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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Questions of science, science and progress (Swimming: Part 900. Nobody said it was easy.)

   After Muskoka, as I previously eluded to, my tolerate/hate relationship with swimming shifted towards a frustrated hate, yet again.  It's been almost nine months of nearly doubling my swimming volume and trying all sorts of different approaches to fix and improve me in the water, but it seemed like I was just getting nowhere.  Well, sometimes when that happens, I do a couple of things: A. Look back in the logs, and B. Put it in running terms.  So here we go-I spent a couple of recovery rides reviewing my running career, making some calculations, figuring out that my running improvements never came as easily as I want to make it seem like the did, and pondering what it's taken me over the course of 16+ years of competitive running to turn a 5k pace into a marathon off the bike in an Ironman pace.  Which leads me to this table (Note 1: I get bored on recovery rides on the trainer.  Note 2: I know I'm a giant loser who likes numbers.  Got it.  Note 3: I know I'm a giant freak for remembering my 5k pr from my freshman year of high school.  I'd say that these are estimates, but in reality, there's only like, one time on there that I was ballparking.  That'd be the 2000 10k time.)

½ marathon
70.3 half
IM marathon



















Anyways, the top number is time, the middle number is pace per mile, and the bottom number is percent change from the previous year.  1997 was when I ran my first 5k, as a 13 year old at the end of modified cross country season.

1. I've shaved a total of 5:20, or 23%, off my first 5k time (over 15 years), 5:50, or 13.4% off my first 10k time (over 12 years), 9:18, or 10.2% (I'll use the 70.3 half time from this year, given it's faster than my best open half) off my first half marathon time (over 8 years), and 16:35, or 8.7% off my first marathon time (over one year).  15 years of running for 5:20-doesn't seem hugely significant for that amount of time, but I've kept at it.

2. If you look at my longer distance prs-in 2008, and more or less again in 2012 (one second is close enough), my 10k pace was faster than any 5k I ran in 2004 and earlier.  My half marathon pr pace, set off the bike this year, is faster than my 5k pace was in my first six years of running.  My marathon pr is faster than my 5k pace was in my first three years of running.  And my marathon off the bike pace is faster than my first 5k pace.

3. My big training changes came in 2002, when I entered college, and again in 2009, when injuries led me to begin triathlons.  The results of the volume and intensity increase in 2002 weren't immediate-I took off some 5k time in 2003, but the bulk of my improvements came in 2004 and 2005, when I was able to train consistently at those volumes and absorb the work that I was doing.

4. 2006 was obviously a big setback year, due to a series of injuries due to pushing it beyond what my body could handle at that time.  I lost a lot of fitness in that year.  I barely ran that summer, limped through an xc season that fall, resumed training that winter, and then was injured again a few months later.  Finally, in early 2007, I was able to resume somewhat normal training, even with a few smaller issues in there.  Again, though, it took until the next year to see the results of the work I'd been doing.  In 2009, after some of my best races (at random distances) earlier in the year, I again went beyond what my body could handle, and the pattern repeated somewhat-I got injured, my performances dropped a bit from the previous year as I started back up racing again, but then recovered in the subsequent years as consistent training was resumed over time.

5. While my prs haven't improved every year, I still feel that I've improved as a runner every year.  I've learned what works, what doesn't work, what to work on-and I've become more consistent overall.  I've trained my body to be able to handle volumes that in previous years might have broken me down.  I didn't wait so long to run a marathon because I wanted to-it was because I couldn't handle the training until then.  My 5k and 10k prs may be from 2008 still, but I've come within a couple of seconds of both of them in the past year, without specifically focusing on those distances.  I've been able to objectify my performances and put them in context in order to be satisfied when I've done well given conditions, recent training, race focus at that time, etc.  I've known when I'm in pr shape, and I've known when I wasn't.  And when I wasn't, I never beat myself up over it.

  What does this all have to do with swimming?  I know running and swimming have their (many, many) differences, but oftentimes, it helps me to put swimming in terms of running, just to have some perspective.  My running performances over the years show that progress is slow, and maybe not always steady-but put in the work, and progress will happen.  It's not always immediate, either (refer to #3&4 above).  Putting in significant increases in work sometimes only results in 1-2% improvements.  I've only been swimming for three years now.  I can now hold the same pace in a marathon as I could in a 5k after three years of running.  So, my first swimming lesson from all of this is to not get frustrated over the pace of any progress in the water.  Although I'm not exactly the most naturally talented runner ever, I at least have always had some natural proclivity towards running-and my running progress has still been modest through the years.  In seventh grade, I was one of the top 10 modified runners in the county at the end of my first cross country season.  I then went on to be the worst Sea Dragon swimmer on the team that winter-I wasn't born as a fish.  So, if I didn't do it early on in my running career, I shouldn't expect to drop 10% from my swim times and magically go from a 33min to a sub-30min HIM swimmer in one season, just because I'm swimming more.  When I first started running, I was pretty new to endurance sports.  When I first (re)started swimming in 2009, I'd been an endurance athlete for 12 years-thus, I just don't have as far to go in terms of improvements due to immediate aerobic development as I did in 1997.  

    So, in reviewing this, it's helped me to stop getting as hung up as I have on my perception that I'm not improving quickly enough in the water.  Mary thinks she can make me a 60min IM swimmer someday.  This works out to ~1:26/200y pace, which is the same pace as the best 1000y I've ever swam at the moment (trust me, it's not readily repeatable).  I used to think she was nuts when she told me this.  But, well, apparently it's taken me about 5-7 years to turn my 5k paces into my half marathon paces, a race just over four times as long-just as an IM swim is just over four times as long as 1000y.  So, I have to hit the pool each morning with that hope-but I also can't expect it to happen tomorrow.  And just because the improvements aren't vast and immediate doesn't mean that they're not there.  I can look back in my logs, and I can see that they're coming.  Maybe it's only 1-2 seconds/100y, but by and large, it's there.

   That's the patience aspect of it-the other part is the whole idea of "it'll come".  I've been guilty enough myself of using this term to dismiss my swim performances, but, to be honest, I sometimes feel that it just sounds too passive.  I can't go to the pool every morning, throw on some flippers, float around on my back, sip from my drink with an umbrella in it on deck, and expect to improve, just as I didn't skip around in the woods and pick flowers during all those years of cross country and track practice through the years, then expect to show up to sectionals and place well.  Running improvements have come-but only because I actively went out there, and devoted some part of myself every day for years upon years to chasing them down.  They came because of all of the afternoons I've spent doubled over on the track, hands on my knees at the end of workouts.  They came because of the early Sunday morning long runs, the perimeters sprinted in high school, the steady run that I did and did well despite the two hours of sleep I was on thanks to that paper I had to write, because I tied my shoes, took a deep breath, and forced myself out the door in heat, rain, snow, sleet, wind, whatever else, no matter how much I might not have felt like it at the time.  They came because I had the ability to put every workout, every run, ever race into the perspective of my training and my fitness at the time. The improvements didn't come because I decided I was washed up, that it was worthless if I ran my mile repeats in 5:48 one week and 5:51 the next.  They didn't come because a 15 second improvement wasn't good enough for me.  They didn't come because I gave up on myself, ever.  I'm trying to take this attitude into the pool.  My workout this morning featured a 1000y swim in the middle of it.  Last week, I'd swam it moderately hard, and finished in 14:54.  My goal this week was to beat that.  I started off steady, checked the clock at 200y, and was dismayed to see 2:59.  The doubts immediately came-usually, that first 200 is my fastest.  Before I had the chance to give it up, though, I reeled myself back in.  If you were on the track, doing a 5k tempo, would you give up on making your pace just because the first 800 was slow?  No, you wouldn't.  You might not hit your interval, but if you didn't, it wouldn't be because you hadn't given it what you had on that day.  With that, the splits started to get faster; I started to slip further and further below that 1:30 pace, until I finally hit the wall in 14:48.  Not my best ever, not competitive, not where I want to be in a few years, but for today...victory.  No one ever got faster by stopping an interval just because it wasn't a pr.

  Saying, then, that swimming will come is true-but it'll come because of enduring and relishing pain, because of gritting out intervals no matter what, because of getting myself out there to get it and not giving it up.  If there's one lesson to be learned from the past 16 years of my life...then that's it.

  Thanks for the hope, running.

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