Thursday, September 11, 2014

Step Right Up

Two experiences this past weekend starkly highlighted what has been a developing anecdotal observation since I started swimming with my age-group team here.

The seed was planted when my first couple of weeks of practice contained more all-out swimming (or all-out of any physical activity) than my entire previous swimming experience combined.  Most of it was off the blocks, meaning the diving start of real swim races, and all of it was supposed to be as intense and focused as real swim races.  I was nearly overwhelmed with the anxiety of it - the anticipation, the pressure, the pain - and all these...kids were (seemed to be) totally at ease.   In fact, all they wanted to do was 100s all-out off the blocks and all I wanted to do was vomit.

Several months later I'm all "you want me to do x, y, z all-out?  ok, lets's go on the next top."

But the funny thing is that the (slow) change didn't even occur to me.  Not once.  Until this weekend.

On Sunday I "watched" the Ironman 70.3 World Championships and putting myself in their shoes, vividly remembered the gut-wrenching anxiety of triathlon race starts.

Except that on Saturday I did 12 (!) race-simulation repeats without much hesitation.

Setting aside the different physiological demands of triathlon versus pool swimming that determine their ultimate repeatability, the practice of swim starts and damn-near-close-to-race-intensity swimming is intentional.  A swimmer could start 6 events in one day of a three-day meet in a season of at least 1 meet/month.  Balking really isn't an option.  You need to step right up - and go.

In that moment - and swim starts, it truly is only a moment - you don't want to think.  You want your body to act, almost in reflex, for the entirety of the race.  Therefore, swimmers practice starts, all-out swimming, and get comfortable with approaching each, a lot.

In triathlon, it's not a moment, it's a week, and all you do that week is think.

All that thinking drives some people batty.  {raises hand}

All you do that week is think because you have never practiced or prepared to do anything else.  The reason I was freaking out so much this summer is because in all my years of cross country, soccer, and triathlon, I had never practiced with any real repetition or dedication, the mental and/or physical start of any event.

Sure, a triathlete may only start 6 events all season, compared to the swimmer's 6 per day.  But that only expands the gap between the number of opportunities that type of athlete has to practice starts - a lot vs. six - and the number of those opportunities they make use of to practice starts - a lot vs. none.  And I can't really blame triathletes for not using those fews races to practice because in that moment you aren't thinking "oh, let me practice my mental and physical approach to starting a race."  Most likely because you are too busy thinking "I am so scared and nervous and afraid, what the hell did I get myself into?"

Swimming is preparing me to be fearless in a way I never have been before.

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