There were two more useful lessons I learned in the days after Kona and that I applied leading into IMAZ. This first one came from my training advisor David Tilbury Davis. He had a look at the training I had been doing over the last couple of years and noticed that I rarely do my swimming first. Most of the time I swim second, usually after a bike workout, and sometimes I would swim third, after both a bike and run workout. I won’t go as far as to say I was unaware of this. I have had many people make the suggestion over the last couple of years to swim before doing my bike and run sessions. In all honesty, the only reason I have not swam first thing has been pure laziness. I hate waking up early. I have preferred to wake up around 8am, sit around for an hour and a half and have breakfast and a coffee, and then get onto the bike once I feel fully awake. I would usually do a two hour bike workout, then have lunch. By the time I was getting to the pool it was usually after 2pm. This also happens to be the time of day where I am really feeling like having a nap.
I’m not sure why this particular time the suggestion got through my thick skull. I have a feeling the embarrassment from 70.3 Worlds and Kona played a role. As well, having my ass handed to me in the water by literally every single athlete at the Island House Triathlon, also added to my receptivity to suggestions. When I got back home from Island House I vowed to start waking up early and getting my swim done first thing in the morning, before any other exercise sessions. In the beginning, it was hard, but I quickly got used to the routine. I would truly describe this suggestion as life changing. I was finishing my swim by 8:30 am. I don’t know why, but being done a session by 8:30 really motivates you to stay on task for the rest of the day. I would start my bike workout at 11:00am, and then would start my run workout by 2:30pm. I was often getting finished training before 5 o’clock, and then going to bed at 10pm. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I can’t remember the last time, I had so much free time. In the past, it was nothing out of the ordinary to get finished training after 8pm.
That aspect of this change was great, but that’s not the interesting part. Over the course of the three weeks leading into IMAZ my perception in the water was improving noticeably. One of the major issues I have in the water is that as I increase the intensity I drop my elbow progressively more, pushing less water directly backwards than I would if I kept the forearm more perpendicular to the bottom of the pool. I was amazed at how much more conscious of this I was becoming, and how much more able I was to make changes to this movement, especially under load. A few days before IMAZ I said to Erin “my feel for the water is getting really good.” The night before the race my dad told me he had a gut feeling I was going to have the best swim of my life. I said to him, “maybe, my feel for the water is really good right now.” I don’t know if I have said “my feel for the water is really good” at any other time in my entire career. The next day I had a lifetime best swim, and came out with individuals who were 4 minutes ahead of me just six weeks prior in Kona.
This improvement shouldn’t be of much surprise though. The one thing that I think I have neglected over the last five years has been just how neuromuscularly intensive swimming is. “Feel for the water” and proprioceptive awareness in the water is a predominantly neurological phenomenon. Biking and running put significant stress on the body from a neurological and muscular standpoint. Thus, biking and running before swimming is going to significantly impair this perception. As well, our body in water weighs about 10% of what it does on land. It is likely that our perceptive ability in water is something like 10% of what it is on land, predominantly because the only time we experience using and maneuvering our body at 10% of its land weight, is when we are swimming. Swimming first thing allowed me to utilize a lot more of that “10% of land perception” and by the end of three weeks my “feel for the water” had improved markedly.
Another interesting thing to point out is that I did not taper the swim into IMAZ whatsoever. Gerry Rodrigues has been saying this for years. As a weak swimmer, my perception in the water is poor relative to better swimmers. Tapering the swim into a race does not improve my feel for the water. Tapering the swim into a race makes sense for a good swimmer because their feel for the water is significantly better, and significantly deeper ingrained, and so shedding some swim fatigue sharpens that perception. For a weaker swimmer it makes more sense to swim as much as usual or even more leading into a race, as this will help to improve that perception a lot more than shedding fatigue will help improve that perception. Both the week leading into IMAZ and the week before that were my highest volume swim weeks since mid-June.
Long story short, if you are not swimming first thing, or at the very least, doing your key swim workouts first thing, you are selling yourself short. In just three weeks of swimming first thing every day, I noticed a significant improvement in my perception, and this translated directly into better swimming. I am excited to get back to the chopping block next week, and swim first thing every day for a year! In my next post I will share one more lesson, but this one pertains to the bike.