Monday, October 3, 2011

Swimmer vs Semi-Swimmer Mentality

The Wife is going through some personal athletic struggles. Namely, her knee hurts. As a guy who had a knee problem as recently as June, I can relate. Oddly, she responded to her troubles in the exact same way I did. She went with NOT going to the doctor and increasing yardage in the pool. It's the latter of her responses that will be the focus of this post.

I am assigning her the term 'semi-swimmer' mostly because that's the most accurate description I can think of at this time (and it is meant with absolutely no disrespect). She has been on a team in a former life. When I interviewed her for this post she revealed that her team days were roughly 25 years ago or when she was in 6th grade (whichever makes her seem younger). She admitted that some strapping young swimmer, who now happens to be a triathlete, taught her how to flip turn when she was very far removed from middle school. She has unrefined talent without the benefit of being coached. Semi-Swimmer.

Difference #1- Lap Counting
Almost every swimmer I have ever met accepts that laps and lengths are synonymous. That means that 4 laps and 4 lengths are the exact same distance. I have never been in the presence of a coach that said, "Go swim 4 laps" and meant down-and-back equals 1. Non-swimmers and semi-swimmers see these terms as completely different. Length (L) means down or back. Lap means 2L.

Even though I've been involved in many of the lap-versus-length arguments, the point is relatively moot. Swimmers actually think in terms of distance, such as yards or meters, to the nearest 25. In my above example, Coach would not ever say, "Go swim 4 laps.", S/he would actually say, "Do a 200." Swimmers immediately translate this information into down, back, down, back, down, back, down and, finally, back. We count by 25s in our head (25, 50, 75, 100, blah blah blah 200).

Therefore, me (the swimmer in the relationship) talking with the Wife (the semi-swimmer) produces all kinds of confusion. The SS will ask me about my set. I spout off, 'This is #2 of 5x200s.' SS will then ask, '200s are how many laps?' Now, since I have SS-conversation experience, I have to pause and do some mental math.  I respond with, "8 of my laps, 4 of yours."

Difference #2- The Pace Clock
She's got speed but has absolutely no idea how much. Recently, for example, we cat and moused in the pool again. I was doing 100s (that's 4 of my laps, 2 of yours) and she was doing 50s (2 of my laps, 1 of yours). Before she started mousing me, I was holding 1:20s on a 1:45 send off. I know this because I have been trained that the second most important feature in the pool is the deck clock (the first most important is water). Swimmers have it beaten into their head from day one that the clock is more powerful than the coach and our eyes should focus on very little else while at the wall. I have received swimming consequences in the form of a 500 yard butterfly swim (that's 20 of my laps or 10 of yours) for missing a send off while coach was talking to me about my technique.

The SS was swimming 200s (that's 8 of my laps, 4 of yours). When she stopped at the wall, she looked around. But not once in the direction of the pace clock. She looked at me, the lifeguard, the old guy in speedos too small to be shown in public (in her defense, she didn't linger), the water floater lady in the deep end 2 lanes over, and then back at me. When she does these sets, she's a rather consistent 1:50ish pace per 100 (see note on 100s above). But, since she doesn't even know the clock exists, this bit of data is lost on her.

She pushes off for her next interval based on some sort of arbitrary factor, of which I do not understand. The clock has not reached a swimmer milestone, such as the 60, 15, 30, 45, etc. It wasn't even on an multiple of 5. No swimmer pushes off on the 37. It's just a fact. 

When she made the decision to join my set as a mouse, my male ego gene turned on. My pace for the hundred dropped to the 1:15 and I have a habit of even pacing these sets (swimmers know this sort of thing). She was holding 39s for her 50s (swimmers also know what other swimmer's paces are). I am in awe of her ability to pound out such speed. I would guess that sub-40 second fifties is the swimming equivalent to a 6 minute per mile running pace. Pretty dang good. Especially for someone who has not grown up in the sport. She, much to my annoyance, still refused to look at the clock.

Difference #3- Doing Sets
About a week ago, SS went swimming on her own. Now that the knee thing is bugging her, she's astir with restless energy that used to be spent on running. Her yardage has gone up drastically these past couple of weeks while her mileage has gone down. I, on the other hand, have not been in the water much since Syracuse 70.3. Like a good Banter, I am curious about all things her so I asked her about her swim set. She proudly admitted that she had done a mile without stopping.

Actual pool where she did the deed
This is indeed something to be proud of. Most people won't run a mile let alone swim it without stopping. I have to admit that I have never done this distance in the pool* without stopping either. A mile, in swimmer speak, is long (or 70 of my laps, 35 of yours). Whereas I have done several miles in a given swim practice, I am pretty sure that my longest set has capped out at 1000 yards (meaning 40 of my laps, 20 of yours). I am blown away that a non-swimmer or semi-swimmer would even contemplate such a set, let alone accomplish it.

Swimmers do all sorts of stupid sets and drills in the water. We are repetitive by nature but even we have limits. We'll do such workouts like 100x 100s (that 4 of my laps, 2 of yours in case you forgot). We'll do all sorts of hypoxic sets, meaning that we'll hold our breath underwater until we're ready to pass out (FWIW, we don't know why we do them either). We work the terms 'build', 'descend', 'negative split', and 'sculling' into our daily lives and think nothing of it. But, do a set that consists of a 1650 straight? Nope. I haven't done that one yet.

*Disclaimer- I have gone longer than a mile without stopping in practice and in a race, but it was not in a pool. It was in open water and with a wetsuit. And, by default, no deck clock.

So there you have it. Swimmers are a different breed of crazy, especially when compared to the semi-swimmers. The nuances of the swimmer versus semi-swimmer attitudes are obvious when you get right down to the nitty gritty details. Now, if only the SS would accept some coaching. Maybe from that same strapping former young man who taught her how to flip turn. But, like swimming a mile in the pool, there are just some things that I shouldn't do.

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