How to swim faster

Alright.  I think that I’m done with ‘analysing’ the swim goal thing for the moment.  Coach Dinah and I spent an hour and change with the stopwatch to satisfy my ‘number craving’…I think that she bought a stopwatch specifically to keep me happy, and for that I’m grateful. :) 

Swim speed is a function of 2 things: how far you go each time that you stroke (SL- Stroke Length)…and how fast you can stroke (SR- Stroke Rate)…and in the case of an Ironman 2.4 mile swim, where the swim is followed by 112 miles on the bike, and 26.2 miles running, it should be accomplished with an ‘efficient’ level of effort, so that you don’t burn up tons of effort that you’ll need for a long day.

The trick is that the faster I stroke (SR), typically the distance that each stroke takes me (SL) is reduced…sometimes dramatically…by increasing drag from a faster speed, and a less efficient stroke that doesn’t propel me as far.

We also broke out the Tempo Trainer…this is a small device that you set to a specific stroke rate, put it under your swim cap, and it beeps, at the set time interval, like every 1.3 seconds…to help you keep at an exact stroke rate.  I was initially introduce to this by the ‘Stroke Doctor’, Total Immersion Master Coach, Gary Fahey.  I looked it up in my training log.  On April 5, 2009, I was struggling to maintain form at a stroke rate of 1.45 – 1.55.  By May 6, 2009, I was working it down to maintain form at 1.3 seconds, but not there yet…my log notes show that in a 50 meter pool, and ‘pushing’  a 1.3 stroke rate (SR) (like falling behind, an not able to maintain that pace), I took 2:25 for 100 Meters, so about 25-27 strokes per 25 yards.

Here’s how the ‘numbers’ shake out now.

The least number of strokes that it now takes me to swim 25 yards is 16…I’ve had a few days in the pool, where I can get to 15 or 14 (Aug. 4, 2010), but most days, not.  This isn’t really ‘swimming’ though…this is gliding and stretching for all I’m worth, and I often can’t get it down to 16…more usually 17 to 18.  ‘Swimming’, my stroke count rolls up to 18 or 19 or 20, and over 100 yards, if I don’t really watch form, or my stroke timing gets off, I can get up to 22-23 strokes for 25 yards.

Using the Tempo Trainer, set to 1.3, over a few 100 yard repeats in the 25 yard pool, with Coach Dinah on the stopwatch, I used 18-23 strokes/25 yards…losing form a bit at the end…and on the stopwatch, 1:50-1:55’ish for the 100 yards…now that includes 3 rather inelegant open turns at the walls which aren’t there in open water…and accounted for some variance between laps even though I was stroking at the 1.3 beep all the time…but since I’m typically swimming in 25 yard pools these days, the ‘number’.

My current ‘normalized’ speed for 100 yards without walls, therefore, I’d place at 20 strokes per 25 yards x 1.3 seconds = 26 seconds (20 strokes x 1.3 seconds) x 4 laps (for 100 yards) = 1:44/100 yards…the good news is that this is exactly my Ironman goal pace for the swim, which would put me under 1:15:00 for the swim.

So my remaining challenge is that the effort for me to swim at 20 strokes / 25 yards, for 100 yards, at a 1.3 second Stroke Rate is too high to be sustainable over 2.4 miles…the good news is that I can at least sustain that speed for at least 100 yards…but I really don’t want to just flog away at that pace and effort, and just build that up to a point where I could sustain it for 2.4 miles.

So to be that fast for 2.4 miles, with a form that doesn’t crack, at an effort that’s comfortable, I’ll need to be smoother to get the effort down, and therefore probably need that 100 yard stroke count to be closer to 18, than 20…consistently.  And by being smoother, and more balanced, I should be able to increase the Stroke Rate a bit, without going out of kilter, so for a round number 1.2 seconds instead of 1.3…running the numbers, this would give me a ‘normalized’ speed for 100 yards of 1:26, at least for shorter distances.

The best news I guess, is that based on log notes I _have_ improved over the last couple of years…actually quite a bit…thanks to my very patient coaches…and as I look at those numbers, I can only imagine the ‘challenge’ that Coach Gary saw before him when I first got in the pool a year and a half ago, and he saw those first few laps…geez

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