Stumble on the road to Kaizen
This year is my third year as a TI adherent and will be my third full year as a masters swimmer. So far progress has been slow but steady in most areas.
Very soon after reading Total Immersion, front crawl had gone from being a stroke that had frustrated all my efforts to learn it properly to one I could swim moderately well, even if I was still very slow – after one does not expect to be very speedy in one’s seventies. Since then I have swum a few longer races, from 1500m down, and from my first long course 1500m race in 2007 to my fourth in 2008 I reduced my time from 43:46.91 to 39:14.96. In the same period my 800m time reduced from 23:22.55 to 20:31.89 for long course and to 19:41.52 for short course. My long course 200m time improved from 5:06.66 to 4:49.23 and my short course time from 5:02.07 to 4:31.00. My long course 400m time stayed more or less static at a little over the ten-minute mark but I managed to bring my short course time down to 9:48.87. My first ever short course 100m freestyle was in 2006, when I recorded a time of 2:03.76, which remains my PB to this day. It has attained the character of a quest: can I crack the two-minute barrier before I die?
Last year was a fairly successful year, with many new personal best times, but just at the end of the year things began to go subtly wrong. When I started swimming regularly I effortlessly lost quite a lot of weight but, in the period before Christmas, I began to reverse this process and almost every day I was a pound heavier. Then, shortly after Christmas, my cat, in playful mood, attacked my leg and the scratch developed into a venous ulcer, which has curtailed my swimming activities somewhat. Undeterred, early in January I swam in what has been my first meet of the year for the last few years, the Shrewsbury Masters New Year Gala. This year I swam my usual 100m freestyle and 100m breaststroke, and decided to swim the 100m backstroke using back crawl rather than double-arm to see if the work I had been putting in was beginning to pay dividends. I also entered the 50m butterfly and 100m IM. My butterfly is marginal at best and I have been disqualified more often than not for my funny arm stroke. However in the past I had managed to finish at Shrewsbury without being DQ’d. Not this year, though. I swam four seconds or so faster than my entry time and thought I had managed to keep both arms above the surface, but the judge thought otherwise. I was also disqualified in the IM. My time the breaststroke was about ten seconds slower than the last time I swam it but at least my 100m free at 2:06.18 was a little faster than the previous effort .
Last weekend I swam in the Welsh Open Masters Championships (Long Course) at the Wales National Pool in Swansea. I considered leaving it out because of my leg troubles but I enjoy swimming in this meet so much and meeting my friends from other clubs that I decided to go anyway. I entered more or less my usual program of almost all the freestyle events all the breaststroke events and this time only one backstroke event, the 100m, which again I decided to swim with back crawl to check on progress.
The meet began on Friday, February 27 with the mixed 1500m freestyle, with 59 entrants with entry times ranging from my 39:14.96 to 17:30.00 from a 28-year old from Cardiff. Unusually, there were four swimmers in my age group, one of them being Geoff Stokes, a newcomer to the group and a consistent record breaker. His entry time was 23:30.00. Off we went and I set out with the plan of swimming easily for the first 500m and then trying to pick up the pace, hoping to come close to my entry time. Perhaps because of lack of swimming practice, I finished in a rather disappointing time of 42:29.41, behind my friend Errol Alexis from Cardiff in 31:55.72, Don Leatherbarrow, unattached, in 26:07.69 and Geoff Stokes in 22:55.35, a new British record. I was not too downhearted, because although my time was slow it was not my slowest ever. It is both my third worst and my third best time, in fact. Looking at my splits I can see that I swam at a more or less even pace throughout, averaging 1:24.98 per 50m length, with the fastest length (the last) 1: 14.21 and the slowest 1:28.32. My first length was 1: 16.98, so I obviously just started out too slow.
I had one other event on Friday, the 200m breaststroke, and I was the only entrant in my age group. My friend Colin Knowles has moved up to the 75-79 group and he should have been on the block next to me but he failed to appear. I finished in 5: 14.67, considerably slower than my entry time of 4: 56.12, a conversion of my best short course time. The redoubtable Baz Owen, aged 79 from Arfon Masters, finished in 4:51.09 and Robert Curr of Serpentine aged 80 did 5:43.07. We were all solo artists in our age groups so all got gold medals (well, gold coloured anyway).
The first event the next day was the 400m freestyle, and again I was in the first heat. Only three swam in my age group, Geoff Stokes, Errol Alexis and myself. The times ranged widely again, from 5:40.19 for Geoff, another new British record, to 8:17.42 for Errol and 10:31.31 for me, almost half a minute off my best long course time. This time I averaged 1:18. 91 per length with the fastest (the first) 1:09.85 and the slowest 1:21.81. I was pleased to see when I got the splits that I managed to descend the last four lengths, but less pleased that the second 200 was slower than the first.
My next race, in the next session, was the 100m freestyle and I was in the first heat as usual, with Tony Summers, who swam in the 1948 Olympics and is competing in the 85-89 group for the first time this year. He was in the next lane to me so I tried to stay with him and managed it almost to the first turn, after which he inexorably drew away. I finished in 2:11.73, in third place in my age group behind Errol Alexis of Cardiff and Jack Graham of Pontypool. Tony Summers did 2:02.02. My best long course time is 2:07.71, so in the circumstances 2:11.73 is not too terrible. My second 50m is consistently too slow and I suppose my first 50m is too, although at 1:01.17 it was quite close to my best LC 50m time of 57.71. Perhaps the answer is dozens of flat-out 25m sprints. If I could finish the first 50m in a faster time with some gas still left in the tank for the second half I might be able to crack the two minutes.
The last race of the second day’s proceedings was the 800m and there should have been three of us in it in the age group but Errol Alexis decided to scratch so I was alone with Geoff Stokes. He duly performed again and set a new British record in 12:06.52, while I produced a PW (personal worst time) of 23: 28.53. My 800m split in the 1500m was 22:39.17, so I was well off the pace, no doubt having failed to recover fully after the 1500m and 400m, slow as they were.
The next day Sunday, March 1st, St David’s Day was marked by a stirring rendition of the Welsh Anthem and all the officials were wearing or carrying daffodils. My events were 100m breaststroke, 200m freestyle, 100m backstroke and 50m breaststroke, in three of which I was the only entrant in my age group and so guaranteed medals unless I got disqualified for something, which so far I’ve avoided except in butterfly. In the 100m breast I did a time of 2: 23.36, which was slightly faster than my short course time in Shrewsbury and a few seconds outside my best long-course time. I have rarely swum 100m breaststroke long course, because it often falls awkwardly in the program.
In the 200m freestyle I was again in the next lane to Tony Summers and tried to follow the same plan as in the 100m with somewhat similar results. My entry time was 4:34.20, a conversion of my best short course time, and I had little hope of beating it. In the event I finished fifth in my age group in 4:44.31, a new long course PB for me, and my only PB of the meet. Jack Graham of Pontypool took fourth place in 3:52.02, Errol Alexis was third in 3:43.35, Don Leatherbarrow was second in 2:54.06, and Geoff Stokes completed his full house of British records with 2:39.55.
Next, after a short delay, came the 100m backstroke and I duly completed the two lengths in my slow back crawl for a time of 2:47.83. My best time for the double arm stroke is also slow at 2: 30.35 and I have often swum slower. Nevertheless I got the medal. Robert Curr did 2:39.89 for the gold medal in his 80-84 group and Tony Summers 85-89 set a new Welsh record for his age group in 2:09.07. I must try to catch up with these speedy oldsters! Incidentally, I note from the British Swimming web site that John Harrison, aged 95, has recently set British records in the 50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 50m backstroke and 100m backstroke. This was at the long course meet in Crawley, which I decided not to attend this year, a decision I now rather regret as I would like to have seen these performances. His backstroke times are both faster than mine. I think he must have been something special in his youth. He certainly is now.
Still puffing from our backstroke exertions and still dripping wet, Robert Curr and I made our way to the start of the 50m breaststroke, where a couple of heats of the ladies race had to be run before we could dive in. I did my best to sprint and finished in a time of 1:05.08, appreciably slower than my entry time. Colin Knowles, having finally made an appearance, finished in just over a minute and Robert Curr managed 1:05.96.
So that was it. A couple of relays and we all collected medals if we had any to collect and departed to our various homes, looking forward to meeting again. My next meet is in Gloucester at the end of this month, when the kaizen journey will continue. I definitely prefer improved times to medals.