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  #1  
Old 03-10-2017
firas
 
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Default Memoirs of a struggling TI swimmer (or my first 1KM single interval swim)

Hello all. I just wanted to come out of lurking on these forums and finally post something as a way of saying thank you to Terry for making his Total Immersion books & DVDs that allow those of us that have struggled with swimming to finally enjoy it. I also want to thank all the swimmers on these forums for their helpful and encouraging posts to one another that gave me the will to keep trying until I finally managed to breakthrough whatever barriers (physical or psychological) that have been holding me back. I apologize in advance for the long post, but I wanted to give those reading this a bit of a background to really understand my frustrations over the past year of swimming (and many years before that due to my chronic back pain) and why this breakthrough is such a huge milestone achievement for me. So here goes...

I'm almost 39 years old, and have been suffering from chronic back pain since my mid-20s which eventually got diagnosed as degenerative disc disease (L5-S1) when I was 29. One morning I couldn't physically get out of bed due to the severe pain radiating from my lower back and down my leg and was rushed to the hospital. Over the years of multiple hospital treatments (lots of pain & anti-inflammatory medications) and physiotherapy (which provided temporary pain relief at best), and further diagnosis of an additional damaged disc (L4-L5), Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction and knee problems, I reached the point of continuous pain from getting out of bed in the morning that would just get worse throughout the day at work. I couldn't sit, nor stand nor walk for too long without the pain becoming unbearable. It was becoming very disruptive to my family life (not being able to go out with my wife & daughters on our usual weekend outings and dreading grocery shopping as it would mean even more pain), and my work life (getting moody, cranky, and not being able to concentrate due to the pain, and many sick leaves due to crippling pain which left me bed ridden for days at a time). I also struggled with mild depression (not severe enough to seek treatment, or so I told myself) and I just couldn't stand the physical state that I was in.

So at around November of 2015, I decided to substitue my pain killers with swimming for pain relief and exercise since everything else was too painful to do. I joined a gym with a good sized 25m indoor swimming pool that was close to work so I wouldn't have any excuses of not being able to go there throughout the year. Unfortunately I was only comfortable swimming the breast stroke, which only seemed to aggravate my back pain. I later learned that it's not a recommended style for those suffering lower back pain like myself and I would have to switch to either freestyle or back stroke, I chose the former. The problem was, I dreaded freestyle swimming as I couldn't make it past halfway in the pool without nearly drowning myself. So back to research it was. Searching through Amazon, I came across the Total Immersion e-book and Easy Freestyle Swimming DVD which I ordered at the end of March 2016. So I started learning and practicing TI freestyle swimming in April by myself since I didn't know of any instructors or TI groups in Kuwait where I'm from. Over the next few months I made slow progress during my 30 minute swimming workouts twice or three times a week. I was ecstatic the first time I was able to put all the drills together and swim the full length of the 25m pool without drowning (about a month later). I started to actually enjoy my swimming workouts as they were perfect for de-stressing at the end of a long work day along with the dramatic pain relief in my lower back. My wife encouraged me to keep going with my swimming workouts as I would come home refreshed and in a much better mood than I ever was before and even my colleagues noticed the change in my attitude and encouraged me to stick with it.

Unfortunately, I had a setback with my back condition during the summer months after having to move from a rented apartment to our own condo, but slowly got back into my swimming practices after we had settled down. Over the fall and winter I made minor improvements in my swimming technique but I hit a barrier in my interval swimming and wasn't able to swim more than 4 laps at a time (100m). I was still swimming using the flutter kick and I was running out of breath too fast. At this point, I decided to go over an updated version of the TI course and purchased "Effortless Endurance" and went back to the basic drills which seemed to be more streamlined and simpler than in the older courses. However, I was still struggling and thought of swapping to a 2 beat kick instead (got the idea from various posts discussing it in these forums). Unfortunately, there weren't any instructions or drills on that in the TI book or courses that I had, so I scoured Youtube for various videos that helped with that. Over the next two weeks, I managed to get the basics of the 2BK down (it's far from perfect still I'm sure) and that helped me get past my 100m interval barrier. I managed to go up to 150m, then 200m, 250m, and finally 300m intervals before I got stuck again. At that time, I had to take 2 weeks off from swimming for another round of physical therapy. Although I was dreading what that would do to my slow but hard earned progress. When I returned to my swimming practices I managed to reach 16 laps/400m per interval by mid-Feb. 2017. This was my great personal swimming achievement yet, and I was excited to see how far I could go next!

Then I hit my biggest and most stubborn brick wall. For the past 2 weeks, for some strange reason I couldn't swim more than 100m intervals which devastated me (I was lucky to get one of those in actually, most of my intervals were down to 50m and I would be winded). I wasn't injured, I was feeling physically the best I had in years (my back pain was bearable most days and even non-existent on some days), I did have some allergies acting up and some stressful projects at work but those were a given for me throughout the year. The old self doubt started to creep back in along with various self made excuses ("I was never cut out for swimming", "I'm a sinker" and so on). So just before my Thursday evening swimming workout, I sat in the gym lounge and contemplated whether I wanted to go through another failed workout. I honestly didn't know if I could bear another one and I was afraid it would just give me an excuse to quite swimming all together. So I pulled out my phone and searched the TI forums for any advice on how to overcome my problem of running out of breath so fast. I spent around half an hour on that couching reading various inspiring posts, but the one that resonated the most for me was the following response from 2010 by John Carey to a struggling swimmer prepping for an open water triathlon:

Quote:
Originally Posted by madvet View Post
... Lack of fitness? Hey I am pretty unfit, I weigh at least 30 pounds more than I should. But I can swim 10,000 yards at a 20 minute per 1,000 yard pace.

How? Relaxed stroke. Tension will eat your breathing reservoir in a heartbeat. Well, several heartbeats. But, it will get you. Where is at least half of that excess tension? In your breathing. Relax with your breathing and that relaxation will flow over into your stroke. Relax the muscles which you are not using. Don't hold excess tension in trying to extend your bodyline, relax while lengthening...
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  #2  
Old 03-10-2017
firas
 
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Now even though the idea wasn't a new one, the idea of mindful yet relaxed swimming is mentioned several times in the TI book and courses I've been through. It's something I never really focused on, as I had so many bad swimming habits to correct and new skills yet to learn, but I thought to myself "my physical therapist has mentioned that I have tense shoulders and lower back muscles and need to try and relax them more" so it was worth a shot. I got into the pool (I was lucky to have had the whole pool to myself that session) and warmed up in the slowest and most relaxed swim I could muster while slowing my breathing down. I took fewer breaths (5 strokes apart instead of my usual 3) which helped me focus on relaxing my body & breathing and tried not be so rigid while lengthening my body. I started with a 100m interval, took a 10 breath break, swam a 150m interval, took another break, and when I felt much more relaxed than I ever had in my previous interval workouts, I started swimming without counting strokes, or laps or breaths (although I fell back into my 3 stroke breath rhythm) and just kept going. It was the best swim of my life, I wasn't kicking to stay afloat and avoid drowning, I wasn't sucking in air and fearing slurping in water by mistake, I was rocking side to side and overcompensating with flapping arms and legs, it really felt like I was gliding through the water like Terry does in his videos (wishful thinking I know, but I was in my own swimming nirvana). When I finally thought I should take a peek at my swimming watch, I was at 800m and counting! I thought: "I must be reading this wrong, I'll just finish off a few more laps and see how far I really swam", my goggles were foggy and leaking water as usual (still on the hunt for those perfect googles if they do exist somewhere). 8 laps later I came to a stop, and I wasn't out of breath like I usually would be, barely more so than my warm up laps. I took off my goggles, looked at my watch, and it read 1000m in 29m:54s ! I couldn't believe it. I checked the clock over the pool, and I had indeed been swimming for almost half an hour non-stop! I finished off with a 50m cooldown interval and headed out of the pool to wash up and change with the biggest smile on my face after any of my previous workouts. I couldn't wait to tell my wife, family and friends of what I managed to achieve. This had been my own secret swimming goal that I was afraid of telling anyone about out loud before (to swim 1 KM non-stop) as I wasn't really sure if I could ever achieve it (especially not with just a self-study swimming course).

So to wrap up this long winded post (my back's starting to ache from sitting so long writing this, and I really should get up and stretch), thank you to everyone that's helped put the Total Immersion swimming methodology together, and to all those swimmers out there that continue to help other newbie swimmers like me who want to better themselves (or secretly prove to themselves that they're not physically crippled for life if they choose to do something about it) with their helpful tips and ideas and inspiring posts (I can't count how many posts I read on these forums that basically repeated something along the lines of "don't worry, keep practicing and trying, you'll get there eventually").

THANK YOU ALL!

Now, I can't wait for my Tempo Trainer to arrive so I can work on improving my turtle slow pace (26 - 30 SPL & 1m:09s for 50m lots of room for improvement there) :D
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  #3  
Old 03-12-2017
CoachBobM CoachBobM is offline
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Congratulations on your progress, and thanks for sharing it with us!


Bob
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  #4  
Old 03-12-2017
Danny Danny is offline
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Join Date: Oct 2009
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firas, I find your story inspiring, and I enjoyed reading it. Good luck with your future progress and, above all, enjoy your swimming! It's a wonderful gift, which I myself am thankful for every time I get into the pool.
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  #5  
Old 03-12-2017
efdoucette efdoucette is offline
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Fantastic, inspirational, congratulations.
I'm off to the pool, thanks for sharing.
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  #6  
Old 03-12-2017
firas
 
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Thank you all for the support!
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  #7  
Old 03-13-2017
sclim sclim is offline
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Firas, we're all cheering for you, because all of us in our own way have had some improbable feat accomplished by shattering a prior barrier that was all in only our minds, and this Forum was the source of inspiration, technical advice, and warm support that gave us the courage to do it, and then to set some new, higher challenge to shoot for.

Well done!
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  #8  
Old 03-14-2017
firas
 
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Thank you for the supportive words Salim. You're right, these forums are a great source of technical info and inspiration.
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  #9  
Old 03-14-2017
firas
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by firas View Post
Thank you for the supportive words Salim.
My apologies, that was supposed to be "Sclim" but autocorrect was doing too good a job!
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  #10  
Old 03-16-2017
tomoy tomoy is offline
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Join Date: Dec 2010
Posts: 585
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Greetings, and congratulations! Great story. As Sclim says, this is familiar to many of us who pick up swimming seriously later in life. Can't wait to hear you knock down more unspoken goals.

Quote:
Originally Posted by sclim View Post
Firas, we're all cheering for you, because all of us in our own way have had some improbable feat accomplished by shattering a prior barrier that was all in only our minds, and this Forum was the source of inspiration, technical advice, and warm support that gave us the courage to do it, and then to set some new, higher challenge to shoot for.

Well done!
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