“Can we play sharks and minnows?” I asked Coach Brett on Thursday morning. He didn’t buy it. He just smiled and handed out the next set. My shoulders felt like concrete and all I wanted to do was play swim team games.
I felt like an age grouper again and as crappy as I felt, that feeling …was awesome. As I said last week I am in the “it gets worse before it gets better” phase of this swim focus. With a meet on the horizon I am totally unsure of how I will do, but that’s the thrill of it. That moment when you feel tired, sore, unmotivated….. will soon be contrasted with feeling sharp and zippy.
Over the past 6 months I have been working on mastering the swim snorkel and with anything the bigger lesson always rests with the lesson rather than the snorkel. The swim snorkel has been around a few years and only recently have other companies branched out and made one, FINIS lead the market for a while on this.
The purpose of the swim snorkel is to take out the breathing component, improve head position (which improves boy position), balance the stroke, and work on breath control. There are more but those are the basics. In my opinion anything you can do to challenge yourself in the water is a good thing. Make it unstable both physically and mentally, and come out of it better. I have a straight left arm recovery that I have been working on. The recovery isn’t so much the issue as how I am entering the water. In open water it doesn’t matter as much. In the pool…. every damn second counts.
I started off in the spring using the FINIS snorkel. Here is a video of it in action.
The first time I put this thing on was totally uncomfortable, and I have been a swimmer for 38 years, but I have never been actual snorkeling either. For me… even with my background breathing with my face always in the water was weird. Like real weird. I found that I would turn my head to breathe anyways, which was frustrating.
Flip turns? Forget it. I didn’t even try. And for a swimmer to open turn is an ego smasher.
But I kept at it. It took me about a week or two to get used to the feeling of breathing through it and not turning my head. For the life of me I couldn’t understand how the kids in the lanes next to me were swimming so effortlessly with theirs. What was the trick?
“It took them six months to get used to it.” Coach Mike reassured me. That…. was my cue to just keep at it.
I used it sporadically throughout the next few months. Over that time I got used to water getting in, and it took me equally as long to figure out how to clear the snorkel through the purge valve.
I did get a one way cap for the FINIS that allowed me to flip turn without water getting in. Even with the cap some water did still get in, and it was just weird!!!
Throughout those months I open turned, choked, got water up my nose, got really uncomfortable. Like really uncomfortable. I got frustrated, irritated and celebrated the small successes. It didn’t really matter whether I swam with a snorkel…. what mattered is that I mastered it. When you master something you travel all of the stumbling blocks that come before it. That was the real lesson for me.
A few weeks ago I got the mac daddy, the bat mobile, the snorkel of all snorkels. The… Michael Phelps snorkel. Mine has a black shaft (Stop it Dave Hansen!) and the yellow band. It really looks like the bat mobile.
This one is more sturdy, sits further back in your mouth and the profile is closer to your head. It’s smooth, that’s for sure. The purge valve is right in front instead of pointing down. It’s a smart design and I was curious as to how I would like it.
And I got the flip turn down. No one way valve at the top. Full on clear snorkel. I figured out how to clear it and not become hypoxic. I felt like I had A.R.R.I.V.E.D.
Part of it is that you have to learn to breathe with a bit of water in your mouth. Part of it is that you have to understand where to exhale through your nose, hold your breath and when to clear it. A big part of it is knowing sometimes water will go up your nose, you will choke, you will feel like you look foolish…. but you have to not care. I am not in the water for show. Sometimes you have to pause mid length and let the water drain out.
If you think about it…. isn’t that how everything goes?
School goes like that. Athletics go like that. Life goes like that. Sometimes you get water up your nose. Sometimes you fall on your face. Sometimes you fail an exam. Sometimes you feel like you look foolish.
And what do you do?
You get the hell up. You put the snorkel back on. You come back to the next exam with a vengeance. You own your mistakes and try harder. Most importantly…. you don’t care whether you look foolish because you won’t live in that kind of trap.
That’s how this swimming focus is going. The stumbling blocks I have hit are struggling with getting in more than 20K per week, and making some of the small changes I need to make. Lately it feels like I am getting slower and I am so far away from Nationals it’s unattainable. That’s the short term view. The long term plan has me hitting the times in time for the big day. Then I step back and take the objective look at how it’s all going and I don’t allow it to be clouded.
Mastering the snorkel was never really about the snorkel, it was about continuing to persevere. Working through what seems impossible. Looking hard at the way things are and creating a new way to do them. I figured out a few things in the pool that for 38 years…. were a mystery to me. I finally figured out how to have enough breath for underwater dolphin kicking off every flip turn. I FINALLY figured out that underwater dolphin KICK!
I am not so sure there is the same hope for my breast stroke though!
From a technical standpoint I think all swimmers could benefit from using a snorkel. Don’t fall into the traps that so many athletes fall into: this piece of equipment will make me fast. It won’t It is a small part of a much larger puzzle. I like to work on the pieces because once that puzzle is assembled it’s strong, injury free and powerful.
I like that the snorkel helps balance your stroke. I like that it helps body position. More than anything I like the challenges it forces you to face. It’s another way to get comfortable being uncomfortable. If you can do that in the pool, if you can do that on two wheels and in your run shoes (or whatever field you play on) then you can do it anywhere.
Sport bleeds into life and life bleeds back into sport. It’s all important.
Which is why we should play sharks and minnows in practice. SOON!
Interested in improving your swim? Are you a crappy triathlon swimmer? Join us at one of our three camps this winter: Nov 15, Jan 10, and Feb 14th. We can help. Click here for the details and for registration.