Monday, April 23, 2007

Provincial Championships Day Three

Another early start to the day. Since I ended yesterday’s post with some off-subject commentary I figure I’ll start today with some more for editorial balance. When I showed up at the pool yesterday I lined up at what I thought were the registration tables with the others already there but then saw they were merely handing out the preordered official t-shirts and other memorabilia all these events hawk. Having a dozen or so commemorative t-shirts still left over from my running days I turned around and headed into the locker room. No long afterwards I was looking for the place where I could pick up my copy of the meet’s schedule of events and discovered they were with the grab bags being handed out with the shirts, memorabilia, etc when registering. Back I went to pick up my bag and register. It turns out the bag had lots of stuff other than just the schedule of events. Some bottled water, hard candy, an energy bar, a commemorative latex swim cap, and ... a trophy. It was clearly a trophy. I recall it was rather a nice one with a roundel showing this year’s Championship’s logo with a medallion of our provincial association at the bottom of the circle, the combination backed by a coppery stylized maple leaf (we’re Canadians, eh?) all on a short squat stand. The only thing missing was the inscribed plaque on the stand telling what marvelous accomplishment this keepsake was awarded for. But every participant got one. Now I understand in today’s society we feel it’s important to give our children a sense of self-worth and therefore ensure everyone gets a prize, but I figure by the time they reach twelve or thereabouts they should start realizing hard work and talent are going to have an impact on their life and unfortunately God didn’t hand out the latter on anything like an equal basis (hint: work harder!). Are we now doing this for adults? Is anybody deluded by all this? Don’t we have enough junk cluttering up our homes as it is? If anyone reading this enjoys collecting these things please tell me why. I’m not criticising anyone (well, not much), I just don’t understand the attraction.

Anyways back to the swim meet. For Day Three I had three events lined up: the 50 and 100 back and, trying to fit in another event since 100 free wasn’t possible due to scheduling conflicts, I was swimming 100 breast for the second time this season. I led off with 50 back which was nice because even I can swim a fifty without worrying about running out of steam. No pacing decisions and with these Championships being short course meters only one turn to deal with. The race itself went well. After an OK start I quickly settled into the sprint concentrating on my stroke’s turnover rate and underwater technique. A good turn at the midway point left me with just having to bring it home. Other than a horrible finish where I touched with my elbow I was happy with the result as my time came in the lower end of my target range. Coach was pleased with the swim too (aside from my finish) so we were both looking forward to what I could accomplish in the 100 back. In between these two, however, was my 100 breaststroke. Breaststroke is far and away my worst stroke, even beating out butterfly which I’ve only just started to learn how to swim properly. It’s so bad I’m embarrassed about it. I swam this event last December (again due to scheduling problems) and I surprised myself with a time that, while not atrocious was ... well, it wasn’t atrocious. I figured if I could chop a few more seconds off I’d end up with a PB that I could actually verbalize. Course I didn’t want to go all out and possibly jeopardize my back race following only two events later. So my plan was to swim at a strong pace for the first three laps concentrating on technique and only in the last length go all out. The idea was with my now better technique and overall conditioning I’d be able to take off three or four seconds off my December time without exerting myself overmuch. The race itself didn’t quite go as planned though. First thing I almost broke into some dolphins off my dive, only realizing barely in time what I was about to do, and actually ended up coasting to the surface before I started swimming. I’ve been training really hard on my free and back starts/turns to incorporate a couple of dolphin kicks before breaking into my flutter kick and by rote just instinctively went there. I’ll blame this on my failure to ever actually work on my breaststroke start in practice. I’ll have to add that to my “when all those other higher priorities are dealt with and I’m not too concerned about all those other lower priorities either” list I use before deciding to practice breaststroke. A little discombobulated from the narrowness of my escape from disqualification (and starting from almost a full stop in the middle of the pool) I collected myself and by the third length had my technique in hand enough to finish off the last lap as planned. Of course I finished well over my target range, but still saw my time better December’s by a third of a second (which says volumes about the quality of my first swim).

After my narrow escape came the 100 back where I intended to follow Semiahmoo coach Dennis Caldwell’s recommendation of going out a little slower the first fifty to ensure my third turn’s quality and bringing it home as fast as possible in the last fifty. Unfortunately my pacing isn’t yet on the mark and I ended up going out too slowly and consequently negative split the race. No real problem here, difficulties in setting the right pace were and are expected because of my lack of race experience so I’ll simply take note and make changes the next time around. All in all the race went very well. My turns were decent and because of my slower opening I went into the last lap having some reserves in hand which was very nice. Coach noted my technique fell off from the form shown in my 50 back sprint which caused some wandering from side to side in my lane but nothing which can’t be addressed. Even better my time was on target, albeit on the high side. Better still the several seconds I took off indicates I have lot more speed left in me to find. And that’s why I’m in masters swimming after all.

13 comments:

Mike said...

The only thing missing was the inscribed plaque on the stand telling what marvelous accomplishment this keepsake was awarded for. But every participant got one.

Eventually you'll get a little sticky plate with your results to affix to said trophy. It's an alternative to ribbons.

Scott said...

Aaaah, well isn't that clever! We didn't have anything like that back in the sixties. Thanks Mike.

Isis said...

Wow, I am usually in favor of ribbons and medals and such for placing in events, but I am not so sure about "participant trophies." Mike's comment does help to elucidate, I suppose.

Scott said...

I see they're doing the same at this year's Canadian Masters Nationals. Their website states:

All swimmers will receive a plaque to remember the national championship. There is a spot on the plaque for any medals that may be won. “If you’re the type of swimmer who never places, this is more of an opportunity to recognize that everyone is a champion just by coming.”

That pretty well says it all doesn't it?

Joe said...

> If anyone reading this enjoys
> collecting these things please
> tell me why.

Why do we take photos when we go on vacation? For the sweet, sweet memories that remind of us all the wonderful places we have been and the friendly people we have met.

For me, it's the same with these trophies. It reminds us of all the hard word we put in to earn them. Yes, I realize that every participant gets one of those trophies but it took hard work, commitment and resolve just to make it to that swim meet.

For most masters swimmers, I think half the battle is getting the courage to come to that first swim practice and to stick it out for the first few weeks when you feel like you are drowning and everyone is lapping you. Many people don't make it to the first practice and of the ones that do, only a small fraction seem to last past that first free trial week.

Even if you make it through the months of practices, you have to deal with very real possibility of shoulder injuries. And if you stay injury free, the next hurdle is getting the courage to sign up for a meet and risk getting your butt kicked by an 80 year old woman with arthritis.

So to me, that trophy represents a lot. It's not unlike those finisher's medals you get at marathons and half marathons. When I get my half marathon finisher's medal on May 6, I'm going to cherish it as if it were an Olympic gold medal.

I guess the only thing bad I will say about that trophy is that people shouldn't have to pay for it if they don't want it.

Great job on the backstroke races, BTW. You are a remarkable backstroker, Scott.

Scott said...

Thank you for those kind words Joe, but then remarkable can be a rather nebulous term so perhaps I’m misinterpreting your comments? You make a good point about how these mementos contain the remembrances of all the time, effort, and accomplishment which went into earning whatever now sits on top of the fireplace mantel. I’ve failed to recognize this is a common attitude because of my own personal foibles, where I constantly compare current performances with the past, or worse yet, by elite standards. You congratulate me on my just completed backstroke races but the sole pleasure I gained from them is just the sense of relief I’m finally at least faster than that twelve year old who quit swimming in frustration. I know I denigrate my swimming because I have high expectations of what I should accomplish. Now if I was running I’d likely be more generous with myself given my known limitations in athletics. Rightly or wrongly I can identify with Michael Phelps but would be awed by the presence of a world record holder in any track event, probably because deep down I believe I could have ‘approached’ some of Phelps times but know with equal certainty I would have been absolutely destroyed trying to even faintly shadow the great middle distance runners or, worse yet, the world’s elite marathoners (if I ever did run a half marathon or more I’d probably follow your lead and line up for the participant medal because it would mean something to me). But having just said all that I should point out there’s no hurdles to overcome to swim at the Provincials, no standards to best. Just pay your fifty dollars and collect your trophy. At least when you collect your medal you know you’ve run the distance, because it’s a finisher’s medal, whereas there’s no such requirement for that trophy. I was always taught you can only get out of something what you put into it, and for me collecting something which is given away just isn’t worth the space to store it.

Joe said...

You're truly too hard on yourself when it comes to swimming. Perhaps you should add back in the running, for the reasons you outlined.

Scott said...

When I finish with swimming I’ll return to running, but it will be just for fitness. No training for competitions, no measured heart rates, no intervals for speed, no distances, no expectations pure and simple. I’ve had my time with athletics and she was an unrewarding mistress. Nowadays any need to validate or prove myself in sport is long past – if I want to do a half-marathon distance I’ll take the car. And don’t get me wrong about swimming. I’ve always been a swimmer first and foremost, even if my connection with it is more like those mad affairs where there’s no compatibility but the sex is great. I know I can swim, I’ve always known that, but I don’t really care enough to suffer for it. Remember I started swimming a year or so ago only because of back problems and then joined Hyack Masters to gain pool time when my local pool shut down for a month. What has changed from that time is I’ve found the training orthodoxy present in today’s swimming surprisingly interesting, especially its emphasis on stroke technique. If I continue beyond the year or so I need to implement my physical recovery it’ll be almost invariably for that reason. That covers why I attend practices. I compete to find out if I could have been a great swimmer (the sexy part). If things look up I could stick around a while for that too. But I’m under no illusions I’m accomplishing something noteworthy by doing so.

Scott said...

For most masters swimmers, I think half the battle is getting the courage to come to that first swim practice and to stick it out for the first few weeks when you feel like you are drowning and everyone is lapping you. Many people don't make it to the first practice and of the ones that do, only a small fraction seem to last past that first free trial week.

In preparing my last comment I only have just now truly comprehended Joe’s comment. It shows how myopic we can be, how we see only what we want to see. “Courage to come to that first swim practice ...” is a concept utterly alien to me. When I came to my first practice, still in physical therapy and with a couple of dozen hours of swimming laps behind me, I automatically went to the fastest lane. It was an almost unconscious act on my part. I phoned American Sis and told her I had joined a masters swim team, and then talked about how Ian so much resembled another Ian I competed against so long ago as a boy and what an incentive having him around would be to me. And then listened to her express surprise there was someone who was faster than me on the team. Yes, it was a sister’s distorted perception of her big brother’s abilities, but my initial reaction would be much the same if American Sis told me she had joined a running club and there was a woman about her age who was faster than her. My other sister Canadian Sis asked about my backstroke after I had made the mistake of telling my mother I had been to my first swim meet. When I told her I had swum 1:16 for my 100 meters back she politely noted I had just begun swimming again and that it would take time to get into shape. She’s never inquired about my swimming again, the reason I’m sure is because she doesn’t want to embarrass me. So when I next see Trent and the rest of Lanes One and Two I’ll have to remember the effort and dedication they, in their own way, are showing just by being there.

Joe said...

> I compete to find out if I could have
> been a great swimmer

In my mind, you already are a great swimmer. I'm not necessarily talking just about race times. I'm talking more so about your dedication to work hard at each and every practice. In that regard, you are by far the greatest swimmer in the club (followed closely by Heidi).

Isis said...

I think the conversation going on in these columns is really cool and interesting. Furthermore, it reveals something about the range of masters swimmers and their attitudes toward the sport. If we imagine opposite poles as represented by what Scott and Joe say, I begin to see more where the participation trophy, and disdain for it, comes from. Without sounding like the smarm-master, I will say that whenever I forget again what this range looks like, I need to come back to these comments.

Scott said...

You’re absolutely right Isis! Joe and I are each other’s polar opposite when it comes to sports. I’ve finished difficult sets and grasped the deck sucking air in the throes of dry heaves while mentally cursing myself for non-existent endurance and pathetic aerobic conditioning only to have Joe reach over to bump knuckles to celebrate the set’s successful completion. I’ve seen Joe congratulate half a dozen swimmers after a particularly difficult program, even going under the lane ropes to reach them whereas I swim alone even in a pool filled with swimmers. He goes out celebrating when his favourite team wins an important game. I haven’t followed professional sports for decades. Joe switches comfortably from running to swimming and back again as time and circumstance dictate, competing on a casual basis in both, and takes pleasure just being with other people of like interests. I on the other hand normally avoid competitive sports because of an intense dislike of losing, a feeling which borders on hate if I’ve not properly prepared, something which translates in the case of competitive swimming into an estimated year and a half program. Joe loves electronic gizmos to help him train. I tried and dropped them a long, long time ago. He thinks a person is great when they put their all into doing their very best. I only grant that accolade to professional or Olympic caliber athletes, and know full well those who meet this criterion will have even higher standards of what defines greatness. Joe seeks out the company of others – he joined a running club to train for a half marathon and does most of his training in club runs. I too belonged to a team when I ran competitively, but still spent easily three quarters of my time training by myself. I’m fanatical about improving my swimming technique and almost never miss an opportunity to attend a stroke clinic. Joe hasn’t attended one all season even though he has every intention to do so sometime. Joe celebrates his improving swim times and announces them to the world. I only strive to meet ‘target ranges’ which always move ahead of me. Joe delights in collecting the memorabilia which follows his efforts while I reject it all on the basis of my inadequate performance. But despite all this Joe and I get along very well and, I believe, have a lot of respect for each other. I might represent the successful ‘competitor’ mindset but he is the team cheerleader. Every team should have a Joe.

P.S. But ask any coach and they’ll want as many ‘competitors’ as they can get their hands on! (smile).

Joe said...

Yup, yin and yang, we are.