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October 7, 2008

Another Crazy (and Mostly Meaningless) Endeavor Involving the Number 100

The last time I swam competitively - at least, the last time I did so in a pool – was as a high school senior.

I was what you’d call a solid member of the team: my times weren’t especially spectacular, but I could usually score a handful of points at dual meets, and every now and then - depending on who else showed up - I would win some races outright. I was very close to qualifying for the state meet in a couple of events, but came up a couple of tenths (in the 50 free) or seconds (in the 100 back) short of earning such a distinction.

For the most part, I don’t recall any of my PRs from those races, or the exact goal times I was aiming for in various events. There was, however, one notable exception to this opaque recollection: I remember that breaking one minute in the 100-yard freestyle was pretty badass.

I was able to accomplish the feat a handful of times – but not very often, and always by a narrow margin. I probably broke a minute less than ten times, and never by more than 2 seconds. I can’t precisely tell you my fastest time - but I definitely haven’t forgotten the feeling of climbing out of the pool and looking over the timer’s shoulder as he left the minute column blank while writing my time down on the card. Some memories just stay with you.

Now, almost 20 years after they transpired, those memories have been triggered with increasing frequency during my afternoon swim workouts over the past few weeks. And there’s a little voice in the back of my head that wonders, with increasing curiosity, if those feelings are something I could capture once again in my compulsive adulthood.

In other words … I’d like to break the one minute mark in the 100-yard freestyle again.

As recently as two months ago, such a thought would have seemed preposterous. All of my swimming over the past several years has been in the context of triathlon training, with emphasis on long sets, energy conservation, and general conditioning. My speed has gradually increased, but not to the point where I’d ever consider myself a fast sprinter. However, a few surprising developments lately made me reevaluate things, and planted the question of what might be possible.

The first surprise was that, beginning in mid-September, I felt like I was just flying through the water during routine workouts. I finished sets ahead of people I normally trailed, and maintained a smooth stroke throughout our typical 2500-yard sessions. At first I figured that everyone else was getting slower – but the clock kept showing split times that were 10 seconds faster per 200 yards, 5 seconds per 100, and 2 or 3 seconds per 50.

(Of course, I immediately double-checked the accuracy of the pool clock with three different watches. Sometimes I’m far too cynical for my own good.)

Periodically, near the end of workouts, our final sets include 50-yard sprints - and on rare occasion, we’ll take an extra few seconds of rest so we can really blast them. Even rarer is when the lifeguard strolls over to watch us with a stopwatch in hand – but that’s just what happened one day a couple of weeks ago.

He sat on a diving block and called out the finish times as six of us crashed into the wall one after the other. I didn’t quite hear him with the water in my ears, so we had this exchange:

Me: What was my time?

Lifeguard: I got you at 29-high.

As in, under 30 seconds. Now, I’m no mathematician ... but I know that 50 yards is half of a hundred, and 30 seconds is half of a minute.

(I’m also aware that doing the second 50 yards in the same amount of time will be about 10 times more difficult than the first 50 – but that’s the kind of math I don’t like thinking about right now.)

Incidentally, this was from a push start off the wall, at the tail end of a workout. My first reaction was, what the heck is going on? That kind of speed was a complete shock to me. I wondered if somebody might ask me to pee in a cup after I got out of the pool – and what’s worse, I wasn’t sure I’d pass. Maybe my most recent box of green tea bags had been inadvertently laced with EPO or something. The whole situation just seemed weird.

It took me far longer than it should have to figure out the real cause of my newfound speed: namely, I was enjoying the benefits of dedicated swim training.

For the nine months prior to September, just about every day I got in the pool, I had already gone for a run that morning, or done some monster workout the day before. In the midst of running up to 90 miles per week, my body was in a chronic state of exhaustion, where my main goal was simply to make it through a swim workout without getting lapped.

After my final race this season, I took a full week of rest, and almost two weeks off from running. Even now, I’m only doing a two or three easy runs per week – which leaves me with more energy available to pour into my swim workouts. (To recap: exhaustion makes you slow; focused training and rest make you fast – let’s file this one under “obvious”.)

So now I’ve got some time to focus on swimming and chasing down my own Ghost of Swim Meets Past, but there’s a limited window of opportunity to catch him. My pool closes for four weeks near the end of the year - and by the time January rolls around, I’ll be back to the grind of high-mileage running, sleep deprivation, and general fatigue that prevented me from being a faster swimmer for the majority of 2008.

All of which leaves about 10 weeks for me to reel in that goofball high school kid from 20 years ago. It sounds like a fairly tall order, but I have a feeling that I’m close enough to knock this one out in that time frame. Whether or not I ever catch him, one thing is certain: it will sure be interesting to try.


Formulaic 10/8/08, 11:10 AM  

I think it's great your out there chasing down your past.

It is so interesting how we grew up thinking "this is me at my best".

We never know when we reach our peak. With a little specificity, we can do wonders.

Go get 'em err Go get..you!

Judi 10/9/08, 9:04 AM  

Thanks for giving me a new swim workout. I am going to do some 50's in the AM, and then 100's.

Rick Gaston 10/9/08, 12:31 PM  

Wow breakthroughs in your swim. Not so strange now that you explained that you've been putting a lot of time in your swimming even when you were doing the long runs. I'm sure your body is also loving the heart accelerating but no pavement pounding workout. A great way to stay in shape before you embark on a new 100-mile training plan.

triguyjt 10/9/08, 5:47 PM  

won't it be cool when you catch yourself....awesome..

mr. fishy!!!!!!

mindy 10/9/08, 6:17 PM  

Maybe it's the underwater swimming! Good luck with your test - what a cool idea - I bet you'll shatter that 1:00 mark.

Annette 10/10/08, 1:27 PM  

Go for it! As much as you've analyzed this goal, along with all the others, ;) I'm sure you will beat that 1 min. by a respectable margin.

Deene 10/14/08, 8:55 AM  

this sounds like the perfect self challenge. time to call on your inner MerMan.

21stCenturyMom 10/15/08, 9:28 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
21stCenturyMom 10/15/08, 9:28 AM  

This is a very encouraging post for me. My swim is not good - not good at all. That's partly because I only go 2x a week. My winter 'off season' plan is more swim, weight training, not so much bike and run. I will be very gratified if it pays off but for me the goal is repeat 2 minute 100s. Swimming 100 yards (let alone meters) in 1 minute is never going to happen. I'm okay with that.

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