When you spend your life around one type of athlete, you tend to think their idiosyncrasies are the norm. Since I’ve been swimming competitively since the age of six, everything swimming related is my normal. And it is what I compare all other workouts to.
Keeping that in mind, the longest race I ever had to encounter at a swim meet was a mile. 1650 yards, 66 lengths, 33 laps. All for time.
As a little kid this race is daunting because of its length. But as you get older and more experienced it becomes a whole new ballgame. Because now you also have to focus on pace, technique, endurance AND finishing the longest event at the meet.
Fun fact: one of my coaches made the 1000 (the second longest event) or the 1650 mandatory for every one of his 10-12 year old swimmers my first year on the team.
Begrudgingly I chose the 1000 (I think a whopping total of four out of the thirty of us willingly picked the 1650, gah). Swam it and touched with a time of 0:11.01. Yes, you read that right, it took me eleven seconds to swim ten 100’s.
How is this possible? The touchpad malfunctioned. Forever entering me into the system with a time of eleven seconds. And giving me a (fake) meet record that still stands to this day.
Why won’t they fix the error and update the record? Nobody knows. But alas, moving back to the mile.
You’re probably wondering, how long does this race take? Olympian Katie Ledecky holds the current American record of 15:03.31. A good average time would be between 18-21 minutes. This means that even the longest event at a swim meet – my normal – only takes up about 40-50% of the shortest event triathletes have available to them in their normal.
I wanted to touch base on this because that mile swim event is what distance (endurance) swimmers train for. But in the realm of triathlon it doesn’t even scratch the surface of what sprint triathletes do.
The aquathlon, duathlon, aquabike, and sprint tri competitions are the closest you’re going to get to sprinting in the triathlon world, EVEN THOUGH they take about 40-60 minutes to complete.
Writing this down makes it seem that much more insane to me. But I have to take a step back and put it all into perspective. I competed in the 100 yd butterfly, the 200 yd butterfly, and the 200 yd IM as my best events. I never raced for more than two and a half minutes.
BUT those races were all out sprints, going as hard as I could and finishing a lot of them wondering if I was going to be able to pull myself out of the pool.
Comparing that to triathlon made me realize that mid distance races, olympic distance, and Ironman races are far from all out sprints. You’re keeping a pace and maintaining a level of intensity much different from that of an athlete who only has to give it their all for less than three minutes.
It’s a different kind of “in shape” bouncing between the swimming world and the triathlon world, but that doesn’t mean that one athlete is lesser than the other.
If your strong point is the 70.3 Ironman, that’s insanely impressive and incredible. I can’t even imagine constantly moving for fourteen to seventeen hours comprised of three different disciplines. And if your strong point is the 100 yd freestyle, that’s insanely impressive and incredible too.
All athletic worlds have different kinds of training, different types of stresses that are put on your body, and different types of races. It’s going to be hard to understand a world that you’ve never been a part of, that’s a given. But don’t discount other sports because they seem easier than your norm until you’ve tried them.
Lissa Henderson, Tri Swim Coach