Do you need a swim watch when you have a pace clock?

If you like gadgets and/or swim toys you may have found yourself, at some point over the past couple of months, drooling over the FINIS Swimsense Performance Monitor. And after playing with one for a few weeks now, I’ll admit, it’s pretty cool.

Before you fork over $200, though, consider the question: What does the Swimsense – and swim watches in general (e.g., the Swimovate Poolmate and Oregon Scientific’s watch) – offer that a simple pace clock doesn’t?

Continue reading “Do you need a swim watch when you have a pace clock?”

On training logs, and a 2010 retrospective

Among swimmers, runners, cyclists, weightlifters – really, any athlete in a quantifiable sport – it’s common practice to keep a training log. In high school and college, I kept a log only sporadically – and I really regret it now. I’d love to look back on some of the sets I did in those days.

Since I got back into swimming a year and a half ago, I’ve been much more conscientious about keeping a log, and I think it’s really helped – motivating me to get to practice, and helping me gauge progress. I split my training log between two documents: a text file where I write what I did in each workout (sets, intervals, times, etc.), and a spreadsheet where I log the total distance I swim each day. In two adjacent columns of the spreadsheet, I also keep a 7-day running total (how much I’ve swum in the past week), and an average of the previous four 7-day totals (i.e., 4-week moving average).

I like the 7-day running total for its straightforwardness – “What have I done in the past week?” But I think the 4-week average is actually a better indicator of my fitness level at any given point.

Out of idle curiosity, I decided to revisit last year’s log. Here’s a chart showing the running 7-day totals (blue line) and the 4-week moving average (red line) between mid-August 2009 and late-October 2010 (from the end of the 2009 O.W. season to the end of the 2010 O.W. season). The Y-axis is in meters, and I added some annotations to show the timing of various races and other life milestones. (Click the chart to enlarge.)

I’m actually surprised how well I ended up doing last year, given that I averaged only 19,000 meters/week. Obviously, at some point increased training has diminishing returns. But I have a feeling I’m still on the “steep” part of that slope.

Moreover, I never actually did a “real” taper last year. The most I gave myself was a 5-day “drop rest” for Big Shoulders – but even that barely shows up on the 4-week average. A “real” taper would show up clearly on the red line.

The joys of short course

As I alluded to a couple weeks ago, I won’t have access to long-course water until mid-April. And Lake Michigan won’t be swimmable until probably late May (maybe a bit earlier with a wetsuit). Which means my ramp-up into Tampa will take place exclusively in short-course pools. Yuck.

At least once a week (see last Wednesday’s workout, for example), I try to do some long, aerobic steady-state swimming. 15 or 20 minutes at a time, to mimic my feeding schedule – or, as I build up, a series of such swims.

In doing these long swims, I’ve observed a couple things about short course that, in all my years of swimming, I had never noticed. There’s good news and bad. We’ll start with the good:

In a short-course pool, it’s much easier to monitor stroke count, and therefore swimming efficiency. The reason is, at any given pace my stroke count generally has a range of only 1. (N.B. I define “strokes” as the number of hand entries, counting both arms.)

For me, at a typical workout pace (say, 75% effort) my stroke count is usually 14. If I’m having a good day in the water, it might be 13. If I’m thrashing, it might be 15. But within a given swim, I’ll generally be in either a “13/14 mode” or a “14/15 mode,” depending on how I’m feeling. If I’m focusing on stroke count specifically, it’s not too difficult to hit 14 strokes every time.

The key is, when your stroke count range is only 1, you can actually monitor your stroke count without counting! All you need to know is which arm hits the water right before the turn. Since I always begin each lap with a left-arm stroke, if I end a lap with a right-arm stroke, that means 14 strokes. If I get tired and lose some efficiency, I get immediate feedback because after my 14th stroke I’m not quite there and am forced to take an extra one – with my left arm.

The point is – this is only possible in a short-course pool. In a long-course pool, my stroke counts are in the mid-30’s and subject to wider ranges. Long-course pools are appreciated by distance swimmers for the relative ease of getting into a good “rhythm,” because there aren’t as many walls to interrupt you.

The lesson here is that in some ways, short-course pools facilitate “rhythm” because they give you such regular, insistent feedback about your efficiency (“14, 14, 14, whoops there’s a 15, what did I do wrong?”).

Next up: the bad news.

A good week

I’ll confess, I’m a little behind where I was hoping to be at this point in the season.

Life served up a couple unexpected roadblocks last month, at a time when I’d planned to ramp up for Tampa Bay. First, we lost our car to a snowy grave off the side of the I-45 in Wisconsin (my wife was unhurt, thankfully). Although neither of us use a car for commuting purposes, it was my primary mode of transportation to UIC, where my Masters group works out.

Suddenly, a 30 minute round-trip in the car was a 80-90 minute round-trip on the bus. I don’t always have an extra hour in my day for getting to/from swimming. “Doubles” are almost out of the question.

Then, I managed to tweak my shoulder – and injury incurred while attempting to retrieve my phone from the train tracks after it had fallen out of my pocket and off the platform. Why did it fall out of my pocket? You guessed it – because I was running to catch the train to go to swim practice.

Continue reading “A good week”

Polar bears at the Point

Remember Ruth-Anne, star of my previous extreme-swimming documentary from Promontory Point? Here she is again, taking a quick dip last Saturday (1/29/2011) in 33F Lake Michigan (air temp about the same):

Insanely cold, yes, but let’s count our blessings: At least we didn’t have to hack through ice to find open water!

The Fishburn Set

I love Chloe Sutton’s Twitter feed.  She occasionally posts a set she just did in practice, and they’re invariably ridiculous. Chloe’s a professional swimmer, but she’s also, you know, a woman – and frankly there are only a small handful of men in the country who can keep up with her in practice.

Anyway, yesterday Chloe did a set that I recognized from my youth. It’s called the Fishburn Set, and it goes like this:

  • 5×100
  • 4×200
  • 3×300
  • 2×400
  • 1×500

That’s only 3,500 yards – not an unfathomable distance, especially for an elite distance swimmer. The key to the Fishburn Set is the intervals. For the first round of 5×100, the interval should be one that you can make (not too hard, not too easy). Then, in the subsequent rounds, your interval increases by a fixed amount. That amount must be less than the first interval.

So, let’s say you do the 5×100’s on 1:20, and your “increase” is 1:10. That would produce the following set:

  • 5×100 @ 1:20 (1:20 per 100)
  • 4×200 @ 2:30 (1:15 per 100)
  • 3×300 @ 3:40 (1:13.3 per 100)
  • 2×400 @ 4:50 (1:12.5 per 100)
  • 1×500 @ 6:00 (1:12 per 100)

It’s supposed to be a very challenging set, and if you design your intervals correctly, the interval on the final 500 should be perhaps just a bit slower than you could do a single 500 AFAP (as fast as possible) in practice.

Chloe’s intervals? 1:05, 2:05, 3:05, 4:05, and 5:05. Needless to say: Pretty awesome. I’d be happy just to make the first 5×100.

The Fishburn Set has been around a long time, and is a favorite of certain old-school distance coaches and swimmers – such as, to pick a random example, Bill Rose (Chloe’s coach at Mission Viejo).

One of my own former coaches is himself a proud member of the “old school,” and I figured he might know the origin of the Fishburn Set. He did. Apparently, it was invented by Bruce Fishburn, a swimmer at Michigan State in the early 1970’s.

So now you know.