Swimming is the one of the three triathlon sports that I am the least worried about… it is also the one that I can’t already do. I can not swim for 500-750 meters in a row. Nope, sure can’t. I can swim 500-750 meters, but every few laps I have to stop and GASP and wait for my heart rate to calm down. But that’s OK, because even when it’s hard, it’s awesome.
Here’s my water story:
1977-May, 2010. I liked pools and water and swimming but I did not know how to “swim.” By that I mean I could tread water and get from one side to the next of a pool but had never, ever swum laps, or swum for “fitness.” But I always thought it would be fun and that if I could figure out how, I would probably like swimming laps at a pool.
July, 2010. Abi was two months old and David and I lived away from our families… we had very little cheap or free babysitting. I was a graduate student finishing up my dissertation so free/cheap was VERY IMPORTANT. BUT! We were members at the Montclair Y and they had a nursery that cost $3.50 for 2 hours. This was in my pre-exercising phase where I DID NOT go to the gym, so we decided that we would take swimming lessons together. David had swimming lessons as a kid so he knew the basics, but I did not. We tested into the “intermediate group” and spent the next 8 weeks or so learning (me) or improving (David) freestyle swimming. It was great because this was the one and ONLY time that David and I have done a “sport” together where I was better! (I have high body fat content, which makes me float very easily! Curblessing!) We enjoyed that class and I think I went to the pool 2-3 times on my own to “lap swim” but I was nervous. There’s nothing like a swim cap to make people look legit– I found swimming on my own at the Y kind of intimidating.
May, 2014. After we returned to Montclair from Pittsburgh where we spent 2.5 years while I did a postdoctoral fellowship, we decided to give the swimming lessons one more try. This time, we dropped both of our kids off for $4.50 for 2 hours and placed into the advanced class. It was a good reminder both of the freestyle form and the fact that I just really enjoy being in the water! Because I already knew the stroke, I felt like I got much further along the curve on the 2nd set of lessons than I did on the first. I felt much more capable of actually swimming laps… but I didn’t. I just hadn’t found a way to build it into my schedule until I started thinking about triathlons…
When I decided that I would, indeed, try to tri I sat down to figure out what a training plan might look like. I didn’t get much further than to discover that I needed to swim 2x a week for 30 minutes each time. I did that for a couple of weeks but I felt somewhat at sea (A pun!). I began collecting resources to help me hone my training plan for the swim portion of the triathlon.
First I started thinking about improving my stroke. I knew from my swimming lessons that my breathing is not quick enough and that somehow I was supposed to breath under my arm. I looked into private lessons and I think I will do them in the winter, when I can’t be outside as much. In the meantime, I found these videos on the Speedo YouTube Channel. I like them a lot. They give me some guidance and I can watch them a few times to try to understand.
As for an actual training plan, this was harder to find than I had anticipated. A lot of the advice on the swim portion of the tri from blogs, books, and websites encompasses advice to take swimming lessons. I assume that is because many people who want to do a triathlon are strong bikers and runners and scared swimmers. I had a hard time finding a plan for someone who can swim, but doesn’t really swim laps. I finally found this, on the active website. It’s perfect– its a 12 week plan to get to the point where you can swim 500 meters without stopping. It stops there– “You’re 500m time should improve with training” is the foliow up advice… but I can cross that bridge when I come to it. This one is working as a good training plan for now, which is a relief! I had NO IDEA whether I was making enough progress or how to scale up in a reasonably way. Now I know how many laps I am aiming to do before taking a break in that week, which is enough for now.
*** Thank you Beth for sending me this, more advanced training plan!!! Keeping it in my back pocket!!! ******
Swimming, to me, feels like the icing on the cake, the treat after the vegetables, the rainbow after the storm. Granted, you have to wear a bathing suit but it’s worth it. It’s been a true delight for me to have an excuse to get back into the pool — it’s so relaxing. It WAS stressful at first, you swim one length and you feel like your lungs are going to burst and you feel very awkward in your weird hat with your half formed stroke and all that, but it didn’t take long before I was just happy to be there. And the good news (for those of you who are self conscious about your lack of ability) nobody is paying attention to ANYBODY else at the pool. It’s a truly solitary, almost zen-like endeavor. I highly recommend it.
**A few note about gear:
Get good goggles!!! I had crappy goggles that would leak. It was NOT ok. I don’t know enough to suggest which goggles are good, bad, indifferent, but if you find yourself with crappy goggles go get another pair. I stole David’s Speedos because they didn’t work for him and I marvel at their awesomeness every time I get in the pool. He LOVES the kind that I just called crappy– might be a face shape kind of thing. They’re cheap– make sure you have a pair you love.
Get some ear plugs. Swimmers ear is a no good, unacceptable, fully avoidable pain in the ass.
Read the directions on your latex swim cap— if you just grab and pull it you will likely rip it! I had no idea, but apparently this is a common thing. Here’re the instructions (for me it boils down to not shoving my nail into the latex. I had to replace David’s cap after ripping it.)