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The pains for gains in triathlon training: Part 2

Written by Fiona April 06 2011

Of course, you knew there would be Part 2, after Part 1 was published earlier this week! While part 1 focused on the physical agony of turbo training to boost anaerobic and aerobic threshold, Part 2 describes the physical agony of swimming to exhaustion, and for, seemingly, the same gains

Discussing this concept with the G-Force after last night’s weekly swim with the Glasgow Triathlon Club I am starting to realise how far I’ve come with my swimming, although I know I still have a long way to go. It’s my least favourite of the three triathlon disciplines and until the last six months I could see so little progression in my ability that I was almost ready to give up. The G-Force is where I was a year or so ago.

“But everyone overtakes me,” he tells me. “However hard I try I just get so out of breath and then I can’t keep my pace and then everyone overtakes me… and there are other people who have not been swimming with the club as long as me and they are now faster than me… and I just don’t see the point of swimming… and I wish I knew what I was doing wrong… and why can’t I breathe properly… and why this is such a hard sport?”

Everything the G-Force said I could identify with. The fact is, the G-Force’s swimming has improved immeasurably over the last year but, as I know ,it is a sport that offers tiny  steps of progression over a very long period.

And then, suddenly, just once in a while, you experience a slightly larger step of progression. This has happened a few times over the last four years for me. The first time I led the front in the “developer swimmers” lane (this is the lane for the people who are learning to swim faster!). Then when I was told by the coaches to progress to the “middle” lane. (This is for intermediate swimmers in the club). There have been a few times when I have had small steps further towards the front of this lane.

Last night I swam third in the lane and managed to keep up with the two front swimmers. This is huge progression for me.

But with this progression up the lanes comes a new type of agony. It’s less the mental frustration of feeling like a hopeless swimmer and more about the actual pure physical pain. For years I couldn’t swim hard enough to make my muscles ache because I was struggling to breathe. Now I am experiencing the pain of exhausted arm and leg muscles.

Last night, by the end of the murderously tough session my arms were totally incapable of pulling my body through the water for even another 2 metres. It wasn’t that I was out of breath, it was because my body was physically drained. I had maxed out like I’d never experienced before in a pool. My arm muscles were weak, my leg and glute muscles pulsed, I felt dizzy and slightly sick.

Yet again, you’ll be wondering why I put myself through all this? I could, of course, swim last in the lane and reserve my energies for opening the shampoo bottle in the shower (this hurt after last night’s session due to very sore arms!). I could simply stay at home, put my feet up and drink wine. But if I did this then I wouldn’t begin to believe that I might now be able to manage the 1500 metre open water swim at the London Triathlon with a little more style than “just get through it”.  (And after a swim like last night I can’t tell you how lovely a glass of red wine then tastes!)

A new club member joined us in the pool last night. She began behind me in the middle lane, then quickly progressed to the front of the lane, and from there started to lap some people in our lane, before she was then told by the coach that the “fast” lane was for her. This is the type of progression I can only dream of and I watched with envy as she popped under the lane dividers and joined the fast swimmers. I spotted her “easy” cool down stroke was butterfly! Awesome indeed!

I’ve a long, long way to go before I’m asked to pop under the lane divide and join the big boys and girls – but then again I used to look with envy at the middle laners when I first joined the club. So it does go to show that there are some gains to be made from the pains of trying harder and for a longer time. A lot of thanks also goes to the amazing instruction and patience of our club coaches.

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