Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Backstroking without backsliding

I used to be impressed by stress fractures. How could I not be? They sounded so tough. When you're a teen-ager, your coaches tell you it's all about effort and toughness, and they're right. Young people have varying degrees of talent, of course, but they have no idea how much. Everybody else's talent is clear enough and on high-def display on the track, the ball fields and to a certain extent in the showers, but nobody knows his own limits, let alone gets close to them, so the coaches urge effort and toughness, effort and toughness, effort and toughness, and Jim McKay fills The Wide World of Sports with stories about effort and toughness, and the Nike posters say "there is no finish line," and the underlying premise is that if you're average you're just not trying hard enough.

So when someone has a legitimate overuse injury, the impression is that they're trying very hard indeed. And that the coaches will finally leave them alone while they rest up guiltlessly. It's like the ultimate excused absence.

These days, decades of my own overuse injuries later, I'm not so impressed. They're usually not a sign of toughness so much as tangible evidence of bad judgment, and anyway, the last thing I want to do is rest up.

That's why I'm really hoping this pain in my shoulder is from trying to learn the backstroke. Not that it changes anything in the judgment category, but maybe it means it's not exactly an overuse injury with regard to my freestyle. Then I won't have to rest as long and maybe it won't mess up my Alcatraz/Golden Gate swim too much in two and a half (!) weeks.

I've been trying to become a more well-rounded swimmer and learn the other three strokes, and I was fine with the process being uncomfortable and humiliating if it ultimately improved my freestyle. But I'm about as flexible through the shoulders as a marble statue (float about as well as one, too; if only I were sculpted as nicely as one), and was no doubt overreaching in all sorts of wrong directions. This past Monday morning, the typical soreness turned to a shooting pain, and immediately it was time to change over to side-kicking, head-leading, fist swimming and otherwise focusing on my body position instead of my arm strength.

So far, so good. The pain is still there, and still pretty acute, but it only takes place with specific arm motions and stresses - happily, arm motions and stresses that are not consistent with proper freestyle. I'll switch over to the slow lane and concentrate on form, keep my cardiovascular fitness up through running and cycling, let the rest of the group mess with those other strokes, consume my weight in ibuprofen, and see where it goes from there.

Or rather, how it goes from there. Where it goes is Alcatraz. Whatever it takes.


Helen said...

Patient: Doctor, it hurts when I do the backstroke.
Doctor: Well then don't do the backstroke.

Sounds to me like a good excuse to stick to freestyle. As a triathlete from a non-swimming background, I'm always trying to find ways to lessen my chances of humiliating myself in the pool. Hope the arm feels better soon.

Elaine Howley said...

Ugh, sorry to hear about the injury. Usually a little backstroke does wonders to loosen up the shoulders and upper back after a lot of freestyle, but it sure does come with its own risks. A few days of kicking ought to do the trick. And the bonus there is that if you run into a shark out in the bay, you'll have a dazzling kick to scare him off with. Hoping you're back in fine form soon! (Just 2 weeks to go?! now that's exciting! :-)