Off-Season Fun: Trying Masters (again!)

If you’ve visited any triathlon or running websites lately, you’ve probably read at least a few (dozen) articles about the “off-season” being a great time to focus on projects or goals you’re too busy or exhausted to tackle during the season.

Last winter, I made a concerted effort to improve my nutrition and strength and, while I certainly have plenty of room for improvement in both areas, I was successful in making noticeable gains on both fronts. 

This winter, one of my focuses is to improve my attitude toward swimming. 

First, a little background. As a kid, I loved playing in my grandma’s pool. Mostly doing handstands, or playing Marco Polo (great Netflix series, btw), or picking up objects from the deep end, or jumping off the diving board. I was very comfortable “playing” in the water, but I wasn’t lap swimming. 

Fast forward to November of 2010, when, after completing my second marathon, I decided I wanted to try a triathlon and signed up for an adult beginner swim class at the local rec center. I loved the teacher and class, but it was a rude awakening. I was exhausted after just trying to swim 25 yards, even though I was in marathon shape. I also realized I had no clue how to do a proper stroke. I didn’t know my arm wasn’t supposed to go straight out in a giant circle like a windmill. I had a lot of work to do. 

Of course, I did learn to swim well-enough to get through that portion of a sprint, Olympic, 70.3, and finally an IM distance race, but it’s always something I dread. As my husband says, I only swim so that I can bike and run. 

Leading into Ironman Chattanooga, I thought I was going to be a “one and done” for IMs. There were a few reasons for this – the cost of triathlon, the amount of time it takes, etc. – but one of the biggest considerations was the fact that I couldn’t imagine making myself swim for another year! 

Of course, after Chattanooga (a dream come true day for me, despite some mechanical difficulties on the bike), I immediately signed up for Ironman Mont Tremblant. I knew this meant another winter of forcing myself to get to the pool. 

The word “forcing” tells you everything you need to know about my relationship with swimming. 

I decided that I needed to change my mindset toward swimming and I asked Alyssa to help me brainstorm on this. We decided to try adding masters back into my training schedule.

I’ve tried two other masters programs before and I didn’t find it super helpful for where I was in my training at that time.

I was nervous about starting again because I remember the humiliation that comes from not being able to keep up with the rest of your lane and  – worse yet – getting lapped.

After we decided to try masters again, I had put it off a couple of weeks in a row. I was just afraid to try it again, even though part of me wanted to. Fear is a powerful emotion. I was supposed to go on a particular Thursday morning, but I didn’t. The same thing happened the following Thursday, and then the next. I was just sort of hoping Alyssa would forget I ever raised the topic. Then, one Wednesday night, Alyssa sent me a text: “All good for masters tomorrow??”

UGH! ALYSSA! Totally a guilt trip she knew would work on me.

So, up I got at 4:00 a.m. and stumbled out the door to the pool, probably looking like I had been roughed up by a mugger in the parking lot.

Much to my surprise, it actually went well! So well, in fact, that I even asked Alyssa if I could add masters to my schedule on Thanksgiving morning. 

I’ve now gone five times and I’m really enjoying it. The hardest part – BY FAR – is the 4:00 a.m. alarm and I am still adjusting to that. One of the things that has helped in that regard is having coffee made and ready to go when I get up and having a Bobo’s Oat Bar waiting for me as a quick and delicious pre-workout snack. The coffee and food definitely help to wake me up. 

I’ve also totally lucked out that my masters coach and my lane mates have been AWESOME and so understanding when I have had questions. I think this is really key to the experience being enjoyable for me. I also love having one of the day’s workouts out of the way by 6:30 a.m.! 

Coach always knows best and I’m glad she sent me that text to give me the push I needed to give masters a try.

Speaking of awesome lane mates, since we are talking about swimming, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my birthday swim last month. I was fortunate enough to start my birthday by swimming 35 x 100 with two of my besties – Taryn and Leslie – followed by a coffee date! Taryn also made me the most delicious vegan cupcakes ever! I hope we’ll get to meet-up for regular swim dates in the coming months as well. Company always makes time in the pool more fun (notice that I didn’t say “less miserable” – moving in the right direction!)

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I’m so happy to be enjoying myself in the pool again and I can’t wait to see how this will translate to improved swimming during my races in 2016!

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7 thoughts on “Off-Season Fun: Trying Masters (again!)

  1. You are definitely not alone! I couldn’t really swim until January before my first IM. I’ve come a long way, I really like it. ALSO – I’M SOO EXCITED your doing IMMT (and that you got the bug!). I loved it last year! Did you do the package for the half too? Can’t wait to follow your journey!!

    • I did not do the package with the half, although I do have two 70.3s on the schedule for next year – Rev3 Knoxville and Tupper Lake Tinman. Would love for our paths to cross at another race sometime soon!

      • I’ve heard those are good choices! I’m not entirely sure what halves I’m doing but I’ll keep you posted! I would love to cross paths too!!!!

  2. Isn’t masters the best?! I just started going to masters within the last couple of months, and all I can think is, “Ooooh, so *this* is why all the triathlon websites recommend it!” I had a decent stroke already, but having a coach look at my form has been SO helpful, and having people around me while I’m swimming has pushed me to swim harder. I made the decision to focus on my running this winter, but I think I may end up getting a 2-for-1 deal and making strides in my swimming as well.

    • Totally agree on swimming harder AND I think it will help me get more comfortable swimming in a pack while I’m racing. One of the things that always makes me uncomfortable in races is swimming so close to other people. I’m hoping sharing a lane with a few people (five at masters today) will take away some of that anxiety.

  3. Which Masters group are you swimming with? I definitely love Masters swimming, although I still ike to do some pool workouts on my own. And sadly, I’m actually quite used to the 4AM alarm by now. I’m turning into my parents…early to bed and early to rise!

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