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Eat to Win

I’d been checking AOL weather all week and it wasn’t until Thursday that the thunderbolt icon disappeared over Wilton, CT, and I knew Sunday’s outdoor swim meet would be a GO. It’s a long trek (3 1/2 hours) from Vermont to Wilton, and I didn’t want to drive all that way, only to find the meet was cancelled.

So on Saturday late afternoon, I packed up my aquablade and Go Swim swim cap, and headed south with my husband in the Go Swimobile. We planned to stay the night at a motel near Wilton, to arrive rested for 8 am warm-ups.

My goal this year is to achieve Top-10 times in my age group (50-54) for all three breaststroke events — 50, 100, and 200. I’ve had last year’s Top-10 times pinned to my bulletin board all season, and I’d memorized my target times: 45.45 was 10th last year in the 50M breast; 1:42.60 in the 100M; and 3:39.28 in the 200M. The Wilton meet was perfect because I’d get to swim all three events in just half a day. On a lark, I’d also signed up for the 400 IM. The tenth-fastest time in the nation last year for my age group was 7:16.85. I had no idea how close I could get because I’d never swum it before.

I knew I had my work cut out for me at this meet. My swim training has been sporadic this summer — roughly 12 hours total water time in June and 5 hours in July. But I had just spent 30+ hours on deck at the Go Swim Summer Camp, and Coach Glenn’s words of advice and inspiration were still ringing in my head. I knew the voice of Coach Glenn would pull me through.

"I’ll have the grilled octopus, please. No salt. And the crispy calamari," I told the waiter when we sat down for that all-important pre-race dinner on Saturday night. I remember Glenn saying SOMEthing at camp about how your breaststroke kick should be squid-like…or was it that you should EAT squid before doing breaststroke? Whatever. I wasn’t taking any chances, and I ate the whole thing — tentacles and head — and hoped its flowing energy would transfer from my stomach to my legs in tomorrow’s races.

All through the night I dreamed of people doing high, long, jack-knifing starts off all shapes of starting blocks. I awoke at 3:30 am and stared at the ceiling, feeling the general anxiety start to set in about my races. "Don’t waste time worrying," Glenn had said. "FOCUS!" So I tried to focus on HOW I wanted to swim each race. What would my starts look like? Which "breaststroke" would I choose for each of the breaststroke races? Long, easy, and relaxed for the 200; a faster cadence for the 100; all-out, high-energy, fast turnover for the 50. Look down and stay low and intense on all my turns. Keep my head still. Get extended. Send everything FORWARD. Figure out when to start picking up the pace on the 200 and 100. Figure it out and program it in my head NOW, while I’m relaxed and calm, so that it will JUST HAPPEN in the race. I visualized my way — stroke by stroke — through every race, even the 400 IM.

By the time I’d swum mentally through each race, it was daylight and time to get going. I was a little jittery (this would be my first swim meet in two years), but I felt prepared and I could still hear Glenn’s voice in my head. "Get a good breakfast," he would say. "Coffee, donuts, bagel with peanut butter, maybe some waffles with syrup, and bacon and a large shake." I decided to skip everything but the coffee and bagel, and sub’d Gatorade for the shake.

We made sure to arrive at the pool in time for stretches, and did the routine that we practiced each morning at swim camp. When the pool opened for warm-ups at 8 am, I jumped in with fins and alternated lengths of the body-dolphin motions we learned at camp with lengths of freestyle and backstroke. Glenn was in my head. "Use the warm-up to figure out THIS pool!" So I paid attention to how far the crosses were from the wall, and how many strokes it was from the flags in. This pool was great because there were two sets of crosses at each end, and two sets of lines at mid pool. This would make it easy to know when to start picking up the pace on the 100 and 200. I visualized myself seeing the crosses and GOING FOR IT at the appropriate times.

Events came fast and furious once the meet started at 9. There weren’t many swimmers, but thankfully there were three other REALLY FAST (and young) women breaststrokers, and I knew they would push me to do my best. I couldn’t wait to get started.

Anyway…long story short…I felt great in every race. (Was it the octopus?) And the other women breaststrokers pushed me to some recent best times. You age-group swimmers may not understand this, because you’re still on a long wonderful ride that gets faster and faster. But once you reach age 30 or 40 or 50, the ride gets slower and slower. But the good part is that you can start recording a new set of PRs every five years!

My times were:
200M BR: 3:34.83
100M BR: 1:38.45
50M BR: 43.31
Based on last year’s times, I would be well within the Top-10 times for my age group in each event — and 4th in the 50, which I thought would be my weakest event. I think it helped to work with the tether cord at camp. But there was also that voice in my head — "Just GO!!!!! "Git to the other end. Yo!"

The last event, the 400 IM, was pure fun because I had no expectations. I knew that the woman swimming next to me (a veteran of the English Channel and someone who can crank out 5000 yards in 60 minutes) would beat me by a mile. I just wanted to finish, so I did the legs/arms/legs/arms IM thing that Glenn told us about at camp. I thought about still head and body dolphin on fly. On backstroke, I remembered Glenn standing on the starting block at NYMA and using his arms as semaphore signals to get (git) me to enter at 10 and 2. This trick worked, apparently, because my husband heard someone in the bleachers say, "Wow, what a beautiful backstroke," as I went by. On breast, I focused on finishing each kick (the squid thing) and just resting my arms, saving them for freestyle, where I tried to look down and reach and keep a fast cadence with my arms. With 25 yards to go, all I could think about was what I had to do from the flags in. Glenn again –"DON’T BREATHE! Why would you breathe with only 5 yards to go? Finish HARD at the wall!"

Don’t tell Glenn, but I didn’t break my fingers zooming into the wall. But I CAN report that some TINY focal point SOMEWHERE in the race earned me 49 one-hundredths of a second — enough to squeak me into the Top-10 400 IM times for 2002, with a 7:16.36. Thanks, Coach Glenn!

If you’ve read this far, the point I want to make is that the things Glenn talked about at camp and that he writes about on this website are true. FOCUS COUNTS. Training is important, yes, but focus is SOOOO important. Focus on the small things such as streamlining, finishing your kick, keeping your eyes down, sending your energy forward, attacking your turns, having 3 different breaststrokes (or frees or backs or flys) to choose from. Paying attention to all this little stuff in practice (so that it becomes AUTOMATIC in a race) can make a huge difference in your performance. And it can keep you in the running even at meets when your training has been hit or miss.

Now Go Swim. And eat like a squid!