Why Coached Swim Workouts Rule

Been a busy few days!  No blog yesterday due to a Fortius post-swim beer and pizza night at Blue Dog Grill in Sherman Oaks.  It was well-deserved too, with a new PR in the 100 (1:26) and being totally gassed after anchoring a 4 x 50 sprint relay at the end of the workout.  I wanted to write, but just didn't have the energy after all the food, booze and trash-talking dished out among my Fortius team buddies.  So I saved last night's entry for tonight. I'm still caked in dried sweat and salt following the LA Tri Club Griffith Park Wednesday brick workout.  But I know if I don't blog now and wait until after a hot shower, it just may not happen at all.

There's certainly lots I could write about from the past two days.  Whether Tempe Town Lake will be filled in time for the Arizona Ironman, for example. Or, how I'm recovering from my bicycle bonk on Sunday.  Or, the secret guilt I've been harboring lately about balancing work, home and training.

Instead, I'm going to address a question Coach Gerardo had for me last night at the bar.  He asked how I thought coached swim workouts make me better.

I hadn't really considered it before.  Perhaps it's because I've taken it for granted, since I've swam with an instructor's supervision for more than a year now.  The more I think about it though, the more I realize how much of a difference a coached workout can make.

For me, it comes down to four key benefits:

-- Breaks up the monotony. Before I started attending SCAC and Fortius Coaching swim workouts, I'd trudge to the pool on my own, count laps, trudge out of the water, and think I had put in a good workout.  I dreaded every pool training session, and I saw little improvement.  By having a coached workout, there's always the excitement of wondering what the coach has in store for you. It changes with every workout, and by breaking up the hour with drills, time-trials and sprints, every workout feels unique enough to stay fresh.

-- Pushes you out of a comfort zone. When training on my own in the water, it's easy to rationalize just about anything.  Distance. Duration.  Decreasing sets.  Decreased effort. Especially effort.  If I didn't feel like going hard -- for whatever reason -- I could make up an excuse.  In a coached workout, dogging a workout wastes your financial investment and your precious time.  More important, if you respond well to direction like I do, then it's easier to "let" someone else push you through a hard workout.  Sure, it's fun to whine and light-heartedly complain about it (like I do), but the satisfaction that comes with responding to and rising above someone else's challenge makes a coached workout a more special experience than a solo effort.

-- Competition as motivator. If you're anything like me -- and if you're reading this I'm guessing you are -- sharing lanes with people at or above your skill level makes a difference in a workout.  When you swim alone, you can isolate yourself in the water and ignore the surroundings.  When you're part of a group, and there's five lanes that represent a swim speed hierarchy, it's a lot harder to avoid the reality that a coached workout may be your only ticket to improvement.  For me, I crave and dread that competition.  On one hand, I love to know how I stack up to my friends.  On the other hand, I hate when I'm keeping them from a faster lap time because they're behind me and can't quite pass in the lane at that moment.  Maybe it's better to say competition as catalyst, fear as motivator.

-- Peer pressure. 6 a.m. is early by anybody's standards.  It's flat-out awful in the winter when you're practically naked jumping into a semi-heated pool.  But when there are 10 other people doing the same thing, sharing the same experience and making the best of it, well, it's not so bad.  The coached swim workout is a bonding ritual. It's those quiet mornings in the pool when everyone in attendance could be asleep that bring individuals closer together.  It's also one of the reasons I get misty eyed at the finish chute during triathlon races.  Those are the moments I recall.  The quiet, gentle water being ripped by hungry athletes trying improve themselves.  The eerie light in the pool shining brightly reminding you that the sun hasn't risen yet -- but you and your teammates have been up for almost an hour already.  The steam that drifts to the sky if the temperature difference is big enough -- punctuated by the silhouettes of latex-hooded, goggle-wearing tri-maniacs trying not to shiver.

Those are my fondest moments of a coached workout.

Though being high-fived after hitting the coach's goals for a new time-trial PR aren't bad either.

Now I need to sign off pronto.

I've got a coached swim workout to attend at 6 tomorrow morning.

101 days and counting.