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Reframing the Woodlands, Rebuilding my racing

3 April 2022

I went down to Texas with a big, hairy audacious goal (BHAG) - to break the USMS National Record in the 400 IM, which stands at 4:28.66. I had reasons to believe this wasn't a stretch too far:

  • In May of 2018, at the ripe young age of 51, I had gone 4:26.07 when I won the 50-54 age group at the USMS National Championships.

  • On Sunday, March 27th of this very year, I had just broken the Canadian Masters National record by 1 second, clocking a 5:02.37 in SCM, a time that converts to somewhere between 4:31.6 (SwimSwam) and 4:32.2 (Swimming World).

Having done the Canadian record midway through my traditional two week taper, I felt primed for a great swim on Friday, April 1st.

400 IM

  • Entry time: 4:34.62 (converted from the 5:05.11 I had gone in December 2021)

  • Result: 4:34.11

  • Reaction: Dismay and disappointment. I truly felt like I was swimming a most excellent race; it felt far better than the weekend before. I really was shocked by the time.

This swim hit me hard. I have trained so much more consistently, with far more intensity since January than I had back in the fall. I know I am physically in far better shape than I had been in December, as I've incorporated consistent weight training and yoga/stretching in addition to the pool time.

I have my wife to thank for helping me reframe this performance and the weekend. She reminded me of ...

  • The near constant refrain I had during the pandemic, when pools were closed, or, if open, shut off from hosting competition, "I'd give anything to just be racing again; I don't care what the times are; I just want to get up on the blocks and race."

  • What we used to tell our daughters, all three of whom swam growing up, "Don't let one race ruin your weekend."

  • And, how much joy I had expressed when walking into this gorgeous natatorium, my delight in being able to swim in such an aquatic gem:

After her pep talk, I reframed the weekend as I had originally intended it: to get out and just enjoy racing. A "chuychanga" for dinner at Chuy's, my old favorite haunt from Austin (now expanded to many cities), while not exactly performance food, was certainly the comfort food I needed to set my soul right.

Here's how the rest of the weekend went.

200 fly - Saturday

  • Entry time: 2:10.24

  • Result: 2:09.58

  • Reaction: Well, first pain. One doesn't swim a 200 fly without a lot of pain. But, then, delight as I was stoked to be under 2:10.

200 IM - Saturday

  • Entry time: 2:09.95

  • Result: 2:09.56

  • Reaction: First, a big smile. My 200 fly and 200 IM times are generally very close, so to be a mere two hundreths faster was wonderful. The only part of this race that was sub-par was my breaststroke, where I could feel the tightness in my hips that has crept in over these last ~8 months at my new job, where back-to-back video calls with too much sit-time are the norm.

50 free - Sunday

  • Entry time: 25.37

  • Result: 24.11

  • Reaction: Gobsmacked. My entry time was from a rare short course yards meet early in 2019. But this approached a time I did seven years ago, when I swam a 50 free tapered and shaved was at the San Antonio USMS Nationals in 2015 and went 24.06. This was an excellent swim for me.

200 free - Sunday

  • Entry time: 1:55.98

  • Result: 1:55.84

  • Reaction: I was catching up with a swim colleague before this race, a speedy dude (Ross Davis) my age, and we were both bemoaning (a bit) the ravages of "Father Time" on our athletic performance. He asked me what I wanted to go and I said, "1:55 and I'll be happy." Thus, I was happy.

100 IM - Sunday

  • Entry time: 1:00.65

  • Result: 59.99

  • Reaction: Quite literally (and I do know what this word means), Laugh Out Loud. The last time I went under a minute was in 2016, and I told myself before this that I could do it again. This race felt near perfect in my execution and I laughed pretty loudly when I could see the scoreboard after my swim.

200 breast - Sunday

  • Entry time: 2:29.48

  • Result: 2:27.11

  • Reaction: I almost skipped this race as it was just shy of twenty minutes after my 100 IM. But, I had plenty of time to make my flight, so I figured I'd just emphasize my underwater pullouts (really, the only solid part of me and breaststroke) and see what happens. This felt fantastic and was a smashing good swim for me.

Overall Assessment & Rebuilding my Race Strategies

Once I got over myself and got out of my own head, I had a great weekend of racing. Much like racing back in December, when I got advice from Masters' greats Steve Hiltabiddle and Steve Unruh, who both stressed to me the need to build weight lifting back into my training routine, I picked up valuable training and racing insight through conversations with one of the greatest Masters swimmers in the world, David Guthrie.

At some point, I said to David something the effect of, "I feel like I am swimming well, but there's no snap, no easy speed. It feels like a great 'in-season' meet and not like a season-ending taper meet (which is what I intended)."

David's a handful of years older than me and impressed upon me the need for rest and recovery, and, most importantly, the need for the amount of R&R to continue to increase as we age. I explained that I had "graduated" from the 3-4 day "drop taper" that worked wonders for me in high school and college, to a two week taper now as a Masters' athlete. But ... that clearly wasn't enough and paltry compared to his experience of what worked best. As I look to one more big event, the Canadian Masters Nationals towards the end of May, I'll be stepping up my taper to three weeks for the next big event.

Now, back to the pool for some quality training.


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