It’s been a long week and with five practices down I’d have to say the scoreline would read something like this: Jeff King 5, Paul Tenorio 0.
He kicked my butt this week in every which way, varying the workouts from distance to stroke to overall purpose. Every day I’d get out of the pool dead tired and wonder what the heck was up next. (On occasion I’d do well in the workout, but that doesn’t give me a tally vs. Jeff. That only makes the score something like, Tenorio 5, Workouts 0…The Kingfish always wins.)
This morning I sauntered into practice with an idea of what the day held and still Jeff managed to surprise me with an aspect that he hadn’t previously mentioned that proved both challenging and helpful.
We knew going in this morning that the set was going to be centered around learning to swim the 200, or how to pace a 200. Now, this isn’t necessarily my forte. As my 50- and 100-freestyle times prove I’m very much still learning how to swim…uh, more than a 50 — not really a surprise considering I grew up swimming only 50-meter races.
I was definitely dragging a bit when I walked in this morning. I was up way later than I usually am after covering University of Maryland’s 2-1 win over Loyola (Md.) in the NCAA men’s soccer tournament last night, and I was definitely still feeling the effects of all that breaststroke yesterday.
We started with a warm-up of a 400 IM kick and then a few 75s (the group did 10, I finished eight) and then it was down to business on the 200. This is where Jeff added that interesting twist I wasn’t expecting.
“Today is going to be about two important things,” he said. “Feel for the water and pacing a 200.”
Hmm, feel for the water. Definitely one of the area’s where I could improve exponentially — especially when it comes to my 100 freestyle time.
How was he going to help us get a better feel? Five 100s of closed-fist freestyle.
In the past I had done closed-fist swimming to warm-up and to get a feel — only usually it was done in breakdowns of 25 or 12.5 or even just three strokes closed fist and three regular swim. So the prospect of doing 100s, five of them, was a bit of an unknown.
Basically when you’re swimming with closed fists you have no pull in the water at all. The arms are moving and you’re going nowhere, as the hands just slip right through the water.
The positive of doing closed-fist? When you finish them and start doing our sets of 200s…
(which broke down like this:
One 100, Two 50s
… you feel like SUPERMAN! Seriously, it’s amazing how much of a difference that small surface area of your hand can make. I felt so strong and was cruising — at least in those first few 50s.
Certainly as the set wore on I wore down, and as we were set to repeat the set and I had gone through my second set of the closed-fist freestyle I looked at Jeff and let him know how I honestly felt.
“The tank is running on fumes,” I said.
I was exhausted.
Jeff was understanding. “Of course,” he said. “You’re not Superman.” (He didn’t know that I had been Superman only a few 200s ago right after the last set of closed-fist 100s.) So he said it was okay to throw fins on — “that’s not cheating he said. Putting on fins so that you can finish the set is not failure.”
I put the fins and voila, I felt wonderful. My stroke feels so much more efficient and I feel so much better when I swim with them on. And it’s not about the fins making it “easier” on my arms or anything like that. I just feel like I’m not fighting my own body as I swim.
Jeff noticed, too.
After practice he said that he realized that when I put fins on I actually swim on a long axis (like I’m supposed to). We talked about the reasons for why, and as we tried to figure that out and here’s what I told him: Honestly, when I’m swimming I feel like my lower half sinks a bunch and I end up fighting to pull my whole body with my arms the entire time.
Jeff, who had filmed Balazs Kiss and Pat Sullivan swimming during the practice so I could compare myself later, said he, too, noticed that they were floating on top of the water compared to my tendency to sink a bit more. I don’t exactly have skinny legs…they’re more like, soccer legs. Swimmers are so much more lean and I’m not really in that category at all — even after 18 pounds of weight that I’ve dropped.
I guess I’m just not that buoyant.
The point is, my goal is to eventually figure out that right balance with my body that I don’t end up having to fight myself when I swim, thus making it so much more tiring to go longer distances. But right now, when I throw fins on I feel so much smoother and more capable of swimming distances.
And after yet another practice that kicked my butt, I can do nothing but tip my hat to Jeff for giving me my most challenging week of practice and one that was full of lessons. I couldn’t put it any better than what my editor said when I told him about my workout today: “He [Jeff] is a really smart guy.”
Of course, this would be the perfect place to insert a video of Jeff singing and dancing on deck. If only I was in charge of the camera during practice…
Washington Post reporter Paul Tenorio will train with a swim club over the next few months and chronicle his journey as he attempts to transform from regular guy/sports reporter to competitive swimmer — everything from his waistline to his best times.