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Old 09-07-2015
CoachBobM CoachBobM is offline
Join Date: Jul 2008
Posts: 647
Default An "impossible dream" surpassed

Breaststroke has always been my weakest stroke.

Part of my problem stems from the fact that I can't get my toes to point as far apart as some people can. If I stand with my heels together and point my toes as far apart as possible, I can't get them past 9:30 and 2:30. When I first started doing breaststroke, it was even worse than that! I couldn't get them past 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock. A former Olympic breaststroker explained to me that this makes the first part of the breaststroke kick sort of like trying to paddle a boat with your paddle turned at an angle.

But another part of my problem was the way I was trying to pace breaststroke. My pacing "scheme" for a 50 was to swim the first 25 as fast as I could, and then to try to maintain that pace during the second 25. But what really happened was that I'd finish the first 25 wanting to breathe hard, and would end up breaking out of my streamline early after my turn because I was hungry for air. This would leave me with a longer distance to swim, and my stroke would get sloppier and sloppier as my muscles began to tire and my mind instinctively tried to shift the effort to different muscles. I'd finish the second 25 feeling so spent that I'd literally feel like I never wanted to swim breaststroke again! Doing a 100 breaststroke seemed to me like an impossible dream.

Early in 2005, I realized that the pacing approach I had been using made no sense. It was clear that I wasn't achieving my goal of maintaining the same fast pace during the second 25 that I had used during the first 25, and one of the reasons was that my exertion during the first 25 was causing me to break out of my streamline early after my turn. So I was effectively cutting short the thing that I do best and replacing it with the thing I do worst! So I decided to see what would happen if I eased my pace during the first 25, focusing instead on stroking as efficiently as I could, thereby enabling me to remain in my streamline longer, and didn't try to stroke as fast as I could until the very end.

I first tried this at a meet in early February of 2005, and while my time was a little slower, I finished the heat feeling like I still had a lot in my tank, which I had never felt before when doing breaststroke in competition. I had another meet two weeks later, so I spent the intervening time experimenting with how much I could pick up the pace during the first 25 without it shortening my streamline. At my next meet, I set a new personal best time, and finished it without feeling completely wiped out, as I had in the past.

After that, I took a break from breaststroke for awhile. But at some point, it occurred to me that it might be possible, using my new pacing scheme, to actually swim 100 breaststroke. I gained more interest in trying this when I looked into the requirements for becoming certified as a lifeguard and learned that the swimming test included swimming 100m of breaststroke (though the speed wasn't important). So I began experimenting with it in practice, and in March of 2010, I actually swam 100 breaststroke for the first time in competition, a couple of months before I was certified as a lifeguard.

I did the event again in competition 2 years later, and was able to reduce my time by about 13 seconds. And then another idea occurred to me: Was it possible that I could actually work up to a 200 breaststroke? So I began experimenting with it in practice. Frankly, I was surprised at how quickly I was able to work up to doing 200m in practice! It took about a year to convince myself to actually try the event in competition (keep in mind that, as late as the beginning of 2005, it had seemed impossible that I would ever be able to do a 100). And I also became aware of another unpleasant obstacle: A number of the adult swim meets in my area don't include distances longer than 100, particularly for events other than freestyle and individual medley (IM).

I finally found a meet where I could do the event in the fall of 2013. In fact, I was planning to debut three events (200m IM, 200m breaststroke, and 400m freestyle) at the same meet. But, unfortunately, illness got in the road. About 4 weeks before the meet, I developed a cold or something was kept out of the pool with a fever for more than 2 weeks. By the time I was able to get back in the pool, it was clear that I had lost a lot of ground, so I reluctantly decided to scrub the meet.

I was able to debut 200 IM the following spring, but wasn't able to find a meet where I could do 200 breaststroke until this year.

The first time I swim an event in competition, I'm not usually trying for a good time - I'm mainly just proving to myself that I can complete the event legally under meet conditions. But in this meet, there was another reason not to be particularly concerned about speed: I was the only one in my age group who signed up for the event! So I was guaranteed to win a first place medal just by completing the event legally.

I had been using a set of 8 focal points (one for each 25) when I was practicing for the meet ahead of time (which I've outlined in the Favorite Practices and Sets section of this forum), and I actually used those same focal points when I was swimming the event in competition - with one exception: I decided to repeat the "heels before toes" focal point during the last 25 to insure that I didn't do any illegal kicks, since my primary concern was completing the heat legally rather than doing it fast.

I ended up with a gold medal for my age group, which was because no one else in my age group did the event. But I was interested that this fact didn't bother me as much as it has in other meets in the past. One of the reasons it didn't was undoubtedly because, just 3 years ago, I wouldn't have been doing the event either, because I couldn't. And it occurred to me that this might have been why at least some of the other people in my age group didn't sign up for the event this year.

I also did 100y backstroke at the same meet, but my performance in that event was not as satisfying. I only took a silver medal, and missed my personal best time by more than 7 seconds. I hadn't done this event in competition since October of 2012, but did a personal best time in 50y backstroke in October of 2013 and did a personal best in 200m backstroke in October of 2014, so I'm not sure why I wasn't able to do it in 100y backstroke. But my times had also been off in practice before the meet, so it wasn't a total surprise. I'm hoping to set a new PB in the event later this year (assuming there's a meet where I can try it again).


Last edited by CoachBobM : 09-07-2015 at 07:34 AM.
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