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.

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