A fantastic article from Melissa about her personal triathlon journey describing how she went from a ‘don’t get my hair wet’ breaststroke swimmer to an open water front crawl swimmer completing a half ironman distance (70.3) triathlon.
I learned to swim as a child but was never keen on the getting in the cold, wet water and even less so on the shivering once you got out and fumbled around getting dry and dressed. I even used to swerve going to the pool for ‘fun’ with my step daughter when she was little and let her have ‘daddy time.’ So the prospect of learning to swim front crawl for triathlon filled me with dread.
I could swim breaststroke ok but not really putting my head in the water and I knew that was ok for my first pool based triathlons. But I had longer term plans for an open water event so had to face front crawl. Believe me, swimming breaststroke in a wetsuit doesn’t really work. The buoyancy lifts your bottom up and your feet end up kicking air. Not very helpful for moving forward.
The Total Transition Triathlon coaches were absolutely brilliant. In January they put on swimming sessions for all the newbies who had signed up to their first race at West Lancs in April 2017. I thought I was relatively fit but front crawl was a shock to the system. I felt like I was going to drown, couldn’t breathe and at the end of every length I was breathing as though I’d just run up a mountain. I really didn’t see how on earth I’d ever be able to do more than a length at a time without a 5 minute breather between each one. So the prospect of the 16 lengths of the pool in the race left me cold. I decided to stick to breaststroke for April but continue to thrash my way through the front crawl training sessions to get me ready for August.
Strong swimmers kept telling me to ‘hang on in there’, ‘it will come’, ‘your breathing will just click one day’. I can’t say I believed them. But they were right. Persistence, patience and practise, practise, practice were key.
The coaches were fantastic at putting us through drills which built confidence, strength and stamina and helped us to build and improve stroke technique. In between sessions I took myself off to the local pool a couple of times a week to practise what they’d been teaching me.
Initially there is so much to think about: breathing, arms, legs, reach, pull… Invariably whenever I thought about breathing my arms went to pot and when I focused on my arms I forgot to use my legs. Come to think of it that hasn’t changed 🙂
I received two fantastic pieces of advice in those early days
1) Focus on just one thing per length, or for a number of lengths, rather than trying to remember everything all at once.
2) Sometimes just go for a swim. Forget about all things technique. Just get in the water, relax and swim. It can be very soothing and you might surprise yourself how easily things flow when you switch your brain off.
The coached sessions were fundamental to me moving from not much of a swimmer who had never attempted front crawl to feeling as though I could hold my own and have the confidence to brave the next step of open water. But that’s another story 🙂