Race Report – Nike Swim Miami 2010

Two weeks ago a trip to Miami was not even on my radar. Then out of the blue an old college friend (both roommate and swim team-mate) emailed me about doing a relay for the Swim Around Key West. Sadly I had another commitment that weekend, but out of curiosity I went Googling for other races in South Florida (he lives in Miami) and — lo and behold — there’s a race in Miami April 17th!

Catch up with old roomie and his family? Escape from Ohio in April? Start my O.W. season 6 weeks earlier than planned? It was a no-brainer. Continue reading “Race Report – Nike Swim Miami 2010”

Increase effortlessness, not effort

I want to expand for a moment on the concept (discussed in the previous post) of increasing effortlessness rather than effort – within a set and over the course of a taper.

In a typical swim taper, in which athletes are preparing for events of 100 or 200m (or at most 1500m), it’s common to gauge the taper’s progress by monitoring pace times in practice. Over the course of a taper, a swimmer’s times on “pace swims” of 50 or 100m will tend to get faster.

In races of more than 30 minutes (~1.5 miles), however, it becomes less important to hit specific pace times than it is to modulate effort. This is especially true of swims 10K and longer (2+ hours).

That’s why, in preparing for tomorrow’s 10K, I’ve focused less on swimming a faster pace, but on how much effort I’m expending to swim a given pace. That’s what I mean when I say: Don’t increase effort (to swim faster), but rather, increase effortlessness (to swim the same speed with less effort).

Pick a pace time – in my case, let’s say 1:15 per 100m. In the middle of my training cycle, it might require 80% effort to swim a set of repeat 100s at this pace – even more with short rest. But by the end of my taper, I should be able to swim this pace relatively “effortlessly” – perhaps 65-70% effort – in other words, the effort I can maintain for the 2+ hours of a 10K.

As I’ve said before, if you can swim effortlessly, the pace will take care of itself.

Readying to rumble

T-50 hours or so until the aperitif for Open Water Season 2010. I’ll train right through most of my summer schedule, but I wouldn’t dare attempt a 10K unrested. So, I’m taking the week off from weightlifting and doing 3 days of below-average swim yardage. In these last few swims I’ll focus primarily on “feel,” not the clock. If I can swim “effortlessly,” the pace will take care of itself.

To help me build into a 10K feel, I’ve been doing (after a brief warm-up) a set of 12×100 LCM on descending intervals. I start with 2 on 1:45 and lower the interval by 5 seconds every 2 — so the last 2 are on 1:20.

My aim is to swim the last 2 at approximately 10K effort and speed, and to swim the first 2 no more than 5 seconds slower than the last 2. So in my case, I might swim the first 2 at 1:19 (giving me 26 seconds rest), and the last 2 at 1:15 (5 seconds rest).

Most important, my pace should descend by more than my effort. In other words, I swim faster over the course of the set not by increasing my effort, but by increasing my “effortlessness.”

Distance swimmers experience this subjectively as “feel” or “rhythm.” Objectively, this is a function of efficiency – in stroke technique and in energy metabolism.

By repeating the set several times this week, I can gauge the progress of my taper, and hopefully swim similar times with less effort – within each set and across the week.

Strength training and swimming: Things to consider

A teammate asks, regarding my strength training routine:

Would you recommend something similar for me (only been swimming 1.5ish years very haphazardly), or do you think the benefits are only for those who have slowed their pool gains down significantly?

My answer: “Yes, but….”

Yes – because:

  • Weightlifting and calisthenics are good for you, both in promoting strength and general musculoskeletal health, and in preventing injury.
    • If you learn to deadlift properly, for example, you’ll never throw out your back lifting a heavy box.
  • Getting stronger will, in general, help you swim faster. At least, a little bit faster (see next point).

But – because:

  • Strength training is a “low leverage” activity for improving swimming speed. The highest leverage, by far, is in swim technique.
    • So, unless your technique is already in the range of excellent-to-perfect (and even Olympic swimmers are constantly working on their technique), strength training is not the most efficient method of swimming faster.
  • My routine involves several “free weight” exercises – which are the best way to lift weights, but also potentially dangerous. In doing squats, deadlifts, overhead press, and bench press, you must use proper lifting technique, or your efforts may easily backfire. Unless you’re already gym-savvy, it’s a good idea to ask a trainer to watch your technique before attempting these exercises.
  • Ease into any new routine – no need to be a hero. If you haven’t been to the gym in a while, try starting with a few body-weight exercises. Then add some resistance bands.
    • With free weights, start with just the bar, adding weight only when you can easily do 8-10 reps with perfect technique. Don’t be distracted by the ex-football players benching 300 pounds at the next station.

Bottom line: You can swim very fast without ever setting foot in a gym (that’s especially true of distance swimming). Strength training can help at the margins, but frankly, I do it more for the general health benefits.

Strength training for open-water swimming

Notwithstanding this post’s title, my strength training routine – which I started about 6 weeks ago – is only partly tailored for open water swimming. It’s a balanced, total-body routine designed for strength, simplicity, and sustainability.

Strength means not designed for maximum muscle mass (the former helps swimming, the latter does not).

Simplicity means using only a few basic gym equipment, and that I can remember the routine easily without writing it down.

Sustainability means giving myself the best chance of consistently doing the routine over the long term. It’s integrated seamlessly into my everyday life, and it’s brief (no more than 30 minutes per session). Continue reading “Strength training for open-water swimming”

There (should be) no running in swimming

Should swimming events involve running? Unless it’s part of a triathlon, obviously not… right?

Yet often, they do! You won’t see any running at the Olympic 10K open-water event. In Beijing, competitors started by jumping off a floating platform, and finished by slapping a floating touchpad. At sub-elite level events, though, it’s fairly common to both start and finish on a beach.

Of the six open-water events on my summer itinerary, only two – the 2-mile Cable swim in Virginia and the 6K in Colorado – have in-water starts and finishes. The rest will require negotiating a stretch of sand at some point. The Columbus Open-Water Swims start and finish on the beach.

This matters to me because I have a hip replacement and am really not supposed to run, ever. Do the few seconds I lose on a beach-start really matter in a 20, 30, or 60-minute race? Sure, it matters less in a longer race, but actually yes, it does matter.

It’s not just the time lost entering the water, but also the time lost from poor positioning. If I’m near the end of the pack off the start, I may be only 5 seconds behind the leaders right then, but by time I’ve clawed my way through the slower swimmers, I might be 20 seconds behind. It matters.

And my disadvantage is relatively minor. What would Fat Rabbit Racing (organizers of the C.O.W.S. races) say if one-legged Olympian (not just Paralympian, mind you — Olympian) Natalie du Toit showed up at their event? That she’s shit outta luck?

Granted, there are costs – financial and operational – associated with in-water finishes. But in-water starts are actually pretty simple.

One Hour Postal results

The results from the first USMS Long Distance Championship of the year – the 1 Hour Postal Swim – are now up. I placed 9th of 77 among men age 25-29. It was a competitive year – my 5,265 yards would have placed 4th last year.

Somewhat annoyingly, I got beat by 35 yards or less by 3 guys. Even worse, I would have placed 4th among men 30-34 – an age group I joined less than 2 weeks after the swim.

None of that really matters, of course, except for purposes of point calculations.