I remember a friend telling me about watching the Cinco de Mayo swim at Anaeho'omalu Bay in Waikoloa on the Big Island of Hawai'i a few years ago. The swim is a two-lap ocean swim that covers approximately one mile. After the first few fast swimmers had exited the water and finished, he noticed a man swimming very slowly towards the finish and assumed it was someone completing the first lap with one more lap to go. However, the man then stood up and my friend then realized that this man had in fact already completed the two laps. So, the swimmer might have looked slow, but he was actually moving through the water at great speed. It turned out that this was none other than Matt Biondi, the U.S. Olympic swimming sensation during the 1980s. Being at least 6 ft 6 inches tall no doubt helped a little, too.
When I swam Masters in Kona, there were a few swimmers who looked slow but always recorded fast times, like Mike "the Moose" and Sheri L. By contrast, I had to work really hard and was still way, way slower than them.
So today I focused on staying relaxed during my swim, and this helped me to focus on applying effort where needed in the swimming stroke, mostly underwater during the pull which people usually did not see. Yesterday was a public holiday and the pool was closed. So on Thursday, the day before, I decided to go in the afternoon to swim, too. In the morning I swam a fairly lackluster 4,200 meters, feeling a little tired after the elation of the previous two days. In the afternoon, my heart did not really seem to be in it, but I still covered 3,000 meters. The afternoon is better for sleeping than swimming in my opinion.
This morning, Saturday, my workout ended up like this:
1 x 1,000m
1 x 500m
2 x 250m
5 x 100m on 2:00
5 x 100m on 1:55
5 x 100m on 1:50
5 x 100m on 1:45
100m "race" in 1:25
50m "race" in 40 secs
After maintaining a relaxed pace for the first 2,500 meters, I then took the pace up a notch on each of the remaining sets. Hence, when it came to the 100m "race" I felt like a well-oiled machine. I felt I was swimming within myself, and never felt under pressure to make the send offs, even on the last set of 100s. I probably rested about 45 seconds between each set, followed by about 3 minutes before the race.
In reading the article linked to Matt Biondi, I noticed that it mentioned that Matt would make a point of being the slowest swimmer during warm up. Why was that, if he was the fastest sprint swimmer in the world? I don't know his answer for this, but from my own experience going slow first and gradually building up the pace is very good conditioning. I have not felt any discomfort in swimming in weeks and even months, even though I have at times been going as fast as I can.
Such training of course contrasts with doing things where I am out of my depth, the Ironman being an excellent example of this. When I did the Ironman in 2004, from about mile 70 on the bike, I really felt depleted, and I had to rely almost completely on willpower to finish the event before the cut off. It was really hard. I hope I can complete another Ironman in the not-too-distant future. This year, I will just have to follow the race on the Internet, on Ironmanlive.com. I wish everybody a good race and a great experience. The above photograph was taken by Bob Fewell of the Big Island Visitor Bureau. Thanks.
As for predictions for the Ironman race, I don't really know about the men's race. It should be close with a couple of very good bikers versus a few very fast runners. I think ultimately it will be a fast runner who wins, but who can tell? For the women, Chrissie without a doubt, unless something unusual for her happens (like an unresolvable bike problem or sickness). On races like the Hawai'i Ironman, I don't think anyone can guarantee anything.