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Old 11-10-2009
terry terry is offline
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Default An "Imperfect" Swim

This was inspired by Lennart Larsson's post in the Outside the Box conference, which he described as My Best Pool Swim Ever. What I'll describe here was not close to being my best pool swim ever, but illustrates the potential to gain value -- even enjoyment -- from struggle.

There's a long tradition in competitive swimming - carried over into tri-training - that you have to swim hard and you have to hurt while training for races. I tried this in college. I proved I had a high pain threshold but I never swam very well. There's a critical distinction between swimming hard for the sake of swimming hard, and swimming in ways that test your ability to focus, and learning that a well-chosen focus helps keep possible discomfort 'off your radar screen.'

Saturday, I swam a timed 1650y (equivalent of 1500m) with the local kids team in a 25y pool. I'd swum about 12 hours in the 6 weeks since our English Channel relay so neither fitness nor sharpness were at a keen edge. I hadn't swum a timed 1650 since Oct, 2006 when I swam a respectable 20:41 in a Masters meet. In the last 2 years I'd given little emphasis to "speed-and-pace" in my training. I noticed - and lamented - the loss of speed in August at the USMS 2-Mile Cable Swim. My time of 48:45 compared poorly with the 46:20 Id swum 2 years earlier.

Gearing up for an Aug 2010English Channel solo , I've asked the advice of Mayo Clinic exercise researcher (as well as veteran marathon runner and Masters 1650 swimmer) Dr. Mike Joyner. He advised me to add two weekly doses of 30 minutes of "quality" to my otherwise endurance-oriented training. 'Quality' means metabolically demanding - taxing heart and muscles. I create metabolic demand by tasking myself with swim sets that are neuromuscularly exacting -- a combination of Stroke Length, Stroke Tempo and Duration are difficult that it takes unblinking focus to maintain.

Of late, that's been twice-weekly repeats of 300 yds or less, at a "reference pace" of 1:20/100, trying to keep my SPL at about 15 -- aiming for fewe strokes if the repeat is shorter. "Reference pace" means that's what my body is realistically capable of at this moment and I'll aim to incrementally improve on it. So I had that in mind as we began the 1650

I shared the lane with several swimmers -- all nearly young enough to be my grandchildren, if I had any.

I felt reasonably good at first, swimming 16SPL, matching the stroke count I maintained for the last half of my 1650 races several years ago. But my relative lack of fitness began to show quickly. By 250 yards I began to feel an "edge" of fatigue - greater than I would hope to feel with 1400 yds to gol. And my SPL had already climbed to 17.

Before long, even that took more than I had -- mainly because traveling far enough underwater after the turn to complete the next lap in 17 strokes was leaving me a bit more breathless each lap. So I eased pushoff to surface - and breathe - a moment sooner. This took me to 18SPL.

I took inventory when I reached 22 lengths - the one-third point of my swim. Not as efficient as I'd hoped. A bit too fatigued for comfort. Struggling a little for air . . . and still 44 lengths to go. I peeked at the clock as I went into my turn at 550yds (500m) and saw it read 7:25. I quickly calculated I could complete the 1650 in 22:15 IF I swam the next two-thirds at the same pace as the first third.

At this point the challenge became more mental than physical. I'd been swimming at a pace of about 1:20/100 for 600 yards, twice as far as in the repeats I'd done in recent practices. And I was, frankly, feeling noticable discomfort. In other words I was already overtaxed physically. So the "solution" to holding that pace could not be physical.

So far my focus had been on numbers - how many strokes it was taking to complete each lap - and technique thoughts. Now I gave myself over to creating a "cocoon" within which I felt only ease and relaxation. Relaxation in my stroke, my breathing, my turns and pushoffs, my rhythm. Countless times, the pain in my stomach, the burning in my lungs, the heaviness in my limbs would poke through my consciousness. As soon as I was aware my focus had gone there, I'd redouble my attention to feeling relaxed.

Twice I felt a slight loss of efficiency and my SPL went to 19. Each time I did an open (rather than flip) turn to give myself a bit more air and a brief moment of recovery, and was able to resume my 18SPL rhythm.

Several times I peeked at the clock to check how much time remained til my projected goal of 22:15 -- 11, then 8, then 5. When I was at 17:XX I stopped subtracting minutes and calculated this meant I had seven 50s to go and began counting them backwards. Only 6. Only 5. Only 4. Each time the number dropped I felt I could turn up the intensity ever so slightly.

And finally I was on my final 50. I touched the wall and saw 22:15 on the clock, which brought an immense sense of satisfaction.

My time was 90 seconds slower than my previous 1650. I'd experienced considerable discomfort along the way. My SPL was higher than I'd wished. But I'd taken the reality of what I encountered and used mental strength to swim better than I might have had a right to expect.
Terry Laughlin
Head Coach & Chief Executive Optimist

May your laps be as happy as mine.

My TI Story

Last edited by terry : 11-12-2009 at 02:38 AM.
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