Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Swimming meditation.

It has been a while since I wrote about swimming. I realized this this morning at practice, which was not going the best. But surprisingly enough, this not-great practice let me make some important strides in approaching things in a more mindful way.

During this not-so-great practice, I remembered that I had meant to write about a couple of recent practices in which I have clocked 3000 long-course meters, of which 1000 of those meters have been swim. (Hooah!) Those have been pretty amazing practices, both because my body has been permitting that much swimming and because 3000 LCM was a new record for one practice since I have returned from Surgery Numero Duo. Let me tell you: I have legs of steel! (Too bad they are encased in sheaths of extra flab....)

Back in the middle of March, I returned to swimming after getting clearance from my surgeon. I started with 450 meters of swimming in a practice, up to three times a week. My shoulder did not initially like swimming 3 times in one week, so for a while I swam twice a week. Then lately I have been able to swim 3 times a week more frequently, and all in all the recovery has been very steady, allowing me to add 10% of swimming distance almost every week, such that this week I am supposed to be able to swim 1100 meters.

Here is a sample of one of those 3000 LCM practices, just for the record (from 6 May):
1200m warm-up: 4 x 300 (=200 k + 100 s), with long fins [400m swim]
1200m IM set: 4 x 300 IM (= 100 FL k / 50 BA s / 100 BR k / 50 FR s) [400m swim]
400m kick/swim set: 4 x 100 (= 50 build k / 25 "madman" k / 25 s [100m swim]
TOTAL: 3000 LCM [900m swim]
I did a similar practice on 14 May, but with 1000 meters of swim.

But for whatever reason, at this past Saturday's practice my shoulder was unhappy, and I cut my swimming portion short. Thus far, things have gone extremely easily, so perhaps this is just a small check. At many points I have had some soreness along my triceps muscle that I believe results from some tightness of muscles elsewhere that I am stretching and stretching to try to loosen--which is working gradually.

Furthermore, my body is still adjusting to the long-course pool. Thanks to the lack of turns, and therefore opportunities to push off the wall, swimming one length in a 50-meter pool requires something like 10-15% more effort than swimming two lengths in a 25-meter pool. As someone who relies heavily on those big jumps off the wall, I take a while to get used to the long pool. (It is a bit of a shame that this adjustment had to come so early in my recovery, but so it goes.)

Today at practice, though, my shoulder felt a bit worse, or else I was being extremely sensitive and noticed it sooner. Given that the soreness is in the front of the shoulder, what I have come to call the "danger zone," I take it very seriously, and play things conservatively, since I would rather let the thing heal, however long it takes. I am concerned, though, that despite my doing regular rotator-cuff exercises, there may be some lingering weakness and instability in the joint, and that I have finally reached the amount of swimming where I can notice it.

So I backed off. Today I swam only 550 meters in a 2400-meter practice.

And while I am trying to remain optimistic, having this happen a second time in a few days does make me a little nervous.

What also made me nervous this morning was sharing a lane with The Human Propeller. I am not joking: this guy, who is rather tall and long-limbed, gets some serious crazy arms-everywhere action going on his freestyle. And on his backstroke, his stroke is wide wide wide.

I do not really mind sharing lane space with people when they are swimming in their normal allotment of the lane, but with this guy I was like, "DUDE. Feel free to take your half of the lane wherever you want it."

So I could feel myself venturing toward having A Bad Practice. Instead of letting that happen, though, I thought I would try a meditative technique. Of late I have been reading a book by John Kabat-Zinn, who writes extensively about mindfulness--living in the present--and how living mindfully can help counterbalance stress, deal with chronic pain, etc. etc. In his book, he talks about different kinds of meditation--walking meditation, eating meditation, sitting meditation, etc.

This morning I thought to myself, why not swimming meditation? Or more technically, kicking meditation? I was doing a set of 150s, which were supposed to go 50 kick + 50 drill or swim + 50 fast kick, but I had modified them to become all kick, alternating FL/BR/FR, and I was doing all of this with a swim snorkel, which made breathing much easier. So during the fly-kick 50, I started focusing on my breathing, and trying to think just about breathing, and then after that got easy, just about the motion of kicking. On the breast-kick 50, I coordinated my breathing with the kick motion, and focused on that. (On the flutter-kick 50, I was trying to kick fast, and that required a little less meditation.)

But the important thing here is that IT WORKED. I got myself back into the present moment of my swimming and out of my fears. Of course, this sort of thing requires rethinking what swim practice is about, which I was prepared to do. The notion of mindfulness as a practice is not something you do to perfect, but rather something that is more a way of life or a part of one's regular doings. In learning about this, I have wondered, What would happen if I thought of swim practice as that kind of practice rather than as rehearsals for meets?

Today I learned that it is easier to have good technique. I realized that during my last 150, I felt stronger and more efficient than during the first one, even though I was tired (and especially so because I had forgotten to eat anything before practice--duh). In particular, I felt that my fly kick was more powerful, as I was getting propulsion from both my down-kick and my up-kick. My breast-stroke kick felt more powerful too. My flutter kick engaged my hips more.

I will continue to practice this, as it were.

1 comment:

Scott said...

I can't overstate how impressive it is you've already completed a couple 3,000 meter workouts; most of which was done kicking. Three thousand meters isn't much less than what I do for practices, and that's with a lot less kicking. Your legs must be like two outboard motors by now. When you finally get your shoulders into shape you'll be swimming like a fish!