Tuesday, November 26, 2013

80% of you could drastically improve your swimming simply with better pacing...

Paul (to squad): "My calculations show that 80% of you could drastically improve your swimming simply with better pacing…"

Megan: "…but I was just chasing Ray!"

Dear Swimmers

Ma-hussive email today (sorry!) - it's well worth a read though as there's some golden nuggets of information that will help you swim much, much better than before. If you don't have time though, then please check out the results of last week's CSS Test Set here:

Many thanks to the 112 of you who sat last week's 400m/200m CSS (Critical Swim Speed) Test Set at Claremont Pool. It's been nearly a year since we did this same test in this same format as the previous two tests have used an 800m Time Trial as a close approximation of this same result. In theory, the average pace per 100m from the 800m Time Trials should result in a marginally faster 100m goal pace than from the 400m/200m CSS Test which approximately equates to what you should be able to sustain for 1000m to 1500m, but this will very much depend upon how well trained you are.

As you know, the primary benefit of doing these tests are to ascertain an appropriate training pace going forwards. As much as some people dislike doing them, they are an essential part of your development so you shouldn't feel the need to shy away from them, and as my results show this time around, some of you may be staring some very simple methods to improve your ability substantially straight in the face!

One of the beauties of doing the 400m/200m test is that it shows us a lot about what your innate physiology is like and whether you are more of a natural sprinter or a diesel endurance engine. Given that the squad is primarily geared towards performing well over distances greater than 400m (and typically in the open water), from this resultant data I have been able to suggest whether you would be personally best advised to do some additional Endurance, Threshold or Speed work if you had one additional session to swim by yourself per week. This is by no means compulsory, but if you've ever wondered what is the best way to spend that additional hour, hopefully I have the answer for you today. 

What's more, for the first time ever, I've attempted to direct you all with regards to a couple of simple technique points that you might like to take onboard as an individual. Where appropriate I have advised you on what your focus should be (from a collection of six very common areas needed for improvement) and also the types of drills that you could be doing either solo, or when I say "choice drill" during a session going forwards. Aside from spending some 1-2-1 time with either myself or Sally for a comprehensive breakdown and analysis of your stroke, this should be a good alternative (and it's "free"!).

Friday's 18,003 emails…

No sooner had I got home from a busy day recording all the data on Friday, than I was bombarded with 18,003 emails from members of the squad either in massive hysteria for how well they had performed, or more typically, seeking answers to why they had performed at a sub-par level. OK, I exaggerate, a bit. If you think being a swimmer on Time Trial day is stressful, imagine what it's like for poor old muggins here - ha! 

For the first time ever though, and with the help of the 4 visiting coaches (and Adam, Emma, Marie, Sally and Cyndy) we were able to do something last week which I've been dreaming about literally for years - record everyone's 1st 100m of their 400m Time Trial and collate this against their average 100m pace for the 400m swim. It's proven to be such a simple, wonderful, insightful thing! The results were staggering - over 80% of you it turns out could make some drastic improvements to your swimming if you simply learnt how to pace better. 

Having this data has been a god-send for me as I've been able to categorically state for each of you how much of a true reflection I think the results were last week of your current form. For the vast majority of you who left disappointed in your performance, guess what, it's not because you're not good, but simply because you didn't pace yourself very well. It's really incredibly simple when you analyse the data. So whilst I've always suspected this for some of you, I can now very quantitatively state just how much this is costing you. No ifs, no buts, no maybes - just 110% clarity. Of course the small scale is that you might be disappointed with your results from one single test, but it begs the question, is this self same poor pacing holding your back because you're doing the same thing week-in, week-out during the harder sessions? Needless to say, our mission for the next block of training is to get much, much better at pacing as 80% of you could really do with addressing this.

Super Megan!

Now, we have to be careful here, because if I'm suggesting that 80% of you under-performed with respect to pacing, that sounds like only 20% of you are succeeding and performing well within the squad? Far from it though - many of you are continuing to improve your general speed and ability in-spite of poor pacing, so just imagine if you got better at this very learnable skill?! You could be on fire! Case in point, Megan Surrette joined the squad in June 2012 (less than 18 months ago) and upon her first video analysis session was swimming (at best) 2:15/100m. 10 weeks ago Megan's CSS pace was down to 1:45/100m (a quantum leap!) and last week she tested at 1:41/100m - an improvement which would save her over 1 minute per mile. But is Megan in the coveted 20% who paced brilliantly last week? No, not quite. Upon showing her the fact that she set off in 1:32 for her 1st 100m but averaged 1:37.3" for the last 300m of the 400m Time Trial, Megan simply stated "…but I was just chasing Ray!" - could this same competitive drive also be costing you during your Time Trials and hard training? The results suggest quite likely so.

Consistent Cobie?

If you were one of the ones last week who grumbled and rolled their eyes at the thought of a Time Trial, spare a thought for Cobie Rudd - she performed the test three times last week by attending all three testing sessions! You might think that she's a little strange for doing this, but Cobie is arguably the most consistent squad swimmer at the moment, attending 5 or 6 regular sessions per week. She says its her salvation. What is super interesting though, is just how much one person's results can change within a week - Cobie's CSS worked out at 1:59.5" on Wednesday, 1:51.5" on Thursday and 1:53.5" on Friday - all a massive improvement on her CSS in July of 2:11.5"! What can we take from this though? Well Cobie's best performance came on Thursday night when Coach Sally suggested that she should "treat it like a training session" given that she'd already done the test not 36hrs ago. The result? Much less stress, better pacing, and a significantly better result. Sometimes we build these things up into something they're not - a Time Trial is only ever a gauge of where you're at, right here, right now - nothing more, nothing less. Don't fear them, embrace them for the value and insight they offer.

Janine & Steve go head-2-head!

But what of those of you disappointed with your results? Janine Willis and Steve Gleeson literally raced off against each other in 1:19 per 100m for their 1st 100m (8 seconds per 100m faster than their last tested CSS pace) but ended up averaging 10" and 12.5" per 100m slower respectively than this lightening fast first 100m which (had they held this pace) would have finished 35m and 42m in front of their "virtual selves" - that's quite some margin! I highlight this not to embarrass Janine and Steve but to help take some of the emotion out of wondering why they have under-performed - pacing is the answer, pure and simple. Heck, as you know, I used to be the world's worst pacer - at the British University Swimming Championships in 1998 I went out in 62 seconds for the first 100m of a 1500m race but ended up averaging 74 seconds per 100m - had I held my pace I would have finished nearly 250m in front of my "virtual self"!! That's literally atrocious. 

I attribute much of my recent success in distance freestyle to wising up to this fact and doing something about it, shouldn't you?

Ying & Yang / Adam and Nathan

Two polarising emails on Friday came from Adam and Nathan. Adam Wheeler was rightly disappointed in his swims and quite rightly sought my advice as to why this might have been the case. In previous tests I might have been left to suppose this or suggest that, but just having that one simple bit of information (the 1st 100m split), we were able to turn the frustration and disappointment around in an instant. Adam went out in a 1:29 for the 1st 100m but averaged 1:47 per 100m for the remaining 300m. This wasn't because he is unfit, having a bad day or suffering from technique malfunction, just purely because of the extreme level of lactic acid build-up he would have experienced from the first 100m. It always feels easy in the first 90 seconds of one of these swims (mainly because your heart rate, breathing rate and blood lactate production is in a game of catch-up), but past this point you can literally feel like an elephant has landed on your back!

Contrast this with Nathan Thomson's experience who simply said this: "I managed a PB for the 400 so I'm stoked. I thought I would do around 7:00 and managed 6:51 so I'm thrilled. I always worry about blowing up after the first 100 and knew I'd done the first 100 fast so I backed off consciously in the 2nd, much as I wanted to keep up with Shane (who smashed it!). Then I felt like I built up my pace into the 3rd and 4th 100s."

The Plan Forwards

The good news is that all of this can be learned, if we can just take the ego and some of the competitive aspect out of the process. Learning to back off (sometimes significantly) for 80% of you in that 1st 100m will mean some drastically improved performances down the line - the question is, can you do it? Can you swap gusto for patience, pride for perseverance? 

So one of the key interventions we'll be trying in the next block of training will be 50% of your intervals done with the Tempo Trainer and then 50% without, trying to nurture that innate sense of pace awareness without perhaps relying upon the beepers quite so much. The Tempo Trainer is still invaluable for teaching you what a certain pace should be - you've just got to start connecting the dots with exactly what it feels like to go off a little steadier. In fact, if you're one of the 80% sat there thinking "sheesh, I didn't think my pacing was as bad as these results show" - I challenge you to pick up a Tempo Trainer for Christmas as a little gift to yourself and dial in the average pace that you swam the last 300m of the 400m Time Trial in and without the lightening quick 1st 100m, you'll be amazed at how slow and steady that pace feels like - it'll give you a whole new appreciation for the words "pace awareness".

Do it Like the PROs

And if you still need some convincing that you need pace awareness and either an even split, or a negative split, for an all-out effort, check out this data from some of the world's best ever middle-distance freestylers - Ian Thorpe, Sun Yang and Paul Biedermann - the results are staggering. Oh, and their first 100m includes a dive-start too, so take that out of the equation and we're looking at variances in the 10s and 100ths of seconds, not 5 seconds and above! Amazing. Can you get this good at pacing? With diligent practice, yes you can! (Sorry, I can't guarantee their pure speed though!)

Finally, the Results!

Thanks for reading on so long guys and girls - you might have picked up from my level of enthusiasm which went off into the stratosphere this morning that this is something that has really excited me. I've never had access to this data before and whilst I've dreamed of it to show you how you can make some easy improvements, it just hasn't been practical to get this information. Sir Dave Brailsford (mastermind of the 2-time Tour de France winning Team Sky cycling team) often talks about making improvements through small "marginal gains" and this might just prove to be what it takes for a significant proportion of you to take your swimming to the next level. Leave the detail with me on how we do that, but for now, download the results, check out how your pacing stacks up, see whether I'm suggesting you do an Endurance session, a Threshold session or a Speed session if you can add one extra solo session per week, and also the best drills / technique tips for you to be thinking about. It's all right there, in The Plan. Get on it!

Lastly, sincere apologies to Rory, Ermie, Justine and Shane for whom we weren't able to get the 1st 100m of your 400m Time Trial due to a technical glitch during the time keeping process - do I need to say that I'd be happy to re-evaluate you?! 

Also, for those of you who missed out last week, it might not be practical within the squad context to do another round of testing, however, by all means follow the procedure and do it in your own time - how does your pacing stack up? Statistics suggest only 20% of you will be happy, but if you can use this to identify why then you can move confidently forwards! Good luck!



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