View Full Version : Competitive swimmers before Masters...

July 21st, 2003, 05:00 PM
I wondered if any of you can help me with some perspective on this. I was a respectable age-group swimmer (age 8-18 - peaked around 16). Swimming was my life. I went on to do triathlons in college and casual running and swimming after that. Now in my late 30's. Have always swum to keep in shape, but getting slower every year.

How do those of you in the 30's, 40's etc. who had a previous swimming career deal with the disappointment of getting slower, and slower? It is so frustrating. I get particularly frustrated with myself when people in practice who I should be much faster than (ie they didn't swim competitively and have ummmm...less than ideal strokes), are beating me. I still have that competitive mindset.

Since I don't think I would swim respectable 30-something times in a meet (and I have little kids right now that are keeping me pretty busy) I am waiting until 40's to compete. My butterfly is still OK so thinking if I can do a respectable 200 butterfly in my 40's that would be an accomplishment.

Anyway I just wondered how others put this into perspective. Thanks!

July 21st, 2003, 10:35 PM

You sound just like me! However, I have to remember to tell myself not to think about it so much... So don't worry - it won't help you at all - it may make things worse!

I am in a similar situation as you, swam in my teens and college and now that I'm back in it... I completely suck... but I'm not going to let it get me down. It's going to take time to get better. Be patient girl! Just do your best at practice, that's all you can ask of yourself! And don't forget to have fun!

To let you in on a secret... sometimes the people who are beating you at practice will not do as well at meets. In my USS experience, I've had many swimmers who were total workhorses at practice and choked at the meets. So, don't compare yourselves to them. Swimming is an individual sport... however the competitiveness will always burn inside you - which is great. Emphasize on your strengths at practice - like being a butterflyer. You wanting to swim the 200 is AWESOME - not many swimmers want to do that. I used to swim the 400 IM, and that was really hard, but I feel that the 200 fly is BY FAR the HARDEST event of them all. So, remember that you have something that not a lot of your team members have - the will to swim the ironman of competitive swimming - the 200 BUTTERFLY.

As for not competing right away, just keep working on your technique - that will never fail you! Don't worry about competing in your 40's - I think USMS has people in their 80's swimming - and maybe even older!

Good luck Shari!

-sarah :D

Bert Petersen
July 21st, 2003, 11:01 PM
...........but hard to do !
Quit thinking about beating other people and think of the fitness you are achieving.
The bad news is : there will nearly always be someone who will be faster than you at some point in each age-group. The good news : It doesn't matter !!
A thousand years from now, how important will it REALLY be to be the top dog ??
Here's a better plan; one you can live with and the way I approach the competitive "problem". Compete with and against yourself. Simple, huh ??
Let's face it, the true measure of your fitness and your progress is found in the stop-watch and clock.
I guarantee to you that the biggest rush in Masters swimming is NOT beating some other poor soul.........it is in beating your old times.
If you get older and faster at the same time you will not be immortal...it will just feel that way !!
Think technique and fitness.......and.....good luck !

July 22nd, 2003, 01:19 AM
I understand what you are talking about. For example, I'm way off of my times from the teen years. And with women we loss upper-body strength more than the men do,so as you age and in my case took off like 25 years, it has an effect on your swimming. My breaststoke was probably effective less than the other three strokes. Backstroke, I was even bad as a teenager. In Breast, the kick is more important,so I lost less than I did in the other three strokes that depend upon upper-body strength.

jim thornton
July 22nd, 2003, 11:18 AM
Check out the following. http://n3times.com/swimtimes/

We had a gargantuan discussion about this on the old forum--i.e., how Time X at a given older age might actually be better than Time Y at an earlier age.

For what it's worth, there are people in this forum who have done life time bests at a relatively late age. I beat my college time in the 200 free when I was 49; and I think I beat my college 1000 time last spring at age 50.

If you haven't bought a speed suit like a Fastskin, consider doing this, too. It takes not just seconds off your times, but years off your chronological age!

Good luck

July 22nd, 2003, 12:44 PM
Jim Thorton and some others are able to do good times older. But even ex-olympics are effective by age. Shane Gould who now holds the world record in my age group 45 to 49 swam a 2:38 in the 200 meter Im, when she was 15 years old way back in 1972 she swam a 2:23,so age does effect different swimmers differently and if you swam a lot of yardage as an age grouper versus swimming a lot less as masters that a factor. The older swimmers like Jim swam in an area where yardage was a lot less than today because their was no goggles. So, if he workout about 2,000 yards less than as a teenager maybe he has more natural speed than someone who swam a lot of yardage as a teenager and only swims between 2,500 to 4,000 as an adult. So, I would not worry about your times. I have some of the same problems as you. I workout on my own and a young man in the same lane wipe me out in freestyle but when he swam breaststroke it was the opposite.

Ion Beza
July 22nd, 2003, 01:28 PM
I read your post Cynthia, and focusing on one word, I disagree with using 'older' in here:

Originally posted by cinc310

The older swimmers like Jim...

Chronologically, Jim is 50.

It's as adult as being say age 25, but whether one is older or younger, that depends on how one is living.

Based on what Jim is doing, he is in the prime of life right now:

.) I don't consider 'older' anyone who is not defeated by life, but on the contrary, does defeat life;

.) Jim getting 1:55 in 200 yards free last year, a lifetime best, that's Jim defeating life.

Also, there are other areas than swimming, applying this principle of whether one is defeated or not by life, to whether one is old or young:

for example analytical skills, memory, intellect.

July 22nd, 2003, 03:40 PM
Sorry,Ion, yes, Jim and Laurie Val are young compared to those in that are 65 and over. I should state that those that swam back in the 1960's and early 1970's were in the pre-goggle era and doing mileage beyond 5,000 yards a day,many teams didn't. There were a few brave people that did yardage beyond 5,000 yards without goggles and had chorine in their eyes. Even I, who started swimming in 1969 at meets in my young career workout in the pre-goggle era, it wasn't fun. And yes Jim is probably only 4 to 5 years older than me.

jim thornton
July 22nd, 2003, 04:04 PM
thanks, ion, for defending the honor of my youth!

actually, i did swim in the pregoggle era, but I am sure I did more yardage then then I do now as a master (for one thing, in high school and the one year I swam for Michigan, we did at least one workout every day, sometimes two; today, i have three "official" workouts a week, then try to squeeze in an extra swim or two during the week on my own.)

I think the factors that have made the biggest difference are, perhaps in this order:

1) better swimming suit technology. not everyone is helped by the body suit; i feel i have been helped tremendously. it's sad to have to admit this, but i truly believe this has been the single biggest contributor to my swimming well in my late 40s, and now early 50s

2) better workouts. my coach was able to get me to swim harder than any previous coach i've had. he subtlely and incrementally increased the quantity and quality of swims over the course of our season, and somehow motivated me to stay with it, even though this sometimes meant taking a nap and drinking a cup of coffee before our 6:30-7:30 pm workouts

3) better stroke technique. it sounds hard to believe now, but I never practiced "modern" streamlining in my youth, but rather pushed off walls in arm's slightly spread "Superman position". I also had the water level hit me mid forehead, which was the old theory back then that you'd go faster by hydroplaning. Streamlining and keeping my head down in freestyle are two examples of better technique that have made a difference--neither of these things were coached, at least to me, back in the early 70s.

final word: I was at best a very mediocre swimmer as a young youth. I feel that masters offers people like me a second chance. If you were great as a youngster, it's going to be difficult to come close to matching your times by age 50. if, however, you were mediocre back then, the odds are at least somewhat plausible you can become less mediocre now! Again, check out that formula, plug in your best time and the age you did it, then see what an "equivalent time" would be for your current age. Chances are that mathematically speaking, you're right on the predicted slope.

Matt S
July 22nd, 2003, 05:33 PM

You have asked an excellent question. In my humble opinion, coming to terms with this issue is crucial to sustaining an interest in Masters swimming for the long term (i.e. 10 years or more).

In a nutshell: you have to realize you are in your late 30's, rather than your late teens, that you are swimming now for different reasons, and that you have to find meaningful goals that take that fact into account. Simplistically, you can't workout now like you used to, so expecting to challenge your old PR's is not realistic. That is merely one aspect of what I will discuss below, but it is (or should be) the most blindingly obvious.

Why did you swim at 16? I don't know about you, but my reason was to break as many PR's and to lower them as much as possible, in each season. In other words, get faster than I ever was before in the next, oh say... 4 months. Why do you want to swim now, in your 30's? Again, I don't know about you, but my reason is to enjoy competitive swimming, and use it as my primary means of fitness for the next 40+ years. If those two statements are true for you, you ought to be able to see right away some changes in how you should approach Masters swimming.

First, you can't and you shouldn't try to bring the same kind of intensity to your training program. Your career is no longer about breaking PR's in the next 4 months. As you have pointed out, the general trend is to get slower with age. Even if you can power up on your training and mental focus for 4 months, what are you going to do for an encore half a year later, and the next, and the next... (Repeat 77 times). Good Lord, even Popov is going to retire some day! Focus your goal setting on the longer term (say 2-4 years out). Put together seasonal goals that work towards where you want to be long term. (I am kind of puttering with my backstroke and breaststroke, which are usually timed with a calendar rather than a stop watch, with the idea of maybe having a 400 IM that is not a complete embarrassment to mankind, in a couple of years or so. This is one example.) You are not going to graduate next year, and you aren't going to swim as many meets as you did at 16, so give yourself some time to work towards something big.

Second, you can't and you shouldn't try to swim as many yards as fast as you used to. As you pointed out, you have family obligations (to say nothing of a job) that preclude you from putting in the hours. Also, the sad fact is that even if the mind is willing to go through 2x day workouts at high yardage, most bodies in their 30’s and 40’s can’t sustain it. Your old sets and your old intervals may not be the best way to train, and at worst could be an injury trap. One of the wisest Masters coaches I ever had was the guy who told me to slow-down and back-off if I was obviously struggling with an over ambitious set. If I am having a bad workout, I tell myself it is not about the next meet; it’s about the next 30 years. I then stop doing anything that hurts in a way suggestive of a risk of injury (and I no longer bother with hand paddles, ever). I reset my workout to work on other skills that I can accomplish on that day, and try to leave with a good feeling so I am eager for the next practice, rather than burnt-out.

Third (finally circling back to your original question), set goals that reflect what you enjoy doing today, not your agenda from when you where an age grouper. I don’t know what your old coach’s objectives were, but if (s)he was like 99.9% of age group coaches, the idea was for you to score as many points for your team as possible and win the meet. That was perfectly fine, then, but it does not have to be an unchanging reality. You’re a grown-up; you get to decide what you like and what you have time to do. You only have to challenge old PR’s selectively, when you want to. Some of the other posts have made some marvelous suggestions. Just finishing a 200 fly is an achievement (and usually sufficient to place at almost any Masters meet). I have been pursuing that one myself the last few years, and I have learned along the way a whole new way to swim fly for “long” distance (over 75 yards in my case). You can also train for a long open water swim. You can prepare for eccentric combinations of events. For example, one of the local meets here has a couple of nutty programs you can enter. One is the “Spring No-Brainer” where you swim 50’s of each stroke and a 100 IM; the winner is the one with the lowest combined time. The other is the “Iron Glutton” where you swim the 200 fly, back and breast, 400 IM, and the 1500 free (and go straight to the oxygen tent when you are done; who cares who won?) You can train for a meet in an exotic place you’ve always wanted to visit. Even if you are not smashing PR’s, just competing there is a rush. You can dabble in triathlons; you can try to recruit some of your family members for a family relay at a local meet.

Training for technique is also a great idea. It does not over stress your body and gives you something else to work on when you just can’t crank it up on a particular day. It stays with you a lot longer if you lose your conditioning to a lay off or just plain aging. And, it gives you a way to achieve a “good” swim without relying on the stopwatch as the sole measure.

After you have put together all that nutty stuff, you can selectively challenge some of your old PR’s. There are a number of ways to do it. Lots of people like to use those time adjusted for age conversion tools that Jim mentioned (which despite the hand waving subjectivity of the adjustment) seem to give good benchmarks for setting personal goals. You can also try to beat some swim other than your all-time PR. I was pretty jazzed when I beat a high school PR in the 500 free a couple of years ago. It might be 30 seconds behind my all-time PR, but faster at 40 than at 18 has a certain cache. Aim for the qualifying times for USMS Nationals if they are a good challenge for you. They do have a pretty solid, objective basis for comparing yourself to the universe of other swimmers your age. Also, you can simply start with a clean slate, and try to set your own Masters PR’s. I was pretty excited to beat a time from ’94 SCN’s this past spring. You can still claim to be getting faster as you get older. Finally, there are all the events you did not particularly swim well as a youngster. Hey, I may have never done the 50 fly in high school or college, but a PR is a PR.

If there is a common theme here it is that you need to decide what is important to you TODAY, and find a rational way of measuring achievement against that standard. For all the reasons you’ve cited, what you used to be able to do can be demoralizing if that is your sole criterion for measuring success. Take control of your dreams; you have that authority.


July 22nd, 2003, 06:04 PM
I remember someone thinking that if Murray Rose could swim as fast as a 50 year old than he did when he was younger, then everyone else could do it. It was easily for Murray because he was a natural swimmer, went to the olympics in 1956 and 1960 and of course in those days few distance swimmers crack more than 5,000 yards a day, More like 2,500 to 3,500 in the late 1950's. On the other hand, Ms Gould at her peak, because goggles started to become available did 10,000 to 12,000 meters. And these days, she swims around 3,000 meters or so. Her times in the longer distances like 200's are off from the teen years, a 2:19 200 meter freestyle versus 2:03 and a 2:38 versus 2:23. in the 200 meter Im. I think more master swimmers are like me and Ms Gould they are not doing their best times in their 40's. I think that to encourage other swimmers is to admit that people are slowing down. I can swim 50 meter breaststoke faster than ex-olympians in the 65 and up women age groups but for my age group I'm more average.

Ion Beza
July 22nd, 2003, 07:22 PM
Originally posted by cinc310
Sorry,Ion, yes, Jim and Laurie Val are young compared to those in that are 65 and over.

What I mean is that last year's 49 years old Jim Thornton who went a lifetime best, is in my opinion younger than a 25 years old person who lives mediocre:

.) Jim defeated life by training for and performing a lifetime best;
so Jim is in his prime;

.) the mediocre is defeated by life, so the mediocre acts older.

I have seen staggering such examples, in a field requiring the sharpest mental skills, the field of mathematics:

.) someone is and trains to be in the prime of life, mentally;

.) slobs are mentally defeated by life, and they act older.

By my definition of young and old:

.) one is young, when one defeats life mentally and physically with a lifetime best or a near best;

.) one is old, when one is defeated by life.

August 2nd, 2003, 10:21 PM
Well, Ms Gould is going to swim at a masters natonals here. Maybe, she can bring the IM time lower. Like I stated if Shane Gould swims 200 meter Im why should be so concern about times.

August 4th, 2003, 11:35 PM
Sorry about not responding sooner, as I was on vacation for a couple weeks. I appreciate all the different perspectives. Matt S, your post was especially insightful.

Cinc and USMSarah, I can tell we are in similar places. I think for most women (Dara Torres aside), if you peaked in your teens, it is pretty much a given that as a Masters swimmer, your times will be no where close to the teens. It's hard because the masters times in the 30's are still very competitive ... so I am holding out w/ my 200 FLY and maybe 400 IM until my 40's to compete.

One thing no one mentioned is the way in which some strokes/turns etc have gotten faster since most of us swam as age-group swimmers...e.g.,
- WAVE breastroke (my worst stroke as an age-grouper and the one thing I might be able to do more respectablly now)
- Backstroke flip turn

Anyway, thanks for all the input.

August 13th, 2003, 12:00 AM
Anyways, I have am update on this. I swam my 100 meter breaststoke just 13 seconds off of my youth. and that was a big improvement compared to the first time I did it. I made the national qualifying time in that and the 50 meter in my age group but the 200 meter breast I still need to learn how to swim it better and was 11 seconds off of National qualifying time. And my 200 meter Freestyle is about 43 seconds faster than the 200 meter breast. Its a medocre free time but if I could do it in breast or fly I would make top ten in the nation in my age group,oh well.