Welsh Open Masters 2012
Every year for the last five years or so since I discovered Masters Swimming, early in March I travel to Swansea to the Wales National Pool and indulge in an orgy of long course swimming at the Welsh Open Long Course Masters Championships. In previous years it has been a three-day meet with the 1500 meters on the Friday and most of the rest of the events on the Saturday and Sunday but this time, because the meet lost money last year, it was compressed into two days, which meant it kicked off in the morning session on Saturday with the 1500 meters, followed by some relays.
I usually enter quite a few events but this year decided that I would enter only events of 100m and up, so entered the 1500, 800, 400 and 200 Freestyle, the 200 and 100 Back, the 200 and 100 Breast and the 200 Individual Medley. Although I had swum similar programs in previous years it was always in three-day meets, and it turned out to be a little over-ambitious.
My two best times for the 1500 were in 2008, which was a very good year. At Swansea I had swum 41:26.93 , followed by 39:14.96 at Manchester in the British Masters Championships, the only time I had ever broken the 40 minute mark. In 2009 and 2010 extraneous stressful events cast a bit of a pall over my swimming and my times reflected this. Of course, while I was struggling to beat forty minutes, the other swimmers in my age group were swimming times in the twenties and low thirties. Mind you there are fewer takers for the 1500 in the older groups. Some think of 200 meters as a distance race.
For this year I had entered a time of 43:00 based on last year's time of 43:13.57, naturally hoping to improve it a little. There were only two of us in my age group and the other was one of those sub-thirty types, with an entry of 28:55.83, so naturally he swam in a later heat. I usually find that everyone else disappears very quickly on the first length and are then seen occasionally going in the other direction and then a bit later overtaking and disappearing again and eventually I begin to hear the bell for the last lap while I still have about 500 meters to go. This year the chap in the next lane did vanish rapidly at first but then seemed to vanish less rapidly and could be seen for almost the whole distance up ahead. The lady in the lane on the other side was conforming more with standard practice and I didn't see much of her after the first length. Anyway all went fairly well until at one point just after the turn I developed a cramp in my left hamstring or thereabouts so turned on to my back and swam a length of backstroke until the pain subsided and then turned on to my front again and swam the rest of the race normally. I was pleased and somewhat surprised to see that I had in fact finished in 41:36.96, my third best time so far and almost back to my 2008 standard. I paid for it later, though, as will be related below.
My next race in the next session was the 200 breaststroke, for which I had entered a time of 5:19.00 on the basis of my swim at the Crawley meet, when I had done 5:19.19. My best time for this event was in 2008, when I managed 5:00.14 at Manchester, and my best time last year was 5:09.26 at Swansea. This year I did 5:14.64, which I wasn't too unhappy with, as it improved on my Crawley time and I had nobody to chase, which I had last year. I was the only swimmer in my age group this year so that was my first gold medal of the meet.
Next I had the 200 Individual Medley, which was an exercise in not getting disqualified, in which I succeeded. The time was slower than at Crawley but the splits for back breast and free were faster so I found that encouraging. This was my second gold medal as the only swimmer in the age group.
The first event in the third and final session on Saturday was the 200 Free, in which I managed an acceptable 4:51.16, an improvement on my 4:59.35 at Crawley, which was my first time under five minutes for two years or so. My best time for this event was actually in 2009 at Swansea when I managed 4:44.31, somewhat against the trend at the time. This was another gold medal for the usual reason.
Next came the 100m backstroke, my final event of the day, and here I managed to slightly improve on my time at Crawley, but still outside my best time from last year for another gold medal. In the first heat of the 100 back I was in lane 5 as the swimmer with the second fastest entry time, escorted by Tony Summers 88 and Robert Curr 83 on one side and a faster, younger swimmer of a mere 63 on the other. Tony swam in the 1948 Olympics and had entered a very slow time, which I thought odd at first but he explained that he had just had surgery on his forehead and neck for cancer and he hadn't been sure he would even be able to swim. He still managed to come in ahead of me by a second or so.
So, all in all, the first day had to be counted a success.
The following morning I realised as soon as I got into the pool for the warm-up that the events of the previous day had taken their toll and I wondered if I would be able to make my entry times for the 400 and 800 Free, and thought probably not. After some relays, the swimmers in the first heat of the 400 dived in. I planned to swim it at about the same speed as the 1500 at first and then speed up for the second half. My entry time was 10:28.00 based on my time of 10:28.93 earlier in the year at Crawley. My 400 split in the 1500 was 10:43.25 but alas, I was some seconds slower each lap and after 300 meters felt the need to stop at the wall for a breather. In the 1500 I had turned at 300 on 7:57.14 but my time in the 400 was 8:05.89 and my final time was 11:05.10, not my worst time ever but a good way off my best. Still, once again I was the only entrant as the fast chap from the 1500 had either not entered or decided not to bother.
After this race I seriously considered scratching from the 800 but decided to wait until later in the day to see if there were any signs of recuperation. Meanwhile I had the 200 Back and 100 Breast still to swim, and the 200 Back followed on right after the 400 Free, but of course the ladies had to swim first. I was the sole representative of my age group again and decided to take it out fairly easy and come back a bit harder which led to a final time of 5:35.00, which was slower than my entry time of 5:31.67, itself a mistake. Last year's time was 5:16.60. I had swum 5:24.67 at Crawley. In the next session I swam the 100 Breast, again as a sole representative, and with nobody to chase. I finished in 2:28.49, slower than my entry time of 2:25.00 and quite a bit slower than my best time of 2:20.87 from 2008 in Cardiff.
Finally it was time to dive in for the 800 and at this point I quickly realised that my instinct to scratch was the right one. I was all right for 100 meters but by 150 meters I knew that although I could no doubt carry on, resting at the walls and so on, there would be no point, so I asked if I could leave the pool. I assured the officials that it was nothing worse than tiredness and retired to the showers. The lesson is, I suppose, that at my age I can no longer swim all the freestyle distance events in one meet and if I want to record to record a decent time by my standards in one of the distance events I have to select which one it is to be and not swim the others. My time of 21: 56.05 for the 800 split in the 1500 was actually faster than my entry time of 22:45.00, so perhaps if I get a chance to swim another 800 later this year I can get a bit closer to my best time of 20:31.89.