Today is the last day that the outdoor pool I’ve got a season pass for is open. Good thing the weather is good today, because I wanted to make my last outdoor swim workout of the year worth it. This post will be a hybrid of a reflection over the general physical progress I’ve made so far this year, and hopefully a motivating post for others.
Why am I posting this on my blog that normally focuses on movies and comics? Well, not only can I noticeably see my improvement over the summer, but since I started exercising more regularly, I feel better in general. I’m enjoying life more. I’m not saying that swimming will work for you, but if you’re less than 40 and you’re not handicapped in any way, what’s your excuse? Any normal person less than 40 years old can easily improve at least one aspect of their physical fitness if they put even a little effort into it. Find something physical that you enjoy and stick with it. Improve your fitness and you’ll feel more energetic, you’ll feel happier and your brain will even function better. For example, I tend to do my best writing after an intense workout of some kind. It really gets the blood pumping.
Also I’ve seen the next Bond movie for my James Bond blogathon – I’ll probably be writing that post later tonight and posting it tomorrow.
I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve always enjoyed swimming. As a kid, swimming lessons in the summer is what I looked forward to the most. I looked forward to those pool parties my friends hosted. I always enjoyed those public swims. But as I got into my late teen/early adult years, I started forgetting about that love. There were other ways I tried to stay fit, like biking, taking a weightlifting class in my last year of high school and buying a couple weights for myself, but nothing really stuck.
And then Canada’s swim team did surprisingly well in the Rio Olympics, re-sparking my interest in swimming. I went for my first ever lane swim in October of 2016. It didn’t take long to realize I didn’t remember how to breathe properly at all. Nevertheless, I stuck with an average of one swim a month for the next year. Now I’m not what you would call fat, but I’m not exactly skinny either. I’m somewhere between an average build and muscular, and yes, when I say I’m big boned, I’m speaking the truth. But I do have a gut that I’d like to trim down on. I definitely don’t have an athletic build and I never have.
Every time I went swimming, I improved a bit. In February I started teaching myself butterfly. At first I couldn’t even swim more than 3 strokes without losing all momentum. Watching instructional videos on YouTube mildly helped, but it wasn’t until April when I met someone who was also teaching himself butterfly. He helped me figure out something that really clicked. That day, I swam my first ever 25m butterfly. I managed to swim three of them. It’s also worth noting that at this point, I could only swim butterfly if I used a breaststroke kick instead of the proper dolphin kick.
My next major milestone, on my 30th birthday in June 2017, was my first ever 50m butterfly. I barely finished it, I was too tired to continue any swimming after, but I did it. The next couple times I went swimming, I couldn’t even repeat that accomplishment, including the one time I tried to swim it in a 50m pool. I even made the mistake of starting with butterfly, couldn’t finish my one length, and then was too tired to swim anything else at more than one length at a time for the rest of that swim.
It wasn’t until September when I managed to finish another 50m butterfly. In October, I decided to attempt a 200m individual medley (which starts with a 50m butterfly, then moves directly into backstroke without a break). I did it, with enough energy left over for at least a bit more swimming after. In November, I started going back to the gym after years of not lifting weights enough. The result – by the end of the month, I could swim 3 200m individual medleys in a single workout. That’s when I set my goal of swimming a 400m individual medley by my next birthday. That’s also around the point where I started going to the pool more often, between 2 and 3 times a month (depending on how busy life got).
That goal of swimming a 400m individual medley – I accomplished it the very next month, in late December. I needed to dive into the water to start butterfly off, but I did it. In early January, I left my old job, and in the three weeks between leaving that job and getting my current one, I spent almost every day in the weights gym, only taking days off when I either swam, went to Kung-Fu, or that one day I rested on the second week. The day before I went to orientation, I swam 2 400m im’s, 5 200m im’s, and just under 3 km total.
My new full-time physical job took a while to get used to, so I didn’t do too much exercise outside of work for the first month or so. Yet when I went to a 50m pool for the second time ever in early March, I successfully swam my first ever long course 400m individual medley. I barely finished it and almost pulled my leg after hopping out of the water, but I did it. Shortly after that, I started continuing my gym workouts, aiming for every other day.
In late May, I decided to really focus on my butterfly one day, taking it really easy and spending time on actually doing the proper dolphin kick. That day, I made massive improvements in my butterfly skill. Also that day, I swam my first ever 200m butterfly, and on my first ever attempt too. I still needed the breaststroke kick in the second half to get me moving better, but I did it. On the first weekend of June (the day after my 31st birthday), I swam my first ever long-course 200m butterfly, and immediately followed it with my first ever 200m breaststroke. At that point I needed to stop to catch my breath on the 2nd and 3rd length of a 200m butterfly (I still do sometimes), but as long as your feet don’t touch the floor, it counts.
Buying that season’s pass for my local outdoor pool is easily the best decision I made this spring. Not only is it an outdoor pool, but my job gets really hot and sweaty, especially in the summer. Swimming makes for a great workout, while also cooling down from a sweaty job. The perfect combo. I went an average of twice a week, I’ve reached the point where if the water is warm enough, I don’t need to catch my breath in the middle of a 200m butterfly, and as of today I’ve swam 3 200m butterflies in a single workout 4 times; all of them in an Olympic length 50m pool. And I was able to swim the entire 200m butterfly without a single breaststroke kick by mid-July. I haven’t gone back to that breaststroke kick since.
Some of my accomplishments this summer include my first ever 400m breaststroke and 400m freestyle, multiple 2km plus workouts in an hour and a half, and this past Friday, an 800m individual medley. They don’t even swim 800m im’s in competition – at least not officially. One major goal I had for the summer was swimming the 400m individual medley in less than 8 minutes. I’ve now done that twice, the second remains my personal best time at 7:35, and that was just after that 800m im. For someone with an average build who couldn’t even dream of even finishing that last year, I’d say that’s pretty good.
Now to talk about the two workouts I’m most proud of. On the Monday of the long weekend in August, I swam the Michael Phelps Beijing challenge in a 2 hour and 15 minute swim. That’s all 17 swims that Michael Phelps swam in the Beijing Olympics in a single workout. 2 400m im’s (the first one was also the first time I ever swam it in less than 8 minutes), 4 200m freestyles, 1 100m freestyle, 3 200m butterflies, 3 200m im’s (sprinted the whole way through), and finishing it off with 4 100m butterflies, three of them in a row. I barely finished the last couple 100m butterflies but I did it. And I added a very easy going 200m breaststroke as a warm down. That’s probably the only reason I wasn’t hurting the next day at work. Including that 200m breaststroke, that’s 3.5km total.
The second workout I’m especially proud of, I just did today. In 1 hour and 15 minutes, I swam the Michael Phelps Rio challenge. Cut out 3 of the 200m freestyles and the 400m butterflies, and it’s everything else from the Beijing challenge in less time. That’s a higher concentration of butterfly (more than 1km in a 1.9km swim), I managed to swim the last 200m butterfly without catching my breath, and I’m pretty sure I swam the last 200m im in less than 3 minutes. And like the time I did the Beijing challenge, I added some very easy going breaststroke as a warm down – this time a 400m breaststroke.
I tried to do that challenge in late August too, but half way through my first 200m im, there was thunder. They needed to cancel the rest of the swim for safety reasons. I wasn’t upset though – by that point I had already more than made my season pass worth it.
The only downside to swimming so much this past summer is it hasn’t left me as much time in the gym. During the winter and spring, I gradually improved my strength (those back crunches are probably the only reason I haven’t hurt my back at work yet, because I tend to work pretty hard). But because I haven’t been to the gym as much, my strength is pretty much hovering at the same place as it was in June. My cardio’s improved, and so has my endurance, but not my strength. I do look forward to getting to the gym more often and increasing my strength instead of merely hovering.
As for my future goals in swimming, I’m not ready to set any yet. I’ve accomplished all the goals I had for this summer and more. The plan is to start improving my strength again, swimming at least a couple times a month, while also using the treadmill a lot more and eating less fatty foods and bread to try and finally cut down on this gut. In December, I’ll see where I am and aim for a set of goals from there.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading this post, even if it was kind of more for my own reflection than anything else. If you’re keeping active with some sort of exercise, please let me know in the comments. What physical activities are you passionate about? Do you have any fitness goals? I’d like to conclude this post with a half joking motto I came up with around the time I swam the Beijing challenge.
Live hard or die soft.