This article is courtesy of Judd Cribbs.
I grew up with a pool in my backyard, but finally, at age 53, I decided to try to swim competitively. I’ve now been training for nearly a year.
My biggest challenge has been building back up my cardiovascular fitness. I used to run frequently in my early 40s, but that all stopped after my wife and I had two kids. As a new dad at age 46, I severely (and I mean “severely”) underestimated how much energy it would take to care for two little kids. It felt like running a daily marathon.
Now that the kids are more independent, I have a little more time to exercise (and sleep!). I spent the entire summer working on flip turns, which tire me out almost as much as changing diapers.
I also went running a few times, as that seems to tax my body more than swimming. One mental hurdle I face is that I like swimming so much, I often zone out when I swim laps. Sometimes I can’t tell how long I’ve been in the water. I have a tendency to relax and swim at a leisurely pace. With running, for me, there is no leisurely pace. Any pace hurts.
So I’ve been mixing in a little running. I ran a 5k in Ohio over the Memorial Day weekend. Being from southwest Florida, I had to be reminded that those lumpy and curvy parts of the Earth were called “hills.”
I noticed that when I run, I breathe in and out quickly, something I’m not able to do as well in the water. I think that gives me something of a mental block, and it is something I have to try to push past. I’m getting better at flipturns, but it’s hard to tell how much better. I enjoy doing them, but sometimes I wonder if the lifeguard, who might be several lanes away, can hear me gasp for air when I break the water.
My coach advised me to also throw in some sprints toward the end of my workouts, which I have done. Please be advised that “sprint” is a relative term. What is a sprint for a tortoise is not a sprint for a rabbit. I’m pretty sure my sprints are other swimmers’ training paces. I know this from experience: I was on a treadmill in a gym once and felt like I was flying. I was pretty much a deer running free through the woods. Then I looked over into the full-length mirror and was aghast at the sight of a middle-aged man plodding along, barely lifting his feet off the belt. I still marvel at the incongruity between what I felt like and what I looked like.
But I have to put appearance aside and simply make sure I hold myself accountable for my training. I’m probably not the only aging athlete who is his worst enemy. The other day I ate pizza for lunch and dinner. I ate the whole thing. My instinctive reaction was to blame the pizza. How could the pizza let me do that?! Stupid pizza.
At some point, I have to quit using the “I’m-building-up-my-fitness-base” excuse (and all other excuses) and actually enter a meet. I think I should do this to give my training more focus and purpose. I started training around Labor Day 2015, so I’m going to start looking to enter a meet in late 2016 or early 2017. That would be about 16 months of training.
My plan is to eventually swim the 50 freestyle. Initially, I plan to enter only that one event. Therefore, if I embarrass myself, I can make a quick getaway… and put the running I’ve done to good use.
Judd Cribbs is a professor at Florida Gulf Coast University. When he is not swimming or teaching, he enjoys gardening, playing the piano (poorly), and chasing his two kids around the house.