Swimming through it – the value of long pool sessions

It’s over two years since The Magnificent Seven did our first 8 hour pool swim. It seems longer. Early in 2010 Coach Eilís started adding regular big long pool sessions for Aspirants and The Magnificent Seven were the first test pilots. That year we did, I think, five pool sessions of at least six hours.

By now I’ve done at least twelve pool sessions of six plus hours, maybe more. (How did that happen)?

The most recent swims have been with Gábor, the Flying Hun, and there hasn’t been anything specific worth writing about and guest-starring many of the usual suspects, Lisa, Eddie, Rob, Karen, Ciarán, and some of this year’s Aspirants, Padraic, Carmel, Catherine. On this swim Lisa was in the next lane having started an hour before us, starting a 15k swim herself, having swum 17k …THE PREVIOUS DAY!

All six-hour swims are difficult for varying degrees and often, or even usually, for different reasons. You may be more tired starting, you may have been ill recently, you may develop shoulder pain or stomach or even leg cramps, or like a few weeks ago,  you may spend two hours in hell chasing Eddie Irwin who is holding 1:30 intervals per hundred easily. The point being that these swims are never easy. They are just varying degrees of tough and each usually teaches one something.

The most recent 20k with Gábor solidified many of the lessons.

Neither of us wanted to do a speed set so I took a set from marathon swimmer Mark Robson that he had posted on marathonswimmers.org Animal Set thread and adapted it. The Animal Set thread is both a great resource for finding new ideas for long punishing swims and for feeling small because no matter what you’ve done there are probably other sets in there that you’ll find horrifying.

Mark posted up 1 x 1000, 10 x 400, 2 x 2000, 10 x 400, 1 x 1000 for 14k. I’ve used this set before as a good base that’s flexible and easy to change and adapt.

This time I changed it to: 
  • 2 x 1500
  • 10 x 400 on 6:45
  • 2 x 2000 as 1st paddles & 2nd pull
  • 500 b/c
  • 10 x 400
  • 2 x 1000 as 1st 1k paddles & pull, 2nd 1k swim
  • 4 x 500
  • 500 b/c, making up a 20k session

Plenty of rest on the 400s but still making good use of time by doing 8k as 400, and a few long sets.

View Visio v200mThings were mixed early on. Swimming was fine but I was cursed by a host of minor issues. On the first 1500, my nose clip kept slipping off, I was obviously having a greasy-nose day. My Oceanswims.com Fully Sick googles, which are now my firm favourites (and not available anywhere in Europe :-( ) have been solid for 6 months started leaking and I couldn’t get them cleared no matter what I did and ended up switching back what now seems like huge Aquaspheres. I got cramps in my foot on the first 2k set (after 7k), something that hasn’t happened six months so I obviously wasn’t drinking enough, then I started to get hints of stomach cramps. All minor, but cumulatively throwing me off and taking away that sense of easy swimming that should have been prevalent early on.

While the times on the 400s were fine, doing an easy 6:45 to give us plenty of rest each rep, they weren’t exactly fun and I’m didn’t know why, since repeat 400s are bread-and-butter in my training. The first difficulty really hit on the 2k with paddles, with developing foot cramps, and then my left shoulder started really hurting. This shoulder is my good one, as almost all distance swimmers have a shoulder more prone to injury, and it’s a problem that’s only arisen this year, when my good (left) shoulder started hurting from paddle work, so I’ve reduced power paddle work by about 75% from my normal. (I used to like paddles). Pull sets are fine with me, as I don’t have a big kick so I am less affected. After finishing the first 500 back stroke, we were at 11.5 kilometres done. Three and half hours in. And that was the easy part.

The slump nearly always hits me at this point. Back to another 10x 400s and by this time the pool got very busy, with people coming and going into the lane for about an hour, Lisa being pushed into joining us, all different speeds, etc. It was probably a good thing because it helped to distract us as Gábor and I were taking turns leading out. Talking afterwards we both hit the real slump at the same time, at 11.5k and both of us struggled for the same duration of over an hour. Despite feeling worse the second 400s went quicker. At the end of the 400s we were at 15.5k and started the 1k pull and paddles, which we cruised through. Starting the next 1k straight, we were both still moaning. Gábor said he was going to take it easy. I zoned out for the first couple of lengths, and was slipping back when I noticed Gábor dolphin-kicking off the wall. Did I imagine it? At the next turn he did it again…

We were back. That kilometer was a race, ending with a sprint finish (him, by half a body), going into the repeat 400s, ending again with a sprint (him by a finger, each time I couldn’t make an attempt to pass until the last length and I was coming back from behind and he’s usually faster than me so that was ok). But that’s not the relevant point. What was relevant was the gradual recovery, so when we decided to up the gears again, the bodies responded. By we were both sore and tired. (Sore shoulders are a rarity, especially when you are swimming all the time).

All this is by way of explanation and scene-setting and context.

I’m trying to analyse this swim, and the other long swims I’ve done and extract some useful lessons on the value such sessions.

  • All long pool swims are difficult. The reasons change.
  • Feeding during pool sessions may not be completely applicable to open water.
  • But you will get better figuring out when you will run out of energy and what that feels like.
  • Long pool sessions can be used to figure out some other stuff like preferred analgesic/cramp intervention.
  • The session structure is less important than just putting in effort and time swimming and hitting that wall.
  • The post-slump improvement is gradual as your body adapts to ketosis and you don’t get a sudden sense of feeling better.
  • The glycosis to ketosis transition can vary by person and time and swim.
  • Post-swim recovery, immediately after the swim, and over the subsequent days, are important parts of long swims and the more long swims you do, the quicker and better you get at recovery.
  • The most important lesson: You can swim through it. Whatever it is. This is what makes a distance swimmer. Everything is secondary.

I hope for a future guest post on this subject and I can think of NO-ONE better qualified than Lisa to write it. Let’s everyone ask her nicely.

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4 thoughts on “Swimming through it – the value of long pool sessions”

  1. Reblogged this on aspiremanxminkes and commented:
    It was a total coincidence that this blog ended up in my inbox today – the day of our first big pool swim. And having read through it puts our big effort into perspective somewhat. However I am surprised to say that I enjoyed our 3 hrs (for some) and 3.5 hours (for the rest of us) paddle round the pool today, and was even surprised that the soreness around 7.5 to 9 k seemed to dissipate towards the end? All in all a very successful afternoon. 3.5 Minkes (cos Beth couldn’t make the whole set due to work commitments) have just swum the equivalent of the English Channel, and if we add 9 year old Nickie’s 5k into the mix, that leaves us a nice little margin for wind and tides. Well done to all, and a big shout out to Lindsey, Brandon & Jane who had the tedious job of lap counting. Thanks guys and lets have a little ‘feel good’ moment cos know we know we can make it if the Channel Gods are smiling!

  2. I am sharing this with some aspirant friends! This is a great post. It always changes…my Catalina blog was “Swim through it”. Though I had unstated emotional issues in mind this captures the essence of the physical! Great blog!!!

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