Mastering Marine Mechanics
It’s an unnatural medium for a human to be immersed in water. Like a penguin in a desert, a wombat up a tree, or an anti-vaxxer in a library, it’s just not natural. Perhaps I knew this as a young child and felt the need to steel myself to build the courage to attempt aquatic endeavours. I used to present myself for the car trip to swimming training, togs on, cap on, goggles over my eyes. Never mind that it was a 20-30 minute car ride to the pool. Obviously, I felt one needed to be well prepared to leave terrestrial ground.
Swimming never came particularly naturally to me. The going fast bit anyway. I enjoyed it; I just wasn’t very good at it. Come to think about it, the same could be said for riding and running too, but this is the swim edition of Australian Triathlete, so let’s stay on task. Many coaches over the years have been charged with the task of increasing my aquatic velocity, and given the early signs; it was a task comparable to getting the US Senate to talk about gun laws.
It’s hard, not being able to actually see yourself swim, to realise how bad your stroke actually is. I’ll never forget diving in at my first swimming session at my first proper swim squad. I swam a few hundred of what I thought was pool-based poetry, and paused to get the coaches initial thoughts, bracing myself for superlatives and possibly a ‘Thorpe-esque’ comparison. All I got was a long pause, followed by a: “Well, we’ve got lots of areas to improve in…”
Over the years my long-time coach, Steve Moss, did most of the groundwork, turning me from a rank amateur to discovering what the main pack looked like. There were two main prongs to our assault on mastering marine mechanics; there was the technical stuff aimed at trying to improve my stroke, and then there was the pure, unadulterated hard work. Lot’s of hard work.
For both prongs, we had help from the experts along the way, with sports scientists from the AIS and QAS doing their utmost to turn a technical donkey into a racehorse. At one point, I remember a stroke correction session, deep into its third hour, at which point an extremely patient QAS swim specialist had resorted to gaffa taping pull buoys to each side of my waist. I can’t remember what element of the stroke or body position she was trying to get me to master, but by that stage, I wouldn’t have blamed her if she’d decided I was beyond help and had resorted to gee-ups.
As far as the hard work goes, Mossy had a lot of that taken care of. The first session I ever rocked up to, the main set was a 5km time trial (TT), the announcement of which instantly and comprehensively cracked one of the squad members, who left threatening never to return. I was wondering exactly what I had gotten myself in for and counted myself fortunate to get away with ‘just’ a 3km TT.
Easily the biggest work I put in was during my cameos as a full-time swimmer, during various lower limb ailments over the years. I did a brief stint with Tracey Menzie’s squad (Ian Thorpe’s old coach – never got the Thorpe-esque comparison I was yearning for, no matter how many hints I dropped), and more recently Michael Bohl’s uber squad of champions. The biggest work got done with the Grimsey brothers, in the midst of my ‘stress fracture’ phase, topping out at 84.7km as my biggest week ever. For those bean counters wondering why I didn’t do the extra 300m to finish on a round number – once you’ve swum 84.7km, adding an extra 300m is like ordering a diet coke with a large Big Mac meal, it just doesn’t matter.
The good news is, I got quicker! However, the reality of the ITU world is that for a ‘middle of the bell curve’ swimmer like myself, my swim result usually came down to who I started next to, and how much luck I had over the first 200m, as opposed to swimming form. The upside is, I’m a lot more confident in my swimming than when I was a five year old – I certainly don’t put my swimming cap and goggles on before I head down the race site anyway…