Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The 200 Butterfly

I’ve often found myself wondering which is worse: the known or the unknown? Is knowledge really power? Or, rather, is ignorance bliss? Does the fear lie in knowing or not knowing? Regardless of what you believe, this is something I’ll continue to ponder well beyond my start at Ironman Arizona – long after the 17 hour time limit has elapsed.

What brings up this philosophical train of thought? Glad you asked.

Yesterday at Master’s Swim, I completed (ahem – attempted to complete) my first 200 Butterfly. No – not 50 fly, not even 100, but the 200 fly.

Never mind that the absolute furthest I had ever butterflown was 25 yards. And yes, 6 X 25 fly is one thing. Especially when you have a good 30 to 60 seconds of rest on the wall, before your next assault, er attempt. And if you do the math – which I’m sure you’re all doing right now – that only amounts to a grand total of 150 yards. So yes, my previous record of butterfly in any single swim practice amounted to a whopping 150 yards.

As long as we’re going to do something, we might as well do it all out – right? Let’s just skip the 50, bypass the 100, and hit a homerun with the 200. If you can do 25 fly pretty effectively, 200 should be okay – right?

Yea. Sure. Okay. (Somewhere, all the swimmers out there – just fell out of their chairs laughing).

At the end, at the finish of those final 10 yards, my single thought was to “hit the wall.” Touch the end, and you’ll be done. Like William Wallace in “Braveheart” – all he had to do was kiss the ring of the clergy, and his torture would stop. Still – his head would be chopped off – but the agony of torture would come to an end.

Luckily, I didn’t die during my 200 butterfly attempt. Yes – I thought I might. But alas, I’m getting ahead of myself.

So while you read – ponder the following: Is it better knowing what you’re about to do, or is ignorance truly bliss.

To each their own.

Yesterday at Master’s it was IM Stroke Drill Day! Oh Goody! My NEW favorite day.


As someone who specializes in freestyle, the thought of doing all IM drills and strokes is a bit, well, overwhelming. Before I jumped in the water, I did so with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm. Hooray – I get to swim! Yippee!

The grin quickly slid off my face when our substitute coach set up the workout board. To my utter amazement and horror, I saw NO freestyle after the warm-up. (Cue the scary music.)



Zip, Zero, Zilch.

Bloody effing hell. Just my luck. (It’s almost as though Jen knew, just knew, that today would be IM stroke drill day). Wonderful.

A bit of background, and a friendly reminder: I’m great at freestyle. I’m happy doing the front crawl. Even the doggie paddle. 50s, 500s, 1500s – doesn’t matter. Throw anything at me freestyle-wise, and I’ll do it. I may be slow, but rest assured, I’ll get it done.

And now for the record: before Monday, I had never done anything longer than 50 breast, 50 back, or 25 fly. (Again, I can hear all the swimmers falling out of their chairs laughing. FYI: you guys should just get a pillow, or sit on the floor – as you’re bound to chuckle at my naiveté more than once again. Giving you a fair warning…). Unlike Elizabeth, I don’t plan or ripping out my fly at 70.3 Worlds this year, thank-you very much.

So on the board, when I saw various sets of drills, followed by a 200 of each stroke EXCEPT freestyle, I nearly shat myself. Rest assured, I had already peed, and so that was a no-go.

My lane mates – Kathy and D (awful with names – can’t remember it! Maybe I could if there was peanut butter involved, but even that – I’m afraid – won’t help jog my memory) – and I stared, open mouthed, at the board in amazement. They were both old pros at the drills, having gone through them all before. But as I was the designated lane leader (again swimmer friends – hope that you’re sitting on your cushions!), they had to explain them to me, and we were shortly on our way.

First we went through the breaststroke drills. And then the 200 breaststroke.

Not as bad as I thought… my glide got a little better and I focused on keeping my face parallel to the pool bottom.


Next, the backstroke drills. After Kathy bumped her arm against my feet, I figured that I should probably add a little strength behind my pull, and noticed a significant shift in my stoke. Who would have thought that by rotating your hips, reaching a little further back, and really pushing the water away from your body – you could go so fast? I was downright looking forward to my 200 backstroke, and it didn’t disappoint.


So, for all you Sportsfans who are out there, keeping track, I had just swam my very first 200 Breaststroke and very first 200 Backstroke.

New records for Marit – sweet! Can’t go wrong – right?

And then, ah – then came the butterfly. And our “reward” for doing our drills? We got to bust out our very own 200 fly.


First, I must confess that I love fly drills. Now that I’m finally beginning to understand the concept of “rolling from your shoulders”, and feel the “flow of the stroke” – the drills are kind of, well – dare I say fun? Yes, the single arm fly drills are a blast. Even the single arm alternate make me happy. Throw in some dolphin kicks (with or without fins), and I’m a happy camper. Never having been a “swimmer kid” like Greg, in some weird way, fly drills are my very own “pool play time.”

According to my lane buddies, Kathy and D – the drills ended too soon.

Me, well, it was different. I was, (can I admit this???) – happy…?

In all reality, I’ve been harboring a not-so-secret fantasy to swim the 200 fly. (okay okay – all you swimmers out there, hope that you’re permanently seated on the floor!)

Why? (Perfectly good question)

Simply put, simply stated: It seems like the biggest, baddest, most hard-core swimming event out there. I am in awe of people who can swim 200 fly. I am mesmerized by the flow of their bodies, by how graceful they look in the water. Even if they "butterflop" their way down the lane – well, at least they’re trying. At least they’re making the effort of doing something challenging.

Back when my little sister was in high school (have to call her little sis, because she is now taller than her big sis. Humph. She got the tall genes – not me. Oh well. I’m 3.66 years older than her, so that must count for something!), she decided to swim the 200 Butterfly. To her, it was an event of attrition. No one else wanted to touch it, come even close to it. At first, she would finish last out of 2 or 3. But by her senior year, she was winning the event. She stuck it out, perfected her technique, decided that she wanted to challenge herself, and conquered the stroke.

Yes, she was a little nuts. But she was also hardcore. The epitome of HTFU, if you may. And I was in amazement of her, of her dedication and determination.

Before my very own 200 Butterfly, I thought about Karyna and drew inspiration from her strength.

I looked at my lane mates. And they started back at me.

There was a brief moment of silence.

We looked over at lane #2. The faster guys – they had just finished their 200 fly, and looked pretty, well, awful.

We quickly looked away.

Then we glanced at lane #4, #5, and #6. Which included several octogenarians. They all seemed to sense our stares and made a few jokes about our 200 fly. They inquired if we would be using fins.

“Heck no!” I replied. “We’re doing this, just mind, body, and soul.”

While speaking, I saw my counterparts in lane 4, gearing up for their own set of fly drills, pulling on their gigantic fins. Not even the little zoomers, rather these bad boys looked like scuba fins. The kind that covert operating Navy SEALs use while propelling themselves through the water.

You know the kind: strap them on your feet, and you’re at the other side within 6 big kicks. 10 for the octogenarians.

Our lane 4,5, and 6 friends all wished us good-luck, shook their heads, and were on their way.

With one final round of pep talks – mostly me blabbing incoherently about my first 200 Fly and HOW EXCITING it was bound to be – I started, leading our little trio.

I wish I could say it was beautiful. I wish I could say my stroke matched that of Michael Phellps. I wish I could say that I maintained some semblance of form by the end. Alas, I cannot.

The first 25 went well. I got a big push off the wall, kicked from my shoulders, and felt myself smoothly glide through the water. Yes, I still need a lot of work, but… I actually felt okay for the first 25. I remember thinking that “this wasn’t too bad….”

Ha ha. 25 out of 200 is nothing, my friend!

On the way back, I could feel my lower back tense a little, but all systems were still go. My arms were still clear of the water, my breathing was solid, and I was still pretty parallel to the pool bottom. I was breathing, not choking. Life was good.

I touched the wall, thought to myself “1/4 done!” and set off to complete the 75. My push off was still solid, although I didn’t travel nearly as far underwater as I had on my previous pushes, but I figured it was still okay. I surfaced, took a big breath of air, and started working my way down the lane.

Wow – this isn’t as easy as I though. Hhhmmmm. The wall is only a little further on. Just hang in there….

Around the 70 yard mark, I knew it was going to be ugly. My lower back was a bit more tense, my hips were dragging a bit, and I was desperate for breath. At the time, I thought that if I just held my breath until I hit the wall – everything would be okay. In freestyle – yes. Butterfly – no.

And why?

Duh – freestyle takes me like 3 seconds to hit the wall from that point – and I can glide. With butterfly, I still needed to take a stroke, or two… or three. And 3 strokes of butterfly requires breathing.

I survived, touched the wall – and made the mistake of glancing the entire 25 yards down the pool lane. OHMYGOD! It suddenly hit me: I need to swim THAT in order to hit the 100. And then I need to do the SAME THING FOUR MORE TIMES!


My panic was replaced by resolve: I wanted to do the fly, wanted to know what it felt like. It felt like the entire pool – coach on the deck, studs in lane 2, fin-sporting octogenarians and all – were watching our little procession.

Morbid curiosity, if you ask me.

So I put my head down, pushed as hard as I could off the wall, and kept going. My back was screaming, my legs felt dead, my butt felt like it had a 50 pound weight on it – but the shoulders and arms, well, they were okay.

I’d like to think that it was because of all my shoulder work with my functional strength program. But in reality, it was because my ass had just acquired what felt like a 50-pound weight, therefore forcing the upper body out of the water.


I’ll just stick with the super strong shoulders and arms, thank you!

Through some miracle of miracles, I made it to the 100. And I was surprised to see Kathy on my heels. Though she was little, she was mighty fierce with the fly. In between gasps, I asked her if she wanted to go ahead.

“Sure!” she choked, a bit too peppy for my own liking.

And then she was off, butterflopping her way down the lane towards the 125 mark.

Being the triathlete I am, I tried to enjoy her draft for as long as possible. But my body didn’t really get the memo – the mind was willing, but the flesh was weak. My legs no longer seemed to be working properly, and my arms felt like some sort of weird, twisted windmill. Almost like the drills that we had just practiced on our backs for Backstroke – I was now performing them on my front.


It was all I could do to duck out of the way of Kathy’s arms as she swam back from the 125. One ugly butterflyer per lane is awkward enough. Two is comical. Three – well, three butterfloppers - who have no clue as to what they’re doing, who have never swam 200 fly before, well – that’s an occasion for the entire pool to watch.

Which they did.

The newest spectator sport: 3 simmers attempting the 200 fly for the first time. Brilliant!

I touched the wall at the 125, and well – don’t really remember anything that happened in the next 25 yards. I think my mind blanked it out, from lack of oxygen, from too much pain.

Somehow, I arrived at the 150. I know that I swam, made some humorous attempt at butterfly – my shoulders, arms, back, and legs confirmed that. And it was all I could do to FORCE myself to turn around (again!) and swim another length of the pool.

The lane looked so long. And my body was screaming at me to stop. My form was UGLY, the tsunami-like wave that I produced from my graceless stroke a testament to my struggle. So I did what anyone else on a mission would do: I put my head down, and just went.

I don’t know how I got through the final 50. With my 150 fly – all in a row – I had just matched my previous record for butterfly yardage completed in an entire workout. One word: OUCH! But the 200 fly was written on the board: it was part of my workout. I was determined to see it through, unwavering in my commitment to its completion.

Flop, flop, flop. Get passed by the octogenarian in her SEAL flippers. Flop, flop, flop. Get passed by a Lane 2 stud, kicking (WITHOUT flippers). Flop, flop, flop. See the wall grow closer. Flop, flop, flop. Marvel at the waves splashing against the edge. Flop, flop, contact.


Only 25 to go.

I looked down the lane, a quick glance. I wanted this to be over. I wanted to rip the 200 Butterfly apart, to complete this challenge of challenges.

I pushed off the wall, and flopped my way towards a complete 200 fly. It was ugly. It was raw. It didn’t always resemble fly. But I gave it my heart. I sacrificed my body, sacrificed my breath, and devoted myself to the 200 fly. About 15 yards from the end, I felt like I was going through honey, going through the stroke in slow motion.

FYI: I was so slow, that my dream-like sequence was more than likely a reality.

But it felt dream-like to me. Because I was so close to reaching my goal. So close to hitting the wall, hitting my end, achieving my goal.

10 yards. I saw my wake and cringed. I thought about the wave pool at Valleyfair that Mom took us kids too. The waves made similar motions to what I was producing on my very own. Big breath, more flopping.

5 yards. I could see Kathy, gasping on the side of the wall, and knew I was close.

I put my head down and flew forward with all of my might. With one final FLOP, I touched the wall. And then got out of the way for D who was right behind me.


Together, the three of us had prevailed.

Even though I was in serious amounts of pain, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Now, I knew what the 200 fly was like. And I could understand why it was so tantalizing to my sister and to others. An incredible stroke, completed over a long distance that defied all odds.

There’s nothing “normal” about 200 Fly.

Just like there’s nothing “normal” about doing an Ironman.

But they are both challenges – opportunities – that I have set up for myself. I didn’t just jump into the pool on my very first day with the intention of doing 200 fly, just like I didn’t sign up for my very first race with the intention of competing an Ironman. They are challenges that I have sought out, goals that I want to fulfill.

Is it better knowing? Well, the jury is still out on that one.

All I can say is that after swimming the 200 Fly, I know I want to do it again. And I want to do it better. I know it’ll be difficult, I know it’ll be painful. It will probably even be comical to those observing on the deck.

But at least I’ll know. Because I’ll have challenged myself in the first place. I will have attempted to answer my own questions.

So to all my fellow swimmers, triathletes, and friends out there, good luck answering your own set of questions. Enjoy the journey, take time to laugh at yourself, and learn as much as you can while you’re at it.

I did.

So, fly on, my friends – fly on!


Beth said...

Fly Marit Fly!!! Way to get it done!! I can only imagine....but reading your recount, I sort of felt like I was there too! Now just think how much easier those 6x25 fly will feel...and really how much easier ANYTHING will feel since you've done the 200 fly!! Great job!

And by the way - I've always been of the opinion that ignorance really is bliss... :) Have a great day!

Pedergraham said...

Awesome, Marit. You are like halfway to being done with the Check Off challenge after yesterdays workout!!!

Wanna know a little secret? The only reason I still swim 200 fly is because barely any of the masters swimmers do it at meets--and I always pick up good points in this event just by finishing! You should have seen me swim it at my last big meet in December 2006. (I really should drag my splits out to really embarass myself.) When I finished and went up to the stands, Andrew looked at me and said, "You know if you didn't spend so long resting on each turn, you might have gone a lot faster." I felt like tossing him in the pool!!!

Again, way to go and to challenge yourself!!! No need for fins in your lane...

Anonymous said...

Hee hee...did you take pictures, Marit? :) We are swimming Long Course Meters on Friday - we can do 200 fly LCM then. Oh, that would sooo not be nice of me. Seriously, NICE JOB...that is hard for everyone! Jen H. :)

Ryan said...

I should come watch you swim that one morning, but then I would have to wear a set of depends because from the sound of it, I will pee myself just a little from laughing as you butterflop down the lane.

Or, I could just stand in the shallow end and pee. We all know that it wouldn't be the first time the pool has been pee'd in, right Marit?

Anonymous said...

Great job Marit! Before you know it, you'll be doing repeat

I can't even imagine doing 100 let alone 200. I'm very impressed!!

You should really take Jen up on that 200 LCM offer now!!!

Anonymous said...

OK today I am making Greg teach me butterfly!

He says we will start with fins.

It's going to be totally fun!!! (i am thusly showing my agreement that blissful ignorance > in the know)

Mel said...

Go Marit....I do not EVEN know what a butterfly is :( Heck I did not even know how to put a swim cap or goggles on 4 months ago...NOW that is something to laugh about!!!!
You are becoming quite a good swimmer/water girl :)

Bob Mitera said...

Reality of a 200 fly sets in at the 100 yards turn...and then at the 125 turn.

Make the gals in Camp HTFU do a 400 IM for time; slowest time buys coffee.

200 breastroke and 400 IM are the sport of kings!

Anonymous said...

(that was Courtenay commenting before, fyi)

once you really get the hang of the stroke, butterfly is great fun. plus it should make your freestyle stroke stronger. I do quite a lot of fly, although mostly with my front-mounted snorkel so I can go a lot longer and faster not having to worry about coming up to breathe. you should try fly with the snorkel too!

Court's first fly lesson went well today, btw.

And what's this about a 50 meter pool to swim in??!? I would be hitting that up every day, were one close enough. it's a much better workout and prep for open-water swimming. Lucky!

BreeWee said...

butterflown and butterflopping, those are the 2 funniest words I have ever heard in my life!

jkrunning said...

Good for you. Now the next time it won't be so hard and the time after that....

E.L.F. said...

Welcome to the 200 fly club, Marit. You can expect your champ t-shirt to arrive shortly. See ya soon......elf