Like many of you, swimming makes me absolutely crazy. In the past, if I had put in some time at the pool for a few months or a few weeks, the end result seems nearly the same. So I basically wrote off swimming thinking that it is an insignificant loss of time (5-10 minutes) and I should focus my energy on the bike and run. My logic being that any lost time on the swim could be made up with in either of those two. It's really dumb logic but it's just a way for me to rationalize that I'm a middle of the pack (MOP) swimmer and that I’m not seeing any improvement. Well the truth is, I'm not giving swimming the respect it deserves. But let's get to the part where my swimming takes a nose dive.
In 2007, I incorporated the minimum amount of swimming needed to complete my “A” race which equates to about once or twice a week. On a good week, that could be up to 75 minutes total. As I entered the last few weeks prior to the race, I might have thrown in a third day. But the truth is, I was just putting in enough time to get by. But why wouldn’t I? I’ve never seen any real improvement by swimming more so I’ve just written it off as a waste of time. I completed my “A” race without a problem other than being BOP on the swim but again, I didn’t really care.

Sometime later in the season, I was swimming with my open water group and one of the guys made a comment about my stroke. Mind you, this guy is FAST. So when he started talking about my stroke, I wanted to pay attention because I believed that his knowledge was going to change everything and I was going to be a faster swimmer overnight. Basically, he said my hand was entering the water too far above my head and that it should enter earlier. And at that point, my blissful ignorance came crashing down around me. Not only did I not get faster by changing my stroke, I was now not able to swim in a straight line. Prior to his comments, I was straight as an arrow, albeit a slow arrow. Now, I was totally screwed up. I tried to go back to the old style of swimming but I began to overanalyze everything I was doing. This went on for about a month until I became so frustrated that I just stopped swimming. I didn’t start swimming again for about 3 months.

I was just about to start IM training and I read an article on swimming from a coach I respect that made me want to start over again. He talked about how there are many different philosophies on swimming and how he had gone through each of these until he abandoned all of them. After years of coaching he’d come to the conclusion that in order to become a fast swimmer, you have to swim. And not only that, but from all of this swimming, your stroke mechanics will work itself out. I got really excited. I thought to myself, all I have to do is swim, just swim a lot and it will figure itself out for me. I can do that. So I did. Over the next month, I logged more hours in the pool than some seasons.

The first thing I noticed is that my overcorrecting stroke went away and I went back to my old style. Then I noticed I started feeling strong in the water which is something that happens after swimming frequently anyway. Now I’m back to square one but now what? I tried different variations of my stroke but eventually I just went back to my regular stroke. As base training continued, my coach started giving me drills and I completed those successfully but I still wasn’t seeing any huge improvement in speed. And I still had my old and apparently bad form but I felt confident in the water again which is something I had lost last season.

I’d been thinking about having a one on one swim session with my coach to have her see what was going on. After swimming for three solid months, not feeling particularly fast but feeling confident again, I booked a session with her. It was time. I showed up at 6:30am on a cold Friday morning and I didn’t have any reservations at all about her seeing me swim because I was too cold. I immediately volunteered to do laps in order to warm up. I swam 100yds fast and then awaited her verdict. I was very surprised to hear that the only problem she noticed was that my hand crosses over when I breathe.

Through a very simple method of watching the bubbles and where they go, we were able to correct my stroke. Basically, when your hand enters the water, you’ll notice that bubbles will float from your hand. If they float towards your face, your hand is too far in, if they follow your arm, your hand is in the correct position upon entry. Great, I have decent form, so why can’t I swim fast? Her answer was as simple as learning decent form. In order to swim fast, you have to swim fast. She gave me some simple drills so I’ll give that a shot.

When I got out of the pool, she showed me the video she had made when I was in the water. I couldn’t believe my eyes; I looked like a real swimmer. My form looks good, my confidence is restored, and now all I have to do is get a little faster.