View of Kenting in the distance in the southern part of Taiwan. I'd love to swim this stretch of the ocean, but I am told strong currents exist, it is rarely this calm, and an escort boat would be needed.
Not having a swim coach to follow my progress at swimming or otherwise, the only thing I can really do is write about it, and then hopefully forget about it as I get on with the many important things I need to deal with in my life.
My swim practices tend to be mostly focused on LSD (long-slow-distance) with one or two fast short sprints thrown in at the end. This is in large part due to the fact that the pool can get quite crowded and because I swim six mornings per week, meaning that, if the practices were too demanding, I would probably opt to stay in bed more often. In addition, I don't want to get injured (my stomach muscles are particularly sensitive) doing some unusual and stupid movements in the water. I am training to be an open water swimmer and not a 200 IM specialist.
A few months ago I set myself a goal of getting my time for a 400 meter swim in a pool down from about 7m 00s at that time to 6 minutes by about May 2009. Several weeks ago I swam 6m 40s, so at least some progress has been made. The only difficulty with the 400m swim is that I always have to do it alone, so there is sometimes a little less incentive to try to push it, and there is always the feeling that someone might get in my way when I am just half way through it.
Fortunately, a local swimmer at the pool, who is quite accomplished in all four strokes, has been in the habit of challenging me to freestyle races (I only swim freestyle with any seriousness) at the end of my daily workouts. We started with 50m, and then it became 100m, and the last week or two we have been racing over 200m. We always race during the last 5 minutes before the pool closes at 8 am for the first morning break, and so we usually have the two middle lanes to ourselves. Currently, our times are pretty close and sometimes (usually) he wins, and occasionally I win.
So I figure that I could set myself a goal of getting my 200m time down to 2m 50s by the end of next May. Since I am a long distance swimmer, if I can do that, I should have little difficulty breaking 6 minutes for the 400m.
Some time when I feel inclined I intend to draw a graph depicting my gradual progress. For now I will just mention some recent times. On July 24 I swam the 200m in 3m 12s (my best time at least in the last two years so far), then after some slower attempts, I went 3m 10s on July 31, then 3m 09s on August 1, and then finally 3m 07s on August 2 (today). These improvements may seem small but they are improvements at least. The times can vary of course depending on how I feel. At a workout, I usually swim around 4,000 meters (sometimes more and sometimes less), then have between about 3 and 8 minutes rest before we race. Some days I feel more tired (either from swimming or insufficient sleep the night before), the swimsuits (some of which are quite inefficient) can vary, I occasionally make a really bad turn off the wall, and in some workouts I may do more speed work which leaves me more fried. The day to day times are really not that important. It is the end result next May that is going to matter. The more I swim (the last five days 4,000 + 4,650 + 4,300 + 4,200 + 4,300 = 21,450, and tomorrow morning is yet to come to finish off the week), the more I realize that there are no gimmicks or quick fixes. I spend much of the early part of the workout just focusing on smoothness, on the mechanics, stroke count, hand entry, the catch, the pull, the rotation of the hips, inhaling and exhaling, etc. Only later do I apply force or try to swim fast. I do various land exercises at home, without special equipment but just improvising on various exercising tools that have been lying around the house. I try to eat a balanced diet with a focus on consistency. I try to get enough sleep with sometimes several "cat naps" during the day. I watch footage or world class swimmers and read the blogs of people who have been there before. There are many areas in which I still need to learn so much, but I am getting better, both physically and mentally, albeit slowly.
In a couple of weeks, I want to set aside the time to have my own "Swim Week" or "Swim Camp". I probably won't be able to get anyone to join me, but I will swim with the usual people in the mornings and then go back to the pool for a "lighter" but equally focused workout in the afternoons. I can't do a lot else for this year, but at least it will be good training. The aim of these workouts will be to provide more time in the pool for additional drills (maybe using hand paddles, etc., or doing some speed work, etc.) with a primary emphasis on injury prevention. While I had some shoulder troubles a couple of months ago, I have found that my shoulders are fine now since I stopped doing warm-up exercises at home in the mornings before I set off for swim practice. Currently, my 10-minute bike ride to the pool gives me a chance to feel relaxed before I start swimming, and then I swim at least the first 300m very conservatively to allow myself to gradually feel where I am at on any particularly day. Days lost through injury will mean valuable lost time which will make those ultimate goals all the more difficult to achieve.
If anyone wants to swim with me in Kona, Hawai'i, we can probably arrange to meet some time over the next year. All the best with your swimming adventures.