As I've mentioned in previous posts, I've been able to swim significant distances in the pool but have had some trouble doing so without taking breaks. As the triathlon's swim stage is done in a lake, there are no walls to grab onto so that is something that I have to work on. As such, this week I've been doing what I can to force myself to take shorter and fewer breaks wherever possible to get myself out of the habit. Further, in an effort to accelerate my progress I also elected to try and get two swimming sessions in this week as there is precious little time left ;)
I headed out for my first session on Tuesday at a smaller pool in the area. It only has 12m lengths which is a little annoying, however it's not as busy as the other pools so it gives me a little more freedom to do my thing. After the first 10 lengths, I only allowed myself to take a break after a minimum of four lengths (48m) and resolved to keep any breaks as short as possible. That worked out surprisingly well, and I was feeling strong throughout. As the session progressed, I started mixing in a few sets of six and eventually eight uninterrupted lengths which helped a lot to boost my confidence. As the end of the session approached, I did five sets of eight lengths to help work on keeping my stamina up.
In the end, I managed to squeeze in 154 lengths of the pool (1,848m) during the one hour that we were allowed in the pool. I was still feeling strong by the end and would have liked to keep going for a little longer, however they have swimming lessons after the length swim so they kick us all out of the pool at that point ;) Either way, that brought my overall average pace up to 3:15/100m, which is significantly faster than the 4:12/100m pace I've been doing until now.
I headed out for my second session today in the larger 25m pool, however thanks to the crappy weather there were a lot of people out so the traffic made things a bit difficult. As they were doing lifeguard training in half of the lanes, only three were open to the public. While we started out with only two people in our lane, we got up to five within ten minutes or so which got a bit more crowded than I'd like. Adding to the complexity, two of those people were going pretty slowly and one was all over the map with his pacing so I pretty much had no choice but to stop after each length to open up a big enough gap not to run into them. On the upside, however, it sometimes forced me to push a little harder than I would have otherwise in order to pass the slower guys and avoid the traffic.
Fortunately, after about an hour the others tired out and left so I had the lane to myself for the last half hour or so. That was tempered a bit as the lifeguards started pulling the lane markers out with about 10 minutes to go, so I only got about 20 minutes of good swimming in. Either way, despite the issues I still managed to nail down a faster pace than Tuesday, covering 106 lengths (2650m) in 1h20m for an average pace of 3:01/100m. I took breaks a lot more often than I did on Tuesday, however those breaks were a good deal shorter so it added up to a better total. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to get in any full 100m sets during the session, but it was a good workout either way.
As I mentioned in my last post, I'm pretty sure that the breaks are more of a psychological limitation than a physiological one at this point. When running or biking, you want to avoid taking breaks, however you know that you pretty much can do so whenever you'd like. In the pool, however, the only real opportunity is when you hit those walls, so when you start to feel a bit tired you begin to question whether or not you'll be able to make the next length. Mix in the fact that the more fatigued you get, the more difficult it becomes to maintain your breathing rhythm and it can be hard to push yourself to the next level. These two sessions appear to re-enforce that, and I'm hoping to be able to continue working on it until I can push through 400m without interuption.
As I wasn't able to do everything that I wanted today, however, I did take the opportunity to focus a bit more on my technique which should help a bit as well. Primarily, I focused on the position of my hands during the entirety of the stroke - making sure they entered the water perpendicular to it's surface, and moving my wrist so that they were pushing more towards my back than down. It was surprising just how much more power I was able to produce with such a small adjustment. Additionally, I also tried to exhale more air during each stroke so that I could focus more time on inhaling during the breathing stroke (versus wasting time exhaling what was left). That appeared to help as well, however it's difficult to quantify how effective it is without the longer sets.
Either way, swimming is certainly a much more complicated sport than running or cycling. Technique forms a critical component of how well you can do, and in many cases can easily be more significant than physical capability. While I'm relatively confident that I'll be able to get myself to the point where I can swim the race in August, I'm pretty sure that I'm going to need quite a bit longer before I'll be as comfortable with it as I am with the other two sports ;)
With that said, I only started back to swimming six weeks ago and I've definitely come a long way during that time. If I can keep up with two sessions per week for the remaining four weeks, hopefully I'll be able to maintain my current rate of progress and I might be able to surprise myself ;) Mix in a little race-day adrenaline and one can often pull off things that would otherwise seem impossible!