If you missed the report, you can go here to read about the first Grimsey’s Adult Swimfit clinic I attended. If you live for the moment, hate to dwell on the past and can’t bring yourself to read about things that happened a month ago, here’s the summary:
In January, I signed up for a Grimsey’s Adult Swimfit open water session that was to be held two weeks before my first triathlon – the Bribie Island Triathlon. Prior to the clinic, I’d only completed two open water training sessions (at Bribie and Caloundra) and they had both served as rude reminders that swimming with sharks and jellyfish and seaweed is terrifying. I didn’t do very well at Grimsey’s clinic either: I panicked; I swam slowly; I got stung by jellyfish numerous times; I got kicked in the head. But on the drive home I realised I had survived it all, and that simple fact was a step – no, a leap – towards improvement.
That’s it, in a nutshell.
The clinic itself wasn’t hard and embarrassing and scary – ocean swimming is those things. In fact, Grimsey’s clinic gave me the safe and supportive environment I needed to get out there – to try and make progress towards ocean swimming being less hard, less embarrassing and less scary.
So I was both dreading and looking forward to having another chance to be coached by a Grimsey before my stupid ocean race in Mooloolaba on Saturday. Luckily, after the previous session got cancelled, the Grimsey brothers scheduled an extra clinic for yesterday and I got myself on the list.
There is no denying that for the 48 hours preceding the clinic I comforted myself with stories about why I would not have to go swimming on Sunday. I was adamant that I would find a way out. Even when I woke up on Sunday and drove to Redcliffe, I assured myself over and over again that if I arrived and needed to pull out, I am an adult and I can make my own decisions in life and the world will not end if I admit defeat for once.
Indeed, I got to the meeting point a little early and scurried off to the toilets, where I had a few issues that I could totally have used as an excuse to pull out. I’ll blog that I possibly had food poisoning, I thought.
I apologise if this is too much information. But I want to be clear that not a single part of me wanted to do the training session yesterday. I was tired, a bit poopy (nice) and overwhelmingly scared of the race on Saturday. Possibly I was thinking that by pulling out of the training yesterday I would have been setting myself up to ‘have to’ pull out of the race as well. It could have been the last chance out. Who knows. I can only tell you that with a very heavy heart, butterflies in my stomach and mostly holding my breath, I went to the registration desk and told them my name.
This triathlon crap is pretty hard sometimes. Mostly it’s really fun and rewarding and exciting and enjoyable. Then there are the hard bits. Ocean swimming for me is definitely the hardest. And even though I know that the benefits of being part of the Grimsey sessions are all to do with being in a big group, I don’t naturally like to train with other people. When it comes to training I am an island.
I can talk myself into doing most things, when no one is there to care. I like to compete against myself and talk myself into stuff. I don’t like other people telling me what to do – I am an obstinate student and always have been. So I think that makes these OWS sessions a bit more challenging for me.
Whatever the reasons, being part of the clinic yesterday was probably the most challenging thing I have done for the sport of triathlon thus far.
I guess it’s a good job that the benefits of Grimsey’s sessions are undeniable, and truly I think the little ‘pros’ list I kept stored in the back of my mind was the thing that helped my feet shuffle towards the registration desk, then over to the park bench where I took a selfie for Instagram (there’s no pulling out of a workout once you’ve ‘grammed it)
The Grimseys know what they are doing. They want to share their knowledge with you. This is priceless.
The price is actually only twelve dollars.
The safety is better than you’d get swimming on a patrolled beach – the lifeguards are out there on boats, circling the swimmers and ready to help in seconds if required.
The courses are marked with buoys like in races (you don’t get that on a beach)
You are given a clear, structured workout, with hints, tips and goals to reach. You can turn your brain off.
You’re swimming in a pack, like in a race. Unless you have 10 swimmer friends who will accompany you, that’s not easy to recreate at the beach.
It doesn’t matter how badly you fare, there’s no failure in the Grimsey clinics.
When you finish you can have a big breakfast.
I sat on a bench overlooking the beach and the small piece of ocean we would be swimming in, waiting for the remaining minutes before the start to drain away. The wind blew hard and the water looked really choppy. Grimsey said this would be good practice for those of us going to Mooloolaba next week, because it’s not a protected beach up there. I closed my eyes and tried to block out the visions that immediately popped into my head.
My Kiwi friend from last time wasn’t there, which was lucky in a way because I was not in the mood to talk to anybody. Grimsey sent us all off on a short jog along the beach and back, to warm up. Then it was time for the warm-up swim.
Compared to the last session I’d done, the tide was out a lot further. So there was considerably less shallow water – a couple of metres in there was a sudden drop-off and you were swimming almost immediately. There was no real need to do the old dolphin-dives into the water – just jump in and off you go. Which is what we did.
I swam and swam, heading for the first buoy and then the second. I was expecting to panic as usual… but I didn’t. I did not panic once in the whole session. I hadn’t panicked in the Bribie Island Triathlon either, but I had thought that was just because of the race adrenaline.
To get out of the water after the initial warm-up swim and dare to think that my panicking days are possibly behind me, put a big smile on my face. I ran back up the beach to where some of the group were already standing waiting, and felt like a winner. All my fears and doubts about the session were forgotten – if nothing else, my electrocuted starfish days can now become a distant memory.
We did a second basic swim around a different combination of buoys, and then it was time for some sighting practice. I am really bad at sighting – all of my ocean swims so far have seen me swim off-course either a lot or a little, and I practically stopped swimming every few metres at Bribie to check I was on-course and reset if not. So sighting practice was music to my ears.
Grimsey pointed out three buoys for us to swim to, but the catch was that we had to swim back to him on the beach in between each buoy, so we made a strange kind of W shape. We set off and I was in a pack with a few others for the whole journey, which was exciting (to not be left behind) and great practice for races, because we were swimming over each other the whole way.
Now, obviously we were not actually racing so I think there was definitely an etiquette around ‘it’s not OK to kick people that swim into you’ and that sort of thing – unlike in a race, where I believe the etiquette is ‘every woman for herself, get out of my way or die motherf*ckers’. So there was lots of apologising and stopping to do a bit of breaststroke while you waited your turn to go around a buoy, etc. I only did freestyle around a buoy about 4 times in the whole session, which was OK by me.
As the coach later pointed out, some of the group didn’t bother waiting their turn and didn’t want to fight, so cut across the inside of the buoy… But if you get used to doing that in training it’s too likely that you’ll accidentally do it in the race as well – and then you’ll be immediately disqualified. Or ‘DQ’d’ as Grimsey put it, because he is a pro.
So I enjoyed that little bit of practice too, and then Grimsey gave us some tips on how we could all improve our sighting, including how far to lift our eyes out of the water (your nose should stay submerged!) and how often to do it, etc. So then we did another course, which we had to do two laps of, again trying to keep tight to our racing lines and sighting efficiently.
All of this was boosting my confidence no-end. Sighting has been one of the hardest things for me to get to grips with, not least because when I swim off-course (and realise too late) I have always had a bit of a panic attack as a direct result, which sets me back even further than just swimming a longer distance. It’s not nice to realise you’re out on your own, bobbing around in the ocean in the wrong spot.
With my confidence boosted, it was of course time for a reality check. Upon arriving back to the beach, Grimsey announced that we would do the same course again, but with 5 seconds between each swimmer so that we couldn’t use anyone else to sight off. This bit seemed alright because I generally don’t trust anyone enough to sight off them anyway. I am an island, after all. But then Grimsey said we’d do a second lap of the course, still separated from the other swimmers, and upon rounding the final buoy to head back to the beach we had to swim back without sighting at all.
That’s right, he said. Swim back, breathing to the sides, but after that last look as you come around the final buoy, you must not do any sighting forward. None. Nada. Don’t look where you’re going, just try to swim in the direction you think you need to go and see where you end up.
This, he said, will give you all an idea of whether you swim straight or not.
Well, I know I don’t swim straight. I barely swim straight in a pool, with a straight black line painted on the floor to follow. I’ve often thought that the back line could do with some extra colours, so that each person knows whether they should follow the back and red line, or the black and green line (etc) just to be sure.
What a joke this will be, I thought. I waited for Grimsey to crack a smile and announce he was kidding. But he didn’t. He wasn’t. I checked the locations of the lifeguards. Would they see me to catch me before I ended up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?
Grimsey reiterated his requirements and stated NO CHEATING about four times. Then some other members of the group started running down the beach to jump into the water and kick the whole thing off. So they weren’t as dubious as me, apparently. And frankly that annoyed me, so off I went after them.
The first lap was fine – I genuinely felt that I was sighting better than I ever had before, and most of the time I was managing to not breathe at the same time as I sighted (so I was leaving my nose in the water as instructed)
The second lap also started fine, but as I got to the final buoy there was a bit of a backlog of swimmers. We’d had strict instructions to maintain the gap between other swimmers so that we couldn’t sight off anyone. I waited for my turn and then started swimming.
I decided to at least use the position of the sun as a bit of an indicator that I was still heading roughly towards the beach, which meant if the sun was just behind me on the right when I breathed I couldn’t be too far off-course.
Within about 6 strokes, some other lady started swimming over the top of me. She clearly hadn’t waited her 5 seconds, because I’d barely been swimming for 5 seconds. But what can you do. She could sight off me if she wanted (bloody good luck to her) but I made myself believe she was a piece of seaweed, and I kept on swimming in the direction I thought was right. I wasn’t trying to go fast or strong; my aim was to maintain an even pressure on both my arms in the water, to stay streamlined and steady.
The swim seemed to take ages, but eventually I knew I was getting close to shore because I was suddenly surrounded by actual seaweed – not the rogue lady swimmer kind. This made me recklessly happy – I knew then that I wouldn’t have to be rescued. I was going in roughly the right direction.
I kept swimming, and started to worry that I was in more seaweed than I had previously been when returning to the beach… and that maybe this meant I was in the wrong place (because some parts of the beach seemed to be more seaweed-covered than others)
Finally, I caught a handful of sand as I ploughed through the water and it was time to stand up. I lifted my head, looked straight forward…. and about 4 metres to the left stood Grimsey and some of the quicker swimmers, standing watching. I had only gone about 4 metres off-course! Definitely a success, and another boost to my confidence.
Again I ran out of the water feeling like a winner, with another smile on my face. I know there is room for improvement (4 metres is still 4 metres extra I have to swim, or more if I am 4 metres off-course as I approach a turnaround buoy) but I had been absolutely convinced I would swim around in a circle and end up on Moreton Island. So I was happy to have done a good job (by my own standards)
When everybody had returned, Coach Grimsey announced it was time for a cool-down swim and I finally let out the breath I had been holding in all morning. I’d made it, it was all over. I was even happy to jump back in to the water and do a final lap of the buoys. I started pondering what I would have for breakfast, and pretended there might even be a chance for a nap later (there is zero chance of this, ever)
I wont be going to the next clinic, as I have swimming races on the next two Saturdays (Mooloolaba 1km this Saturday and Bribie 500m the next) but Grimsey and Co, I will be back. Your clinics are changing me – and helping me to achieve the impossible.