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.