I grew up with a pool in my back yard. I have known how to swim for as long as I can remember. But I’m pretty sure I learned because my parents put me in the water and yelled “KICK!” No actual swim lessons where I would have learned how to rotary breathe. No practice swimming in a straight line. To be perfectly honest, I swam when I had to get away from my brother and sister dunking and splashing me, and the rest of the time I was more interested in floating on a raft.
When I got an e-mail from my coach this summer suggesting swimming as a way to add some volume without beating up the legs I was interested to give it a try. I didn’t really need to add volume and I’m not about to completely give up my doubles or anything, but I have always heard about the benefits of swimming for runners. I never looked into it too seriously, but I figured now is as good a time as any. I’m finding myself very eager to try new things (little or not) that might get me to that next step. Besides, working at Rutgers meant I could get a faculty pass to the gyms. I planned to continue to double on hard days and once a week I would go to the gym and swim for half an hour, shower in the locker room, and then go to work right across the street. Pretty convenient.
I quickly found out I had a lot to learn. After two trips to the pool, I started to think that this might not be my thing. What really helped was a private swim lesson from an experienced teammate who offered to meet me at the pool and show me the ropes.
1. Proper equipment is necessary
The first time I used the gym at Rutgers and I was unfamiliar with the whole thing, so I gave myself a lot of extra time. I tend to be paranoid about time and show up to things really early a lot and then sit awkwardly waiting. Fortunately, the pool was open already so I avoided the waiting, but I knew I would have more than enough time afterward to get ready for work. When I got out to the pool, there were only two lanes being used. Plenty of space. Perfect. I was by myself and I tried to act cool getting in the water like I knew what I was doing. I even tried to do the rotary breathe, but that proved to be the embarrassing mistake that blew my “I know what I’m doing” cover. I swam into the wall. I don’t know why I admit these things, but that happened. So I went back to the middle of the lane and kept swimming like nothing happened, although with only two other people in the pool the life guard totally saw it. I spent the rest of the time trying to keep my eyes open, which was incredibly difficult without goggles.
When I went to the pool with my new swim coach, I learned that even though I had since gotten a pair, goggles were not enough. Her first piece of advice, as she laughed at me in the locker room with an old pair of running shorts and a sports bra, and no swim cap, was to get some equipment. That day I found some good deals online for a swimsuit and cap. If I’m going to be serious about this, I figured I should get some.
2. I’ve got no rhythm
I was (and still am a bit) struggling with the whole breathing thing. I had been trying to stay under as long as possible, getting some air only when necessary. The problem was that when I tried to get some air, I wasn’t quick enough. When I opened my mouth, I would just barely breathe in (and that was if I didn’t get a mouthful of water instead) before I had to go back under for the next stroke. I did some serious studying to try to fix my problem, like watching this YouTube video, How to Teach a Child Rhythmic Breathing, and reading some pretty decent articles: Proper Breathing Technique for Swimming and Five Tips for Better Breathing While Swimming.
I warned my teammate of my complete lack of skill, but she was happy to help me nonetheless. Once we got in the pool, she taught me how to streamline and checked out my form. It was super helpful that she was positive the whole time. I was waiting to be told I was doing it all wrong, but apparently I wasn’t so bad! My hips were too low, which was caused by my my issue with breathing and being uncomfortable keeping my chin tucked and face in the water. She showed me an exercise to work on that and we worked out how many laps I should swim. I still took breaks after every 50 yds. but now they were only 5 second breaks! Hopefully I won’t need to anymore once I practice the breathing more. Regardless, the lesson helped a lot and gave me some confidence.
3. Swimming is hard
That first day, I made it 8 laps before deciding that was enough and next time would be better. When I say 8 laps I mean I took a break between every two of them. It’s amazing how something new can make you feel totally out of shape.
I was right; next time was (relatively) better. There were more people, but there was still an open lane, and the goggles certainly helped. I even increased my swim to 12 laps (still breaks between every two). I decided I wasn’t going to be embarrassed about the breaks I was taking and the short amount of time I was in the pool. I can admit I’m a beginner and I’m hoping as time goes on I’ll be able to add a little more, though for the time being I wish I knew how ridiculous I look. Since my lesson, I have gradually been increasing the amount I swim.
4. Cross training is important
It has been a couple weeks since I’ve been training full time with NJNYTC and I feel like I’m in great shape. I’m getting stronger all of the time and learning new things I can do to become better. Of course it’s always when you feel invincible that you’re quickly reminded that you’re not. I started to have some soreness in my quad the other day. I got it checked out right away and took care of it with ice and stretching. I even learned some strengthening exercises for my hip flexors that I have been working on. The point is, I’m going to be absolutely fine and this only took two days of taking it easy and cross training before getting back in the game. At the same time, I feel better knowing I have been working on the cross training and I can stay strong during these minor set backs.