How Did Tuba Fix My Swim?

So ever since my difficult swim at the Marshman Triathlon, I’ve been battling what I’ll call a confidence problem.  I’ve been feeling “bleh” on the topic of swimming, and I know myself well enough that this is a temporary funk – nothing more.

I’m still astounded that my body has responded to triathlon training.  My weight is now in the mid-220s (back in June when I bought my bike I was in the high 230s) and my borderline ADHD transfers well-enough to the multi-modal training required by triathlon events (swim, run, bike, weights, yoga/flexibility, etc).

So I’ve been going through this uncomfortable period following my rough swim.  I know you’re thinking “WAAAAH!  SUCK IT UP!”, and that’s exactly what I’m saying to myself.  The brain is a weird and complex thing, and in a quiet moment I remembered back to something an old brass instructor I had in college told me (* note – my degree is in Music Education with an instrumental concentration on Tuba Performance).

I was having a rough time with a particular piece one semester, and my professor sensed that most of the issues were “between the ears in the squishy grey stuff”.  He asked if I still had my old original 8th grade mouthpiece – something entry-level that I could use instead of my professional-grade custom designed mouthpiece.  I did in fact still have it in a drawer since I’m a pack rat!  He told me to use that mouthpiece for exactly one week, and took my new one so I wouldn’t cheat during the week (I had a duplicate, but I didn’t cheat).

My dad and I – Chesapeake Brass XMAS Concert 2008

So I headed off on a week’s worth of practice studio time with the old mouthpiece – which normally saw lots of 8th grade-level “OOM-PAH” concert band parts (middle school and high school tuba parts are not very sexy!).  It felt off to go back to something that was once so familiar, but in a weeks time I returned to my professor and played the piece on the old mouthpiece.  He then asked me to play through the first movement of the piece on the old mouthpiece, which I slogged through – grade of performance approximately a B-minus.  He then handed me my good mouthpiece and had me play it again – grade of performance an A-minus (keep in mind one week prior I was a solid C, so both were marked improvements).

This is me – summer of 1990 marching with the Crossmen Drum and Bugle Corps – Franklin Field Univ of Penn

Why did this happen?  By giving my brain something else to focus on, I got out of my own way and allowed things to naturally happen.  Sometimes the brain just needs a little bit of interference to focus on so that the good outcomes can rise up to the top.

OK – so how does this translate to swimming, and getting over my issues?  On the way to my workout yesterday, I stopped of and bought three things:

  1. New goggles with a brighter tint (contrast to my dark smoke goggles I’ve been using)
  2. Nose clip
  3. Swim Paddles

You can guess the rest.  Everything FELT different.  The world was brighter underwater.  I could focus on breathing JUST through my mouth (believe it or not really helps me), and I broke up the workout a bit by adding a couple of 100s with the paddles (never used before).

End result – I had a good swim experience for the first time in a month.

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