Monday, December 23, 2013

AMA 1, or the Honey Badger of the pool

Once upon a time I did Ironman Canada. There's a joke about that. No, not me doing the race, about Ironman in general. It goes like this. You walk into a room with a lot of very fit people. You can't see the tattoos. How do you tell who has done Ironman? You don't have to, they'll tell you.

A couple things go along with that. There's a video with the impressive voice saying "Swim 3.8 K, Bike 180 K, Run 42.2 K, brag the rest of your life." And then there's "It ain't bragging if you done it."

All of this is the precursor to the honey badger in the pool this morning. Once upon a time, at the peak of my swim fitness, some buddies dragged me into attempting a 10 K swim. I made it 7 K and pooped out. Several others finished it.

This morning I was invited to coffee by my buddy Katie. She was my coach for Ironman, and is one of the most physically fit people I know. She was going to swim 10 K, then go for coffee with me. Note that it wasn't to see if she could do it, she knew she could. It was to see if she could do it faster than she did it last time. There is no way on earth I could swim 10 K now, so I planned on showing up part way through. I stood on the balcony of the Aquaplex and had no difficulty in picking her out. Swoosh. Back and forth. No nonsense. Just swim.

I got in the lane beside her and started swimming. She regularly passed me. (There's a big difference between an hour flat, and a 1:12 IM swim time!) The one time I kept up for a length or two I was doing pull, working it, and she was doing crawl at her regular pace, at about the 9 K mark, and I was probably still under 2 K. The only other time was doing some intervals. We said hi once as she swapped fins or paddles or something.

I swam just over an hour and I'm pretty pleased with it!. She came to the end of the pool and hopped out. (At the end of 7 K I dragged myself out of the pool and lay in a heap for a while.) I stopped, we agreed to meet upstairs. By the time I got my fins off she was gone. Honey Badger don't screw around. We had a wonderful chat over smoothies. Then she was off to a bike workout.

After some shopping I was home, then had to go out and get cat crunchies. On the way back, and it isn't far, I had to shovel out the car wheel wells before putting it in the garage.

That's what happens when the temperature goes from minus almost WTF to +6 C overnight.

Then there was BBQ bison burgers, me standing there in a T shirt, flipping burgers. Very nice.

And at last, what you've been waiting for! the AMA feature. These will be no particular order.

From Michelle at FineFettle
AMA(s): How long ago did you first get "active?" 
Once upon a very long time ago I was an regular active teenager. I rode my bike everywhere, played soccer and some basketball. Then I discovered driving, beer, and girls. That changed everything. I gained a bunch of weight, then trimmed it off again. Once I moved out to Calgary I started swimming fairly regularly. One of my pool buddies was pregnant and I got lots faster trying to keep up. Someone later told me she had been a contender for the national swim team. Then I stopped swimming for years. I'm not sure why. My only exercise after that was armoured foot combat in the SCA for a while. That's good for short term bursts of activity, but not much else. Then nothing from the late 80's to the early 2003 or so. I cringe now when I think about that.

What activity did you start with?
Swimming again. I'd started working way in the NE. They provided a hot lunch every day, plus snacks. I was already pretty big from eating too much and not getting enough exercise. It occurred to me that I could start swimming before work. I got back into the pool remembering that a 20 minute Km was easy, not even getting my heart into the aerobic zone. Back in the day I could reliably swim a sub 17 minute Km and was looking to break 16 minutes.

So I thought, what the heck, a few months to get back into it. Well, it took forever. More than a year, I'm sure. The first swim back I didn't even get 100 m before my arms fell off. I mean that. They stopped working. I had to float back to the side.

It took a long time to break that 20 minute K again, and the first time I did it I nearly puked. The second time, a couple of days later I did it in 19:30 and felt fine. I did lots of swimming in the run up to Ironman Canada 2010. By race day I was routinely swimming the race distance. A couple swim camps along the way, put on by Sara Gross and Clint Lien had a big impact. I can swim faster than when I was young, but I can't keep it up as long. All I can say is that if you want to swim better, you have to swim lots. LOTS. Work with a coach on your technique. Seeing a video of you swimming is the single best tool towards improving.

The point is not to get better at swimming so you get through the swim leg of a triathlon faster. No. It's to get through the swim efficiently. Big difference. By swimming better you spend less energy, and can get on the bike ready to go. I'd like to try a relay team where I'm doing the swim, and can go all out.

Swimming is still the thing I like doing most, though running is now a close second. Biking is nice but I worry about some yahoo running me into the ditch for the fun of it. I find swimming very relaxing, back and forth, feeling the water sliding past washing away my cares. I'm back at the point where I can put my stroke and flip turn on autopilot, and think about other things. I've worked out plot points of my book while swimming. The first time I did 3 K I was in a near-rage about shit happening at work. I was thinking it, and thinking it, and by the time I noticed the time I was nearly at 3 K, and feeling much better.

Stay tuned, more AMA coming again. I suppose if you submit a question, even at this late date, I could consider it.


  1. Considering I couldn't swim 25m at the beginning of last year, 10k seems like an impossible distance to me. Love the feature, Keith!

  2. You make me want to swim again, Keith. I was never very good but I used to swim 40-50 lengths of the pool 3-4 times a week when I was studying at Acadia U. I memorized the periodic table on those swims....hydrogen, helium, lithium, beryllium, boron, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen... Thanks for sharing your love of the sport.


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