Monday, July 19, 2010

Are you scared to come back to squad training? Don't be!

Dear Swimmers

In last week's feedback I had a number of you state that you were worried about coming back to training as you feared that you'd perhaps lost too much fitness over the winter period. This got me thinking. Back in September 2009 I published an article on the Blog titled "Six Is A Magic Number" where we discussed how six sessions are often needed to make a change to a technical aspect of your stroke that you are working on, or to simply get you back in the flow with your swimming. 

In Malcolm Gladwell's brilliant book "Outliers" he discusses how to become an expert at something you often need to spend 10,000 hours or 10,000 repetitions or 10,000 units of whatever ensuring that the skill is perfected. Gladwell cites how Bill Gates became an expert in the computer programming world by simply having oodles of hours access to computer equipment way before anyone else was really working with computers (that and being just a bit of a genius too!).

So how is this relevant to squad training? Well, I've also just got my backside back into gear and am currently swimming 3 to 4 times per week. It all started two weeks ago, and trust me, it wasn't a pretty sight! I haven't really trained what I would regard as "properly" since our baby Jackson came along 16 months ago, but am now faced with just under 14 months of dedicated training for my English Channel Swim attempt on 5th September 2011. I've been through small doses of "getting back into it again" along the way and did reasonably well with the Rottnest Duo Swim with my wife (Michelle) this last February. I also challenged myself to whether or not I could run for 30 consecutive days with the only premise that each run had to be longer than 3km - not long you might say, but it was enough to get my bum back in gear and I actually ended up doing 64 consecutive days and feeling pretty good for it too! 

Still, there always has to be a starting point for any of these ventures and quite often the first 4 to 6 sessions will arguably feel pretty crummy it has to be said! So given that I'm now 8 sessions into what will be at least 350 for my English Channel Swim (oo er!!), I thought I'd share with you the sensations of what those first six sessions felt like, but more importantly the goals I set myself for those sessions. Quite often the biggest thing holding you getting back into regular sessions is how hard you perceive that those sessions will be - much easier to just roll over in bed and go back to sleep! If we can learn to adjust our goals and expectations of ourselves in those first six sessions you'll find that you're "suddenly" back into the swing of things, and whilst the fitness might still need to catch up, you will at least be started and on a roll of motivation. So, don't panic about the normal content of some of the sessions that we do, just pop down and get the ball rolling like I've done (see below). The first step is always the hardest as they say!

So here are my notes - use them as you will:

  • Session 1. Monday 5th July, 5.30am, Challenge Stadium. Really cold morning today. Decided to join Pete Tanham's Rottnest Solo squad at Challenge - a sure fire way to get me back into the swing of things! Session is normally 1.5hrs and 4.5 to 5km. I can only fit in 60 minutes on a Monday morning, so already I had decided that I wasn't going to push myself too hard. Decided to sit right at the back of the lane and not even look at the pace clock. Aimed to adopt an air of "laziness" to help tame my natural "Arnie" instincts of being very competitive. Did wonders. Shoulders got a little tired after ~2km but just focused on relaxing in the water and not pushing too hard. The set was full of high-powered sprints (a little like our "Fresh & Fruity Thursday" sessions) but I decided to just dial it down a bit and literally just survive for 1 hour. Really happy after the session - not feeling great, but at least I could say that I'd started my campaign!
  • Session 2. Wednesday 7th July, 5.30am, Challenge Stadium. From past experience I knew this was going to be the really tough session. Even after an extended break, your first session back can often feel OK and you can cheat yourself into believing that the lay-off didn't really do you any harm at all. However, just 48 hours after the first session, this 4.5km block including some sustained efforts over 200 to 300m was sure to test me. With my shoulders still a little heavy from the first session, again I had to just tell myself that survival was the name of the game today and that I wouldn't be breaking any world records yet. Survived it and quite surprised that I'd lasted such a long session - very, very slow though!
  • Session 3. Thursday 8th July, 4.30pm, North Cottesloe Beach. I'd agreed (stupidly!) to meet up with Mark Scanlon (3rd place Rottnest Solo swimmer from 2008 and soon to be attempting the English Channel Swim) for one of his late afternoon cold water adaptation swims. We were due to swim in the rough surf (actually, HUGE surf!) at Cottesloe Beach. I love these conditions normally but when I'm lacking fitness and Mark is totally on top of his game, I knew I could be in trouble! It was ~15 degrees and my first thought was not how cold it was, but how totally uncoordinated my arms were - they just didn't feel like mine! I wanted them to do things and be faster and better and more powerful, but they just wouldn't work! I survived the 2km dash down to the groyne and back, but that was me done. Quite despondent that I'd felt so bad and been so slow, but had to tell myself it was only session # 3!
  • Session 4. Saturday 10th July, 5.30am, Challenge Stadium. Mark was doing his "recovery" 10km pool swim this morning so I decided to join him for the first hour with the aim of getting 3km in. As there were only a few of us this morning I decided that I'd really just focus on myself and develop some good rhythm and timing again that I felt I'd lacked in Thursday's swim. To do this I used a Wetronome in the 1000m warm-up set to a pace of 1:32 per 100m. This felt good, and whilst not fast, at least it helped give me a structured goal to work towards and to feel like I was pacing myself well. We then did 2 x 800m + 45s rest where I decided to test myself a little bit, totally unknowing as to whether I'd be able to hold my goal pace of 1:28 per 100m. The irony here is that prior to my Rottnest Solo swim in 2009, this was the pace which I would go on to be able to swim for the entire 20km across to Rottnest! I felt like I'd really accomplished something in this session, despite Mark lapping me on the 2nd 800m AND he "just" doing a 10km recovery swim! That guy is on fire!!
  • Session 5. Monday 12th July, 5.30am, Challenge Stadium. Back with the Solo squad this morning and more focus today on technique. It's funny, but in order to really work on technique you need to at least have some semblance of fitness to support what you're doing. As such, this technique work came at the right time - I'd got myself back into a bit of flow, my confidence was (slowly) picking up, but again I didn't want to push too hard so just did the first hour of their session. At the end of this session I felt quite positive that I would indeed have a good session by # 6 - was I right?!
  • Session 6. Wednesday 14th July, 5.30am, Challenge Stadium. Literally as soon as I hit the water today I knew I was going to have my best session yet. Sometimes you can just feel that - everything feels loose and relaxed and breathing feels easy. My confidence was up and I cannot believe that when Pete said we were going to do a 400m Time Trial today I was actually excited about the prospect of it! Weird, hey?! Dr. Gary Claydon (Caroline from Lane # 1 in the 6.30am squad's husband) expertly led our lane through the 400m and whilst I arguably got a bit of a tow from Gary I was happy to have swum 5'13" for the 400m. I predicted 5'15" (which is nearly a full minute slower than my P.B) but for now it'd have to do and was at least a starting point. A Time Trial is only ever a measure of where you're at right now, so never be afraid to try one and see where you're at - the stopwatch never lies!

Hope this helps get you back into the swing of things too!



P.S My seventh session was a super test - in fact probably the most challenging swim I've ever done on minimal fitness - a 4.5km swim in the Swan River in 13 degrees of water - ouch! It was super cold. We were in for just over an hour, but reality hit home when I realised that I'd be looking for at least another 8 to 9 hours in the water in the English Channel in 14 months time in similar icy conditions. Here's to a load more doughnuts then and a load more miles in the arms!!

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