That Time of Year
As a lifelong Midwesterner, warmer weather in the summer months provides great options for outdoor competitions. Sprint, Olympic and Ironman distance triathlons, marathons, 5K runs, walks, extreme sports, recreational and competitive bike events, and everything in between can fill the calendar.
Swimmers here in the Milwaukee area can also find a handful of open water swims and triathlons to race against others, test their training progress and hopefully land a PR. Among these events, my favorite is competing in a U.S. Masters Swimming meet.
For those who consider themselves more recreational than competitive swimmers, the first two words that might come to mind when asked about doing a meet may be, “Wait. What?”
Benefit of a Team
Personally, I swam in high school and once in a Masters meet in college many years ago, so the idea of training for and racing again decades later seemed somewhat far-fetched and like a lot of work. Before joining an organized Masters team in 2013, I swam on my own but found myself repeatedly falling into the same predicament. It was always the same workout distance with sets consisting of no time interval. I also didn’t set an annual distance goal to help ensure regular pool visits and overall I found swimming on my own to be extremely boring. In addition, if I missed a workout, no big deal. I just said I’d “try” to visit the pool the next day. Or “try” the next day. Or “try” the next day. I’d regularly find reasons not to go. Ultimately, swimming solo didn’t work and I knew my routine had to change if I wanted to improve.
Enter Whitefish Bay (Wisconsin) Masters. For five years, I’ve been swimming with this organized team and have reaped many benefits, physically and socially. Swimming with a coach who provides direction and structured workouts has made a dramatic difference, too. I feel better, have set annual goals and enjoy looking forward to various competitions like meets and distance swims. Along with swimming in an organized practice, I’ve met a great group of committed individuals who push and support me to get better and to attend our 5 a.m. practice regularly (which is still a work in progress).
Step Up to a Race
So, if Masters practice or solo training is going well, why make the jump to swimming at a meet? Here are my top five reasons to consider swimming in a meet:
- 5. Celebrating a common passion.
A meet is an excellent opportunity to join and support others who also embrace a good workout and the many benefits that come with swimming. For example, I unexpectedly reconnected at our Whitefish Bay meet with a former teammate from 30-plus years ago. We’ve renewed our friendship and swimming is often the focal point of our conversations.
- 4. Positive energy abounds.
I always find a heightened level of enthusiasm and support among all swimmers at meets. Whether it’s a state record holder or someone participating in their first meet, there’s no shortage of applause and encouragement for each event. Good warm-up music helps, too.
- 3. Participants come in all ages and skill levels.
Whether you’re 25 or 85-plus, a regular competitor or a first-timer, meets attract all types. As if it’s not impressive enough for an 80-year-old to swim in a race, getting up and diving from a starting block is no small feat. In addition, I always enjoy seeing swimmers at their first meet (like a 73-year-old from our team who competed for the first time) as much as those who swam collegiately.
- 2. The need for speed (or along those lines).
With many hours invested in practice- whether with my team or on my own- I always find my commitment in the pool to be greater when I’ve registered for a meet or another race like a triathlon or distance swim. Ultimately, it’s seeing my times and not so much how I perform against others (although that’s also important).
- 1. Fun, fun, fun.
Our annual Whitefish Bay meet attracts 100 swimmers and the previous coach who also served as the meet organizer emphasized the importance of having fun to complement the competition. This includes:
- A teammate and professional saxophonist who performs an outstanding rendition of The Star Spangled Banner to start the meet.
- As the meet host, we provide complimentary home-baked goods for all participants and attendees. One teammate even missed warm-ups because he was waiting for his Irish cream coffee cake to finish baking.
- Awarding heat winner prizes, thanks to my wife and kids. Which would you choose: a Sponge Bob Krabby Patty or Sixlets? (The Crabby Patty was an overwhelming favorite, by the way).
- A 50 yard freestyle event with fins. This is an annual favorite that adds a fun wrinkle to the meet.
Whether you’re a water warrior on your own (hint: enjoying your favorite songs on a Waterfi can help break the monotony of practicing independently) or part of an organized team, hopefully you’ll continue or consider the many benefits of registering for that next area swim meet. You’ve spent lots of time in the pool, you’ve worked hard, so why not? Who knows, you might even walk away with a ribbon or Krabby Patty to go along with the satisfaction of testing your racing skills and improving your overall health.