So again, the idea is to contrast the two practices, one non-TI and the other TI oriented. What do I think?
1) I didn't learn anything during the non-TI session. I'm sure my aerobic fitness would improve if I kept practicing like that, but I don't think I'd get better at swimming. Partly this may have been my fault--perhaps other swimmers who do traditional sets like this are more mindful as they swim. However, I don't see evidence that they are consciously manipulating variables to achieve goals--they seem to be very clock-oriented and guided by a pre-written workout session from a magazine or website (I think).
2) I learned a lot from the TI session:
By prioritizing ease and smoothness, I can maintain a tempo sufficient to swim a :47 50m @ 13 SPL at my current fitness level--that's much better than I expected. I think it's time to break out a TT and start gradually working to hold 13 SPL at higher tempos. I want to be incredibly stingy with SPL now while I have time to be patient and have no events looming. Later when I race at 15-16 SPL I expect to have a significantly lower perceived effort along with higher speeds.
Elbow lead during recovery aids relaxation and smoothness. I've known this for a while, but during my tune-up I discovered that if I visualize a wall just in front of my head as I swim, I want to keep pulling on the elbow string until my elbow bangs into the imaginary wall before I let the forearm come forward for hand entry. This is a new, effective visualization cue for me.
Leaning on an armpit with an activated/tensed core lifts my feet and hips. I also started to feel a nice skating motion as I shifted weight from one armpit to the next.
Staring directly downward and not forward is a major component of good balance. I really started noticing how often I fail to do this during my slow repeats, and once I was aware of it, I was able to correct it. This also led to breathing much lower in the water, with one eye below the surface and my head pillowed by the water. I had been lifting my head subtly without realizing it. This reminds me to revisit cues for low head/weightless head periodically, as I'll probably always revert slowly to lifting my head to some degree.
Overall, then, I definitely prefer the TI approach to swimming. The social aspect of the traditional workout was fun, but it was nowhere near as engaging as my TI practice. I think a big part of the reason is that with the traditional workout, we were working to a script; with my TI session, I was working from a principle (maintain ease and smoothness while holding 13 SPL), and problem-solving creatively along the way to find ways to make that possible.
I'd be curious to hear what people think--you may notice things about my posts here that I haven't thought of. Thanks!