By Coach Chris Hague
I finally did it! I swam 10k (100×100) in one session! For those elite swimmers out there reading this, this may sound petty, but for me, this feat has been a personal goal and bucket list challenge for quite some time. Swimming 10k for me was/is not only an epic workout but an epic journey that I think deserves a retelling. Like all epics and personal “Odysseys” the point is not the end but the journey and the difficulties and lessons learned along the way. I have already told you the ending, but let me fill you in on how I got there. Let me tell you it was not easy. Regardless of whether you want to swim 10k or just improve your stroke and swim longer, I hope this tale will give you some tips on conquering your own personal Everest.
Let me start at the beginning…
If you have been following TSC on Facebook then you will know that back in November, Coach Kev and I hatched this “awesome” idea to do a “Like for Laps” competition. For each like that my picture and profile got, I would have to do one lap in the pool. I signed on to the plan naively thinking that only a few people would like my photo and some “more popular” chum would get all the likes and have to swim 10k or some distance crazy like that. Little did I know that I was that chum. Somehow, the post went viral and we got 10,000 likes.
“You don’t have to do it in one session,” I remember Kevin saying. “You could do it over the course of a week.”
“Where would the challenge be then? I do that already usually. No, I signed up for this thing. There is no way to make it any easier.” I replied. 10,000 meters (6.2 miles), 1 swim. Just me, that tiled black line, and the chlorine. I set the date for New Year’s Day since that seemed like a good way to start off the new year and burn off the holiday pounds and hangover. The challenge had been set.
Since my swim was not (still isn’t) that great, I knew that I had to great cracking on training if I was going to summit this personal Everest. Back in November, my longest swim had been 4000 meters so in comparison 10000 seemed like a lot more. Throughout November and December, I slowly added on the laps and eventually got up to 6000, which was still far from 10k but it was a dent. Not only did I focus on the length of my swims but also, and more importantly, on form and efficiency. Even if you could swim 10,000 with poor form you would be exhausted by the end and at serious risk of injury. Many swimmers can muscle through a 500 maybe even 1000, but 10000 is a different beast. I had to become more efficient at swimming so that I could feel like I could hold it all day especially when I was tired.
I, therefore, included in each workout drills at the beginning of each swim (after an increasingly longer warm up) in addition to drills at the end of the workout. By bookending each workout with drills, I primed my body to do the main set with proper body position and form and then taught my body to swim efficiently on weary limbs. My drills focused on three main ideas:
1. Breathing: Many elite triathletes and swimmers can swim very well and extremely quickly breathing unilaterally, but for me, bilateral breathing would be essential to keeping my muscles relaxed, body inline and slow fatigue. A good drill that I used a lot was side to sides where I would kick to one side for 6 kicks, take 3 strokes, then kick on the other side 6 kicks.
2. Distance per stroke: The longer and more powerful your stroke is the more efficient you will become. Taking short, choppy strokes would not help me at all and in fact hurt put strain on my shoulders. I therefore did SWOLF drills in which I would try to lower my stroke count every lap by 1-2 strokes. When I had lengthened my stroke, I also increased my cadence while still trying to hold my stroke count down.
3. Shallow catch: Closely related to the distance of each stroke, is the depth of your catch. If your hand pierces the water too early and goes straight down in the water, then your pull will lose most of its power. Instead it should extend in front of you. The catch up drill (my personal favorite) slowed down my stroke so that I focused on the entrance and pull of each arm. After I became comfortable with this drill, I progressed to three quarter catch up to increase the speed.
These three drills were staples on each of my workouts and helped me improve my swim strength greatly, but I also needed to improve my mental strength. In part two of this series, I will tell you the mental tips that I tried to build the strongest but at the same time the weakest organ in the body: the brain.