Amongst the essential aphorisms of swimming are; that you need to start swimming properly before the age of 16 or you will never reach your maximum genetic potential, (as Swim Ireland put it), which means fast; and that you need to train with others to get fast.
That’s me screwed then. I didn’t start swimming seriously until about seven years ago and I am a lone swimmer, meaning I have no-one to train with except maybe a handful of times per year.
One of the misconceptions about those of us who are not the fastest, is that we care less, maybe even train less. Speaking for myself, neither are true. I try hard to eek out whatever improvement I can in the absence of external input. Lots of drills, lots of interval work, lots of mixed sessions, lots of long sessions, never less than one million metres a year for the last five years (usually well over).
Autumn and early winter see me return to proper pool training and the first four to six weeks are spent getting rebuilding the aerobic and anaerobic capacities. Endurance and sprint, or what passes for sprint with me.
Six weeks ago, the first four weeks or so done, and starting to feel like pushing a bit, I was dampened by a lack of a planned big swim for next year, not being able to afford any of the ones I’d love to do. This meant I haven’t much reason to train big distances so I just decided to work on shorter distances for now. Tuesdays in the local pool are time constrained I have just under an hour available, so it became Time Trial Tuesday.
I’m not fast. I’m not slow either, just swimming along there in the middle. Very occasionally win a category in an open water race, more likely to be second or third or fourth. Do my repeat 100s on 1:40, and 1:35 when I feel like killing myself. For reference my 1500 SCM time is about twenty-two minutes flat-out on a good day when I don’t do anything wrong. I’m a Channel swimmer so I can live with my average times. But I still try.
And I decided that for Time Trial Tuesday I’d shoot for a sub 45:00:00 3k time.
I’ve chased 4k in an hour before, and the closest I got was 3,950. So close and yet 50 metres too far. I have broken 3k in 45 minutes and 4k in 60 minutes, but that was training with The Magnificent Seven and chasing Liam and Eddie Irwin. Last winter I was doing a 10 x 1000m timed session after chatting with Páraic about it, and on three of the 1000s I went well under 15 minutes. But I was getting a break after every kilometre.
The first week I didn’t try very hard. That alone is symptomatic of not being fit, being unable to push yourself. The second week wasn’t much better. The third week I was just over 47 minutes. Not great. On the fourth week I gave it a good shot, with almost a minute drop in time. Week five I was on the edge. I swam well, did everything right and on the first kilometre I was two seconds under 15 minutes. I got excited, starting thinking that I might make it. I dropped fifteen seconds on the second kilometre and almost the same again on the third, finishing in 45:35. I was disappointed to finish so much over 45:00. I hadn’t made any real mistakes. I wasn’t sure how much further I could go.
I set it to 1:30 and timed it to start with the lap clock. The TT would give three quick beeps every one minute and thirty seconds. A quick 200 metres warm-up with power paddles. TT under my cap where I would hear it clearly, yet would be inaudible to anyone else. Then I pushed off. A slow start left me two seconds behind by 200 metres. I upped it slightly and was on target by 400 metres. One side of my goggles leaked in the first kilometre and lost a couple of seconds trying to clear it. It immediately leaked again so I decided one eye would be sufficient. Luckily it was my left side that leaked,and since I was going all-out I was breathing every second stroke on my right for the entire trial. I reached the first kilometre at two seconds under according to the beeps.
I had gone into it thinking I could afford to lose ten seconds that I would make back in the last kilometre. I realised this was utterly wrong. I have been slow to start previously and had worked on doing a faster first kilometre, hence the essential short hard warmup. I knew I would have to stay within a couple of seconds of the 1:30 per 100m target.
The second kilometre was tougher, but I held on, slipping a second twice and making it back twice. I tried to concentrate on every metre, making sure that I dipped my right hip and get my right arm fully extended, key for me to stay on time, so easy to forget on every stroke.
I reached the 2k mark one second behind target, and pulled it back by 2100. Then lost it again. Then regained it again. Then lost almost second each 100 for 300 metres, leaving me two full seconds behind with 400 metres to go. From 2100 metres I was starting to get tunnel vision. The sides of the pool when I breathed had disappeared. Those were long minutes, the beeps inexorable. I knew I could give it everything from 400 metres out. I went, and went and went hard, a very short dolphin out of every turn. I was on target at 2900 metres. I thought I’d have a sprint in me for the final 100 metres but I didn’t. I touched the wall just before the first beep. 44:59. One second under.
I don’t know if I will go lower. If I do it’ll probably be a function of increasing fitness rather that any stroke improvements. Not that my stroke couldn’t stand intervention, it’s just not likely that is to happen. But I’ll keep trying.
It’s good and it’s chastening. Good to break that target, chastening that 15 minute kilometres are easy for fast swimmers to repeat. To be competitive in a 1500m requires a 19 to 18 minute time, three to four minutes faster than I can go. Trent was swimming 1:12 at the end of his world record English Channel swim. I will never get any faster easily, somewhere in the not-too-distant future I will start to slow down, despite everything.
But for now, it’s still three kilometres in 45 minutes. And that’s enough.