I have never had a problem finding my bike in T1. And I have never had to maneuver among a mob of bikes leaving T1 as I start out on the bike leg of a triathlon. That’s because even though I’ve been doing triathlons for nearly 10 years, I continue to be an exceptionally slow swimmer.
In some ways, being a slow swimmer has made me a better racer in the other parts of triathlon. My transitions are typically quite fast. I make up precious minutes by keeping things simple, being organized and having a smooth and relaxed rhythm. Once on the bike, I focus myself on building to a bike cadence of 85-90 rpm’s while my body adjusts to dependence on my legs and glutes. After about 5-10 minutes, I’ve adjusted to cycling and I start to look for targets to pick off. Going up hills is my favorite place to catch the most people and I then do my best to keep the big guys behind me when I descend. I pay attention to my body and effort level, knowing that there is still a run in front of me. Most of the time, if I’ve hydrated and fueled properly, I feel pretty good as I come into T2. On the run, unless severe cramps hold me back (something specific to me that I haven’t been able to solve yet), I can hold on to my position or even gain a few positions on the final leg of the event. If I can figure out the swim and achieve a middle-of-the-pack time in the swim leg, I will certainly finish my races faster.
I want to swim faster and I think I SHOULD swim faster. I am in good shape, I’m willing to put in the time, I am coachable and I am even pretty comfortable in the water. (You have to be comfortable in the water if you’re going to be in it longer than most everyone else.) So, what gives?
Biking and running favor strength over technique. Swimming favors technique over strength. I have not been able to get the right technique yet. I’ve watched hundreds of videos and practiced tips and drills from great swimmers and great coaches. I picture myself doing exactly what I’m told or what I’ve seen in the video. I have exhausted myself at masters swimming and interval training and I’ve had swim-focused weeks where I was in the ocean or the pool at least five days a week. But alas, my swim times are pretty much the same as they were nearly ten years ago.
So, what now? I am very excited about a very individualized video that Peter Hursty just did for me as part of his Summer Swim Clinic. The video showed me swimming underwater from the side and the front, and then from overhead. While I’m doing a few things right, I can clearly see in the video that I am ineffective in catching and pulling water. In the video, I look nothing like what I look like in my mind’s eye. Right there in front of my eyes, I can definitely see what my major problem is: I stretch out close to the surface of the water, dropping my elbow and then practically laying on it. With my arm in that position, I try to pull back, but my arm is ineffective as my elbow slips through and my hand first pushes towards my face and then pushes out away from my body. Oh my–I had no idea I was doing that. In my mind, I was swimming just like the people in the training videos! Peter has given me specific “homework” to do in order to change my arm and hand position. If I can do that, I will get faster. It won’t be easy to unlearn and relearn how to swim and I have to be focused and patient, but I am committed to “get it” this time.
Wish me luck!