A Return to Swimming

by Danny Robdrup

What is swimming like post pandemic pool closures?

Slow.

I have, in previous years, started the year off with 100 kilometers of swimming in the month of January, getting ready for the year with a solid commitment to myself and the sport I love. This year started differently. No swimming.

There are options to stay fit, but nothing compares to swimming. No matter how many swim cords you own, it’s not the same. Resistance training only does so much. Flexibility goes away when not in streamline every 30-40 seconds for a few hours a day. Canal waters are too fast to be safe right now. The nearest lakes are 40 minutes away and maybe up to 8 degrees Celsius. Swimming just doesn’t happen in Canada without pools at this time of the year.

You may be excited, worried, or even scared. The best thing to do is to hop in, push off and let your body remember what swimming is and the order of neural pathway firing and muscle recruitment.

My 1st swim back (June 10th): I had set my alarm for 4:50 the previous day to get ready for the abrupt awakening. It worked; I only hit snooze once.

My pre-swim apple and water were ready and I even had my swim bag out for two nights waiting for this occasion. I thought I had everything set up the night before, but not my gym pass, so I spent a few minutes running around looking for it. It was where I remembered it was, so no time lost.

At the university (one of two pools open now), I had my mask on through the building and on deck. Will the goggles fit still? Will they break? The water was cold, but not as cold as I remember it. I dropped in and the initial shock was not bad, so I pushed off into a familiar position.

Streamline was good, the breathing went well, even bilaterally. The first 30 meters felt amazing (the pool was set at 50m length), I even remembered how to flip turn without getting water up my nose. Then the return. The shoulders got tight (deltoids), the chest felt crampy (pectoralis major and minor) -- and then I remembered there is a race in 3 weeks.

2:00/100m. This is, for me and my goals, a horrific starting point. I know it will come back, muscle memory and the various substrates that influence endurance will soon flood the muscles involved in swimming, but this… this is trouble.

Getting to put in a few 400-meter efforts with 100-meter laps thrown in between made the swim manageable. A nice round 2000 meters for the first swim back was farther than expected, and I swam 40 minutes of the 60 allotted by the re-opening policy.

I am thrilled to be back in the water and able to complete all three sports of triathlon. I am not able or willing to wake up early for running, cycling or strength training; swimming is the only one that gets me out of bed. Maybe it’s the schedule and the payment to a facility, or just the feeling post-swim of accomplishment. Starting your day, waking up surrounded by the feeling of being supported and also resisted from forward motion. It is a love-hate relationship, but one that forces me to face the day early and push past my limits.

The next three weeks will be filled with swimming every day that the pool is open (supplemented with long drives for open water on Sundays). It’s my effort to regain lost fitness and feel for the water. Almost all these days will be slow/easy swimming. Faster intervals will be added at the start of week 3 to reduce the chance of overuse injury.

Detraining is a fact of life, especially pandemic life. Do not be hard on yourself when getting back to it. Regain the lost relationship with the water and allow for slower times, knowing that faster times are ahead. Be patient and connect with the feeling of the water, focusing on flexibility through the next few weeks.

Danny Robdrup is the head coach of Zephyrs Endurance Coaching, part of the MX Endurance Network.

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