Saturday, February 1, 2014

Total Immersion - Mid-Class Review

My first triathlon swim did not go well.  To say the least.  It was a lake swim - the Quaboag Plantation Sprint Triathlon in West Brookfield, MA last July.  Only 400 meters, in a simple (ha!) triangle.  Walk in the water, wait, swim out, turn, swim back, proceed with your first triathlon.  Easy, right?  WRONG.

My time was well over 12 minutes.  For a quarter mile.  I got off track.  I got so winded I kept having to stop.  Once I finally did get out of the water I was still so out of breath that I never got it back on the bike or the run.  It was miserable.

Horrible race photo - coming out of the water.
See that guy behind me?  The wave that started
FIVE MINUTES after mine.  Yeah.

I'm not afraid of the water.  As a former scuba diver with hours and hours underwater, it is safe to say I like being in the water.  I was raised in upstate New York, where "the beach" meant a gritty strip of sand and dirt on the side of a lake, where you shared the water with all sorts of pond scum, frogs, fish, and Loch Ness monsters.  No trouble there.  Open water swimming doesn't make me claustrophobic, or anxious, or any of the other issues that often trouble newbie triathletes.

I simply don't know how to swim.

I learned to swim (meaning keep self afloat and propel self forward in some manner) at a lake beach.  My mom pretty much threw me in, kept watch to make sure I didn't drown, and that was about it.  (A method I stand by and in no way criticize). I was on the junior varsity swim team in the sixth grade for exactly one week before I quit because I was the slowest girl.

I went to the pool several times in preparation for my triathlon career.  I signed up for two different classes at the Y, but didn't find them particularly helpful.  Partially because I didn't show up half the time, but also because I just didn't understand what was being asked of me by the very competent and well-meaning instructors.  "I want to see more of a pull."  Pull on what?  Huh?  I even swam open water several times with a local group (and Gypsy for moral support).  But, in layman's term, I got no game....

Clearly I needed the basic basic basic package.  I had to take remedial gym in the first grade, I was so uncoordinated (really - this was a real thing in 1984.  Imagine any class with "remedial" in the title now!  Unthinkable).  I needed the equivalent for swimming.

I signed up for George Randall's Total Immersion swim course at my gym starting in early December.  I knew George only by reputation, by his welcoming attitude in local online groups for local OW swimmers, and through my friend Spark, who took his class in the fall while I was coaching kid soccer and mucking around on crutches.

Like the good little bookworm I am, I had read all about Total Immersion.  In simplest terms, TI is a way of breaking down and rebuilding every aspect of your stroke to achieve maximum efficiency in the water.  Dolphin-like swimming.  (As we learned in my last post, I like dolphins).  This is good.  But learning to swim from a book is like learning to... well... something that really doesn't work.  I needed to see it.

George is every bit as patient, calm, and encouraging in person as I had heard.  Which is excellent, as I can have worked up some pretty good tantrums when swimming isn't going well.  The first day he took videos of all the students, and asked us to count our strokes.

My stroke count was 30 for a 25 meter pool.  As a reference, this is pretty terrible.  A person my height should be able to keep her stroke count around 16-19 for this length.  Clearly, there was work to do.

George's comments:

Hi Miranda,
Glad you received the videos! Looks good I can see a lot of potential in your stroke. A few things I noticed:

Your left and right arm in your recovery phase as they enter the water are creating a lot of drag(splash)in front and around your body. The reason for this is your forearms are hitting water before your hands enter.  You're dropping your leading(catch arms)to soon both during breathing and non causing a loss in your streamline body position. You lift your head a little bit causing your hips to sink which results in more kicking to level your body to be parallel with the water.

We will cover everything in the class to address these issues and more.
If you have any questions don't hesitate.

Happy Laps

See how nice he is??  Sheriff reviewed the videos as well and mostly agreed, with some added comments on my underwater hand and something about my butt.  (And now I'm putting a video of my butt out in public.  Hmm.)

Fast forwarding, today's class I was holding steady around 20 strokes per lengths at a variety of paces.  For those that are math challenged, 30-20 = 10, which is 1/3 better than I was.  That's a lot.  I am significantly more comfortable in the water, I look forward to swimming much more than I did.  TI has helped me make huge advances in my swimming in a relatively short amount of time.  Here's how:

The first day of class we worked on nothing but relaxing our heads. First objective and I'm already tense.  My reaction to anyone telling me to relax is usually to get angry, stubborn, and tense up.  I'm good like that.  You should see me in yoga!  Okay, shake it off.  Head down.  Stare at the bottom of the pool.  Relax.  Relax your neck.  Relax your head.  Do this for over an hour, and then practice it all week.

The next class we built on the first lesson of "head relaxed" to balancing in the water.  Just balance in the "skate" position, or rolled about 45 degrees so your shoulder is barely out.  George gives us visualizations to get our bodies in the right spot.  The next week we added an arm, but only the recovery arm, and only partway.  This is the mother of all baby-step programs.  I love it.

Even love the slogan.  Happy Laps!
I love the mission of Total Immersion.  To move as effortlessly and quickly through the water by being as efficient as possible.  Move through the water, not moving around in it.  This resonates with me both as a swimmer, but also as a metaphor for what I am trying to achieve as a whole by triathlon training.  I want to learn to relax.  To enjoy the water.  To enjoy life and not tense up.  To have better technique, so things are easier without having to thrash around and get winded (yes, still on a metaphor for life here.  Stay with me.)

I have zero ambition of becoming and elite swimmer.  Of completing Escape from Alcatraz.  Of being Michael Phelps (my nose is big enough as is thanks).  My #1 swimming goal?  To be the fit 70 year old woman who swims 3 times a week because she loves it, and is still healthy because of it.  Sheriff and I have talked several times about getting older, about our bodies breaking down, and that running and even biking someday will fall by the wayside.  But swimming is for life.  As Sheriff commented on a recent swim workout of mine, "swimming is harder to see improvement overall and being a good swimmer is badass".  Huzzah!

TI class wraps up in another 6 weeks.  We will take more videos then and I'll do a final wrap up post then, along with any questions anyone has for me or for George (comments please!).  George will also be teaching at the TRI-MANIA Boston Expo on March 29th.  I cannot recommend enough that you check it out if you are going!

Lastly, as George has quite graciously become a follower of my little blog, and has noticed that everyone gets nicknames (here's the "who" and "why")..... today he asked me if he was going to get a nickname.  Drumroll George, I christen thee....


It had to be a fish.  Duh. I almost went with Dori, just because George really is just so nice and so positive.  And he talks a lot (sorry George, you do!  Not in a bad way).  But a female blue fish with no memory wasn't quite right.  So I went with Gill.  The mentoring thing, the determination.  George has shared that he was overwhelmingly afraid of the water when he started - to the point that he couldn't put his face under.  To go from there to the instructor and athlete he is now is some epic determination.  I haven't been summoned to the initiation ceremony at the top of Mt. Wannahockaloogie yet.  I assume that's the last day of class.

Please leave any questions or comments about TI for me or George.  We will respond in the next post.  Learn more about Total Immersion at

Usual disclaimer... these thoughts are my own, I am not sponsored, paid by, or compensated in any way by Total Immersion.  Just my two cents.

Happy Laps!

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