Saturday, November 04, 2006

Small victories

At 10 past three, I was racing out my door, in the sticky afternoon swelter.

I had already filed a story for Voice of America that morning, and was now on my way to being late for a swim date with my friend Cecilia.

We were supposed to be meeting at 3:30, and the only way I’d come close to making it was by taking a taxi, and I was still at least a five-minute walk from the corner where the taxis passed.

But there was a taxi right in front of my door, just sitting there. Hoping that he had just dropped someone off and would be willing to take a new client, I asked him if he was on his way out. No, he said, he was waiting for someone.

No worries. I raced onward. But then Gallo called to me and asked me where I was going.

Thinking he just wanted to go through the greeting process, I sort of glanced over my shoulder and shouted “the pool, the Olympic pool” without stopping. I didn’t want to get stuck discussing the finer points of the heat.

But he surprised me. “Get in!” he shouted after me.

It turned out that the taxi was waiting for Ismaillah, who was on his way to… the Olympic pool! The woman who owns our building has a beauty shop there, and he’d been working all day carting things back and forth. And now he was on his way back, and Madame Landlady was footing the bill.

Should this not have excited me that much?


I’ve become fairly accustomed to my pool-flailing manner. It is, you could say, what I do. Who I am, really. Others swim. I flail. It’s nice to have a mark of distinction in this crazy-mixed-up-world we call Earth.

So imagine my shock when I kicked off the wall at the same time as Cecilia only to discover that we were smoothly swimming side by side.

Granted she was doing a breaststroke, and I was doing (my attempt at) the front crawl. But for a good three-quarters of the 50 meter pool, I managed to keep at the same pace as her, without particularly meaning to.

I had switched to breathing on every fourth stroke, instead of every second. And something seemed to have clicked, and the whole movement suddenly seemed natural.

Of course, then I ran out of breath, and had to stop, sputter and tread water. Cecilia left me far behind and I never caught up.

But it was pretty cool while it lasted.

So here’s my question to all the swimmers out there:

In theory, and now occasionally in practice, I’ve got this breathing thing down. It’s a major improvement over where I was even a few weeks ago. But. The breaths I take are fairly shallow.

You know that feeling when you take a deep breath, and your lungs fill until you reach a sort of threshold and your whole body is like “ahhhh, NOW I have enough air?” And you don’t need to do that on every breath, but after a while you just NEED a deep breath of air?

Well, when I’m swimming, I don’t get those deep breaths, and so after a while, I just… run out of air. Even though I’m breathing fairly often.

So… How do I fix that?

I’m perfectly willing to believe it’s just a question of not being in shape. Because I’m definitely not. In shape. (See: collapsing after attempts at jogging; see also: being lapped by neighborhood snails).

But if there’s a technique issue, I’m all ears.

Because I am SO conquering this learning to swim thing.


Blogger Habeela said...

Congrats on making progress on the swimming! If you're breathing every 3 strokes it will just take time to build up your endurance. Just make sure you're fully exhaling underwater and rolling enough to the side and you'll be fine.

11:34 AM  
Anonymous evany said...

Yeah, like habeela said! Slowly blowing bubbles out as you go, versus right before you take the next breath, that seems to help maintain the naturalness of the whole breathing thing. And "rolling," as in turning your head to the side versus lifting up (think looking to your right or left versus looking at the ceiling), that takes a lot less effort and keeps your body from bobbing up and down out of the water like a cork and screwing up your rhythm. The When can also be kind of important: the goal is to take your breath right as your elbow is coming out of the water and your arm is just beginning its trek through the air. Oh! And if you have anything but short-short hair, a swim cap is also super helpful -- my hair always tries to smother me, even if I have it back in a ponytail. Hi! I love your site! Thanks for writing, and many good lucks with the swimming!

12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The key is really exhaling underwater. Then, you have the "lung space" to take a big breath (and it actually happens automatically). It is the same when climbing mountains: concentrate on exhaling to catch your breath.

I was a swimmer for many years and I was so used to the regimented breathing that I always found it difficult to figure out my breathing in "land" sports...

8:57 PM  
Anonymous Monica C. said...

Just reading about breathing techniques freaks me out! (From a 39 year old non-swimmer due to trouble (mostly psychological, LOL) with the whole breathing thing).

6:43 PM  
Blogger jeanne said...

um, what they said.

12:15 AM  

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