Ever since I learned how to swim as a little kid, I could only breathe on my left side.
Breathing on my right felt so unnatural that I completely stopped trying to do it.
That means that I can only breathe every second, fourth or sixth stroke when I'm doing the front crawl.
Every second is a little bit too often but every fourth is too long. If I breathe every fourth, my body remains in a mildly panicked state because I feel like I'm going to drown.
Lots of people have some sort of irrational issues with water. Mine is that if I can't breathe exactly when I want to, I panic. I've learned enough self control over time that I can control my swimming panic but controlling it is NOT the same as not panicking. All control means is that I don't flail about all wild-eyed, grabbing at anything that looks like it might support me. Instead, I force myself to calm the eff down and just keep the slow steady breathing going until it feels natural again.
On top of that little issue there's the fact that my right shoulder was starting to get tired and mildly sore during swims but my left shoulder was not. I figured it might have something to do with always breathing on the left side.
So, on Monday morning, I decided that I was going to learn how to breathe on my right side. Or drown trying....
...which, given the fact that there are three eagle-eyed lifeguards within arms length, I wasn't too worried about.
To make things even more interesting, the swim team was there and they were practising the butterfly. Thirty kids butterflying back and forth creates some pretty major waves in the pool. And bizarre currents. So I figured I was practising right side breathing AND open water swimming at the same time.
I swam six lengths forcing myself to breathe ONLY on my right side. As soon as I started, I was immediately transformed from a fairly graceful swimmer (I like to think anyway) to an elephant seal. My head came way out of the water to breathe because I couldn't judge how far out of the water I needed to be. My legs were almost vertical because my head was so high. My arms weren't used to the new breathing routine so they slapped the water rather than cut into it.
The lifeguards must have wondered what the hell happened to me over the weekend.
From shallow end to deep end it went kinda well but when I turned around I was now facing the butterfly-ing teenagers every time I inhaled. Thanks to the waves they were creating, I choked twice and had to stop in the middle of the pool to cough, catch my breath and stop sputtering.
After six lengths I had managed to go from panicked to mildly stressed so that was a good sign.
Now that I knew I could do it, I switched to breathing every third stroke. Breathe on the left, stroke, stroke, breathe on the right, stroke, stroke, breathe on the left. That's the perfect breathing timing for me because it's not too short, and not too long.
It's. just. right.
Kinda like baby bear breathing.
Pretty good front crawl technique but I think his head's a little too low in the water....
Anyway, I spent the rest of my swim trying to breathe very deliberately. Every third stroke, unless I had a moment of panic. When I felt the panic rise, I was allowed to switch to only breathing on my happy side but only for a few seconds until I got back under control again.
I swam 1.5 kilometers on Monday - sixty lengths of the pool. And, at the end of it, my right shoulder didn't feel tired or sore and neither did my left.
I think I'm on to something.
But I'm thinking that if I do want to try a triathlon next summer I had better do some open water swims first to get used to breathing in choppy water. Cause if a few kids doing the butterfly in the next lane was enough to make me stand up, plant my feet and pretend I was fine as my heart pounded in my chest, I can't imagine how crazy swimming in even mildly rough water is going to feel.
One of my rules is that, if something scares me, I have to do it. Between starting a blog, Around the Bay, marathon training, forcing myself to cycle down crazy hills and now swimming outside of my comfort zone, I'm beginning to think that 2011 was the year of the scary.