Of course it was something my coach recommended two years ago. Since then, I’ve done a few. At first I was fearful – I will never fit in, I can’t go that fast, I will come in dead last, everyone will laugh because I don’t flip turn.
But none of that happened. Not even close. I was just another woman in goggles and a cap. And if you have ever been to a swim meet you know that there is so much going on, so many people, heats, whistles, buzzers, swim strokes, styles, open turns, flip turns, some diving off blocks, some diving from the deck, some starting in the pool, some losing goggles, some getting DQ’ed – what you will notice at a swim meet is that anything, everything, and everyone goes.
It is my belief, then, that every triathlete should at least try a swim meet. Because if you can’t beat them (and very few of us can beat the “real” swimmers) you might as well join them. So join them at a swim meet. What you might find is that while you can’t beat all of them, you might be able to beat a few of them and that at least will make you feel like a speedy swimmer for at least a short while.
In case you do decide to attend a swim meet, you should be prepared. There are things you should know and accept as true:
*You will spend over 6 hours soaking wet.
*Which means you will spend over 6 hours freezing cold.
*In an attempt to get warm over the course of those 6 hours you will swim over 5500 yards.
*You will see something floating by in the pool that makes you want to exit as quickly as possible.
*You will lose your goggles at least once.
*You will get disqualified at least once.
*You will get your ass canned by a person twice your age that you regularly lap at masters.
*You will have the desire to cover your eyes and shout NO NO NO if you see another man in a speedo.
*You will miss your heat at least once.
*Which means you will end up going in a heat totally time inappropriate for you – as in you do your 100’s in 1:15 and they do their 100’s in :59.
*You will be killing yourself at max speed during 100 free while looking into the next lane to realize the person in that lane is beating you while doing breaststroke.
*You will then realize that person is twice your size.
*You will at some point find yourself standing behind the wrong diving block.
*You will cringe as you see someone dive and hit the water knees first.
*You will secretly laugh when you realize that person is your husband.
*You will nearly pull a bicep trying to heave yourself out of the pool with shaking arms after 50 fly.
Those are things that generally will happen at a swim meet. So here is what happened today.
Bright and early – as in 6:30 am, we leave the house for the swim meet. First event – 500 free. The first person I see walking towards the pool to warm up is my coach. Like sunshine on a cold day – Jennifer Harrison walking in the pool. This is a girl that loves, breathes, eats the pool. Seriously, she’s been hungry lately so it makes sense.
I warm up 2000 yards, I am ready to go! I am in the first heat. But in the deep end pool. Being assigned to the pool in the deep end is like being allowed to sit at the adult table at Thanksgiving dinner. You know you don’t belong but you’re honored that you were asked. But I realize it must have been out of pity or there was simply no other choice. Because we dive in and I realize I am going pretty slow.
My husband is counting laps for me and banging the plastic lap counter against the wall while shouting GO GO GO. I hear him but it seems to be working more for the woman next to me. Who, by the way, is swimming at the same exact speed. Except this is a mixed heat. She is doing 400 IM.
My strategy was simple – negative split. I later learn you should not have strategy for a swim meet event. See, this is where I realize my long course strength. To enter a long course race without a strategy? Racing suicide. But in swim meets, I guess you just go. Don’t think about – just put your head down and go. Well, my strategy was to go faster the second half. Later my husband tells me, “Liz, for the 500 you just go all out.”
For all 10 laps?
Oh. Ok, so I’ve got some strategy revision to work on. But still, I negative split! And beat the guy next to me. But not the one next to him. Or him. Or him. Or him. See what I mean? Feel good about yourself – go to a meet. Get beaten by your grandma doing backstroke. Amen.
Next up – 100 IM. FINALLY! A few months ago, I promised Brittany – one of my athletes – that if she would commit to doing 100 IM, I would commit. So there we were – doing 100 IM! I dove right off the block, goggles in tact, dolphin kick underwater, fly, back, breast, free – all legal turns, two hand touches and I didn’t get DQ’ed!
I then realized that I can go faster at masters. This was not my best 100 IM time.
But that is ok! Because Jennifer saw me and said “your fly looks good.” Confirmation that this may soon become my best stroke. The one I will be ready to rip out at 70.3 Worlds.
Next event – 200 medley relay. I figure if I am at the swim meet I might as well just swim as much as possible. So, put me in coach, I’m ready! I’m on the relay team. The team approaches me – “what stroke do you want to do?” Carelessly I say “whatever”.
NOTE: When a team of three women approaches you at a swim meet and asks what stroke you’d like to swim the correct response under no circumstances is whatever.
Because you will be assigned……..50 fly.
A little different than individual medley, 200 medley has fly going third. I’m ready! Nancy breaststrokes into the wall, I dive over her and kick kick kick! You can dolphin kick as far as you can go with butterfly – no need to bring the arms into it just yet. Touch the wall and push off, kick kick kick….sputter, sputter, kick….oh crap. 25 more yards to go! But this isn’t so bad. Finally touch the wall.
In between my events, I watch my husband Chris. Not such a big fan of the swim meet. But a good swimmer and under coercion decided to attend nonetheless. Except today is not his day. He goes for the 100 IM and the guy who pretty much hit the water knees first? That was him. And lost his goggles? Again, him. And then nearly stopped while doing the backstroke to see what we were shouting at him? Again, my husband. The one that was later disqualified because he did not two hand touch after breaststroke at the wall? Yes, him over there – he is mine.
I told Jennifer this is why I do not bring him to swim meets very often.
He kept going with his events. Did 100 free. Lost his goggles. Did the 200 free relay. Lost his goggles. And when I was getting dressed after the meet, some woman came into the lockerroom and said:
“Your honey just did the 50 free…..and lost his goggles again.”
Somehow, I know.
But wait – there was one more event for me before that. I decided to stick around and do the 50 free. It took much debate in my mind. You see, I wasn’t swimming great. I have a million excuses why but none really matter. I wasn’t there to break records or set personal bests. I was there to HURT. And this is why triathletes should do swim meets! We can swim long, slow, smooth and pretty all day long. But power? Force? Speed? Do a 50 free, off the blocks with someone next to you slightly faster in a lane. Will you beat them? Maybe. Will you nearly lose your heart out of your mouth trying? More likely. Swim meets and swimming HARD – no drafting – teach you how to HURT. Hurting in the pool is good.
So, I decided I needed the 50 free. I warmed up again for what felt like the 20th time that day – and got ready. 50 free. And wouldn’t you know of all the events I did and times I wanted to hit the only one I hit was in the 50 free? (by .04 seconds thank you very much….)
And now, I am exhausted. My arms hurt from pulling myself out of the pool – and the swimming of course. I am missing a chunk of skin from my toe that I left on the buzzer at the end of my lane while crawling out. I smell like over 7 hours of chlorine. And have goggle marks under my eyes.
I didn’t set any personal bests nor win any of my heats. But I walked away with about a dozen comments from swimmers – REAL swimmers who swim really fast – on how to improve my stroke (don’t drop your elbow, swim over the water, improve your force). And for five bucks per event – that’s the cheapest swim lesson I’ve ever had.
So, go to a swim meet! Swim your pants off. Seriously, I saw some guy during 100 breaststroke that almost did. Go HARD. Hurt. Swallow lots of water. Lose your goggles. Count laps for someone (if you can figure out how to turn the #'s correctly on that board you are a genius). Join a relay. Become a swimmer for a day. Learn to hurt in the pool.
(A few post notes: Ashley, you might want to talk about to your mom about keeping her swimsuit on after the swim meet. Brittany, I am still floored by the 1:22 on the 100 free. Jennifer, no one can bang a lap counter board against the bulkhead like you. Christian, invest in a pair of socket rockets. All of the other swimmy girls that came up to me and said “we read your blog!” it was nice to meet you!)
And all you swim meet haters – repeat after me I love to swim I love to swim I love to swim. Say it for 5500 yards straight and it will work. I swear.