by Coach Chris Hague
If you enjoy my writing, you can follow me on twitter @tribuddha or on my personal blog at http://triathlonbuddha.blogspot.com/
In this third and final installment, I discuss the final and most difficult stages of my journey to achieve a 10k swim. If you want to catch up, in the first part I talked about which swim drills I used to help me improve my endurance and then in part two, the mental tricks that I employed to build my brain up.
So without further delay here is part three:
Finally, the morning of the workout dawned and I headed to the pool. It was New Year’s day so I thought that no one would be swimming and I would have the lane to myself. While I started out alone, by the time I got to 25 laps, the lanes were beginning to fill, then by lap 30, there was a line to get into the pool. At this time, I had already been in the pool for a little under an hour, and the life guard came over and told me to get out. “Other patrons are waiting and you have been in the pool the longest so you need to get out.” I was shocked and angered. This had never happened before and I was only a third through! I conceded defeat and got out.
In retrospect, I did not feel bad about getting out. I think subconsciously, I wanted to. There was still a part of me that I did not have what it took to do this workout be it physically or mentally. I emailed my coach and he was very understanding.
“We will try again some time else.” He encouraged me. “Maybe in a few weeks. Just don’t get down and carry on. 3500 is still a decent workout.”
Knowing that it was coming, I had continued my swim and mental drills, so I would be even more prepared then the previous attempt. Bring on round two! In exactly two weeks, the workout popped up again in TrainingPeaks, my online training log and fitness tracker. I was happy to see it but still nervous. What if I failed again was the ever present question in my mind.
To avoid another pool crowd incident, I left earlier for the pool than usual and time that was not that popular. I got in and began. I started out strong and felt great. 10, 15, 25 laps passed and I still felt good. Then I began to fade. Slowly at first but then exponentially so. By lap 37 I had no energy left in me. I had hit an insurmountable brick wall. I therefore pulled myself out of the pool and headed back to the locker room kicking myself. I was a failure again. Once again my coach, played the therapist.
“It’s OK dude. We will get it next time. Just chalk it up as a learning experience. Next time—yes there will be a next time—we will make sure you don’t fail.”
We therefore decided that when I was out in Vegas for my winter training camp/vacation, I would do the workout with him and his crew in a long course pool. Moreover, I would fuel properly before and during the workout. With the added support of others doing the same workout coupled with better nutrition and the mental “ease” of a long course pool where one lap equaled 100m, failure would not be an option.
The long expected and somewhat dreaded day arrived. I had planed and visualized everything so much that I felt like I was on autopilot as I made my pre workout meal of sweet potatoes, protein powder and nuts washed down by a full three cups of coffee. I also had two Lara Bars tucked into my swim bag and some electrolyte mixes to sip on during the workout.
“Approach it like you would a race,” my coach had advised. “Eat what you would before and during a half ironman or a marathon.”
We got there and had a lane to ourselves thankfully. Without any hesitation, I stripped off my warm ups and dove in. The first hundred was naturally easy. “Start slowly and pace yourself. Remember last time. We don’t want you blowing up now.” For the first 2000 I drafted off my coach, and even though I was going faster than I had ever gone, it felt easier. With each hundred I new I was one lap closer to my goal. I began to fade a bit by 25, so once a lane opened up I switched over to it so that I could go at my own pace. By lap 40, I had past both my previous attempts; my body wanted more.
I looked up at the cock quickly. About 90 minutes had past.
“Don’t worry about the clock dude!” My coach yelled from the other lane. “Calm your mind.”
So I returned to my stroke. Each lap was its own entity and yet another chance to perfect my stroke. Just like in my drills and in practice, I focus on stretching out my stroke while not dropping my shoulder and keeping my elbow high. “Focus on the breath…now the stroke…and don’t forget the follow through.”
“Keep it up,” my coach yelled as I got past the half way mark. “You can do this.”
“I can do this” I repeated to myself over and over again. Then by 60, I knew that I could. Something had clicked in me and all my visualization came together. I was completely in the zone where time, splits, and fears evaporate and the mental clarity of how your body feels on that lap, with each stroke, in that present moment is all that matters.
For the final 10, my coach—bless his heart—swam with me. He had completed the workout long ago but stuck around to help me out. On the last one, I was so happy to be done I did three butterfly strokes (it looked more like I was drowning at that point) to celebrate and then collapsed onto the pool deck. I had done it! The whole workout had taken me 3 hours and 15 minutes; I had gone through two Lara bars and 32 ounces of Gu Brew. Compared to running a marathon, I think this was harder, but I say that coming from a running background.
I am not advising that you go out an swim 100×100. In fact, there is not much physiological benefits from doing it. A shorter workout with intensity and drill work mixed in would most likely be better and more advantageous, but psychologically doing this workout was a major mile stone in my swim training. The preparation alone taught me better swim technique and helped me develop a stronger mental edge. Most importantly it taught me that group support and self efficacy are the strongest tools an athlete has in achieving your goals. Regardless of what your personal 100x100m workout is be it running a marathon, finishing your first 5k, or swimming an open water race, with the right amount of time, strategy, and support I can guarantee you can surpass even your own expectations.