SIX SUGGESTIONS FOR THE SOLO SWIMMER

Note:  The following article appeared on Swimspire.com in September of 2016 and was adapted for the Georgia Masters Newsletter in December, 2016:

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Are you a solo swimmer?  If so, welcome to my world!  For many of us, swimming solo rather than with a workout group or team isn’t a preference; it’s dictated by circumstances.  In my case, the nearest U.S. Masters Swimming (USMS) team is located quite a distance away, so the community pool just one mile away is the more convenient option.

Although swimming solo may have its disadvantages, I have discovered ways during my six years as a lone Masters swimmer to overcome them and make the most of my swimming experience.  Hopefully, the following suggestions will do the same for you.

  1. No coach? No problem!  Learn to coach yourself with video.

The most frustrating thing for me training solo was not having a coach on deck to evaluate my strokes on a regular basis, so I bought a waterproof camera and enlisted the help of my husband to periodically shoot video of all four strokes. Having to kneel down on the deck to record underwater views was a knee and back buster, so I rigged up a camera mount on a PVC pipe.  Now, my husband can stand up straight to shoot underwater video.  He simply twists the pipe to pan the camera as I swim by, or he holds it still at the end of the pool for front views.

In order to shoot video myself, I use reusable rubber-coated twist ties (available at Home Depot) to attach the PVC pipe to the pool ladder or railing.

Next, I upload the videos to my computer, and compare them to instructional videos right here on Swimspire.  I also compare my stroke videos to “Go Swim” and “Total Immersion” videos viewed on YouTube.

Alternatively, the U.S. Masters Swimming Discussion Forums (www.usms.org) are a great place to have your stroke video evaluated by other Masters swimmers.  Just upload your video to YouTube, and post the link on the Forums.  (You don’t have to be a member to sign up for a free account.)  Every time I have done so, other “Forumites” have responded with great advice.  Often these online “coaches” have been actual swim coaches or world-class Masters swimmers!

  1. Are you lost as to how to design your own workout plans? Check out the Internet!

The USMS website is THE place to find a variety of excellent workouts to suit your needs.  Sign up for that free account, and check out “Workouts” in the “General” section of the Forums.  Swimming workouts are posted on a daily basis by top-level Masters swimmers that are geared for sprinters, long-distance swimmers, triathletes, stroke specialists, and more.  There are even swim workouts specifically written for expectant mothers and those with limited mobility!

There are plenty of other options for swim workout ideas, too.  Google “swim workouts,” and there will be numerous options for ideas.

I copy and pasted my favorite workouts into Word Documents, custom-formatted them in larger font for easy reading through goggles, and printed them out.  They are kept in a three-ring binder in plastic sleeves, and I place a selected one in a jumbo Ziploc bag to keep it dry at the pool.

I also record my results (such as my practice “race” times) on a plastic SCUBA slate using a pencil.  After recording the information online in my USMS Fitness log, I use toothpaste and water to scrub it clean.

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  1. Be a sociable solo swimmer.

Many swimmers love the solitude of swimming solo, and escape to the pool to alleviate stress.  If you’re an extrovert like me, though, I enjoy being around people; so, I make an effort to be sociable when I’m at the pool.

Regardless of your personality type, there are advantages to getting to know others where you swim.

Over the years my friendliness towards others at the pool has come back around in ways I had never expected.  I get asked about upcoming competitions, receive a lot of encouragement, and get congratulated when I return to the pool following a meet.  There are several people who even offer to move (or just automatically do it) if they are using my favorite lane when I arrive for my workout.  (The other narrow swim lane has two ladders that are not built into the wall—painful for my fingers if the butterfly recovery isn’t timed perfectly.)

Striking up conversations with others at the pool has led to some wonderful friendships, too.  We already had one thing in common when we met; we loved to swim!

  1. Become a “Forumite” on the USMS Discussion Forums.

Joining USMS, and being active on the Discussion Forums has also led to cherished friendships over the years.  One “Forumite” (a FINA World Record breaststroker) who had viewed my posted stroke videos and responded with advice did something for me I will never forget.  At my first USMS Short Course Nationals, just two months after joining USMS, he surprised me by watching me race, and then meeting me at my lane to provide stroke feedback.  Hearing what I did well and how I could improve helped me going into my next race.  This “Forumite” has been my valued online coach ever since, and I am one of his biggest fans!

At another national swim meet the following year, my husband and I got to know the guys from another team sitting next to us in the bleachers.  When it came time for my 200 breaststroke race, I heard a booming, “Go, Elaine!” echo from the bleachers as I stepped up onto the starting block.  That jolt of inspiration propelled me to swim a personal best time!

Besides learning a lot from the other Forum contributors, many of them have become real friends—unlike the so-called “friends” many people make on Facebook (that they may never meet face-to-face).  When I compete at swim meets—especially USMS National Championships—I get to see and spend time with my Forum friends.  One of them even traveled across the country to visit me in Georgia, and participate with me at an upstate meet.  It was a blast!

Overall, the swimming community is a friendly, open, and supportive one.  Become a part of it, and you will be happy you did!

  1. Volunteer.

Are you a non-competitive fitness/recreation swimmer?  You will be welcomed with open arms if you go to a local swim meet, and volunteer to time races, count laps during distance events, or assist the meet director!  It’s a great way to meet other swimmers, and become a part of your local swim community, even if you never swim a race.

When I was unable to compete following hip surgery, I timed races at a meet.  I had so much fun cheering my teammates on and socializing with the others.

Are you considering becoming a competitive swimmer, but a lack of self-confidence in your abilities is stopping you? Do you feel intimidated by the thought of competition?  Volunteering at a local Masters or Senior Games meet is a great opportunity to see what it’s really like.  Watch the other swimmers, and see how you compare.  At a recent local swim meet, there were swimmers of all levels; from a three-time 1980’s Olympian to a swimmer who appeared to struggle with completing the race.  Nobody paid particular attention to either one; we were all there to race against the clock and achieve our personal goals.  As always, the atmosphere was fun, friendly, and supportive.

  1. Share your skills.

Related to the last suggestion, sharing your skills with other swimmers will bring joy in unpredictable ways.  When I complimented a new resident at my community on her freestyle stroke, she lamented the fact she hadn’t been coached since her age-group swimming days; so, she wasn’t sure how her stroke looked.  I offered to shoot topside and underwater video of her stroke, so we met up the following day for a video session, and I recorded her stroke from several angles.  I then uploaded the videos to YouTube and sent her the links.  She was so appreciative that she treated me to lunch!  We had a great time, and a new friendship was formed.

I also write a monthly “Swimmer Profile” column for the Georgia Masters Newsletter and contribute photos I shoot at swim meets.  In addition, I periodically submit meet recap articles.  I enjoy the writing process, and interviewing profile subjects has been a great way to get to know other area swimmers.  Friendships I’ve formed have deepened, and the compliments on my writing have been gratifying!

Think about your skills and how they could benefit other swimmers at your pool or your local swim club.  It will be a rewarding experience!

Putting these six suggestions into action is sure to make your solo swimming experience more enjoyable.  Give them a try and see for yourself!

Elaine-iaK, Debaru, and Anne-with-an-e

Although I am registred on the USMS (United States Masters Swimming) Discussion Forums as “ElaineK”, some of my forum swimming buddies (“Forumites”) call me “Elaine-iaK”; thanks to Ande, another swimmer on the forums who decided that to be a more appropriate name, due to my enthusiam.  There were other Forumites, however, who weren’t exactly enthusiastic about my use of blue Comic Sans MS font for my posts.  And, as a result, I was on the receiving end of some harassment; not all of it good-natured.

One day, I received a private message from another Forumite, “Debaru”, who just didn’t like the treatment I was receiving.  Debbie sent me a very nice, encouraging message which turned out to be the beginning of a terrific friendship.  As it turned out, Debbie, who now lives in Arizona, grew up just four miles from me!  She was seven years older, so we never knew each other, but we attended rival high schools (swam on our school’s teams) and hung out at all the same places.  For all I know, we passed each other many times, in Long Beach, back in those days; especially at the beach, in the summertime.

So, our banter back and forth via private messages and e-mails consisted of comparing our parallel childhoods, remembering places from our past.  It was like we had grown up together- but, separately.

Soon after, it was time to attend 2011 Spring Short Course Nationals, in Mesa, Arizona, very close to Debbie’s home.  Debbie wasn’t planning on swimming at Nationals, being new to competition; she was just going to attend and cheer her friends on in their races.  I convinced her that if I could swim at 2010 Nationals, at Georgia Tech, as a USMS newbie, she could swim at Nationals in her home town, too.  It took some arm twisting, but she agreed.  As one of a contingent of just eight swimmers from Georgia, I headed out with Bruce, to Mesa, and met Debaru for the first time.  What a blast!  And, after it was over, we celebrated:

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We continued to keep in touch, sharing our swimming aspirations, successes (and not-so-successful-attempts), looking forward to meeting up another time in the future.  When my sister and mom planned to throw me a 50th birthday party, Deb drove out and joined in on the celebration, as well as some swim training.  Poor Bruce; all he heard from us during our time together was swimming-this and swimming-that!  As a non-swimmer, I’m sure we drove him nuts.  But, he was a good sport, and even waited on deck for us to complete our workouts.  Here we are, looking baaaaad:

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And, not so bad, afterall…

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So, after having such a blast together, we invited her to come see us out in Georgia.  Hey, while we’re at it, let’s swim in a meet together, here in Georgia!  I swam at a meet in her state; why not join me in mine?  So, last week, she flew out to see me and Bruce and compete at the Classic City Georgia Masters Long Course Meet, in Athens, this past weekend.  Bruce was smart this time, suggesting we make it just us girls, and leave him behind for some peace and quiet.  So, we packed the car and headed north to Athens, arriving the afternoon before our meet.  And, we talked, and talked, and talked…  Swimming, Long Beach, swimming, music, swimming, family, swimming, well…you get the picture!

The following morning, we arrived at UGA (University of Georgia at Athens), for the first long course meet of the season; one that counted for me as part of the Championship Series.  I wasn’t feeling too confident, coming off a muscle injury and a week away from the pool, while we were in Washington, D.C.  I was just hoping to survive; my only goal being to get through the meet without further injury.  And, if I could win high points in my age group like I did at Georgia Tech, in April, I would be 2-for-2, leaving just one more event to swim this year to clinch the trophy.  (It takes three of the four events to qualify, but I have enough points to win it if I compete in the open water swim, in July.)

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Athens’ pool and facility, in a word, is awesome.  But, long course (50 meters, rather than 25 yards for short course), in a word, is looooong!  I had not competed long course since 2011 Summer Long Course Nationals, in Auburn, so I wasn’t mentally (or physically) prepared for competing in such a long pool, where the walls seem miles away.  But, I did it before, and, surely, I knew I could do it again.

Before suiting up, I ran into my team’s matriarch, Anne Dunivin, who is 95 years old!

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She is the sweetest, most positive woman; an absolute joy to be around.  I call her “Anne-with-an-‘e’ “, because that is how she introduced herself to me, more than one year ago.  She reached across the lane line at the Steve Lundquist Aquatic Center pool and said, “Hi!  I’m Anne; and that’s Anne with an ‘e’!”  So, when I cheer her on, I yell, “Gooooo Anne with an e!”  I also like to affectionately call her “Queen Anne”, since, she is the Queen of the Killer Whales.

Anne is amazing; she even swam the mile (that’s 1650 yards!) at 2012 Short Course Nationals, in Greensboro.  And, she has been breaking records every time she races, because she just “aged up”.  First, she broke them in the 90-94 age group.  And, now, she is breaking records in her new 95-99 age group.  She is bound and determined to age up to the 100-104 age group, so she can break the records of a gal who just set new records, as the first woman to compete in that age group. I’m convinced she’ll do it; no worries there.  She is as healthy as can be, gets around under her own power, climbs up and down the ladder, and swims multiple events at meets.  Last April, I was honored to compete in my first Senior Games (Geezer Games!) with her, where she won all gold medals (I won three golds and two silvers).  We were the book ends at the meet; Queen Anne was the oldest and I was the newbie.  What an honor posing for this photo with her, along with the other female medal winners.

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Here is some trivia about my friend, Anne Dunivin:  From what I hear, she was the first female to graduate from Emory University with a degree in chemisty.  She is one smart cookie!

I want to grow up to be just like Anne-with-an-e.

So, as it turned out, Anne broke more records in her 95-99 age group (it helps to outlive your competition…) and I won high points in my youngin’ age group, 50-54.  There were no best times for me at this meet, but I was happy to complete my five individual races and relay with no further injury to my leg.  But, let me tell you, swimming the 200 meter breaststroke (considered one of the most difficult races in swimming, after the 400 Individual Medley, 200 Butterfly, and Mile; not necessarily in that order), is one tough race to swim long course.  With every stroke, I kept hearing Bart Simpson’s voice in my head; the one in Bruce’s silly gag Simpson watches that asks, “Are we there yet?  ARE WE THERE YET??  ARE WE THERE YET???!“, when you push the button.

By the time I finished that race, I was pooped, but I still had the 100 meter breaststroke to swim, as well as the 50 backstroke (immediately following) and the 50 breaststroke.  Then, I had to swim the 100 meter breaststroke again in the relay; the same (almost) relay that made FINA World Top Ten Rankings, in 2011, for the 200+ age group (combined ages).  This time, though, the only other relay teammate to compete with me was our butterflyer; an awesome swimmer.  But, we were missing the other two gals who were much faster than their replacements.  I still swam my heart out, beating my earlier time by one tenth, but we ended up coming in more than two minutes later than the previous team.  Oh well; no record this year, but it was fun!

There is nothing like the feeling of touching the wall after your last swim race of a meet.  Just ask any swimmer; they’ll tell you how euphoric it feels.  And, for me, the more difficult the race and more events I swim, the better it feels; especially long course.  Can you tell how happy I was?

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Debaru (55-59 age group) walked away with two blue ribbons and two reds!  And, I took home five blue ribbons for first place finishes (thanks to little competition in my age group).  We felt pretty good about that…

Since my videographer, Bruce, didn’t come to the meet, I only have one race video; the relay.  If you are curious to watch it, go to:  www.YouTube.com/Ekrugman1 .  If you fast forward to the 3:00 mark, you can catch me (attempting) to swim breaststroke.  There are other videos from past meets, too.

The following day, Bruce packed up the ‘yaks, along with me and Deb, to go paddling at Lake Dundee, a few miles up the road.  It was a fun being out on the water again.

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So, Debaru headed back to Arizona, today, and we have a bundle of great memories from our time together.  She got a great taste of the south (At Southern Pit Bar-b-que, Saturday night, I asked the waitress for a knife, rather than negotiate the BBQ pulled pork sandwich with my hands, fearing I would ruin my beloved “Forumite” t-shirt.  The waitress responded in a very thick southern drawl, “I can bring you a bib!”  Uhhh, no, that’s ok; I’ll take a knife, thank you very much…).  And, I think she really enjoyed it out here in Sun City (AKA “The Old Folks Home”, as Aquageek from the USMS Discussion Forums calls it).

Next up for Elaine-iaK and Debaru:  2013 Summer Nationals, in Mission Viejo, California.  WoooHOOO!  We’re comin’ home!!