Lane direction signs

Swimming through it – the value of long swims – addendum

Something was niggling at the back of my mind last week when I wrote the article on  the utility of doing longs swims, and what I’ve learned from them. I felt I’d forgotten something but couldn’t place it.

A question this week prompted me exactly what it was. Amongst the reasons for doing long swims is to get used to knowing how you feel after said long swims, and to understand and improve your recovery process.

After I wrote the article I happened to be checking something else in my swim diary/log, (which now has about five years of detail) and I noticed that almost exactly two years previously on the same weekend, 30th April, 2010, the Magnificent Seven did our toughest ever training session. It was to be a 30k in the pool followed by a trip to the sea for a swim. We completed about 28 kilometres in nine hours (including breaks) before The Boss left us off the hook, finishing strongly with 400 I.M. and at least as I recall, Liam, Eddie and myself ending with butterfly. My training dairy notes show I felt “strong and good”. And then we all decamped to Liam’s House at Ballycroneen for a sea swim taking about an hour to get dressed and get there.

Ballycroneen

For the Aspirants complaining of the cold this year … the water that day in 2010 was 7.5°  Celsius with onshore wind and overhead waves, and we’d come from the warm pool in Source. We changed in Liam’s garage and walked down wearing coats and I was quickly in the water, no point hanging around, having looked carefully at the breakers and headed straight for a Wave Channel I could see at the west end of the short beach. Eilís was watching on the beach, unusual for her to go near the coast.

I swam through the inside channel gap and duck-dived the outside waves and very quickly I was out back, beyond the breaking waves. By this stage I realised no-one had followed me. I played around body-surfing in the waves for a few minutes and headed back in. A couple of the guys were in shallow water, the rest were out, and everyone was shouting or giving out to me, all having thought I’d been lost at sea!

Ever since, Eilís has been suffering a type of cognitive dissonance, on the one hand knowing I understand waves and tides very well and  on the other, thinking I can’t be trusted around the water. Attempts to explain were ignored; that this was completely normal for my usual training since after all I had no-one to train with, that I made a point of understanding what I doing, and that getting through waves is easy if you understand the principles and that I had been a surfer for years, all were wasted. And the fact that there were six other extremely strong and experienced swimmers present that day was also lost on her. Ever since it’s been the day Donal could have drowned. :-)

But I digress, as usual.

The cold swim that day helped to loosen tight muscles but recovery from the long swim was slow over the next week. I wrote sometime back in 2010 that local Sandycove English Channel Soloist Danny Coholane had identified that every hour training over eight hours added another week to recovery, and we were all agreed on this (having previously swum six, seven and eight-hour training swims).

Swims of five to seven hours took about five days to a week to fully recover. The two training swims of eight hours that year took almost two weeks to recover.

So what do I mean by recovery? As I described in an email during the period there’s a feeling of having little energy or ooomph when you are swimming. Times drop away, swims become much more physically and mentally challenging, you feel like you have nothing in the tank. It varies of course for everyone, but I generally feel okay for a couple of days afterwards and the slump comes for or five days after the swim.

One thing I noticed this year is that extending the time above six hours to eight hours was no longer accompanied by an extra week increase in recovery, the slump lasted about the same time.

So feeling this slump is not the direct value of the long swims, but a side effect. The actual value is in knowing that this feeling is normal, and that you are also Training To Recover.  Too many people don’t seem to consider this aspect. Why go so far into your reserves for a Channel or other swim that you are done with swimming for months or up to a year afterwards?

Related articles

Swimming through it – the value of long pool sessions (loneswimmer.com)

24 miles in 24 hours (loneswimmer.com)

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2 thoughts on “Swimming through it – the value of long swims – addendum”

  1. I did a lot of long pool swims last year for my first middle distance swim last year and that went into long (very slow with bad concentration) open water swims that were frankly longer than needed for the distance I was doing. Anyway, this year, I didn’t start doing long pool swims until a couple weeks ago for a 10miler I’m doing in July. At first I was worried I wouldn’t have enough time to train fully, but realized that as soon as I started swimming longer than 4 hours at a stretch, I needed at least two days off. Preferably three and even then, my first day back in the water was more to get my arms moving and would not be quality at all.

    I’m glad I do these swims rather than just doing a bunch of two hours swims during the week because I think it better prepares me for what’s ahead. I learn how my mind will react, how my body will react and how long it’s going to take me to feel normal. In fact, after my last 4 hour swim, I realized my goal of traveling to another country after my 10-miler was just not possible because I was so mentally spent.

    1. Hey Sarah, I agree that mental preparation is part of the game. What I would say from my own experience, which is by no means universal, is that the swims themselves become a bit easier. Maybe easy is the wrong term, more that you have greater confidence that you can get through them no matter what, but the recovery definitely gets easier. I’m not doing them any closer than 3 weeks apart but the recovery is much quicker now, and also, I just assume I’ll feel like crap and swim anyway.

      I AM a big big believer though in swimming the day afterwards to stretch out the muscles and make recovery easier, usually a cold sea swim, which I take easy and allow myself to chill down, which I think helps muscle recovery and lactate dispersion.

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