Tag Archives: Speed

Swimming alone

I went to meet my Masters group last night and I was the only one there – so I swam alone. 

Of course I wasn’t completely alone, the rest of the swimming club was in the pool and they were busy training in the lanes next to me. However I did have a lane to myself. 

I used it as an opportunity to just swim – without any of those silly drills or being forced to swim backstroke. In the end I managed 3km in 55 minutes. 

I went again this morning and did another 4km, split into 2 x 2km. I managed a similar pace as well – the first 2km was done in 35:50 and the second in 36:36. 

I’m pleased with that distance – and that pace. Although to put it into perspective it’s about the same pace as a 9-year old girl swimming breaststroke!

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Cruising Along

I’m using the winter months to spend time in the pool working on technique and speed and it feels like it’s starting to come together.

The technique comes from drills from SwimCanaryWharf, while the speed comes in a variety of different sprint sets. My favourite is a pyramid of 100 – 200 – 400 – 200 – 100, all off set times.

However, the aim of this work is not necessarily to get quicker over 100m, or even 400m, but to allow me to be able to be generally quicker over the longer distances. So as well as sprint sets I also try to mix in some ‘cruising’ sets. What I want to be able to do is find the quickest speed at which I can keep going, yet without really getting myself out of breath. So I’m swimming ‘relaxed’ 1km swims, but trying to keep the pace strong.

Last week, any swims I did like this were between 1:56 and 1:58 per 100m, today I got that pace down to just under 1:55 per 100m.

That may not sound particularly quick to some people, but even if I add an extra 10 seconds for the cold water and an extra 10 seconds to feed, then my Windermere time will be well over an hour quicker than I’ve done it before.

I know it’s not as easy as that – but it’s a good start.

Anyway, that was my last swim before Xmas. Hope you all have a good one. See you on the other side to swim off the turkey.

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Getting Quicker

Every so often I write a post similar to this (for example this one) – one where I talk about the improvements I’ve made, especially those that are measured by speed. It’s clear that, while I’m not obsessed, it’s obviously an important factor for me.

It’s strange and very much a relative issue. At my local pool I can only think of four other swimmers that swim regularly that are faster than me – 90% of the time that I’m in the pool I’m the quickest one there. In Crete the other week I was in the middle of the middle group, by the end of the week I’d managed to speed up a bit and join those at the head of the middle group. Yet at most BLDSA events I’m in the last two thirds of the event – and the longer the event, the closer to the back that I finish.

I’m always striving to do better in everything I do and as I came to swimming so late (I could always swim, but I only started entering events three years ago) I think I still have a lot of room for improvement. In a group of people the definition of a ‘good’ swimmer is so subjective (I’m the crazy, open water swimmer amongst my pool colleagues, yet I’m the guy at the back in the BLDSA events), so it’s best to use an objective measurement of improvement – and speed / time is that.

Friday morning's swim time

Friday morning’s swim time

On Thursday I went to the pool mainly because I couldn’t be bothered to go to the gym. I was still tired after being out on Tuesday night, so I was planning / expecting to plod out 2km and go home. I only started my stopwatch to help me count laps as I thought I might lose concentration. However I joined two of the aforementioned quicker swimmers in the lane and I didn’t want to hold them up, so I got on with it. I got on with it so much that I did the fastest 1km that I’ve ever recorded – 17 mins and 33 seconds (an average of 1:45 / 100m).

Then the following morning, less than 12 hours after I’d got out of the pool, I was back in for my regular Friday swim. It involves 500m warm-up, 1,000m of drills, 400m of relaxed swimming, then a timed 1km set. I wasn’t expecting much after the previous evening’s unexpected exertions. Yet I matched my new PB to the second!

I put these improvements down to a few factors:

  • The work I’ve been doing with Ray from SwimCanaryWharf has made HUGE improvements to my stroke
  • The week in Crete with SwimTrek gave me a few additional pointers that I’ve worked on since getting back – raising my left hand, taking too long on my breaths, being a ‘lazy’ swimmer (my words)
  • I’m probably at the fittest I’ve been for a while having done a lot of gym work in October
  • I’m enjoying my swimming again

I’m aware that my speed isn’t much compared to some of the faster swimmers I know in real-life and online, but I’m pleased with it as not so long ago I would have been delighted to get below 20mins for 1km. Also, having never been a swimmer as a kid I still don’t tumble turn, so compared to someone swimming at the same pace as me I might be losing as much as a second a lap (20 seconds total) over a tumble turner.

What is important to me though is not how quickly I can do 1km in the pool, it’s all about getting my body used to swimming at a quicker pace, so when I want to go longer my 80-90% speed has improved.

My best time for Windermere is 7 hours and 40 minutes – an average pace of just over 27 minutes per kilometre. Imagine if I could reduce that average to something like 22 mins – well, you don’t have to imagine, it would mean a 6 1/4 hour swim!

So I’m going to keep trying to speed up in the pool, keep celebrating any improvements I get there, but also keep my eye on the bigger picture (and swims).

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Cricket’s hard work…

My son has joined the local cricket club and takes part in their Friday evening training sessions, so I get the really arduous job of taking him up there and then sitting in the sun reading my book or chatting to other parents, with a pint in my hand. It really is tough!

But as my son gets more and more enthusiastic I found myself throwing a few balls for him to hit and then trying to help him with his technique. I don’t claim to be any good at cricket, but listening to myself it sounded like I knew what I was talking about, so I thought I’d put that theory to the test.

Despite it being close to 30 years since I last played I thought I’d give it a go and so I went to the adult nets session last night.

I’m pleased to say that I didn’t embarrass myself.

They had the bowling machine on, which they kindly turned down to low speed for me, and I missed the first few balls bowled to me. But once I started to move my feet I managed to hit a few. Some of them might even have turned into runs in a match. Following that I then had a bowl and while I didn’t take any wickets, I didn’t launch the ball at anyone’s head either. In fact I really enjoyed it.

I’m stiff today though!

I really didn’t do that much in the grand scheme of things, but what I did do was use muscles that don’t normally see much action – or at least not in that way! I’ll be back though.

– – –

On the swimming front, I’ve definitely got my mojo back and am enjoying trying to increase my speed endurance. I’m doing a pyramid of 100m – 200m – 400m – 200m – 100m with a set time per 100m (at the moment a not too stressful 1:55, but I’ll lower that as I get into it more). On top of that, I’m going to be getting back into the lake when I can.

I’ve not got a big year of events this year, so I’ll be aiming to ‘tick over’ while improving technique and my base speed.

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I got a PB

One of the things I love about open water swimming is the fact that it is different every time, it isn’t controlled and ‘sanitised’ like pool swimming. When you swim in a pool, you can be confident that the distances are exact, the water will be a standard temperature and you can swim up and down in a straight line. You can therefore be confident in the distance you have swum and you can measure it exactly against other swims.

Open water swimming is not like that.

On any given day the various variables mean that each swim is different. The course may change slightly (even moored buoys can move a bit), the wind and water temperature can make a huge difference. Not to mention the current or tides if you are in a river or the sea. In many ways, each swim is completely different and can’t be compared to others – even if you have swum the same ‘course’.

On that logic, I’m pleased to announce that I got a PB on Sunday.

I need to qualify that slightly – it was a PB for the swim on Sunday – given that every swim is unique. It wasn’t a PB for the distance, or even for that venue. But hey, I’ll take what I can get.

I was actually quite a bit slower than last year, but so were most people – it was very windy on Sunday (and cold!). However, I was actually slower in comparison to other people (ie they weren’t as much slower as I was). Now, they are on different swimming journeys, but still now I’ve done the big endurance event it’s time to spend a bit of time working on speed.

One of my biggest problems is knowing quite how hard to push myself on these swims. I can spend a bit too long being a ‘tourist’ and not swimming hard. So I’m not going to work on my sprinting speed, but rather my endurance threshold – getting used to feeling more comfortable pushing a bit harder for longer.

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Grease Lightning

I couldn’t resist.

The plan was to go to the sauna and relax after the gym session, but the sauna is next to the swimming pool and they’d just started lane swimming. So I went back to get my goggles and decided to blast a few lengths just to get it out of my system. I wanted to do a really quick 200m to see what I could do – especially as I am working on speed now.

I did it in 3mins 35sec – the fastest I’ve ever done for 200m. I was really pleased. Then I got to thinking…

That time, if repeated, would see me do a mile in 28mins and 40sec. Not great, but certainly faster than I’ve ever done before. Yet, the winner of the Windermere swam at 23 minute / mile pace… for 10.5 miles!

That’s quick.

Grease Lightning

Grease Lightning

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Feel the burn

Last year’s exercise was all about getting myself through it. Would my body be able to cope? Could I reach my goal? Ultimately, would I get to the other end of the lake?

This meant that my training was nearly all about distance and endurance and getting on with it. The 1,000kms goal didn’t help as I wanted to achieve that, so kept looking to add distance to the chart I was keeping for that. However,with the swimming at least it was important to know that I could do the distance – it’s not as easy to stop and rest in a lake as it is if you’re out running, basically if you stop for too long you drown. But what I mainly did in my training last year was plod.

Well, it turns out I could swim to the other end of the lake, so now I don’t need to worry about that. Now I can push myself a bit harder.

I’ve decided that I’m going to try and work on speed and pushing myself hard over short distances / times in my training in the early part of this year. This particularly applies to the swimming, but also to all the other exercise stuff I do (cycling, running, weights). When the open water season starts again I’ll be able to get in the lake and do my long, slow (but hopefully not as slow as previously thanks to the speed work) swims, for now I’m going to work harder, but shorter.

And on that note, I’ve had a Twitter conversation with a friend about feeling the ache after a good session, his expression, which I love, was: “I love it when my body reminds me how awesome I am ;-)”

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What next?

I’ve done my first event, but that’s only the start. Now I need to build up to the big one – swimming Windermere next year.

I thought I’d jot down a few of the thoughts I had as a result of the swim at the weekend.

The first was how much I enjoyed it and how keen I am to keep going. As I’ve mentioned before, my Grandad was one of the founder members of the BLDSA, so as a kid I was dragged round to all of these swims. When we arrived early on Saturday morning I got an incredibly nostalgic whiff of sweaty swimmer, lake and liniment – it sounds terrible, but it felt very welcoming. I also chatted to a few people that knew my Grandad and so have now joined the “club”.

But beyond the enjoyment I also realised what a big undertaking this is. Obviously I need to keep up the training, but it’s a little more than just swimming. My plans are to use this summer to do as much open water swimming as possible – so far I’ve got another 3mile event lined up, as well as a 6mile one and a 5.25mile one. But that only takes me through to the end of July, so I’ll try to do at least a couple more in August.

However, after the summer, or at least once the end of this year and my 1,000kms target is reached (or not) then I need to change my training slightly.

I need to lose a bit of weight, that much is now certain (mainly based on the photos my wife took as I was getting into the water). Subconsciously I’ve chosen an event that requires you to carry a little bit of extra body fat for warmth, but I’m overdoing it a bit at the moment. This isn’t ever going to be a blog about my weight, but as for many people all of the exercise stuff started as a way to get fitter and a bit thinner. I seem to have managed one so far without the other.

I also need to spend some time strengthening my shoulders and upper body. Swimming the crawl is all about upper body strength – in fact you should hardly use your legs at all – so that’s something I need to improve. Obviously the swimming itself will help, but my plan is to use the gym properly to help me with that over the winter.

The final area I want to work on is to improve my speed. As I’ve talked about before it’s going to be a hell of a long swim if I keep to my current speed, so I want to work on that. Currently I’m so keen to put the miles in that I don’t want to be doing sets or focusing on sprint drills, but once winter comes then I want to use the time in the pool to speed up, rather than just swim up and down.

If I can spend the first 3-4 months of next year on those three elements, then I should be in good shape to get back into the open water next spring and work on a plan that will see me complete Windermere by the end of the summer. That’s the plan anyway.

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More Talk, More Speed

So tonight I managed to do 2 1/2 miles in the lake. I’ve got a 3 mile event on Saturday so this was the final training swim and it felt good. I came out after 2 1/2 miles very happy that I could have done more and also just relaxed and chilled. This was the first time I’ve swum in the lake and didn’t have a single moment of “why am I doing this?”.

Every other time I’ve been in the lake that thought has crossed my mind, even if only for a minute. Tonight it didn’t. I just swam and relaxed and enjoyed it. The lake itself was quite busy and I think that helped. It was good to feel part of a community of swimmers – even if you don’t get much chance to chat!

Several people overtook me and were going what seemed to be impossibly quick, yet I overtook quite a few people myself. And strangely after being concerned about my speed – I speeded up a bit. I didn’t do anything different or try to swim faster, but I think the very fact that I had talked about it and was aware of it meant that if not consciously trying to be faster it was there at the back of my mind and didn’t let me relax at all.

My time for tonight’s 2 1/2 mile swim.

On Saturday I did 2 miles in almost exactly 1hr 20 mins (so 40 minute miles, or 20 minutes per 1/2 mile lap). Tonight I did the first lap in 18 minutes and in total I did 2 1/2 miles in 1hr 36 minutes – so 4 minutes quicker than Saturday’s pace.

You can see my final time on the photo and the numbers above it show the first split time (18 mins, 1 second, 23 hundredths).

It’s funny how it works that way – but I’m not complaining. It does mean that I am now clearly targeting a sub-2hour swim on Saturday.

 

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The Need for Speed

As I mentioned previously I did 2 miles in the open water without a wetsuit on Saturday. And to be fair I was quite pleased with that.

However, one thing I wasn’t pleased about was my speed as I swam at exactly a 40-minute mile pace.

"I feel the need, the need for speed"The reason this is concerning me is that as you extend the distance, the time takes on a much greater significance. I was always working on the assumption that I was a 35-minute mile swimmer, but over a mile the five minutes is neither here nor there. However as I swim the 10 ½ mile Windermere it makes quite a big difference. 10 ½ miles at 35 minutes per mile means I’d be in the water for less than 6 ¼ hours, yet at 40 minutes per mile it’s exactly 7 hours (at 30 minutes per mile it’s “only” 5 ¼ hours).

Now I know that as I swim I’m likely to slow down my pace and that these figures aren’t accurate for that reason – but if anything that makes it more important.

Then on Sunday evening I did my usual mile in the pool. As the whole time thing was preying on my mind I timed it. I actually did it in 31 minutes and 19 seconds, so more than eight minutes faster than in the lake.

So what’s the reason for this? I was tired on Saturday morning, but then no more tired on Sunday evening as I’d had a very active weekend (we did the excellent Tonya’s Challenge as a family on Sunday morning – for anyone local I’d strongly recommend it for next year). I swam hard on Sunday night, but I wasn’t hanging about on Saturday either.

The main difference was the lake versus the pool. Some of that was the fact that I wasn’t always that straight in the lake (military swimming – left, right, left, right), but of course the biggest difference was the cold.

However, the more I’ve thought about it since the weekend the more I’ve decided to not worry about it – for now.

The whole 1,000kms concept is important to me this year, so I’m going to use this year as a way to get my body used to the effort required by putting as many miles in as possible (and doing as much on the bike as I can, and maybe even running too). But I’ve decided that I won’t give myself the 1,000kms challenge next year and instead I’ll plan some sessions that are more specifically designed to trying to speed up a bit, while also building up for the effort of Windermere.

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