Friday, May 20, 2011

Get Out of the Pool

There are only a few things of which I am absolutely certain. For one, keeping the women in your life happy is a sure-fire way to keep yourself happy. For two, the Magic 8 Ball has some wicked good power. For three, water has three main reasons for being put on this Earth:
  1. Necessary support of life (you can think of water as the hydrogen donor in photosynthesis, which provides us with 100% of our nutrition on the planet (by rough estimates))
  2. Impossibly wonderful thirst quencher (with or without your favorite sports drink)
  3. Opportunity to swim back and forth repeatedly
If you've read my stuff for any time now, you'd likely know that I have a swimming strength and background. I swam in high school. I swam in college. I swam on a club team. For those of you who have not had the pleasure to experience life on a swim team, let me tell you... there wasn't much difference between hs--> college--> club. There are certain aspects of practice that you can expect.

Ode to the Swim Coach
First, swim coaches are extremely lazy. Workouts are never written long hand. Coaches have all sorts of abbreviations. The list includes, but is not limited to: S=swim. K=Kick. P=Pull. Coaches also have an odd distributive property for recording sets. A typical warm-up looks like 200 SKPS (commonly pronounced 'skips'). This means you will do 200 swim, 200 kick, 200 pull, and a 200 swim. Coach made you swim 800 yards, lasting roughly 15 minutes by himself/ herself only penning 7 characters.

Second, most coaches have allowed chlorine to kill some to most of the gray matter in their skulls along with the bacteria in the water.  If your coach is sane, you have afternoon practice 5-6 times a week. Yet, this is not the norm. These idiots feel that 4-6k yards in the pool is not sufficient for a day of training. They will often force swimmers to get up in the wee hours for a morning practice and a few thousand more yards. (This is also the probable reason that I am reluctant to wake up for morning training now.) All of this to prepare for a day of racing which maxes out at 2000 yards for the longest competitive day with the average swimmer completing his/ her day in well under a thousand. To compare, if runners followed the same philosophy, an average sprinter would train 6 to 9 miles per day (or 30-50 miles per week). Five-kayers will be triple that. Will it work? Probably. Is it overkill? Definitely.

Third-With all of that practice time, coaches generally have about 2-4 hours daily to kill. They've over booked themselves. They know their swimmers cannot handle 20 hours per week of focused swimming. Yet, they don't want to not have practice. All the other coaches are having practice. The thought of ending practice early never occurs to the average coach. Therefore, swim coaches are expert time wasters. Their favorite time killer? Drills.

Don't get me wrong, drills are an essential portion of a swimmer's life. When done correctly, a drill can isolate a specific movement in the swim stroke and repeat it until your muscles remember exactly how to do the motion without involving your brain. Coaches can get quite creative with their drilling as though they were auditioning for a role in Full Metal Jacket. Most motions in swimming can be accomplished in roughly 5 drills (fodder for a future post). But, with all the excess time to kill, coaches never take that into consideration.

Flip Art
When coaches run out of drills, they get obsessed with flip turns. A flip turn is a relatively simple motion. Unfortunately, it involves roughly 90% of the muscles in your body to fire in a specific order. Screw up the sequence even minorly and your turn looks like a spaghetti noodle trying to push off a bowl of jello (not pretty). Remember, simple does not mean easy.

When I first started on the swim team, I was reluctant to flip. First, it was hard. Second, the order of operations was not highlighted in a way I understood (even back then I wasn't so bright). Therefore, I cheated. I refused to flip in the deep end, but not for why you'd expect. See, in my suckiness, I faked the turn in the shallow. I'd actually dive down, do a handstand on the bottom, and push off with my hands into the wall. I did a gymnastics front hand spring and disguised it as a flip turn. The deep end floor was far too distant to make an efficient vault so I skipped it.

I did not fully develop an efficient turn for about 4 years of practice. Four. Years. Remember, swim coaches are neurotic with psychotic tendencies. We practiced turns OFTEN. Either I'm a slow learner or flip turns might actually be more complicated than I originally advertised. And, because I did all of those repetitive, lousy, good-for-nothing drills, I find that flip turns are as natural as breathing. In fact, flipping at the wall seems easier that hitting it with my hands, bringing my feet together, turning around and pushing off. Maybe those idiots knew what they were doing after all.

Having had all of the drilling and training, I will tell you with the utmost honesty and with none of the conceit that I am prone- I've got a pretty good flip turn. Actually, I've got a great turn. Swimmers pay attention to what is happening in the water around them. Their immediate environment is only 25 yards by 11-15 yards meaning it's quite easy to see what others are doing. If you are competitive (meaning me), you know when you hit the wall at the same time as another swimmer. I have not lost a flip turn in years. Mind you, I have lost tons of time and distance in the middle. On the wall, I'm gold. Anyone wants to test this, bring it on! (Eggers?)

Don't Do It in the Pool
There are a few races, translation: triathlons, that are done in pools. The most likely format is a 300 yard swim. The average pool is 25 yards by 6 lanes. You swim down in lane 1 on the left, back in lane 1 on the right, down lane 2 on the left, back in lane 2 on the get the idea. This format is perfect for a 300 yard swim. Transition out of the water, bike some, then run some. Given that I have a strength in swimming and that I am the best in the world in flipping am a better than average flipper, you'd think I'd be all over a pool swim triathlon. Imagine the time gain versus the less-savvy flippers. Yet, I am not remotely interested in this race format.

I think that, had I been introduced to triathlon in the pool, I'd appreciate the pool race triathlon. I lost my triathlon virginity in open water. Since then, I developed a vision on how the perfect day of triathlon should go. Open water swim, bike on the roads, then run. I'm rather conservative/ old fashioned in a triathlon sort of way. I also cannot see competing in a race with a stationary bike or a treadmill run. It just doesn't match my vision of the sport. By this same token, Xterra style races (which pretty much means off-road if you didn't already know it), is also not on my list of desires. I was tri-born on the road and am happy with it.

So for me, despite my background, I view the pool as a wet, stationary trainer. Because of my background, I actually enjoy the pool (as opposed to the bike trainer or treadmill, both of which I loathe). I enjoy the water. I enjoy the chlorine. Aside: I actually view chlorine as 'cologne'. End aside. From a triathlon perspective, even though I would actually increase my advantage compared to myself, a pool swim just doesn't seem right.

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