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  #1  
Old 10-07-2011
tcmowry tcmowry is offline
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tcmowry
Default Staying focused to avoid slowing down

Greetings! I had relatively little swimming experience until I started working with a TI and triathlon coach (Suzanne Atkinson) roughly six months ago to train for my first sprint triathlons (which I did this past summer). My swimming has improved by leaps and bounds (thanks to Suzanne's guidance and these great TI techniques!), and I was quite pleased with my swim performance in my triathlons. One of my goals for next year is to move up to international distance triathlons, so the distances in my swim workouts have started to increase.

I am writing to share an experience that I had recently, where I did the same workout six days later but got a much better result the second time. Here was the main set from the workout (which also included a WU and CD):

Broken 1500 Ladder:
After warmup, Swim ascending ladder totaling 1500yd/m:
100 + 200 + 400 + 800
Pace and stroke length for first 100 should match target pace and stroke length for 800. Start liesurely with long strokes and hold pace through entire set. If final 800 feels too easy, or like you could have gone harder, note this in your workout log for future reference. Record splits for each interval, as well as avg SPL for each. For the 800, take note of your starting & finishing SPL, Don't give up stroke length for the sake of faster turnover.
Here were my times for the main set the first time that I did this workout (all at 18 SPL):

100 yds: 1:54
200 yds: 3:57
400 yds: 8:03
800 yds: 16:28

Notice that although I tried to start with a sustainable pace in the first 100, my pace fell off at the longer distances. I commented in my workout log that I thought that my slower times may have been due to losing some focus on my form.

Six days later, I did exactly the same workout again. I felt exactly the same physically, but this time I was determined not to lose my focus on my form throughout the workout. Here were my times for the main set (again at 18 SPL):

100: 1:54 (same as before)
200: 3:51 (6 seconds faster)
400: 7:41 (22 seconds faster)
800: 15:42 (46 seconds faster!)

My level of swim fitness did not improve that much in six days, but by staying focused this time (rather than letting my mind wander on occasion), I was able to knock 46 seconds off of my 800 yard time, which seemed very significant. Now I've learned the importance of maintaining focus!

Regards,
Todd Mowry
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  #2  
Old 10-10-2011
CoachSuzanne CoachSuzanne is offline
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Todd,

Incredible! While I'm obviously biased as your coach, I was sooooo thrilled to hear this training report. You are right about the fitness vs. focus aspect. Your fitness changed not one bit in six days as far as swimming ain 800m set, however you learned from your first attempt at the broken mile TT, and the 2nd time around, getting faster was easy...just don't slow down!

How not to slow down is the tricky part. ;) BUt you've discovered the secret. How much should we sell it to others for? haha
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Coach of 4 time USA Triathlon Triathlete of the Year, Kirsten Sass
Steel City Endurance, LTD
Fresh Freestyle

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  #3  
Old 10-10-2011
terry terry is offline
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Suzanne cc'ed me on her email exchange with Todd after his breakthrough the second time he did this practice (Todd, in TI we refrain from calling them workouts; a workout is something we do at the gym, not in the pool) and I made these comments in a reply email

>>Todd, this is an example of a breakthrough that is related to physical-performance on the surface, but really much more about insight. The ones I find most gratifying are always about discovering the power of targeted thinking.

When your mind wandered the first time you tried the set you were experiencing something I believe is almost universal among swimmers. There's been a lot of study showing that a key difference between elite and average athletes is the quality of specific focus in elites' thinking as they practice and race.

A challenge faced particularly by swimmers is that training is so commonly tedious, repetitive and lacking in task-orientation (i.e. insert hand cleanly through mail slot on every stroke, or don't allow SPL to drift above 16) that disassociation becomes virtually inevitable. For triathletes the benefit of focus is magnified in that it becomes a highly-effective defense against anxiety that's so common in the swim leg. As we tell our students at open water camps and clinics, the most important skill we will teach them is how to exert control over what and how you think while swimming in OW. That starts with doing the same in practice repeats, as you did here.>>
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May your laps be as happy as mine.

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  #4  
Old 10-11-2011
terry terry is offline
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See #4 here for advice on setting rest intervals.
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May your laps be as happy as mine.

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  #5  
Old 10-12-2011
swimmermike swimmermike is offline
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Default thinking

Hi Suzanne

Now that no one is paying attention ;)
can you let us in on what you counseled Todd about his concentration? [That is, the secret?]

I'd like to believe that I concentrate, and yet I know that it can always be improved. My guess is that more frequent pauses and breaking the sets down into pieces would be good for me. I like to be able to swim long sets (e.g., 1000yds) at a time, but I know that for me it is very hard to sustain awakeness--in the way we are talking here, meaning vivid concentration.

I change FPs about every 25 or 50yds, often admixing this with swim laps to try to fold the point into the full stroke. But, I digress--I'd like to ask you to expound!

Michael

Last edited by swimmermike : 10-12-2011 at 12:12 AM. Reason: spelling
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  #6  
Old 10-12-2011
CoachSuzanne CoachSuzanne is offline
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Michael, OK, I'll tell you. Then I will have to kill you. (kidding). The secret is that there is no secret. The crazy part is that I actually didn't ask todd to do this set a 2nd time...he opted to do it on his own. He did the set that first day with the first set of times...the only instructions he had were what he copied below from hi workout log. Specifically:

Quote:
Broken 1500 Ladder:

After warmup, Swim ascending ladder totaling 1500yd/m:
100 + 200 + 400 + 800
Pace and stroke length for first 100 should match target pace and stroke length for 800. Start liesurely with long strokes and hold pace through entire set. If final 800 feels too easy, or like you could have gone harder, note this in your workout log for future reference. Record splits for each interval, as well as avg SPL for each. For the 800, take note of your starting & finishing SPL, Don't give up stroke length for the sake of faster turnover.
I've been having Todd do sets like this for the past 6 months, but usually in much shorter repetitions of up to 300s. I think this is the first time we did an 800 as a full repetition.

Todd took it upon himself to repeat the set, knowing that he could do better based on his slowing pace from the first 100 to the last 800.

So the secret is, that there is no secret. ;) It's all about maintaining your focus for longer periods of time.

I will say that Todd is the most reflective athlete I've ever workd with, and his workout logs are frquently just as insightful as this post was. He reflects on everything he does, and I ask specific tasks from him in his workouts. He has set PRs in every distance in every discipline since we've started working together and he's nowhere near his potential...not even close, no sir!

I'm very happy that we lucked out into working together!



Quote:
Originally Posted by swimmermike View Post
Hi Suzanne

Now that no one is paying attention ;)
can you let us in on what you counseled Todd about his concentration? [That is, the secret?]

I'd like to believe that I concentrate, and yet I know that it can always be improved. My guess is that more frequent pauses and breaking the sets down into pieces would be good for me. I like to be able to swim long sets (e.g., 1000yds) at a time, but I know that for me it is very hard to sustain awakeness--in the way we are talking here, meaning vivid concentration.

I change FPs about every 25 or 50yds, often admixing this with swim laps to try to fold the point into the full stroke. But, I digress--I'd like to ask you to expound!

Michael
__________________
Suzanne Atkinson, MD
Coach of 4 time USA Triathlon Triathlete of the Year, Kirsten Sass
Steel City Endurance, LTD
Fresh Freestyle

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  #7  
Old 10-14-2011
tcmowry tcmowry is offline
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Default re: thinking

Michael,

I would also be very curious to hear from TI swimmers regarding any tips or tricks for staying focused during a long swim. For what it is worth, I can describe in more detail what was going through my head during both of the swim practices that I mentioned above. I imagine that because each of us are different, what works well for one person might not work well for someone else, but here is what I was thinking.

I tend to focus at two different levels when I swim: my overall progress toward the target distance, and my actual swimming form. I think about the former very briefly after I complete each lap, and I think about the latter during the lap.

Regarding how I think about how far I have gone and much further there is to go, I personally am a very visual thinker, and I'm very bad at remembering specific numbers as I swim. For example, "That was lap 9, and now I have 7 more laps to go," really doesn't work for me, because I tend to lose count. (The fact that I'm bad at counting when I swim is part of the reason why I ended up getting a SwimSense watch, since it counts the laps for me :-) Perhaps because my first endurance sport was running middle distance events on a track, and because I like to run on a track, I visualize my overall distance progress in terms of making progress around a track. For example, "now I'm halfway down the back straightaway in my first lap around the track," "now I'm going into the far turn", etc. I find that I can easily visualize my progress this way without forgetting where I am and without it becoming too distracting. I only actively think about this when I'm at the wall in between laps.

For 99% of the time, however, what I'm thinking about is my form. During the first practice session that I mentioned above, I started off doing a reasonable job with this during the first couple of hundred yards, but then my mind often wandered during many of those laps, and I would find myself thinking, "oh, I guess I just finished another lap". After I finished the first practice session and I was disappointed with my time, I decided that I really could have improved my focus dramatically.

So during the second practice session, here is what I was thinking during each lap. My main focal point was trying to extend each stroke. From past experience, this focal point seems to work best for me in terms of both keeping my SPL low and swimming faster. (Usually both things happen at the same time when I focus on this: my SPL drops from 18 to 17 or 16, and I swim roughly 5-10% faster at the same time.) While my main focal point was extending each stroke, my secondary thought was keeping my head and each arm in three separate lanes (to avoid crossing over with my arms), since this was something that Suzanne suggested to me at one point, and it seems to really help. Finally, the last "background thought" that was going through my head during the second session was that I was trying to imagine that I was in a race (I visualized a running race on a track, since I have more experience with that), and that I wanted to make each and every lap count so that I could maintain my pace and have a good overall time. I think that I visualized exactly where I was on an imaginary running track quite often during that second (more successful) practice session: not just at the wall, but often during the middle of a lap, to keep myself motivated to continue extending each stroke, etc.

For the sake of completeness, there is one last thing that I do when I swim which may not help my form directly but which helps me with my breathing and which also helps me count my SPL: I mentally count my strokes by 6's. I started doing this because I was not a bilateral breather six months ago (I was only comfortable breathing on my right side), and when I started doing bilateral breathing, I needed to concentrate hard on exactly when I would breathe. I started off trying to do this by counting, "1, 2, 3 (breathe left), 4, 5, 6 (breathe right), 7, 8, 9 (breathe left), 10, 11, 12 (breathe right), ...", but I found that dividing my overall stroke count by three was too distracting. So I switched to counting as follows: "1, 2, 3 (breathe left), 4, 5, 6 (breathe right), 1, 2, 3 (breathe left), 4, 5, 6 (breath right), 1, 2, ..." Although I have become comfortable enough with bilateral breathing that I probably don't need to count any more to get the timing right, I still count off by 6's because I find it to be a very easy way to count off my SPL: if I divide my overall SPL by 6, the quotient will always be roughly the same (in my case, roughly 3), the remainder can vary a bit, but never by as much as 6. So if I reach the wall and my last stroke was a 6, I know that that was 18 SPL; if it was 5, that was 17 SPL; 1 means 19 SPL, etc. The counting by 6's is something that I do so automatically that I don't really have to devote conscious brain cycles to it, but I think it does help me think about extending my strokes (and lower my SPL), because as I start to approach the wall, I know my stroke count. I realize that many people can just count their strokes the normal way, but like I said, I tend to lose count when the numbers get much above 10 when I'm trying to focus on other things (my form, how the water feels, etc.).

I imagine that different people have very different things that they think about as they swim, and I would be curious to hear more about that.

Thanks!
Todd

ps. Suzanne: thanks for the words of encouragement!

Last edited by tcmowry : 10-14-2011 at 03:07 PM.
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