Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Impossible Dream

50 meters of outdoor pool open all year round

As I have been going to swim each morning, or at least most mornings, I have looked down the 50m pool and wondered just how fast I could swim a length if I especially trained for it. I remember in 1997 not long after recovering from illness that, at the end of a life-saving training session, I dived in another 50m outdoor pool in Taipei and swam the length in about 50 seconds. At the time, I told one of the instructors about it and he said that for us ordinary folk that was quite good, although of course for good swimmers it was really slow.

Now I can swim the same distance with a dive into the pool in about 40 seconds, and I often will have a go as I finish a 3,000 m workout and am warmed up for it. The world record is somewhere around 21 seconds (20.94 if Frederick Bousquet's recent record in France holds). For my age group, the qualifying time for USMS Nationals is apparently around 32 seconds. So getting my time down from about 40 seconds to about 32 seconds may be impossible or possible depending on which way you look at it.

I would really like to have the chance to qualify in some freestyle distance for the USMS Nationals. I think one of the main reasons is that there is a tendency for people to think that if you were not a good and fast swimmer when young, then you will never be able to become one when you are older. In my case, I did not break 50 seconds for this distance (LCM) until I was "over the hill" in my forties. In addition, in life I have had my share of setbacks and negative feedback, etc. and so to accomplish something, even if only small, will be all the more worthwhile.

So what have I got going for me? Besides having a pool to practice in (even though it is probably not a "fast" one), I have the advantage of height (1m 92s). While I still look like a shrimp compared with some of the "big boys" (who are often almost two meters and much more strongly built), at least I can get stronger through training, although I cannot make myself any taller. I also have fairly big feet and hands, which while a curse when one goes to a shoe shop, may possibly help if I can learn to use them to my advantage.

Currently, I am not very well coordinated on my 50m training "sprints". I can usually do a fairly good dive, but I am still experimenting with the dolphin kick (like they do in the big races) to get further up the pool before actually using my arms. Then I am not sure whether to take short, rapid strokes with my arms, or to fully extend them and take longer strokes with more glide. My breathing seems to be erratic, like 10 strokes then one breath, then 6 strokes, then 2 strokes, etc., etc. I can feel myself slowing down and struggling half way through the swim.

Well, all these things can be overcome, just as can flip turns. When swimming 100 meters where I need to turn, I can flip over so that I lie on my back as I push off the wall. However, often my push is so weak that I must have almost come to a complete stop.

Anyway, there are plenty of things I can work on, and it is well worth the effort. It is a great feeling to go down the pool and find out that a second was knocked off one's previous best time.
Another reason for focusing on the short distances is because in the past I have always tended to train for much longer distances. While I have developed a lot of stamina, I have always tended to be slow, and I could rarely pick up the pace in a short race (like a short Peaman or Mango sprint). So even if in the end I cannot reach the USMS qualifying standard, my overall performance in a "short" race with a swim of up to half a mile should be improved.
Second by second, pressing toward the goal

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Swimming Alone in Taiwan

What do all these pictures have in common? The answer is that I am the only person in the 50 meter pool. This is a regular occurrence, since most of the few people that swim here are out of the water by 7:45 a.m. and I usually stay another half hour to "finish" my training. This is something I never could have dreamed of when I left Hawai'i almost two years ago - being able to swim all year round in a 50 meter outdoor pool, just 4.5 kms from our home mostly along quiet, scenic roads by bicycle, Kona weather all year round, except December and January when it is slightly cooler here, but still swimmable outside if one is mentally prepared for it. However, what about all this swimming alone?

Many years ago, I heard the story of someone who had stopped talking, not that he couldn't speak, but he felt that by not talking he would be less likely to say something bad and offend someone. Better to keep quiet than to start an argument or else be accused of being a gossip. Likewise, reclusivity may be a virtue. Just focus on yourself and live life for yourself, and spend lots of time training and reviewing your training.

Well, at times life may be like that (being on my own, etc.), especially after leaving Hawai'i and having to say goodbye to many good training buddies. There is the whole issue of culture shock when one relocates, not shock from an unfamiliar culture in my case (because I was just returning "home"), but having to start all over again, getting to know people, finding interesting things to do, etc., and discovering that people like those crazy friends that I trained with before don't seem to exist here (at least there are very few that I have the chance to meet).

Of course, nowadays we have blogs and Facebook, and so at least it is possible to keep in touch and share photos and video clips, etc. It is such an improvement over just using the telephone. And by keeping in touch, it is possible to plan trips to exotic places like Hawai'i to train and race with friends, and while a trip may be expensive, overall one still saves money as it is usually a lot cheaper living somewhere else the rest of the year.

As for my own training, in March I generally swam between 1,500m and 2,000m each day roughly six days per week, and this month I have upped the distances to between 2,000m and 2,500m per day. Not a lot, but I need to work harder this year than last as our boys are going to further their education overseas. While an extra 1,000m may not take that long in the water (even for me), I am more concerned about the onset of sleep later in the day when I am supposed to be getting things done. Still, I can't complain, I still feel as if I am retired, only that I have to be very careful with time.

I have benefited a great deal from the freestyle teaching video prepared by Karlyn Pipes-Neilsen, who continues to be a great inspiration as she breaks more Masters' records. My workouts start out with a longish warm-up, followed by relaxed sets as I slowly build up speed. However, instead of getting out once I have covered a certain distance, I usually like to finish with a 100m or 50m at at least 90 percent effort. That is the highlight of the day, and puts me in good stead for the work I do later in the morning, which requires a lot of mental concentration.

I have recently made friends with a cardiologist I see at church. Don't quote me on this, but when I asked questions like: "Will I have a heart attack as a result of going flat out on a 50 meter sprint?" he appears to be of the opinion that as long as I train regularly this would be extremely unlikely, and when the unimaginable does happen, it may be due to a problem with the heart that existed at birth. Anyway, it is important to train regularly and consistently and to warm up well at each workout. I have not had any shoulder discomfort this year and had very little last year even with longer distances.

In closing, after writing this, I am not so keen on becoming a recluse, and I do have a few good swimming friends here - someone had to take the pictures. So while it may not be so easy to train together, at least we can train and follow each others' blogs and maybe have the chance to race against each other in the not-too-distant future.
The pool is occasionally used by other people, like this Saturday morning. The children are mostly in elementary school and belong to a swim club. They are training for a meet and are all pretty good.