A few weeks ago I asked my athletes to send some testimonials for the new Endurance Swimming  website,  if they felt like doing so.  Shauna Barry went above and beyond and documented her journey from the time she signed up for her goal race through the successful completion of the event. As much as I love reading such a glowing review, I am posting this because it is a great insider look at how we can help people achieve goals when they ready to work fo them! I also love reading about why people get involved in the sport and why they take on challenges way outside their comfort zone because I find it motivating as I am sure you all do as well.  Thanks Shauna for such a thorough documentation of your journey. I am so happy that I could be a part of it and hope to be a part of many more!

How Craig Lewin (who just swam across the Catalina Channel) helped me to learn to love ocean swimming and why having a performance coach mattered to me:

It is February and I am up skiing with my family in New Hampshire.  I feel the lag in momentum that sometimes you get if you are an outdoor athlete who loves the feeling of working towards a goal and new challenge and doesn’t have one.  The Peaks2Portland 2.4 swim race popped up in my email and I thought….ummmm I could do this. One small glitch, I am not an ocean swimmer.  I enjoy swimming in the pool and swam in high school but when I get into the ocean, I feel like I am floundering and drowning (legitimately, I imagine the lifeguards must view me as a swimming risk!) I am also slightly scared of the waves and their ability to pummel me at any given period of time.  I LOVE running-and consider myself a runner, first and for-most and have discussion fatigue about my chronic ankle injury (save yourself- don’t ask me how my ankle is doing). Swimming is a good-for-my-ankle-sport so training for a swim felt like a win in the ankle-recovery-department.  Swim more + don’t beat up my ankle + take a new challenge = I’m in.  I quickly adopted this positive goal that I clearly needed in mid-February and then did what most performance athletes do, began to let every friend on the planet know about my goal.

First, in order to sign up for the race, I needed a kayaker.  I called my sister, whose only real experience kayaking involves capsizing on a family outing with a former boyfriend (which while possibly comical at the time has unfairly become my mom’s only memory of her kayaking experience). Like me, she was up for a challenge!  She was also up for a chance to redeem her kayaking reputation and game to support any wacky goal I had in mind.  She had gotten married out on Little Diamond Island (one of the Casco Bay Islands the year prior) and the race would swim/kayak past the dock, so we figured he would join us for the day and be considered an, “anniversary visit.”  I signed up for Peaks2Portland, paid the money and my training goal began.

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As I casually dropped my goal into almost every conversation with friends from all backgrounds…the neighborhood, work, parents from my kid’s playdates (it was hard for me to hold back- I started to get excited). I faced a lot of questioning remarks and skepticism, “Cold water, very cold! Why would you want to do that?!”  I would glibly answer all while semi considering the obstacles they were mentioning (“I actually do NOT like cold water,” “yes, there might be sharks but as far as I knew, most sharks were in warmer water,” “I’d have to look up some statistics on shark attacks in the northeast,” “No, no I have not done an ocean swim before…” Then the conversation would circle back to the water temp (again, and again).  Occasionally, I’d become engaged in a discussion with a friend who I could tell wanted to have a realism-discussion with me where they sort of weighed my odds of really doing this race at all “Have you swam that far before?” (answer= no). Truth be told, this all egged me on more (nothing more fun than a challenge that people aren’t really sure you can do OR one where they can’t figure out why you would even want to try!)

How to train for something when you have no experience and no real baseline of what to do: 

I went to my parent’s house in Ogunquit Maine and had my dad and husband walked the beach while I got pummeled by waves.  After witnessing me stumble around in a state of vertigo and the disorientation for about 30 minutes in 50-degree water with hands that were feeling numb, my dad offered who never really gives advice, casually mentioned, “Shauna, someone must have done this before, you should learn from someone who has experience with this.” Point taken.

I noticed a number of my friends from Breakaway had discovered Endurance Swimming. This felt like a party that had been going on that I had been missing out on …clearly, I needed to get myself invited to this party to help me with my race!  I reached out to Craig via email and he gave me a brief orientation on where to be and form-filling out (safety first) and attended his pool training in Peabody.

Here is what I learned from signing up with Endurance Swimming:

  • There is NO BETTER way to learn how to improve your swim technique than from an incredibly accomplished athlete (have I mentioned Craig’s recent 21 miles swim?!) I thought maybe his swim skill could rub off on me just by signing up for the class.
  • Craig has a direct-style, fun personality and he can see things I cannot. (All very important in a swim coach!)
  • Craig has a variety of genius insights that if you are a hungry- for-answers-type of athlete, he will share on a whim or if you pepper him with questions (which I do, repeatedly, Sorry, Craig) he will respond in a thoughtful way no matter how granular the question (“So, when I turn my head, approximately how much of my air should I breath out?”- response, “Not all of it or you will start to sink a little)
  • EVERY SINGLE TRAINING CLASS I ATTENDED I LEARNED SOMETHING NEW- OFTEN MORE LIKE 5-10 NEW THINGS. After class #1 brain and body were tired from trying hard to change old habits some which I had been taught (note, the swimming community no longer does the “S” movement during the underwater portion of the swim) and some which I made up over time from reading or watching videos!
  • “Swim in the conditions you are going to race in. If you are doing an ocean swim- swim in the ocean, feel the buoyancy, experience the conditions, see if you get sea-sick.” (I cannot underestimate the value of this very important lesson. As I write it, it sounds like common sense but, guess what? I DO get sea sick while swimming in waves and turning my head side to side for an extended period of time. Duly noted!)
  • Technique: Craig teaches technique in the pool using a variety of drills to break down your stroke and then a few to simulate group swims (ie 3 of us all swimming in one lane to practice swimming together.) He also video tapes you throughout, so if you are a visual learning (yes, I am) you can SEE what he is saying.
  • Sometimes what you THINK you are doing- you are really NOT doing. I listened attentively and wanted to be an A+ swim student (maybe I could master is all in the first one or two classes). Craig noticed my arms were not entering the water properly, I focused so hard on changing that and then, he showed me the video of my efforts. Yea, I wasn’t fixing it, maybe just thinking really hard about it, though!  Seeing this helped me to make the brain/body connection.
  • If you have bad posture out of the water, chances are, you still need to work on it IN the water. (Put my head down/align with my spine, pull my shoulder’s back and suck in my stomach ….or I will dissolve into a rounded shoulder swimmer who could be mistaken for a floating rock.)
  • Cadence: ”Pick up the pace or it is not really swimming,” Craig Lewin, June 2018.  Over my swimming history, my freestyle seemed to have morphed into a leisure-swim-stroke Moving my arms at a faster clip was an important piece of getting across the Portland waters in my race successfully.
  • Ocean Group Training: I cannot underemphasize the importance of going with an experienced coach to an ocean swim training class. First, the group of people that will drive 1 hour to attend an ocean swim class in Swampscott are people who truly want to get better at swimming. They are also, even if apprehensive or going through their own emotions about ocean swims, very positive people. Wet-suit clad, with our brightly colored safety inflatables strapped around our waists, we attacked Saturday mornings!
  • Ocean Drills: Craig has you swim into the waves, out of the waves, over to the buoys, you name it, he mixes it up.  Ocean exposure with the Craig-safety net, was invaluable.
  • “Feel the pull of the wave and if you are getting pulled into it, don’t take a breath on that side or you will take a big drink” (Paraphrased quote, but you get the gist.)
  • Sighting Efficiency: Previously, I had been taking the “scenic route” in the lake (ie zigzagging.) “Don’t follow the swimmers around you. I once was leading a race and had sun in my eyes and took a whole bunch of swimmers off-course with me,” That was a mindset shift for me and debunked my theory that all the swimmers in the triathlons (in fact everyone one of them except for me) knew exactly where they were going on the course!  Practice sighting every 6-10 strokes. Keep your head up for 2 strokes- one to see, one to adjust.  Craig answered specific questions I had about every little details about how to sight ie: when to breath, how high to lift my head….and having an experienced coach to work through the details with you was critical.

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On July 28, I successfully swam Peaks2Portland with a time of 1:11.  My first ocean water crossing. I am still riding high from the accomplishment (yes, it is several weeks later). I could not have done it without Endurance Swimming or if I had tried, I am not sure I would have enjoyed the race as much as I did.  My sister did not capsize and now is officially, our family’s “best kayaker.”  I saw a number of friends I knew during the race and met a few more new ones!

Craig’s coaching ability is a true gift.  That coupled, with his amazing skill as an endurance swimmer, makes him one of the most highly regarded swim coaches in the northeast.  If you want to improve your swim performance, I strongly recommend giving his class a try!”