Picture: Alain Bernard breaks the World Record at a swim meet in the 100 freestyle. Note that those he beat by perhaps only an arm's length were the also-rans. You just have to learn to be that little bit better than the competition.
After several months of often just swimming the Ironman swim distance non-stop (even six days in a row), I have made some adjustments to my workouts. In general, the first two or three thousand meters in a workout is fairly slow and steady, but then after that, body permitting, I try to pick up the pace somewhat. The last three days (Tuesday 4,100m, Wednesday 4,150m, and Thursday 4,100m), I mainly started with a slowish 1,000 meters, just waking up and getting warmed up, followed by 4 x 250 with about 30 secs rest in between each one, followed by a pyramid from 50 to 200 and the same down again (a total of 1,000 meters). Then at 3,000 meters, realizing that I had most of the workout behind me and with fewer people sharing the lane, I focused on either 150s, 100s or 50s. Then, at around the 3,800m point, I shifted to 25 meter sprints, to be followed by a "race" or a cool-down.
On Tuesday I did 6 x 25m as fast as I could, and Wednesday I found that I was a lot more sluggish throughout my workout. I obviously used some muscles I was not used to using. I did about 4 x 25m yesterday. Today (Thursday), I did 8 x 25m, and on at least four of them I was accompanied (i.e., raced) by other swimmers who are as good as me over 100m, so they helped pace me, not that I had a lot of time to look to see where they were, except when reached the wall.
Doing these sprints is a lot of fun. We used to do a few at the end of Masters' workouts in Kona, where I felt I had a lot of endurance, but was weak and lacked speed. Things are not a lot different now, but at least I feel my turnover is getting faster on these things.
Last time I wrote that there were benefits of being able to sprint for short distances in ocean swims. I think my friends at the pool here in Kaohsiung recognize that I have a lot of endurance in that I can keep going over long distances, and that is in part because aerobic swimming is something I have a natural tendency to do. However, now I am trying to increase the amount of anaerobic swimming I do, hence the rests between sets (the idea being to feel that I am huffing and puffing). I am also trying to work on strength training, which includes dry-land exercises, for which I have little equipment. My push-ups are very poor but at least I can do a few, right next to my desk at home, so at least I will try to work on that. The water at the pool is too shallow to do "get-outs", so what I do instead is to do them with my back to the wall at the pool. This may be a little different, but it is good for the triceps and I did several 50s, following each one with about 10 of these reverse get-outs. Of course, it is particularly important for me to focus on my body position and stroke mechanics, especially on the slower swimming when I can think about what I am doing. However, as I do more speed work, my mind is increasingly able to keep up with what I am doing as I thrash my way through the water.
At some point, I will need to get some footage of what I am actually doing in the water. I still need to do a lot of work on my flip turns, which is easier said than done, as I generally don't like to do them on the slower swims.
I read somewhere that when trying to go flat out, we should make sure we don't have any heart problems. Last year after I returned to Taiwan from Kona, my hematologist (whom I will see in Taipei tomorrow for a routine check-up) got me to have a chest X-ray and, while I don't know what she learned from that, at least she said things were OK. There is a great thrill and sense of freedom to swim a length of the pool as fast as one can (especially when we reach the age where most people do very little strenuous exercise). It is almost like going down a steep hill on a bike in the aero position, only that on the bike you are likely to veer off course and have a crash while in the pool it really all depends on how good your "engine" is.
One of my friends recently drew my attention to the swimming exploits of Jessica Sullivan, a U.S. citizen who almost made it to France when attempting to swim across the English Channel. If you think you've had a hard race or have been unfortunate to accomplish something you had set your heart on doing, then reading her blog and looking at the pics and clips should give you some comfort. Jessica is still young and no doubt she will try again. She got to within 1.5 miles of France, but later discovered she was 3 miles away, and would have needed at least another 6 hours given the currents!