It’s been a couple months now that I have been swimming consistently as part of the training for my first triathlons (one in August and one in September). Before I hopped in the pool for that first session it had been many years, since middle school swim team, that I swam consistently. I knew that it would take plenty of time in the pool and lots of practice before my stroke and form resembled even what it looked like in the 7th grade let alone what it should look like for a triathlete.
Over the weeks, swimming has gotten progressively better, definitely more enjoyable, and I am more confident in my ability to swim and breath correctly. This is in part due to practice. However, I definitely credit my progress to a few other important factors. One of them is talking about it. Any chance I have to talk to another swimmer or triathlete, I do and I ask questions. I tweet about it, sharing what I’ve done and inquiring what others are working on, and I always learn something new. I haunt the blogs of other swimmers and triathletes picking up on what has worked for them and I try to absorb as much information as possible.
The other factor I credit for improving my swimming skills is a website that I visit often but that I still have much to learn from: goswim.tv. I was lucky enough to meet the founder, Glen Mills, of this website who happens to be a neighbor of my parents, and when I first visited the site was like a light bulb went off. Every one of my swim sessions starts with a 100-yard warm-up and then 200 yards of drills. The first few times I was swimming drills I didn’t actually know what that meant. I just thought it meant “swim fast,” so that’s what I did. Then I met Glen and his girlfriend who also happens to be a swim coach. When we got to talking about drills, they kindly told me that “drill” does not mean “swim fast” and pointed me to the website. Lo and behold there are pages and pages of drills for every stroke in the book.
I started with a couple that seemed easy enough and that I believe helped my stroke (the Wrist Drag drill) and my own version of a drill in which you don’t kick but just pull in order to get stronger. My swimmer husband told me early on that in order to swim distance more efficiently I would have to learn not to kick so much to save energy. With practice I have figured out how to kick less/more efficiently and have also gotten stronger to pull myself along.
Open Water Breathing Drill
After a couple weeks of alternating these drills I decided it was time to start preparing, at least mentally, for the fact that the triathlon swim will take place in open water, not a nice protected pool. There are a couple components of the open water swim I know I need to be physically and mentally prepared for: swimming in a crowd, not being able to see, swimming in choppy water, and breathing in choppy water. Where to start? Goswim.tv has a drill that can be done in the pool to practice breathing in open water.
The videos on the website I find to be incredible. The swimmers in the videos, of course, are quite talented and make everything look super easy. A description of each drill is given by a narrator and there is also a written script you can refer back to for how to perform each drill. The open water breathing drill looked simple enough so I decided to try it out. Let’s just say I will be practicing this drill until the day of the race. The gist of the drill is that you swim with one arm in front and the rest of your body on it’s side kicking hard to keep your head out of the water while you stare at the sky and take three breaths before stroking again. I seemed to take in quite a bit of water when trying to swim on my side like that. However, the idea is that when you are swimming normally, you have trained your body to over-rotate so that you can breath higher out of the water, as you would have to in an open water swim where waves or chop could come into play. How do you practice for open water swimming?
My biggest problem with swimming in general is that for whatever reason I am bound to take in water doing just about any drill or swim work-out, and this is in a pool. I am not scared of the open water swim and I am confident that I can do it, I’d just really like to do it without inhaling tons of seawater (or lake water as the case will be). I think practicing this open water breathing drill will get me one step closer to successful breathing during the triathlon. I appreciate that the seasoned swimmers in the goswim.tv drills make it look easy because that is the image in my head when I’m swimming.
Whether it’s a simple freestyle stroke or an open water breathing drill, watching someone who makes the swim looks easy gives me confidence that I can do it too.