BEYOND FORM AND FLIP TURNS

THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY FEATURED ON WATERFI.COM 

2015-05-26 21:02:49

BY SARA K MADDEN

I recently celebrated my 6 year anniversary as a triathlete by going back to where it all began – The Lavaman Triathlon in Hawaii. Six years later, I still can’t do a flip turn. But I’ve come a long way from where I was. Specifically, crying on the pool deck before Lavaman a few years back.

Those tears were well founded though. Ten days before my Lavaman race, a lifeguard at the pool decided it was an appropriate time to point out that one of my arms was entering the water too soon, while the other was extending too far, making my freestyle more like corkscrew style. She probably had no idea that I had a race in the very near future and intended to be helpful. But all she did was send me into a tail spin.

“I swim like Nemo! How am I going to fix that in TEN DAYS?!” But I’d come this far. So just like Nemo, I just kept swimming. After all, my sloppy stroke had been sufficient for other triathlons, so I knew I could survive the 0.9 mile swim just fine.

Well, that Lavaman swim ended up being the hardest of my triathlon career. A storm had blown through the night before leaving the ocean murky and choppy. But I swam the whole thing without a wetsuit and didn’t even have to be rescued by a kayaker. Maybe my freestyle was better than I thought! Now, I’m not saying my form doesn’t need some work if I want to get faster. But I do think some of us get hung up on the myth that form is everything. I’d kindly like to bust that and a few other myths today.

Myth 1 – You have to do flip turns.

I finished Ironman Lake Placid three times, and in all my training I did exactly ZERO flip turns! When I swam competitively in high school, flip turns were mandatory. With my days of swim meets behind me, so are my days of getting water up my nose and ungracefully missing the wall because I flipped too soon. I’m more likely to nail that hand stand in hot yoga class than do a flip turn in the pool (but don’t hold your breath for either)!

The reality is that there are no walls in a triathlon and therefore no flip turns. Sure they can be an efficient way to keep your flow in the pool, but I can think of a lot of other things to invest your energy in to learn efficiency…like perfecting bi-lateral breathing.

Myth 2 – If you don’t practice swimming in open water, you’ll be a mess on race day.

Not entirely true. I did a total of TWO open water swims before my first triathlon in 2009. And I didn’t drown. I wasn’t even nervous because I was certain that I could swim for about one mile straight (without stopping to gasp for air) simply because I’d practiced that plenty in the pool. I was confident that I would stay on course instead of swimming out to sea, because I’d practiced sighting in the pool. A lot!

Sure there were waves when I swam in the ocean, and I wasn’t used to that. But I practiced telling myself “Waves are just like hills in running, so climb these water hills and keep going!”

Open water swimming is fantastic, but nothing replaces the confidence that comes from good physical and mental training!

Myth 3 – You shouldn’t train with music since you won’t have it on race day.

You won’t have a race day at all if you never do those swim workouts because you find the pool so boring! If music motivates you to get in the water, then embrace your tunes. No, you usually can’t wear an iPod on race day, but I’ve found that those songs I train to are still stuck in my head during the race and help me a ton with pacing.

I once swam the 2.4 miles of Ironman with Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fry” going through my head after listening to it in the pool a gazillion times. It was the fastest of my IM swims so far.

Myth 4 – You have to own a wetsuit.

I didn’t sport a wetsuit in my first few Lavaman’s because I didn’t own one. In fact, I didn’t even realize wetsuits were something triathletes wore!

Now that I have a wetsuit, I confess that the buoyancy minimizes kicking, so your legs are fresh for the bike. Plus, it’s great for keeping warm. After several swims in the Atlantic Ocean that were absolutely freezing, I’m grateful to have a wetsuit! But I’m also thankful that I swam those first few races sans wetsuit because now I’m convinced that I don’t NEED a wetsuit. If I have to, I can stay afloat without one, even on the choppiest Lavaman swim in the Pacific.

Myth 5 – If you have awful form in the pool, you might as well get out of the water.

“It’s better than reinforcing bad habits by finishing the workout with poor form. Don’t waste your time!”

In addition to being told I swim like Nemo, I have also heard the above “advice.” But no matter how horrendous your swim form, no workout is a waste of time if it builds self-confidence. Confidence from experience can take you to amazing places!

It’s given me the courage to be a guest at an outrigger canoe club’s practice, where my lack of paddling skills were obvious. But if that outrigger capsized in the deep blue, I know I would be just fine. In fact, when the paddlers took a break miles from shore for a little dip in the ocean, I jumped right in with them!

It’s given me the courage to cliff jump off lava-rock ledges into the waves below and swim with a group across Kealakekua Bay and back. Over the course of 2.4 miles, we encountered about a hundred dolphins, a sea turtle and a manta ray, none of which cared about my arm overreaching or how fast I swam to the Captain Cook monument.

I swim because it opens doors for me to have some fantastic adventures and because it calms me, while challenging me…like my yoga class. I don’t quit going to hot yoga just because my form is typically awful. I persevere in these practices for more than a win. Much like a classic soul surfer, I keep swimming to unplug and recharge my soul.

I swim because the perseverance it teaches me is more important than being the first out of the water in a race. I swim because a sloppy stroke is better than staying at home and sitting on the couch instead. It’s more important that I am actually getting exercise and strengthening my heart, lungs, and muscles.

Truth -You don’t have to own a wetsuit, do flip turns, or quit this swimming thing because your form is not admired by all. Form and being fast isn’t everything. So take that sloppy swim and go OWN that pool lane today! Your body, heart, and soul will thank you.

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