Thursday, March 6, 2014

Swim series continued . . . a view from the otherside

I asked if any of my followers on Twitter would be interested in writing up a counter argument to my swim series (sounds more impressive than it is). It took several weeks but I finally got a bite! "Billy Pilgrim" has been a mainstay in the NC Triathlon community. He does not have a swimming, cycling, or even running background. He just decided to become a triathlete. In wearing the mantle of "triathlete" he has foisted upon himself the necessity of training for three sports.  Billy, unlike previous blog posts' point of views, maintains the opinion that swimming MORE is simply unnecessary. I recognize not everyone is in it to win it but I firmly believe taking the time to improve your fitness in the water will catapult you out of the middle of the pack (MOP). Billy believes that once you reach an "acceptable" level of swimming the time is better spent invested on your favorite and best sports. Some may say Billy is obviously completely wrong but nonetheless here is his post:

Hi. My name is Billy Pilgrim and I’m a middle of the pack triathlete who 1) races for fun (mostly) and 2) likes to challenge myself by completing in events. I mostly do sprint triathlon racing, but one day want to do a half or even a full Ironman distance race. After a race, I’ll look at the results, and I’m pleased with my performance as long as I beat 50% of the other men in my age group. Running is my main sport, but I’m no slouch on the bike, and swimming is my least favorite. In fact, I wish practically ANY other sport were at the front of a triathlon race.

I read your swim/cat blog :) and have a few issues raised there that I wanted to point out, with my main point being this: People such as myself don’t need to spend much time in the water. Basically, I can swim pretty terribly, and still meet my goals for almost any triathlon race. My swim training only needs to consist of what will get me through the race, where I get to T2, and the real race starts. I know I sound like a duathlete, but those guys are weird dorks, and there is no Slowtwitch forum for duathletes.

Triathlon and cats are a great combination, IMHO
 In your first blog, to pick out a few things, I see:
“People want to get better at swimming but very few people actually do what it really takes to see improvement in the pool” and “…how hard I continue to work at swimming” and “..I would venture to guess you could benefit from doing a little more focused swimming”

I’m not a great swimmer. I swim maybe 1:40/100Y, when I’m well trained. Last year at my key race, the Lake Norman Triathlon, there were 66 people in my age group. For the 750-meter swim, people in my AG swam from 13:21(1:37/100y) all the way to 24+ minutes (2:55/100y). If I swim anywhere near 1:40, or heck, even under 2:00/100y, that should put me into a good position to bike down and then run down most of the other guys in my age group. Heck, at smaller races I may even see the podium! And I can do all of this with hardly any swim training. Especially without hauling myself to the pool 4-5x a week in the dead of winter.

Another example, in your second blog from Tim Ferguson. He pointed out 2 swim myths.  1, The swim doesn’t matter, and 2) The swim is all about technique, not fitness. I agree the swim DOES matter in that you have to finish, but other than that, I can swim just fine with very minimal training. And while good technique and good fitness may be important to the ICE Racing team, me swimming 1:45/100Y doesn't take a whole heck of a lot of technique or fitness. I’d certainly never swim 37K over 6 days unless my cruise ship were taken over by Somali pirates and I had to figure out a way to swim back to shore.

Then we come to James Haycraft. Is this guy real, or did you just make him up for the blog? Sure, he has dreamy hair and is gorgeous-in-a-non-gay-way running wearing that pirate hat and green speedo, but for MOP Pilgrim, I just can’t resonate with him. I hear he swims so much, the chlorine turns his hair blonde. I’ll come back and read his tips when I line up beside a Raelert brother at my next race.

MOP James Haycraft, circa 2009
People forget how far he has come. I guess that's the point
And this latest post written by Lori Ackerman is like a breath of fresh air. I’d marry her if I weren’t already married, and if she weren’t married to a guy nicknamed the Honey Badger. I’ll show up to the pool once a month, maybe in the early morning. I’ll see Lori there swimming long course, and doing her flip turns. I’ll do my 3x500 workout, and get out before her. Sure at our next race she’ll beat me out of the water by a minute or two, but in the end it won’t really matter. I’ll finish in the top 20% of my age group, celebrate with 3 or 4 cheeseburgers, and go back to reading my cat blogs.

So all this to say that swimming is only important to swimmers and to folks trying to win triathlons. Bike for show, Run for dough. Swim, NO.

Poor widdle guy
I agree. Somewhat. Swimming a lot is not absolutely necessary. The best way to determine how you should spend your time is by evaluating your goals, priorities, and happiness. If you goal is to find your way to the podium, tackle an ironman, or maybe qualify for AG Nationals, I strongly suggest you use some portion of the off season to build some swim fitness. If you have a demanding job, personal, or home life then yeah, maybe 9 hours in the pool isn't for you.  If you hate swimming and swimming makes you miserable then don't do it. Simple. 

But . . . 

If mid-season, every season, you find yourself frustrated having been left behind by the podium pack then I would like you consider swimming now to break down some of those barriers preventing you from being more competitive. If your frustration leads to you making excuses like "the swim does not matter anyway" then I challenge you to try actually training and seeing first hand the difference it will make. 


  1. I've enjoyed this swim series, despite its verbosity at times.

    This post is especially good. I will admit that Billy is right about one thing - that swimming more is unnecessary. However, that only applies to fairly elite level swimmers, not people who need to get better. Piling on yardage is a relic of a bygone swim era. But, I still can't resist a good day of garbage yardage every now and again.

    But, he is not right in general. He maintains satisfaction with being MOP and not desiring to improve, yet talks about his desire to podium and beat 50% of his competitors. These are contradictory. At his next triathlon he should look at what improving by :05/100 would do for his overall finish. It likely will move him up multiple spots. Additionally, the technique gains by that improvement will make the swim easier, instead of a trashy dash and splash.

    Keep fighting the good fight Juanita.

  2. I wonder what Gregg Troy would say . . .

    But yes, I agree. Most triathletes do not even know what training techniques are available to them because they are too busy directing their focus in the wrong direction. Working to being even just slightly above average in the swim has the potential to take a MOP to the podium.

  3. I have enjoyed reading the articles on both yours and James blogs and finally thought i would post a comment. I am much closer to the opposing point of view, but not all the way there.

    My opinion In summary is that if your goal is to get faster at triathlon and like most people you are time constrained (work, family, responsibilities) etc, your time should be invested where it gains you the largest time benefit. Keeping in mind your swim training may make your efficiency higher and your time gains may be achieved in the bike or run due to your swim efficiency. Also needing to take into account where are you on your performance potential. If you have relatively maxed out your performance and can maintain your bike and run performance the time may be best spent swimming.

    For me, I did not start swimming until 17 years ago at age 30. In fact my first sprint tri latta 1998 my 5 k run was faster than my swim a dubious fact i still like to reference. My focus is long distance 1/2 and full IM racing. My peak weeks are around 18 - 20 hours. My biggest time commitment to swimming came when i was swimming 6 hours a week. which was about 2.5 hours more than than normal. My IM swim dropped from 1:10 - 1:06 (wetsuit aided). I am confident those extra 2.5 hours could have yielded bigger gains in the bike or run. Since then i have focused more on the bike and run and my times have dropped much further than the 4 minute drop on the swim and in my peak training i swim 3.5 hours a week. In peak training i do two masters swim workouts of about 3,500 yards, another pool swim on my own and one long open water swim over an hour. In longer races I am competitive in my ag M45-49, but in shorter races I am less competitive as I do not have time to make up for my slow swim. I am ok with that as my main goal is to do well at long races.

    Just another perspective from us non fish.

    Greg Sheehan

  4. Greg, I think you make a valid point and I agree that a time crunched athlete has to weigh the cost and benefits. My swim series was a little late to post but it was a coordinated effort. My main point is that even the time crunched athlete can benefit by swimming more in the off season. In the winter, the athlete you described above is simply not putting in as much time on the bike and probably not even on the run. I see a lot of triathletes hang up the bike and goggles and start training for some road races. If this is what they want to do, then I am all for it. However, mid-triathlon season, is the same athlete is wonder why they can't seem to make it on the podium or why they can no longer run down the competition, I would say it is time to look at the swim as potential for making gains. Rather than take the winter off from swimming, do more swimming and see a faster triathlon season.