I started triathlon with one big road block: I was not a swimmer. Even as far back as a kid taking swim lessons at the Y, swimming laps for fun just never turned me on. Over the years, surfing was my "swimming." Not until early 2007 did I get in the pool with the intent to swim laps, which was due to my interest in triathlon. I maybe went 500-700 meters at first and was spent. As I started going more, I realized I had a bigger problem: CRAMPS. My toes and/or calves would cringe with cramps at about 900 m, at least 70% of the time. I've always had poor circulation in my feet and toes, and cramps would end my workout on the spot. They became a good excuse to do short swims or not swim at all; in all of '07, I probably never swam more than 1,700 m in a session. It showed in my swim splits. They weren't so awful in sprint tris (well kinda), but I always felt awful. I was inefficient and panicky. It took me more than 25 minutes to make it through an Olympic-distance tri swim (1,000 m) in Oct '07 -- how awful!!
Fast-forward to Oct '08: I actually like swimming -- and I don't cramp! Part of my workout today was a 2,200 m swim at my alma mater, SDSU, and I did it like it was nothing. Why the drastic change? Mind over matter: Once me knee was better, I decided that if I want to do well in tri, I couldn't go on ignoring my swimming ineptness.
Here's what I've done to better my technique, increase my swimming endurance/session and not to prevent cramping:
No. 1: Take a Swim Class. Because of my job, I can only fit this in before work. So, I'm up at 4:40-ish a.m. Tues/Thurs and am in the pool at the local college at 5:45 a.m. (I plan to stick with this until next spring.) I have a great coach who dissected my stroke/breathing/etc., and told me how wrong I was doing it all (finally, my suckiness confirmed)! He's now trying to "fix" me. I think it surprises him how well I take the constant critiquing and being singled out in class, but I like it -- I need that nit-pickiness to get better! And so far, it's working, plus I don't mind getting up before the sun, honestly. I swim about 2,500-3,000 meters or more per class, do a lot of good drills and am doing a sub-10 min. 500. Here's an example of one of my swim sessions now (big change from '07):
10x50 @1:15 warm-up
2x400 with hand paddles
3x150 descending sets
1x500 negative splits
10x50 kicking w/ board and fins
8x25 sprints @:30 (ouch!)
Total: 3,150 meters
No. 2 Strength-Train. More to come on this........but I am somewhat of a gym rat :)
No. 3: Enjoy PEP-C (Potassium, Electrolytes, Protein & Carbs). I have a banana and some turkey (random) or bread an hour before swimming. Immediately after swim, I have a protein shake and an electrolyte drink...all waiting for me in the locker room. Then, my real meal that follows is always full of those oh-so necessary carbs -- Kashi cereal, sandwich, etc. Can't prove it for sure, but this method leaves me cramp-free. Back to those bananas, though. Despite their reputation, they're not the greatest source of potassium; however, they're convenient, tasty and better than a potato at 5 a.m. Here's a breakdown of p-rich foods....
White beans -- 1,189 mg /for 1 cup
Potatoes -- 1,081 mg /per spud
Lima Beans -- 955 mg /cup
Winter squash -- 896 mg / cup
Soybeans -- 886 mg /cup
Spinach -- 839 mg /cup
Kidney beans -- 713 mg / cup
Artichoke -- 595 mg / cup
Avocado -- 540 mg /3 oz.
Sweet Potato -- 508 mg / cup
Banana -- 467mg /med-size