Thursday, October 23, 2014

Learning To Swim | Adult Level 2 (Lessons 1-4)

Ever since I volunteered at Ironman Calgary 70.3 this summer and decided to choose a day to learn to swim, I have been steeling myself looking forward to swim lessons.   I decided to stop saying I would learn to swim "some day" and choose a day and sign up for adult learn to swim lessons at a City of Calgary pool.  I'm checking in now that my Level 2 lessons are half over (already!).




Lesson 1 (Oct. 14):

About 30 of us congregated along the edge of the pool shaking nervously, glancing sideways at each other.  I instantly saw the opportunity to break the ice and joked around that we were all in this together and all nervous.  There were a few laughs and we relaxed.  Yeah, I'm always "that one."  

Gear check:  I struggled to pull on my swim cap.  That one item alone makes me feel like a dork as if I'm pulling a condom on over my head.  It stretches my forehead in weird wrinkles unless I tug at it a dozen times.  I have two pairs of goggles.  One for open swims with great visibility and no leaking and another pair for the pool that leak unless I crank them down tight enough to leave bruised rings around my eye sockets.  Ah.. First World Problems.  

I digress:  [Apparently the function of a swim cap is to reduce drag and make you swim faster.  That's not why I wear one.  I thought it would protect my hair from the chlorine until I discovered after my first swim that the water seeped up into the cap around my ears.  Apparently the trick is to wet your hair, put it in a ponytail and then put the cap over it.  That way, if water seeps in, it is diluted by the regular water already in your hair and the cap keeps most of it out of your hair.  I good shampoo and leave-in conditioner after swimming and I hope to keep my hair from turning green or falling out.  Sadly, I never wanted to get my hair wet over the past 30 years so the skills I learned in swim lessons I took as a kid all but disappeared and the dog paddle became my strongest stroke.  Let's stop being prissy and change that!]

Some of us were going to level 1 and some of us (me) to level 2.  In level 2, we were asked about our goals as we got in the water.  The three of us with swim caps want to complete a diva or sprint triathlon in the spring.  This was a "see what you can do" night.  Just get in and swim.  The water was cold but Keith had taught me to just get in and do some water running to warm up so I automatically did that and felt better.

We started with front crawl by popular demand.  After what felt like 10 minutes of explanations, we got going.  There were too many things all at once.  Arms propelling, legs fluter kicking, rolling to breathe, hands, eyes in the water, look over your shoulder to breathe, reach your mouth to the side... Holy smokes!  This was after a full day of work and my brain was just about to explode.  Many people were afraid of the deep end and stopped halfway along the 25 m lane.  There were a few near-collisions.  Our instructor explained we needed to swim to the deep end in the middle and come back along the edge of the pool or the rope.  I looked over at the level 1 swimmers and they were standing waist-deep in the shallow end with barbell-looking things and flutter boards.  At least we were moving to keep warm.

Attacking the water with gusto burning up a ton of energy with my whackamole arms & kickboxing legs is simply not sustainable for a long distance endurance event. I got water in my ears on the first length but luckily had my earplugs with me so put them in and that helped. This was way too tiring. I was gasping for air like an asthmatic walrus while hanging on the the edge of the pool at the end of each length. At least I can swim the full 25 m length without stopping although I do have to stop there before heading back.

At the end, one person attempted a dive and others tried jumping in to the deep end with the instructor holding a pole for them to grab on to. I wasn't quite ready to try that with too many eyes watching just yet but psyched myself up to do it next time no matter what.


Slow it down and be more gentle with the water. That's what I will focus on for next time so I can keep it up for longer times. I need to find my "cruise control pace." I know what that feels like running and biking so I know I haven't found it in swimming. Part of that is fear of relaxing too much and sinking.



Lesson 2 (Oct 16):

In preparation for class I googled "swim the front crawl slowly" found some YouTube videos and slow motion animations to watch and websites with info. I need help to break this down.

More front crawl. This time I decided I needed to break it down and leave the arms out. (As a kid I took ballet, jazz, jazzercise and step aerobics. We always learned the steps first and added the arms later). I put my hands out in front of me and just flutter kicked, rolled and breathed every third arm stroke. This worked out well. Every time I tried to add the arms in I got water in my airway and my kick changed from a weak flutter to a big scissor kick. At least I was more relaxed overall.  The instructor got our flutter boards for everyone to try the front crawl minus arms after that. I don't feel like the board helps me. I'm fine to just put my head in the water because it lifts the rest of my body more along the surface.

It's still too soon to tell what will evolve. I'm trying to stay positive and keep an open mind.


I said hello to Wendy the lifeguard. We rode together for a good chunk of the MEC fall century ride. Check out my recap here.

We did a couple of lengths of backstroke to start to get a feel for it. At the end, some people put on waist floaty belts and we treaded water while naming countries that started with each letter of the alphabet, then I attempted a dive and luckily didn't belly flop.

"Dear water, I feel like we could become friends... now that I stopped kicking & punching you after lesson #1. Thanks for lifting my spirits... and my hips tonight. Glide, breathe, flutter. I gave up on arms this time & dove & didn't drown."



Lesson 3 (Oct 21):

"Dear water, please play nice tonight. I have marathon legs. Time to focus on arms."


More front crawl minus the arms for me.  I just can't coordinate all my body parts at once.

Then it was time for more backstroke and I feel "good enough for me" with this stroke. I like how breathing isn't an issue since your face is pointing at the ceiling the whole time. I even flutter kicked with no arms for a few lengths. Somehow flutter kicking doesn't come as easily with my face in the water.  

We started in on the breaststroke but I just can't get the whip kick and I feel like I'm breathing when I should be blowing. My arms also do a weird little double circle for every stroke. I'm doing it wrong and I don't feel like I'll ever make sense of this.  

My legs were relaxed... but they sank like lead. I'm apparently not very buoyant. Do they make waterwings for legs? I'd be willing to try them.

I'm feeling tired but I know that my last running race of the season is over and I'm in recovery mode. I also didn't ride my bike to work at all this week. Cheesies, chocolate and the couch are in my plans. My spirits are low and I'm feeling overwhelmed. I have to believe things will get better. I need to organize and simplify and prioritize. I also need to say no more often.


Lesson 4 (Oct 23):

"Dear water, tonight I just want 2 get home & sleep but paid swim lessons keep me accountable. Let's just get through this safely."  


We did some back crawl. It was good to reinforce that I feel comfortable in the water with this stroke and focus on brushing my ears with my arms as they go past.  I have to focus on keeping my flutter kick steady.

Next we did some front crawl. I think I'm regressing. I even tried breathing all on the same side but just ended up flailing, snorting water and choking on it. I have done well to make it through four lessons without my nose plug but in order to get more comfortable with this important stroke, I will bring them next week in the hope that it will allow me to coordinate breathing, arms and flutter kicking better. I got a cramp in the arch of my foot and the back of my calf. I just gave up for tonight. It's OK.

Lastly we did breaststroke. I was sure I would never get the hang of this last week but it magically fell into place somehow tonight! My kick still resembles a lopsided scissor kick instead of the desired whip kick but it's good enough for me to feel comfortable and move forward in the water. I don't have the panicky feeling I get when doing the front crawl. I would like the front crawl to magically come together soon too.

I hung out after class watching other swimmers. Someone was doing the butterfly. Yikes. That looks hard. Some guys were doing the front crawl respectably with powerful arms and a very fit looking silver-haired gal was doing a different stroke for each length. She looked so relaxed. 

It's too soon to decide if I will repeat this level two class or take level three or call it a day with swimming. There are four more lessons and there is light at the end of the tunnel.



PS: I appreciate the moral support on twitter and via text messages from friends. You know who you are and you are my support system... or my "water wings" right now. Thank you.