Swimming in a Runner's Shoes

The last couple weeks have been interesting for me, as I started training in earnest once more.  On the night of the 13th of January, I was successful in registering for Grandma's Marathon 2010! A few days later, we also confirmed an agreement to rent a house on Park Point for a week spanning the race weekend.  The stage is set for my first Marathon, and I hope to stay health enough to not only make it to the race day in once piece, but finish the race in a respectable sub-four hours.  We'll have a few days following the race to enjoy the North Shore and visit with old friends.  It is a vacation we greatly need.  I'm looking forward to having campfires on the beach, listening to the waves roll in and roasting marshmallows with my family.  Too bad it's five months away.

Staying healthy while training for this marathon is my focus.  I'm told that a big 6'2" frame is tough on joints for runners, and last year's bursitis is a good affirmation of that statement.  Every time I write that, I feel older than I really am.  For that reason, I've mixed swimming into my training schedule, an activity I've always generally enjoyed.  As a child living on a lake, I swam almost ever day.  Waterskiing, tubing, fishing, and swimming were standard activities on Lake Mitchell.  Despite this, I never really enjoyed swimming laps nor understood why anyone would want to swim an endurance event.  It was too much work and too tiring to enjoy anything other than screwing around.

Why in the world would I try my luck with it now?  The primary benefit is that of an aerobic work-out without the impact on my joints.  Believe you me, that it's quite effective in depleting my muscles of glycogen!  This is definitely what I had in mind two weeks ago.  What I wasn't certain of was whether or not I could deal with the mind-numbing and exhausting work of swimming back and forth, back and forth.

Like anything I do, I try to "do it right," but what did that actually mean with swimming?  I decided to take a scientists approach to it.  Each time I entered the pool, I tried something different to see what worked best.  I would come home to Meghan, excited about what I had found while she was there baffled that I "didn't know that?"  I had no idea that I was supposed to have known apparently what she learned on the swim team.  Hmm...

In any case, I kept at it and asked questions of anyone who was willing to give answers.  A triathlete friend of mine, Jessica, suggested I take a look at Total Immersion, a program put together by Terry Laughlin.  She commented on how my stroke looked much better Wednesday afternoon.  Encouraged, I took her advice and checked the site out that night.  I watched the six-part video segment on Perpetual Motion Freestyle.  Although Terry didn't go into great detail about the drills in his program, the demonstration videos were rich on content, hitting some of the primary principles of swimming efficiently in the water.  It was exactly what I needed.  I couldn't wait to put his principles to test on Friday.  If it worked out, I would consider purchasing his training materials.

Thursday's run with Jason and Amanda almost didn't happen on account of the freezing rain earlier that morning, though I would have been stuck on a treadmill rather than swimming; I hadn't brought my trunks.  The run went well, despite the slick sidewalks.  Most places were dry and traction was adequate.  I really enjoy running with our afternoon group.  We run at an easy pace and talk about anything under the sun.  There are days when I don't want to run, or when I feel work is too busy to get out.  I can count on Deb and Brett to get me out the door.

In any case, I did get to try out some of the principles today's swim.  At noon, all of the lanes were occupied, but was offered to share a lane right away.  In a few moments of conversation, I found out that I was swimming with another runner, and one that was familiar with the Total Immersion program and focusing on triathlon training.  Crazy!  We swam a few laps, and he pointed out that I wasn't keeping my head down enough.  "Envision holding an orange under your chin," he said.

The next lap I swam, everything clicked, an epiphany moment.  I already had a pretty good stroke, good extension, and I understood how to breath.  Everything Terry had said about balancing in the water, moving with purpose and efficiency, and staying on target rushed back into focus.  I felt like I truly was floating on the water, rather than plowing through it.  I really enjoyed myself today, and I didn't struggle after 200m or even 300m.  I basically lost track of my count, so I can only estimate that my final distance was between 800m and 1200m.  Next Monday, I want to see how far I can go in my 40-50 minutes at lunch!

Excited about my new success, I brought up my findings at dinner to Meghan.  She once again couldn't believe that I "didn't know that?"  Swimmers.