I haven’t been happier in the water since I started swimming regularly last October, I think that was, after a four-year break to go pretend to race bikes. This is where I should be.
I’m back at Tamalpais Aquatics Masters, a team I started swimming with in the mid-90s, when I first moved to San Rafael to live with my Grandma Cathy. Many of the same people I started swimming with are still there, and I’m still one of the youngest people there. I don’t know what that means.
Back when I was 25 years old, and still dreaming of personal bests, I swam with the early and serious morning group at 6:30, because I thought it’d make me faster. Well, in two years, I swam my slowest times ever. I added nine seconds to my best 100 breast time, for example. Nobody ever does that. I couldn’t figure out why, because our intervals were so hard, like, impossibly hard, for most of the entire work out.
Of course, we probably only swam half of our workout time, because between sets, we’d have to let the lane leaders talk. They had important things to say. There was also a period where we’d have to pause for a few minutes to let our lane leader of leaders, who had once been a rival of Mark Spitz, sprint a series of 25 yards wearing a monofin (this monstrous one-finned fin, like that of a whale), while we’d look on in awe.
I do believe this may have impacted my over all fitness, all that sitting around in awe, and then spinning my arms trying to make send offs that hardly anyone could make.
Thanks to flex hours at work, I was able to switch to the 7:45 workout time, and regain a sense of sanity. That’s been my regular spot since. My thought then was this: making 100s on the 1:15 makes sense sometimes (like when you can actually do it), but not all the time. Why not slow down the pace a bit, but keep moving for the whole workout?
Well, that was my thought. I don’t know how I improved relative to the hammerheads, but I did start to see gains again, mainly in open water events and even the 50 fly of all things.
I want to understand why masters swimmers swim like that, despite all the information out there that proves that there’s a time and place for suffering, and that you don’t have to suffer all the time.
Just today, when I got into warm up, the guys were wrapping up a set of 50s. On the white board, Coach Marie’s communication medium of choice, it said 8 to 12 x 50 (that’s 50 yards), choice non-free (that means any stroke but freestyle), build up, with 20 seconds rest.
If you really build up these 50s, by starting at a moderate pace and increasing the effort to a sprint, that set can be painful. But these guys were swimming freestyle, on the 40 second interval, and it was touch and go the whole time.
There’s nothing wrong with swimming a set like that, but when you have to make a tough send off for a prolonged period of time, you have to back down the intensity, or you won’t make the whole set. You have to pace yourself. There is nothing wrong with pacing yourself. But when it’s speed set, which this was, if you gave yourself more time to recover, you could actually work on that, um, speed, and keep your stroke together. You can actually swim faster.
So why. Why do they do that? Is it some badge of honor to swim intervals you can barely make? What is the purpose?
I did the 50s on the minute, and I swam free down, and butterfly back, because two laps of fly would not be pretty. That was hard enough.
That’s why I swim by myself.
I need to print this out and just hand it out to my teammates the next time they ask me why I don’t swim with the group. “Don’t you want to swim faster?” they ask.
Why, yes, as a matter of fact, yes I do!