Thursday, December 30, 2010

New sandals

A recent Christmas gift was a new pair of sandals for me to wear around the pool, locker room, and shower. I must admit I haven't noticed what other men wear on the pool deck or locker room, but for the last 18 months I've worn a pair of thong sandals I purchased at K-Mart. These sandals, which have the "Olympian" logo on them, have now completely worn out. To write a proper review, I searched the web for sandals made by the Olympian brand and didn't find any such product. This is not too surprising; K-mart and other retailers sometimes make their own product and then pay a brand name manufacturer to slap their brand name on it. The deal lasts for a limited time, and once it expires, it is hard to find evidence that the product was ever made. I've seen this happen with binoculars (random example), and I think this is what happened with these old sandals I have.

The Olympian sandals actually lasted a long time considering the use I gave them. I would wear them 4 times a week as I changed from street clothes into my swimsuit. I'd walk a few steps to the pool deck, take off the sandals, and splash them with chlorinated water every time I'd do a flip turn at the end of a lap. Once done with my workout, I'd put them on, walk a short distance to the locker room showers and wear the sandals in the shower. The sandal's thong (the upper part that wrapped over the top of my foot) is in fine shape, though the original black color has bleached to a splotchy gray. The problem that has developed is the rubber sole has separated in places from the foot pad and now the rubber is breaking off in chunks. I don't imagine all those pool chemicals are good for the adhesive holding the sandals together.

Old Olympian sandals and new Reef sandals.
So now I have a new pair of thong sandals. They are Reef Phantoms; all black. The sole appears to be a layer of foam rather than rubber, and the sole does not curl around the sides of the shoe. This lack of curl may prevent the type of wear I saw with the Olympians. But who knows? I see from the manufacturer's site that the warranty is only 6 months. That's fairly short compared to the 18 months my cheap sandals from K-Mart lasted. The slogan for Reef is "Reef: Ridiculously Comfortable." It's true that these sandals are comfortable, but comfort is a relative term. After all, I'd go barefoot all day long if I thought my feet would stay warm and free of injury. Sandals help a little with the latter but do nothing for the former. I will say that the arch support in the Reef sandals feels really good compared to my old Olympians.

A few questions remain: (1) is there another type of footwear that people wear in the locker room and shower? I think maybe the college swim team that my coach coaches wears nothing at all. I'll have to take a look during the next meet. (2) My Reef sandals came with a variety of little decals. What am I supposed to do with those? I doubt they would stay stuck to my sandals after a few uses. But sure, I'm all for a little splash of color here and there, and I've got this silly consumer-istic desire to show off the brand name products I buy. So I'll stick a decal on my sandals and see what happens.

Monday, December 6, 2010

First ever swim meet

Sunday was a fantastic day. I traveled with friends to a local high school where the Masters Swimming competition was being held. It started at noon but we arrived at 11am so that Dan and I could get some laps in as a warm-up before the races began. I was most uncomfortable doing the circle swimming before the meet. Sharing a swim lane with others adds an extra level of concentration that I'm not used to. Instead of concentrating on good stroke form, pacing, and breathing, I was more worried about hitting the on-coming traffic as well as swimming fast enough to stay ahead of the folks behind me. I found myself scraping past the lane ropes, and when I did my turns I had to be careful not to hit people standing there at the wall. In fact, I don't think I did many turns, and I only did 200 yards for a warm-up. I was fully aware that my teammates would see me swimming for the first time and I wanted to make a good impression. I also didn't want to tire myself out. Two-hundred yards seemed on the low side of reasonable. My coach had suggested I warm up with a 600-yard swim. I was surprised to hear him say that; it seemed a little much.

I was quite relieved when Dan pointed out that the meet officials had opened up a couple lanes for practicing starts. I jumped out of the pool, walked over to one of the lanes, stepped onto the block, delayed for just a second, and jumped in. It was probably one of my best dives to date. Whew! I'm so glad it happened that way because it gave me confidence for the rest of the meet. (In my practices the week before, my diving was pretty lousy). Because it was a "perfect" dive from my perspective, I didn't dare dive again, and instead I grabbed my towel and hung out at the poolside until the meet began and my race was announced.

50-yard Breaststroke
50-yard breaststroke
The pool had 6 lanes and there were more than 60 swimmers signed up for this race. This means the 50-yard breaststroke competition was spilt into 11 different "heats," and placement in a given heat was based on the swimmer's self-reported "seed" times--the expected time it would take to go the 50-yard distance. It's a Masters Swimming Association, so the swimmers come in male and female, all ages and skills levels, and there is even a variety of body shapes. I hate to bring it up because it is not polite, but I'm really surprised that there were some fat swimmers at this meet--maybe 15% of the contestants were visibly overweight. Anyway, I was slated to swim in the 7th heat (7 of 11 means that I was swimming slower than the median, which would be swimmers in the 6th heat). I was in lane 3, though, which means I was expected to have one of the fastest times in the heat. None of this matters because when the swimmers ahead of me in Heat 6 stepped up on the starting blocks, no one was present at Lane 3. The intended swimmer for Heat 6, Lane 3 did not show up. So in that instant I volunteered to swim in Heat 6. I stepped up on the starting block, I got set, and at the blare of the horn I leaped in. I had a good dive and noticed while under the water that the swimmers in the adjacent lanes dove deeper than I did. I don't know what that says about the quality of my dive, but when I surfaced I swam as fast as I could. At the opposite wall I saw that I was well ahead of my competitors, and I rocketed to the finish. I was elated to turn and look at the scoreboard and see that my time was not 0:50 (my seed time), and it wasn't even in the 40s. Instead, I got 0:39.72. I demolished my seed time and beat everyone in my heat...and these were the swimmers of Heat 6 who were supposed to be better than me. It felt so good and I savored that moment so long that Heat 7 almost started with me still in the pool. I was laughing hard and felt fantastic. What a great first race!

50-yard Freestyle
The blur is me at the very start of my dive off the starting block.
I had submitted a seed time of 0:36 for the 50-yard freestyle. This was a compromise between my more typical 40-second performances during practice (without a dive to start and with a non-racing swimsuit) and the 32.7-second and best-ever performance in the pool three days before the swim meet (with a dive and with a racing suit). My result in this competition was 34.15 seconds, and I came in second in my Heat (Heat 7 of 11). Even though I beat my 0:36 seed time and swam my second-fastest performance of my life, I was slightly disappointed. My dive was very shallow and timid, and on the second leg of the race I saw that I was neck-to-neck of two swimmers on my right. I watched as I gained ground and pulled ahead of them, but somehow when I reached the wall I glided in and missed winning my heat. I know that if I had only swam at full speed into the wall that I would have won my Heat. Instead, and for an unknown reason, I slowed down in that last approach. I actually think I thought I had won and was starting to relax before I was done.

One member of my team mentioned that during the race I was swerving left and right with each successive stroke. If I straighten out my stroke, I would be more hydrodynamic and swim faster. This is something I shall work on.

All in all, it was a great day and I look forward with excitement and confidence to the next swim meet. Joining a Masters Swim Team was an excellent idea. I'm so glad I said yes.
Swimming fast in the 50-yard freestyle race

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Am I ready for my first swim meet?

There's a lot going on this week and I don't have a lot of time to work on this post. So, in bullet style:
  • My first swim meet is Sunday. I joined a Masters Swim Team somewhat late in the season, and now my first competition is right around the corner. I plan to swim in the 50-yard freestyle and 50-yard breaststroke competitions. There are dozens of racers at a Masters meet, and since there are only six lanes in a pool, the racers are organized into groups of six people. These are called "heats," and the people in my heat supposedly have similar swim times. I submitted an estimated swim time ("seed") for the 50-yard freestyle as 36 seconds. This is one second more than the 0:35 seconds my coach recommended, and it is three seconds less than my fastest speed to date. Or at least, it was (see below). I submitted a seed time of 50 seconds for the 50-yard breaststroke and this was complete speculation, as I never timed myself. In the time since I submitted my entry form, I have timed myself and I swam 50-yards of breaststroke in 45 seconds. So it looks like I underestimated my speed. Oh well; my fellow competitors will forgive me...and who knows...maybe some of them submitted inaccurate seeds, too. What is interesting is that my fellow racers will be both men and women aged anywhere from 27 to 66. Yes, you read that right. Somewhere there is a 66 year-old man that can swim faster than me (36 year old). I'm surprised by this, but that's only because I'm new to swimming. It turns out there are lots of senior citizens that are fast and powerful swimmers. They don't have Olympic swim times, but they are fast nevertheless! I hope to be one of those later in my life.
  • In the paragraph above I mentioned that I had never swam 50-yards of freestyle faster than 0:36 or even 0:39. Until this week, I was always around 40-45 seconds. To me, that's still fast. But to a college-aged swimmer, that's two times slower than the normal pace. Anyway, those college students are going to see some speed from me very soon, as this week my coach timed my swim at 32.7 seconds. When he told me that, I was delighted. My face probably glowed and I might have even cried if I wasn't so out of breath! It's a great winning feeling to beat your personal best, and not just beat it, but to destroy it. There are two thing that contributed to this fast speed.
    • I dove from the starting block. I don't think I did that the last time I timed myself.
    • I am the owner of a brand new racing swim suit. Before now, I wore board shorts. I'll have to write an entry about wearing the suit for the first time, and I'll post a picture, too. But I'll save that for another day. It's time to go to the pool and practice for my Sunday meet.