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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?

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

24 miles in 24 hours (loneswimmer.com)

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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Just another six hour pool swim

I remember my first six-hour pool. It was done with the Magnificent Seven in Source Swimming Pool in Cork in January of 2009. I’d done  a couple of four-hour swims by myself, just swimming pyramids. I’d also done one five-hour by myself the previous year (pool).

But the first six-hour pool swim with the group was a big deal.  I barely swam the day before, something like two kilometres, resting up. I carb-loaded the night before, didn’t sleep particularly well and had to leave early in the morning to get to Cork. I brought lots of food and liquid. The food included smoothie, fruit, sandwiches (I’m from Tipperary remember :-)). I’d had a very large breakfast before the hour and a half drive. We stopped to eat halfway through the swim, which was a mixture of sets from Eilís. It all went fine. More and longer swims were to follow.

Two years later, I’ve done plenty of six-hour swims, both sea and pool. Last week I did another six-hour pool swim, my first since returning to pool training four weeks ago and it was odd mix of experience and a cavalier attitude. I trained the night before, a standard set of just over 5k and was tired in the morning. I gave very little significant thought to the swim, I’d just been jealous the week before when I joined Lisa and Karen McAvoy at the end of their 20k swim. I wanted to look and feel wrecked again.

How perverse is the marathon swimmer’s mind?

I had a bowl of porridge and a small smoothie and mug of coffee for breakfast and left for the Kilkenny Watershed pool.

I brought one small “fun-sized” banana, and another small smoothie, about 250ml. I had a couple of old sachets of Go Sport carbs  (146 kcal per sachet) because I was out of Maxim. The Go Sport was only a year and a half past it’s Use-By date… I also had some Hammer Perpeteum that we don’t see here in Ireland, which Alan Clack left behind him after the Cork Distance Week. During the swim I ate the smoothie and the banana, and used one bottle of half-concentrate Hammer,  and used one and a half bottles of the sachets during the second half.

My attitude was even; “I’ll do 4 hours, see how it goes”. That was it.  No thinking about it, no nervousness, hell, not even much preparation. I even forgot to bring any painkillers.

The first hour was easy, sharing the lane with two other people, included a 1500 with paddles, and I finished 3k at 50 minutes. I had the lane to myself for the next three hours as I worked through the long set mix, which included a lot of 400s and 75’s particularly, with a lot of paddle and pull work. I’d had a flare-up of an old lower back problem on Monday and it returned during the third hour, which was when I realised I didn’t have any painkillers but it never got bad enough that I wasn’t able to continue, I just had to do occasional stretches. (The normal solution for this back problem for me is a massage).

At the end of the fourth hour, I was feeling it but saw no reason not to do a five-hour. And then there wasn’t much point in not continuing to six hours. At six hours, I decided I’d really only been swimming for about five hours forty minutes or so (a guess), due to refilling bottles, toilet stops, a lane change etc, and I might as well do another thousand metres, exactly as that logo on the right indicates.

I finished at six hours and twenty minutes, and when I did the check I had done 17,800k. Nothing of note happened. I was tired and happy but could have kept going. Because I was on my tod (i.e. by myself), I was able to stay more focused on keeping my stroke form. I was doing 5 x100s in the second-last 500 and it was really striking that though I felt the stroke was still pretty good by the end, my time per average hundred had dropped by about 10 seconds due to muscle tiredness and shortening. I was sluggish the next day but the local pool was closed for maintenance anyway, and I was still slow two days later though i did a full 5k set. By three days later in the sea I felt back to normal.

Next day I realised I had passed through the yearly one million metres target that day also. Good day.

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!

Anatomy of an 8 Hour swim

So three plus hour swims are a weekly (or more) feature of training right now (end of January ’10). “Normal” day’s training is hovering around two  to two & an half. I did a four hour about a week and half ago, just to see how I feeling. I had been planning to do a five hour solo that week until The Boss told us we were doing an eight hour together.

The four hour swim was a significant change from a mixed three and an half-hour session. I was doing a “Pyramid”, 1000 to 100m and back to 1000m as the main set, apart from a 1000m warm-up and few hundred swim down. The intervals were constant. I was tired by the end but “could have kept going’, which is how I judge my condition. Tired obviously though. But double the time? My previous longest swim was a five and half hour sea swim with Danny in 2008.

Ravenous and tired the next day, though I had planned a two hour session but RL intervened & I had an enforced break that day.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached the eight hour.

Having been sick during the week, I was most nervous about an induced asthma attack, which would have stopped me swimming.

Having talked to fellow soloist (oxymoron?) Jen about feeding the previous weekend, I tried to carb. load (though with a poor appetite) and had two pasta dinners the afternoon and evening beforehand, and a bunch of sandwiches before bed, along with some of the usual crap I eat.

Breakfast was fresh made smoothie and porridge, my normal training breakfast, along with another bunch of sandwiches in the car on the two hour drive down.

I also spent quite a while making two litres of fruit smoothie for the swim to keep it fresh as possible. (Grape and orange juice, peaches, pineapple, banana & yoghurt). I also had another five litres of my Miwadi isotonic mix and some grapes & bananas. Basically my swim feeding strategy was to try 100% fruit which I had done on many three plus hour swims, the only change moving from solid and awkward to liquid and easy.

The other six of The Magnificent Seven had started swimming at 7.30am in the accommodating and friendly Source Fitness Centre pool in Springfields Morans Hotel in Cork, with The Boss on the deck. A quick chat before the start, she told everyone was nervous about it.

I joined the guys at 8.40am and we kept to one lane for the day.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, maybe lots of long sets and it an eight hour version of a usual training session. The whole shebang. 1000’s, 1500’s, paddles, pull-buoy, laterals, alternate speeds and strokes etc.

The first three hours flew, until Eilís called a 15 minute break on the four hour mark (for the guys, only three hours in for me). Fine again after. The Boss had to leave at mid-day.

At the five hour mark I was reflecting on the comparison between my four recent hour solo pool session and this session. I was definitely feeling fresher by the five hour mark. The six hour mark I considered about equal with the four hour solo. The seventh hour for me, last hour for the guys, included an 1500 hard. I held onto Liam and Rob (leading) but it hurt. They wound down their last 20 minutes easy enough and I said good-bye.

Then the dreaded re-entry into pool by myself for the final one hour and 20 minutes. I was thinking of repeat 1000’s but too leaden by then and needed a break after 800, and settled on repeat 400’s. 10 to 20 secs would be my usual interval at this point but I’m afraid they crept up to 30 to 45 for the last few despite the presence of one of Eilís’s representatives on earth, this time her brother Pat, whom I was bit too tired to recognise, though after chasing him, (unsuccessfully and being lapped), for a few k., I think I now know his style very well.

Astonishing performance of the day was my English Channel Double Relay friend and team-mate Danny, who finished work at 6am, had an hour sleep, and completed the full eight hours, and Gábor who swam with sprained wrist and damaged shoulder after a recent fall.

But everyone did great and we would have been lost without Liam keeping track of our sets and leading us out so much.

(At one point in hour seven, I was leading out a 1000m alternate set, Liam recommended I track the easy/fast alternate 150 metres. The 1000 metres were done when I was sure we had only swum 600m! No more leading out for me, I can’t count).

Turned out a few of the guys were watching from upstairs for my final hour, making sure I didn’t drown I guess, and came down after I finished, which I really appreciated.

Liam estimated about 24,000m for their total based on all the intervening sessions completed, so I’ll assume the same, besting my previous longest ever pool swim of about 14k.

I had a recovery shake, which I only do after big swims, my usual chicken breast and hit the road.