Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What swimming masters is really like

Today, I had a master's swim on my schedule.

I'm one of the weakest swimmers at masters. Seriously, there are two people slower than me. One of them is a 70 year old man who just learned how to swim.

This fact doesn't bother me. Long ago, I got over the ego bruising that is swimming masters. I know that on a normal day of freestyle, I'll swim in the second slowest lane. On IM day, I'll be in the remedial lane. 

On freestyle day, the guys I swim with normally don't lap me until we do 400's. Sometimes, they catch me on 300's, depending on the testosterone they had for breakfast. They're ok having a slower swimmer swim with them. That's why masters is so awesome. If someone catches you (touches your toes), you pull to the side (normally at the end of the lane), and let them pass. No harm. No foul.

But today, was IM day. For the non-swimming readers, IM is individual medley. Believe it or not, I didn't know this until about 5 years ago. I thought IM meant Ironman know long sets. Hell, it was the only IM I was aware of. Long set day? THAT would be easy. IM means stroke day. Stroke day refers to butterfly, back, breast, free (in that order for IM). 

Many....I dare say....most triathletes don't swim strokes. You don't have to swim strokes. But, I've always believed that if you truly want to improve, you do what you can to become a stronger person. Swimming strokes works your body in many different and sometimes very frustrating ways. Some days, I swim butterfly more like a bumble bee. Sometimes, I make it to the other end of the lane without staring death in the eye.

Sigh. It's stroke day. I look around and choose the remedial lane. I have no lanemates today. (Like I said, stroke day isn't a favorite for most people. The people with a swimming background seem to love it, but I'm not that person. For me, it's mostly, "Let's see if I can avoid drinking more chlorinated water this week than I did last week.")

I love swimming with my lanemates. So, IM day has the challenge of swimming on my own. I've learned that it's not fair to me or to my normal lanemates to swim with them on IM day. Yes, they are right next to me.....technically....but there is no divider wider than the lane lines in a pool. It's like border patrol. 

As we were setting up the lanes, (not really setting up....more like kicking out the swimmers who were swimming on their own). I had to tell a random swimmer that he needed to move. I also added, "You are welcome to swim masters with us, if you'd like." I said this....maybe too eagerly. He smiled and said, "I'm not at that level yet".

Yes, I understand. My massive shoulders led him to believe that I was like an older version of Missy Franklin. 

That's a common misconception of masters. Masters is to help you become a better swimmer.....PERIOD. There are no time minimums. You don't have to know strokes. I've written about that ad nauseum.

Coach arrived and started posting our workout. I knew that in order to keep up with the team, I'd have to drop a 50 during the sprints. 

For our first 100 IM, I started before the lane next to me. They were discussing (ahem procrastinating) who would start first. This is a normal tactic of swimmers....everyone is afraid to be the lead swimmer. No one really wants that pressure, and no one really wants to admit to being the "fastest".

Somewhere along the line, those guys passed me. I made it a goal to stay with them, by dropping the extra 50. I thought, "If I can finish the same time they do, I'm doing really well." Dropping a 50 meant that I'd only be doing 150 less than they are. 

During the breast stroke section, Coach came over and asked where I was. I told him, and he said, "Perfect. That's right where you should be."  (Yes, I told him I was doing 1 less 50 per set). 

The end result is that I survived another IM day. Coach says that you need to swim 3-4 times per week to see an improvement. Right now, I'm swimming 2 days per week, so I'm more or less "maintaining". I'm ok with that for the moment.

At the end of practice, I was counting up the distance. I came in at roughly 2600yds. A year ago, I couldn't do a full IM practice, so maybe my paces aren't super fast for IM.....I've improved in other ways. What's my IM pace? I'm not really sure. I tend to not time those days, so I can focus on what I'm doing and not be concerned that I'm swimming faster or slower than I think I should be.  My goal is to go out there and give the best I can for that day.

Sometimes, that's all you can ask of yourself.