Saturday, November 8, 2014

The swimming thing

I was chatting to one of the people in my office about why I was eating second breakfast at 8:30. I'd just got into the office after a swim. First breakfast is about 5:30, and if I'm swimming it's pretty light.  Then I need to eat a real breakfast pretty promptly after the swim, or I'm going to be a hot snarly mess. The usual is some granola and nuts poured into some yogurt, with a banana on top. So healthy!

Then we got chatting about swimming, and what with some comments about counting laps not that long ago, and being drained of words by NaNoWriMo, made me think this might be a good blog topic.

First. Getting better at swimming.
It's all about practice. It takes lots and lots of practice, and unlike riding a bicycle you will forget. Oh, technically, you still know how, it's just that you can't really do it. Once upon a time I could swim a 20 minute kilometer and not even get my heart rate into the aerobic zone. Then I didn't for a long time, and it took the better part of a year to get back to that 20 minute pace.

Water feel is an elusive thing. Some days it's there and some days it's not, even if you are swimming regularly. Twice a week barely maintains it. Three times a week, and you'll make a bit of progress. Four times a week is perfect, if you can do it.

Most people try to go faster by working harder. This is a mistake. Drag is everything in swimming. You want to do everything to minimize drag, and body position in the water is huge. Then comes stroke technique, and this is huge, and subtle. It will take the rest of your life. Live with it.

Second. Your times.
Once you can swim a bunch of laps without stopping, if you want to improve, you must know your times. You must, whatever they are. There is no alternative. The only way you know if you're improving is to know you are faster. The clock will tell you this. Your feelings will not. Your feelings will lie.

For almost every swim, I look at the lap clock every lap. I know to within a second or two how long it should take, and if I'm slower, I think about what I'm doing wrong. There's a couple choices. I'm slacking off, I'm getting sloppy, or I blew a flip turn. I fix it and keep going.

It doesn't matter if you take two minutes to go 25 m, or one length of the pool doing a sloppy breast stroke. Thats your time. Work at it. Then one day it will come together and it will be 1:50 instead of two minutes. You'll know you've improved. Think about what you did.

Know your times for everything. So for example, here's my times. Some of you will think these are fast. Some might think they are unbearably slow. It doesn't matter.

My normal swim. I try to pick a lane where I can see the pace clock as I surface from my flip turn. My first few laps will be about 55 seconds, then I'll slow down to my distance pace of 56 to 58 seconds per lap.

My intervals pace for 50 m on 1 minute start is between 45 and 50 seconds. Once I slow down past 50 seconds I take a break, then try again. I'm still working on my 100 m pace.

My all out pace, at the end of a workout is 42 or 43 seconds for 50 m.

I remember these, and try to improve. I would love, LOVE to be able to consistently drop my distance pace to 55 seconds per lap. This takes me from a 19 minutes per K, to 18:20 or so. Then I'll try to get faster yet.

Now, as I said these are my times. They aren't good or bad in any real sense, they just are. Whatever your times are, work to improve them. It happens a few seconds at a time.

Third. Counting laps.
I am a lap pervert. I've never met anyone that counts laps like I do. I've tried to explain a couple times, and people give me a blank look. Let me try again.

Most people count laps like they count anything else. Sometimes they group them, which is why swim workouts are expressed the way they are, and to keep people from being bored. I can't do it that way.

So, imagine that I've started my swim with the digital pace clock at 00:00. I push off and swim 50 m. I look at the clock again when I've done the second flip turn and surfaced, so actually I've swum a hair more than 50 m, but this gets me started on my pattern. Here's how it goes.

00:55, end of first lap
01:50, end of second lap
02:45, 3 laps
03:43, 4 laps
04:40, 5 laps
05:37, 6 laps
06:35, 7 laps
07:33, 8 laps
08:31, 9 laps
09:28, 10 laps (500 m)

See the pattern? Every time I look at the clock, I know that I have swum one more lap, than there are minutes on the clock. As I carry on look what happens.

19:01 20 laps, 1 K and I keep going
19:58, 21 laps, and now I know that instead of one more lap than there are minutes, I've now swum 2 more laps than minutes on the clock, as long as I keep up the pace. I carry on, keeping track of seconds so that I know I'm keeping pace. With my current fitness I'm not likely to drop another minute, but if I do for a really long swim, it turns into 3 more laps than there are minutes. I've only done this a few times.

Now think about if your time is a few seconds more than a minute per lap. Build the same sequence and you'll see that for up to about a K, you are swimming as many laps as there are minutes, and after a while you see the seconds come around again, and you'll know you have swum one FEWER lap than there are minutes on the clock.

All I need to do is start at a whole number of minutes and I'm good to go. The other day I pushed off at 33:00. So I know that when the clock is about 52 I've swum 1 K.

To me, this is easy. But then I think SQL is fun.

Now, where was I? WITH a as (SELECT * FROM...


  1. I haven't been in the pool lately due to my arm (which is 75% better and I'm off the painkillers-yay!) but hope to get back in this week. I have my watch now and plan to hit lap after every set of 4 x 25meters so I can get an estimate on time/distance. Once I have an idea, your clock idea should work. Up until now I've just been splashing around for fun. I'll report back.

    1. If you've got your own watch, and can read it while doing a flip turn, you don't need to see the pools pace clock. Start your stopwatch, and look at it every lap, and you'll be good to go.

    2. Flip turn. You're so optimistic. I doggie paddle to turn without touching the wall-that's pretty much the same thing.

    3. Open turn! He said! You're allowed to push off. Encouraged, even. Grab the rim of the pool with one hand and pull in. Pull your feet up against the wall as you push out again with your hand. Fall back on the side opposite the hand you grabbed the edge with. Submerge as the pool edge hand goes out into streamline position, then push off nice and clean, surface and stroke. Glad to hear you are off the painkillers!

    4. Thanks for the tips Keith! Feel in the water is elusive yes. Drag is bad yes. Awareness of space and time is also elusive for me ha! I will need to pay more attention. I looked at the clock and tried to count laps but got totally lost and was considering making an abacus thing from ribbon and beads but that was a fail tonight. Knowing you are one more lap ahead of the time on the clock will be helpful (hopefully when I get faster).
      Amy, what kind of watch did you get?

    5. Prices at MEC have gone up. The Timex with heart rate monitor and stuff was $75, now it's $100. They probably have just the waterproof stopwatch, but you'd have to scroll through and I'm not in the mood.

    6. Hey Michelle-I bought a Timex Ironman watch on clearance from Walmart several years ago and I realized a little while ago I would be perfect for swimming. I plan to try hitting the lap button every four lengths of the pool the next time I go swimming. Hopefully tomorrow.

  2. Great tips Keith! Swimming does take a lot of practice and I sadly don't have the patience for it. I'm not sure view point may still be tainted by the complete lack of desire to go to the pool post-Ironman.

    I have noticed that on times when I try to swim fast that I usually flail about in the water a lot more, get a lot more tired, and still swim the same lap time. Oops.

    1. I know lots of people struggle with the swim in triathlon. For many reasons it's the easiest to drop, especially in winter. Needing a pool, and the times lanes are available at the pool are just the start. For many women going to the office after a swim makes getting wet in the first place even more of an ordeal. And training for an ironman is a LOT of swimming. It's easy to overdose. There are all kinds of people out there that used to swim competitively, and you couldn't pay them to go back into the pool.
      Trying to swim faster without having the technique nailed down is an exercise in futility. I hope you rediscover the pool love.


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