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By Whitney Hedgepeth – April 2, 2012

I love swimming in Austin in the warmer months, especially the springtime. I coach Masters swimming at Longhorn Aquatics and we are always inside. However, whenever I get the chance, I really enjoy swimming outside with the sun on my face and back (my dermatologist begs me to swim indoors or use lots of sunscreen).

I made a commitment starting in February to swim at least twice a week. I am not sure if it was the way my arms shook like my grandmother’s used to or the fact that my 12-year-old daughter can beat me, but now I am back in the pool. Regardless, it feels good. With just two workouts a week, my arms feel more in shape and my core body feels more in sync. It has helped alleviate my back pain and my nagging foot pain.

You would think that a two-time Olympic swimmer would always want to swim. After staring at that black line on the bottom of the pool for more than 20 years, I felt the need for a change of scenery. I have spent the last 15 years running and mixing up my exercise. Having the time to fit in at least an hour of swimming is a lot harder than fitting in a quick hour run that starts just outside my front door. Drive time to get to a pool and the energy to get undressed and dressed again just didn’t fit into my busy schedule with three kids and working. I also deal with bouts of vertigo that are set-off by swimming but now that my youngest is almost in kindergarten, I feel it is time to rededicate myself to swimming.

There is nothing like being in swimming shape. I find it fascinating when elite runners come in to try out the Longhorn Aquatics Masters swim program; physically, they look phenomenal. Once they dive in, though, those elite runners don’t look so elite anymore. There isn’t much cross over in fitness from running to swimming, which is amazing. It can go both ways, too. An elite swimmer trying to run is, in most cases, not very pretty, either. Finding the right balance is key. The more I run, the worse my swimming becomes, and the more I swim, the worse my running seems to get. I find that, for me, swimming three times a week and running from three to four miles, six times a week is the perfect balance. I take Saturday or Sunday off, depending on which is busier with kid activities. I should also clarify that I am not training for any event. I am just trying to maintain a decent weight and keep my body and MIND healthy (exercise is also my stress reliever).

There are many pools to use in the Austin area. Unfortunately, a lot of the city pools are now closed or are only open for limited amounts of time due to budget cuts. Finding the pool that is both convenient and to your liking is a tough one. I spend a lot of my time at Rollingwood pool off of Bee Caves Road. My family has been a member there for almost ten years, and my three children spend the majority of their summer hanging out there. It is open year-round and heated to a nice 80 degrees. I have other friends who just love Barton Springs and Deep Eddy, and they meet there early on the weekends because entry is free before 9 a.m. I, on the other hand, am completely too wimpy for pools that are below 78 degrees. Some other great city pools are Dick Nichols, Mabel Davis, and Northwest. One summer (before I had kids and before we joined Rollingwood pool), I made a list of all of the Austin city pools and visited each and every one—quite a fun summer goal!

Once I get to the pool, I like to use some equipment in my practice. Kickboard, buoy, paddles and fins are my favorites. I usually train in a 25-yard pool, but I prefer the 50-meter length because it is harder and gets you in better shape faster. I usually start off with about a 1,000-yard warm-up with some part of it doing fingertip drag drill. This drill involves actually dragging your fingertips across the top of the water, which helps get your elbows up high and prevents shoulder strain. I usually make the main set of the workout 2,500-4,000 yards. I swim mostly freestyle these days to help with my vertigo but I do believe that doing all of the strokes helps with muscle endurance, which leads to faster swimming.

Best wishes on finding your favorite swimming hole this spring and summer. I think it is going to be another HOT HOT HOT one. WEAR YOUR SUNSCREEN!

The lanes for this workout were set up according to swimmers’ speed and ability. There were two workouts offered this day, and 75 people did this practice, which lasted an hour and a half. This was the interval for my fastest group of swimmers; slower lanes typically get in 4,000-4,500 total.

Whitney Hedgepeth, a two-time Olympian, seven-time National Champion, and former American Record Holder (200-yard backstroke), currently oversees more than 150 Masters’ level swimmers here in Austin at Longhorn Aquatics. She has been the head age group coach (’96-’99) and head National coach (’99-’01) and, from 2001-2004, she began coaching the Masters group. Hedgepeth has been the head Masters coach at Longhorn Aquatics since 2004, working with swimmers of all abilities, from newbies to former Olympic swimmers to professional triathletes.


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