Friday, January 04, 2008

Swimming is Harder Than It Looks

When I first joined the Hyacks it was with the idea I’d give it a shot for three months and at least learn how to swim fly and perform a decent backstroke rollover turn. A year and four months later not only have I failed to master either fly or turn but I'm also entangled in correcting the many other flaws this old body depends on. Take simple, straightforward freestyle. I’ve succeeded in changing my stroke’s old style underwater s-curve to today’s more accepted straight arm but now struggle with a strong tendency for my left hand to enter well over my centre line, giving me a pronounced loping style of swimming. Almost certainly an idiosyncrasy developed to allow me to bring my face clear of the water to breathe. In a sport which revolves around a swimmer’s core and maintaining the body’s horizontal axis both are serious flaws. Correcting them will be a long and uncomfortable process. In backstroke I’m experiencing problems holding a correct body position and completing my stroke. After mentally reviewing past races I’ve traced part of my breathing difficulties in back to poor body position, with too deep hips resulting in an overly upright body position and consequently an increased susceptibility to inhaling water. I now realize this is why most of my water swallowing episodes come after emerging from a turn: I get hit by the backwash my poor turn technique creates at a particularly vulnerable point of time. As my dragging hips come from a combination of an ineffective kick, weak body rotation, and a badly fading finishing stroke - problems stemming from my flexibility and overall strength issues - any resolution is equally far away. This desperate need for more strength shows up in dramatic fashion in fly, where I still struggle to swim a complete hundred in good form. On the plus side my technique is showing slow but steady progress, enough to still nurse hopes I can put together a decent race before season’s end. That’s good, because the less said about my breaststroke the better. The technical and strength requirements of breast unfortunately highlight my personal deficiencies which will take years, if ever, to correct. So while every practice on my own I try to spend at least one set doing the stroke and related drills frankly I strongly doubt I’ll ever be any good at it. Then on top of all else my ongoing struggle with endurance and aerobic conditioning throws its shadow over everything I do in the pool. Progress in these two key facets of swimming has been both meager and fleeting – apparent improvement one day seems to dissipate like a mirage the following workout.

I expected to find obstacles between where I am now and peak performance. It is, however, a little frustrating. I understand you can’t just turn on a switch and become an elite swimmer. It takes years of effort for even the supremely talented, so I understood it would take considerable effort at my advanced age to develop enough conditioning and technique to start putting in decent races. Yet it’s only in the past few months that I’ve slowly awakened to the sobering fact the road is longer, and the work harder, than my initial calculations. Still, this is good. To paraphrase Prospero a prize too easily obtained is a prize too easily dismissed. The desire to swim faster also doesn’t consider the real reason I’m swimming is for my health and well being, the pursuit of which necessarily should be a lifelong endeavor. I might not be competing in a couple years time but I’ll probably still be swimming. It seems there’s really no rush at all ... there's plenty of time to perfect my strokes.

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