Speed “Happens” . . . while Focused on Efficiency
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on February 10th, 2010

I hadn’t planned on a “quality” set today, but one sort of snuck up on me as the beep on my Tempo Trainer got faster . . . while I tried to keep my stroke unhurried and long.

Tuesday Feb 9 at Coronado Municipal Pool

Set #1 50+100+150+200+250 FR. EZ 50 BK between FR repeats

Notes: I held 36-37 SPL on FR repeats and 38-39 on BK lengths.  My goals on this set were to (1) begin practice by deepening my neural program for a long, relaxed stroke and (2) to test whether I was equally efficient on both breathing sides. I breathed right on one length and left the next. I was pleased that SPL was same on both.

Set #2 Swim  12 X 150 FR with Tempo Trainer, striving for best combination of SPL and Stroke Rate (or tempo).

1-4 @ 1.10-1.12-1.14-1.16

5-8 @ 1.16-1.14-1.12-1.10

9-12 @ 1.08-1.0-1.04-1.02

Notes: On the 1st 150, with my Tempo Trainer set at 1.10 sec/stroke, I averaged 40SPL (38+41+41). My plan on #’s 1-4 was to slow tempo on each and try to subtract as many strokes as possible as tempo slowed. My plan on #’s 5-8 was to reverse tempo back to my starting point – while trying to avoid adding strokes.

On # 4 I averaged 38 SPL – or 6 fewer total strokes for 150. How does that convert into pace? I allow 3 beeps on each pushoff so my pace/50 on #1 was 43 x 1.10 or 47.3 sec. My pace on #4 was 41 x 1.16 or 47.5 sec.  My pace was .2 sec/50 slower BUT I felt materially more relaxed, meaning that pace would likely be sustainable for a longer distance.

The real benefit came when I begin increasing tempo again, (and seeking to avoid adding strokes.) When I got back to 1.10 on #8 my average SPL was 39, one stroke lower than when I started the set. This converted into a pace of 46.2 sec – which, though faster, actually felt a bit easier than #1 had.

I’d originally planned to swim only 8 x 150, but decided spontaneously to keep swimming 150s – and increasing tempo – until my stroke count reached the same level where I’d started – 40 SPL. That didn’t happen until I reached 1.02 sec/stroke on #12, At 1.02, 40 SPL converts to a pace of 43.8 sec. And how does this difference in pace convert over the estimated 38,000 meters (760 x 50m) of an English Channel crossing? 760 x 3.5 sec = 44 minutes saved.

As I’ve noted, every set I do in the pool has one of two objects: (1) to develop brain circuits that get me across the Channel more easily or (2) to develop circuits that get me across faster.

I don’t do any sets for conditioning purposes (Conditioning “happens.”) I don’t do any to get the yards in; over the next six months, there will be sufficient yards.

Set #1 was for the former. Set #2 was for the latter. But here’s the key takeaway from this set. While I swam much faster on #12, and worked harder, my brain wasn’t thinking “Work harder.”  It wasn’t even thinking “Swim faster.”  My focus was entirely on the difficult task of keeping my stroke long, effective — and feeling relaxed and leisurely — while the beep on my Tempo Trainer got faster.

An intention of “going harder” isn’t a realistic option in swimming the English Channel. That’s why my intention, my focus, is always on building or maintaining efficiency in training, — and will be the same while swimming alongside Lance Oram’s boat.

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