Total Immersion Conversion

2.bike2runI thought I knew how to swim.   I grew up at the shore and spent many summer days at the beach, playing in the ocean.  One summer, I even had gainful employment as a lifeguard, albeit at small apartment complex pool.  The truth:  I didn’t really know how to swim.  I knew how not to sink.

So I signed up for Team in Training’s (TnT) St. Anthony’s Triathlon training program thinking the swim wouldn’t be a problem. We had our first swim practice at a 50-meter pool.  Scott, our relentlessly positive head coach, told us to go easy as we swam up and back.  I felt good for the first 10 yards–I can do this, I told myself.  Out of breath, my body disagreed.  I had to stop and plant my feet down on the pool bottom to rest on that first unhappy lap.  Swimming a mile seemed about as likely as my swimming across the English Channel. (21 miles, in case you’re wondering.)   

I listened and watched as Earl, TnT’s swim coach, demonstrated how triathlon swimming was different.  I saw how he moved through the water like a fish.  How was I going to do that?  In order to learn, I knew that I would need to read about these swim techniques to understand them better.  I searched for different resources on Amazon and read the reviews.  I settled on Total Immersion’s, Freestyle Made Easy and started reading. 

I read about form, but thought I needed more practice to build endurance.   I found a local masters swim program and I put the book aside.  I churned for three weeks before I rejoined my Team in Training teammates–who were a heck of a lot better than when I left.  I started doing the drills that Scott and Earl had described–the language was similar, if not identical, to what was described in Freestyle Made Easy.  With much practice, I swam a quarter mile, half, three quarter and finally, a one-mile time trial.  I felt ready for the race and had a pretty good swim at St. Anthony’s.  But that was really only the beginning of my experience with TI. 

I was eager to continue with triathlon.  I signed up for a sprint triathlon training program through a local sports shop.  Again, I put the TI book aside, and tried to master the techniques shouted from the pool deck.  I was told that I could take 10 minutes off my time.  I did the drills and the swims–by this point I was more comfortable in the water but still struggled and really wasn’t having fun.   Race day came.  I had a horrible swim.  The 1/2 mile seemed longer than the mile.  When I emerged from the water, I felt like I was going to vomit.  I thought I wasn’t going to make it. I managed to finish, but left the race thinking I should have stuck with cycling.  I asked myself, why am I doing this if it’s not fun?

After a fair amount of wavering, I signed up for the Westchester Triathlon, and vowed to become my own best swim coach.  What had attracted me to the TI method was its emphasis on making swimming fun and a strong progression of more sophisticated drills that culminated in a good stroke.  So I went back to the TI site and ordered the freestyle made easy DVD and a copy of Triathlon Swimming made easy.  I started by reading the drills, then watching and re-watching the drills on the DVD–sometimes in slow motion.  I went to every workout with a plan for what I was going to practice, took time to work slowly through the drills, then made notes about how I did after the practice.  I worried a bit–I wasn’t swimming–my technique was getting better–I was having fun and I felt comfortable in the water, but would I have the endurance to swim the mille?   By this time I was up to double zipper switch–amazed at how well the sequence had prepared me for swimming.

On race day, I felt confident, even looking forward to the swim.  I followed the warm up routine outlined in Triathlon Swimming Made easy, practicing my exit from the water into the transition area.  We lined up and the gun went off.  I dove in and drafted off of some faster swimmers, was drafted off of a bit myself, and just enjoyed being in the water and moving though it.  When I emerged from the water I finally looked at my watch, I couldn’t believe my eyes–I had shaved 10 minutes off my time from St. Anthony’s. I was ecstatic.  I  went onto set a personal record.

I still have lots to do to improve, but now I am a believer in building speed through technique.  I have 4 races picked out for 2005, and am working toward more fun, at even greater speeds, in the water.

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