on another scale because it means for that instant I’m not thinking about breathing.

M also said flippers/paddles would build strength because of the resistance. I’m so obtuse, that didn’t occur to me. I just thought I was shifting through the water like some sort of whizzy torpedo thing.

Anyway, back to the patting one’s head whilst rubbing one’s stomach scenario.  Early on this is what I decided arms and legs were doing – separate things that both needed to work together to do their thing.  I can do the original pat head/rub stomach, I said to myself. Though I’ve clearly been failing to achieve its equivalent in the pool. Ho hum. Keep plugging away.

I’m sure my legs ARE getting stronger you know. And if I say it often enough maybe I’ll start believing it. I still find it weird that I can run for miles but struggle to do two laps in the pool.  Although I was reading about running efficiency the other day – long running is about NOT using much energy, so it’s about doing stuff without too much effort/exertion (it sure doesn’t feel like low effort when I’m running). Anyway, to continue my aside on the running front – maybe I need to start doing speed work after all to build some strength into my legs. Oh, blimey. Over to nemesis number two. And maybe that’ll help in the pool too.  Ooh, connected nemeses, do you think? Does that make them nemeses squared?

Using the flippers is giving me a different perspective on the whole breathing thing. Have you noticed I’m a bit fixated on this?  I’ve realised I’ve been trying to get my arms to move as fast as my feet, or in synch (somehow) with my feet, which obviously they don’t do with flippers. So … learning … legs go at one pace, arms go at another. And I think that’s OK.  I have to keep my arms going at a pace that gives me sufficient time for breathing. And importantly I can slow down my arm rotation to increase the breathing time. That’s a good learning.

Not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but I have learnt there’s such as thing as breathing too much. If I breathe too much in, there’s not enough time to let it all out under the water.  Intellectually I realise I could breathe every five rather than three strokes, but I’m really not going there just now.  And actually with running I don’t have huge inhalations.  Every now and then, running, I take a big sigh and sort of recalibrate or reset my breathing, but not that often. Must be able to translate this across to swimming… surely?

Strength and endurance didn’t get off to too great a start. In one mid-April session I had a serious amount of breathing panicking. I was trying to do the session with fewer and shorter rests. No time for heart rate to subside. Instead there was lots of gulping, and lots of breathing fear.

Just have to get back in the water next time and start again… experiential learning … I keep not drowning.

Swimming not drowning, volume 3 – endurance

Still me, still not drowning

Still me, still not drowning

Ah, endurance … I’m experienced at enduring things, ark, ark. I’ve run a marathon, after all.

It’s now the end of March, beginning of April in my swimming sojourn, the no-named nemesis of neurosis or something more significant; just over a month to go before the triathlon (and the marathon is yet to happen at this stage too). I know, I know, I parked all my swimming stuff ‘til I’d done the marathon (though I have been drafting it all up, in real time – it’s all accumulating in the draft folder, ready to flow, I’m catching up with it now). I was pretty focused on London, you know.

I had a whole week off swimming at the end of March. I’d got this virus-thing. Some of my hesitation about swimming had returned, and actually, I noticed I haven’t hesitated as long as that for a while. So actually that makes it a measurable improvement. Cool. Tick one point to me.

The marvellous M has said on several occasions that I should keep a log of my heart rate post-training. I have now started doing this.

High elbows, M told me (again) at the end of March. He’s told me that before, clearly they’d collapsed. Elbows lead out of the water. I’m allowed to rotate my torso 45° each side on its long axis. It helps me to visualise a V-shape within which boundaries I can rotate on this long axis.

I also tried “Pilates string theory” (my interpretation) at this time, in the hope it might help with breathing. I tried Pilates once. The instructor said to engage one’s core, imagine a piece of string tugging up (or was it down?) through one’s belly button as one lies on the floor.  So anyway, I imagined a piece of string from my mouth to my, now high again, elbow out of the water, and I was looking at my, now high, elbow. So as my elbow leads out of the water, the connecting string pulls my head round and out of the water … I’m not sure that image works just in words (or maybe just not the words I’ve used).

Something completely different: it’s all about the breathing for me. Have I mentioned that before? But now in a short space of time both swim coach and run coach have said stuff that suggests it isn’t all about the breathing…

OK, swim coach has said to relax. Have I mentioned what a joker he is?

Run coach was talking about lactic acid build up in the muscles (I’m still not sure I’ve experienced this, and I fear I may have to if I want to improve my time in Bournemouth’s marathon in October).

I said to run coach that it’s my breathing that’s my limiting factor – against me going faster – I can’t breathe fast enough. But coach was talking about lactic acid build up with faster running. With slow running the body can remove lactic acid quicker than or at the rate of its creation. With faster running lactic acid is produced more quickly than the body can break it down. Therefore faster running sessions train the body to run longer with lactic build up, and maybe train the body to hasten its speed of lactic acid break down.  That’s what I understood, anyway. That’s not about breathing…   I guess I’ll need to test this theory at some point over the summer (nemesis number two).

By early April, the marvellous M said I’d swum the best two lengths he’d seen me swim. But two lengths are ‘easy’ – short term panic control with racing heart rate. Stop after two lengths, heart rate can slow. At least my heart rate slows pretty quickly, what with all the running training.  Anyway, those two lengths were after my 4-length warm up, so my first ‘training’ crawl. I was thinking about high elbows, and breathing, obviously. It seems I can’t think about more than two aspects of swimming at any one time (legs kicking, ear to the ground, head turning in a single plane etc). He asked if I was relaxing into it. Doh! Guess my reply. I can only think it was because it was the beginning of my workout, so I was fresh and not already under breathing stress from exertion.  But I need to try to remember what those two lengths looked/felt like, because I must be getting somewhere on the right track. He said my technique is not too bad, could be better, but pretty good.  Which frankly is enough praise for me. Happy with that. So he said, I just need to relax with the breathing (that may be my précis of what he said).  Flipping relax. How is one supposed to do that? I mean, really?

M also verbalised what I’d been working out for myself from my running. I need to build endurance. It’s all very well managing a couple of lengths and resting between each one, but I need to build stamina with more lengths, and less resting.  Like I’d built in hills with my running training.

So, M has introduced me to working with flippers and paddles to improve my endurance. And implied, without actually saying it, that I need to spend more time in the pool working through it all.  I’d kind of figured that one myself too, transferring running endurance learnings (more time on feet) across to the pool!

Work with flippers – wow! What speed!  And paddles – I can feel my arms working harder because of the resistance. After using the flippers for the first time, I wondered if it was my legs (not working) that are exhausting me and making me breathless. With the flippers that time, I was a) faster b) floatier and c) I had more time to arrange the breathing somehow. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I now know my breathlessness is nothing to do with weak legs. It’s still all in the head.

Bottom line is, I have to build up my programme to improve endurance with flippers and paddles and lengths and pulse taking.  I have noticed my pulse had come down 10 (from ~130 to ~120) since I started which was six months ago. This seems a very slow rate of progress.  I am panicking less, I’d like to say. I even managed to cough (because I’d half swallowed a bit of water) and not stop swimming. Previously I’d have stopped swimming, maybe grabbed the lane divider, had a cough and a splutter, got my composure back (ha, ha, that’s funny) and started again. This time, quick cough, which didn’t resolve the issue, but I decided I could hang on the length end to have a proper cough once I got there. I guess the point is overriding the fear and panic reactions e.g. swallowing a bit of water doesn’t mean I’m going to drown or mean I have to stop to cough and splutter. I can just swallow a bit of water and carry on.

I suggested M teach me the whizzy turny manoeuvre thing at the pool ends … at which he laughed and said, let’s get you swimming first.  Oh well, it’s good to aspire.

Swimming not drowning, volume 2 – relax (how funny is that)

Yeah, that's me ... not drowning yet

Yeah, that’s me … not drowning yet

At the beginning of March, I wondered if I was beginning to register my glutes taking part, in a small way, in my leg kick.  That would certainly count as progress. M’s programme has a big focus on getting strength into my legs. It’s really quite strange to think I can run all those miles yet my legs are effectively useless in water. I’ve not really had this feeling since, so my legs must be still pretty ineffectual.

In fact, the marvellous M did the old criticism/praise sandwich at right about the time I thought my glutes might have activated temporarily. I am so grateful for all his help. He was suggesting my technique was not too bad, but … while I work my legs in the leg drills (with and without float), when I put it together in the stroke, my legs go back to drifty, useless appendages (my paraphrasing) dragging along behind me.  I have thought about this concept before. I can pat my head and rub my tummy, so I reckon I should be able to do one thing with my arms and another with my legs. Shouldn’t I?

I’ve even bought a book about swimming. That alone elevates the subject in my mind to flipping serious. It was saying it’s ok to rotate my body on its long axis, 45° each side. It also seemed to be saying I should be beginning my breathe routine (my words not its) a little earlier. i.e. when my arm goes past my hip and starts its upward trajectory out of the water behind me, start rotating body and head for breathe.  This gives a nano-second longer.

It also said stuff about arms not crossing the central line. The marvellous M explained subsequently explained my arms shouldn’t come across my body in the water. Two-dimensional rotation, as near as is physically possible.

I had a bit of potential mind-shift in the middle of March, when a fellow swimmer remarked how quiet it was that morning, and how relaxing, in a different way, that made their swim.  This lady was not the first person to mention swimming and relaxing in the same breath.

This is complete anathema to me. Swimming is so far from relaxing as to not even being on the same planet. There is nothing, at all, really, nothing at all, relaxing about swimming. I’m on high alert, heart pumping, lungs straining, muscles agitated and powering (in so much as they ever ‘power’). Swimming is not relaxing. End of.

Intellectually I can quite understand it needs to be. If I didn’t panic so much, my heart might race less, therefore need less oxygen all round. I get the logic. Totally. It’s just emotionally none of makes sense.

I’m not sure if M partially gave up on me ever getting my legs to work. Actually he didn’t because he said I still need to do my normal drills, but he introduced me to paddles. Oorrggghhh. Said I should work on strengthening my arms as well as my legs. He said I’d be tired (I’m always tired after swimming; and famished. Why does swimming make me so hungry? Running kills my appetite – hate my force-feeding fuelling regime, have I mentioned that before?). Anyway the paddles were fine to use. Bit of a different hand rotation to get them out of the water. The interesting thing for me was that my stroke was slower, and this seemed to give me a bit more time for breathing. A good thing.

As to the technique, M says I need to relax into it.  There’s that word again. We both know all I’m thinking about is my breathing. Ah, maybe when I stop thinking about my breathing I’ll be able to the pat head/rub tummy swim-equivalent combo?

I did a few lengths with the paddles. Came to the end of the pool. Stopped. Looked at my hands, palms up, looking at these things. And did nothing. They’re paddles. They’re rigid. They cover your palms. The opposable thumb thingy that humans are so proud of has been incapacitated. How are you supposed to get them off? I assure you (defensively) this lasted only a split second before I fathomed a way to remove them (teeth, side of pool, calling helplessly for assistance had all passed through my mind). But it was long enough for M to notice and have a little chuckle.  It’s always warming to know I occasionally provide amusement value.  I know my place.

Swimming not drowning, volume 1 – breathing

Breathing not drowning

Breathing not drowning

Having endured the most horrid of ‘swims’ in Winky’s May Day triathlon, I am more determined than ever that I will overcome my swimming nemesis. I’m not putting a time scale on it. Yet. But I’m going to nail this swimming lark. I am now the proverbial terrier with the bit between its teeth (aren’t horses the ones with the bits?).

To reinforce positive attributes I’m going to chart progress. And there has been progress. I went back to the pool on Wednesday after the triathlon, determined to swim my 16 lengths in mostly crawl, just to prove to myself I could. And I did.  It was no easier and there were still moments of heart-racing and concentration on breathing-control, but I did it.  The splendid S at the pool very sweetly and confidence-boostingly said it wasn’t me, it was everyone else in the pool on Monday, making it all very difficult!

And as the marvellous M has pointed out, when I started back in October, I could only do half a length then had to stop/stand up/tread water/do breast stroke because I was exhausted. That’s surely major physical improvement. The mental stuff is SO another story.

I’m going to back track a bit, because there have been small moments along the way.

Mid-March, 2013. Is necessity or idleness the mother of invention? It’s not quite in the same vein, but going swimming with a thick cold and clogged up chest might have provided some learnings for me:
a) I didn’t have enough energy or capability to panic. What a weird thing to occur to one as one is ploughing through the deep end (normally a physical place of panic), oh I don’t have the energy to panic. And,
b), with a clogged up chest I didn’t have the wherewithal to gasp deeply and expansively.  Do you know what? I still managed to finish my programme. And I forgot to take my pulse at the end of the session, though from memory my heart rate wasn’t racing quite so much (either way that sounds like a positive memory to come away with, so I won’t question it too much.)  Calmer. Not particularly well, but calmer.

Previous learnings: actually an early one that I keep forgetting (???), is that when I started this swimming lark I thought I’d figured out I could only breathe on one side because my neck doesn’t (didn’t) rotate enough to get access to the atmosphere.  Mind you back than I was probably rotating my body through 180° rather than 90° – see future post (how much energy was that using, therefore how much extra oxygen was that demanding?), and I was looking to the back corner of the swimming pool building as a focus point for my breathing (again how inefficient was that), rather than a brief 90° single-plane neck rotation either side. Anyway the marvellous M suggested I breathe every four rather than every two because he thought every two might be too much breathing (see (b) above). This was a concept I failed to understand for some time.  I tried the four stroke, and it was OK for half a length, but then not enough air.  I took to heart the two stroke being too much breathing, especially given my huge, panicky, gulping approach to breathing, even though it didn’t really compute (mind over matter), and have subsequently trained myself to breathe every three strokes.

It did recur to me somewhere around Feb-March time, that the breathing too much scenario may have been beginning to make sense, intellectually at least. Breathe too deeply and actually there’s not enough time to exhale it all while you do three strokes, so there’s a rush to exhale AS WELL AS a rush to inhale.

But I need a lot of air. (At the moment???). I know I’m not efficient. At least I can (I think) understand, intellectually at least, that when I become more efficient, I’ll actually need less oxygen (won’t I? Isn’t that how it works?).

The breathing timing/amount/confidence thing has got to get easier, surely? Just not so far.

My new mantra is all about experiential learning. I haven’t drowned yet. I’m swimming some lengths. Therefore I can swim some lengths without drowning.