Swimming Faster

My introduction to swimming was pretty simple.  I grew up with a backyard pool and a summer cottage on a lake, guaranteeing I was always in the water for several months of the year.  No swimming lessons (besides Bronze Medallion and Bronze Cross programs while in high school in case I wanted the glamorous life of a lifeguard), I’m self-taught.  I played waterpolo for four years in high school, and then joined a masters swim team in my mid-20’s (where the coach – rightfully so for the thinking at the time) undid everything from my wide, choppy, waterpolo stroke.

I’ve always done ok in the swims in triathlons.  At the 2012 Ironman Arizona I was in the top 10 in the swim in my AG, and this year at the Boise 70.3 I was 3rd in my AG coming out of the water.  But like everything, improvement is always around the corner if you want it… so I decided this year I’d work on my swim.

I saw a notice for a “Faster Freestyle” swim clinic at Commonwealth Pool at the end of February, so I signed Jason and I up for it.  It was given by Karlyn Pipes (of Aquatic Edge in Kona).  Karlyn is incredible – she has set over 200 masters records (and over 40 of them are still standing), and can take the swim stroke changes made in Australia in the early 2000’s (and think of the swim successes coming out of that country then!), break them down and make them understandable to anyone.  Immediately after the clinic we made plans to meet Karlyn in Hawaii since we’d be there on vacation shortly after.

Our first day in Kona meant some private instruction for Jason and I in Karlyn’s endless pool.  Never before has one hour in the pool been so productive for us!  Immediately Karlyn had me widen my stroke, swim more extended and use a “catch-up” stroke, and finally helped me figure out the high-elbow pull underwater that had been eluding me for so long!  It was basically back to my waterpolo stroke from the 1980’s with more glide!

Swimming at Karlyn's - early on and I've
not yet got high elbows underwater.

We spent an hour working on different bits and pieces – wider spacing, flat hand entry, getting rid of extra rotation, pulsing power, reaching, high elbow pull, recovery – and then putting them all together.  She has one of those pool noodle things that she taps you with if your hand, head, etc is not in the right position.  Talk about instant response!  The really cool thing about taking a lesson in Karlyn’s pool is you can tell right away if a change you made is faster or slower… if it’s faster you end up hitting the motor creating the current, and if it’s slower you end up getting shot out towards the back of the pool.  There are also mirrors on the bottom so you can see exactly what you’re doing.  She videos you in short segments then has you watch it.  Individual instruction and real-time feedback are exactly what works for me!

Once we put it all together and practiced for awhile, Karlyn had me go back to my old stroke… and immediately the current shot me backwards.  Changing back to my new stroke had me swimming faster again!  Then it was Jason’s turn, and same deal for him.

Jason watching a bit of video and
debriefing it with Karlyn.

We spent every day of our Kona vacation practicing our new stroke, mostly in the ocean.  I could hear Karlyn’s enthusiastic voice in my head as I swam, yelling and laughing with me as I worked on my stroke.

Back at home and back to my regular training schedule.  I had a swim test set scheduled for this past week, six weeks after the last one I did.  I was a bit nervous because of course I wanted to be faster after working with Karlyn, but I really didn’t know how all those changes would translate once I was back swimming in my hometown pool.  Plus I’d done a tough TRX workout the day before and was really feeling it.  Six weeks ago I averaged 5:06 on my 300’s in the 3x300 meter test, so I was really hoping I’d swim this test in under 5:05 for all three.  That would be the measure of success for me.

I pushed off the wall and concentrated on what Karlyn and I were working on.  I was swimming my tempo pace and honestly it didn’t feel any faster than my old stroke.  When I hit the wall at 300m, I looked at the clock and I’d just swam a 4:58!  I was so excited that I wanted to jump out and call Jason, but my next interval was coming up.  The next 300m was 4:57, and the third was 4:59!   So I went from a base of 1:42/100m to 1:39!  My goal for the whole SEASON was to get to 1:40 pace!  New goal: be able to hold this pace for 4 kilometres - full Vineman aquabike coming up...

Jason and I have already decided that every time we go back to Kona, we will do another lesson with Karlyn.  You should too – and check her schedule (www.aquaticedge.org) in case she’s doing a clinic in your town to start there!

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