I had an interesting race with myself yesterday in the pool: the challenge was to swim as slowly as possible.
It's the opposite of what I usually am going for, but it did take the same kind of focus and concentration. I had been having some bad swims lately, where I go into oxygen debt early and can't hold the pace without taking breaks. Of the three triathlon disciplines swimming is definitely the most aerobically demanding for me, and I almost always swim fast because I'm trying to work on my form and I feel sloppy and uncoordinated when I'm going slower. But what I had been doing wasn't working for me, so I decided to step the speed way down and just make sure that I could get the distance in.
At first I was going so slowly that it seemed comical (the guy in the next lane was doing kick drills and cruising past me.) But after five or six laps I started to get into a good rhythm and it was really relaxing. Time almost seemed to stop and I could feel my hand slowly pulling through the water and the gentle waves of the pool rocking against me.
One thing I noticed is that it takes about 400 yards for me to get warmed up; after that my lungs felt strong and open and I could start to pick up the pace. My usual warm up had been 200 yards which was enough to put me in oxygen debt while swimming fast but not long enough to get me warmed up to actually go fast.
At the end of the workout I had done 1000 yards in a variety of strokes in just under 30 minutes, which wasn't a bad time considering how easy the pace was. The important thing was that I did the whole swim without having to stop to catch my breath, which I hadn't done in a long time.
Tomorrow I'll swim a mile freestyle, and I will make sure to hold that snails pace for the first 400, then slowly ratchet up the speed to see how my lungs respond to the higher tempo. You can't go fast until you can go long, so sometimes you have to start back from the bottom and work up to speed.