Category Archives: Pool training

One small sign of swimmer’s spring

Swimmer’s Twitter accounts, which have often laid dormant during the winter, start to come alive again.

I’ll irregularly updating progress tomorrow as we hopefully go through the day on my Twitter account and maybe a post or two here from my phone. I mean, how rare is it for a swimmer to be able to update on their own swim?

Best of luck to Mark Robson who is starting tonight in Guildford in the UK, but with an almost 300 mile drive first! And Fergal Galvin who is also taking part in a 24 hour team head to head relay in the NAC.

24 miles in 24 hours pool swim preparation list

Food: Not Maxim. We know that won’t work for 24 hours in a pool. :-)

Fruit. (Especially berries, bananas)


Hot or cold Pasta (ugh)



Chocolate, biscuits, mint cake, jelly babies. The usual.

Fruit Cake/flapjacks

I’ll have a tub of Maxim for the times we need a boost.

Coffee for the night.

Lots of water. I’ll probably bring 2x 5l bottles for myself. One will 20% Miwadi + salt.

Cordial or squash to add a bit of flavour.

Mouthwash also, just in case of sore throats.

A few high energy bars.

Other things :

3 togs, 3 goggles, 3 hats, 3 nose plugs.

Vaseline/lanolin or Channel grease. Vaseline should work fine for this.

Towels (I’ll be bringing my sports chamois towel for quick drying off but will still need/bring 3 or 4 regular towels).

Few pairs of shorts and track suit bottom.

Sandals/flip flops.

5 or 6 t-shirts and a few hoodies.

A warm coat for the middle of the night when tired.

Wet wipes or damp cloth, and dishwashing liquid for getting off the lanolin.

Baby oil.

Something to keep faces moisturised.

Painkillers. And different painkillers. And other painkillers. At least one with an anti-inflammatory.

Anti-diarrhea tablets & Peppermint oil tablets (in case of stomach cramps)

Asthma Inhaler, which I recommend everyone uses a couple of times since you are in a pool environment for 24 hours.

Some Biofreeze and Volterol for topical pain.

Talked to Aoife. Chlorine levels to be between 0.8 and 1.0. Great! Pool is normally cool.

Cocaine and/or Amphetamines.

No MP3 players allowed, as usual.

Lisa Cummins, Ireland’s Double English Channel Queen

Danny Walsh, 2010 & 2102 Solo Aspirant, National Double English Channel relay team record

Marie Barry, 2010 English Channel single relay


(Possibly one other if she shows up).

Many thanks to Aoife Mullins, Pool Manager in The Watershed for being so positive when I asked her about this all those months ago and being so helpful in organising.

Swimming notation – updated

I know I posted a version of this a year ago (or so). So here’s an updated version with some more information on it. My sister mentioned the other day that it looked like I was writing code occasionally, and I guess I am, but it’s not a secret code.

This is the “code” of how swimmers & coaches write session training plans.

These are useful if you get a copy of someone’s plan or find some on the ‘net, where there are plenty to be found.

So, in swim code, all the strokes have abbreviations:

FR or f/s or f/c: Front crawl

BK or b/c : Backstroke

BR or b/s : Breaststroke

FL or fly : Butterfly

IM : Individual Medley, which is 1 length (or more) of: fly, b/c, b/s, f/c in that order

kk or kick: kick only, (usually with a float) , not using arms

pull: swim using a pullbuoy between the legs

Pad/paddles : Use paddles on the hands

Pull & pad : Use both pullbuoy and paddles

Some other common terms-

Set: one particular group of swims. Like 10x100m is a set of 1000 metres, made up of ten 100metre swims. Sometimes called repeats.

Sometimes though Set may be used by people to describe the whole day’s training, but Session is preferred as the overall term.

RI : Rest Interval, the amount of time between swims

Neg. split : Do the 2nd half of a set faster than the first half

Br : Stop and Breathe for a specific period ( e.g 200 f/c br 5 every 50 means swim 200 /fc stopping every 50 metres to breathe for 5 seconds).

EZ : Swim easy

WU / SD / CD : Warm Up, Swim Down, Cool Down (Swim Down means Warm Down).

Bi-lat : Bi-lateral breathing (breathe to both sides)

4l/4r : Breathe every 4 (or whatever number the set specifies) to the left or the right.

Desc.: Reduce the interval between swims. Occasionally means swim subsequent swims faster. Depending on context.

NB3OW: No breathing for 3 strokes off the wall

AFAP: As fast as possible

LPT/FPG: Last person touches, first person goes

DPS: Distance Per Stroke

UW: Underwwater

IMO: IM Order or One repeat of each stroke. (4×100 IMO = 100 fly, 100 back, 100 br, 100 fr)

IMO by round: 4x(3×100) 3×100 fly, 3×100 back, 3×100 br, 3×100 free

There are some other things like l/s, r/s meaning do left and right-side lateral drills. Catch-up, also meaning a specific drill but I’m guessing if you know those things then you’ll already understand all this.


Something like;

- f/s 40×100 @ 1:40

Means: “Do front crawl, 100 meters, repeat the 100 metres 40 times, starting each time after 1 minute and 40 seconds (for a total of 4,000 metres).”

(This is a popular set with distance swimmers, where you put any number in for 40, up to 200.)

In this case the rest is determined by how much under 1:40 you finish. If it’s 1:20 you have 20 seconds rest, if it’s 1:38, you have 2 secs rest.

Another example:

- f/s 12 x ( 4 x 25 on :25) @ 2:00

This is more complicated & means: ” Do front crawl, four 25m lengths, each length starting at 25 seconds. Rest after the forth until 2 minutes are up. Repeat each set of 4, 12 times. Giving a total of 48 lengths, 1200 metres.

Sometimes the time is not specified, only the RI.

- b/c 15x50m  RI 0:05,

means backstroke, do 50 metres, 15 times, with a 5 second rest.

(BTW, on a 5 second rest you will spend 2 seconds stopping and starting, looking at the clock.)

All of the above means that you can put a lot of information into a small amount of space like a pool whiteboard or onto a laminate.


Having realised it was months since I did anything much more than 5k, I decided to add a few k to a session for a moderate distance set. Normally when I go above 8k I’ll do a pyramid variation.

Instead I decided to do 20x400s off 7:00.

Only a few days ago my 400s were great, giving me 20 to 30 secs on 5×400 repeats at a nice fast but steady pace.

On these ones though, I only had 10 secs, whatever was wrong, dropping to 5 secs by about the twelfth, (good weeks, bad weeks). I held on until the 18th 400 when I was off by 10 secs and off by 15secs on the 19th, (pulling the last back in since I was finishing).

I was doing 5x 400s for each set by the way, tougher than repeat 100s. But maybe that’s just this year with significantly less training.

It felt like a tough session when done for time to hold 10/15 R.I.


Training Zone Chart

Just thought (since I’ve posted nothing all week) that I’d post this useful training zone chart to follow-up the metabolic energy storage and use stuff that I posted last week.

Cross reference your age, to the level of exercise you wish to do (endurance for many of us, with some threshold and maximum effort also).

These Zones are also often called Cat(egory) 1 (warm up) to Cat 5.

So for swimming, you can just check your pulse over 10 secs to determine what rate you’re at.

Using heart rate to control exercise


I know some of you hate pools so much you don’t swim in them.

Part of that is (I think) perceived boredom but contributory also are problems with chlorine.

I developed a chlorine allergy a few years ago which was (eventually) easily remedied by the simple addition of a nose clip, which I initially hated, for all of one day, which is all it took me to get used to it.

Kids (girls) in the pool were complaining about the effect of chlorine making their hair dry. I told them about what I’d heard about making sure to wash/wet your hair thoroughly in fresh water (shower) BEFORE getting into the water, as this reduces the effect the chlorine has on hair.

Any other suggestions I can pass on?



Backup pool sessions

One can carry as many session plans to the pool as one likes, but some days one just wants to do something else…

For me when this happens (as it did both yesterday and today), I fall back on one of a couple of standard sessions.

Yesterday’s was 800 metres warm-up, with paddles and pull-buoy. Makes for a good warm-up, just focus on technique rather than strength. You DON’T do 800 metres with paddles without experience or building up to that distance.

Then into repeat 100s on 1:40.

42 100s to be exact, making a nice round 5k. Break after the first 12, then after each 10.

100s on 100 are a tad above my pay-scale for many repeats by myself. I could probably do 100 100s on 1:45, but 1:40 works me hard and I have to be in some kind of shape with a bit of regained speed to do it. And of course it’s easier if you have someone to share the load with (I didn’t of course). There were a couple of 100s where I missed time and had to make it back. Which is an incentive to try to hit the time, nothing worse than trying to claw it back. And for the last ten or so I was on a one to two seconds.

Pop. Look at pace clock. Go.

Good workout, time goes fast. But now I can’t use it for weeks again.





Should you be in the fast lane?

I did an hour time trial in the Watershed yesterday.

By now in Carrick most (but definetely not all) of the people who use the lane know me. Some have learned and some have refused to learn.

Recently I was in a lane for an hour, maybe six people swam in the lane at some point. Some thought they were great (swim behind me for a length, turn in front of me, you know the score, always men). One guy got in the lane before I turned and decided to start swimming underwater in front and below me. Only one woman had a clue.

I’ve certainly never claimed to be the fastest swimmer. But I know how to circle swim, and unfortunately most pool lifeguards in my experience don’t.

Of course many of the pools we swim in have only one lane at best. Let’s make it simple. You probably shouldn’t be in the (fast) lane if:

  • You don’t know how far a 25′ is.
  • You don’t know what circle swimming is or how to do it.
  • You’re wearing board shorts.
  • You’re wearing a “cute” bikini that you got for the beach.
  • You’re not wearing goggles.
  • You use a pull buoy as a pillow while doing backstroke kick.
  • You don’t know what a pull buoy is.
  • You’re doing side stroke.
  • You’re doing some hopping movement down the lane or have to stand up.
  • You’re wearing a mask.
  • You’re wearing a snorkle.
  • You’re wearing a shower cap. Or a bubble cap.
  • Or a towel. I swear there’s a woman in Carrick who wears a towel in the water.
  • You hold your nose when you go under water.
  • You have your cap on sideways.
  • When asked if you’re fast you answer, “Of course! Look at me!”
  • You swim with your head above water, 100% of the time.
  • The lifeguard has to watch you closely because your swimming looks an awful lot like drowning.
  • You think that when someone faster than you passes you, they’re being rude.

I think printing & laminating a few of these and leaving them by the lane end wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

Almost all this list came from here.

Edit: If you came here from H2O open you might want to read my response to Furious Bob: [Should slow swimmers really have the right of way in lane swimming?]

Swimming breathing patterns

I just did a 5k session of alternate breathing rhythms. Part of that was 1k straight breathing on my wrong side. I remember the first time I tried to do that 3 or 4 years ago, I couldn’t make it past 400 metres and my neck got really stiff and sore.

When I started swimming I was naturally (and luckily), breathing every 3 strokes bi-laterally. (Breathing to each side). Eilís introduced me to hypoxic training for the Channel double-relay. Hypoxic training essentially means reducing your body’s oxygen delivery ability and is a standard in swim training. It increases cardio-vascular capability which improves swimming, but it also useful for open water swimmers, allowing you to develop a greater range of breathing patterns.

If you are out swimming and the wind changes such that chop or waves are coming from the side you breathe on, you may encounter significant difficulties.

Also, at least as important, if it an accompanied swim and you have a boat on the side of you that you can’t look toward, you will both collide with and veer away from the boat, and end up swimming further or swimming into obstructions. And the boat can’t always changes sides. In rough weather the boat may have to be between you and the wind.

It’s not essential to be able to breathe on both sides, but it is highly recommended. If I hadn’t seen Ned’s ability to only breathe to his right, and still do well, I would have said essential.

So today I did:

1500 bi-lateral
3 x 500 breathing every 3,4l,5,4r,5,7
1000 breathing 4l
2 x 500 3,5,4l,4r, on 8mins.

Adjust as required.
Maybe do some 100s of 3,5,7,9,5,7,3.
Or alternate sides on 100.

Just another long pool swim

(WordPress somehow chewed the original of this post, which had followed the Socrates quote, so below is a quick and lazy rewrite).

Last Friday we (2010 Channel aspirants) met for a 10 hour pool swim.

I had only approximately 4 hours sleep the previous night and was feeling tired but expecting the worst after the few previous swims, which had started poorly. And indeed I did feel tired for the first few hours, but certainly not with the same level of discomfort or even pain of the previous two long swims.

Coach Eilís set a steadier pace for us this time, with very short breaks and we were all doing well by the six hour food break. More feeding strategies were tried, I again went with chicken sandwiches but this time with added coffee and tomato & pasta soup for the main food break.

Consequently the two hours after the food, everyone suffered, feeling very uncomfortable, heavy and bloated. But we all prevailed and made it to just under 9 hours, when we abandoned the pool for a half hour sea swim to ease out the muscles, bringing the total to just under nine and half hours, short of the ten hours, but to be honest, this was only due to available time, rather than capability.

The effects of training are obvious on everyone, with us all looking much better after the swim. We finished with 400 I.M. by the way, you know, just for the hell of it!

“No man…”

“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.”


* I’m obviously not responsible for the inherent misogyny of two and a half thousand years ago…

Preparation for a 10 hour swim…

Alarm clock set to 4 a.m.
2 home-made Solo Bars (560 calories each),
1 ham sandwich,
4 chicken sandwiches,
1 flask of Tomato & pasta soup,
1 flask of coffee,
1.5 litre home-made smoothie,
1/2 litre milk,
4 litres of isotonic drink,
500gr. of grapes,
1 banana,
1 packet recovery drink,
1 small slice of fruit cake,
2 small chocolate bars,
1 packet dextrose,
3 Kendall Mint Cakes,
Peppermint oil capsules (in case of cramps),
2 pairs of goggles,
2 pairs of togs,
2 swim hats,
2 nose clips,
Lanolin, Vaseline & Channel grease,

4 hours sleep.

Oh damn.

1.00032 x 10^6 m

I thought it would be Monday, but actually it was yesterday that I passed one million meters since September. We’ve dropped the weekly distance slightly in the last few weeks at Eilís’ instruction. At the same time though, there are less days off, as it’s now two days in the sea per week.
I count and note these milestones because they give me a sense of progression, of having set and achieved a swim target.
It helps sometimes on the weeks where everything is a blur of lanes and chlorine.

dead day

Since training began, I have of course missed training days due to ‘flu, asthma, RL, etc.

But until yesterday I never had a day where I just said “feck it” and didn’t go to the pool.

Retrospectively I can see excuses. Mild asthma attack while swimming monday, first in months causing me to finish early and I gave blood Monday night. But really, I just could not bring myself to go to the pool.

Anyway today’s another day, and I was back to it. All systems backs to normal.
Did an extra 2k to start making the missing day back. Should only take 3 days.

The stuff of potential nightmares (if I was younger)

Swimming in Cork again yesterday, as Danny still had to do his 20k.

Pool was almost empty with just the two of us and Rob & Ned, and one girl in the lane with myself and Danny. Later joined by Ciarán and local/national and International swimming hero, double English Channel soloist, Lisa Cummins for while.

Anyway, talked to Rob as he was leaving…and he told me about this. (Click on link to see).

If I was younger I’d probably be having nightmares of embarrassment for years.

Instead, it’s be Rob having nightmares, as he was facing me in the next lane! About 2000 metres, I’d guess, and no , I didn’t realise, before you ask.


Saturday Mornings

I love Saturday mornings.

Rest day and after 6 1/2 hours session yesterday, it’s even better.

Put on some music, have a fruit smoothie, grind and brew the coffee beans, throw on some pancakes. Not training food but pretty nice for a change. Like being a normal human.

The Magnificent Seven, and Eddie, assembled at 6.30am in Source again yesterday morning for a 7 hour swim.

I was again awake at 3am of course, an hour before the actual alarm went off. I had taken some over the counter sleep aids I’d picked up the US the last time I was over there, and I got to Cork with a very groggy head. (Eddie told me the main ingredient was an anti-histamine, so I stayed groggy for a good few hours).

The boss was there and cracked the whip immediately. We would start with 10k, 1 minute rest after 4k, 3k, 2k. No other breaks, even for a drink.

Straight into it.

I said I’d lead out the first 1k. Got the count completely back-asswards. Handed over to Liam at what I though was about 1000 but then looked at the clock and it had actually been about 1500. Anyway, pace was “hot” right through and I put too much into that first 1500. Did the 4k in 1:05, and finished the 10k in under 3 hours, thus being by far the the fasted 10k I’ve ever done.

I cracked early on in the 10th kilometre, couldn’t hold the speed, and slipped off Ciarán and Rob’s toes and there was no way back, getting further behind. Shattered my confidence for a while.

Gabór had to go to work after a few hours, he had already done a 10 hour during the week, by himself!
Danny got sick and Eilís sent him home. Being Danny he wouldn’t have went otherwise.

Couple of minutes toilet break, (I had time for one mouthful of a sandwich & half a banana), and back with 10×100 paddles, 10×200 paddles, 3k straight, and mixed bunch to finish the last 4 k. We did the 3k straight in 45 mins, each of taking a 500 and pushing it. Again a fastest ever 3k for me.
I recovered my composure in the second 10k and feeling fine all through, sticking the pace ok. A couple of well-placed words from Ciarán & Rob were much appreciated and ensured some repair to the damage my confidence had taken.

(I did cheat when using the paddles by using my small ones. We had a 2k paddle session earlier in the week and about 800m into it my left shoulder starting hurting intensely. I finished the 2k, which in retrospect I shouldn’t have done, but required a visit to Vinny, who said both shoulders were inflamed and red around the lats. (Lattisimus Dorsii). So I didn’t want that to flare up again so I used the small paddles.)

20k finished, with a few breaks in 6:15. Eilís had planned 7 hours, so we actually got to finish early. Sore arms all round after the stiff session.

Up to the cafe for some food, we were all ravenous after the pace, while Eilís was being interviewed for Gay TV prior to her visit to the World Gay Games this year.
Plenty of laughs were had earlier when she informed of that we probably be in the background swimming for this.
We offered to oil up on deck, massage each other, roll our togs down to thongs etc. We’re hoping some websites dedicated to us might spring up.
Given the height of him, Liam especially is likely to be a gay icon. Pity Gabór was gone, with his tattoos he’s surely get his own speciality website!

Anyway after the food and chat, Phase two was out to Ballycroneen where Liam lives for a sea swim. Original plan was for an hour but sea conditions were too rough for a long swim. We did about 15 minutes, particularly hard for Jen to get in as she has just returned from the hottest Australian summer on record and swimming Rottnest again, to come back to 6.9 C
I was not most popular as, after I returned to the beach, apparently everyone though I’d been lost at sea. (They’re not the first as my wonderful fiancée would attest). I’d gone “out back” as surfers call it. No-one could see me, even Eilís on the beach.(I was out there wondering why no-one else was coming out).

I had expected it to feel colder as we’d be tired but in reality I think all our temperatures were still up and made it feel warmer (I would have guess 8 or 8.5C), so I found it lovely. (All the winter swimming I’ve done has really helped). Everyone felt great after with arms and shoulders nicely relaxed.

Liam had home-made soup and bread waiting for us in his lovely house (thanks Liam & Kay!) and for once we were able to sit around and have a chat.

Then home. Great day, no-where near as tiring as the last day, not particularly hungry last night. (Had my first pizza in almost a year and HATED it).

Of course, we also now know what the next big day will be. And we’re already dreading it.

So only 6:30 total. Felt almost like we got off light.

Of all the potential problems I’d thought about…

…in training for the Channel, a pool temperature of 31.9 C was not one of them.

If it continues past this weekend I don’t know what I’ll do. I certainly can’t swim in it.

I sat on the deck edge putting on my goggles, dropped my feet in and noticed it immediately. Not warm but actually HOT water.
3 minutes of swimming and I nearly passed out.
The lifeguard repeatedly refused to give me the temperature reading telling me to contact the committee!
I brought my infrared Thermometer in and measured 31.9 to 32 C.

(The lifeguard & shift manager went ballistic over me doing this of course because “customer” is a dirty word in Ireland. Customers may not complain or exercise individuality, concern or initiative).

Whatever rules exist may apparently be disregarded as required to suit the staff, but dog forbid a customer ever questions anything.
Since Clare has gone the place is being run like a kindergarten.

The most frequent question I get

“What do you think about?”

Usually phrased more like:
“What the bloody hell do you think about? It must be hellishly boring”.

A lot of the time that kind of misunderstands swim training. Since I’m always working to Eilish’ program, usually I thinking specifically about what I’m supposed to be doing right now. This works for sets up to about 5 minutes long. Therefore:

Am I sprinting now?
Am I supposed to be at 85% effort?
Can I hold 85% for the next 8 repetitions or will I have do drop to 80%?
How much time is left?
Can I just get through this rep. and I’ll worry about the next when it comes?
Am I working on stroke, strength, endurance?
Why can’t I swim better?
How much time is left?
Is that a bikini?
How’s my stroke?
What age is she anyway?
What temperature is this god-damned water?
How much time is left?
What’s that hand doing?
Am I kicking badly?
Am I kicking enough, or too much?
What’s that clown doing in my way?
How much time is left?
Did my head just go to the left…again?
Do I really need to stop at the end of this length?
How much time is left?

Otherwise, take your pick. Today was 10k of long sets, 500s, 1K & 2k.

So today I thought about Neville Chamberlain and “Peace In Our Time”, the Glen of the Downs Protest in 1998 and how I could merge the two using the Deep Green Movement and modern environmentalism to explore an argument I’m pursuing on an atheist discussion board. Yes, really.

Oh, and bikinis.

Answer enough for you?

Paying the price for the high pool temperatures

So the pool was still at 30 Deg. Celsius yesterday. I just checked on the phone and it’s still at 30C. today.

After Tuesday’s 30.6C session, which included 6 x 400m sprints, my shoulders and arms were so sore I couldn’t sleep.

Yesterday I was exhausted trying to swim in it. I actually cut my session short by 2,000 metres, which I never do.

For casual or non-swimmers this might not seem a big deal. For me it makes my training targets impossible. I’m furious.

Pool Temperature

Normal temperature for most pools is, I believe around 28.5 Deg. Celsius.
My friend Clare (pool manager) says a variation of 0.3 Deg Celsius will noticed by casual but regular swimmers.

Today’s pool temperature was…

30.6 Deg. C.!

Yes, a full 2 degrees above normal.
It was like swimming in a sauna. And I had to do 2 sessions today, one a sprint session.

(Yesterday was around 30 C.). When the cat is away,one feckin’ mouse gets it into their head that the pool temp needs to be warmer for their precious little baby, who gets a dip once a week.

I had to mobilise a few regular swimmers to complain. Hopefully it will be back to normal tomorrow.

Another tough week almost over.

I was wrecked yesterday. Even normal repeat 40s (50s for the rest of you in normal pools) , which are so common I rarely think about them, were hurting and I had to take a few breaks.

As I said earlier in the week, we had only the weekend off after the 9 hour and on Wednesday my session included a 6k straight swim, which seemed to go ok, though I felt that day.
I only had a moderate 5400 metre swim yesterday but it was horrible because I was so shattered.
I emailed the rest of the Magnificent Seven, and heard back from 3 of them. All in bits this week. Aches, pains, debilitating coughs, unable to swim past 3k, were amongst the symptoms reported. It made me feel better that I wasn’t the only one suffering this week.
I was due a 9600m today with an 8k straight set but due to time constraints in the pool I’ve had to offload it ’til next week. Until I was sitting on the pool edge I didn’t know what I would do.

Two sessions of the remaining 4 for the month were possible, including starting with a 2k straight or a 6k straight. I decided to try a 2k straight, see how it was going, and work from there. Went ok so I kept going for the 6k, did another 10×100 f/c after that and ran out of time, with 1k left.

Surprisingly the 6k went fine. Right on time target. Only took 3 short drink breaks, at 3.5k, 4.5k and 5.5k. As I noticed before with the heavy training load, sometimes without any time off, you can just keep going.

However, I’ve also noticed this week, and I don’t know if it’s related to last weeks long session, that straight sessions like this are much more likely to produce some aches and pains. A discussion point for the next month meeting, I think.

Of course I still have 1k left to finish the week, which is a pain, having to go back to the pool just for that.
I’ve just had a small coffee for it’s ergogenic properties to get me back up there.