Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Finding my "lane"

I love Wednesday. It's my favorite day of the week! Mostly because it's swim day.

There's something magical about swimming to me. I like getting into a rhythm and then concentrating on some little aspect of my form until it's so automatic I don't have to concentrate on it any more. I like the feel of my body moving through the water.

Sometimes I'm slicing through the water. Sometimes I'm pulling myself strongly as if there's a cable under there and my strokes are moving the cable against a pulley. Sometimes I'm fighting the water a bit before everything settles down and we make friends again. I like it when everything comes together and I feel like a real swimmer.

That's why it made me sad when my last swim workout stopped working for me. It was frustrating to go swimming and not come out the water feeling refreshed and happy, let alone feeling like I had improved some aspect of my swimming. Eventually I got tired of it and stopped going. I didn't see the point in paying extra for a workout and feeling worse off than before I went.


But now I'm training with people who are all different speeds and with whom I have no history of always being the slowest. There are lots of people my speed and today I was circle swimming with some of them and we were all doing the workout --the full and entire workout, not some watered down version or some random stuff they felt like doing -- and all getting along and it was great. I wasn't paranoid that they didn't want me in their lane and I wasn't upset that I couldn't get a good workout.

It feels great to be able to do the workout as given and not have to modify it or have it so watered down that it's not really doing what it's supposed to, too. I do the workout every week, in fact, not just today. Sometimes I'm the last one out of the pool but I always get every lap in.

As a result, I have been having some really great swim results. I was MOP at Wildflower and 4th in my age group at CST in the swim. In fact, the swim in both races was my best event (not counting transitions, of course). I am swimming almost as fast as the summer of 2011 when I was swimming 2-3 miles every weekend and posting some of my best results. Only I'm getting those results with about half the workout time.

This has got me to musing. If you had asked me back in 2009-2011 if I was okay with always being the slowest at everything, always getting dropped on group rides, always having to modify the various workouts because I couldn't get through them, I would have been adamant that it was motivating and that I was probably making better progress than otherwise because I was pushing myself so hard.

But now I'm not so sure.

It's true I was motivated not to get dropped every week on group rides. I'd work very hard and went from 5 minutes to be dropped, then 10, then 15 and towards the end on some rides it would take 20 minutes! By the end of 2011, I'd sometimes see the slower riders off and on throughout the first 30-45 minutes of the ride. They were pretty far away, but I could see them and I didn't feel so all alone out there. Progress!

But eventually I'd be on my own. The end result is that I'd be working pretty hard for maybe 20-30% of the ride -- possibly too hard -- then I'd have no one to pace myself against for the rest of it. Plus I'd rarely be able to do the ride as it was written and still get back in time. So I'd have to modify it and hope for the best.

I doubt it mattered my first season. When you go from couch to active, everything you do moves the needle.

But eventually you plateau. That's when your training methods start to make a difference. You can spend two hours riding around aimlessly always going either too fast or too slow or you can do a coached ride designed with your fitness in mind that's going to take you to the next level in as short a time as possible.

I think, in 2011, I was starting to plateau. I couldn't articulate it at the time, but I think what I needed was to stop working out so much and do more training.

Working out is fun, but it's not the most efficient use of your time. Training is more structured and you can get better results for the same level of effort. And it can be just as much fun, if you have the right people to do it with.

Right now, I am training and I'm getting results and still having fun. I've found my "lane" and not just in the pool.
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