Tag Archives: long pool sessions

Variables

Over the past few years, the first proper long pool swim of the winter usually turns out to be tougher than expected, and almost always with some discovery or other, though I’ve long been of the opinion that every single long swim teaches you something, even if that is only a re-affirmation of the difficulty, or your own strengths and weaknesses.

I did a 5+ hour swim over the weekend in the Watershed in Kilkenny, my favourite pool (for the size, lane control, low-chlorine and low temperature and not least the professionalism of its staff and management).

Watershed-resized

On last year’s first (and a couple of subsequent) long swim I discovered a muscle issue, never previously present, that only manifested once I was swimming longer than three hours. That took about four or five massage sessions to fix and it has returned this autumn when I’m walking and standing around.  So for the part week I’ve been spending ten minutes a day lying on a tennis ball to get at it. And that seemed to work because it never flared up during the session nor required a painkiller to alleviate like last year. Variable. Lesson learnt.

Alan Clack shipped a rather surprising amount of feedstuffs over for his English Channel;s wim. Some was used, some was left in Varne Ridge for this year’s Malaysian swimmers. And some remained in my house , amongst which is a tub of Maxim Electrolyte (not Maxim CarboLoader). I thought I’d give it a go for the long pool session, that’s the best place to do a new feed test. It is a Lemon and Lime flavour, which I usually like in most things, with only 100 Calories per 750ml. I took three pre-mixed bottles and I really didn’t like the taste. I finished two bottles and couldn’t face the third swapping back to water. At three and a half hours, I started to feel nauseous and it continued until the end, and during the second half of the session, I’d been borderline cramping a few times. (You swimmers will know the feeling of feeling those muscles in your feet or calves just about to cramp, but not quite). I can’t be sure the nausea and the Maxim Electrolyte are related but I think that’s the end of the road with maxim Electrolyte and I, and I’ll revert to Zyn zero-carb electrolyte. Variable. Potential lesson learned.

When you are testing a simple system for improvement or decline, the easiest way is to change one parameter at a time. For complex systems this may not be possible, as the variable parameters may be interacting with each other non-linearly. So for measurable complex systems mathematical models like Four-Corner Testing have been devised. But a human has too many analogue variables even for this. You can’t be certain what the cause of most things is beyond reasonable doubt. Correlation does not equal causation, as it is said.

Three weeks ago I changed my diet for a while for the start of winter weight drop. I removed all gluten and starch (essentially eliminating grains and potatoes) and confectionery and dropped almost four kilos in that time. So I’ve been on a lighter G.I. diet going into the swim, except for a bowl of porridge in the morning. Could the diet also have been contributory to the nausea with the Maxim Electrolyte? Variable. Unknown.

What I did discover, is that my usual slump between three and four hours as I transitioned to ketosis never arose. I drank half a bottle of Hammer Carbo Pro, the very last of Alan’s Hammer from 2011 distance Camp. And the two 650 ml bottles of Maxim Electrolyte, for a total of about 350 calories. And… my swim times seemed to stay ok. Though to be completely honest I was never pushing myself, and took it easy in the first hour. Actual weight loss, first time I ever measured it pre- and post a pool swim was 600 grams. That lack of a perceived slump though, that’s interesting. There has previously been discussion of low-carbohydrate diet on dailynewsofopenwaterswimming.com. While the science was interesting, my problem with it is trying to use where the water is always cold and bioprene is required. I can drop some weight during winter training  but should I continue the dietary change I would lose all the requisite fat that I need to protect me from cold, as acclimatization by itself is not sufficient. Variable. Unknown.

So another long pool swim, more things to ponder, maybe even something learnt.

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)

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.

Related articles

Guest post. Jennifer Lane’s 12 hour overnight swim report: Hydro Nervosis

Jennifer is one of the 2012 Sandycove Channel Aspirants. This year’s Aspirants recently took to the water of the Source pool under the direction of Cork English Channel supercoach Eilís Burns for an overnight swim as part of this year’s training and Jen provides us with a fantastic and honest swim report.

There is often some bravado associated with Channel swimming, it is in fact often necessary, but I have always felt it is vitally important that we swimmers be completely honest about the difficulties of training, lack of sleep, weight, food, the exhaustion, the relentless mileage and grind of a training schedule and frequently training and swimming on day when you are mentally or physically ill-prepared.  Profuse thanks are therefore due Jen for her super and honest report. You can follow Jen on her blog. And I both wish her the best and am fully confident of her ability to triumph in the English Channel.

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Hydro Nervosis

That was my mother’s astute diagnosis of the evening’s symptoms when I described them a few days later. Hydro Nervosis. It did seem to fit – I had finally developed the long anticipated allergic reaction to pool swimming. We were talking about my disaster at Eilís Burns’ all-night-torture-and-head-wreck-athon, as I affectionately referred to it. Not its official title, it was more like Endurance swim in aid of the Moses Foundation. However, being my selfish self, I didn’t consider its (hugely successful) charity aspect until well after the final curtain.

By the way, hello, I’m a 31-year-old from Cork and I’m hoping to get away with swimming the English Channel this summer. My training regime began with Eilís seven months ago and I’ve gone through a meltdown or two since then, one of which I’m going to talk about here. However I have to say I’ve found her training though on the surface insurmountable, with the right attitude doable and my technique and stamina have improved hugely because of it. I just wanted to put that out there before I start this tale of woe.

The horrible torture fest was scheduled for Friday the 9th March in Source Leisure Centre, and was organised by Cork’s own Iron Lady, Eilís Burns. Swimming would begin at 10 pm and continue through the night until 6 am. Distance wise I knew I’d be okay, but I was utterly clueless how to prepare for this overnight thing. Everyone kept warning me about the hour between 3-4 am, when everything is suddenly a lot tougher than it was moments before. Whatever, I didn’t really buy this. Eilís’ instructions were: train as normal, go to work as normal, don’t try and sleep beforehand, arrive tired. Oh, and her training group had to stick it out for 6 hours, then we were “free to leave”. (Hah! She knew damn well peer pressure would make us stick it out til the sweet and sour end). Again I ignored the advice  - I took it easy all week, left work early that day and napped beforehand. I felt as ready as ever but nervous as hell. Besides the advice, I wasn’t really sure what it would be like. I’d heard rumours that the session would be sets of 100 metres over and over and over… how monotonous, how long, how awful!…I was just praying that wasn’t true.

It was true. Lanes were allotted times to complete the 100s…2 mins, 1.50 , 1.40 and lanes for those insane enough to jump out onto turbo-trainers after an hour, or run around the dark car park like escaped inmates howling at the moon….but I’ll leave that for another guest blog, I can’t even contemplate it.

Full lanes in Source for the overnight swimRight so we’ll set the scene…the charities have given their talks on how great we are to be doing this. Jennifer, standing poolside in her togs, per usual before any gala, race, interview, social interaction even, is starting to get that tightness in her chest, heart inflated to twice its size, pumping self-doubt and adrenaline into her fingers and teeth clamping dread down hard onto her already lacerated tongue. How did I get into this situation? The talking is done and Eilís is telling us to get into our lane-of-choice. I have selected the 1.50 lane as it’s a speed I’m confident I can maintain for 8 hours. But by the time I’ve organised my drink bottles, etc., I notice that the same decision has been made by small crowd of others as well, with only 3 people setting off in the 1.40 lane. Eilís tells me I’d never handle the pace. I get in.

There I was, swimming with the top guns in speed, albeit at the very back, and actually kind of, I’m afraid to say it even now since I know how this pans out but, enjoying the pace. My fellow Channel Aspirant Rob Bohane is in front of me, which is reassuring…not that he’s not Speedy Gonzales himself, but I’ve swum with him before so it’s not totally unknown. Time flies and I gradually move up the ranks with people falling back for a few laps. However, my nerve-anaconda gradually tightens my chest and though I normally have no issue with peeing in the pool, find myself unable, despite the usual build up of downstairs pressure. This becomes quite uncomfortable to swim with yet all I can think about is how I’m going to have to give up soon (my problems, besides anxiety snakes and interior plumbing, were all mental. Fitness and stamina wise, I had 12 years of Eilís experience in Cork Masters and knew I was fine, what was my problem?)

Finally we reached the 10 km mark circa 1 am. Everyone stopped to take a break, refuel, chill out, but not me. I worried if I stopped that would be it, so on I swam, keeping to the times. I didn’t really think about taking a break, I just wanted to zone out and try to relieve the tension in my chest. And my bladder. But could do neither.

About an hour and a half later we were well into the second lot of 100s and I was up near the front. Carol (Cashell), resident speedster, suggested I lead out for 10. I took off at her signal and apparently upped the ante big time. A few pointed out that I was swimming too fast but it fell on deaf ear plugs. I was way too hyped up and thought swimming faster might ease my anxiety. When my ten 100s were done and the next person took off, it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn’t eaten anything, or peed, for nearly 5 hours. It was sometime after 2 am and I was not feeling too hot. I figured it would be a good idea to eat some blueberries that were soggifying in a nearby container. Bad idea.

Suddenly the act of swimming was making me feel ill. A couple of laps later that horrible sickly stomach feeling that I know from solid Friday- night experience (different circumstances) that there was a time limit before everything within a mile radius would be covered in puke. Exit stage left to the bathroom. I’ll save you the details but the result was like a gory scene from the Ribena Chainsaw Massacre. I decided to take a break, maybe eat something starchy like a bagel and try to goddamn pee.

Five minutes later I felt back to normal and ready to swim! Back into the 1:40 lane and belting away, when halfway down the pool I wanted to belch forth with more gusto than before. I got out and repeated the events of Act One. I felt better. I got back into the pool, energised and ready to roll. Start to swim, repeat (literally). I recycled this ritual a few times, wanting to get back to swimming but being stopped by my body reacting this way. Eventually I gave up by moving into the 1.50 lane at about 4 am. Again, as soon as I’d start crawling along (at the back) I’d start to retch. I’d stop and feel better but very queasy. Luckily there was a 15 minute break around 4.30 that saved my ass. It allowed me to calm down and get a grip. Eilís announced that the swim would end at 5.30 so we’d only one hour to go. Never had an hour seemed so long! I cannot even tell you what set we did or what stroke it was. I remember trying backcrawl and breaststroke at different stages to see if that would help but it was worse. Anytime I moved I wanted to vomit. Eventually Lisa Cummins produced some Gaviscon and although this made my stomach feel better, the urge to purge was right there waiting to return with a hearty slap on the back if I so much as floated. It just became a battle of will to force myself to swim and not get sick. I think I burned a hole in my throat. I would have gladly signed up for a unanaesthetised gastric bypass just to make that pukey feeling cease! Absolute nightmare.

Minutes plodded along on club feet. It seemed to be 20 past 5 for an eternity. But finally, joy of joys it was over! People clapping and clambering towards the Jacuzzi and the free food (which I noticed only now for the first time). Sweet thoughts of clean sheets and a warm bed at home… I had made it! It was over!…when I got the feeling of two pairs of eyes looking at me. Who was left behind only Lisa Cummins and Carmel Collins, two girls who this endurance crap for breakfast. I knew what they were going to say before they said it. If this night taught me anything at all it’s that I have a serious ego that needs serious deflating. First I jump in and try and play with the big kids. Now I’m left with an out after the most grueling torture of my swimming life to date, so just because these two nuts want to tough it out til the fat lady sings it doesn’t mean I have to!

We took it handy doing a mix of slow back crawl and breaststroke. I tried swallowing slowly and watching the dawn gently creep into the room. To be honest, this part was ok cause I swam very slowly and stopped a lot. I can’t remember finishing officially, just being in the shower and wishing I was in bed. I felt utterly beaten and dejected. Everyone was delighted they got through, I was miserable I’d messed it up so royally.

So that was it. My mom (who’s a nurse incidentally) tells me my hydro nervosis would have dissipated if I’d just eaten a banana. After I’d hung up the phone I was wondering if she was making up the term or just being a crazily optimistic mom. When I entered it into Google I got ‘Did you mean hydro nephrosis?’, which upon further clicking I find out it’s an early stage of renal failure due to a back up of urine or lack of magnesium (hence the prescribed banana).How scary! Was my body was trying to stop me swimming because I was damaging my kidneys? I don’t really think so, but I do think I need to chill out about the whole endurance/long distance thing. I swam through hours of nerves, stomach retching and an overloaded bladder for I don’t know how long and nearly ended up hurting myself, for what? My ego? My nerves? I know I was a misery guts for quite a while after the swim and thanks to everyone who gave me perspective. I mean, overnight endurance swim? Really not so bad if you just take a chill pill. And a banana.

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Related Posts

Pressure to Achieve, Sandycove Swimmers Achievements, loneswimmer.com

24 hour swim, loneswimmer.com

Just another 6 hour pool swim. loneswimmer.com

Anatomy of an 8 hour pool swim, loneswimmer.com

100 x 100 x 100, loneswimmer.com

Something important that I recently learned

If doing a long swim with a training partner … who is faster than you anyway … if you are barely managing to hold onto his bubbles … do not, I repeat DO NOT give him some of your caffeinated carbohydrate feed (Hammer Perpetuum with Caffeine) at the 21k point … ESPECIALLY if he has been off caffeine for four months!

Gabor

Or you will see him take off like Speedy MacSpeedster, the holder of the Speedy Family’s speed record.

Gábor and I had a 24k last Friday. Unfortunately I can’t share the session details as it’s under an NDA from Coach Eilís. Suffice to say it was tough. According to Gábor, graduates of this particular session shall henceforth be known as The 24 Carat Club, and includes all this year’s Sandycove marathon swimmers. Also swimming at various times during the day were Queen Lisa, marathon swimmer Rob The Bull Bohane, and 2012 Aspirants Catherine Sheridan & Carmel Collins.

Lisa

Recovery was about four days to feeling almost normal while swimming, pretty good.

I am now off caffeine again myself.

relentless lane-lines

Achievement unlocked: The Cube, 100 x 100 x 100

100 x 100 is probably the most famous of all distance swimming sessions. Metres of course, for my measurementally-challenged American friends. Systéme Internationale anyone?Ten fingers, ten toes, ten …. :-)

Anyway the elegant variation is 100 x 100 x 100, that is, one hundred metres, one hundred times, each time on one hundred seconds, i.e. starting each one hundred every one minute and forty seconds. So you finish before the one hundred seconds to get a quick rest.

100 x 100 x 100

Looks beautiful, doesn’t it? And intriguing if you haven’t done it. Elegant, like a great mathematical formula:

f=ma

Recently Mark Robson, Evan Morrison and Steve Munatones have all discussed it.

I’d never done it. (Sharp intake of breath). Solo, that is, without someone to share the workload with. I have done it with others. I’d done 100 x 100 by myself (though not in two years). I’ve done 10 x 1500. It was in fact a bit of a bugbear for me. It’s not that big a deal doing it with others who are around the same pace as me, (Rob, Danny, Ciaran, Jen, Lisa etc).

No, it was that final 100 that bothered me, the one minute forty, repeating and repeating. The first time I read about it was my second year swimming, about five years ago. (Remember, I’m not at this swimming lark a long time). It seemed immense and, for me, impossible. Now, it wasn’t that I thought about it much. I moved on.

Over the past few years, when I start back pool training from the sea every autumn, I discover all the long sea swims have taken what speed I have away. I’m swimming repeat 100s usually on 1:45. Within a few weeks, as I feel the fitness return, I’ll start doing mixed 100s: 4 x100 on 1:45, 4 x100 on 1:40, 4 x 100 on 1:35, that type of thing.

Swim training 14

Then I’ll start doing 10x on 1:40 maybe once a week as part of a main set. The first few of times are a good personal speed and fitness test. It takes six to eight week before repeat 20x 100s on 1:40 feel ok. After that I look for the point where I might feel like cracking, where I am not making the interval. Last week I did 50 x 100s one day as main-set and it was grand. And some of you were talking about it. So I took it back out of its box and decided I’d do it on Week Three of my four-week training cycle, Week Three being the most difficult or longest week.

The whole thing was grand though if you were to use only one word to describe it would of course have to be relentless (I might use “relentless” next time I change the site tag line). Not without difficulties of course. After a very short 400m warmup, I easily cruised through the first thirty, without about eight or nine seconds interval. Then I noticed in the fourth set that my interval dropped slightly. I hit 50x though still holding a five second rest. At that point I had a four-minute toilet and drink stop and half a 650 ml bottle of Maxim. I didn’t want to run out of energy half way through hour three. I was drinking half a bottle of water every 10x also. The sixth 10x weren’t great, a bit too variable. I was aiming for 70x. If I could get to there, it would be downhill and beyond the maximum number of 100s on 100 previously done.

By 70x the intervals were down to three seconds. That is not a sustainable interval if you have to work very hard to make it, but I was okay and not having to kill it to make the interval.

Some of the time loss was losing concentration, when you start to make more stroke errors, in my case these tend to be dropping my elbows, and dropping my left hand instead of holding the extension prior to the catch, and moving my head too much out of breakout.

The eight set was a bit of mix, I made everything but the times wobbled up and down a bit in the first half, but came good before the end.The ninth set brought the worry of cramps at the bottom of my calves from all the tumble-turn push-offs with not a lot of rest. I swam one hundred with toes clenched, slowing me down, to offset incipient cramp, and stopped for a quick drink on another for the same reason. At 90x I knew there’s be no trouble, I could keep powering on, intervals had returned to 5 seconds. Then on the ninety sixth, I started to feel again that I was going to cramp, but made it with one second to spare as a consequence. On 97, someone stepped into the end of the lane, I had to swerve, and when I tumble-turned he was still there and I had to go deep and wobbly. One second left again. Of course I blasted hard through the final 100. 200 metres of backstroke and all done.

Felt absolutely fine. Quick way to a 10k. Not one you want to do a lot though. Good fitness test also. I did however feel more tired the day after.

Now it should be very clear to swimmers that at I am not fast. The top world FINA swimmers are doing 10k in just over two hours, not in three hours. But I was delighted, it was a goal I hadn’t previously reached, though in fairness, I also hadn’t seriously attempted it, and it was less than I imagined it to be, the challenge being as always, mental, keeping the concentration to hold the stroke.

Amazing for me to think that for Jen Schumacher, Evan and others, this is probably an easy interval for them as it is for Ned, Owen, etc. Those guys are amazing. A 1:20 repeat is an aerobic set for Chloe Sutton …

Edit: I forgot to mention again, my primary purpose in writing up something like this, is to demystify them and take the ego out of it.

A long training swim in numbers

Location: Kilkenny Watershed, low chlorine pool.

Start time: 9:37 a.m.

Pool length: 25m

Cost: €5

Current pool depth of adjustable floor: 2.01 metres

Time to finish first 3k: 53 mins

Worst period: 4th hour

Duration sun actually shone through cloud: <1 minute

Distance: 20,500

Of which front crawl: 18000

With paddles: 6000

Backstroke: 1000

Kick: 1500

Tumbleturns: 670

Number of lengths: 820

Number of times swimming into wall: 2

Longest break: 5 mins

Number of people who shared the lane with me over the entire swim: 0

Time the pool was empty except me and one lifeguard; 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Estimated total stoppage time including intervals: 30 mins

Full Pool evening lights switched on at: 3.50 p.m.

Sunset 16:17 P.M.

Different lifeguards on duty during swim: 3

Finish time: 16:35 p.m.

Elapsed time: Six hours fifty-eight minutes

Time during which nothing interesting happened: Six hours fifty-eight minutes

Estimated actual swim time: Six hours thirty minutes

Average speed: ≈ 3200 metres per hour

Stroke efficiency deterioration ≈ 20%**

Food consumed: One clementine. 500 ml Swimmer’s Smoothie. 2 packets of maltodextrin Go-Sport. 1.5 scoop of Perpetuum

Liquid consumed: ≈ 3 litres

Liquid urinated: at least 4 litres

Calories consumed according to Swimovate watch: ≈ 5,500

Toby’s level of interest: none

"I don't care"

** Calculated by increase in average stoke count per length over 25 metres of 4 strokes.

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!

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.

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.