I started this summer with basic recreational swimming abilities. Here’s my definition of “basic”: I could play in the pool, no problem, but I avoided the deep ends too far from the wall. And I hated open water where I couldn’t touch. Even going out on boats was something I avoided, and if I did it I kept my life jacket on 100% of the time and counted the seconds until my feet touched the shore again. If I jumped into the water, I usually held my nose. I knew nothing about strokes or breathing or even how long the pool was.
Before my first triathlon, I had learned to basically survive for 400m. No freestyle, but I did do a decent “breaststroke” and “sidestroke” and I could float on my back and kick. (I put those words in quotes because that’s what I call them, but I have no idea if that’s what they are. I don’t know – technically – if that’s what I’m doing, but it’s close enough to call it that.) I basically just floundered around for 400m.
After I decided to try another triathlon, Donnie taught me to freestyle. He started off teaching me good technique so I wouldn’t learn bad habits. But – it was a LOT to remember. Breathing bilaterally – every three strokes – on top of all of the ins and outs of arms and legs. I could barely make it to the end of the pool (25m) without hyperventilating. I would get to the end and be huffing and puffing. I wasn’t holding my breath, but I was breathing hard. Not at all calmly or gracefully.
I’ve been working on it ever since. NON-STOP. I swam 5 days out of 7 in the last week. And still, on my best day, I could only do 50m without stopping to catch my breath. I could do 75m if I would allow myself a period of sidestroke to get my breathing calm. 75m! And my triathlons are 400m. And the next one is – again – open water.
I was getting very frustrated. Although I was able to do the distances (I swam a whole mile last week) I could only do it in about 50m increments. And often those 50m involved at least a little bit of sidestroke to catch my breath.
The class I’m in through Fleet Feet has taken us on two open water trials. The first one I rode the whole way home in tears my anxiety was SO BAD. The second one? I ended up sidestroking the entire 300m swim because I could never calm my breathing down enough to put my face in the water.
So, last night, I decided I needed to try something different. That, maybe, I needed to sacrifice a bit of technique simply for survival.
Donnie has been saying that one of my problems is I’m kicking WAY too hard/fast. I’ve been working on slowing that down, but I decided last night to basically kick as little as possible. As a triathlete, you want to save your legs in your swim, so that’s not a bad thing…minimal kicking. And then, I decided to give up right now on breathing bilaterally and just breathe on one side, every other stroke.
And immediately, without any problems, I was able to swim 400m freestyle without stopping!
Now, I know that in the long run I need to be able to breath on both sides, but I’m just so very proud to have made some sort of progress I can’t see straight. The every-other stroke breathing seems to be EXACTLY what I needed to survive more than a few lengths of the pool. I’m not sure how this will play out in open water, since my anxieties are SO HIGH, but it can’t be any worse than my previous technique which had me huffing air in the POOL ever 50m. At least now, my pool breathing is steady enough to maybe survive an anxiety attack.
Maybe. I’ll keep you posted. We have one more open-water trial in two weeks. We’ll see how I do then. Donnie thinks I need to give myself time to adjust being IN the water before I start swimming. That way when I jump in I don’t go STRAIGHT into anxiety attack like I did the last few times I hit the open water. So, I’ll do that and I’ll try my every-other-stroke breathing pattern to see if I can stay calm and functional.
Any of you have any swimming tips you can give me? Especially ones that calm the anxiety?