Returning to "serious" (read: amateur) training myself lead me back to the masters pool for the first time in six years. It's been a humbling first eight weeks. Getting dropped on long swims by guys who I used to lap. The guys are encouraging me to hang in there. I admit, this has really helped ease the constant pain of masters workouts. The encouragement and input on my form was also missing. The only early encouraging bits have been while swimming IMs and breaststroke where I was second in an intrasquad meet at 200 and 400 IM and first in 100 and 200 breaststroke beating some of the freestyle swimmers as I swam breaststroke. Heck, I was close to my freestyle time! HA! Some things you just never forget how to do.
At Christmas, I swam with one of my club coach's high school varsity team. Every day was 4-8,000 yards and 30-90 minutes of water polo and cross training. We even did 10,000 once. I needed it. I was middle of the pack on most sets. Back of the pack on longer sets. Front of the pack in breaststroke and kicking.
I also visited my varsity coach from high school. In 2011, the swimming record I set in 1987 is 24 years old. I was introduced to the guy who will break my record if he graduates from the same school. He seems like a good kid. He asked me all kinds of questions about breaststroke, nutrition, stretching, strength training, and club swimming. He is a really nice kid. I'm glad that I have gotten to know him a little. In 1987 (when Ronald Reagan was president, gas was $1.23/gallon and the tyrannosaurus rex roamed the Earth) the rules were a little different. For example, now you can do a dolphin kick at the start and each turn. In 1986 was DQ'd once (incorrectly upon video review I'd like to add) for dolphin kicking out of a turn. (It was the guy next to me.) I was sad to find out that the kid missed my record at the Sectional meet by 0.35 seconds when the week before he missed it by 0.04 seconds. Next year he'll get it. He reminded me of me. Willing to do "whatever it takes" to rewrite the record board. His eyes got as big as saucers when Coach Tom told him the sets I used to do followed by showing him the actual times I did on repeats. Tom had the managers record that data, even has heart rates.
This means that I will have held the 100 yard breaststroke record at Hoffman Estates High School for 25 of the 33 years in which the school has been open. Just shows what hard work can get you. I've never been the most talented. You'd have to take a number to be the next person to tell me that I suck. (I notice that there is never a shortage of those people.) The difference in me is when most guys call a training session complete, I keep going. Flashback to Matt Erbele and I finishing a 125 mile bike ride and doing eight seated climbs up "The Wall" - a local 18% grade hill of 0.97 miles. Matt and I would finish repeat number eight, barely able to balance on our bikes from fatigue, look at each other and say, "One more for Pele?" Yup, one more for the legendary Hawaiian goddess of fire. Somehow, we'd make it to the top of the hill one more time. Handling beat down workout after beat down workout... and coming back for more with a glow in our eyes. That is my talent. That glow in the eye is back.
The last four weeks the gaps to the guys in the pool have gotten smaller. I'm back leading all kicking sets, even when my mates are wearing flippers. I'm not only making send offs on 1:20, but now I'm getting rest. My legs are coming back, even with all the running I'm putting in.
My friend Mary (though she swam for U of I- I don't hold that against her), lane mate and one of the coaches - has really kept me vigilant on my form. Oh, good Lord, what was I doing in the water? Mary used my iPhone to video me and since that day I've been working on changing the "form" exhibited in the water. As the form has come back, so has some of the speed. I'm considering entering a couple of late season masters meets (after I'm done teaching CompuTrainer classes) just to see how I do. Don't get too excited, I have a swimming past. That means I'm not going to ANY MEET unless I'm pretty sure I'm ready. I'm nearly sure. Using the knowledge I have as a triathlon coach and mercilessly applying it to my own swimming and triathlon training - I have a picture of where I am.
That picture isn't as pretty as I'd like it to be. As light from the new year brightens the picture... it looks better every day.
By revisiting my swimming past, I've reignited my love of the pool. It was always there, just buried by a bit of mental clutter. I'm a swimmer. I have the heart and lungs of a swimmer. I'm an athlete who can bike and run with the tenacity of an experienced swimming champion. One who has remembered "what it takes". One who has revisited the mistakes in training logs from years gone by. I remember what it takes. I watched the old VHS tapes. Reviewed yellow, 24+ year old training logs. Sometimes a champion needs reminding he's a champion and the effort it takes to stay a champion.
Most importantly, I remember who I am as an athlete.