Thursday, February 27, 2014

Swim series continued . . . James Haycraft

Of course I had to ask James his opinion on swimming . . . he was gonna offer it anyway. I will be perfectly honest. James Haycraft annoys the crap out of me. Sometimes, when there are too many “fast” swimmers at practice James moves to a more “appropriate” lane. After swim practice, he will tell me how he could have made the intervals, how he should have challenged himself, and if he would have stayed in the lane he would have been fine. Should’ve, would’ve, could’ve . . . there’s some southern colloquialism I need to insert here but it has slipped my mind . . . Sometimes he asks me stupid questions like “Well how come you didn’t beat by more at Stumpy Creek?” Oh and my favorite, when he out sprints me and then rubs in my face the fact that he has only been swimming for 5+ years to my 30(ish) [I came from a family of swimmers so cut me some slack. Also, I am notoriously bad at sprinting to the point at which I was just mocked at practice for it yesterday] All this would not bother me if I did not consider James a threat (I still don’t but I am trying to be dramatic so bear with me). In the relatively short period of time James has been competing in triathlons he has put himself in a position where he can talk smack to me. I might not like it but I am proud of him nonetheless.

The James I used to know would only dive off the side of the pool while everyone else is diving of the blocks . . . The James I used to know would not dare try to swim a 25 fly because it might hurt . . . The James I used to know would wear a pair of a black jammers . . . The James I know today wears a suit like a real swimmer, does relay starts, and busts out a 50 butterfly in :26 like it is no big deal. Here is what he has to say:

Generally speaking, being around whiners is pretty annoying. Triathletes are frequently whiners (I include myself in that occasional group, by the way).  Therefore, being around triathletes is pretty annoying. I am only half-joking, but people will generally do their best to find SOMEthing to whine about.

When it comes to triathletes, specifically, most whining seems to be done when it comes to the question of swimming.  I can count on one hand, plus the hands of a bunch of friends, how many triathletes bitch and moan about swimming. In complete honesty, I have never really not enjoyed swimming. I whine occasionally (ok, maybe frequently) but it's usually set related or some sort of general whine about being up early in the morning. 

It took me a couple of years in the sport to realize how important the swim is.  You read that right; "how IMPORTANT the swim is." Not "how NOT important." It is currently the middle of February and all of the smart triathletes are swimming a lot because they recognize the important of the swim.  The ones that put it off or don't care enough to try are never, ever going to get any better at swimming.

It's not even that swimming a lot gets you better at SWIMMING.  It usually does, which is a nice by-product, but the point of high-volume swimming is being able to both increase your swim threshold pace and increase the amount of time you can swim very, very close to that pace.  It's also about getting out of the water and being less fatigued. 
I am James MF Haycraft
There is a very prominent coaching conglomerate that advocates a "no-swimming" policy during the "off-season." There are two things wrong with that sentence: the "no swimming" part and the "off-season" part. Watching athletes fail to grasp the importance of the swim is really frustrating. Always saying things like:

"I've worked really hard and haven't gotten better!"

No you haven't. 3 swims a week of 2000 yards of 4x500 is not trying really hard.

"The swim is the shortest part of the race!"

I cannot argue with that statement's truth. It IS the shortest.  But if you think swim fitness is JUST about the swim, you don't even really understand triathlon.

"I don't enjoy it."

Well, that's a valid reason. Most people, however, do not try hard enough to make themselves enjoy it. Fake it till you make it, so to speak. I do not always love waking up early and jumping in the pool.  But the more I create enjoyment out of swimming, the more I find I actually do enjoy the process.

"Well how much swimming does it take?"

That depends on a lot of things.  If, for years, you've been swimming (at most) 8-12 thousand yards a week in three or four swims (heard that many a time) then the answer is you probably just need to swim MORE. I first started noticing big improvements when my weekly swim volume changed from being structured as:

5-6 times a week as 2-2.5 thousand yards per swim 


3-4 swims a week as 4-4.5+ thousand yards per swim

The weekly volume increased slightly, but it was mainly the actual workout volume that increased. That enabled me to not only swim FASTER, but to also swim faster for LONGER. I made some big gains in 2011 by following Brian's schedules.

This continued through the end of 2012 and I made marginal gains in the pool those two years (but getting a lot faster overall in the swim/bike/run) and at the beginning of 2013 Brian threw the book at me. In the 13 weeks from December 31st to March 31st I swam a total of ~370,000 yards.  That's an average of over 28,000 yards a week for over three months. 

That is a lot for any triathlete, but that was the "next step." THAT is working REALLY hard.  As a consequence of that focus, I languished a bit in the pool mid-year and late-year.  Unfortunately, getting oneself THAT motivated means that at some point there will be a downer.  But I reaped the benefits of that much swimming all year.  I reduced the gap to the front pack of pros. I got out of local swims with or very close to the leaders.  I exerted less energy during the swim and had more to sprint T1 and be ready on the bike...immediately.  In some ways, my swim won Stumpy Creek.  It also won Tomahawk Triathlon. 

So that's two races I can point at and say: "My swim fitness won those races for me."  My bike and run were also good, but the point is that the swim fitness enabled faster swimming and faster biking and running.  

So, if you find yourself saying "I can't get any better" then TRY HARDER.  If you REALLY want to improve, grab a hold of the reigns and take charge of your fitness. 

But don't get too carried away . . .