Friday, June 28, 2013

Sink or swim ...Diary of a Newbie.

It seems that the only time (in my life) that I've ever taken up swimming is while pregnant.  Although I was born and raised in sunny South Florida, my definition of swimming in that lifetime meant swimming from the beach to the boat that was anchored offshore or around the boat while we were either deep sea fishing or while my stepfather and his friends were out scuba diving.  Yes, I DID swim with barracudas in waters of 100+ ft of ocean depth.  It didn't seem adventurous at the time...just a way to keep from getting seasick in a rocking boat while I waited for the adults to come back from their fun.  How times have changed.  I can't even fathom leaving my kid ALONE. On a small vessel.  In the middle of open rough waters. At 12?  Insanity.  Anyway, total tangent, point is that having had that experience and growing up that way did not a lap swimmer make.

I had never swam a full length of a pool until I got pregnant with baby #3 a couple of years ago.  I was trying diligently to stay in shape and I knew I had to find a way to continue working out that was not going to be such a hard strain on my body like running or as potentially dangerous as riding a bike.  It is well documented that swimming is a fantastc form of exercise. The benefits are overwhelming and I knew that that was the best choice for me. However,  I also knew I had to start early in the pregnancy  because if I didn't get over the fear of it then, I'd likely give up on working out all together after running and cycling stopped being an option. I wish I could have started doing it when I was a kid. But c'est la vie, a swimming pool was a luxury that not many people I even knew had when I was kid. A boat, yes...a swimming pool, no way.  Go figure.

When I first started, my biggest issue with swimming was...well, everything.  I went across the pool (which I had even a stage fright type of fear to even do) while a friend, who is an amazing swimmer, watched.  I was so nervous, I felt like I was flopping around all over the place, gasping for breath...a total hot mess in the lap pool.  She was nice though.  She gave me a few pointers and said it wasn't so bad. She was encouraging and said that it would get better and easier.  The hardest part from that point forward was getting to the pool, jumping in and GOING across.  Each time, I went by myself hoping no one was there.  I didn't want anyone to watch the disaster that I was.  Each time, I hoped it would magically just click and it would be easier already.  Each time, I left defeated and frustrated.

Until that is...the fateful day that I showed up to the pool when there was a Masters Swim class going on.  Talk about intimidation!  Everyone had swim caps and they were just racing across the pool back and forth, back and forth...and that's when I decided that maybe I could just join the spin class on the treadmill...or go home and put in a P90X video! ANYTHING sounded better than getting in that pool.  But alas, Coach Stephanie was there.  Sweet Coach Steph...she warmingly, invited me to jump in.  There just happened to be a lane open too.  I explained my situation: "I don't know how to swim very well...and I'm pregnant." You'd think these two pieces of information would just make her back off and let me leave.  But no, with much enthusiasm she told me to jump in and show her what I got.  UGH!! I got nothing, I thought.  But not one to argue with authority (she's a teacher after all), I did just that.  She, too, was so sweet.  "It wasn't so bad!" she said in her perky fun voice. "But I feel like I am going to drown!", I said. She helped me and showed me when I was supposed to come up for breaths and how.  However, because of the pregnancy, I was already short of breath so holding it for even two arm strokes was nearly impossible.  I tried and tried but I was getting so frustrated.  I told her I just didn't feel like I was getting a good workout because I was so consumed with breathing and taking in water.  ...and my situation was only going to get worse the further along I got into the pregnancy.  We ended that session with her advice: get a swim snorkel and nose clip and a maternity swimsuit.

I didn't even know snorkels existed that werent attached to a mask. For this purpose! I followed one of those two pieces of advice she gave me and I rushed to Sports Authority the next day and bought the snorkel and nose clip and eagerly went back to join the Masters class.  Already, can you tell the improvement in my attitude about this?  EAGER to join Master's?!  The idea that I could get across AND be able to breathe was incredibly exciting.  I could focus on getting the workout I wanted and not need to have a lifeguard sit by in case I swallow up half the pool?  Sweet!  Once I got to the pool, a different type of anxiety kicked in..."OMG, this thing is big, bulky and SO embarrassing!" "Everyone is going to be looking at me like I'm an alien". I assumed there was a stigma for using this and I tried to hunker down in my lane to put on my gear...swim cap (which I needed instructions on doing this too, by the way), goggles, snorkel, nose clip. I focused on what I was there to do.  Everyone has there own situation and ultimately, no one really cares about the girl in the far lane anyway, they want to get their workout done.  And...I could be sitting on the couch, right?  I am HERE! I don't care what people think.  Okay, now that the pep talk was out of the way, go! My mind was blown.  I have LOTS of experience with a snorkel and mask (see first paragraph above) and it felt right at home.  I got not only across the pool but back too!  I felt amazing!

Coach Steph was excited to see my excitement as well.  She said "ok, NOW let me see what you got".  So I went. She observed my technique (or lack thereof) and when I returned from my lap she told me what to do with my arms. I did several laps and my mind just kept working on moving my arms this way, that way, getting the timing right, stretching long, swiveling my hips and I lost track of how many laps I'd swam.  She gave me a kick board and showed me how to use it.  She told me what to do with my legs.  There are SO many things that can improve that short 25M distance travel across the pool and I wanted to learn it all RIGHT THEN. But the class was over and I'd have to wait two whole days to come back and try again.

I continued to come to class two and sometimes three times a week.  I got better and better and before I knew it, I felt like a swimmer! And then, I had a baby.  That pretty much kept me out of the pool for a good couple of months.  And just like running, when you stay away for even that short a time period, when you do  come back, you feel like you are starting at zero. The fear and anxiety came back.  I wanted to ditch the snorkel and give it a go.  I think I made it to the pool only for a handful of workouts postpartum after I got my doctor's clearance and never went back.  Going back to work, a new baby and the crazy spring schedule (the same reason I stopped all other workouts, really) just made it too hard to get out to the pool again.

Sad story, huh?  Well, leave it to getting pregnant again to bring me back.  Baby #4 on the way and here I am!

This time, I can cut to the chase and swim.  No stage fright, no anxiety of looking foolish or embarrassment about my snorkel.  It is a training tool, after all!  People wear fins to the pool too! (I use to wear those when I went snorkeling. In the ATLANTIC OCEAN.)  So, see, I was right to not give a hoot about what others think.  These things have purpose and my new goal is to work on my stroke and my endurance throughout the pregnancy and actually keep at it after baby arrives too.

I will say that there is some work involved in using the snorkel.  It is not a slam dunk by any means, after all you are breathing hard and your heart is pounding when you exerting that much energy going to and fro in the pool.  Water gets in there and you have to manage your breaths without sucking it in AND blowing out the excess water while you're at it too.  These are skills I didn't realize I would need that I learned as a kid  many years ago.  Who knew that while I was frolicking in the deep blue ocean, checking out coral and the eels hidden in their crevices and all the pretty fishes and a occasional sand shark, I was blowing out excess water from my snorkel and picking up on something I'd use again as an ol' lady trying to swim laps? Who knew.
Where I picked up my snorkeling skills. Eliot Key - photo credit: National Park Service

All this ocean talk makes me want to take a vacation.  But again, I digress. The snorkel, ah yes.  My goal is to ditch it and use it ONLY when I am looking at wild ocean life.  I've been trying to get to triathlon for a few years but duathlon is a close as I ever got.  This swimming thing has been my Achilles heel for much too long. My buddy Mario, who just finished a Half Ironman in Galveston recently and who chatted with me daily about his training, insists that I could do a tri with a snorkel; that he's seen people do it.  Um.  HELLLL NO.  I'll be damned.  He's also the same guy who thinks that I can easily do (and WILL do) an IM or Half IM with him next year given the shape that I am in.  I appreciate his enthusiasm and confidence in me but I don't have the kind of time that IM's require for training.  I'll shoot for a sprint because I KNOW I can handle all the components separately.  That is first, after I get that darn swim part down.

I'm fairly certain I'm almost there but in the mean time, I'll continue to join Masters Swim at least twice a week, try to keep up with the workouts and watch my baby bump grow over my bikini. :)

"Just keep swimming" ~ Dori

Happy weekend all and keep movin'!