Jul 172020

Eney Jones performs the dancer pose in the woods near her Colorado home. Photo by Lily Donge.

Most Masters swimmers prefer water training over land-based activity. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis required many swimmers to hang up their swimsuits and find new training alternatives. Research shows that land-based activities can help maintain bone density and muscle mass and that cross-training can reduce the potential for injuries. Masters swimmers Mark Frost, Tom Boyd, Andrea Woodburn, Eney Jones, Hilary Cohen, and Denise Letendre share how they stayed fit during the lockdown and why they continued some of their land-based activities once pools opened again.

Oregon Masters swimmer Mark Frost, 53, has acquired four Masters Top 10 achievements and one Masters All-American berth in a 10K open water race. He joined the Oregon Masters Swim community several years ago and began training up to six days a week at the Hood River Aquatic Center.

Mark was experiencing shoulder pain when pools in his area closed in March. “Before COVID, I was considering transitioning to three, instead of five, days in the pool, using the other two days to do dryland shoulder work.”

He started biking around a 10-mile bike loop in his neighborhood dubbed the “Hamster” loop. At first, he cycled the route on alternate days and then started doing it daily or even twice a day. He’s now done this loop 43 straight days in the afternoons—rather than the early AMs when he once swam.

During the spring, he ventured out on an open water wetsuit swim in Hood River with two other teammates in chilly 55- degree water.  “Water flow is really strong this time of year.” Most of the open water swimmers wait until it slows—and the water hits at least 60, he said.

“I’m going to look for a balance coming out of this [COVID-19 crisis].” Mark plans to continue cycling after pools open “to improve my legs so I can start running again” and to “keep the weight off.”  After completing an Ironman Triathlon in Cozumel in 2013, he has experienced steady weight gain.

He’ll stick with his recently established afternoon training schedule, which has enabled him to communicate with European clients early mornings when he used to swim. Biking, running and open water—rather than pool—training will make that possible. He looks ahead to winning another open water championship and one day swimming the English Channel.

64-year-old Tom Boyd—coached by John Grzeszczak—swims with the Hammerhead Aquatics Masters team in Fort Lauderdale and has acquired 67 Masters Top 10 and one All-American award. A former college swimmer, Tom joined Masters in 1984 and has been consistently swimming ever since. After being diagnosed with a heart condition ten years ago, he has directed his focus on fitness rather than competition.

Pre-COVID-19, he did chest and shoulder work on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and back, biceps and legs on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Thirty-five years of coaching experience gave him the know-how to design effective strength training workouts. His goal want wasn’t to bulk up—just to get stronger—and maintain a healthy bone density, which can’t be achieved through water training. He cycled through three sets of 6, 10 or 20 reps, doing fewer reps on days higher weights were selected. Stretches were added during rest intervals. In particular, he emphasized stretches for tight hips and hamstrings. This weight routine was disrupted when his condo complex gym closed in March.

Tom’s lockdown strength workout includes pushups (3×20), burpees (2×10), tricep dips (3×20), planks (2×1:15), mountain climbers (3×20), calf raises (2×30), jumping jacks (1×40) and a two-minute wall sit.  “I also do several sets of light-weight repeats of rotator cuff exercises.  Because I only have five-pound weights, I also do three sets of 100 curls as fast as I can to get some lactic acid.” He also does a workout “based on a set that coach John sent out that had a set for each letter of the alphabet and you spell out your full name, including middle name, for your dry land sets. It was fun, and I stuck with it (Table 1).”

Tom typically swam as much as 4000 meters four days a week and ran on three of the off days. Now he’s running four to eight miles before sunrise when he’s less likely to encounter others.

Tom will resume his normal weight routine and continue running three days a week once the lockdown ends and he can return to the pool.  “Once I can get in the water, I will do a lot of dolphin kicking on my back for my core. I will probably discontinue the drylands but will keep up with the planks.  I want to do the weights to help with bone density and muscle mass.” Strength training also helps with weight control, he said.  “I will always continue to do the rotator cuff exercises as I have chronic issues with my shoulders if I don’t.”

Andrea Woodburn, a recently retired family therapist, also swims for Hammerhead Aquatics in Ft. Lauderdale. She has acquired 10 Masters Top 10 achievements and has been a Masters swimmer for more than 25 years, serving in various capacities with her LMSC in more recent years.

When pools closed on March 15th, Andrea turned to yoga. She’s a 200-RYT Yoga Alliance certified instructor and enjoys a regular Ashtanga practice. She says yoga is similar to swimming in that “there’s rhythm and flow.” People who take her classes often take it for flexibility, mobility, and better emotional balance. “Who doesn’t like to feel at peace. People are really having this sense of being out of control. In Yoga, you gain insight on your own control over your own body. It’s very powerful.”

Andrea and her husband also practice tether swimming in their backyard pool, simulating 100-yard intervals by stroke count. She’s also been doing the A-Z strength and general conditioning work that teammate Tom Boyd is doing.

The dryland workouts have added a new component to her training.  “Sweat, heart-rate up, high energy, listening to music, I can feel muscles tightening—it’s overall good conditioning.” For many of those reasons, she plans to continue that mode of training post-lockdown.

Andrea believes in having options available. People not open to training outside the water “have no outlet,” she said. “I think it’s important to be well-rounded.” Even if pools don’t close again due to the pandemic, a person might have to stop pool training during an ear infection or other situation. Andrea also cites bone health as one more reason to persist with some kind of land-based training.

 

Table 1: A-Z or Spell Your Name Workout
A 10 Burpees
B 1-minute plank
C 20 pushups
D 40 jumping jacks
E 15 squats
F 3-minute wall sit
G 15 crunches
H 30 calf raises
I 20 body squats
J 20 mountain climbers
K 15 tricep dips
L  1-minute plank
M 20 lunges
N 30-second plank
O 20 pushups
P 25 arm circles
Q 15 side lunges
R 10 burpees
S 20 mountain climbers
T 20 jump squats
U 1-minute high knees
V 40 jumping
W 15 tricep dips
X 15 crunches
Y 3-minute wall sit
Z 30 calf raises

 

Andrea anticipates a return to open water racing. Last year, she swam the Hellespont, a swim that crosses a channel from Europe to Asia. More than 800 swimmers competed, and Andrea won her age group. “It was a really cool race.”

Eney Jones splits her time living in Boulder and Crescent Butte, Colorado. She was an NCAA gold medalist, has 104 Masters Top ten achievements, 7 Masters All American (pool) achievements, and 3 All American open water achievements. She was also a professional triathlete for nearly a decade.

The coronavirus lockdowns scrambled all of her aquatic plans. Eney had been slated to race in USMS Spring Nationals, a meet her dad was hosting, and to attend clinics in Canada and Australia. The sudden end to those plans and her water training felt surreal. “I went from a busy schedule to nothing.”

Embarking on land-based training, she chose to move away from goal-driven training. “I am doing things because I enjoy them, not stressing or training with the ‘end’ or ‘race’ in mind, but more with the ‘right now’ in mind. I used to think that more was more. More training, more activities, more racing. But now I am doing things for less time more often.”

She often ran nine miles while training for triathlons, for example. At first, it felt like a waste for her to try three instead. She gradually let go of that belief and started regularly running short distances with a friend. “I’m making it more about fun and conversation.” Often, Eney doesn’t even wear a watch.

In addition to running, she’s mountain and road biking and doing “kitchen ballet” (a combination of dumbbell exercises, yoga, and ballet), core work (including wheels – https://swimswam.com/finding-the-calm-in-the-storm/) and yoga—outside on the deck with her husband.

Instead of getting up at 4:30 to swim like she did when pools were open, “I sleep in and I’m eating and cooking better.” Sleeping past the wee hours has its benefits. Instead of the afternoon doldrums, “I have energy to go through the day,” she said. She has enjoyed this shift of mindset and activities she’s adopted during this lockdown. “It’s made me open my mind to the fact that other things could feed my soul.”

She admits the water’s never far from her mind. Her thirst for the water drove her to dive into ice-cold creek swimming. “You get in and it’s so cold, you think I can’t do this.” Then, she said, you go numb and don’t care anymore and “afterward, you feel great.”

After lockdown ends, morning “connection” walks with her husband and road and mountain biking will all continue along with the 30-minute “kitchen ballet” routine. “Yes, I will compete but not as much. Yes, I will swim but not as much. I have found that other activities are helping me keep strong and more focused on what really matters.”

32-year-old Denise Letendre “swam collegiately at Rutgers University and then started Masters in 2012.  I am a five-time individual All-American and 93-time Masters Top 10 swimmer.  “Primarily an IMer in the pool,” she also regularly competes in open water competitions.

“About two weeks after pools closed, I purchased a spin bike. My bike cost about 350 dollars and was easy to assemble. I started using the Peloton app to do spin workouts.  I have also incorporated strength workouts, dance cardio, stretching, and yoga into my routine.  The app offers classes in all those areas.  I like the variety.  I particularly like the spin classes because they mimic tough pool workouts.  Sprints and resistance challenges force me to push myself like I would in the pool.  I find myself drawing upon the same “grit” and perseverance I use at the end of a tough swim race.  Sometimes I even convert how much time we have left to a swim race.  Say we have 30 more seconds at a certain challenging speed.  I will tell myself that it’s the last 50 of a 400 IM and push myself like I would at the end of a race.  I get the same ‘high’ at the end of a spin class that I used to get when pushing myself in the pool.  I also feel like the cycling has kept my cardiovascular fitness at a good level.

“After pools reopen, I still plan to use the bike on days I don’t swim. It helps my leg strength and cardiovascular capacity.  I also plan to continue strength and yoga classes.  I had done yoga before quarantine, but during this time, I realized how much my body needs it. I have tight shoulders that I enjoy stretching in downward-facing dog.  I also feel like my balance is improving.  I usually do yoga before bed and it helps me clear my head of the busyness and anxiety of the day.”

Hilary Cohen, 57, lives in Atlanta, Georgia. After pool closures, she continued swimming in nearby lakes on weekends. That’s when “I normally do high volume swims back to back,” she said.

Despite all the turmoil, this seasoned distance open water swimmer has set her sights on competing again in Trifloyd 8, an eight-mile open water event from Clearwater to Tampa in November.  The COVID-19 crisis led her to ask herself, “What can I do to train hard now that I have this limitation?”

Her basement has been converted into a gym with “every piece of equipment.” A friend who owns a Cross Fit gym gave her ideas on implementing an effective core and strengthening program –on land and in an above ground pool—to improve her swimming performance. On land, she emphasizes work for core, shoulders, and back, performing a variety of exercises including planks, landmine lunges (with barbell), standing presses, rotator cuff work, kettlebell swings, waist twists (with barbell), and ball shots. She also suspends herself from gymnastic rings for pullups and core work. “There’s a host of core exercises I’ve added.” She has a large tire in her yard for flipping. This land-based regimen isn’t something she’ll discard even after pools open. “I’ve pulled a muscle in my back. I’ve had injuries.” She believes the dryland work is protective against these problems.

She encourages people locked out of gyms who don’t have weights at home to get creative. She suggests filling PVC pipe with sand and cementing the ends, filling milk jugs with water, or heaving kitty litter bags.

Hilary has one above ground pool in place and is in the process of setting up a second. When working remotely, she takes breaks to train in water just steps away from her computer. “It’s convenient and invigorating.” Recently, she’s been doing tethered sculling, kicking, fist swimming, breaststroke, and core work, including two and three-point plans. She hopes to be able to do full freestyle in her new, deeper pool.

With water nearby and a repertoire of workouts available, “I feel like I’m better able to equip with day to day stress. I can think outside the box and think ‘what else can I use?’ It’s good to experiment.”

 

 

May 152020

A feature I authored was recently published on the U.S. Masters Swimming web site. “Want to Swim? Try the Above Ground Swimming Pool Ideas.” Because of the COVID-19 crisis, photos not already on the server could not be uploaded with the article. So I am posting some of Helene Nehrebecki’s amazing photos here so you can see that she’s been able to do some serious training in her small, inexpensive above-ground pool!

 

 

Sep 012018

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Oct 192015

The water’s where I go to regain balance when I’m stressed, to escape when life hurts. That’s why most days of the week even when the water’s cold, the deck is slick with ice or it’s pitch dark, I haul myself out of bed at the crack of dawn and submerge my head in chlorinated water.

Usually, I’m barely awake and a little disoriented when I first dive in. But when I emerge from my hour-long outdoor swim, I feel transformed. Instead of dull and lethargic, my thoughts feel focused and sharp and my mind feels relaxed and calm. All stiffness is replaced by a feeling of youthful exuberance and my skin tingles in a way that’s a pleasant reminder I’m alive.

Still…I’ve always wondered what it would be like to take this swimming experience outside the confines of a concrete rectangle. On countless beach vacations, I’ve dreamed of swimming beyond the buoys, crowds and stirred up sediment. I’ve gazed out at the sea and fantasized about swimming for hours with no worries about boat traffic or being carried away by a current.

When I first came across the Big Blue website, my husband was a new swimmer, training for his first triathlon. I bookmarked the site, followed Big Blue on Facebook and jealously read the trip itinerary. Wow–daily swims around islands in the Ionian Sea, crossing channels and hugging coastlines. Sounds like a swimmer’s dream come true. If only Chris was ready for that, I thought.

Five years later, Chris had completed countless triathlons and trained with the Masters swim team daily. Last spring after we finished a lake swim, I felt confident he could enjoy a swimming vacation. So I burst out with, “Can we please do that swim trip in Greece?”

Fast forward to six months later… Chris and I sit shoulder to shoulder on the deck of a boat called Mogli near Lefkada Island, Greece. We’re chatting with new friends we’ve met from Australia, the UK and Israel as the boat bobs over waves toward our latest island destination in the Ionian Sea. The sea between the Greek mainland and Lefkada is a swimmer’s playground with dozens of islands around to explore. Topped with olive and fir trees, they are rimmed in white limestone and aquamarine water that transforms into a luxurious blue as the water deepens. The sea is such a postcard perfect blue I’m tempted to close my eyes for a few seconds to see if its still there when I reopen them.

Neither of us are open water gurus. We worry the swims might be scary, that we might feel alone and vulnerable out in the ocean. But with the support of our guides on Mogli and the inflatable boats, we feel safe. Most of the time, we hug the shoreline of an island, hovering over a limestone bottom barely over our heads. Most significantly, our guides Michael, Jax and Noa choose fortuitous swimming spots with minimal boat activity and calmer water, escort us every stroke of the way, and offer us juice and water at regular intervals to keep us hydrated.

The trip feels like a magical dream. Every morning after a relaxing and scenic boat trip, we swim around different islands and enjoy long lunches in quaint villages. The three speed groups that have been established allow us all to swim at a pace that feels right. My pink swim group buddies are my husband, Chris, and Fran Lou. We are soon dubbed “the explorers” because we rarely miss the opportunity to capture a photo, propel our way into a cave or surface dive to recover a sea urchin skeleton from the bottom. All three of us are athletic and adventurous so we make a great swimming team. Suzanne Williams jumps in to join us for a couple of swims, instantly adopting the adventurous, explorer spirit, pointing out starfish nestled in the limestone beds as we swim along.

In the pool, I felt confined. In the Ionian Sea, I feel suddenly free. I cruise along, gliding through the buoyant, salty sea until every smooth stroke feels like meditation. Peering through that crystal clear water, I watch schools of fish dart out of my path. I slide my hand over beds of tilted and buckled limestone that have been subjected to millions of years of the earth’s compressive forces.

Without the predictability of a black line or a wall, my mind is excitedly anticipating what might happen next. Are there fish behind those rocks? Will there be bigger waves after we round that peninsula? Will we be able to squeeze into that cave?

After exploring a cave, Fran climbs up onto a big shelf of limestone outside its mouth. I take a picture of her smiling and flexing her muscles.

When it’s time for another channel crossing, my heart rate accelerates. It’s harder work and the seas are choppier. The white limestone bottom drops out from beneath us and all I see through my goggles is cerulean blue water. Is the water one hundred feet deep or five hundred feet deep? Dozens of feet below me, a milky white jellyfish opens its umbrella like body before closing it again, propelling itself through the water. What else lies below us, I wonder. Fish, dolphins, sea turtles? A shark, perhaps? Not knowing makes the experience more exciting. It’s my adrenaline rush for the day.

On our final day, we stroke across a small channel from Skorpidi Island to Skorpios Island. Skorpios Island, once owned by Aristotle and Jacki Onassis, was recently sold to Ekaterina Rybolovleva, the daughter of Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev.

Swimming through crystal clear water alongside this idyllic island is like starring in a James Bond movie. The Spy Who Loved Me song plays in my head as I turn my head to breathe and see a stone wall hiding an expansive villa. Then I see acres of lush green forest, where security cameras peering out from the foliage serves as the only reminder that someone lives here and is watching our every move.  As we round another point, buoys prevent us from swimming too close to a second villa perched above the beach. A bodyguard wearing a crisp white shirt and sunglasses observes us from shore.

“Six thirty three,” Gary shouts when I touch the wall after a five hundred yard timed swim at Masters workout. I’m jarred back to the present. It’s been weeks since Chris and I returned from our wonderful vacation in Greece. But whenever I’m in the pool, my thoughts often drift across the Atlantic and back to the Ionian Sea and once again, I’m gliding through the salty sea, relishing how it feels on my skin. And after a hard workout, sometimes I close my eyes, float on my back and imagine I’m bobbing on the waves and that I’m still surrounded by amazing world of blue water and green islands that is Greece. That fantasy will just have to do until I get a chance to go back.

Mar 122013

Tricia Schafer wins a medal at a race

“I’ve been caffeine free for many years,” said Tricia Schafer, who lives in Phoenix, Arizona. “My boyfriend and I decided to drop it because it made us irritable. Seriously, we’d get up, be all peaceful, then have a few sips of coffee and start bickering. The correlation was uncanny. I also struggle with anxiety issues and caffeine seems to make it worse.”

Over the course of a typical week, Tricia swims eight hours with the Phoenix Swim Club Masters, works out on a spin bike four days and runs 20 miles. She also sometimes competes. In the past, caffeine-rich products made her irritable, rather than giving her a competitive edge. “I have never consumed an energy gel. I just don’t feel like I need them. I sip on V8 juice between events or eat Clif Shot blocks (uncaffeinated).” She also easts Zing brand nutrition bars “because they are gluten/dairy/soy free and are super easy to digest. And they are delicious.”

Tricia breaks up her two to three hour a day workouts into increments “so I can eat real food in between efforts.” Her preference is to eat healthy, wholesome foods often in small amounts. “I hate feeling hungry and I hate feeling full.” In addition to Zing bars, she pours herself tall glasses of homemade juice comprised of celery, kale, chard, beets, and grapefruit, nibbles on nuts and seeds and often eats up to eight eggs daily. She usually also eats one serving of organic meat. Occasionally, she indulges in her favorite treat- coconut chocolate milk.

Tricia’s style of meal preparation is quick, easy, and super nutritious. “I’m a lousy cook and barely have the patience to cut veggies for the juicer, but I eat them as I cut them and often end up filling up on raw veggies and skipping whatever the next ‘regular’meal would be. If I’m hungry, I have to eat now.” While the average American craving instant food gratification ends up in the line at McDonald’s,  Tricia makes sure what she eats nourishes her active body, rather than filling it with crud.

Jan 172012

Just like your car, when you driving your body hard, it needs some maintenance and tune-ups. Many athletes and fitness buffs are very diligent about making sure they swim, bike or run a certain number of miles ever week, but devote little attention to pre- and post-workout stretching, massage, and recovery.

In reality, the body maintenance is as important as the workout itself. Proper care for your body can reduce the incidence of injuries, reduce pain and inflammation and improve performance. Below are some tips to help you establish a preventative maintenance schedule for your body:

1 – Schedule massages regularly. Massage is necessary to keep muscles and the connective tissue that sheaths muscles healthy (long and pliable rather than lumpy and thickened). Massage also often alleviates muscle discomfort. If you can afford it, schedule one twice a month. Otherwise, learn how to do self-massage work with balls and foam rollers.

2 – Stretch major muscles worked after every workout. Stretching releases toxins that build up during exercise, improves circulation, restores length to tissues and incites a relaxation response. Always take nice deep breaths while stretching and hold stretches for 30-60 seconds per muscle stretched. Do not bounce the stretches.

3 – Identify overtight parts of your body and give them extra attention. Stretch these muscles more frequently or even do 2 to four sets of 30-60 seconds for these areas. For example, many people have tight psoas muscles (upper part of front of thighs) from sitting so much. This can tip the pelvis forward and place undue stress on the low back. You can stretch the psoas after work by getting down on your knees and taking a giant step forward with the right foot, resting your hands on the front thigh and then pressing forward with hips in the back, getting that lengthening stretch in the psoas. Then you can change sides. Sitting also tightens the chest muscles, which can be loosened by lying on top of a foam roller with the arms out to sides, palms up at shoulder level and letting gravity passively lengthen the muscles.

4 – Rest. Sleep sufficient hours nightly and take at least one day off from training every week. Never work the same muscle groups in strength training two days in a row.

Your body works very hard for you and you should give something back by nurturing it with some care and recovery.

Nov 092011

Susan after a swim in the La Jolla cove

Susan after a swim in the La Jolla cove

Some of my best workouts happen on days I almost talked myself out of exercise. Today was one of them. It might frighten you to hear the kind of mental chatter that rattles around inside my head, but perhaps you can relate to it as well. This morning, the workout protagonist (to be referred to as athlete or A) and antagonist (the sleepy sloth or SS) got into instant battle the moment the alarm sounded off. Sleepy sloth whined, “it’s too cold to swim.” And she’s right, actually. Hardly anyone in their right mind would swim outdoors at 6 a.m. when its less than 40 degrees. Athlete argued the water would be warm and once I got in and started moving, I wouldn’t be cold at all. So I got out of bed and donned the swim suit, slippers, and swim parka. Then SS said, “but with these cramps, no way.” Hormones were to blame for this agony. A argued the whole day would go better after the swim – I’d be calm, cheerful, happy, and understanding. So I ended up on the pool deck 10 minutes later and swam the whole Masters workout from beginning to end. I started out feeling sleepy, sluggish and bloated. And by the end of the workout, the cramps had dissipated and I even swam a 39.0 50 breast in the last 10 minutes of workout. Not bad! So I toweled off and ran to my warm car feeling bouncy and happy and like I accomplished something. Even better, I felt fantastic for the entire day simply because I started the day off with energizing exercise.

Oct 312011

A soak in the hottub can feel good after a long swim

I was swimming a series of 6 200 freestyles in my Masters workout this morning and relishing the experience of feeling fit. I wasn’t out of breath, my legs didn’t feel heavy, I didn’t feel my stroke fall apart or physical pain strike at the 150. Instead, I had this incredible feeling of freedom. And power. Every stroke felt long and smooth, every push off the wall powerful, every breath like my lungs had plenty of room and more for the air. The water rushed by my body like a massage, reminding me of my sleekness, my strength, my speed. And instead of thinking “this hurts,” I thought “Wow, it feels so amazing to be in such amazing swimming shape!” And indeed, I did feel amazing and have been feeling that way a lot, as if the water is really my domain.

I wish people struggling to make time or find the motivation for workouts could jump inside my body for just one workout and experience the sheer joy I feel being a fast, efficient swimmer. You don’t have to be a swimmer to enjoy that fantastic fitness feeling. You can be in walking shape, running shape, cycling shape and more. I have been out of shape (in the water and on land) before and I know it feels like the absolute dickens to workout when you are deconditioned and your body is fighting hard against you establishing a new inertia of activity over sedentary living. You have to hang in there long enough to experience that “I’m fit” elation. The fact that I love being fit means I don’t struggle with weight and heart disease and diabetes won’t be a part of my future.

So if you’re not there yet, keep trying because it is a goal worth achieving. To elevate your fitness level to that place where you just might hear that voice of gratitude inside your head saying, “Thanks for making this all possible, for letting me live in this amazing body that can do so much more than I ever imagined.” And then you will know that fitness has become a part of your life that you will never let go. And if you are there, please share your experiences of enlightenment with other readers.

May 042011

Susan Dawson-Cook, 200 Breast, USMS Spring Nationals

Susan Dawson-Cook, 200 Breast, USMS Spring Nationals

I am home safe and sound after four exciting days of swimming in Mesa with 1817 other swimmers from all over the country. Among us were Olympians (including Gold medalist, Rowdy Gaines), USA National team members, and people like myself out there swimming to stay healthy.

Over the course of the meet, I swam five personal best times, proving to myself that I am only getting better with age. I placed 6th in my age group in 50 breast, 8th in 200 breast, and 9th in 100 breast. I also met some amazing swimmers who were there to give their all, despite coping with cancer, cystic fibrosis, heart failure, and other severe and/or chronic illnesses. These people remind me what a wonderful gift it is just to be alive and serve as inspiration to help me keep my chin up when I face what is really nothing more than a petty difficulty or two compared to what these people face.

When a competition goes well, I like to analyze what went right so I can replicate the conditions again the next time. Hopefully you can glean something from my analysis and use it to your advantage in your next race.

1 – I tapered well for the meet. I did a 10 day taper, gradually reducing yards, emphasizing speed work and I halted all cross training activities. I also avoided spending a lot of time on my feet. This is particularly important for breaststroke, because my kick is such an important part of my stroke. I know a couple of swimmers who went out and did a 50 mile bike ride 2 days before the meet – not a good plan.. Patience is a virtue when it comes to a successful taper. I waited until after the meet and then bounced all over the place in Zumba on Monday 🙂

2 – I got lots of sleep before and during the event. 8 or 9 hours a night… Stretching before bed helped me relax so I could go instantly asleep.

3 – I hot tubbed and stretched every night so I never experienced any muscle soreness. I also did a very long cool down (400 to 500 yards) right after my last race.

4 – I avoided static stretches pre-race, which have been proven to reduce power to muscles for a period of time afterward. I did “shake” the muscles to keep them super loose.

5 – I stayed away from the pool as much as possible when I wasn’t racing. I found the 1800 people plus family and friends mob scene very over-stimulating and needed to have time away from this chaotic scene. Some swimmers around my age are also very exclusive of people outside their clique and I prefer to stay away from those people as much as possible.

6 – I stayed covered so I didn’t get cold or lose energy from the sun.

7 – I made sure to do some fast swimming during warm-up. I watch my times, so I’m sure I’m really warmed up. It takes longer to warm up a 48 year old body, so I need to spend more time in the warm-up pool than I used to.

8- I got back in the warm-up pool very close to my sprint events so that I was “keyed up and ready” to swim super fast. There is nothing worse than doing a sprint and not feeling fast until the race is almost over!

9 – I swam my own races. This may not work well for everyone, but I find that if I am too concerned with what other swimmers are doing, I forget what I am doing or allow myself to get psyched out. In Masters swimming, you often don’t know what kind of times swimmers are capable of doing. Some people put in very slow entry times, whereas I always put down my best times in nationals. If a swimmer who has put in a slow seed time is suddenly way ahead of me, it is easy to start freaking out and convincing myself I’m swimming a disastrous race. I try to focus on my own race so I don’t swim a poor race needlessly. I always have a plan for what I want to do and I try to stick with it first and foremost and go by how I feel instead of by what is happening around me. Within the boundaries of swimming my own race, I compete with others.

What I did wrong? There were a few things…

1 – This was the first nationals I attended where I actually did not enjoy myself at all. It was very crowded there, I had some personal issues going on and so I never felt relaxed. I didn’t laugh and joke with people like I usually do either. I hated the hotel where I was staying and kept wishing I was at home all weekend. I feel like I would have swum even better had I felt a little light-hearted.

2 – I got too inside my head before my 200 breaststroke and so I didn’t meet my expectations in that race. I also don’t think I adequately warmed up that day because I got annoyed with the crowds in the warm-up pool. Again, a little patience would have paid off if I had had more of it…

I hope some of you will share your thoughts on competition and what works and doesn’t work for you!!

Apr 272011

USMS Spring Nationals logo

USMS Spring Nationals logo

My count down began two weeks ago when I started tapering for U.S. Masters Swimming Spring Nationals. A decrease in yardage increased my excitement and anticipation of the event. Only “X” more days raced around in my brain! After fine-tuning my starts in practice, doing about 1000 breast stroke pullouts in my home pool and refining some particulars of my stroke, I feel sleek and fast in the water. I indulged in a massage yesterday and have rolled and stretched and hot-tubbed every night this week before bed. I bought a fresh pair of goggles yesterday, tested them in the water this morning. Bags are nearly packed and ready to go. So all I have to do now is drive up to Mesa and start swimming with 1818 other people who have the same plan!

Some people think I’m crazy to compete. “Why would you want to do that at your age?” they ask. As if I should spend my weekends playing bridge and rocking in my chair at 48. Pleeeze! Others, who share my competition and swimming passion, understand what I’m up to completely. There is so much more in it for me than getting a fast time and a medal. That is just part of the story. No matter what time I swim, it is an opportunity for me to express my gratitude to God that I can swim, that I am healthy, that I look fit, that I love to workout. This is a gift I no longer take for granted!

Swimming in an event with so many fit people of all ages – from 19 all the way to 95 – also inspires me to keep on striving to be my best. Nationals, wherever they are held, is a place where people of many generations, professions, and states and countries can come together and share a common love for swimming. I always meet so many interesting people at nationals. Often its the people who aren’t famous who fascinate and inspire me the most because of their perseverance and determination.

A swimmer friend of mine was so ill in January, she had to be fed intravenously. Now she is back in the water competing and expects to win many of her events. I know another woman who underwent chemotherapy last year, now she is swimming 4 events in nationals. People compete alongside fathers, mothers, sons and daughters at this event; enjoying a family weekend of friendly competition. Others enjoy reuniting with friends they’ve met from all over the country over the years.

Is the competition fierce? Sometimes. There is nothing like showing up the first day and seeing nearly 2000 swimmers competing and/or in the warm-up pool to get your adrenaline sky-rocketing. A long warm-up and a few conversations with familiar faces always calms me down in a hurry. But in the end, its a smile, handshake and a pat on the shoulder or a hug after a race, a warm conversation on the sidelines, cheering and encouraging teammates and finishing the competition feeling grateful to be alive and that I have so many special people in my life that makes it all worth it for me.