View Full Version : Getting in distance swimming shape

Brad Biddle
August 4th, 2002, 02:24 AM
Hi all -- I just joined this forum, and have enjoyed reading through many of the archived messages.

Here's my situation: I was a decent distance swimmer in high school (e.g., 4:53 500 free) and am just now returning to swimming at age 34 after essentially 15 years out of the pool.

After being back for about a month, my stroke feels OK and I crank out a reasonably fast 100, and I'm starting to think I'd like to get back into good distance swimming shape. SC Nationals are here in Phoenix next May, and I'd like to target the longer free events.

However, I can't envision working out the way I did 15 years ago (i.e., double workouts, ~8000 yards/day). Finding the time for anything more than the typical ~3500M masters workout 4-5X/week would be challenging.

Can anyone out there give me any insight into what sort of training national-level masters distance swimmers are doing? I'm interested in getting caught up on current distance training theories -- e.g., can interval training alone, without lots of yardage, be enough? I'd be very interested in any articles or other resources anyone could suggest on this topic.

Also, a different issue I'll toss out there: I quit competitive swimming at age 18, somewhat before my potential prime, I think. At age 34, is it delusional to think I might eventually be able to go as fast or faster than I went then? Or are those days long past?

I suspect people raise these kinds of issues periodically, and if I missed discussion of these points in the archives, my apologies. Any thoughts anyone can offer will be most welcomed.


jim thornton
August 5th, 2002, 03:46 PM

I can't speak for elite distance swimmers, but from my own perspective, I think it's entirely possible to do times as fast, if not faster, at 34 than at 18. I base this partly on my own swimming performances: 1:55.80 for the 200 free when I was 17; 1:55.11 last year at Y nationals when i was 49.

I swim about 13,000 yards a week, and saw a major improvement in my times after A) starting to wear a body suit and B) doing lots of intervals without huge amounts of rest (for instance, working up to sets of 10 x 100s on 1:20 or 200s on 2:30.) My sprinting has tapered off a bit, but my middle and longer distances have improved.

Your former 500 time of 4:53 is quite good, so this might be more difficult to match. But there is no evidence that guys "reach their peak" in swimming before their mid 30s; even at 40, the drop off is pretty slow for quite a while. You might find it interesting to check out the following web site: http://n3times.com/swimtimes/

This roughly predicts that you should still be able to break 5 minutes--quite impressive from my pov. Good luck.

Brad Biddle
August 5th, 2002, 07:01 PM
Thanks Jim for your thoughtful and interesting message.

That tool that you point to is very cool! (And the discussion -- linked from the tool site -- which describes its history is fascinating.)

On the issue of training for distance free events, I've been poking around the net and discovered some interesting tidbits. This article (http://hanoveraquatics.home.mindspring.com/trainingtobeachamp.htm) about some former world record holding distance freestylers is both inspirational and, well, terrifying (sample quote: "That was my favorite workout (100 x 100 on a minute)") Back on our planet, the swiminfo.com site has some reasonably sane masters distance free workouts available via their workout search tool -- the approach appears similar to what you suggest. I did come across some other commentary that recommended 6000+ yards/day for masters distance swimmers, however.

After today's workout (a lesson in how deeply out of shape I really am), I'm now convinced that my solution to this issue is simple: I'm going to be a sprinter. :-)


jim thornton
August 5th, 2002, 09:57 PM

Thanks for sending that link--very interesting story. As Lance Armstrong has shown in cycling, getting yourself into peak aerobic shape by lunatic effort can pay off handsomely...

Alas, most of us don't have the time or the familial support or the postal department contract to spend 4 hours a day or more courting cardiac disaster. Still, I reallly think the philosophy of those famous distance swimmers quoted in your link--i.e., hard work is the only route to ultimate success--can be embraced, at least a little, by many of us masters swimmers today.

In my case, I think I will amend the philosophy slightly to read as follows: Hard work (lite) is the only route to ultimate success (lite), and this is pretty much all I personally am hoping for.

Two other quick comments:

1) I will personally reserve judgement on the overtraining issue until more studies prove the case conclusively one way or the other. On Saturday Night Live, there was a skit featuring Dana Carvey as an old man relating how hard things were back in his day. He'd always end the monolog with "and we LIKED it that way." You see the same thing in older doctors who did their residency programs staying awake 72 hours at a stretch. "And we LIKED it that way," they tell younger residents today who appear to be complaining lily-livered weaklings because they want to sleep once every 56 hours. (I'm not convinced the od guys' patients liked such doctoring all that much.)

Anyhow, there may be some of this macho attitude going on here with retired great distance swimmers. "My favorite set was 100 100's on a minute, with a half dozen rolls of quarters in my suit, and we LIKED it that way."

On the other hand, there is certainly something to be said for working extremely hard.

2) Don't go the sprinter route! If you could once do a 4:53 for the 500 freestyle, you almost certainly are gifted with an inordinately large contingent of slow twitch muscles. You've already got, in other words, a huge biological advantage over many of your fellow 30-somethings. Also, I think endurance capacity persists longer than raw sprinting strength. Maybe give yourself a year to do 50s and 100s, then work your way up to 200s and 500s, then before you know it, you'll be back in the distance swimmer mindset. And you'll be able to tell all your 20-something friends, "And we LIKE it like that."

Again, good luck.

August 5th, 2002, 10:37 PM
When I was a kid, our family couldn't afford shoes.
In the winter time, when things were real icy, we would have
to walk to school 5 miles each way(up hill both ways!) so
we would wrap barbed wire around our feet to keep
from falling down. We liked it like that.

Do the 500's. Don't be a wos. And listen to Thorton.


Brad Biddle
August 5th, 2002, 11:16 PM

Just joking about the sprinter thing guys. My favorite swimming T-shirt when I was an age grouper announced "When the Going Gets Tough, the Sprinters Get Out." All of us in the distance lane spent so much time mocking and feeling superior to the sprinters, I'd feel like I was crossing over to the Dark Side if I became one now. :-)

Seriously though, thanks for the encouragement!


August 6th, 2002, 02:26 AM
Sprinters vs Distance Swimmers

"Why can't we all just get along?":D

Brad Biddle
August 6th, 2002, 12:30 PM
My comments were lighthearted, of course, and I recognize Wade's were as well. But on a more serious note, one thing that stikes me as very cool about masters swimming -- and this discussion board seems to embody this very well -- is a sense of mutual support and "togetherness" regardless of age, ability, experience, competitiveness, stroke/event interest, etc. I think this is an awesome thing, and I don't want to undermine it even with my joking comments.

Plus, I should share this story: Don Hill trains at Phoenix Swim Club, where I swim. There is nothing like getting your butt whupped by someone more that twice your age (I'm 34, Don's 70)in a sprint workout to instill a sense of respect for sprinters. :-)


August 6th, 2002, 01:16 PM
I was going to ask where you were training. We are incredibly fortunate in the Phoenix metro to have some excellent head masters coaches in the area - Matt & Mark Rankin @ PSC, Simon Percy @ SDM, Jim Nickell @ AFOX - who can certainly work with you on setting some goals and determining how to get there.

@ PSC, Matt & Mark both have an incredible wealth of knowledge and are great about taking the time to share it and help with training direction. I can speak from experience on that one.

(Sorry all, not a paid advertisement ;) just feel REALLY lucky considering some folks don't have any coaches accessible.)


A.G. Thompson
August 10th, 2002, 06:25 PM
I started competing again at age 34, and must admit I did mostly sprints. But now at age 38, I find myself being more competitive at 200, 400 & 800 meter races.

It takes a few seasons to get back into shape. I started with 3-4 workout of 3500 yd also, but now in the summer I swim 1500-2000 LCM meters 3-4 mornings each week, plus 3-4 workouts 3500-4500 meters.

Good luck and keep us the swimming !

Brad Biddle
August 13th, 2002, 02:08 AM
Thanks again to everyone who posted to this thread.

I'm particularly inspired by Jim T. and Sandie Easton's stories of doing best or close-to-best times as masters swimmers (Sandie's story is not in this thread but on her website <http://www.swimdog.net/bio.htm>).

I also appreciate the reminder that getting in shape to swim fast will take:
-- lots of hard work
-- perserverence and patience
(thanks A.G. and all for your insights along these lines)

So, while my sorry butt is still woefully out of shape at the moment, I do feel inspired to make this different.

See y'all in the pool! (Hopefully here in AZ next May!)