A couple of weeks ago, I went to see Ian Smith at Swim Shack as part of my project to revamp my swimming technique and speed up a bit, as well as trying to avoid any further injury problems with my shoulder and hand. There is nothing like being videoed from multiple angles in an endless pool and then having it played back to you immediately to bring home the vast gulf between how your swimming feels and how it looks in practice. In particular, the first thing that Ian homed in on was my waggly head, which lifts out of the water at an angle on each breath. Looking back at pictures from my Catalina swim, for example, you can see this very clearly:
One of the effects of this, especially when I breathe to the right (where the problem is more pronounced), is for my left arm to shoot out sideways in search of leverage to support my tilted head. It then tends to drift, straight-armed, downwards, not getting any real catch until it's well down my body. It's obviously something that's really slowing me down, because when I tried just swimming without taking a breath, with the flow of the endless pool at the same rate as before, I immediately smacked into the propulsion unit and the flow had to be increased quite considerably. Most notably, my arm doesn't drift and sink when I keep my head down. So, this is what I've been working on....breathing by keeping my head in line with my body, rather than tilting upwards. It sounds really easy, but like all embodied habits, it's a tough one to change and I can still only execute a breath properly for just a few cycles before my head pops back up again. Work in progress.
The second big issue was what Ian describes as my "ballistic" left arm. My arm tends to fly out of the back of the stroke and over my hip before hurtling forwards with the hand well above the elbow, and smacking into the water. I thought that it was connected to the breathing problem (which it probably is in the holistic sense), but I still do it when I swim without taking a breathe, so it's also an engrained habit in its own right. Ian reckoned that this is almost certainly what is causing my shoulder problem, and, rather ominously, remarked that we'd need a whole separate session to deal with that! So, I'm not concentrating on that for now and am trying to focus on my waggly head. I'm going back in two weeks, so hopefully I'll start to be less "ballistic" very soon.
I'm swimming three or four times a week, just for about 45 mins or so.... hopefully I'll be able to increase this a bit once the beginning-of-term dust has settled. Mind you, I have to say that I'm enjoying having a break from the hard swimming - I think a fallow period will do me good, and by next Spring, I'll be dying to get back to it.
In the mean time, I'm also pursuing my parallel project of adding in running and strength and conditioning training to my routines. The S&C is one of those things that it's hard to measure progress in, except that I'm slowly increasing reps and exercises. The running, however, gives a much greater sense of progress, however unimpressive in the context of the wider running world. After a month of preparatory walk-running, I've moved on to Hal Higdon's novice 5km programme, and am now comfortably running 1.5-1.75 miles four times a week at roughly 10min / mile pace. This is a distinct improvement from when I started this project when I couldn't run for more than a few consecutive minutes without turning bright scarlet. I sometimes feel quite frustrated by all this, and cross with myself for so thoroughly letting my running fitness go - only 7 years ago, I ran the Barcelona marathon in 4.20, which is not fast by any means, but was a decent performance for me at the time. But I have to keep reminding myself that you have to start from where you are, not where you wish you were. And I do have a good fitness base on my side from all of the swimming, so I'm sure that's helping. And if there's one thing that Channel swimming has taught me to make good use of, it's patience.
So there we go...incrementally advancing S&C and running and a work-in-progress stroke correction.
Plus, I'm now analysing the swimming data and am in the very early stages of planning out the writing phase of the research. More about this later when I have something to show for it.