Mind over matter

Often, when I swim, I have song lyrics floating around my head. Songs which include Titanium, by Rihanna, Proud, Heather Small or Search for the Hero inside yourself, by M People. These songs help serve to spur me on, provide encouragement and help me focus. Other times, though completely inane songs, go through my head, such a Nellie the Elephant, they serve little purpose, other than to provide slight amusement and distraction!

My latest song is “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”, the purpose of this is purely to remind me to focus, on in turn, my breathing, my arm pull and finally my kick and so on and so forth. I haven’t actually got, as far as actually trying to carry out the actions, that go with this particular song, while swimming.

Five weeks ago, when I first joined the swim squad, I realised that that the key focus, appears to be on front crawl. Not only is it, the seemingly “go to stroke”, but it is also quicker than breaststroke, thus more training is accomplished, in a swim.

However, for me, front crawl is the stroke I struggle with most, I find it hard work, getting the breathing technique right. Therefore, I haven’t really worked on my front crawl stroke development, outside of lessons, preferring to focus on breaststroke.

I explained the difficulties I was experiencing to my coach. He quickly identified, that I am coming in too short, with my arms, that was quickly remedied. My breathing is something that will take, both time and practice to get right, but I am learning to relax and keep my breathing slow and steady, I have tendency to over breathe when I am struggling and this only serves to make it worse.

The main issue, that has been identified, is with my kick. I don’t kick, efficiently, I kick back, but not forward and I allow my hips to sink, thus I am fighting against the water. I also kick for the knee, meaning that I am not using the biggest and strongest muscles available to me.

Myself and my coach, have worked intensively on this, even in three weeks we can both see a huge improvement, in my kick. Lots of time is spent, up and down the pool, going back to basics, kickboard in hands, desperately kicking away, like you did, back in your primary school days.

The other part, of this exercise, is what is known as “vertical kick”, if you want to look cool in the pool, this is not how to do it. It consists, of heading off to the deep end, clutching a small float while kicking and trying to keep yourself both vertical afloat. Think a aquatic meerkat. An aquatic meerkat,  who is pulling the most ridiculous faces, in an attempt to stay afloat!

Las Saturday, my coach started me off with my warm up. Two front kick, two side kick, two back kick and two swim times two. The Noah’s Ark of swimming, I guess, everything in in twos! Then came the main set…ten sets of 100m, front crawl, 30 seconds vertical kick, followed by 30 seconds rest. Inside I cringed and my heart sank, there was no way I could do that!

I set off, concentrating on my legs, ensuring I was kicking correctly as I pushed off from the wall. The first 75 metres was alright, but the next 25 was tough going. Thirty seconds kick, a quick rest then off again. Again, on my fourth length, my chest tightened and I found it hard going. My asthma, has been difficult during the past week and had only really started to settle the previous day.

My coach shouted, as I madly kicked, “is that your third set?”, “no its my second” I responded. “remember to keep your feet up” was the reply “you’re sinking on your final length”. I shot back “I’m finding it really hard”, then he said something that was like manna from heaven “well try and manage at least four sets”. Aye I could manage that, it was a much better option than 10.

On my third set, I decided to have a cheeky skive, my water bottle and inhaler was at the bottom end of the pool. I stopped at 75 metres. I stopped, took a breather, a couple of puffs of Ventolin and a slurp from my water bottle. My coach, shouted “I take these down to the other end, save you from having to stop, at this end”. I breathless, uttered my thanks and inwardly muttered “bugger”!

On to my fourth set, now I was warming up a bit, it was getting easier, still at least it was my last set. As I completed my vertical kick, my coach enquired “how many”. Inwardly smiling, I responded “four” “right, take a minutes rest this time and then keep going”. My fifth and sixth set, was tough, but I was over half way through, despite my coach saying we would stop at four, it seemed like he had forgotten and we were going for 10.

At the end of my sixth set, I was relieved to be half way through. Then my coach, added a goalie into the mix, “do one more set, then the sets after that I want you to use tumble turns”. I’m comfy with tumble turns, but they make more demands on my beleaguered lungs and make getting my kick, right, harder.

At the end of set eight, it was approaching ten to 9, nearly the end of my coaching session. My coach noticed me staring at the clock and advised me I could get two more sets in. I knew I could and was determined, as hard as I was finding it, to achieve this.

My ninth set was brilliant, the best set so far, with everything coming together, on my tenth set, I gave it all I’d got. I dug deep and kept going. Despite, being convinced that I’d never manage 10 sets I had and I was elated. My kick, still is a work in progress, but I had accomplished, far more than I thought I was capable of.

This, got me thinking, so much of sport or any form of exercise, has a psychological element to it. Often, I find I am capable of far more, than what think I am and I guess that’s same for most of us. In addition, I can allow my fears and confidence to hold me back. This is particularly pertinent when I add my chronic health problems into the mix.

We are all, probably capable of far more, than we think we are!

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