Swim drill video

Did more swimming today.

I counted up the hash marks on my “No Days Off” calendar from Tracksmith, and I’ve actually done more swim workouts than runs this year! This makes sense when you remember that I went from never having done the crawl or backstroke to completing my first two open water sprint triathlons this summer. Serious time investment was needed to make sure I could even compete safely!

I’m very optimistic about the swim portion of Tri For a Cure this July. I’m making a lot of process on technique.

Here’s a video of a swim drill my trainer had me doing this morning. I’m working on breathing by just turning my head, not letting my forward arm sink, and keeping my shoulders stacked and not rotating. You can see that I’ve made much more progress on one side than the other. When I’m facing the wall, my forward hand drops, I pull my head up and out of the water to breathe, and my kick widens a lot. It’s better (though not perfect) on the side where I’m facing the buoys.

Swimming is fun because with each drill there’s something specific to focus on, so it’s always interesting. When I go on my own, I will do 10 minutes where I’m focusing on kicking, 10 minutes where I’m really trying to turn my head to breathe keeping it low to the water, 10 minutes on keeping my arms straight and my hips stacked, and so on. It’s methodical as we work on each piece of muscle memory to tie everything together and tackle one aspect of swimming at a time.

So maybe there’s a little more to it than “just keep swimming”. And that’s what makes it so fun.

Swim lesson Tuesday

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This is a clip from a video my swim instructor took today. She usually takes a couple videos during each hour-long session, and I find it incredibly helpful to see how my swimming is progressing. It’s easy to see in different videos what I was focusing on, and when a skill we’ve been working on sets in a little and continues to be correct even when my focus is elsewhere.

In this picture, I’m working hard on keeping my arm elongated forward during each side of the turn so I have a good glide on each side. See how straight I am, and how stacked my hips are? This is a big improvement from even a few weeks ago.¬†Today she told me that she’s excited about my progress and it helps that I’m really motivated. It felt great to hear myself described as motivated ūüôā I try so hard to listen carefully and put all my energy into following each instruction so I’m not wasting my time with her. I practice once a week on my own too, for the same reason. It’s so rewarding to have the effort noticed!

I still feel exhausted and out of breath after swimming a length of the pool, but Brittany (my instructor) assures me that with correct form and enough practice I’ll get through that.

Swimming the day after a long-run

I was a little worried that my schedule meant I had an hour long swim lesson the day after a long run, but it ended up being all right. I was a little tired at the end, but I’m always tired at the end. Swimming is hard.

It’s so fun to improve¬†and to see the difference when I look at the videos taken week-to-week.

I feel really grateful to have access to a great pool and instructor so I can learn a new skill. It felt like a real splurge to buy swim lessons for a grown-up, but I truly love it. Swimming complements running so well, I find it pretty easy to run the day before or after.

Swimming complements running so well, I find it pretty easy to run the day before or after. I’m hoping that this will be a life-long pleasure that I’m investing in up-front.

Time to haul a scooter off to preschool for pick-up… don’t tell my legs, though. They think I’m driving.

New gym swim swim swim

After spending the summer swimming in an immaculately gorgeous outdoor pool, I had trouble going back to my old gym, which wasn’t always… clean.


So I joined Greg’s gym, which is a further drive, but spotless. I mean, spotless. It’s the ultimate luxury. From the quiet and peaceful pool to the gorgeous tiling and constantly cleaned showers. I think about the grapefruit scented bath products on non-gym days. They’re that good. (Yes, they sell them, but I think bringing them home would destroy the specialness of it.)

I also signed up for more swim lessons, because I still want to swim a sprint triathlon distance without having to backstroke (zig-zag) most of the course. Technique, technique, technique… that’s what everyone says about swimming.

I love the swim instructor / personal trainer I’m working with. (To be clear, I loved my last one, also.) She’s incredible at breaking down the movements, and showing me outside the water exactly how the body should rotate. She watches so carefully every time I do the exercise and narrows in on exactly what I should focus on each time I push off. One thing she mentioned was that in order to really build muscle memory, you need to practice less than 72 hours after your last session, so we’re meeting twice a week for the next three weeks and then I’m trying to swim once on my own as well.

How am I going to do that and crash-train for the Chilly Half Marathon?

Um, it’s essential cross-training. Totally part of the plan. I GOT THIS.

Anyway, I had a great swim at the pool today. One of the most relaxing things about working with a trainer at the pool on technique is how intently you have to focus. I had to really listen to exactly what I had done well or not so well, and what motions I was going to attempt to correct the next time around. Every stroke I was thinking about the placement of my hips, legs, turn of the head, straightening of the arms… there’s no room to worry about anything else in life. For an hour, I can barely remember my own name, let alone my lengthy to-do list or the fact that my kids want to subsist on burritos and vegan pizza.

It’s a little like meditation in the sense that your mind is a bit clear for a while.

Tomorrow is a run day, and Friday is another long run!

Swim Lessons From My First Triathlon

I learned so much from the Sebago Lake Triathlon (my first tri!)¬†that I’m going to break it into three separate posts. (The trick will be remembering to re-read them all before my next triathlon!)

First… the swim.

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The swim was the whole reason I wanted to do this triathlon. I needed a break through. It’s too easy in the pool to take a break every length; I have been swimming 3 times a week for several months, but still do most of my swimming 25 yards at a time. I’d built up strength, but wasn’t great at practicing endurance.

What better way to practice endurance than head out in a lake and swim for the buoys in a supportive race environment? No standing up halfway through; all breaks are still floating, and if you’re floating, you might as well kick. If you’re kicking, you might as well backstroke and get it over with.

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With kayaks on the course and a buoyant wetsuit, it seemed like just enough risk to make me feel alive without being dangerous.

And yes, I felt pretty darn alive rushing into that freezing cold water with a crowd of people and heading out into the lake, knowing it’d be the furthest open water swim of my life.

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I started out doing freestyle, was shocked to discover I was keeping up with people, and then got kicked in the face and swallowed lake water. It didn’t hurt, but it’s startling, and it was enough to put me a little behind the pack and switch to backstroke.

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The trouble with backstroking behind the pack of swimmers is it’s hard to gauge where you’re going unless you stop and look around. I lost time and energy switching from backstroke to treading water so I could look around, and ended up zigzagging all over the place.

My running mantra when I’m struggling has always been “just keep going”. This doesn’t work very well when you happen to be swimming in the wrong direction.

There were times when I knew I should look to make sure I was going the right way, but the thought of changing position and treading water made me feel panicked, so I just kept going.

The wrong way.

I went so far off course the kayakers had to come escort me to the finish.

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I probably swam over half a mile.

But I made it.

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Whenever you’re towards the end of a race, maybe especially a swim, people are going to be looking at your face and worrying about how you’re doing and how you feel.

I knew was the last one out of the water, so, yeah, I threw my hands up… to great laughter and applause.

I let every ounce of excitement and pride that I made it out of the water show on my face.

In the photo below, you can see one of the kayakers who redirected me about 10 times smiling and clapping as I exited the water. I felt so bad taking extra time from the race volunteers, but Greg said the second to last person exited the water only about thirty seconds before me… and at least I closed the swim course down with a smile.

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There were some silver linings to being last. It shows how far outside my comfort zone I was, and how much room I have for improvement. That I’m at an exciting place in my journey.

Besides, I was there to learn, and I did.

What did I learn?

Sighting is important. If you’re not in the pack, it’s extra important to continue checking and making sure you’re going the right direction. No one wants to swim extra distance.

My swim instructor showed me how to pick my head up in front crawl after I breathe and look around so I don’t need to go vertical and tread water, a major waste of speed and energy.

If I can roll easily into backstroke when I want more air, then back to front crawl looking around occasionally in between strokes, I’ll be able to stay stream-lined in the water, continuously moving forward, and checking easily to see where I’m going.

I would not have known to work on these strategies if I hadn’t done this unplanned first triathlon!

Practice in your wetsuit. It can make you feel like it’s hard to get a breath even though if you pay attention you’re getting plenty of air. The more time you spend in the water in your wetsuit before your race, the better. Swim hard to get out of breath in your suit, and then practice kicking on your back and relaxing your breathing. It’s important to learn before your race that you can catch your breath in a tight wetsuit. I had to calm myself down quite a few times in the water, and focus on the fact that I was breathing in and out, and I could in fact keep going.

It’s over fast. Even being last out of the water, I was done in less than 18 minutes. If I’d watched where I was going, I suspect I could have finished in 13 or 14. If you feel worried, just keep going in the moment. A little more, a little more, ten strokes of front, ten strokes of back, and it’ll be over before you know it.

It’s fine to backstroke:¬†Plenty of people were doing it, and it’s easy to space yourself to the side or towards the back if you’re truly worried about bumping into someone. But honestly, people doing the front crawl were swimming over each other just as aggressively since they’re not able to look straight ahead either. I was so worried about backstroking, but it was the only way I could have finished this race, and it had no negative impact on any of the other participants.

Next post:¬†I’ll share what I learned on the bike ūüôā

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First open water swim!

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I went for my first open water swim in my wet suit!

We went to the local pond with another family to hang out over the weekend and enjoy the nice weather, and I decided it’d be the perfect chance to try out my wet suit in the open water.

I envisioned me swimming way out, floating on my back to rest, really getting in some yardage and gaining some confidence in the water.

What really happened was my rotator cuff hurt after about 50 yards because I didn’t pull one of the wetsuit sleeves up high enough, and I ended up swimming back and forth along the beach in chest deep water because the milfoil at the pond was so bad. I did about 125 yards and then went and played bocce with my friends. (But hey, my rotator cuff feels fine and I at least got out there.)

If you’re not familiar with milfoil, it’s an invasive water plant that is extremely hard to get rid of. All those signs in lake regions stating boaters must remove plants? Milfoil is one of the plants they’re worried about.

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This is a photo I took of the milfoil on the pond last year from my paddleboard; I had hoped it’d be cleaner close to the beach where I wanted to swim.

See why? It can ruin a body of water for swimming and even boating. (I could barely paddle through this and boy did I hope my board didn’t tip.) Not to mention what it does to animal and indigenous plant life.

There’s something very disconcerting about having a whole bunch of fuzzy, slimy green plants about 4 inches from your face and grabbing your ankles while you’re trying to swim.

I could handle the occasional plant; but swimming through a carpet that your goggles force you to look at?

It was too much.

Back to the pool for me; but there are a lot of other bodies of water in the area, I’ll find a great spot to test it in the lake, and my goal is to make it into the ocean by June!

Clean off those boat motors, and think twice before fertilizing your lawn… the run-off from fertilizer another key component to the over-growth of invasive plants in lakes.

The whole experience was another reminder to expect obstacles; don’t leave trying on your wet suit or finding open water to practice in¬†until the last minute!