I’m the Benjamin Button of Swimming

I swear, I must be the only person alive who seems to be getting worse the more she tries to swim. I’m like the Benjamin Button of swimming — the more time I spend in the water, the crappier I seem to get. My good swims are at about a 25-33%, meaning one out of every three or four swims actually feels decent. On the rare chance I”ll have what I think is a “good” swim workout (meaning I was just tragically slow instead of abysmally slow), the next 2-3 swims will be freaking awful and I’ll beat myself up over how hopeless I am until my body throws me a bone with a semi-decent swim again.

My swim, much like 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,' is disappointing and runs way too long.

Take today’s workout for example. Teresa persuaded me to do the “postal swim,” which is an hour-long time trial. The rule is simple: see how far you can swim in 60 minutes. She pestered me via email and asked if I was going to sign up, and I sighed and responded with, “I don’t really want to do it, but I will if you think it’ll be good for me.” By the time I stopped dragging my feet and committed to doing the workout, there were only a couple slots left. Teresa cheerfully jammed me into the first of three waves. Wave #1 started at 7 am. On a Sunday. FML.

As if getting up at the ass crack of dawn on a Sunday morning for a bullshit swim workout wasn’t bad enough, I scanned the list of folks who were swimming in Wave #1 and realized that I was woefully outpaced among my fellow teammates. All of the fast assholes on my team were swimming at 7 am. I needed to be in Wave #3, which started at 9:30…or Teresa needed to make a separate “slowest of the slow” wave that started at noon and consisted of me and a no armed, one legged drifter named Hobo Joe.

Also making the swim worse was the fact that I was out of town this past week for work, so my weekend workouts were especially heavy duty to make up for my travel time. I spent the weekdays in Denver before flying home and forcing myself to do a swim workout on Friday. My swim wasn’t great, which gave me a glimmer of hope that, by the Law of Transitive Beccas, my Sunday swim would be better. On Saturday I had a “Welcome back to Ironman training you lazy bastard” workout that consisted of 3×1 hour bike intervals with a 15 minute brick run after each set. By the end of my 3:45 workout, I was exhausted, my legs were aching, and I was dreading the early morning swim that would end my weekend.

This morning I woke up at a soul-crushingly early 5:30 am and puttered around as nervous as I would be if it were an actual race. I was irrationally anxious and agonized over what to eat for breakfast. I even sucked down a cup of coffee, something I only do on race mornings. Jason and I hopped into the car (he didn’t want to do the postal swim either, but I nagged him into Band of Brothers-ing it with me) and drove over to Mercer Island. It was stupid and dark outside–as in “dark enough that I should still be in bed instead of driving to a turdtastic swim workout.” The island has no streetlights and the pool center was dark too, resulting in a supremely paranoid left turn into the parking lot since I was worried about missing the driveway and careening down an embankment (which, admittedly, still would have been better than swimming nonstop for an hour).

We entered the facility and made our way down to the pool. It was actually a 25 meter pool, so it was a smidge longer than the typical 25-yarder I was used to. I hopped in and busted out a half-ass 100 meter warm up, then we all began the time trial. My lane partner named Jeanne immediately began kicking my ass, lapping me like I was treading water and busting out flip turns like a boss. I sighed and puttered along, keeping a steady pace.

It was a bit tedious and difficult to concentrate on perfect form (which I don’t have, anyway) for an entire hour, so I let my mind wander towards the following:

  • The nasty band-aid that was floating beneath me for about 20 minutes (eventually it made its way over to the lane next to me and kept Derek and Karissa company).
  • How much phlegm I accumulated the longer I swim. At around the 30 minute mark I had a string of drool hanging from my mouth for about 100 meters before it finally broke off and presumably floated over to hang out with the band-aid in the Corner of Gross.
  • Getting half-drowned every 10 minutes whenever Derek and I would briefly end up side by side (I say “briefly” because that bastard is an astoundingly fast swimmer) and his massive, manly wake would push into me and make me gurgle and partially choke on chlorine, band-aid juice, and errant loogies.

By the time the clock finally ticked down to its last seconds, I was halfway done with a length and finished at the deck end of the pool at around 1:00:25. I looked up and saw that the crowd had grown from about five teammates who were counting everyone’s laps to around 30 people who were waiting for their wave to start. The sudden audience made me feel a bit sheepish in a “Oh hey guys, how long have you been standing there? I was just taking ‘er easy for that last 10 minutes…oh, you’ve been here for 20? I meant 20. I did a 20 minute cooldown. I’m not normally this slow…” sort of way.

I hopped out of the pool, and Addy, my lap counter, looked up from his seat to give me my distance.

Addy: “2325.”

Me: “What?! I was between 25 and 50 when time ran out!”

Addy, helpfully: “Well, I wrote down ‘2325+.'”

Me, sulking: “Well I’m going to round up to 2350.”

Addy, rolling his eyes: “Whatever.”

Me, embarrassed: “…I need all the distance I can get.”

Teresa told me to shoot for 2400-2600 and Jason the Overbearing Boyfriend said I could do 2800. I did neither of those. In fact, if you calculate my pace for a half and full Ironman distance, I swam slower today than last year’s Rev 3 swim time and my Ironman Canada swim time. How nice to see that my swim times are getting progressively worse the longer I do this sport. I guess you could blame my sluggishness on the fact that my legs were dead from the previous day’s workout, but Jason had a 5 hour interval workout and he busted out a great swim time, so I can’t even really make that excuse. I guess I just suck, plain and simple.

I’m starting to get desperate here–at this point I’m actually entertaining the notion of joining a master’s swim class or two. Sure, I’ll get humiliated a couple nights a week, but at least I’ll have someone who can keep an eye on my swim form and yell at me whenever I do something wrong (which would be every 15 seconds). I’ve been better about hitting my swim workouts lately but I’m still not seeing consistent gains. How much do I need to be swimming each week to improve? And will this improvement be anything substantial, or will I basically negate any gains I make this August at IMC if I end up needing to take a three minute bathroom break in T2? Do I truly have the potential to get substantially better at swimming, or will I always be weak at it no matter how hard I work? I’m not whining here, just genuinely clueless about what it takes to improve my swimming. Maybe I need to harvest Michael Phelps’ tears or something…

5 Responses to “ “I’m the Benjamin Button of Swimming”

  1. teresa says:

    consistency, consistency, consistency. A minimum of 3x/week in the water (4 ideally). Your pace was nearly the same of that of you 2000 TT, and you swam further. I would say that is an improvement! Keep on swimming and get all your swims in….You have the strength and technique in the shorter swims, it is maintaining it through the endurance. I believe in you!


  2. George says:

    “workout that consisted of 3×1 hour bike intervals with a 15 minute brick run after each set. ”

    If prisoners were subjected to that kind of workout, the ACLU would be all over this issue. Whew!

    I can emphatise, I had to drop out of a measly 400M TT today. 3 years and I still swim uphill 😉

  3. Cathleen K says:

    I’m impressed that you did the Postal swim!! Badass, I tell you. I tend to stay away from those ‘swim only’ events.

  4. Angela says:

    Doing a Postal Swim is impressive – I don’t care the distance! 1 hour nonstop is serious swimming. Think of it as serious mental focus practice.

    A guy at my pool did a postal of 5515 meters over the weekend and set some crazy new age group record. I can’t even fathom that…

  5. Molly says:

    If you are ever down my way, I would happily share a swim lane with you so you could feel much faster 🙂 As it is, you’ll be going past me at light speed in the lake in Canada!

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