Short Course: The bad news

Short Course: The bad news

I recently noted an unforeseen benefit of doing long swims in a short-course pool: It’s easy to monitor your stroke count without counting!

That’s the good news.

The bad news?

Swimming for a long time without stopping in a short-course pool can increase the risk of tossing your cookies.

I assume this has something to do with flip turns, and I also assume it depends on what you’ve eaten recently. I didn’t have a problem in the One Hour Postal last year, but I occasionally do get nauseated during these swims.

It goes with the territory. Just ask Dave Barra, who did a memorably gruesome 30,000 SCY workout at about this same time last year.…

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The joys of short course

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.…

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A good week

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.…

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The Fishburn Set

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.…

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Marathon swimming, boredom, and toys

Marathon swimming, boredom, and toys

Lake Michigan is cold right now. Too cold to swim in. It hit rock bottom (33F) sometime mid-December, and there it has stayed. What’s a marathon swimmer not living in SoCal or SoFlo to do?

The typical answer is: Long Course. And that actually has been a reasonably good solution for me… until this week. With the UIC varsity teams now approaching the championship phase of their season, the pool we share has now switched to short course ’til mid-April. So… three months until Tampa Bay and nothing but flip turns every 25 yards? Oh no!

Marathon swimmers need endurance, but equally important is being able to psychologically tolerate swimming for long stretches without stopping. This isn’t as relevant in pool competition, where the longest race is only a mile. In the mile, you still need good speed, so lots of interval training is the norm. Even in my younger days when I routinely covered 10,000m over a morning & evening practice, I’d rarely do sets that required me to swim more than 20 laps at a time (500 SCY or 1000 LCM).…

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On pull buoys, ctd.

On pull buoys, ctd.

A few follow-up thoughts on pull buoys:

First, to be clear, the use of pulling gear for motivational reasons (as Mark described) is probably only relevant if you’re a distance/marathon swimmer who trains enough volume that mental fatigue is an issue. Or perhaps (as I described) if you’re just having a bad day of training and pulling gear means the difference between getting through a workout or bailing out early.

If you’re a sprinter and/or stroke specialist, pulling equipment probably isn’t too useful, aside from certain types of drills.

But Mark is a marathon swimmer, and so am I – so that’s why I wrote the post.

Second, I want to highlight one particularly important quote from Mark’s interview:

To make up for the lack of swimming I do a lot of running, cycling and kicking to make sure that I have strong legs and I do a lot of core work to make sure that my abs are ready to handle the body position requirements for a race, so it’s not like I only do pulling sets.



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On pull buoys

On pull buoys

This is a pull buoy ————–>

At once the most common of training aids, and the most disrespected. According to conventional wisdom, pull buoys:

  • encourage weak body position – swimmers don’t have to kick and engage their core to raise their body position as they would without a buoy.
  • inhibit body rotation, causing swimmers to swim “flat” and thus less efficiently.
  • put extra strain on the shoulders, making injuries more likely.
  • discourage underwater kicking off walls.
  • are, along with hand paddles, a crutch used by lazy swimmers to help them swim faster and with less energy.

See, for instance, this thread on the USMS discussion forum, or one forum member’s memorable suggestion of a drill to “throw a pull buoy as far away from yourself as possible.”

Personally, I’ve always liked pulling with paddles and a buoy. I try not to overuse them – typically, I’ll use them at the end of a main set (say, the last round of a 4-round set) for a little extra “oomph.” Actually, it’s more than just a little – I’m usually about 6 seconds per 100 faster with paddles+buoy than without.…

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Do marathon swims require high-volume training?

Do marathon swims require high-volume training?

A few weeks ago there was an interesting exchange on Steven Munatones’ Facebook page. In response to Steve’s report of a group of Irish marathon swimmers who did a monster set of 200 x 100m on 1:40, one well known swimmer/coach/guru commented:

How did I ever manage to complete the Manhattan Island Marathon twice, averaging less than 20,000 yards per week, and with most sets being 3000 yards or less? Ditto the 24-mile Tampa Bay Marathon.

Munatones responded:

You have written extensively how little you train for marathon by training neurologically vs. traditionally. Other swimmers also train relatively little while experiencing success in marathon swims. However, experiencing long tough workouts are a proven way to increase the PROBABILITY of finishing a race and overcoming the inevitable obstacles along the way. In my opinion, successful marathon swimming is about minimizing risks while occasionally doing long, tough workouts to maximize performance, especially if one is new to the sport. For yourself and others who have already completed a marathon swim or have decades of competitive swimming background, there is much less need to train long distances.



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Lift before swim, or swim before lift?

Lift before swim, or swim before lift?

I do my dryland training at the University of Chicago’s Ratner Center. As it happens, the gym shares a roof with a very nice 50m x 25y pool. So, for efficiency’s sake I usually combine my weightlifting sessions with a swim.

A question thus arises: Lift first, or swim first?

I’ve heard different theories on this. Those who endorse lifting first say you’re more likely to injure yourself when you’re tired, and thus lifting after a tiring swim session can be dangerous. Some also say a post-lift swim session allows them to “stretch out” their muscles and reduce later soreness. The most interesting argument I’ve heard is that even a brief lifting session can produce muscle fatigue equivalent to (or greater than) a full swim session. So, if you want to practice “swimming tired” to simulate the feeling at the end of a race, a pre-swim lifting session can provide more bang for your buck. That’s probably true.

On the other hand, research seems to suggest that a proper warm-up is actually more important than warm-down, in preventing both muscle soreness and injuries.…

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Kayak Escort Practice Swim!

Kayak Escort Practice Swim!

This morning, while 45,000 runners sweated through an unseasonably warm October morning in the Chicago Marathon, I went for a nice long swim in Lake Michigan.

I was joined in this outing by my new friend Thomas – ultra-distance cyclist, fellow Point swimmer and, it turns out, owner of a sea kayak! After a recent Point outing Thomas had suggested that if I ever wanted to explore regions of the lake outside the swim buoys, he’d be glad to provide an escort. With the last blast of summer weather, the stars were aligned – I took him up on the offer.…

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