Sunday, December 16, 2007

Swimming-related thoughts

I would not say I am unduly self-critical, I have a fair appreciation for what I achieve--only I am always so keenly aware of a bigger and better and altogether more excellent future version of whatever it is, there is a certain tendency to deprecate current attainments and concentrate on future goals. I was raised to believe that pride is a vice rather than a virtue! But I think I have to admit to myself that 2007 has been a great year for swimming, and that I should be at least a little bit proud.

I approached the task of learning to swim properly in January with grim determination, there was nothing light-hearted about it: I had a stress fracture that meant I couldn't run, I had the gleam of triathlon in my eye and it was also clear that I needed to have swimming as a non-weight-bearing cross-training tool for future running endeavors. The first few months were fairly awful--as a little kid, I loved swimming, and I learned a quite functional front crawl at age five or so, but I could hardly swim more than a few lengths without stopping to rest and the stroke itself was that very flat crawl which has since been rendered virtually obsolete. And of course the thing about swimming is that if you want to turn your functional old flat stroke into a really decent modern one, it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better, so that though my swimming conditioning continued to improve through February and March, the stroke itself became significantly worse, which was rather mortifying...

But I had resolved to swim five times a week (subsequently reduced to four, once the complexity of pool hours fully dawned on me) until I could swim properly, and I have pretty much done that (plus spent vast amounts of money on lessons and workouts of various kinds), and I am pretty much now delighted with the results.

Even in September, it seemed inconceivable to me that I would be able to swim a hundred IM by the end of the year, and yet progress has been very rapid, I am fully functional now on all the strokes. Yes, of course I have a huge amount still to learn--everything could get significantly better, and most immediately I've got to start working seriously on flip turns and bilateral breathing. But it's really pretty good--I was prepared for it to take a lot longer to get to this point.

I. videotaped me in September doing an innocent approximation of what I believed to be breaststroke--I never learned it at all as a kid, it is not that I had an adequate version that needed updating, I was in complete ignorance. And then she videoed me again a couple weeks ago, and here is the amazing difference. The first one is truly awful, I am looking at it now and thinking, like, ARGHHHH! But the second one, though swimmers will see much room for further improvement, looks perfectly normal! This is exciting...

(And yes, sometimes we have the pool to ourselves but other weeks there's another teacher with a couple of students, and I am indeed about four times the size and seven times the age of all of the other swimming pupils, they eye me askance and wonder what I can possibly be doing!)

I am particularly grateful for all the wonderful swimming teachers and mentors I have found this year. I had a couple nice and funny swimming teachers around the place at Columbia before I discovered the group lessons run by Doug Stern, who died in June. I miss Doug very much, but through him I found I.--who has been a most wonderful teacher, I cannot speak highly enough of how much I've learned from her this fall and how enjoyable it's been!--and Robert, whose Monday-night coaching has had an immensely beneficial effect on my freestyle stroke. The Thursday-morning coach at Columbia is wonderfully inspiring and creates workouts of great beauty and swimming genius.

I've met some nice people in the lanes, and I'm also grateful to friends like Brent and Becca for tips and general training-related encouragement. But the person who I most want to thank, and who is the most generous swimming mentor imaginable, is of course the lovely Wendy Buckner. (It's Wendy's birthday today, so pop over there and wish her many happy returns in the comments!) Wendy has responded to countless questions and rants of mine with the most unbounded patience and intelligence; and though she is a singularly modest person, it must be said that the quality of the advice she purveys is extraordinarily high, despite her reticence about her serious coaching credentials!


Unknown said...

Great before and after videos! You should be very pleased with the results of the work you've put in.

And thanks for your kind words and birthday wishes.

Rebecca H. said...

Congratulations on a great swimming year! You are inspiring!

Spokane Al said...

I find mastering the swim technique to definitely be the hardest of the tri-disciplines. Congratulations on your progress.

Jenny Davidson said...

I do feel the need to add that I have a HUGE amount more work to do, swimming is an ongoing challenge, that's part of why it's appealing though!