I recent went to only the third swim meet of my life (The Boulder Pentathlon) where I raced 50 yards in each of the four swim strokes plus a 100 yard IM. Let me cut right to the chase. I came in dead last in my age group in each stroke I swam.
I did not however DQ once. This is a big accomplishment for me, as I tend to discover the subtle rules of racing by the trial and error process. Rules like touching the wall on my back in the backstroke, or touching with both hands on the fly, or even touching the floor of the pool and taking a few steps forward as I did when replacing my goggles’ after they ended up around my neck, after an especially clumsy dive.
It is truly amazing (and forgive the bad analogy here) how much I feel like a fish out of water at a masters swim meet. Unlike all of the racers, most of the spectators, and a few of the janitors at the pool, I took up swimming fairly late in life.
Swim meet culture is something completely new and completely alien to me. To begin with it tends to be a lot of hurry up and wait. For example, hurry up and get to the pool, hurry up and get changed, hurry up and get warmed up, and wait for an hour as they sort out the timers, computers and judges, and wait for another hour before my first event.
The net outcome of all this hurry up and wait is that I spent about 5 hours of sitting around for about 5 minutes of actually swimming. What really surprised me was how tired and sore I was after the meet. I’ve yet to determine if this was due to the excessive flailing of my race stroke and/or the painful 5 hours spent sitting and waiting on the aluminum benches. Perhaps some of you swim meet veterans can explain.
Or perhaps I was tired from the vast emotional swings of utter boredom (sitting and waiting on the bleachers for my heat) to sheer terror (standing and waiting on the blocks for the starters pistol).
Unlike even a short “Sprint” triathlon a 50 yard race is all about the fast twitch muscles. It can be won or lost in the racers reaction time on the blocks, or the first few strokes, or the turn, or the middle of the race, or the finishing touch of the wall. All this played through my head waiting for the starter’s gun. Actually it was more of starter’s beep from a very loud speaker at the side of the pool.
When the inevitable beep did come, I was amazed at how long it took my body to react to my brain’s signal to start. It was like the nerves connecting my brain to my muscles were a million miles long. My brain yelled “GO” and my muscles just sat down for a lovely cup of tea and a biscuit or two. Sometime by mid afternoon the ‘go’ signal reached the muscles and they in a very polite British sort of manner excused themselves from the room and jumped into the pool.
Don’t believe me? My swim times speak for themselves my good chap.
By far the 50 yard backstroke provoked the most terror in me. This event is just full of DQ landmines. To begin with you start the race clutching onto the wall like some crazed circus monkey. When the beep sounds, you are supposed to launch yourself into the air, backwards like a scalded cat, arch your back, plummet back into the pool, and swim underwater using the dolphin kick all the while blowing air out of the nose.
If you forget this last bit, like I tend to do all the time, you end up under water with chlorine in every sinus orifice in your head. This is not the perfect way to start a race.
Once you mange to sneeze about four thousand times, all the while racing backwards as fast as you can into a concrete wall, you are all set-up for the perfect backstroke flip turn. Now on paper a backstroke flip turn should be easier than a freestyle flip turn as it involves only a flip and no turn.
Please let me explain. In a backstroke flip turn the swimmer flips onto his or her stomach just before reaching the wall and executes a flip turn minus the twist turn at the end because when you flip you are naturally on your back already. This means that you have once less thing to worry about in theory. But in practice it is so so much harder.
To begin with you have to count and know your strokes from the flags to the wall so you know about when to flip. If you count wrong, or speed-up your turnover rate, or shorten your stroke, or sneeze too much, you’ll just end up either ramming the cement wall with your head (if you are late) or flipping and pushing off from nothing (if you are early). I’ve done all of the above in practice so my race confidence is naturally a bit low.
Now if by some miracle you actually manage time it correctly, and you do indeed execute the flip onto your stomach (just before the wall), and flip and you push off upside down and underwater from the wall…you still have to remember to blow...bubbles...out...of...your...nose. Which I never do thus filling every sinus orifice in my head with about half the pool's water.
Now I’m heading full speed back toward the start sneezing like a horse with hay fever. You would think that just like the first turn you could flip onto your stomach just before the wall and thus touch the wall facing forward so as not to slam your hand, head or any other part of your body into the cement wall. You would be wrong to think this.
For some unknown reason to me, the rules state that you have to touch the wall while still on your back when not executing a turn. In other words, at the finish of the race in the last 25-yards you must touch on your back going backwards at a sprint. The true master’s swimmers have this timed to perfection. Somehow they know exactly the location of the wall. In a graceful arc they reached back and gently caress the wall to shave fractions of a second from their time.
I, on the other hand, slam into the wall at full speed like a very drunk, sneezing, out of breath, dolphin at a Friday night frat party and crumbled to the bottom of the pool.
However, while I did indeed come in last this year in every event...I did not DQ and that's a good place to start for someone new to swimming. Next year I may actually worry about my times.