I recently posted a review of Overachiever's Diary, a new book by Louis Tharp. The book is comprised of emails and practice outlines Tharp, as swim coach for the West Point Triathlon Club, sent to his cadets. While the review hits upon the major points of my feelings toward Overachiever's Diary, a few things have stuck with me since I published the article.
I realize now that as I was reading it, I was slowly being humbled. It's not that I think I'm such a great swimmer, but that I always figured I had hit my peak in college and that was that.
Tharp writes on page 196: "Your potential for continuous improvement is decreased when your pacing is erratic because you use too much energy."
That hit me where I was living, swimming wise.
As a 50 and 100 freestyler, my pacing was always "as fast as possible but don't die" and my energy output was "as much as possible but don't die." Needless to say, I tended to die at the end of a 100.
Reading how Tharp challenges his cadets-some good swimmers, others not as good but getting better-to latch on to their potential and continually improve did more for me than any How-to-Swim book ever could. It made me realize that even now, without being an in-season swimmer, I can still work to become faster.
As a budding triathlete, I usually see myself as a swimmer who then bikes and runs. I constantly try to be one of the leaders of my wave out of the water because that's where I think I belong. The problem has always been, however, that I'd be pretty beat going into T1. If the jog to the transition area was longer than 100 yards, I'd be toast before I even hopped on the bike.
Tharp explains that good triathletes know how to pace themselves to swim fast while using as little energy as possible. He then explains the how and why of doing exactly that. Most importantly, however, he reiterates something that should be pretty obvious: It's a triathlon. Not a swimming race. Just because I'm nearing shore doesn't mean I need to give it all I got. I don't need to be first, fifth or tenth out of the water. Again, brings me back to the humble-thing.
One more thing...another part of the book I loved was his section titled: Where Are Your Toys Henry Ford? There's a line in there, "Toys are aquatic crack," that made me laugh out loud. Tharp's view is that certain swimming equipment-pull buoys, kick boards, find-are used as crutches rather than as aids to become better. It definitely gave me something to thing about.
I plan to return to this book in June or so, when I'm in the middle of the summer tri season but before the open water swims of I Saw, I Swam, I Swimmed Again. I recognize that its value isn't so much in simply teaching me how to swim, but in preparing me to become a swimmer who is constantly improving.