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.

Ironman: what I have learnt:

70,3 2013: note mtb shoes and std road helmet

70,3 2013: note std road helmet and mtb shoes

This is my favorite time of year for training. Work stress disappears for a few weeks and you can put in a solid block. Perfect if you are preparing for IMSA on the 6th April 2014

I loved my prep a year ago and thought I would share some insights from my journey. NOW is the time to start planning in earnest!

In no particular order:

* It is ok to give your bike a name. We all do it. And yes “machine” is as good a name as any.

* Get a pro bike set up for your tt bike/bars. It is perfectly good to ride on a road bike with tt bars. A correct set up will be hugely different from a road bike set up. Spend the money on this and do it early so that you can get used to the position and discomfort. I used Ian Waddel of Personal Best

* Discomfort can not be avoided but needs to be managed.

* I have mtb shoes and cleats on my road bike. This means I only need one pair of biking shoes for road and mtb. I get out of the water and put my shoes on and run to my bike in transition. And I don’t look like a complete dork standing around in my cycling shoes 😉

* Work out your nutrition and work out a plan. Then train that plan. On race day be flexible. My plan did not work out as I ate too much concentrated sugar too early on. Even a few gels too early on the bike mess things up. I learnt a hard lesson on the run.

* Going to swim squad once a week is a huge help. I did at least one other session of technique drills and one long swim, preferably open water. (I could not swim three year’s ago. I did a course with Georgie Thomas of Total Immersion. read about that here. I still stand by what I wrote. This is the best way for a non-swimmer to learn. HOWEVER you just don’t get fast continually doing drills and ultimately IM is a race). Viv Williams continues to be a super star.

* Think transitions through and how you are going to manage each of them. Work out what is going to work for you and not what everybody else does. Pack the least amount of stuff into your transition bag! I chose to ride in cycling bibs and changed into running shorts. The added comfort was well worth the few minutes extra changing.

* Ride your bike alone. It is an individual race and should be trained accordingly. I see far too many pelotons of tt bikes out. Really! What is the point?

* Ride with the nutrition that you will have on race day. Ride with your water bottles full – even for shorter rides. You want to know what the bike is really going to feel like with an extra 1,5 kg on board.

* Ride the downhills. Don’t just freewheel. This is where you get free speed. Use it.

* Most important enjoy the training. If you don’t then you won’t do the necessary yards.

I am not doing Ironman in 2014. I want to build my biking base. This is going to be even more important with the route changes in mind. Good luck to all who are getting ready for next year!

Full Disclosure: I continue to use and pay for Ian and Viv’s services. I did not receive any benefit for writing this post.