Sunday, April 17, 2011

What You Can Learn About Swimming (and Biking and Running) From This Accountant

Meet Warren. Meet Warren's pace clock. Well, he doesn't actually own the clock, but he's very attached to it. We have to pry it out of his hands at the end of every Master's swim practice and tell him he can't take it home to put beneath his pillow at night. The story of a man and his clock gives us insight into how we might become better at endurance sports...

You see Warren is an accountant, of the very-best-in-town variety. And he doesn't just use his acumen with numbers in his working life, he brings it to the pool with him too. One of Warren's best attributes (besides his speedy pace and terrific draft) is that he is an absolute wizard at pace management. Pacing is one of the skills that many athletes simply struggle with. It takes experience, self-awareness, and concentration to learn good pacing, but like any other skill it can be improved with time. Unfortunately, as any triathlon swim start will show (or the end of the Ironman marathon), many triathletes could take a few lessons in pacing from Warren here.

Our Master's group is preparing for an epic 5+ mile swim of Crater Lake this summer, so we're really starting to ramp up some challenging distance workouts these days. This week's set was no exception. We did a set of ten repeats of:

300 yards at an aerobic (long distance) pace
Exactly 5 seconds rest
50 yards at just past the Anaerobic Threshold
Exactly 10 seconds rest

This set is 3500 yards long, so it's imperative that you start with a pace that can be maintained with good form throughout. Our lane decided we could hold a 4:15 for the 300's (1:25 pace per 100) and a :40 pace for the 50's. Over all of those laps, all of those 100's, Warren's feet hit the wall right on the 1:25 for each and every one.

How did he do it? What does it take to be able to say "I'm going to go out at XXX pace." and actually do it? Here's a few pointers from the master. Though they are swimming-specific, they can be applied to any sport. As it turns out, Warren is also an endurance cyclist who will be riding the dreaded RAMROD this year (which supposedly stands for Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day, but which most cyclists translate as Ride Around Mount Rainier Or Die), a grueling 152 mile event with 10,000+ feet of climbing. So pacing is as critical in that event as well, and anyone who aspires to long-distance cycling, running, swimming, or multi-sport events could take notes:

1. Self-Control:  If you need to go out at a slower pace than you're used to, you have to get in the right mindset. Don't let your ego get in the way. We might've been able to get away with a 4:00 pace for those first few 300's, but then it would've eaten away at us and the last few would've felt like death. This way we felt strong throughout. It's hard to go out slow and feel like you've got a lot of throttle left. It takes self-control. Many a marathon runner or Ironman athlete has lived to rue their early pacing decisions, so this is a good lesson to learn.

2. Experience: The way to be able to pace effectively is to know your paces in the first place. Learn to love your clock (or watch). In the pool, you can check it briefly just before you turn at the end of each 50. If you run, spend some time at the track or use MapMyRun.com to map out some mile markers on your regular routes. Bike computers and heart rate monitors can give you some great info too. You don't have to become a Clock Slave, but using it judiciously brings more knowledge. The more knowledge you have about your paces and how each of them feels, the easier it is to set out at just the right speed.

3. Constant Vigilance: If you find yourself off of your pace, adjust immediately. Because I was conveniently drafting behind him, I knew what Warren was doing. Each 300 was divided mentally for him into 100s, and he knew he was aiming for 1:25 with each 100. He was checking the clock at our 50 splits, and the second 50 of each 100 was adjusted. If he found himself a second fast on the first 50, our second one was slightly slower. If he was a second or two too slow, I saw the afterburners come on and his kick picked up as we dropped that second or two from our second 50.  This kind of rigorous attention to pacing helps you learn to keep on top of it. Then in the heat of a race, you can make sure you're going out at the speed you want to return in.

4. Negative Split: Have enough in the tank that the last half of your workout (or event) is faster than your first half. You can only do this if you follow steps 1 - 3 above. Too many athletes leave a string of crash-and-burn results behind them as they fail to pace effectively.

If you take the time to learn to pace effectively, you too could be smiling as casually as Warren here after swimming 5500 yards!

In case you're interested, here was our "Finisher 550", the set we swam at above threshold (fast but not all out) pace AFTER swimming the above 3500 main set:

25 on :30
50 on :60
75 on 1:30
50 on :60
50 on :60
75 on 1:30
25 on :30
25 on :30
50 on :60
25 on :30
50 on :60
25 on :30
25 on :30

1 comment:

midlife_swimmer said...

I freak people out when I swim the mile at school for the mid term or final in our swim classes because every 50 throughout the mile are within 2 sec of each other.

that is from...long long ago when I was a kid and a coach paced me I think, but yeah our coach will put young hot rods behind me just to learn how to pace sometimes.

I am glad I can do it.