...so I finally hired a coach.
I've read all kinds of books on swimming, but it appears that swimming, like sex, dog training, and lots of other things, is something that you just can't learn from a book. You have to just jump in and do it. And if you suck enough, you have to pay someone to help you get better. (Here's where the sex analogy sort of falls apart, although the dog training one is still valid.) I've been swimming for almost 3 years and my 800-meter time has stubbornly stayed right around the 17:00-18:00 mark. That is embarrassingly bad, if I want to call myself a triathlete. My bike time is mediocre, which I can live with. My run time is usually good. But my swim time is lousy and will reliably put me at the bottom of my age group every time. So there was nothing left to do but get a coach and start taking lessons.
This is one of the best sport-related decisions I ever made, although it is pretty darn expensive. Sometimes, to amuse myself, I think about what else I could buy with money spent on a half-hour swim lesson: eight weeks worth of dog obedience classes; not one but TWO chicken-and-waffles date nights (for both me and Tim!); four movie tickets, a stack of books at Bookman's... or else I think what this half-hourly rate equates to in hourly, and then in yearly, income, and I compare it to my income and wonder why I bothered getting a master's degree. But I have looked around and this is, in fact, the going rate in Tucson for good coaches. (I've had a cheaper, less-than-good coach in the past who was essentially worthless, so at least here I'm getting something for my money.)
The best thing I get from this coach is structure. Being a good teacher myself, I can recognize another good teacher no matter what he's teaching, and he is a good teacher. He has broken down the stroke into lots of separate elements, and each week we work on a new one and he gives me homework emphasizing that new element. When I feel like I have mastered that element, I schedule another swim lesson and get a new element. For example, the first week my assignment was to work on my breathing. He wanted me to breathe only at a certain time. He assigned me a drill that is kind of like the catch-up drill I learned (and hated, and didn't practice) in my Swimming for Triathletes class. The first few times I practiced I was sure I would never be able to do it, ever. But in reality I was doing it automatically within a week. So I came back and got my next assignment, which was to bring my arm all the way back when I finished a stroke. Then the third week my assignment was to roll more with each stroke. It's really neat the way it works because each element adds on to the previous one. That's more or less exactly the way I teach the mechanics of using a cane and crossing a street to my blind students, and their success rate says it works!
Let me also mention here, apropos of nothing, that the coach is also very hot. Almost hot enough to be a distraction, but not quite, because usually during the lessons I am too worried about getting enough air to be distracted by his hotness. Nevertheless, it is there and by itself practically justifies half of the cost of each lesson. It's a good thing he can't read my mind (or my blog) because sometimes, honestly, while he is talking about the catch-this and recovery-that, my mind is saying, "Mmmmm-hmmmm, and if you're not getting laid every night, I'm sure it's not for lack of opportunity."
I am still not a good swimmer. I have a long way to go and can only speculate on how much it's going to cost by the time I have a decent swim (and on how many hours I will have to spend in the cruddy YMCA pools), but it's worth it! I always have to remind myself that I want to be able to say, "I am an Ironman" some day, and if I want to say that, I have to put in the work to make it happen. It's just like when I hated trail running (oh, wait, I still hate trail running) but decided that completing the Pikes Peak Marathon was worth suffering through a summer on the hot, rocky trails.
Now I just can't wait for the weather to cool off a little so that the entire population of Tucson isn't in the pool when I'm trying to do laps, and I will be SO much happier.