From Friday, March 17 through Sunday, March 19, my Bearcat masters teammates and I traveled to Boston for the New England LMSC Short Course Yards Championship.
Hello. It’s me.
A staple event for my team, this competition was my first multi-day and short-course yards meet. (My first two meets were measured in meters.) Suffice to say, it was a weekend of learning, absorbing, and growing as an endurance athlete, and I had a blast butterflying, backstroking, breaststroking, and freestyling.
Even though I took swimming lessons as a kid, I cannot compare myself to folks who logged laps through high school and college. The competitive swimming learning curve is steep. Yes, I had goals for the meet, but they centered on execution as opposed to performance-based, numerical values. As I’ve learned with triathlon—and to paraphrase legendary basketball coach John Wooden—when I focus on doing the little things right, that makes the big things happen.
I went to Harvard … for a weekend for a swim meet. (Don’t worry, Mom: the tattoo is temporary.)
Speaking of John Wooden, I had flashbacks to my basketball days as we rode the bus from New York City to Boston on Thursday night: heading to another city for a weekend of competing, cheering, and hanging out. During the 4.5-hour drive, my teammates talked me through the structure of the meet and gave me tips for warming up, cooling down, and staying composed during the eight-plus hours we’d be spending at the pool each day. We also talked a lot about eating and team dinners, and it became apparent food was a top priority for swimmers. Full disclosure: I quickly hopped aboard the all-you-can-eat bandwagon and had two breakfasts every morning. I even went to an amazingly delicious diner after finishing my final event.
So metabolically inefficient, so not caring. Thanks to The Breakfast Club for making this spread possible.
To be fair, swimming five events (50 free, 100 free, 200 free, 500 free, and 100 IM) over the course of three days revved my appetite. I spent the most time in the water on Saturday, swimming the 500 free, 50 free, and 100 IM. On Friday, I swam the 100 free and 200 free relay. On Sunday, I did the 200 free. Heading into the weekend, this line-up seemed doable. After all, I was “racing” 1000 yards over three days, and we typically swim 3000m each day during practice. But when you calculate warm-ups (800 yards or so each morning) and cool downs (100-300 yards after each event), it was a lot of swimming: high intensity swimming, slicing through the water swimming, searing pain swimming that made my muscles scream. But that’s when the race starts, and that’s what makes it fun: when your body begs you to relent, slow down, or stop all together, what do you do?
Just do it
As the weekend progressed, I became increasingly comfortable and confident reading the heat sheets and remembering my lane assignment, developing a warm-up and cool down routine, and managing my nerves and excitement. This was a big meet, and the events progressed quickly: the competition pool contained eight lanes, and each event saw as few as 8 or as many as 20 heats. (For example: the women’s 400 IM wasn’t a popular event; the men’s 50 free, however, was the polar opposite.) There were two adjoining, but separate pools, which were designated as warm-up and cool down areas. Sometimes, I had a lane to myself; others, I was circle-swimming with six people. I liked how there was a specific time each day to practice starts off the blocks. I need a lot of practice with dives. One of my teammates helped me adjust the blocks and gave me some pointers, and I could feel myself progressing throughout the weekend. I enter the water with a little more pop and authority these days, although I still have plenty of room for improvement.
I had the most fun swimming the 200 freestyle relay on Friday afternoon, and I confirmed my partiality toward the longer distances of the 200 and 500 yards. One of the coaches said people either love or hate the 200, and it’s an event that plays to my strengths as an endurance athlete—it demands speed, endurance, and the ability to hurt. These characteristics matter for the 50 and 100 too, but elements like getting off the blocks (I may be the slowest swimmer off the blocks) and breathing patterns (apparently, you aren’t supposed to breathe every stroke during a 50 because it slows you down) matter more, and I simply have not developed those skills yet. Again, those little things—starts, turns, breathing patterns—make the big things happen, and those little things mean more during shorter events. If I’m the last one off the blocks during a 50, I can’t make that up. Plus, I like the pacing strategy behind the 200 and 500. The 200 was my final event of the meet, and it was the one I executed the most precisely: redline off the blocks for 50, settle in to 87 percent for the second 50, and then build through 100 by 25s. I had a similar strategy for the 500: use the adrenaline off the blocks, settle in, and then increase the effort at the 300-yard mark. Overall, my triathlon background translates better to those longer distances, so going forward, that’s what I’ll be focused on.
A complete race recap needs results so here are mine:
100 free – 1:05.68 (seed – 1:06); 10th AG
500 free – 6:32.29 (seed – 8:00); 11th AG
100 IM – 1:24.40 (seed – 1:30); 21st AG
50 free – 30.90 (seed – 32.00); 10th AG
200 free – 2:25.28 (seed – 2:48); 8th AG
When is your next race?