Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Going to bat for the swimmers

Alright, it's time to vent.  Lay it all out there.  Put it on record.  Get it off my chest. Go for broke. Tell it like it is.  You get my drift.

I couldn't count using my two hands plus the hands of several of my friends how many times I've heard a triathlete say - not exactly like this but close - "Swimmers have it so easy." Even, "swimmers are so LUCKY."  Or some other form of excusing their own lack of swimmerness.

There is so much wrong with that thought process.  It's SUCH a cop out.

While I don't have personal experience, I'm pretty confident in saying that in terms of sports, swimmers have it the hardest.  I'm not speaking to the "big 3" sports that dominate American athletics (football, baseball, basketball), those are irrelevant in this discussion.  Top level high school and collegiate age swimmers can hit 80,000 yards (or more?) per WEEK of training.  Maybe not every week, maybe not more than once or twice a month during a big build you can bet your boots that many swimmers are hitting double workouts each day and totaling well over 10k a day.  Just think about that for a second.  10k a week is a fairly big number for most triathletes.

Collegiate runners may hit 100 miles a week or more but they get to go out and explore trails, paths, roads, etc and run and converse with their skinny buddies.  I'm not discounting how much work they do, they're just limited by the fact that running is so high impact.  100 miles a week for a good runner is, at most, ~15hrs a week of actual running.  They fake their way through strength training and other such non-running activities but the bulk of their work is probably in the 12-18hr a week range.  100k a week of swimming is probably double that. Then add in dry-land.  Then add in strength.  It's ridiculous how much work swimmers do in their ''careers.''

So to say something like "oh they have it so easy" is preposterous.  They worked HARD for that strength. I do not feel sorry for myself in any way that someone like Doug Van Wie can put 2+ minutes into me in a sprint triathlon.  I admire the work ethic, dedication, and athleticism that put him in that position.  It took him extremely far in his prior sport (to the Trials and a world-record if I'm not mistaken?) and will take him extremely far in triathlon.  It's impossible to begrudge him (or anyone like him) that kind of "advantage." To even call it an "advantage" is frustrating.  Everyone else had the same opportunity to get in the pool at a young age.  Everyone could have started down that path a long time ago, but few chose to do so.  I know I toyed with the idea of joining the swim team in high school but didn't because they had to wake up early.

Think swimmer's "don't know how easy they have it?"  Why don't you go and try to do a workout with a real swimmer.  They don't have it easy.  In a triathlon, they don't have it easy.  It doesn't get "easier," you just go faster.

Too many triathletes putz their way through swimming thinking they'll get better with their pathetic swim workouts.  It's not going to happen.  You don't just "get better." It's a long, patience-driven and sometimes frustrating path of years and yards.

Triathletes seem to understand that to get better at running you have to run more and sometimes harder.  They also understand that to get better on the bike you have to...umm...ride more and more harder.  Yet somehow that knowledge and understanding is lost when it comes to swimming.

Take a look at this list and what stands out:

Kenneth Svendsen
Sebastian Binneman
Scott Woodbury
Ashley Ackerman
Mark Carey
Nick _____
James Haycraft
Donny Forsyth

Every one of these guys (and I'm sure some I'm forgetting, sorry) will be at or near the front at a local race (some even near the front on a bigger scale).  As far as I know, none of them grew up a "swimmer."  All of them put in year after year of hard work in the pool to get where they are.

Speaking from personal experience, 4 years ago I did my first ever open water swim at the Lake Norman YMCA sponsored swims.  It was the longest 1500m of my life and took me a little bit over 30 minutes.  I had started lap swimming (for the first time in my life, I might add) in June of that year.  So four years ago I would have swum 30-32 minutes in an olympic distance triathlon.  Now I would expect to swim under 22 minutes and come up within a minute or two of the fastest swimmer (unless Doug, Matt, or Duff show up to race) at any local race.  Anyone can look at my training logs.  I had never stepped foot (or dipped a toe I should say) into a pool with the intention of becoming a faster swimmer until the summer of 2008.  And now I expect to emerge from the swim and get on the bike in the top 5.  Progress. 

And all these swimmers didn't get better by busting out weak-ass swims of 5x100 pull on [insert low effort interval here].  They did it by hammering over and over and over, day after day, month after month, year after year.  Swimming all out 100s until your arms and legs tingle so much and you start seeing stars.  Gut-wrenching sets of 500+ yards at an effort level similar to a 20 minute power test.  Over, over, and over again.  

Triathletes can (and should) swim hard at almost every swim session they attend.  The standard formula should be: wu of 500-1000, main set of 2.5-3.5k, warm down.  2,000 yards + of hard swimming 3, 4, or 5 times a week.  When I hear or read about triathletes who really feel like they are "putting in the work," my initial thought is to never believe them.  No, your pathetic swim workouts are not enough to make you get to the level that you think you are capable of.  When you swim 15+ minutes in a race and *think* you should be at 13 (or some analogous time difference), there's a big discrepancy.  No, it's not because the course is 2+ minutes long.  It's because you're not as good as you think you are.

So, in short:

1) Stop complaining
2) Work harder to get better
3) Come into T1 closer to the front than the back
4) Problem solved

It's simple.  Just that step 2 takes a while...


Bill Davis said...

I stand and applaud this post. I also stand and applaud your swim workout this morning, well done. You've jumped in with the sharks at SwimMAC and your swimming is improving daily.

Your reward for this post will be a humbling 4500 LCM meter set on Saturday, hope you can join us!

Just a thought said...

While I laud the shout out to swimmers, I caution against promoting the thought that swimming fast is completely synonymous with thrashing around in the pool for 10k/day. While, yes, that is a painful and mentally mind-shattering part of it, a huge part of swimming and training is doing so with correct technique. If I, for example, halved your set but worked on proper rotation and extension of my stroke, I'd be far more successful than if I were to crank out 6x500s on some dismal pace. It's much harder to do a set the way it's intended than to just finish it, after all.

There's a time and a place for everything but the biggest misconception about swimming is that it's all about heart and not about brains. Any joe schmoe triathlete can get in and put in some yardage, but it separates the amateurs from the pros when those at workouts are focused on specific aspects of their strokes as well as improving their manipulation of the water rather than their aerobic capacity to do so.

Just as a swimmer wouldn't start running 100 miles a week, so, too, would it be wise for non-swimmers to avoid a likable course of action with swimming. Injuries abound in swimming and can quickly derail any triathlete's career.

That said, thanks again for the shout out. As a collegiate swimmer, it's always nice to read about being appreciated. Good luck!

James Haycraft said...

I agree completely; my intention was never really to say this workout is better than the other and if I did it was in the more general context of the fact that to get better you have to work hard. For each person, what that means will be different, obviously. My intentions were to *try* and galvanize some local triathletes who are "on the cusp," so to speak, to actually DO the work and get to the level they want to be at, as opposed to just being complacent and complaining about luck/advantages etc.

Thanks for the comment!

MarkyV said...

10k a day? If it was WED or SAT and we only were doing one session those days and it was an "easy" day. 3.5 in the morning 3 in the evening (MTTF) in addition to 3x a week dry land and 3x a week 5k time trial run. 90k a week was normal, average in fact, 120k was big. I had never really considered the distance until once on a date in college the girl asks, how many miles is that.... I paused, "whoa, shit, that's 70 miles" PER WEEK. No wonder i have a killer work ethic.... at least when i comes to self torture.