The mental ups and downs you can go through during a practice of any sort are amazing, but especially with swimming. When you’re going (physically) up and down a pool all you’ve got are you and your own thoughts, so when you’re doing a tougher workout it’s a constant mental battle to overcome how tired you are.
There is no talking to teammates as you run laps, or even quick breaks to catch your breath in between sprints — at least not with today’s set. When you get breaks on the wall, usually about 10-20 seconds, it’s all about grabbing some water, giving some quick words of encouragement to those next to you, and then getting started again.
That’s why something that happened at the end of practice meant so much to me.
This morning I had a feeling Coach Jeff King was going to kick our butts, and that’s exactly what he did. After a warm-up of two 400s, Jeff broke up the swimmers into strokes — breast, free and fly.
As my lane and the lane next to me (Pat Sullivan and Jill King) went off to do four laps of drill/sprint, I heard Jeff give Balazs Kiss a set of six 600s. When we got to the other end of the pool, the discussion was about that set. We were all hoping to avoid a similar assignment. We were already losing the mental battle.
When we got back to the other end of the pool, Jeff let us know immediately what was up: “You’re doing a variation of the set I just gave Balazs,” he said.
It took everything I had not to laugh, just because it was what we had all feared.
The set broke down like this (w/ fins and paddles):
1st 600- 100 perfect, 25 sprint…until you finish the 600
2nd 600- 100 perfect, 50 sprint…until you finish the 600
3rd 600- 100 perfect, 75 sprint…until you finish the 600
4th 600- 100 perfect, 100 sprint…until you finish the 600
In between each 600 was four 25s of zero breath.
Through the first 600, I felt okay. The 25 sprints are tiring, but not anything I couldn’t handle. The second 600 got tougher. Now I was doing open turns going into the 50 and trying to get a time (around 31 seconds) on each 50. By the time we hit the third 600 I was really having to push through some mental barriers.
As I swam the long 100s I was just trying to count down how much was left in the set, telling myself it was a manageable set and that I could make it through. I remember telling myself: This is where you get better.
A of couple times I had trouble catching my breath and would take an open turn just to try to catch up with myself. I didn’t want to stop at all, but I wanted to make sure that I was still getting work done and wasn’t just sloppy.
When we finished that third 600, everyone kind of looked at each other and gave the type of encouragement that is key in these practices. It’s just a simple, “one more left,” but it’s amazing how far that can go. Just to feel that you’re not alone, even when you’re alone going back and forth in the pool.
The fourth 600 was the biggest challenge just as far as how hard you were going to push yourself. It was three 100s sprint and the 100 swims meant you really weren’t going to get a chance to truly catch your breath and get the heart rate down. Honestly, at that point it was just about putting in your work. It doesn’t matter how tired you are, how much you might have wanted to sleep in that morning or how the 600s were a really tough set. Now it was time to dig deep and get it done.
We closed the practice with some butterfly kick and then some drill.
The thing that always surprises me about these practices is that no matter how exhausted I am during these drills, how much I have to push myself to keep the work rate up no matter how tired I am, when it’s done it’s this sense of euphoria. I don’t know if its endorphins or what, maybe just a sense of accomplishment, but it’s the best feeling of the morning…just a, “Yeah I kicked that workout’s butt as much as it kicked mine.”
When I got out, I was talking with Jeff and he was talking me through what I had done today and encouraging me based on the fact that I truly have become just another one of the swimmers. “There’s nothing more I can do now but just work you,” he said.
I told him I felt good about completing the workout but had been just a tad disappointed by taking those open turns during the 75s. Jeff called Coach Paul Makin over and asked him to repeat what he had told Jeff during the practice.
“I just said that I was impressed with how hard you were working,” Makin said. “I can glance around this pool and with one glance see who is eating water, and it was easy to tell you were working your butt off.”
“That was unsolicited,” Jeff said.
Out of everything and anything that someone could say, this means the most. I don’t know if I’d feel better swimming a 48 in the 100 or hearing this, because if I wasn’t working hard and I could swim a 48 how much would it mean?
I’ve always prided myself on my work rate in any sport, or in any part of my life. It’s a lesson that was passed down to me from my parents and from my coaches. To hear it today was huge for me, it really was.
Honestly, I might not be the fastest swimmer or even just a fast swimmer. But being able to walk away from practice every day saying I worked hard means just as much to me. So thanks to Paul and Jeff. It was the perfect ending to this week of workouts.
Washington Post reporter Paul Tenorio will train with a swim club over the next few months and chronicle his journey as he attempts to transform from regular guy/sports reporter to competitive swimmer — everything from his waistline to his best times.