Wednesday, February 7, 2007

That Old Pain Threshold Again

Long, long ago in a pool far, far away, I began swimming.

Rather than taking lessons, I just jumped in and kept swimming toward my dad (who had tricked me into the dive) as he backed up and backed up until I swam 25 yards. The next Monday I was on a summer swim team at Memorial Pool in Euclid, Ohio. Years of early-morning practices, Saturday-morning meets and off-season training followed. And then I turned 17 and I stopped.

A couple years later I thought about swimming in college, so I bought a new suit, dug out the old cap and goggles, and headed to the pool. I swam four whole laps, hurt so badly I wanted to cry and I didn't return until late last year. About 8-9 years later.

Why the Gina history lesson?

On my recent swim post, Jason commented:

It's all about the pain threshold. Anyone who has talked to me about swim-conditioning has heard me say talk about the threshold.

You know that point while you're swimming when your arms are burning, you're breathing too hard and you just kind of want to die? Yeah, we've all been there. The secret: nirvana lies on the other side of that pain.

When you reach that point of exhaustion (assuming, of course, that it's relative exhaustion and nothing serious), don't stop.

At first, push yourself an extra lap past that point. Next time, go two or four. You're going to be tired. But when you push yourself past that threshold you'll eventually reach a state in which your muscles are warmed, your tightness loosens and it's all smooth sailing from there. I feel a similar relaxation after my first mile of running. Like warming up.

If you keep pushing yourself and still have trouble improving, take a look at your stroke. The problem most people close to me have had is breathing. They just can't get it right. Whether they don't understand the positioning, movement or frequency, they just don't do it.

If you're a troubled breather, check out the plentiful breathing resources available on the Web. I won't dole out general breathing advice, but I'm always willing to supply customized feedback. I may not be able to provide expert guidance about the other two legs of the triathlon (yet!), but I have a handle on the swimming gig.

So, that's my advice, Jason! It's probably not what anyone wants to hear (you know, that whole 'wanting to die' thing), but if you keep going, keep pushing, I think you can hit 2,500 yards in a month or two. Maybe less! Just beware of the desire to stop swimming, skip swimming days and slack off. Those are my biggest weaknesses. Next to chocolate.

Jason recently joined the triathlon community. Be sure to welcome him and visit Jason's training blog.


Nino said...

This is very, very true. I remember every at every swim practice, I couldn't wait to get over the hump. It would feel like I was about to die if I pushed any harder, but I did, and it was easy going from there. If I recall correctly, it was around the 500m mark at first. In the beginning of the season it was painful to push through this point, but eased as the season progressed.

Jason Kennedy said...

That was a shameless plug...awesome. I once was a seasoned swimmer. Now granted it was 6th grade...but I did place 6th in the State finals in Texas for 100m free and 100 m Breast. If I recall coreectly, that was the last time I entered a pool to actually swim. Imagine my shock when I was winded after 50 m yesterday. Great advice! There nothing like quoting NEMO. J

Landon said...

Seeing as I can barely float, let alone swim, I'll just comment on running and add two cents on my particular threshold.

For the record, I don't really get comfortable until about mile 7 or 8. After that, my breathing changes and becomes significantly easier and my stride loosens up and gets longer. It's like my body forgets what it's like NOT to be running and everything becomes quite natural and unforced.

After 8 miles, I feel less limited my muscles and oxygen and more by food and water supplies. I don't know how much is mental vs. physical at that point but feels like a very real threshold for me.