July 3, 2012

Triathlon Training Tuesday: Giving 110% and FINALLY Embracing Freestyle

Can I tell you a secret?  I don't always like to push myself.  Yup, I can be a creature of comfort, loving the feeling of a routine.  One area of tri training that I have definitely NOT been pushing myself this summer was swim training.  Yes, I conquered my fears of open water swimming, but to be honest, I've been swimming SHORTER distances since I started tri training than I used to swim as part of regular running cross training!  How did that happen?  That does not even make sense!

I'm pretty mediocre at every aspect of triathlon, but my swimming is pretty much Terrible.  Sorry for all the money you spent on lessons, Mom and Dad, but none of it really sunk in!  Let me spell it out for you: I'm a breaststroker.  Period.  For the past few years since I rediscovered the wonders of weightless cross training in the pool, breaststroke has been my go-to stroke.  This winter when I first started thinking about triathlons, I decided to give freestyle another chance.  How bad could it be?  I used to swim this stroke as a kid.  I was in shape.  Every other swimmer at the gym seemed to be able to swim freestyle without issues.  Why not me?  So I tried a lap...and almost drowned.  Not even kidding.  I remember thinking, "What the *$&#$???  What is happening here?  Why did I almost just die in the pool when I can swim 1,000yds of breaststroke without blinking an eye?"  (<- that may be an exaggeration, but you get the picture.)  I decided to take it in stride (in stroke?) as a challenge to work on during the winter, and I had big plans to be able to swim freestyle for my June tri.  Then...I didn't.
Awesome breaststroking action.  Yep. I'm that swimmer who actually stopped to WAVE to her family.  
Hardcore athlete right here, folks.

Swimming got put on the back burner during the end of my half-marathon training in April, and when I made it back to the pool in May, I got a little freaked out.  I couldn't swim more than a lap or two of freestyle without hyperventilating, and hyperventilating was NOT something I wanted to happen in open water! (Hah. The joke was on me, it turns out, as I hyperventilate for at least 1 minute any time I attempt an open water swim freestyle or no freestyle...)  I said, "Screw it.  I'm swimming breaststroke and just trying not to drown." My swim workouts settled into an easy pattern of breaststroke laps, never exceeding the 1/2 mile distance I needed for my tri, regardless of the fact that I'd previously exceeded this distance on a regular basis.  I was comfortable.  Life was good.  I froggy kicked my way through my first tri and every swim workout since.
 Let me be clear: There is ABSOLTELY nothing wrong with swimming breaststroke for a workout or for a tri.  For me though, I'd had a goal to push myself out of my swimming comfort zone and attempt to improve at a stroke that's challenging, and I totally stepped away from the challenge instead of rising up to it. Until last week when I decided enough was enough.   Wednesday morning I was pulling on my swim suit for a workout and noticed the pool in my apartment complex was completely empty.  Is there nothing sweeter than an empty pool?  Oh, maybe an empty pool with the sun shining down on it.  Granted, this pool is maybe 1/2-2/3 the size of my gym pool, but I figured I better embrace this sunny day swimming opportunity, as I'd be longing for the chance come fall!  I jumped in the pool and decided the tiny lengths were the perfect chance for me to practice my abysmal freestyle since I only needed to make it to one end without drowning, sinking, or otherwise embarrassing myself in front of the maintenance workers sanding the patio.

You know what? I totally rocked it and ended up swimming freestyle for almost my entire workout!  I have no idea how long the distance was, but I swam for about 25 minutes which is definitely a new freestyle record.  Then...I forgot to go to the pool again for days...oops.  Was probably too busy playing with this girl...
Sorry, I had to put in an Adorable Niece picture.  Don't even pretend she's not the cutest baby you have ever seen.  That's what I thought.

Yesterday morning I somehow tore myself away from an awesome book (check back tomorrow for my review!) and headed to the gym, ready to jump back in the water.  On my way there, I decided it was time to stop settling for good enough.  I can swim a 1/2 mile of breaststroke with no breaks and no problem.  I can settle and swim that for my tri in August and for my run/swim/run race I'm doing Sunday.  It's fine.  Breaststroke is fine.  1/2 mile is a solid distance.  Is fine really enough though?  Seriously?  I leave it all out there on the road when I'm running; why is the pool any different?  Enough was enough.  It was time to go for it.  I planned my workout in my head, deciding I would do at least 1,250 yds and try to do every other lap freestyle (+ breaststroke warm up and cool down).  I told myself I could do this.  I had this.  Today was the day. 

You know what?  I think I finally hit my freestyle groove!  I have never felt as comfortable with the stroke as I did yesterday!  It was still crazy hard and way harder than breaststroke, but for the first time I felt like I was actually swimming semi-correctly, moving forward, and not on the verge of dying.  Success?  In my book, YES!  I ended up swimming a set of 10 laps (500yds) alternating freestyle/breaststroke, and then swam 10 more alternating 2 freestyle/1 breaststroke, with 4 back-to-back freestyle laps at the end.  I know that may not seem like a big deal, but for me it was like knocking down a HUGE wall! 

I now know that I am capable of swimming freestyle for more than 1 lap at a time, and I'm wondering if it was just my mental block that was holding me back all along.  I know that in my swim/run race Sunday and in my tri, if I get tired or get freaked out about the open water or other swimmers and revert to breaststroke, it will be fine.  But I know now that I have it in me to swim at least part of my distance freestyle, and I also know that I have a lot more in me than I'd previously thought.  I start every day in my classroom with a cheer that goes something like this:
Me: Team (my last name), why are we here?
Students: To learn!
Me: Where are we living?
Students: Above the line! (<- from a Quantum Learning lesson on accountability)
Me: What are we gonna give?
Students: 110%!
I like starting the day this way, with a reminder (for all of us!) that anything less than our best in the classroom is unacceptable.  I needed this reminder when it comes to training, and you can bet I will keep it in my head from now on.  This swim was the beginning of something for me, and while I will never be a great swimmer, you can bet I will NOT be settling for less than MY BEST in the pool again!

Note to self: Never settle for less than 110%.  Oh, and wear sunscreen when swimming in the outdoor pool. That diamond back tan + sports bra tan is doing nothing good for you.

What have you done lately to get our of your comfort zone?


  1. Way to go on your swimming successes! I don't think I have done more in the water than enjoy a water park since high school! I think I'm getting ready to step out of my comfort zone and register for my first 5k! Thanks for the inspiration!

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  3. I always think it is funny when I see people doing breast stroke in races, NOT because I think that they aren't a good swimmer or anything like that but because breast stroke seems like so much work to me! When I do laps that incorporate breast stroke during swim workouts I feel like I have to work so hard to keep a good pace and freestyle seems much less taxing to me!

    1. That's so funny, it's the exact opposite for me! I feel like I just get in a good rhythm with breast stroke that I can NEVER find with freestyle! how is your training going??

    2. Training is going okay, I am kind of mentally tired of it right now, but it's taper week and I am getting very anxious about the race. I am just reminding myself to think positive thoughts!


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