The work of stroke corrections continues - a slow, frustrating but absorbing process of abandoning deeply entrenched habits and learning new, more efficient technique. My body is annoyingly intractable at times, resisting the small but significant adjustments and quickly falling back into comfortable (comforting?) old habits of movement as soon as my attention wanders. But there are also moments when I hit it right, and suddenly, momentarily, I see what Ian's getting at. And then it goes again. But there is some progress, as you can see below, although evidenced only by the smallest adjustments in posture, position and movement, and not, as yet, by any increases in endurable speed.
The first problem that we are focusing on is my waggly head, which lifts out of the water on each breath, exposing virtually my whole face. To support this, my opposite arm drifts out sideways contributing very little, and forward propulsion is doubly interrupted by my drag-producing head and my drifting arm. It also tends to produce a rather "ballistic" (to use Ian's term) recovery, with my hand travelling above the elbow, and then crashing into the water on entry.
Still a work in progress, but here's a snap from my most recent session - note the head is much more in line with the body, with only one goggle lens exposed. Plus, I've managed to keep a higher elbow and a more relaxed recovery.
The second problem was my lack of an effective catch, with straight arms drifting out and down, especially on a breath, and not catching until my hand was almost directly below my shoulder.
But slowly...oh so slowly...my straight arm is learning how to do this...a high elbowed catch that enables me to get a proper grip on the water.
In tandem with these changes, perhaps the biggest change I'm trying to make is to move from breathing every three to every two strokes. This is hard, firstly because I was very attached to the idea of breathing every three as a way of balancing out the strain on the body over a long swim. And secondly, the rhythm of threes has become really central to my strategies for keeping going...I like to count to four, but emphasising the breathing strokes, creating a nice syncopated rhythm - ONE two three FOUR one two THREE four one TWO three four...and so on. As I get back to longer swimming, I'm going to have to work on something to replace what for me is the core soundtrack of the long distance swim.
But I remember on our Channel relay in 2009, Marcy Macdonald (our official observer) advised me during a particularly hard-push bit of the swim to breathe every two, doing, say, 6 breaths on one side, then six on the other to achieve balance. It was too big a change to implement during the swim, and afterwards, I quickly settled back into my habitual threes, not wanting to do the hard work of changing those ingrained habits at the same time as training for the Jersey swims and the Channel. I think that I chose to ignore this piece of (expert) advice for the same reason that I never really did the speed work before my Channel swim that I had been advised to do....somehow, I thought those things only applied to the faster swimmers, and that as long as I could plod on forever, I'd be fine. But now I want to be a better swimmer too, so at last, I'm finally starting to take this advice seriously. An extra incentive to sort this out comes from Ian, who is absolutely adamant that breathing every three will create inefficiencies through oxygen debt, and that breathing more often, combined with a breathing technique that doesn't interrupt my stroke, will speed me up over distance. So, that too is on the daily list of things to work on.
I miss the solid effort of a good 5-6km training session, but for now, am determined to stick with the attentive swimming of the stroke correction process. And in the mean time, I'm still running...and equally incremental process, but satisfying in its unspectacular way. Inching up in quarter mile chunks, my longest run each week is now 2.75 miles. I don't think Paula Radcliffe is going to be losing sleep just yet, but when I complete each new increment in distance, I feel full of joy at my progress.