Monday, February 19, 2007

English Bay Swim Meet

Yesterday was the fourth swim meet in our province’s race calendar. I entered last month into three events: the 50 free, the 200 back, and the 100 fly. Now racing the fly was a problem – I haven’t reached the point where I’m comfortable with the concept of racing 100 meters fly and had pretty well decided to scratch from the event when the choice was taken out of my hands. I needed to put in a half day’s work that same afternoon, which precluded me from staying around for the event anyways. In so far as the 50 free I had really wanted to swim the 100 but scheduling conflicts didn’t allowed it. So a throw away race because I'm not a sprinter. My 200 back race, however, very much wasn't. First up was the 50 free and I just wasn’t in a good mood at all. Stepping up on the blocks I was wishing to be anywhere else but getting ready to race. Had one of my typical starts and was moderately slow off the blocks, remembered to get a couple of kicks in before surfacing (Coach Brad would appreciate that) and then promptly blew it by taking a breath. I don’t know why I take a breath every time I surface after a dive but it seems to be pretty well ingrained and I’m having difficulty breaking the habit. It didn’t help my mind wasn’t properly focused on the matter at hand either. I also failed to concentrate on getting a powerful stroke and keeping my head down rather than relying on mere turnover; made a marginal turn (not the desired quick and tight tumble I’ve been practicing), and then proceeded to breath every cycle on the way back all the while mentally noting I shouldn’t be doing so and not really caring. I suppose I should take the fact the end result was in the upper range of my target time and be thankful. Yet when you know you should have done better it’s difficult to be satisfied. For someone who lives by the mantra, “always do your very best” it’s particularly irritating. I wasn’t the only one ticked off at my performance. Coach Brad very diplomatically only shook his head while pointing out I took that first breath, but at an elite level an error that egregious would almost certainly result in a talk about whether I was serious at competing and even possibly being placed on probation. If I was coach I’d be absolutely furious.

This was, of course, not the best lead in to my 200 back race. If I was in a delicate mental state before the sprint then my mind was absolutely toast getting into the water for the start. It didn’t take long for me to implode. Half a length into the race I passed under the false start rope and mistaking it for the backstroke flags started into my rollover turn two strokes later. DQ’d before the first turn has to be record somewhere! I actually don’t take the crushing ignominy of it all that badly. There were some mitigating circumstances. The first was I had missed the warm up as I had left my bathing suit at home (I’ll leave the obvious commentary to the amateur psychologists out there) and so didn’t practiced my turns in the competition pool. Instead I had to use the warm up pool which didn’t have any flags. Combining this with UBC’s ‘infinity’ style gutter system providing no visible wall above the water’s surface my practice turns were accordingly exceedingly tentative. This tentativeness naturally carried over into my race and with my paranoia on hair-trigger all it took was the false start rope, the first time I had seen it that day, to set me off. So I was now in a race that wasn’t a race for me. But for whatever reason I couldn’t get going and struggled through out the race, having difficulty maintaining a proper breathing pattern and stroke in addition to the expected difficulty with my turns. My poor swimming performance far, far eclipsed my error with the rope. I’m not sure what I’m to do about my now large mental block in swimming the event. I think I’ll have to actually do several timed swims before my next race in March and so build up some solid experience I can fall back on. At least I hope that’ll work. I’ll talk to Brad and see what he thinks.


Joe said...

Despite your disappointment with your form in the 50 free, I think you should be happy with the result, which I believe is a seasonal best time for you. Anyway, you beat me, for what it's worth. Having said that, I had my seasonal worst time. :-(

As for the backstroke, I did notice that double clutch you did at the false start rope but did they actually DQ you for that? It didn't look like you rolled past 90 degrees.

Anyway, I will say this for your 200 back. After that double clutch and a tentative first couple of turns, you put in a gutsy effort to beat Damien. Between the flags, you were definitely faster than him. In particular, your final 10 meters were sublime. Great final touch at the end!

I think there is nothing wrong with blaming the gutter system for your turns. I have the same problem at that pool. I have a hard time "sighting" the walls before backstroke, freestyle and even butterfly turns. And to make matters worse, you can't be too aggressive on the push off either because the tiles are so darn slippery. Yes, it's a fast pool but only if you have a good turn.

Anyway, count your blessings!!! You have your (excellent) health and you look good for a man of your age or even a man 10 years younger (no, I'm not gay). That's what really matters. Good swim meets times are nice but they are really not that important in the grand scheme of things. I'm sure you realize that, though.

Damien said...

I know you were disappointed with your swims at this meet and I hope the next one goes better for you Scott.
I enjoyed racing you in the 200 back despite the fact that you had a bad race. I'm sure that if you're on in backstroke, your time will be way faster than mine. Hopefully as you said, a few timed 200 backstrokes in practice will help you get the rhythm and pacing of the race and you will do a much faster time for your next race.

Isis said...

I can absolutely identify with your disappointment about this meet: I have had meets like this, where I make mistakes I identify as amateurish, can't quite get the rhythm of a stroke going, etc.

It sounds to me, though, like you're approaching this in mostly the right way, by trying to look objectively at your races, identify what went wrong, and think about how to fix those things in future races.

When you beat yourself up with your mantra, though, you are being unfair to yourself and your mantra. "Always do your best" means that you put everything you have into something, mentally, physically, etc. But what is unspoken in that mantra, but (I think) implied is that not everything is in your control.

But looking at this from the perspective not of a teammate who gets to see you train and race, but someone very far away who only knows what you have written here, it is understandable that everything might not fall into place in these two races. For one thing, you have been working to improve your strokes, which might mean they are wobbly. For another thing, you've not done that many races in the last 35 years, which means you're relearning how to race. For yet another thing, your training has been interrupted by tax season, which means you're not as comfortable in the water as you might ideally be. Not to mention the gutters, no warm-up in the race pool, etc.

You can practice some of those things you mentioned, like not breathing on the first stroke off a turn or start (there are many more chances to practice turns than starts, but much of the thinking is the same). That way, not breathing will be even more ingrained as a habit.

So this was a learning experience. It sounds like you're already learning a lot from it. Now stop punishing yourself, so that YOU do not keep yourself from doing your best. It sounds from Joe's comment like your sprint TIME was better than you allow. Once you learn from your experience at this race, you'll be even better prepared next time.

Train hard, as life allows.


Sista K said...

yikes...I'll be shorter with my comments. Even if it wasn't the best meet, sometimes you learn the most from those experiences and you figure out where you need to be for the next meet!

As for breathing right off...I do the same thing, usually after a turn. It is a bad habit and hard to break. But start practicing it in practice and maybe you can break yourself of it!!

Do you do visualization practice? In college that REALLY helped me! We did it as a team once a week. Our coach would take us through an entire swim and it was really successful. Try it...visualize everything about the situation, from the smell of the pool, to the feeling of the cool water to the time on the clock when you finish!

Good luck!!