Success One Stroke at a Time

Photo: Gregg Matthews/NY Times

They say that practice makes perfect.  The more you do something, the better you become.  Faster.  Stronger. 

They also say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Both are true statements.  But only one applies.  At least when it comes to my swimming ability and proficiency.

I’ve never been the fastest swimmer around.  I’m not the slowest either by any stretch, but no Ryan Lochte am I.  Over the past several years, I have seen my open water swim times come down pretty nicely.  For example, at IMKY in 2009, I swam the 2.4 miles in 1:35:xx, or roughly 2:15/100yds.  I went slightly faster at IMFL two months later, coming in at 1:24:xx (1:59/100yds) in a wetsuit swim.  Last year I experienced perhaps the greatest improvement I’ve seen in my swim.  Take for example my first “big” race last year – Rev3 Knoxville.  I did the Olympic race, and finished the wetsuit-legal swim in 33:13 (2:01/100yds).  Three months later, I did a non-wetsuit Olympic race in 32:03 (1:57/100yds).  Big-time improvement.

So…proof that I’m not fast, but getting better in general.

I’ve been swimming more this year than the past several years, and I’m able to notice a big difference in my ability. 

Part of the change is a result of some coaching I received.  Even though I thought my stroke was OK, I received some coaching that I was cutting my recovery and starting my catch way too early.  Basically I wasn’t extending out far enough above water – though I was gliding well with my hand extended below the water.  I have been applying that feedback for several months now (I got that feedback last fall), and my stroke feels much more powerful now.  I still have flaws in my stroke, but I no longer do crazy stuff like cross the center-line of my body during my stroke.  I’m also breathing every 5 strokes now instead of every other.

The really cool thing?  My lap times in the pool are getting better. 

Last season, I typically swam my workouts close to 2:00/100yds.  But I’d be gassed after too many repeats at that pace.  I could cover 50yds in maybe 53 seconds – but that was literally all out.

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of 50 repeats.  I’m planning on knocking off one of my goals here in the next week or so – that goal was to swim 50 x 50yds prior to the end of April.  My “average” time?  Well, I’m consistently turning the 50yds in 46-47 seconds.  I’m sure I could go faster if I were just doing one interval.  The cool thing is that I’m VERY comfortable at this pace, and not too tired, even after doing 20 or 25 intervals. 

Progress is happening.  This old dog learned how to refine his stoke, and he’s faster for it.


3 thoughts on “Success One Stroke at a Time

  1. Congrats on your improvement! I know it’s hard work. Just this morning I swam my first sub 1:55 100 at 1:54. I almost ALWAYS swim at 2:00. I’m trying to break the consistency in my swimming and running – just edge out a little bit faster. It’s coming along.

  2. Seeing improvement in such a short time is so nice, right?! We all love a little instant gratification! I think that swimming is just like running and riding and the more of it you do, the stronger you will get. Fortunately, unlike running, more swimming isn’t as hard on your body and doesn’t have as high of a risk for injury!

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