A lady at the meet asked me if I'd known Ian. While I didn't know him well, I could have picked him out of a crowd. Still, his death last spring came as a huge shock. There was definitely some imperative to attend a swim meet in his honour.
My original primary goal for the meet was to break 1:20 in the 100m freestyle. My secondary goal was to do a 200m IM. Of the two, the second was far more daunting, even without a specific performance goal. In the light of hindsight, I think that I invested more mental and physical preparation in the Individual Medley.
In the end, I selected the following races:
- 200 IM (No previous 50m pool experience, 25m pool PB: 3:12)
- 100 free (Last year's time: 1:27.73)
- 50 breast (Last year's time: 43.13)
Other than having been at the meet last year, I also had the advantage of having swam in the pool last summer. We only used half the pool, but I had had the opportunity to get familiar with the temperature of the pool. Compared to my usual pool, the sportsplex pool is cold. The temperature is supposed to be better for competetive swimming, a subject to which I only technically subscribe. All I knew was that getting in was not a lot of fun.
When they opened the pool for warmup, everyone got in, and the lanes got quite full. I had to warm up in all 4 strokes (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle) as I would be doing all 4 in the IM. In a packed lane of an unfamiliar pool, this was a little scary. Then I did a dive or two, to practice. I almost hit the bottom on my first dive, and made a mental note not to go too deep on my starts at the shallow end. Once I was warmed up, I got out, pulled some clothes on over my swimsuit, and took it easy.
Shortly thereafter, my parents showed up, having come into town for the weekend partially to watch. After nearly slipping and falling down trying to get their attention, we sat together, and watched as the first events started. Mom was impressed, much as I was last year (and again this year) at the broad range of people involved in master's swimming. There are faster 70 year olds, and very slow 80 year olds. There are incredibly fast 30-40 year olds, and then there are people like me - just getting into it in our 30s and 40s.
Soon enough, it was time for me to get back into the pool, to warm up for my IM. Lane 8 was reserved thoughout the whole meet for warming up and cooling down. When I got out and made my way to my lane, the butterflies started fluttering in my stomach. Pun intended.
Suddenly, I was up. On the blocks. My starts aren't the best.
The starter's whistle blows, and I have to do my first competitive dive of the season. Into the water I go. I give a couple of dolphin kicks, and surface.
Generally when I do IM, I take it easy on the butterfly. I can be pretty fast at it when I want to be, but my goal is to conserve energy. For me, that means staying relaxed; keeping the cadence down a bit, and not pulling or kicking as hard as I can.
Here I am, at the 25m mark. I'm wearing a bright yellow cap, in lane 5 (from the top, just below the blue lane rope).
Unfortunately, I put in way too slow a pace time for this race. When I signed up, my best 200 freestyle time was 3:20, so I put in 3:30. Subsequently, I started breaking 3:15 with both. Ugh. Oh well.
Anyways, I seem to ride higher in the water than most people. I make no claims that I do butterfly correctly, but I can move myself through the water doing it.
I've always said there's a logical progression in IM. After the gut-wrenching oxygen deprivation of butterfly, you get to swim on your back in backstroke, and gasp for all the air you could want. My backstroke is arguably my weakest stroke, though I think my catch and pull are much better this year. Sadly, my kick is non-existant, and kick is where it's at for backstroke and freestyle.
Notice how I'm all on my own? Yeah. It's not that I'm fast, it's just that I entered the wrong time. Like I said, oh well.
Anyways, I usually just watch the ceiling on backstroke, to make myself go straight. In my usual pool, the ceiling struts are parallel to the lanes. In the sportsplex, they aren't, so I had to be constantly peeking at the lane ropes beside me. This is actually the more correct way to go, I'm told. A lot of swim meets in the US are held outdoors, where there's absolutely nothing above you to use as a guide!
My time after 100m was 1:36.08.
My goal in back was to pull hard and rest my legs, because breaststroke is very, very, very tough on the legs. It's also probably my most natural, comfortable stroke.
To me, it looks like I've come a long way out of the water here. I was trying to keep my head more neutral, and not look so far ahead of me. Oh well.
I'm at the 125 metre mark, and I can tell you that me legs are starting to burn. I'm a little confused as to why I can't see anyone, but I'm also at the point in the swim when my brain starts to not get enough oxygen to really formulate complicated thoughts. It's just streamline, up, kick, streamline, over and over.
From memory, I was breathing every third pull here. With 30 metres to go, I was also trying to build towards a full-out sprint. I was able to do this, and felt ok. Actually, I remember wondering somewhere around here if I'd taken it too easy, as I wasn't completely destroyed at the end of the race.
My finish time was 3:06.02. This is a 200m PB for me, period. I certainly would never have expected to go this fast in the IM. I figured on being at least 7-10 seconds slower than whatever I could do in freestyle. There's simply no denying that I'm very pleased with this result.
Overall, I finished 2nd of 2 in my age group, over 20 seconds behind first. (It's a good thing I'm under no illusions about my swimming abilities, eh?)
Back up on deck, I got to chat with my parents, who were thrilled. I ate some jelly beans and drank some water. Life was good.
Next up was my A event, the 100m freestyle. I had put in an expected time of 1:20, and had been put in lane 1. This meant that everyone in my heat had put in a faster time than I had. This was very good news - it meant that there would be lots of people in front of me, to chase.
Even better, there was a guy from my session in the club in the lane beside me. We wished each other luck as we got up onto the blocks.
Incongruously, as I waited to start, it occurred to me that I'd already done more than half my swimming for the meet.
At go, I dove in, kicked twice, and surfaced. Oh my. Lane two was already well ahead of me. That gave me a kick in the pants, and I went to it - breathing every 5th stroke, and trying to narrow the gap. It didn't narrow, but it didn't widen much, either.
Here I am, approaching the turn - at the top, again in the yellow swim cap.
It looks to me like I'm pretty much in last place, as expected. Still, I'm not too far back at all.
Here are the split times. Lane 1, me, is at 38.38. I'll take it!
Unfortunately, by about 60 metres, I'd clued in to the fact that I'd gone out way too hard. Rather than building towards a fast finish, I was starting to gasp for breath. I fell off the pace, and swam more than 42 seconds for the second 50, to finish up at 1:20.96. I finished 5th of 6 in my age group, over 9 seconds out of 4th and 16 seconds out of first.
Ergo, I did not break 1:20. Disappointing, but it's still a PB. I had done 1:21 in the 25 metre pool, but the 50 metre pool is different. I guess the disappointing part is that I didn't race a smart race. If I had, I think sub-1:20 was there for the taking.
After this, there was a long break before my final event, the 50 metre breaststroke. This event was a throw-in. I had been much more focused on the other two events, but wanted to do something in the second half of the meet. As I mentioned, breaststroke is my most natural stroke, and I'd like to be fast at it. But since I haven't really worked at that much this season....
Once again I was in lane 1, the slow lane. There would be lots of people in front of me to chase.
I tried to kick really hard and streamline and glide a lot. Unfortunately, I ended up kicking over the top of the water a few times, wasting time and energy. It was just not my race; I wasn't comfortable going this hard in breaststroke. I just hadn't trained enough.
Lane 1's time: 44.05. Slower than last year. I wasn't surprised, given the mistakes I made during the race, and the lack of preparation. Oh well.
On the bright side, I won my age group. Of course, I was the only one entered.
I think next year, I may focus much more on breaststroke, with the goal of racing longer distances. I'm not a sprinter anyways, so trying to hold pace in breast might make more sense for me. Of course, it promises to be very hard on my legs - any distance of breaststroke can turn your legs to rubber. Still, I think it would suit me better than the shorter distances.
Since my performances got worse with each sequential event, I walked away less than thrilled with my meet. Missing 1:20 on the free was disappointing, for sure, but the 200 IM was a very, very good swim for me. Short events are like that, though - you only get one shot at it, and if you set your standards high, the margin for error is small. I'm still very much a beginner at this swimming stuff, so every lesson I can take away from a meet is a win.
This year, my goals were much more ambitious than they were at this time last year. Who knows, maybe next year all of my swims will again be beyond what I could hope for this year.