Tomorrow morning I will fly to Atlanta, and from the airport will head directly to the pool and warm up for my first event at USMS Nationals, the mile.
The pre-meet warm-up is vitally important to how well you swim on a given day. Aside from getting a good breakfast, there’s probably nothing as important. Some people approach their meet warm-up mindlessly, without a plan - and that is foolish. I’ve even known people to skip warm-up entirely - and that’s just crazy.
The purpose of a meet warm-up is to prepare your body for optimal performance. That means bringing your heart-rate up, but not too far and not for too long. By the end of the warm-up you should feel loose but not tired.
How far should you swim? However long it takes to feel warm and loose (and if you’re a sprinter: explosive). First thing in the morning, this might take longer than in the afternoon. A good rule of thumb is: however far you swim near the end of your taper. For me, that means about 2000 yards, plus-or-minus 300.
Dave Salo apparently had his swimmers do literally the same meet warm-up every time (with slight modifications for each swimmer’s events that day), with the idea that over time your body will come to recognize that “Hey, this means I’m supposed to swim fast today.” I think this is solid advice.
Here’s my typical meet warm-up:
That’s 2000 yards/meters. At this point, I’ll assess how I feel. If I’m still not ready I might add some additional 100s or 50s at a strong pace. If I’m doing any sprint events that day, I’ll do some starts. Then, I’ll warm down with at least a 300.
With a proper meet warm-up, you should be ready to swim fast at any time over the next 2 hours or so, with only some moderate swimming just before your race. If the wait before your first race is more than a couple of hours, you might add some pace 50s or sprint 25’s to the pre-race warm-up.
The USMS Short-Course National Championships, in one sentence: It started poorly, then got worse, so I cut my losses.
1650 Free: 18:24. A second slower than I took out my Hour Swim in January (i.e., the first 1650 of 5265 yards). Pace per 100 of 1:07 - about 3 seconds/100 slower than I should be, given the 1:04 pace of my untapered 1000 two months ago.
Side note on the mile: Since I arrived after Thursday’s session had already begun, I didn’t get to swim in the competition pool before my race. Especially for freestyle events (and especially short-course), it’s wise to familiarize oneself with the markings on the bottom of the pool before racing. You may not realize this if you always swim at the same pool, but timing flip turns (especially at race pace) depends a lot on gauging your distance from the wall using visual cues (e.g., the black “T”) on the pool bottom. Many pools have roughly similar markings, so it’s usually not a huge deal if you don’t get to scope things out beforehand.
The bottom of the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center pool, however, had some odd features. The starting end was normal enough, but then about 10 yards from the turning wall there was a raised section and discontinuous stretch of black line. The turning wall itself was a bulkhead, but not a typical bulkhead. It seemed unusually shallow - i.e., you had to look up to see it, otherwise you’re just looking at open water under the bulkhead. Even worse, the bulkhead “wall” was colored - you guessed it! - the same color as the bottom of the pool. In other words, unless you looked up and found the (smallish) “T” on the wall, you might not even see the wall as you’re approaching it.
The result? On my third turn, I swam straight into the bulkhead and hit my head. I did an open turn and pushed off. Only 1575 yards left! Oh well - even familiar pool-bottom markings wouldn’t have saved this swim. I had no rhythm, no feel, and my new Blueseventy was too tight and felt like a corset.
New day, different story? Nope:
400 IM: 4:43. A second slower than my time at State Champs 6 weeks ago.
200 Back: 2:13. About this time, all I will say is this: Accounting for the start, I went faster in the middle of a Sharks practice in February.
At this point, I decided to call it a meet and go home early. I wasn’t having fun. And you know what? I slogged through enough meets as a kid where I was swimming slow/not having fun to put myself through this as an adult. Life’s too short.
These things happen. Was it disappointing? Of course. Surprising? Not really. You can’t expect to take 6 days off 2 weeks before a meet and expect to light the pool on fire.
I’m not going to dwell on it - just press the “reset” button and get ready for a busy open-water season!