Swimming. This sport is the main source of anxiety in triathlon. This is especially true among beginners. With the fear of contact (even hits), the anxiety due to these immense expanses of water whose seabed we don’t see and of which we don’t really know what lives there, the intimidating sensation of not moving enough and not to master this element, the perceptions are sufficient to never embark on triathlon or to develop unhealthy anxiety leading to panic attacks during races.
I have experienced all of this and I had panic attacks. The first one left a deep impression on me. It was in 2015 on the short distance triathlon of Embrun when I had only a few months of triathlon behind me. A few minutes after the start, catalyzed by a very large density of swimmers around me, I suddenly began to no longer be able to breathe, as if I could only breathe in 1% of the air I normally breathe. It was all the more a source of panic as it was the first time in my life that such an experience had happened to me. I remember stopping and turning on my back as if to get better air and to have seen hundreds of swimmers pass by my side. After a few moments, I managed to resume swimming, completely disoriented by this very unpleasant mishap, but the breath was still not 100% operational… Until I got on the bike and found myself in my element, as if the brain had switched.
Children’s arms, non-existent core strength, a mouse rib cage, a body mass concentrated at 99% under the pelvis and a flexibility worthy of a hundred-year-old oak tree, that didn’t give me confidence from the moment I got into water until recently. Add to that a certain aversion to the aquatic element and no swimming past. In fact, the only thing I could do in the water was what I had been taught when I was younger: not sinking, floating. I would therefore have to learn to move in a fluid whose density is 800 times that of air: d (air) = 1.2kg / m3, d (water) = 1000kg / m3.
Below, a highly technical graph developed in collaboration with NASA presents via some significant performances my chronometric progression in competition over distances ranging from half-Ironman to Ironman (in my case, the speeds are very similar although the distances go from simple to double). On the ordinate are the paces in seconds for 100 meters.
- I deliberately didn’t insert my first swimming session, on which I had given everything motivated as never before, in the summer of 2014 since it would flatten the rest of the graph. But it should be noted that I swam 2000 m in 1h11, or 3’33 « / 100 m. Such a « performance » in competition would have put me out of cut-off from the swimming part.
- For months, I swam my head out of the water (yes, like all these very graceful people in the summer at sea) and swimming consisted for me of making anarchic movements of rotation with my arms. Really. Despite research and hours of video viewing from good swimmers, I couldn’t relate to my own body. I refused to immerse my head by instinct we could say, and the worst part is that I was convinced that I was going to do this for 4 km during my first Ironman in Nice in 2015. I had noticed that NOBODY was doing this, but it’s absolutely not the kind of thing that stops me and, let’s face it, it’s doable. There was a first click in late 2014 while I was swimming in a particularly clear and turquoise water, I felt good and I wanted to try to put my head in the water several times and surprise: it wasn’t going so badly and as a bonus I could see all the beauty under the surface of the water.
- A few weeks later, in early 2015, I was doing a wetsuit test at sea. 1900 m in 38 min, it was sure: I was on the right track.
- Comparisons of positions at the end of swimming in competition on events which the level is said to increase year after year:
– Cannes International Triathlon: 200th in 2015, 130th in 2016, 63rd in 2019
– Ironmans: 1,200th in Nice in 2015, 1,400th in Barcelona in 2016 (wetsuit prohibited for the PRO category of which I was part, but authorized for the others), 71st in Lanzarote in 2019.
A progression is not necessarily linear, with long phases of stagnation, failed races suggesting a regression. This can be explained by feelings of discomfort in the water and with the other swimmers, the intimidating aspect of the competition, also by an almost absent training (it was my case for 9 months in 2015) especially when the memory of the body is not yet sufficiently developed, in other words when you are a beginner.
Swimming is an ultra technical discipline, due to aquatic resistance, and like all technical disciplines (piano, skateboarding, skiing, etc.), it is body memory, neuro-muscular connections, which will make a huge difference between adults who swam during childhood and those who started much later. You may have already noticed these good swimmers who stop swimming for months and then swim directly at paces close to their usual paces when they start swimming again.
For my part, despite predispositions to play the role of buoys well anchored in the seabed rather than that the role of triathletes cruising water, I managed from scratch to swim in less than 1’30 « / 100 m for an hour, 57 minutes on my last Ironman. The trend curve on the graph roughly shows an increase of 5 « / 100 m per year. Obviously this pseudo-linearity will experience a less marked curvature in the times to come but it has the merit of marking a trend. In terms of volumes, I swam until 2018 one hour per week on average with large disparities (sometimes 3 hours per week then nothing for weeks or even months) and now I am rather at 3 hours per week with a certain regularity. This increase in volume compensates for the trend curve which should logically flatten out if I kept only one hour per week.
I hope that this publication will have helped you to better understand, to put swimming into perspective and to realize the evolution that can be implemented. And that it will give you the taste of aquatic moves. We have millions of neurons on the skin, millions of sensors which, gesture after gesture, progress after progress, become vectors of virtue.