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What is it about swimming?

I can’t tell you how many triathletes I’ve heard say, “I hate swimming, but it’s part of the sport.” Why do we hate swimming? I started out that way too and one day decided I needed to change my mindset. It took me six months to figure out what it was about swimming that was so awful. Turns out, it was my attitude.

Almost every person at the pool doing laps for triathlon will say that same thing. I’ve heard pros say it on podcasts! I used to tell others, “I’m a triathlete so I swim out of necessity not joy.”

How depressing to do anything NOT out of joy! This past October I set my mind to make swimming my thing. I was going to learn to love it. I started by regularly going to the pool and having a plan. Instead of picking a workout the morning of, or just getting in to do a few laps, I would sit down the night before and scroll the internet for a workout that sounded interesting-something that would keep my focus. I also started laying out all the things I would need so I could get up and go without having to put too much thought into it. I have my suit and clothes hanging ready to put on. I have my bag packed and set on the counter next to the garage. I program my coffee maker so there is a cup ready for me as I walk out the door and I grab my pre-workout muffin to munch on the drive. I’ve tried to make my mornings as mindless and pleasant as possible.

I also have a huge advantage that my sister swims the same days I do. I send her a message on my drive to the pool and then by the time I get out she has sent me one back! It seems like a silly thing because we can talk any time we want, but knowing you’re not the only crazy person doing this by choice makes it more bearable.

I knew that part of my distaste for swimming was the cold water. There’s no getting around that, water always feels cold when you first get in. So I decided if I got in the water as much as possible my mind would get used to it. I stopped thinking about the water and how it would feel. Just get in, that’s the next step. I needed to make swimming a habit, not a requirement.

I do some quick activation exercises before I get in too, just enough to engage my core and shoulders and even feel a little warm. I do planks, hip dips, and some shoulder stretches. Yes, I’m the strange lady on the side of the pool using a kick board for an arm cushion while I plank.

I learned to swim from YouTube. For real. Besides a very brief stint on a swim team in 4th grade and a few swim lessons when I was young, I have never had any formal stroke training. I have watched more YouTube videos on stroke than any other topic. My technique was terrible at the beginning! I was lucky if I could do 100 yards in 3 minutes. My average pace was about 2:30/100yd. This is good for some, but for me, looking to become an elite, this had to change. I felt like every person on the planet was faster than me. Therefore, I have asked every person I know, who is a swimmer, for tips and advice. I had to ask my kids’ babysitter what ‘drills’ meant because I knew she was on a team. My 6 year old niece has given me ideas! My sister is a huge resource and has helped me immensely with my stroke technique.

The thing about learning to swim properly when you’re older is just when you think you’ve nailed one aspect of the technique, there’s another part you have to focus on. And then when you’ve got that in the bag you realize you have to go back and fix that other thing you thought you had figured out! It’s completely mentally exhausting. So I’ll pick two or three things to focus on per workout and do them one at a time. Then the next swim I’ll pick three other things. I rotate through them all until eventually they start to stick in my brain and become habitual.

I remember telling my 12 year old niece (also a swimmer. also faster than me) that my neck was getting sore because I can only breathe to my right. “You only breathe to ONE SIDE?!” Horrified.

But I’ve gotten stronger! I’ve gotten faster. I was listening to a pro podcast the other day and they discussed a swim workout where they were holding a 1:30 pace. I said out loud, “I could do that. I could actually do that speed.” I’ve dropped 41 seconds off my pace. I remember the first time I broke 2:00 minutes and thought I never would get there. And now I’m dancing around the 1:30 mark. I credit it to technique and mental grit. I don’t think of swimming as a workout anymore, I’ve just made it part of my day, a morning swim is healthy and refreshing! Not dreadful and taxing.

So if you hate swimming, and you’re like I was, struggling to find joy in it; find a way to make it better, but start with your mindset. I go to bed the night before and think: I GET to swim tomorrow. But mostly I GET to drink my coffee and eat my muffin on the drive to the pool. I am highly treat motivated.

After all, we do triathlon because we love it, not because we have to.

Also, look at this view as I walk out of the Y. Worth it.

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