Swimming is the discipline that puts the fear of god into 99.99% of triathletes. The other 0.01% either swam competitively growing up, or were born in Australia, where it is compulsory to be awesome at all water sports (I love a good stereotype, and factually correct statistics).
We all know we can run, and we all know we can ride a bike. Sure we might have to go reaaaaallly slow, but if things don’t go to plan we can just plod our way to the finish line.
But in the water if things don’t go to plan, it means getting rescued by a 15 year old on a kayak.
The cycling and running legs also have rules and social norms around things like personal space. These do not apply whatsoever to the swim. If you need any proof, check out the video from IM Melbourne earlier this year – http://bit.ly/12NU2Hl
So given that the swim is absolutely the most terrifying part of the triathlon, most people throw themselves into the training with gusto.
They jump into the pool and try swim as far as they can in every session. They focus on stamina rather than technique, hoping that eventually the body will get used to the longer distances and they will miraculously become a better swimmer.
But, from my experience, that is exactly the opposite to what you should be doing.
When I trained for my first ever triathlon, the prospect of a 750m swim kept me up at night. I signed up with three friends and while it was never officially a competition, the fear of embarrassing myself meant I was pretty dedicated with my training.
I used to go to the pool around the corner from my work every lunch time and drag myself as far as possible. I say drag because that’s exactly what I did. In my mind I didn’t have enough time to practise technique, the race was too soon for that.
After a few weeks of much effort and little progress, I realised that if I carried on at this rate I would never make it. I could do no more than 5/6 lengths in a 50m pool without feeling like I had died. Something had to give.
So I did some research and came across Terry Laughlin. Terry created a programme called Total Immersion, which completely changed the way I thought about swimming.
Total Immersion’s philosophy is that trying to pull yourself through the water is absolutely useless, and that instead you should be focused on making yourself as streamlined and efficient as possible. The antithesis to how I had viewed swimming previously.
So, with the triathlon fast approaching, I ordered his DVD off the internet and set about trying to teach myself how to swim from scratch.
I kept going to the same swimming pool, but instead of doing laps I headed to the baby pool and did the drills I had watched the night before on my laptop.
At the beginning it was VERY frustrating. I was putting in all this effort, looking like an idiot doing drills by myself in the kids pool, without seeing any returns.
But slowly it started to click, and I started to see some real gains. I didn’t become a faster swimmer overnight, if at all, but I found myself able to do the distances without feeling like I was running on empty. Also, in stark contrast to how I had felt before, I actually started to enjoy myself.
By the time it came round to raceday, I was pretty confident I would be able to survive the swim, if nothing else.
As it turns out, the swim ended up being my strongest leg of the entire race. On the day, thanks to Terry, I was the first of my mates out of the water with a fairly respectable time of 16 minutes for the 750m.
So my beginners advice: if you are currently training for a swim of any distance, ditch the the repetitive lap swimming and focus on technique. Not only will you see real improvements in your ability, it will also become much less of an ordeal and altogether more enjoyable.
P.S. My lead coming out of the water was very short lived. My mates caught me within seconds of the start of the bike and the next time I saw them was at the finish line.
Highlight of the week: After a couple of weeks of inactivity I have finally got back into my routine. The fact that this is a highlight shows that I am fast slipping into middle age.
Lowlight of the week: Going for a long ride after a pretty heavy long weekend. By the time I got home my spirit was crushed and my ego battered.