I think part of it was that I had a REALLY long tri season last year. I was pretty focused from February to November, with the exception of a break in July after CDA. Lots of yards, lots of fast sets, lots of swimming. Probably the most swimming I've ever done in a year.
And then after my race in November I kept swimming but it was VERY lackluster. The month after my race I just was putting time in the pool and not really trying to go fast. December - February was spent trying to swim at my old pace but I was having issues with speed and more importantly, consistency. I was hitting 1:50/100 meters swimming HARD and no matter what I did, my pace kept slipping slower and slower through sets. Last year 1:50 was my cruise pace. WTF?!?!
I've been trying to be very zen about this. Just keep putting in the yards knowing that sooner or later, I'll remember how to swim. Just play along, get the yard done and everything will be ok. These are the things I'd tell myself when I would see a 1:55 on the clock. I really was pretty good about not beating myself up over this, which is amazing, because a 1:55 is stupid slow for the efforts I was putting in.
I think in the beginning a good deal of this had to do with the fact that I was deeply fatigued from a long season of hard training. It took me probably a good 2.5 months to get past that. What's weird is that my run and bike were cruising along really well - I was improving. But my swimming was going terribly. Again, I was determined to be zen and just let things be. (who am I?) In all honestly, I probably checked out a bit mentally on swimming because I've been doing it for so long (10 years on a masters team) and I was maybe just a tiny bit burned out.
On Friday while I was in the pool, I finally had a bit of an epiphany. I think that during my down time in November I quit kicking, probably because I was really tired and I just didn't feel like kicking. Then that became a (very bad) habit and I simply forgot that I needed to kick. Or I'd kick and get tired. I was literally wearing my arms out with every 100. No wonder I was getting slower with every 100 repeat! I have strong legs - I should use them for swimming. Duh!
Today was a really good test to see if I've solved my swimming issues.
500 warm up
25 x 100 free pace, broken up into 5 x 100 with 1 minute rest between each 5.
#1 and 2 were on a 2:05
#3 was on a 2:00
#4 was on a 1:55
#5 had the first 2 on a 2:10 (so a bit of a recovery swim) and then 3x100 at the fastest interval you can make
I'm really happy to report that I swam sets 1-4 on a very consistent 1:47/8 pace. I kinda crashed and burned on the last one, hitting 1:50 on the 3 fast ones. But I was really tired and had zero recovery time between each 100. The super cool part is that I'm on week 3 of pretty hard (early season) workouts and yesterday's workouts (weights and a really hard bike) were killer. And yet I killed this swim. I nailed it to the wall and finally swam like my usual self.
What did I do differently?
- KICK. A nice, strong, steady 6 beat kick. No just dragging my feet behind me, a real kick.
- PAY ATTENTION. I noticed that I'd forget what I was doing once in a while and almost frantically wave my arms trying to take strokes. Those kind of strokes are worthless because you're just moving your arms and not actually grabbing any water. I'd catch myself doing that (usually off the wall) and remind myself to chill out, stretch each stroke and grab the water.
- ROTATE. I knew I was swimming flat and my coach confirmed it. I think I have a harder time rotating on my non-breathing side (who doesn't?) and I really focused on driving from my hips, reaching with my arm, and feeling the water/air on each side as I rotated.