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There’s something you need to know, Kenny. You’re not the only athlete here at Jeff Davis. I happen to be training for a Triathlon right now. Doin’ a lot of running, and cycling, swimming. Well you know all about that. – Terence

No actually I don’t. I do SPORTS. Not try to be the best at exercising. Kenny Powers

Let’s face it, endurance sports has a great appeal for those of us who weren’t jocks. Sure there are plenty of folks who were always athletic, but the boom in registrations at road races and triathlons has come in large part from people who never saw themselves as athletes. I just finished John Bingham’s latest book, An Accidental Athlete. I felt like he was somehow telling my life’s story with minor details changed.

When I went to the orthopedist back in 2010 to see if my old knee injury would be a problem for running, I was given the simple advice to just go forward. No torquing on the knee, like you get in basketball or racquetball. Well that won’t be a problem, as my brief flirtation with racquetball ended with a broken toe, and basketball is for coordinated people.

Nope, I’m just a go straight in a line until I can’t anymore kind of guy. That’s the appeal, isn’t it? Go the distance, whatever it may be. Most slow runners just want to go farther, since we’re not likely to get faster, and even if we do, we’re still not competing with the front of the pack.

Well, in my first year, I was a slow runner, slow biker and slow swimmer. I had no problem with that. I don’t expect a guy my size to run sub-10 miles, or bike 20 mph on hills. It didn’t occur to me that I could swim any faster either. And I was happy cranking out the yardage, which turned into mileage. I swam and swam and swam. I was fully embracing the joy of simply getting out there and moving, no matter how slowly.

But somewhere in late 2011, I started learning more about the differences in the three disciplines, and as it turns out, a 280 pound guy could be a fast swimmer. The limitations that weight puts on running and biking are not the same for swimming. Swimming is the most technique-dependent of the three.  In all three, you have resistance. Running, your weight is the main factor. In biking, weight still matters, but the speed you get to means you add the new problem of wind resistance. Gear can tweak your aerodynamic qualities, so bikers talk about “buying speed.” Like anything in life, the elite end of the gear spectrum gets more and more expensive with diminishing returns. I am not likely to ever be a guy for whom a 1% change is going to mean a whole lot.

But in the water, things change. If wind causes resistance and inefficiency, water is massively worse. In the water, you are dealing with a density that is exponentially higher. You cannot buy speed in the water, though a wetsuit helps some. Even in a wetsuit, you need proper form. The good news is: even a large person can learn proper form. The bad news is: it’s not easy.

Around August when I switched pools, I thought I had found an option for swim coaching. Without going into details or naming names, let’s just say it fell through. It’s now 2012. I didn’t swim nearly as much in the later months, because I wanted to wait until I got some coaching in to correct my stroke.

Well I am happy to say that pursuing a new option, I have finally begun swim coaching. And let me tell you, two sessions in, it is kicking the crap out of me. I was never in real sports as a kid, so I never had a practice with intervals and drills. (In AYSO soccer we just ran a few laps I think. I don’t remember much except being run over my own own teammate and getting a massive black eye.) I don’t know the shorthand that’s in the magazines. I am coming at it like a kindergartener. You really do have to spell it out for me. It’s a tough position to be in, and humbling. But I know I need it. I don’t plan to win any swim races, but I need to maximize my efforts for distance so I am making the most of my energy. I want to make the cutoff for the 5k swim this year. I am serious about Bay Bridge 2013 or 2014.

So I have to fix the way I have been swimming all year. It’s not 100% train wreck, but it is severely deficient. I would just get in the pool and go as long as I could, or until lap swim closed. That was fine for building endurance, but it would be great to be able to go 2 miles in an hour instead of 1.2.

To do so, I’m starting over. I am now learning the way a middle school swim team hopeful learns. I do drills. I do intervals. (Just a few right now.) – And man, it is tough. Last night’s workout was 1400 yards total. I left feeling like I used to feel after a steady endurance swim of 2-3 times that length. It will take more than a couple sessions, or a couple weeks, or even a couple months to “fix” my stroke problems. But I am committed to being teachable. I want to learn it right. I trust that the work will pay off, and I have to change my thinking that just wants to put as high a number as possible into my training log as I can. I never understood what “junk miles” were to serious cyclists and runners. It will probably be another year with those until I can benefit from detailed training beyond just getting out there and going like I am now. Fine by me. I’ll focus on swimming better this year, and continue to plod on land. Once I get the endurance back up with the better form, I’ll be on to something.

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2 thoughts on “Drill Baby Drill

  1. I am so happy you posted this because I need to do the same thing. I’ve been swimming since a tot and never had a fear of the water. It’s my “best” sport when it comes to competing in a tri but I’ve realized that I can and should do better. So you have just put into words what I already knew about myself, I’ve put in a lot of “junk miles” but haven’t improved any.

    Congrats for working towards the Bay Bridge swim. Maybe someday I just might join you there! Until then, I’ll just focus on finding a swim coach who can teach me the proper swim technique so at least I can focus on improving in my favorite part of the race 😉

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