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NATURE V NURTURE

The Importance of Technique, Endurance & Patience in Open Water Swimming

I am very tall.  It is often pointed out that I have the wingspan of a condor.  I have wide shoulders from years of age group swimming and miles of pain.  It is assumed that swimming has come easily to me.

Am I a 'natural'?  Absolutely not.

I lack the tell-tale slim hips, hyper-mobile ankle, knee, hip, elbow and shoulder joints.  I was always the slowest kicker in my lane.  I don't have a swimmer's body.  If anyone reading this grew up in Western Massachusetts in the 70s, they will understand it when I say I was no member of the Dembek family.

When I joined swim team at the age of 8, I couldn't swim the length of the pool.  Breaststroke was my best stroke for years and my bouncy freestyle was fodder for many a chuckle around the pool water cooler.  Our coach stressed technique and, by the time we began doing distance freestyle sets at age 12 or 13, I gradually discovered my rhythm and developed confidence in my endurance.  So that was a good 5 years before I found my own rhythm!

Since I have been "learning to run" for a certain Casco Bay Swim-Run competition coming up in August (4-mile swim and 10-mile run -- tethered to a partner -- through the many islands of Casco Bay, Maine), I have had plenty of time to contemplate the humbling process of learning a new sport, for which I am most certainly not built well, and empathizing with my swim students.

As I run, I try to walk the walk. Working on breath control, focusing on heart rate, cadence, tempo and acceleration while I find my own rhythm is slowly helping me to improve and experience more enjoyment. 

Swimming is arguably more technique-driven and therefore more difficult to learn than running.  I often stress that learning to slow down and finesse the stroke is more beneficial than pounding out more and more yardage and not seeing measurable results.

No matter what your height or body type is, by combining thoughtful technique work and strategic endurance (and speed) sets -- with a heaping spoonful of patience -- you should be seeing and feeling improvements in your swimming -- and finding your rhythm!

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