Good Workouts and Bad Workouts

100×100 may be “the most famous of all distance swimming sessions” – but I’d never actually done it… until last Friday. Mark invited me to his USA-S squad’s morning practice, for reasons unspecified, and had this “special surprise” waiting for us: 100×100 (SCY), as:

  • 10 @ 1:30, warm-up
  • 10 @ 1:20
  • 10 @ { 2 @ 1:15, 3 @ 1:10, 3 @ 1:20, 2 @ 1:30 }
  • 6x: 10 @ { 4 @ 1:10, 3 @ 1:30, 2 @ 1:05, 1 @ 2:10 }
  • 10 @ 1:30, cool-down

Normally this would be a make-able (if challenging) set for me. Unfortunately, Friday was not a normal day. For whatever reason, my body was just not cooperating. I lifted weights on Thursday, but I don’t think that entirely accounts for it. It was just one of those days.

I have a “lead balloon” day once a month or so. I recognize it within minutes of getting in the water. Wow… I’ve got *nothing* today. On such days, I usually adjust my plans. Slow drilling, sculling, kicking… anything but a distance-overload set on tight intervals.

By the second round of 10×100 (1:20 interval), it was clear I was having “one of those days.” My body position felt off. I was having trouble hitting my stroke count (14), which on a normal day I can do with my eyes closed (literally). I was approaching the wall in-between strokes (e.g., 14 & and a half), and thus either jamming or floating my turns. It didn’t help that I was swimming in an end-lane without visual targets on the walls. One time I actually “whiffed” on a flip-turn – like, I totally missed the wall – which I can’t remember ever doing, even when I was 7 years old.

I was a mess.

And yet – at the end of that second round, I still had 80x100s to go! 240 flip turns. Ugh. If this were a solo workout, I’d probably try to get through an hour and call it a day. If this were Masters – probably the same. But this was different. When you swim with kids half your age, your pride is at stake. You can’t just bail a third of the way through the workout.

So, I kept swimming. I didn’t make every send-off, but I completed every lap. If you look at the “main set” of 60×100, you’ll notice every 10th repeat is on 2:10 – providing a buffer for those who missed one (or both) of the 1:05 send-offs to catch up. This buffer was my saving grace.

As much as possible, I tried not to struggle. I focused on good technique – on trying to feel smooth, even if I felt like a lead balloon. My goal was to finish 10,000 yards without hurting myself. As much as possible, I ignored the clock. Speed was a secondary consideration.

Much like a channel swim, actually. In my younger, pool-swimming focused days, I might have considered this a “bad workout.” In pool swimming, “good” and bad” is defined by speed. In a channel swim, though, the primary consideration is: Did you make it across? Did you keep swimming for as long as it took?

And in that sense, this was a useful workout. Not a “good” workout, exactly… but a useful one.

The Kitchen Sink Set

Here’s a workout I sometimes do if I show up to the pool without a plan. It consists of 10 sets, each totaling, respectively: 1000, 900, 800, 700, 600, 500, 400, 300, 200, 100. You make up each set as you go along. Usually, I’ll do the first 1000 as warm-up, and tack on 5×100 cool-down at the end, for an even 6,000 yards/meters.

I call it the Kitchen Sink Set. Here’s one version I did this past weekend (SCY):

  • 1000 w/u: 300 swim, 200 kick, 300 pull, 2×100 IM
  • 3×300 pull, moderate
  • 4×200 IM, threshold
  • 14×50: 2x {fly, fly/back, back, back/breast, breast, breast/free, free}
  • 6×100 kick, descend 1-3
  • 100 loosen, 400 Free AFAP (as fast as possible)
  • 4×100: 50 drill / 50 swim, choice of stroke
  • 6×50 fly, smooth
  • 200 IM, broken @ the 50’s, 10 seconds rest – AFAP
  • 4×25 sprint under-water SDK (streamline dolphin kick) on back

I like this workout for a couple reasons. The structure of descending distances keeps you motivated to push through to the end (important when training solo). It has a little bit of everything – aerobic, threshold, lactate, mix of strokes, drilling, kicking, pulling, SDK’s. And it’s different every time. If you have a training partner, you can divide creative responsibilities to make it even more interesting.

Pre-Tampa training swim

Last weekend I did a rather epic pool workout (as you know if you follow my Twitter feed). An unexpected excuse came up for a quick trip to Santa Barbara, and given my current lack of long course or open water options in Chicago, I decided to use the opportunity for a pre-Tampa training swim. The Rec Center at UCSB has a beautiful outdoor 50m x 25y pool that – conveniently – is open for LCM lap swimming from 9am to 8:30pm on the weekends.

Despite a chilly morning, it turned into a gorgeous day. With cloudless skies, a light breeze, and mid-day highs in the 60s, I actually worried about getting sunburned. When the front door opened at 9am I went straight to the pool to claim my lane – second from the bottom of the picture, with the best viewing angle to the pace clock. Incredibly, nobody joined me in that lane until the last 15 minutes of the swim.

In designing the workout, I aimed for something that would challenge me in terms of distance, time, and pace, but without boring me to death. So I ruled out a long continuous swim, or something overly repetitive like 15×1000. I aimed for something I could realistically do, but that also offered a not-insignificant chance of failure. My previous longest swim/workout in terms of both time and distance (including my club and college swimming days) was Swim the Suck last October – 10 miles (effectively ~8.5 given the favorable current) in 3 hours, 7 minutes.

I eventually settled on a 25,000-meter (15.5-mile) set that, at a constant interval of 1:30 per 100m, would take 6 hours, 15 minutes. This would approximately double the Tennessee River swim and put me within spitting distance of the current-assisted length of TBMS. While a 1:30/100m is a conservative interval for me under most circumstances, at marathon distance I knew it would pose a challenge. As a point of reference, a 1:30 pace for 10K is 2 hours, 30 minutes – no slouch of a time. It’s also interesting to note that only 4 of 45 competitors in the last USMS 25K National Championship finished under 6:15.

And remember, a 1:30 interval means my actual pace must be faster than 1:30, so I have time to feed between swims.

Anyway, here’s the set:

  • 1000
  • 10×100
  • 1000
  • 5×200
  • 1500
  • 5×300
  • 1500
  • 3×500
  • 2000
  • 4×500
  • 2000
  • 5×400
  • 1500
  • 5×300
  • 1000
  • 5×200
  • 1000
  • 10×100

I maintained my normal training volume going into the swim, though I did take off the day before. My energy level and general “feel for the water” during warm-up rated about a 6 on a scale of 1-10 – not ideal, but good enough.

After a quick 500m loosen-up, I did the first 1000m swim in 14:05 (pace of 1:24.5) – right on target. I managed to hold this pace for the first 10K (3×500). On the first 2000m swim (10-12K) I started hurting a bit and my pace deteriorated slightly; but I was still getting plenty of rest between swims. The second 2000m (14-16K) was slower still, and hurt even more.

By the “downhill” portion of the set (1500, 5×300, 1000, 5×200, etc.) I was fully ensconced in the hurt box. I experienced what I can only describe as a “narrowing” of consciousness. I had no idea what was going on around me; my stroke was on autopilot; I was aware of only the pain. But I kept making my intervals. Not by much – especially on the shorter swims – but I made them.

I finally did cross over the 1:30/100m barrier on the final round of 10×100. I started feeling dizzy and thought I might puke, so I just swam a straight 1000, alternating 50 back / 50 free. In the end I finished the 25,000th meter (excluding warm-up) a few seconds shy of 6 hours, 16 minutes.

Then I pulled myself out of the pool, chugged a quart of chocolate milk, and took a hot shower. I had entered the water a few minutes after 9am. It was now almost 3:30 in the afternoon.

That evening I watched the Oscars with my parents. I felt like I’d been run over by a truck, but I washed down some ibuprofen with a few glasses of wine (probably not the healthiest combination), which numbed me up pretty good. The next day my shoulders were still a bit perturbed, but I was better. Two days after that: as good as new.

25K training swim: check.

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”

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.

Back in the saddle

After a day off following the races in North Carolina, I’ve strung together as good a 4-day stretch of training as I’ve had in several months. My volume is up a bit (I’m on pace for ~29,000 yards this week), but especially the intensity.

Monday I pounded out 4,000 SCY (including 1,700 of kicking) right after lifting (session A). Tuesday I combined SCY & LCM for 3,740 yards, again right after lifting (session B). This workout included the following race-pace set (LCM):

  • 4x {200 fast, 100 easy} @ 6:00
    • 2:28, 2:27, 2:27, 2:15 (pull)

Those times don’t appear all that great, but given that I lifted right before, I was pleased. Wednesday I reached 5,000 SCY despite soreness from 2 back-to-back lifting sessions. Main set:

  • 4x {500 @ 10K pace, 10 sec rest, 200 build to fast, 50 easy} @ 10:00
    • I held around 5:55 for the 500s and 2:16 for the 200s.

This morning I managed 3,500 LCM in just over 50 minutes, with just one set:

  • 5×700
    • #1 warm-up @ 11:00
    • #2-4 moderate descend to 10K pace @ 10:00
      • 9:32, 9:27, 9:25 (pace of 1:21.7, 1:21.0, 1:20.7)
    • #5 warm-down

Tomorrow and Saturday I’ll dial it down slightly – a necessary recovery from the past 4 days, but also to hit Sunday’s race (USMS 1.5-mile O.W. Champs in Livermore, CA) ready to swim fast. Sunday morning I’ll visit my old friends at Stanford Masters for a warm-up.

Hello, California!

The meet warm-up: Preparing to swim fast

Tomorrow morning I will fly from Columbus to Atlanta, and from the airport will head directly to the pool and warm up for my first event, 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:

  • 400 – alternate 100 free / 100 back
  • 400 –
    • 2x {50 kick, 50 drill, 50 swim} – include strokes
    • 2×25 SDK (streamline dolphin kick)
    • 50 easy swim
  • 400 – straight free, build to 75%
  • 4×100 descend to 80% – possibly include strokes or IM
  • 4×50 IM order @ 85%
  • 8×25 – sprint to halfway, then easy – include strokes

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.