On Monday, I “competed” in my first swimming “race” ever.
Yeah, that’s a lot of scare quotes.
Basically, I took part in an annual even that USMS (that’s US Masters Swimming) puts on an event called the One Hour Postal competition. Essentially, it’s a virtual race where you swim as far as you can in one hour and send in your results. Awards are given to the top competitors in each age group, nationwide. However (and this is where those scare quotes come in), to officially take part, you have to spring for an annual membership to USMS ($45) in addition to the completely reasonable $7 entry fee for the race itself. The fees themselves are perfectly understandable, but I didn’t want to pay $50 for one race that basically amounted to a time trial where I didn’t have to track my own laps.
Despite this, an hour time trial in the pool seemed like a useful metric at this point in my training. My most recent time trial of any sort was a 1000 yard time trial in 16:12. Because swimming times make no intuitive sense to me yet, I have no idea how to extrapolate that to a prediction for a 2.4 mile swim. Since I’m hoping to swim my Ironman swim in 1:20, a one hour time trial would be a much more useful metric. So I asked the masters coach if I could just join in with the swim and not officially enter. Fortunately, he was totally okay with it.
I still had to come up with a goal for this “race.” Recently, I’ve been wondering if I, perhaps, set my goals too low. I’ve noticed it’s rare for me to miss the athletic goals I set for myself, and I’ve started to wonder if perhaps I’m setting my sights too low. I’m usually fairly certain that, assuming a good race, I will hit the goals I set for myself. And since I’m a fairly consistent competitor, I typically have good races and hit those goals. So for this competition, I decided to branch out a bit and set a goal that I really didn’t know if I could hit.
A-goal: 3500 yards
This is the goal that I didn’t know I could hit. It averages out to a pace of 1:43/100yds. My pace for my recent 1000yd time trial was 1:37/100yds. Looking at my times for other recent swims, I knew this would be stretch, and I honestly didn’t think I was there yet.
B-goal: 3150 yards
This would put me at the same pace I am hoping to swim for my Ironman (1:54/100yds). Considering the swimming improvements I’ve seen over the past few months, I felt it was a very realistic goal. If I could hit this distance this early in the year, I’d be setting myself up well to hit that pace in August during a longer, open water swim with people everywhere making things more difficult.
C-goal: Get a good indication of where my swimming fitness is
Had to have one goal I couldn’t botch!
Rob and I are somewhat active football fans, so on Sunday afternoon, we had friends over to watch the Broncos/Steelers game. They brought over some delicious homemade mac and cheese which I ate with abandon. I hadn’t properly refueled after my 20 miler the day before, so I was glad to have a bunch of party foods at my disposal for the whole afternoon. By the time the game was over, I was finally feeling full and properly refed after the tough effort the day before. Oh, and the Broncos won, which always makes any day a little better.
The game was on early enough that I ended up getting to bed nice and early—around 9:30pm. After a fairly restless night of sleep, I got up around 5:30am so I would have time to eat, hydrate, and just wake up before heading to the pool at 7:00am. I drank about a bottle of water and ate a banana and a bowl of cereal, along with a small glass of milk. I would have liked to eat a little more, but because this was, if not an official race, at least a race-ish experience, I was a bit nervous and didn’t force myself to eat anything else.
After arriving at the gym, I ended up getting out onto the pool deck just as the group was finishing up the regular masters swim practice form 6:00am-7:00am. I chatted with the coach and some of the other swimmers as the folks finished up their set. Then I hopped in to warm up. The coach warned me that the water was colder than usual, and he was right. Even with the warning, the temperature was a bit of a shock to me. It was a few degrees colder than usual, and while that probably also meant it was closer to the ideal temperature for a racing pool than usual, it was still unpleasant because I wasn’t used to it.
I did a quick warmup, and the coach told us the (simple) rules: swim for an hour taking as many or as few breaks as you want.
We started off, and I took off pretty quickly. Coming in to the wall after the first 50, I remembered I had to swim for an hour, so I slowed down into what I hoped was a tempo pace. I wasn’t taking it easy, but I felt I could maintain that pace. I’m not entirely sure how to recap a swimming race. I swam back and forth. Over and over again. For a long time. But in reality, I tried to space out a bit. Swimming is a bit like running on the treadmill. You stare at the wall (bottom of the pool) for ten minutes only to look at the clock and realize only two minutes has actually passed. Basically, I tried to avoid looking at the clock as much as possible. This possibly hurt my splits, but it definitely helped my sanity. Every so often, I’d do a “pace check” and time myself for a 50. My splits for those laps usually ended up being between 49 and 51, so I knew I was swimming well.
When I hit the fifteen minute mark, I was still feeling strong. I had settled into my pace, and it didn’t feel taxing yet. Of course, I was also kind of bored already and knew I had a long time more to swim. As I approached the thirty minute mark, I started feeling fatigued. Fortunately for my mental state, I got a second wind right around thirty minutes which helped me stay confident that I could keep up the pace for the rest of the hour. Despite my fatigue, I think my form remained quite solid for the duration of the swim except for in one area—flip turns. As I tired, I found myself losing seconds on the flip turns, so I began to focus specifically on keeping those crisp and quick.
I tried to pick it up for the final fifteen minutes. When I saw I had fifteen minutes left, I actually thought to myself, “Okay, two more miles.” Apparently, the relation between time and distance is inextricably linked to running for me. Still, knowing that I had two more running miles worth of effort actually did help me gauge how hard I should be swimming. With about ten minutes left, I started breathing every two strokes instead of every three which always helps me pick up the pace when I’m starting to lose steam. When I hit the wall with about 1:30 left, I really pushed it, hoping I could fit in one more 100. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to, but I had enough left in me and ended up finishing that final 100 right before we hit an hour and stopped.
Although I knew I had swum well, I didn’t how far I had swum, so when the coach told me I had made it 3600 yards, I was thrilled—I even gave a little fist pump. 3600 yards is just a touch over 2 miles—by far the farthest I’ve ever swum without any breaks. My pace was 1:40/100yds, which is honestly faster than I could have imagined swimming a few months ago. Even with the time I would lose in open water, I think I’m in a good position to hit my Ironman swim goals in August. In addition to counting laps, the support crew there had also taken splits for us, so I was able to look at my pace throughout the hour. I had remained pretty steady. Besides a fast start and fast finish (1:31 for the first and last 100), my paces were pretty uniform across the board.
I was pleased with my performance and thrilled to hit my A-goal. It’s a lot more fun to hit a goal when you didn’t know if you could or not. I was also pleased with how I felt afterwards. I was tired and stiff, but I recovered quickly and only had minimal soreness the day after. My main intention with this “race” was to get an idea of where my swimming fitness was so I could feel more prepared for the Ironman, and I accomplished that. I’m in a really good position and feel like I’m in a great position for when my Ironman training officially starts in April.
Time: 60 minutes
Total yards: 3600
Pace: 1:40/100yds; 1:49/100m