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Data Geeking on Virtual Racing

11 December 2020

With the completion of my 1500 meter freestyle today, I finished the full lineup of pool events (along with some fun additions like the 800 IM and the 25 dolphin dive), completing my entry to Masters Swimming Ontario's Not-Quite-Nationals Virtual Pool Challenge. It's taken me 3 weeks to schedule enough 45 minute slots across one of Barrie's three 25 meter pools - Holly, East Bayfield and Allandale Community Centres -

... but I had a blast mixing up my workouts with fast efforts.

With the event behind me, I decided to power up a bit o'Excel to compare my "push performances" in workouts with my Masters best times (since I started back in earnest in 2001) and with the current Masters World Records for my age group (50-54).

Data always tell a story, but they don't always tell a new story.

For instance, I have no speed. As the distances got longer, I got closer to my best times. Over all of the 100s (all strokes and the IM), I was 15.0% slower than my Masters best; on my 400 free and 400 IM, I averaged 11.2% slower. The delta was even greater benchmarking versus the World Records, where I averaged 27.4% off the 100s and 18.2% off the 400s.

Now, some of those gaps will be made up by the start and the biggest impact will be on the 50s, but even if I assumed the start would subtract 1.5 seconds from my time across each event, I still got relatively faster as the distances got longer.

Trying to look at the data more positively, though, I think the significant amount of aerobic training I've done since May, where hiking and open water (summer) then pool swimming have been my only real forms of exercise, has boosted my endurance. As I've raced freestyle more than any other events over the last 20 years, the consistent improvement as the distances got longer show I've managed to get myself back into fine aerobic form:

% difference between virtual performances from last three weeks

... and I was super-chuffed to see that my nearly perfectly evenly split 1500 today (9:10.2-9:11.2 by 750s for an 18:21.4) would have just nudged me into the world top 10 for 2019 (for my age group).

Lest this all sound rosy, there was one big disappointment, one set of events that showed me that I'm not the man I used to be: butterfly. Whereas with every other stroke, I got closer and closer to my best times (on a percentage basis) as the distance got longer, on fly, I got worse. The 200 fly, usually my second favorite event after the 400 IM, was a pain fest where my core screamed out to stop around the 135 meter mark and I limped the rest of the way, barely finishing.

So I conclude with a lesson I apparently need to relearn time and time again: hit the weight room, hit the core work; balance all that aerobic stuff I love with some of the tough medicine "dryland" strength work I generally dislike.


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