Last Week at the Forum

So much interesting stuff happening down at the Forum these days, it’s tough to keep up with it all; and it’s not even June! Some highlights since my last update:

Forum stats as of 5/30/2012: 312 members, 1572 posts.

Stroke count games

What’s the fewest number of strokes you can take for a single length of the pool? (No streamlining past the flags; no more than three kicks per stroke.)

I can get down to 8 strokes per 25 SCY, but it’s tough to sustain for more than one length. 9 strokes per length (SPL) I can do pretty much indefinitely – but it’s incredibly inefficient. The inefficiency is readily apparent: a huge dead spot in my momentum as I glide (glide, glide…) after each stroke. The Swim Smooth guys have a term for this: Overgliding.

I swim most efficiently between 13 and 15 SPL, depending on pace. 13 for channel/marathon pace; 14 for “threshold” pace (from the mile up to about 5K); 15 for 200/500 pace. For an all-out sprint, I’ll add one more stroke (16 SPL).

Experienced pool swimmers have an intuitive feel for this… but what if you don’t? Is there a formula to identify the most efficient stroke count for a given pace? This question led me to try the following set:

8×100, as fast as possible, with about a minute rest between each. But there’s a twist: Within each 100, hold a constant SPL. The first should be your lowest sustainable SPL. On each subsequent 100, add one SPL. So for me, #1 is 9 SPL, and #8 is 16 SPL. Record all your times. The set is best done short-course (it’s tougher to control SPL so tightly in a long-course pool).

Here are my results:

SPL time
9    1:20
10   1:14
11   1:10
12   1:07
13   1:05
14   1:02
15   1:00
16   1:01

Further evidence of the inefficiency of minimum stroke-count: At 9 SPL, the fastest I could go was 1:20! Merely by adding two strokes per length (8 total), I was able to go 10 seconds faster.

[Warning: Geeky content ahead.]

Does this remind you of anything? That’s right – it’s sort of like SWOLF! So, let’s sum the two columns above to produce SWOLF scores:

9    1:20  116  [(9*4) + 80]
10   1:14  114  [(10*4) + 74]
11   1:10  114  etc.
12   1:07  115
13   1:05  117
14   1:02  118
15   1:00  120
16   1:01  121

SWOLF doesn’t quite get it right. According to SWOLF, my efficiency peaks at 10/11 SPL (1:14 & 1:10 per 100y) – which I know to be false. Even at cool-down pace, 10 SPL is more taxing than 12-13 SPL, due to the constant stop/start motion of overgliding.

The key here is: I already know my most efficient SPL is 13-15, depending on pace. I have the result; so what’s the formula that produces it?

Given the above data, the problem with the original SWOLF formula (time in seconds + total number of strokes) seems to be that it overvalues stroke count (and by corollary, undervalues speed). So I just tried the simplest thing I could think of: dividing stroke-count by two (thus reducing its importance in the final equation).

(Stroke Count / 2) + Time = modified SWOLF

SPL time SWOLF(mod)
9    1:20   98  [(9*4/2) + 80]
10   1:14   94  [(10*4/2) + 74]
11   1:10   92
12   1:07   91
13   1:05   91
14   1:02   90
15   1:00   90
16   1:01   93


What’s funny about my “discovery” is that there’s another term for “stroke count divided by 2” — stroke cycles. Which incidentally is exactly how the Swimsense calculates SWOLF. So perhaps our friends at FINIS were on to something?

If any readers out there want to try this set and report back, I’d be grateful for additional data. Does modified SWOLF find your most efficient stroke count(s)?

This one time, at swim camp…

This past weekend Jamie Patrick hosted 50-some-odd swimmers, spouses, children, and pets at his vacation cottage in Lake County, north of Napa Valley. While the majority of guests hailed from the nearby Bay Area, others journeyed from more far-flung locations: Darren from Pittsburgh, Michelle from Florida, Bob from Portland, and Gords & Goody from Utah.

The event was nominally a Swim Camp – and indeed, many of the campers have big plans this season: the English Channel for Gords and Jen; Catalina for Goody; Tsugaru for Darren; Paul’s insane Sea of Cortez swim; and of course Jamie’s own circumnavigation of Tahoe.

But even before rumors of a mysterious itch-inducing substance in the lake, I had no ambitious training plans. I was more interested in the people and conversation – making new friends and re-connecting with old ones. I executed reasonably well on this goal.

Jamie's cottage. Photo credit: Jamie Patrick

Friday morning we caravan-ed to nearby Clear Lake, which offered cooler waters and more room to roam. The previous evening, Jen and I discovered we have a pretty good tandem-swimming rhythm together, so we partnered up for the morning.

After some initial chaos and confusion (nobody had any idea where we were going), our group – Jen, myself, Steve Munatones, Lexie, and Paul Lundgren – settled into a comfortable groove. We swam about 5km in one direction in 1hr15min. Then the pontoon boat (piloted alternately by Jamie, Vito, and Vito’s unbearably obnoxious dog Luigi) instructed us to turn around and swim back.

It was a glorious swim. Jen and I swam stroke-for-stroke, often for 20-30 minutes at a time without pausing. Such great fun! I’ve never experienced a more refreshing 10K in my life. Despite two hours of sleep the previous night, I was neither tired nor sore at the end. I think I could have swum all day.

Jen and me after the Clear Lake swim. Photo credit: Lynn K.

The morning didn’t go quite so smoothly for some. One trio of swimmers got left behind at the far end of the lake, without access to nutrition. They ended up hitchhiking back to the marina. I’ll let Gords and Goody tell that story. In the end, everyone was safe and (I hope) lessons were learned.

Aside from the Clear Lake swim, my total training for the weekend included a single 1.2-mile lap of Jamie’s lake Thursday evening, another lap Saturday morning with Cathy, and a clothing-optional out-and-back group swim Thursday night. Like I said – I wasn’t really there for training.

Sunday morning seemed to arrive too soon, and it was time for Rob and me to head back down the coast to our respective homes. It was a long drive, but all the good memories swirling about seemed to compress the miles.

Happy campers. Photo credit: Jamie Patrick

Jamie Patrick, if you are reading this: Thanks for opening your home to us, and organizing this ridiculously fun weekend. You are one classy dude.

Until next year!

Putting on my happy face. Photo by Rob D.

Last Week at the Forum

Highlights from the past week at the Marathon Swimmers Forum:

Forum stats as of May 12, 2012 (exactly two months after public launch): 295 members, 104 threads, 1299 posts, 58K page views.

Race Report: Nite Moves #2 (of 18)

Nite Moves results are here. I was 6/115 in a mostly local field – though a “local field” in Santa Barbara typically includes some pretty decent swimmers. Mark W. was first. He’s not really in shape right now, but apparently still has enough to hold off the pretenders.

leadbetter beach
Leadbetter Beach, viewed from Shoreline Park

I haven’t been in the ocean much lately, so the water felt a touch brisk. The closest channel buoy said 57, but I’m guessing it was closer to 55. The overcast skies offered no solar relief. I opted for an in-water warm-up, which was a mistake. By the time I lined up at the start, my feet were numb.

Oh, and I forgot to bring a cap. Mmm… brain freeze.

Beach-start, beach-finish races almost seem designed to punish me. Nite Moves is even more cleverly designed to punish me: the finish is a 70m trek uphill across a soft-sand beach. Here’s how it usually pans out:

After the mad dash into the water, I’m immediately behind like half the field. By the time I’m past the breakers, the leaders have 15-20m on me.

Then, I spend the next 5-7 minutes clawing my way through slower swimmers – at first much slower swimmers, then only somewhat slower swimmers. After I run the gauntlet I finally have some clear water – but am even further behind the leaders, who had clear water the whole time. Usually, it’s too far to make up during the remaining 500m.

At the finish, if I’m in any sort of close race, I will lose. Notice the two guys who placed 4th and 5th (6 and 3 seconds ahead of me, respectively). I beat both of them out of the water. And then they passed me running up the beach. At Nite Moves, I figure I need at least a 10-second lead out of the water to avoid getting passed on the beach.

I’m pleased to report I narrowly held off a pair of hard-charging 13-14 year old girls. Score one for wisdom and brute strength. Well, mostly the latter.

Beach starts and finishes have a long tradition in lifeguard competition… so perhaps I’m being overly literal, thinking an open water swimming event should test, you know, swimming. Not swimming-plus-a-beach-run. Is it too much to ask, to move the finish down to the high-tide line?

Afterward, I caught up with Mark and some other old friends over tacos, live music, and free-flowing, locally-crafted beer. Beer makes everything better.

Another perfect Wednesday evening in paradise.

Open Water Season Begins in SoCal

My first open-water race of 2012 is this evening, the weekly Nite Moves 1000m swim / 5K run at Leadbetter Beach in Santa Barbara (I skip the running part).

leadbetter beach, santa barbara
Leadbetter Beach. Photo by Instagram user “woooks”

Nite Moves is (are?) organized by triathlon-types and doesn’t (don’t?) offer separate categories for wetsuits & skins. This is sort of offensive, but whatever, I’ll play by their rules.

The “swim” portion of Nite Moves ends with a 70m run up the beach, which is also offensive (my hip replacement precludes me from running). But afterwards there’s food, beer, music, good company – and hey, it’s Santa Barbara – so I suppose I can’t complain too much.