Tag Archives: swimming

Mind games help me establish a swimming routine

I am such a creature of habit. Once I decide to do something on a regular basis — like my group runs with Pacers Silver Spring Fun Runners on Tuesday and Thursday nights — I am almost ridiculously committed to maintaining that routine.

Which is why I’m particularly proud of the brand-new swimming routine I’ve carved out for myself. I had convinced myself that swimming was way too time-consuming for everyday purposes, and that I should relegate myself to the stationary bike until I could run again. I realized pretty quickly how self-defeating that attitude was, and decided to make a point to schedule three swims per week until I can run again. Once I decided it was just that simple, it was.

While I was at it, I decided to break out of my routine of doing a quick 3,000 meters, then heading home. I started playing with the number, resolving only to NOT do exactly 3,000 meters. This led to a great 3,450-meter workout on Monday, and an awesomely tough 3,300 meters yesterday. Here’s the workout, which I did mostly with a pull buoy:

500 warmup. Main set: 300 free, first six strokes of every 50 fast; 3X100 stroke (I alternated free and breaststroke); 6X 50 free; repeat whole set three times.

For the umpteenth time, I realized my thoughts have the power to seriously influence my athletic performance, my mood and my general outlook on life. Thanks to a quick tweak to my pre-workout thought patterns, I’m actually looking forward to my next swim.


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Motivation Monday: The Bay Bridge Swim edition

*Note to self for next time I’m unmotivated to take the time to drive to the pool, suit up and swim: The stationary bike is NOT the same. Don’t even pretend, because you’re just lying to yourself. The cardio workout isn’t as good, even when you’re really pushing it. It won’t do anything for your arms, not to mention your abs. Sure, you can read the whole Washington Post during a workout, and that’s nice once in a while. But it can’t be your staple. Suck it up and get in the pool.*

Two years ago, near the tail end of Steve’s second deployment, I found peace in an unlikely place: In a polluted body of brackish water surrounded by a groping, clawing, wetsuit-clad mob.

Getting ready to descend into a wetsuit-clad mob at last year's swim.

That was just the first quarter of the race. It was my first Chesapeake Bay Bridge 1-Mile Challenge, known as the “Baby Bay Swim” by those hard-core souls who do the companion 4.4-miler. It was my substitute for road races while I recovered from a serious hip injury, and even before I got to the good part of the race, I was hooked.

The good part of the race, of course, is when you realize you’re no longer clawing other swimmers for position, and when you catch a glimpse of the stately, imposing Bay Bridge looming over you as you take a breath. It’s when you get into the rhythm of whatever currents or swells you’re working with that day, and you stop fighting the water and start working with it. It’s when you realize and appreciate the beauty and awesomeness of what you’re doing, and feel a rush of gratitude along with those endorphins.

This A. Aubrey Bodine photo of the Bay Bridge captures how I feel during peaceful moments of the Bay Bridge Swim.

Motivating me this morning: I just signed up for my third annual Chesapeake Bay Bridge 1-Mile Challenge! Registration opened at 6 a.m., just a few days after my recently reinjured ankle kicked my lazy butt back into the pool. It’ll be the fifth open-water swim of my adult life (the horrible, zig-zaggy affairs from high school don’t count), and I can’t wait to truly start training for it.

The other things motivating me this week:

  • Your wonderful comments on Friday in response to my call for motivation to actually head to the pool, tackling 4X800 meters (yes, meters — my new pool is Olympic sized!) with some sprints thrown in at the end. Through encouragement, ego-boosting, guilt-tripping and suggested retail therapy, you not only made me head to the pool; you made me *want* to head to the pool. I’m going to need lots more encouragement over the next few months, so keep the motivators coming!
  • Necessity. In a perfect world, swimming would be a motivator in and of itself. In actuality, nothing motivates me to swim like the inability to run. Since my ankle somehow looks *more* swollen and purple now than it did last week, my motivation to swim is unusually high.
  • New ideas for meals that will fuel my workouts and not upset my stomach during those workouts. Quinoa and steel-cut oats have already become staples of my diet. My most recent adventure: homemade faux-Larabars. Stay tuned for photos and recipes!

What’s motivating you this week? Let me know by posting a comment below.


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Back in the pool again

I started swimming competitively at age seven, was swimming on a club team year-round by the time I was in middle school, spent my entire high school career assuming I’d swim in college, was so burned out my senior year, I broke up with swimming for five years. I headed back to the pool only after injuries forced me to seek a form of cardio less boring than the trusty ol’ recumbent bike. I signed up for open-water swim events to motivate me, and have had a love-hate relationship with the sport ever since.

Me finishing the 1-Mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge Challenge last year.

Now, I’m headed back to the pool again after being out for roughly a month. I could waste a lot of time telling you why I’ve been out for so long. Instead, here’s a reminder of why I love swimming to begin with:

  • Endorphins! If you’re reading this blog, you’re likely addicted to these feel-good chemicals released by the body during exercise. Running’s my favorite fix. Swimming’s my second-favorite. Sure, the stationary recumbent bike is easy, and I can read while I cycle; but I never get quite the same cardio workout as I do from even a nice, easy 3,000 yards in the pool.
  • A good stretch. My muscles practically crave a good swim after a hard run or lifting session. It’s a perfect recovery workout, and gets aching muscles moving without straining them further.
  • It strengthens muscles running and cycling don’t touch. Swimming really is the total-body workout everyone says it is. If I do butterfly sprints, I can go ahead and skip core work and tricep dips for the day.
  • I love open-water events like the Chesapeake Bay Bridge 1-Mile Challenge, which I’ve competed in the past two years.

Me at a 2.5-mile open-water swim in Jacksonville August 2008.

  • It reminds me I’m fierce. I’m better at swimming that I am at running. This means that a) I can usually rely on an ego boost with my workout, and b) it’s a nice way to let loose my competitive side, which rarely comes out while running.

Do you swim for cross-training? What motivates you to head to the pool? Help motivate me to actually head to the pool (I haven’t gone yet!) by posting a comment below.

In other news: I had the interesting (and kind of fun) experience of being on the other side of a newspaper interview this week when USA Today reporter Janice Lloyd called me to chat about running gadgets. I’m quoted in her very interesting story, which ran in yesterday’s paper. Nifty, huh?


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A carrot, a stick, a lovely swim and a sweet reward

I woke up yesterday morning dreading my scheduled swim.  This tea provided one sweet bribe to swim on a cold winter day.

So I revisited an idea I’ve been experimenting with recently: outright bribing myself.  At the grocery store the other day, I’d spotted a box of Celestial Seasonings Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride Herbal Tea, but held back from making what I saw as a frivolous purchase. But I’d acquired a Celestial Seasonings coupon since then, not to mention a task it could serve as a worthy reward for.

Here’s the workout that earned me the sweetest cup of tea ever:

All freestyle is done with a pull buoy.

1,000 warmup: alt. 250 free, 250 back

Pyramid set, freestyle, on :15 rest, moderate pace that you can maintain (goal is to hold your pace the whole time): > 1×50 > 1×100 > 1×150 > 1×200 > 1×250 > 1×300 > 1×250 > 1×200 > 1×150 > 1×100 > 1×50 (1,800 total)

4×25 sprint freestyle on :45

4×25 no-breath freestyle

My body felt so good and loose and happy afterwards, I didn’t even need the tea (though you’d better believe I drank it, anyway)!


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Kicking myself out the door

I woke up yesterday in a Mood.

A trip to the pool saved my mood yesterday.

You know the kind of Mood I’m talking about — when you don’t feel like working, dread the day’s workout hours beforehand and question the motives behind even your most cherished beliefs and most staid routines. One of those.

The mood lingered even after a morning of work, so it was no surprise that I was almost frantic to avoid the early-lunchtime swim I had planned. I tried my best tips and tricks from my adventures in sports psychology over the summer to no avail. In the end, I all but kicked myself out the door.

Once I got to the pool, I had to force myself to actually jump in the water after spending three or four minutes stretching on the deck. “You’re not going home now,” I told myself. Finally, once I jumped in, I used some of the aforementioned tips to get my mind in the right place. I replaced negative thoughts (coldcoldcoldcoldcold! If I’d done the stationary bike, I’d be done by now!) with a simple refrain: I sang “Three Little Birds” to myself, and swam to that tempo.

I enjoyed a random but challenging workout composed entirely of 400s by repeating the following four times:

400 free with pull buoy
400 backstroke

The last four 400s, I added seven hard strokes to the first 50 of each freestyle set, and sprinting every other 25 of backstroke. The final 400 was an IM.

Are you surprised to hear that I had a great workout, and that the rest of the day was drastically better and more productive after I’d finished it? I’ll try to remember that feeling next time I’m struggling to get out the door.

How do you stop negative workout thoughts in their tracks? It’ll be easy to do so tonight — I’m not so much in the mood to head out into one of the first wintry nights for our Pacers Silver Spring group run tonight, but I’m definitely in the mood for a post-run happy hour at Adega Wine Cellars. Easy motivation!

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Swim the lap you’re in

Some advice from Ryan Hall fueled my swim today.

Some advice from Ryan Hall fueled my swim today.

I continued my weeklong experiment in tracking how my thought patterns affect my athletic performance during today’s swim, during which I got some help from the guy in the next lane, my high-school teammate’s dad and Ryan Hall.

Since swimming is undoubtedly more of a time commitment than running, with its requirements to drive to the pool, suit up, work out a bit longer to get the same benefits, dechlorinate, drive home, etc., I find it even harder to stay motivated to do it. I also find it really hard to stop feeling guilty about the items I could be crossing off on my to-do list during that time. Today, I renewed my efforts to squelch that thinking, since it’s a proven motivation-zapper for me.

But I truly was physically tired today, and keeping my brain in the right place was tough, even once I got in the pool. Here’s what didn’t work: Obsessing about how tired and slow I felt (it’s simply shocking that a steady cadence of  ugh, ugh, ugh, failed to motivate me).

What did work:

Reminding myself to swim the lap I’m in, to roughly paraphrase Ryan Hall, who once said he reminds himself during half-marathons to run the mile he’s in. Whether it’s a set of 200 IMs, like today, or the seventh mile of a record-breaking marathon, it does no good to think about how tired you deserve to be because of what you’ve done already, or how much still lies ahead.

Reminding myself that, as is the case with every other athlete on earth, my slow is someone else’s fast. Over a huge IHOP dinner after a disappointing swim meet in high school, my teammate’s dad shook his head in amusement as we bemoaned being seconds — whole seconds! — off our goal times. “Think about all the houses we pass on our way home,” he said. “Then, think about how many of the people who live in those houses can come close to what you girls can do.” This is true for everyone who attempts an athletic feat. No matter how slow you feel like you are, to someone else, you’re a rock star.

Believing in positive reinforcement. A runner-friend a few weeks ago raised the point that, we, as athletes and as humans, tend to give more weight to negative comments than positive ones. So when the young-ish, fit-looking guy in lane next to me  smiled and said, “You’re amazing! I wish I could swim like you!” I decided to obsess about this lovely and random compliment the same way I’d obsess about a puzzling e-mail from an editor. I plan to consider this from all angles, mention it to friends. Heck, if things go well, I might even keep myself up tonight thinking about it.

Here’s the amazing part: These mind games played out in my performance in a measurable way. I timed myself on a 1,650 with a pull buoy, and came in right at 25 minutes. Not my best, but a far cry from “I’m too tired to do anything of worth today.”

Has anyone else tried this stuff with similar effect? I’m fascinated.


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Race report: 2-Mile Chris Greene Lake Cable Swim

Can I be honest and tell you that I was a little disappointed I didn’t leave the 2-mile Chris Greene Lake Cable Swim in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday with a medal?

I’m still scolding myself for being such a baby about this even as I type it, but this blog is supposed to provide an honest perspective on training. So. I’m being honest, and telling you I was initially a little disappointed. And, as you’re about to read, a little pathetic.

I was so confused and troubled by my poor age-group finish (six out of seven among 25-29-year-old women), I decided to result-stalk the women ahead of me. Yes, that’s right — I Googled ’em.The sense of entitlement was based on age-group finishes at the only other open-water swims I’ve done, the 1-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge Swim and the 2.5-mile Swim Marathon in Jacksonville, Fla.

I learned: That the women who beat me are all former college swimmers. That one, a 28-year-old woman, won the swim around Key West a few years ago, completing the 12-mile distance in a little more than five hours. That another, a 26-year-old, still holds a Virginia swimming record for the 100 free (56.03).

I also learned that I should never do that again. First, I didn’t feel much better (although I did realize my disappointment is kind of like being upset about not placing in the Boston Marathon based on getting a medal at a local 5K). I only felt silly about wasting so much time.

Plus, getting uber-competitive about other swimmers flies in the face of the reason I swim now: For a sense of personal achievement, for an endorphin rush that I believe combats all ills, to physically exorcise life’s heartaches and stresses. And to see what kind of person I am: One who can dig deeper than she ever imagined when she needs to most, one who’s scrappy and tough. One who signs up for races that scare her a little to motivate her to train. Not one who spends an hour Googling random swimmers.

Now that I’ve confessed that sin, let me tell you about my beautiful dip in the lake yesterday morning. I couldn’t have asked for better weather or water conditions, with bright blue skies and the lake temperature just chilly enough to feel good once you’re swimming.This was my first time at a lake swim, with my previous open-water experience — plus a few disasters forced on me by a high-school swim coach — and the lack of current and waves almost made it feel like swimming in a pool.

Organizers started swimmers in waves of ten, based on seed times. I didn’t put in a seed time (the last time I swam a 1,650 in a meet was, um, 1997), so I was seeded third-to-last, the 97th swimmer to start. It was nerve-wracking watching dozens of other swimmers start while I hung out in the background, but it was nice not having to scratch, claw, kick and grasp for position, like one does in the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Swim.

The swim consisted of four laps around a course marked by a cable stretched tautly between two wooden pylons. I wasn’t exactly sure how to pace the 2-mile swim, so I treated it as I would a timed 1,650 in the pool: I like to start at a moderate, steady pace, and step it up as the swim goes on. In retrospect, I could have maybe pushed harder on the second and third laps. But then again, I swam my heart out on the fourth one (I may or may not have grunted in the water), and finished feeling like I’d just done 900 tricep dips at the gym.

My time: 56:15. And though my age-group finish was a little disappointing, I was thrilled that I came in 29th overall out of the roughly 100 swimmers.

Even better: Charlottesville is close to Shenandoah National Park, so Steve and I made a quick side-trip to try out my beautiful, new suspension-frame backpack! The trip included about 9 miles of hiking (split up over two days) through a cool, green river valley next to the most scenic waterfalls you’ve ever seen, plus TWO black-bear sightings! In the second instance, we saw two cubs scamper up a tree with a speed that left our jaws hanging. When we saw a giant, black blob in the distance, we picked up our jaws and booked it out of the park — if the babies were that fast, we didn’t want to find out how quick mama was.

Next up, swimming wise: The possibility of the 5K Smith Mountain Open-Water Lake Swim Sept. 26. It’s another US Masters Swimming event, which means it would be the same uber-competitive field. Still, with the right attitude, I think it could be a lot of fun. I’ll think about this one, along with another in Wilmington, N.C. I’ll keep you posted.



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Recovery swim

I’m not doing a full-blown taper for the 2-mile Chris Greene Lake Cable Swim in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday. I’m actually running a bit harder than usual, to see how my hip does with some tempo runs before my appointment with my running doc tomorrow.Tonight, that means the 5-ish-mile beach loop/hill run with Pacers, which involves running on my beloved Rock Creek Park trails before heading to what I’m sure will be some brutal hills.

That said, I am easing up a bit as the week goes on, nixing the core work I recently added to my repertoire. Considering my glutes are still screeching at me after a stability-ball workout on Sunday, I think this is a wise call. I’m also declaring tomorrow an off-day, and put in a nice, easy swim yesterday.

Here’s the lovely, sprint-free recovery workout, which included just enough hard effort to give me a pre-race ego boost, yet not enough to wear me out. I’ve been really into 800s lately, ever since Megan Killian (check out her training blog here) recommended a workout including a set of them. Do three of those bad boys, and wham! You’re almost done with your workout! If they’re too hard, you can back off on the speed — you get brownie points just for swimming the distance. If they’re getting boring, you can step things up a bit by inserting several hard strokes each 50.

3X 800 free w/pull buoy; first one easy, second one harder, third one w/seven hard strokes at the beginning of each 50

After each 800, do a 200 IM; first one hard, second one easier, third one cool-down.


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One last push: the accidental 4,850-yd. swim

Don’t you love the last hard workout before a big event?

The last long swim or speed workout before a race is almost as climactic as the event itself, and it carries the promise of something wonderful ahead: well-deserved rest.

Last night marked my last hard swim before the 2-mile Chris Greene Lake Cable Swim in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday, and I breathed a long sigh of relief — and exhaustion — upon finishing. The 4,850-yard workout followed a long session in the gym working on core and  stability stuff, which means I am one tired swimmer today.

Here’s the funny thing: I hadn’t intended to do anything this intense. I set out to do a 3,500. But my husband and I had a swim date, and when he arrived later than I did, I lengthened my workout just a bit to give him time to finish. He usually swims for about 30 minutes, so I timed my workout accordingly, throwing another 300 at it … and then another … and then another. Homeboy just kept on swimming! After a random 200 IM so slow, I had to call it a cooldown, I called it a day.

Here’s how the workout went down:

Timed 1,650 w/pull buoy: 25 minutes even (ehhh)

3X400 IM (1,200)

5X300 free, first seven strokes over every 50 hard (1,500)

6X25 sprint, 6X25 no breath (300)

200 IM cooldown

I’ll swim once more before Saturday, a short, easy effort on Wednesday. My arms are already grateful for the break.

Next up: I plan to run with Pacers Fun Runners both tonight and Thursday, as I *finally* have an appointment with my running doc on Friday to check out my not-so-sore-anymore hip. I’m using this appointment to gauge my readiness to start my Marine Corps Marathon training plan in earnest, so I don’t want to baby the hip too much beforehand. It’s no good if your car stops making that noise before you bring it to the mechanic, right?


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When motivation shows up late to the party

Don’t you love those days when you drag yourself to the pool or the track,

The Chris Greene Lake Cable Swim powered me through my workout yesterday.

The Chris Greene Lake Cable Swim powered me through my workout yesterday. Even its logo, shown above, makes me wanna swim!

content to slog through whatever workout you have planned, only to find you had way more in you than an everyday slog?

I had one of those days yesterday, when I headed to the pool in a state of inexplicable exhaustion for a 4,500-yard swim to get ready for the 2-mile Chris Greene Lake Cable Swim, which I committed to doing, oh, about an hour ago. I tend to sign up for open-water swims when big running events are in jeopardy because of some sore spot. In this case, it’s my IT band and the Marine Corps Marathon. Even though the race is a long way off, and my ITB is actually feeling OK at the moment (knockonwood!), I needed an immediate reason to kick my own butt in workouts while I’m laying low running-wise.

To that end, I got in the pool yesterday kind of dreading my planned 4,500, which started with a 1,500 warmup. Then, something really cool happened: Without making a conscious effort to do so, I visualized — daydreamed about, really — the lake swim. I imagined how cool it will be to feel the sun on my back and to see the other swimmers around me. I thought about sitting on the shore after, pleasantly sore and tired after swimming the crap out of the race.

I turned my 1,500 warmup into a timed 1,650 (24:40 with a pull buoy, thank you very much!), starting what would become my first 5,000-yard workout since last summer, when I was training for a 2.5-mile ocean swim in Jacksonville, Fla.

Here’s how the rest of the workout went down:

5X400 IM (2,000 total)

4X300 free, six hard strokes every 50 (1,200 total)

4X25 sprint

4X25 no breath (yes, I do this 8X25 set at the end of almost every swim now. Thanks, Mer!)

Motivation came late to the party, and without any kind of conscious invitation on my part. But it’s the kind of party guest that’s always welcome. I just wish it would come early sometime, to help set up the bar, you know?


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