Swimming – A case for Life Coaching

swimSix years ago I could not swim. Well actually I thought I could swim. To my best knowledge I could do it.
‘I certainly was not as good as those pros but I can swim’ I kept telling myself. 
I had learnt from my dad who had learnt in the Namibian desert. Go figure.
He called it farm dam swimming: breast stroke with your head well above the water line. ‘What is the problem?’ I thought.
I was in my mid 30’s when I started dating a swimmer and was exposed to a whole bunch of ‘pro’ swimmers. Guys and girls who were successful and did tumble turns and all that.
Suddenly what I had been trying to wish into reality (that I could in fact swim) was shown up for the illusion that it was.
The problem with people who are good at something however is that they often don’t know how to pass that knowledge on.
So I sought the help of a coach. Somebody who had studied how to teach. The Total Immersion drills felt awkward at first and it took  me ages to master them. I studied notes, got videos, watched on line…
In fact after the initial weekend intro course I religiously practised at the Sea Point Pavilion.
I did not have access to any other pool as I was not a gym bunny so logistics were an issue.
One afternoon at the start of winter Ryan Stramrood and some of his ‘pro’ buddies arrived in the lane next to mine. I was super excited to share the pool with real heroes who had swum The English Channel and stuff. My excitement did not last very long after I got out of the water as I got quite hypothermic on the drive home due to the cold.
I migrated to warmer waters at the Long Street Baths before I finally got a Virgin Active membership. At this stage I was still just doing drills. Not real swimming. I can’t remember when I actually managed to swim a whole length of the pool non stop. I was ecstatic and I was determined.
I knew this was the way. The only way for me to get it right. I would come home and proudly state that I had done 20 lengths, then 30, then 40. The point is I made progress. I was working on technique quite hard and just generally relaxing in the liquid environment. I was working on the skills that allowed me to progress. The same way building a foundation looks pretty boring and unimpressive until at some point the concrete sets and the walls shoot up above the ground. So too there was a time when that was not enough. I would have to work on fitness. Finally I joined squad. I was put in the slow lane, next to the wall. This was quite welcome as I could grab it in panic.
The point is I slowly improved and Viv gave me great pointers. My swimming volume increased dramatically and a new norm was laid.
I started doing the Clifton Mile and got comfortable in the sea. with a wet suit of course. The point is I was trying to become a triathlete so there was no need to endure the cold.
I sought out Neil Macpherson’s endless pool of hell. The drills he gave me lifted my stroke like nothing else. If you want to ever bring yourself down to reality then I can highly recommend a splash with Neil. The drills WILL lift your game if your ego can take the beating that is.
Learning is all about accepting where you are at and having the determination to improve from there, no matter how small the improvement. As long as you are going in the right direction, you are going in the right direction. Those improvements stick.
One of the first triathlons I did was in Durbanville at the start of winter. The ‘warm up’ was a disaster as it had the opposite effect. The water was far too cold. Finally we swam our one lap and I got out the water and promptly fell over as I was not accustomed to the change in body position. Ear plugs sorted that out. They were a crutch that I used willingly but deep down inside I knew that I would have to learn to cope without them at some point. many years later I left them behind too.
We were well on our way to training for the BIG DANCE when we did a training weekend in Fisherhaven. The swim across the lagoon was supposed to be 2 – 3km in total. It turned out to be that distance to half way! The worst was I swam by myself. It was not fun to be left way behind by my wife and paddler at the time but the lesson was a good one. If I could survive that then I would survive the swim at Ironman.
Each new level of competence brings a plateau. We have the choice to enjoy it and wallow or challenge ourselves to a new level, whatever form that may take. As we gain more competence we have the option to learn new things and constantly be challenged. Or we stagnate.
I am not singling out any one intervention as a game changer. It was putting the right thing in at the right time. The  fact that my stimulus was just the right intensity every step of the way led me to cope with each challenge rather than hit overwhelm.
I could not have gotten to where I am now if it had not been for a coach (or every single coach I have had actually) to guide and steer me in the right direction. Constantly giving insight and reflection. I took everything on board and took what I could use and discarded what I could not.
[I still remember being asked to practice tumble turns on the lawn. At the time a stimulus too far (by no fault of my coach at the time!!) I just hate water up my nose and as such I don’t tumble turn.]
What if we embraced the same growth mindset in life issues? How much better could we perform? Who do you have to reflect you accurately, to point out areas of improvement, to push, to prod?
Post script:
I am now swimming in lane 2 with Gary. He still gives me pointers in more sessions than not. I know where I am at and I continue to seek. I know I am on a plateau with swimming. I am OK with that only because I am doing huge growth in other areas of my life. I will get back to actively looking at my stroke in the future. There is no rush.
Now when we get a warm up of 40 lengths it is not something completely out of the ordinary.

OTB Sport Pupkewitz Jetty Mile Swim Swakopmund

jetty mileBefore our trip to Namibia I researched things to do and this swim popped up on the radar. Perfect: Transport our wetsuits for over 3000km to swim a mile. Just the right kind of madness.

M managed to do some research on the ground which ended in a coffee stop at Bojo’s owned by Bobby Jo Bassingthwaighte. Bobby Jo is the first Namibian women to swim the channel (to date the only one). We got some info about the swim but also about swimming in general.

Off we went for a recce in the Mole. Lucky to see 4 huge dolphins with us in the water.

Race Day arrived and sea conditions were looking MUCH bigger than the previous few days. We headed to Tiger Reef for the start and made sure to park in the non-4X4 area (read no deep sand). It seemed like Hawaii Shirts and cocktails are a must here.

A quick briefing by the OTB staff and we dived into the surf. We took a sighting off the Jetty. Round this and the swell felt big and when looking at the Mole we saw huge waves. The water was soft though so in retrospect there was not much to worry about. We rounded the Mole and headed to shore against the rip current. Thankfully it was not too strong.

A really pleasant event, well organised. I can only recommend it. Safety was good with lifesavers on SUP and a rubber duck in the water.

Oh the swim is slightly further than a mile. Just over 2km by my ambit. But with the push we got along the coast it felt like a mile

My Weekend: Road Bike, Trail Run, Sea Swim and pirouettes on Clifton forth. That is a why Mondays are rest days!

I remember that feeling of getting my first bike. It was exciting and represented a freedom I had not felt before. I got it for Christmas and my parents wrapped it in a sheet and put it under the tree. Many years later, when I bought my first mountain bike it represented a new level of cool. The black Diamond Back was COOL. I bought really ugly black Diadora shoes. They had red, green and yellow stripes on them but gave me a new ceiling of speed. I had arrived. This was before the days of suspension or helmest being obligatory. We smashed up the trails and roads around Stellenbosch.
I would get excited before a ride. I guess it is the same feeling a Harley rider gets a second before he cranks the engine.
Saturday:
We head out the door for a tour around the Mountain (pronounced with a jo’burg accent). I was on my new Cannondale CAAD8. This beast is so twitchy compared to my previous fat tacky recliners. I have to concentrate quite hard so as not to go skidding along the tar. But then this baby moves. It wants to go fast. That is exciting! We had a great ride. I was in good company with a Lotus, Cervelo and Felt. We left super early and had coffee before most folks had even made it to the Old Biscuit Mill for breakfast. What a way to start the weekend proper!
Sunday:
The trails around Lion’s Head. 9km of the best trail of this city. My hamstring was ok and had not complained. We took it easy and this will be the way to go for me. Once again we were out early and were eating fruit, watching runners at the Kloof Nek Classic deal with the heat. Some more successfully than others. Then Mel made the suggestion of a swim in Clifton. So late afternoon we headed over the Nek to the mayhem on the roads in Clifton/Camps Bay. Suiting up among the sun worshippers was weird. I had to hit the water almost immediately otherwise I would have died of the heat. We headed out to the bouy with me taking a more zig zag course than the others. This was the first time that I had swum out that far. The view was amazing! What a brilliant end to a fantastic weekend I thought. The swim was great and I did not feel cold thanks to the neoprene. My exit of the water was less than elegant. I was told that it is easier to take your wetsuit off in the water. What I did not realise is that it is easier slightly deeper in rather than in the zone where you get pounded by waves, knee deep and trying to get at least one leg out of its constraint. (I swore never to laugh at anybody in T1 again.) My pirouettes and cartwheels were less than elegant and caused quite a bit of entertainment… or so I was told.

From Total Submersion to Total Immersion – my personal journey to learm to swim

My dad describes his (and therefore my) style of swimming as “farm dam”. (Head above water, and doing whatever gets you forward.)
So how do I land in a relationship with a triathlete with a long distance swimming background of note? (12 Robben Island crossings and first SA women to swim Rotnest) Well there is not much difference between our repective endurnace sports actually. Especially fringe sports. There is always a small, close core community and then a larger periphery of weekend warriors. I watched a few long distance swims and knew that this was beyond me. Certainly the cold was!
But what about this swimming thing?
How do you start something that seems so natural to others and so foreign to you? A few tentative questions did not give the answers I knew were out there until I met Georgie of Total Immersion SA. “Problem with breathing”: “no issue, we will get you sorted in no time…” came the responses.
And so I enrolled on the intro course in Jan.
The group was 9 strong and I was certainly the weakest link with no real swimming experience other than I could not breathe and generally struggled. I expected that I would be asked to leave the show at any moment doing the walk (or paddle) of shame.
10 hours of drills in the pool was all it would take.
Or so the pre course pamphlet advertised. We actually spent about half our time talking about the correct way of doing drills and the other half in the pool doing them. I was cold a lot during that weekend. Not as cold as the triathlete woman who was shivvering constantly. The hot chocolate guy made quite a lot of money out of us!
(I am not being entirely fair if I don’t mention that the course was actually fun and I certainly learnt something new. Without the course I would not have gotten to where I am now with my swimming. TI is a good foundation. The best I have come across.)
The probelm is that we all left the course having learnt some new drills but not really knowing how to swim! I practiced the drills in the Sea Point pavilion (as I don’t have a gym membership) often spending my sessions in the baby pool. Glides, one arm glides, supermans etc etc. No real swimming. I asked for more assistance and help as our instructor was many hours away and help was and continues to be sporadic.
I persisted and eventually migrated to the Long Street indoor pool for more drills as the temperatures became colder. I searched youtube and found some demos. I borrowed Terry Laughlin’s book and finally Georgie sent me a copy of his DVD. Now six months later I can put a decent length together feeling a little like a swimmer. Pretty much like a new runner would feel after their first 5km: out of breath and wondering how anybody can ever run a marathon… let alone the Comrades.
The thrill of learning a new skill and constantly scanning your body and going by feel in this very technical activity is a real joy and I will continue.
For those that want to learn to swim and have read through all the rambelings above I can only recomend TI as THE way to learn to swim properly. I can now see who can swim with ease and who just thrashes about in the pool and I know which one I don’t want to be. That alone makes me continue along this path. My big critisism is the lack of follow up. I am the only one of our group who continues to practice the drills. After the course I was pretty much left to my own devices.
I guess this is like any tuition in that it can only provide you with a limited amount of skills and then the rest is up to you!
 There is at least one challenge that I have my eye one. And challenges keep us going!

two swimming stories

From the sport of swimming:

The other day I came across two interesting stories from the endurance sport of swimming:
I give a shortened version of the first here:

updated 8:47 p.m. ET Feb. 12, 2009
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A U.S. swimmer crossed the Atlantic Ocean this month — but did she swim “across” the ocean?
Common sense dictates that Jennifer Figge, a 56-year-old endurance athlete, can’t claim to have swum from the Cape Verde Islands to the Caribbean island of Trinidad, a journey of about 2,500 miles, in 24 days.
It would be impossible for any human to swim the Atlantic without stopping. No boat can drop anchor in the middle of deepwater currents. Holding onto a fixed position each time a swimmer climbs onboard to rest would require an ocean of fuel.
The Associated Press had reported that Figge, of Aspen, Colo., swam 19 of the 24 days, and that she spent between 21 minutes and eight hours a day in the water, depending on conditions. The AP also repeated the claim of her representatives, who said she was “the first woman, and first American, to swim across the Atlantic Ocean.”
Subsequently, after accounts of Figge’s effort were questioned, her spokesman David Higdon acknowledged she probably swam about 250 miles of the whole journey.
Figge’s team had inquired about what it would take to qualify for the Guinness World Records, but decided the requirements were too difficult to comply with. “Honestly, we look at all the forms and requirements and Jennifer said, `This isn’t what the swim is about. Forget about it,'” Higdon said”

The second article is about two Cape Townians Ram Barkai and Andrew Chin: I have felt their fear. I appreciate their honesty. They recorded exactly what they did. See below:

“Taking It To The Extreme — February 7, 2009
Each gulp of air was icy and painful.
By Steven Munatones, Swimming World Open Water Correspondent LOS ANGELES, California, February 7. 39°F (4°C) water temperature, 32°F (0°C) air temperature with a 19°F (-7°C) wind chill due to a wind. Those conditions adequately define extreme swimming. Ram Barkai, 51, and Andrew Chin, 40, both from Cape Town, South Africa, swam 1.3K and 2K respectively in Lake Zurich in mid-winter following standard English Channel rules (i.e., no wetsuits or suits below the knee or covering the arms*).
Chin said he had planned ahead of the swim to cover one kilometer, while Barkai aimed for two. Local physician Dr. Beat Knechtle who oversaw the swim, added: “No one has ever swum these distances in the lake in winter before.” Chin said, “Within minutes of diving into the lake, I lost feeling in my hands and feet. In fact, I was completely numb by the time I decided to stop swimming.” In order to take his mind off the pain during his swim, Chin repeated his wife and children’s names in his head while swimming. “When I started battling to say their names, I knew it was time to get out. All I remember is the support team dragging me into a boat and covering me in blankets.” Barkai, who joined Lynne Cox and Lewis Gordon Pugh as the only individuals to swim a significant distance (1K) in Antarctica, said he had decided to continue when Chin got into the boat despite being painfully cold. “The last 500 meters were very hard. I was breathing into a headwind of -7°C (19°C) so each gulp of air was icy and painful. I tried to close my hands into fists, but couldn’t. They were frozen stiff.” Towards the end of his 2K swim, a police diver in one of the four support boats jumped into the lake and swam alongside Barkai fearing the worst. “I really wanted to finish the swim, but was struggling. I kept my eyes locked on the team doctor each time I breathed and knew if he wasn’t worried about me, then I was okay.” Barkai started hyperventilating after finishing his swim, but with support from the doctor he brought his breathing back to normal. “It was only after 30 minutes in a hot shower that I started recovering. I don’t remember anything at the end, except that I was dragged out of the water. I couldn’t stand.” Despite having swum the furthest south of any human on record, Barkai said, “The wind chill factor had made this definitely the hardest swim I have ever done.””
From: http://www.swimmingworldmagazine.com/lane9/news/20222.asp

Bottom line: I don’t care what you do. Just be honest about it and don’t claim stuff that you did not do. I salute Ram and Andrew on their achievement, their honesty and guts to push the envelope for themselves!