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One week swim diary experiment: What happens when I increase swimming mileage suddenly

I’ve been swimming a moderate amount recently, about 20 to 25 k per week, 23 k the week before this experiment. Enough to stay fit, sufficient for a good swim base, and just about in line with my minimum annual target of one million metres.

And then I thought to myself: what would happen if I went from low 20’s to 40k, in one week, without doing it in one big session? I’ve done 20 or 25 k, then done a 15 or 18k long sessions, I wondered how different doing it daily would feel. And last year I went from 35,000 to 50,000 metres on one week, which is a volume jump of about the same amount though a much lesser percentage increase. It really didn’t seem hard, I’ve swum 40 to 45 kilometres per week for months on end, but having ramped into it and I’ve swum irregular long swims, where you only have to get through them. I do enjoying treating myself as an experiment at times, it sometimes gives me subjects to write about.

The normal course for increasing swimming volume, and which I counsel others all the time, is to increase total distance by about 5% per week. If you have plenty of swimming then 10% is probably okay. To do more is to invite injury and burnout. So yeah, that seemed like an idea. I’d be aiming at 8k per day for 5 days. That’s an increase of 3+ kilometres per day, with no ramp. An increase of 66% in one week. That should fine, right? I’ve swam at least a million metres per year for the last five or six years, sometimes significantly more, 1.3 million metres last year in 2012, 1.5 million in 2010. But a million metres breaks down to a mere 21k per week over 48 weeks. An extra 3k per day, that’s not hard, surely? Right?

 Monday. Target 8000 metres.

Normal resting heart rate. No real breakfast as usual. First 5k session went well, knocking out ten 400s readily, descending on the second five. Second session 3k, cruised through it. Normal eating and appetite. Maybe I’ll bump up the target later in the week, if I can find a couple of hours extra. Target achieved.

Tuesday. Target 8000 metres.

Forgot to check heart rate. Woke a bit hungrier than usual so had porridge for breakfast.  I usually have to have a reason to eat porridge. I ate a lot of it during Channel training. 5.4k in the morning, nothing to report, main set 20 x 200s, holding time. My face felt a bit warm during the afternoon. The 2.6k in the evening session was a little bit of a struggle and I felt sluggish. I started thinking of food while swimming, which is unusual for me in the pool. I’m used to swimming enough normally that at 4/5 k per day I don’t feel the need to eat more. By the end of the second day my appetite has already increased. Still hungry after dinner, eating a lot of junk/carbs also. Only 24 hours ago I was thinking maybe I should raise the target. Now I’m wondering if I’ll hit it. Target achieved though.

Wednesday. Target 8000 metres.

Feeling tired on waking. Resting heart rate is elevated, 18 above normal. Bagel BLT for breakfast, along with other bits n’ bobs. Started fine on alternate kilometres of 100s and 200s but started to feel really sluggish at about 4k. Ground out 6.4k, the last kilometre a trial, and I was noticeably slow. Eating more afterwards again. My face felt warm and flushed all day (though it wasn’t visibly so), a real sign of tiredness for me.

For the evening session I only needed to do 1.6k. My left shoulder was achy and stiff and took a kilometre to loosen but otherwise felt surprisingly spry, so slipped in an extra 800 metres, and the times were fine. Had to make a sandwich almost immediately after dinner though, not to mention all the chocolate & biscuits I also ate. Last week I swam 23k in 5 days. Only 24.6k done so far in three days but feels like more. Went to bed an hour early. Target exceeded, 9140 metres.

lane lines-exif-resized

Thursday. Target 8000 metres.

Felt better than Wednesday morning after waking. Resting heart rate only 8 bpm above normal. Still hungry. Orange juice, natural yoghurt, an orange, a chocolate bar and decaf coffee and a rasher and pudding sandwich for breakfast. Don’t judge me. 6.2k, 1800 mixed paddles warm up, then 2×100 + 600, 200 + 400, 400 + 400, 400 + 200, 800 + 2×100. The second of each pair should have been faster but I just held normal 100 base time. By 4,000 I’d finished a full water bottle already and needed a refill and started thinking about food. My biceps, triceps and lats are all noticeably achy. However, I’m also starting to feel better and push a bit harder as I realise the hump is behind me. I finish the last pair going hard and the last two 100s on sub 1:30. I round out the session with back stroke as I usually do. I’d fallen off a ladder the previous Sunday and the bruise in the middle of my back is really tight and sore after this session, though it hasn’t noticeably affected me otherwise. Seven sessions done. The extra time in the chlorine is starting to really dry out my face.  I eat more, ham and cheese sandwiches, another orange, the last of the grapes.

Later, 2.4 k, a mix of paddles and pull, and 6 x 200s with an extra 10 seconds rest interval over usual. All going fine, feeling pretty decent. Didn’t have time to do any more. Ate a dinner large enough for three hungry people. Target exceeded, 8,600 metres. 

Swimmers love looking at other’s training logs and comparing and contrasting. I am currently enjoying Jason Connor’s English Channel training log on his excellent blog (which gives me design envy). Jason calls himself average, but look at his times. That’s what living in Australia does for you, where swimming isn’t a second-class sport.

Friday: Target 6,300 metres

Despite a broken night’s sleep, I had gone to bed early, so woke with heart rate only about 8 bpm above normal, pretty good. Early session, 4,400 metres. Since I haven’t deliberately done a real recovery session earlier in the week, today is the day. Though I fudge a bit, starting with 1.5k pull & finger paddles, followed by 1.5k pull and power paddles, which turns out to be a real slog. Then a 1k swim followed by backstroke to the end. Nothing too strenuous. After this session I’ve developed an itchy patch of flaky skin over my chin. That damn chlorine. Today’s easier swim has meant my appetite has abated again.

Evening session: 1.7k. Easy stretch out and recovery swim. Job done, 40,000 metres in 5 days. You’ll notice I didn’t go over as I’d mentioned as a possibility at the start of the week.

Analysis: It was odd how the worst was earlier in the week than I expected; Tuesday, and Wednesday morning. Once I reverted to big mileage eating and sleeping patterns learned previously, the experiment became slightly easier. I swam backstroke every session, slightly over 5% of the week’s total about on target and from only one week didn’t notice any impact on my shoulder past the stiffness. It was only 40,000 metres which is big enough but nowhere near my highest ever of 112,000 in 9 days, or the week after week after month of 45k plus during Channel training. I have no idea if I learned much from it, other than it is possible someone who is swimming regularly and has swum it previously to return to it.