Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Swim Camp

Please forgive me for my tardiness in writing this report! I ended up staying in Kona for an extra week so some unexpected condo warranty work could be done (Dave was in Omaha, Nebraska, all last week any way). Then, after we both got home Friday night, we spent a short weekend together before he took off for Poland yesterday.

Now, finally, about that swim camp ...

In short, it was AWESOME!!!

Never have I swam so much over the course of 4 days but also, never have I felt like I'd made so many gains in my swimming in such a short time. Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen and her husband Eric are wonderful instructors who really know triathletes, some of the world's best, in fact. Everything they taught me was offered with a "try it and see if it works for you" attitude. And the timing was particularly good for me because I'd been swimming long enough to know what wasn't working for me, but not long enough to have developed bad habits that couldn't be changed.

Karlyn and Endless Pool

And even Karlyn's physique gave me confidence I could swim better, for she was as thin as an elite marathoner (so no more lack of body fat excuses, not that they really apply to me but it seems that many better swimmers have a lot more built-in buoyancy than I do). She also had extra small size feet like me, not huge paddles like Ian Thorpe.

Below are the camp highlights. We had swim sessions in her Endless Pool, at the Kona Aquatic Center and in Kailua Bay, where the Kona Ironman race begins. Karlyn did provide nice notes for us campers but they're copyrighted so I cannot post them online. However, there are several articles on her Aquatic Edge website, an instructional DVD available, and she also gives clinics in various locations if anyone is interested in learning more about her style of swimming.

1. Above water and underwater video sessions -- Cameras don't lie. In true color, I saw myself dropping my elbows often, pulling too far back, "windmilling" my arms, pausing when breathing to my left, tensing up my arms/hands too much during recovery and kicking as if my life depended on it. On the good side, my 10 and 2 o'clock hand entry positions were now resulting in the desired shoulder width apart freestyle stroke so my arms were no longer crossing the center line, not even while breathing (we'd worked on this during a private lesson back in July). I don't think I could have understood what to do to improve without seeing first what I was really doing. It was amazing how distorted my perceptions were!

2. Breathing in a more relaxed manner -- This was huge for me and probably why I often got headaches while swimming for long periods continuously. I discovered I tend to hold my breath and then exhale everything at the last minute before getting another breath. To avoid this, Karlyn suggested that I keep my mouth open underwater and hum or hiss to exhale some air immediately and continuously, but never all of it. She also suggested that I mix up my breathing, take some shallow breaths and deep breaths, and don't only breathe every 3 strokes like I usually do. An article Karlyn wrote about breathing can be found here.

3. Contrast drills -- Throughout the camp, the way I was convinced to make improvements was to try something different and then compare with what I'd been doing before: high elbow catch vs. dropped elbow, short pulls vs. long pulls, straighter arm recovery vs. high elbow recovery, front quadrant swimming vs. windmilling, relaxed breathing vs. forced breathing, pulling with fingers slightly separated vs. tightly squeezed together, keeping shoulders "quiet" (flat but still allowing the hips to rotate) vs. rolling the whole body from side to side. Often the new things felt weird at first but I let faster swim times and/or less effort be the deciding factor. Interestingly, stroke count was not considered at all initially, though I ended up dropping it by a stroke or two with more practice of the new techniques.

4. New drills, strokes and mental training -- Swim freestyle an entire pool length (25 yds) without taking a single breath? Swim 50 yard intervals on 1:10? Swim 4x30 strokes at ascending speed (400, 500, 600 and then 800 psi) in the Endless Pool? Try the backstroke and the butterfly stroke? Say what? Well, I learned and did them all (though the back and fly were pretty ugly) and found out quite a bit about body rhythm, what I could do to make swimming more interesting/challenging and what I could do if I really put my mind to it. I need to start thinking and training more like how a real swimmer does, not someone who's just hoping to survive the swim segment in a tri. And little did I know at the time how useful knowing the butterfly and backstroke might be.

5. Open water strategies -- These are things I practiced knowing I wasn't going to be one of the slowest swimmers for long (-: running in/out of water, dolphining under waves (using elements of the butterfly stroke!), sprinting and then settling into a sustainable swim pace, drafting, rounding corners by dipping one hip more than the other (instead of pulling harder with one arm), sighting while swimming freestyle (keying in on big landmarks instead than small buoys whenever possible), kicking harder to get blood flowing to the legs towards the end of the swim, backstroking a bit to check behind me for waves that might slam me close to shore, and then once I touch the ground telling myself to get up and run (no hesitating or celebrating that I'd made it back to land!). And during our open water swim, I was psyched to discover how much straighter I swam with the new freestyle stroke -- w00t!

6. Increasing swim speed range -- Before the camp, I really had only two freestyle swim speeds, slow and slower. I'd easily get out of breath if I tried to go faster and even swimming slower still seemed to require more effort than it should. But now with a much stronger and simpler stroke (looks like I'm paddling a surfboard) and more relaxed breathing, I can swim faster without necessarily kicking more. To swim slow and easy, the key for me was to focus first on not kicking (which results in hardly kicking) and then just letting my arms barely pull me along. Then I discovered that I could swim faster by simply pulling harder/faster but still not (hardly) kick. OMIGOD, what a difference! It was almost as easy as swimming with a pull buoy!!

Dare I saw that I'm even starting to actually like swimming?


Brent Buckner said...

Great write-up - glad it went so well!

MarathonChris said...

Sounds like it was a very worthwhile camp for you!!! Welcome back to FL :-)

Wendy said...

Shirley, it sounds like the camp was made to measure for you! I find the use of contrast drills to be really interesting, and a great tool for you.

And I love that you're feeling so positive about swimming!

CewTwo said...

I liked your last line - Basically it said it all!

I hope you enjoyed your camp half as much as I enjoyed reading about it!

Susan said...

What an excellent experience!