Stroke drills as a form of ecstasy

I haven't yet loved swimming in a pool the way I love being on the bike. And I don't love anything quite the way I love running.

But I love stroke drills almost as much as I like swimming for distance in the open water (which is my favorite swim). Ha. I can hear you out there. Annie Pai, are you insane? Stroke drills? That's just punishment!

Hear me out.

When I'm doing drills, I stop competing with myself. I stop thinking about that imaginary opponent. I stop thinking how fast I "should" be able to swim. I stop thinking about how many yards I have to reach. I just focus on the stroke. In a life bristling with expectations, this is a relief. Stroke drills feel like serious play. There is nothing riding on them but my focus. Without focus, they'd be wasted time. With focus, I can fit my body right up against that moment of time, moving with narrow intent.

Stroke drills: the only thing going on up there in my brain, over and over, is a sort of reaching out to my own body. The real work is in paying attention: learning to sense and understand each little molecule moved by the swim — learning to merge my senses into the motion between every cubic inch of my body and the water and air.

Learning to pay attention is the payoff of the drills, even more than better form in the water. Learning to attune my senses to my own body, that's something worth practicing. Learning to tap an acute awareness of space and body touching one another: wow, that's something worth knowing. This practice of awareness has far greater implications than a lower stroke count.

The more I can live aware, the less I take for granted. Can you remember a moment like that in your heart? A moment of clear awareness, gratitude, and awe? So rare, so fragile, but like finally finding the streamline, the pocket of air for breathing.

And I want that more. I want more of that.

And okay. I also love stroke drills because they teach me lots of ways not to fight the water, and this makes swimming easier, more pleasant, and yes, faster. Next swim post: my favorite new drills and how they help.