When Three’s a Crowd
Remember that off-season article you just read? The one that said you should get into a master’s program over the winter to improve your swim? Yeah, that one! Chances are you aren’t the only one who read that article and is one step away from signing up. What’s that one thing holding you back? Some of you will probably confess that while you enjoy the camaraderie of master’s swim, you really aren’t comfortable swimming three (or four, or five!) to a lane in a busy pool. You shouldn’t let that get in your way—I agree, it’s uncomfortable at first, but there are some very good reasons why you should jump in with both feet.
The very reason that you are uncomfortable swimming with others is exactly why you should swim with others. When you’re swimming in a lane, there’s a good chance that you aren’t the fastest person in that lane. It happens, we’ve ALL been there and I can guarantee you, even the fast swimmer in the lane hasn’t always been the fastest one! Circle swimming, when compared with splitting a lane (so that you swim on one side and the other person swims on the other side), will make you more conscious of the other people around you and you are more likely to be conscious of your pace as well. When you are swimming by yourself or splitting a lane, the little voice in your head that allows you to dial back the pace on a hard set is a lot louder than when you know there’s someone that is going to catch you if you don’t keep up. Sometimes that’s just the push we need to keep us honest on our intervals and keep the intensity up when it needs to be there—you become a faster swimmer by swimming faster and circle swimming is a good way to keep the pressure on.
“I’m really not comfortable around other people, I feel threatened.” Okay, I get that too. It’s very common to feel unnerved when there are other people swimming in close proximity to you; we are land animals after all. If you are training for a race in open water, though, you are going to be swimming in a group. Your race strategy may be to stay off to the side or in the back of your wave, but at some point you are going to come in contact with other swimmers. Why wait until race day to acclimate yourself to swimming near and being passed by others in close proximity? Swimming in a crowded lane lets you work through your apprehension about being close to people in a safe environment. Not only is it safe in the sense that it’s a pool (no sea monsters!) and you can put your feet down or grab a lane line if you start to panic, your lane mates will probably also want to help you. Our ET master’s swimmers are a very supportive group!
Besides being able to keep the pace going, a huge advantage to swimming close to other people is learning how to draft. We can’t draft on the bike (it’s against the rules at USAT-sanctioned events) and it isn’t really an advantage on the run, but drafting on the swim is a great skill to have and something that needs practice. You’ll notice, as you take turns leading and following and changing the distance you swim behind people, that it’s much easier to keep the pace when you’re close to someone’s feet and it’s definitely a challenge to “pull” in the pool. Take the opportunity to feel the draft when you’re swimming together and practice feeling for the swimmer ahead of you without touching them—most people don’t like to have their feet touched when they’re swimming! If you can feel another swimmer close to you without having to look you can improve your drafting skill. You should also practice leading the lane if it makes sense; it’s good to know what it feels like when someone is swimming up on your feet too.
Another one of my favorite skills to develop when swimming in a crowded lane is learning how to stay within my own brain. When you’re swimming in a crowd (or running in a crowd, or biking in a crowd), it’s easy to let yourself be distracted by the other people around you and lose focus, which usually results in a slower pace and sometimes choosing a bad line or drifting off course. You can get rattled by someone swimming too close or panic because you felt someone slide over your legs, and if you’re good at controlling your emotions, you can regain your focus quickly and get back to your race. This isn’t something that just happens, you need to practice staying focused on your race even when the conditions aren’t necessarily optimal. In the controlled environment of the pool, you can practice swimming on pace even if it feels a little bit (or a lot!) chaotic.
How do you feel now? Ready to sign up? Great! If you wind up at master’s and there are a bunch of people in your lane, here are a few tips to make things easier for yourself and for your lanemates:
- Please show up on time! If you are circling in a lane, it’s much easier for everyone if the whole lane is in the same place in the workout. If you can’t get to the pool on time, you should check with the swimmers in the lane when they finish the interval to see where they are in the workout and join them at that point.
- Choose your lane according to the pace of the people swimming in it so that you don’t get in a lane that is too fast or too slow. If you aren’t sure, ask the coach. If you are in a lane and you find that you are being passed quite a bit, it’s worth checking to see if there is a slower lane, and by the same token if you are doing a lot of passing you may want to find a faster lane.
- Please don’t pass in the middle of the lane! We swim in short pools, so there isn’t enough room to pass except at the wall.
- If you are approaching someone that you would like to pass, gently tap his/her feet once and then back off just a bit. At the next wall, the swimmer ahead of you should stop and let you pass. If you feel a tap on your feet, please stop at the next wall and wait for the person behind you to pass and check to see if it makes sense to start again behind that person or if you should wait for another person as well. Sometimes people stack up a bit depending on the interval.
- Lastly, please bring your sense of humor! This is what we do for fun, right? Try to keep it fun and don’t get stressed out if the workout isn’t perfect. It’s still better than no workout at all!
I hope you have enough information to feel comfortable joining us over the off-season. We have several ET Masters sessions between Naperville area, Carol Stream, and Elk Grove Village and we would love to see you there! And remember—“master’s” doesn’t mean you’ve mastered your swim, it simply means that you’re an adult. Happy swimming!
Judie Refvik is a USA Certified Triathlon Coach with Experience Triathlon. As leaders in the endurance services industry, Coach Judie and the Experience Triathlon team help athletes of all ages and abilities achieve success in training, racing and life. Learn more about Coach Judie and Experience Triathlon at www.experiencetriathlon.com