Last night (Thursday, March 16) at the 2017 Women’s NCAA Championship, “the best athlete in the world” Katie Ledecky broke her own personal best (4:25, set earlier this month at PAC 12 Championships), NCAA record, and American Record in the 500 yard freestyle by over a second with a time of 4:24.06.

Following the race, in this video, Katie explains why she’s not quite satisfied with her record-breaking performance. The interview contains insight into the mind of a champion that is absolute gold for any swimmer interested in achieving their own personal best—whether it’s completing 500 yards nonstop for the first time, improving on one’s personal best for a mile, or simply experiencing more engagement, and enjoyment and sense of purpose in practice.

What this video reveals:

  1. Katie counts strokes. If she has the presence of mind to count during a race, she unquestionably counts on a routine basis in practice.
  2. Her race plans include stroke count. At 48 seconds, Ledecky says her planned 14-SPL count crept up to 15 on the 2nd lap . . . and that she couldn’t get it back down.
  3. Even the world’s best athlete can get rattled. Later in the video she reveals that “the excitement of the meet got to me.” That’s reasonable, considering it was her first NCAA final, as a freshman. Even a veteran of many high-pressure Olympic and world-championship finals (both oriented to individual performance) can get a little bit caught up in the even more adrenaline-fueled environment of a team championship meet like NCAA’s.
  4. Stroke counts are critical to efficient pacing. Though her time of 4:24.0 was the fastest ever, her splits were not ideal. She swam the first half in 2:10 and the second half in 2:14, a 4-second differential. Her world records have been split much more evenly. No doubt the extra stroke per lap–so early in the race–figured into that. If she’d gone to 15 SPL in the second half, her pacing would have been more even. Listening to her reflections on the race, I’m sure it’s a mistake she will not repeat.

And My Latest Race

As promised in last week’s post, here’s a report from my latest race, 1650-yards at the New England Masters Championship last Saturday. You’ll note that while my pace was far slower than Katie’s (she’ll swim the 1650 at NCAA’s tomorrow with many expecting her to become the first woman under 15 minutes; in my case it was the first time in 50 years I went over 26 minutes), like Katie, I had a race plan in which SPL was a key element and actually exceeded my stroke count goals.

My 1650 felt just exquisite and considering that I only had 2 weeks of practice following a 7-week layoff, about as good performance-wise as could be expected.

I felt somewhat poorly from the time I awoke until I got in the pool, but once I began warmup felt much better. I warmed up for about 30 minutes, super-easy at first then rehearsing the way I hoped to feel for the first 60 of 66 lengths.

My goals for the race were to stay efficient, pace it well–being mindful of how much physical conditioning I’d lost during the 7-week layoff–feel fantastic, and stay focused.

When the race started I felt just as I had in tuneup (no surprise–that’s the point of tuning my nervous system and sensory faculties). I counted my strokes every lap and consistently swam 15 SPL on odd lengths and 16 on even. (Could there have been a current?) This is nearly 2SPL lower than I’ve been able to hold during a 1650 in the last two years. I felt silky smooth the whole way. I can recall only 3 turns out of 65 on which my timing was a little off. I never felt the breathlessness that is common during this race.

My splits for the three 550s were 9:01-8:58-8:47, while holding my stroke count consistent.

And finally I was keenly focused for every one of the 1607 seconds the race took, and experienced Flow for virtually all of it.

While it was my slowest 1650 ever–as a work of art, it felt like my best ever.

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