View RSS Feed

Vlog the Inhaler, or The Occasional Video Blog Musings of Jim Thornton

Meditations on a Swimming Bubble

Rating: 7 votes, 5.00 average.
Age/ Yearly Miles/ Weekly Average/ Best 100 SCY free / age rating / suit

  1. 46 / 221.11 / 4.25 / 53.68 ... 86.4 Speedo briefs
  2. 47 / 207.78 / 4.00 / 54.42 ... 85.6 Speedo briefs
  3. 48 / 264.34 / 5.08 / 52.09 ... 89.8 aquablade
  4. 49 / 374.77 / 7.21 / 52.46 ... 89.5 aquablade
  5. 50 / 411.77 / 7.92 / 53.02 ... 89.0 FS1
  6. 51 / 390.04 / 7.50 / 52.83 ... 89.7 FS1
  7. 52 / 363.90 / 7.00 / 52.87 ... 90.1 FS1
  8. 53 / 272.42 / 5.24 / 53.97 ... 88.7 FS1
  9. 54 / 373.28 / 7.18 / 52.69 ... 91.4 FS1
  10. 55 / 372.07 / 7.16 / 52.90 ... 91.6 FS1
  11. 56 / 406.70 / 7.82 / 52.86 ... 92.2 B-70
  12. 57 / 330.59 / 6.36 / 54.08 ... 90.7 B-70


Greek Olympian and man-god Chris Stevenson posted this age ranking calculator at He includes an explanation for how it works and plenty of cautionary language about why not to take it too seriously, etc.

You can use Chris's brain child to age grade any of your different races in all three courses. But for the sake of this vlog, I decided to just pick the 100 SCY freestyle. If you are getting to the point where your times are starting to plateau a wee bit, you might find this age grading stuff to be a fresh source of motivation.

A couple different factors seem to clearly correlate with my personal swimming performance. The first one that jumps out is the introduction of the first speed suit, the Speedo Aquablade. My time dropped by a little over 2 seconds from the age of 47 to 48, and my age graded ratings jumped from the mid 80s to the cusp of 90--mainly because the norms were probably based on non-speed suit swimmers (thus giving me an artificial advantage once I started wearing one.)

With the FS1, my times also improved relative to my age, and I think part of this was the faster suit, but my training--inspired, I am sure, by times I hadn't done since my young youth--also escalated significantly. The first time I cracked the "90" rating barrier was at age 52 in a FS1. The next year, however, I dropped back to an 88.7 rating in the same suit. The difference seems, that year at least, to be explained by a significant drop in yearly mileage--from 364 to 272. Clearly, the suit matters greatly for me, but training apparently makes some difference, too.

My highest rating of all was a 92.2, achieved last spring at Colony Zones Championships. This was the first meet where I ever wore a B70. The year before, in a FS1, I swam only .04 slower. Was it the faster suit--or the increase in yearly mileage (from 372 to 406) that allowed me to swim a tiny bit faster at age 56 than I had at age 55?

Soon, it seems fairly certain, speed suits of any sort are going to be outlawed. It is hard to know for sure what effect this is likely to have on my swimming performance, but it would be nice to at least discount the psychological change.

So far, at age 57, I have swum the 100 at a couple of our local Y meets, and I've worn my B70 while doing so. It's been a bit disappointing for me because even with this advantage, my best 100 this fall/winter season has been a 54.08, albeit in less than ideal swimming conditions.

Until today's exercise in Big Picture assemblage of personal swimming statistics, I have been dreading to think how truly slow I will become once the suit is outlawed.

But let's say that I do end up adding roughly 2.5 seconds to my 100 post body suit ban. This is about what I subtracted in my 100 time from age 47 to 48 when the Aquablade was first introduced.

I would thus be swimming, say, a 56.5 for the 100 free, which seems to me truly awful. But when I plug this number into Chris's age rating calculator, it cranks out an 86.8. This is almost exactly what I was doing, age-graded wise, at 46, before the speed suits were even introduced.

So it would be just a return to historical norms.

Perhaps this past decade in swimming performance, not just for me but for all who have "benefited" from suit enhancement of their swimming times, will be viewed by future historians as just another bubble of our bubble-bursting era of excess!

And in the meantime, I shall set my sights on breaking 56.5 in jammers!

Submit "Meditations on a Swimming Bubble" to Digg Submit "Meditations on a Swimming Bubble" to Submit "Meditations on a Swimming Bubble" to StumbleUpon Submit "Meditations on a Swimming Bubble" to Google



  1. qbrain's Avatar
    As usual Dr. Jimi, your scientific analysis astonishes me. Keep up the good work... in the pool.
  2. qbrain's Avatar
    Since I know the only comments you consistently read are your own...

    Do not lock your elbows out when lifting. This will irritate the elbow, and the elbow will get all mad and puffy with you. Full extension of the arm does not require the elbow to lock.
  3. jim thornton's Avatar
    My eminent Mr. Q. Your use of the ellipses suggests to me that it is conceivable my scientific analysis is less than, what? Flawless?

    But is this not what science itself is? Flaws in search of asymptotic correction, knowing that 100 percent accuracy will never, can never, be achieved?

    I concede my analysis of this robust sample group (p > 7.07) is probably on 99.99999 percent accurate, and that if one goes, say, 17 standard deviations away, there is quite a bit of uncertainty still extant here.

    But surely, as a CMU graduate, you must not use the ellipses argument....must you?

    All this aside, I do suggest it may be a useful exercise for any mathematically inclined swimming hobbyist to keep track of some gross statistics over the course of his or her swimming career, these statistics being:

    gross yearly practice mileage
    best times in various events for that year
    and possibly, once you move beyond your early 40s or so, the age-rating for these events
    if the case of the muscleheadedly inclined swimmer, you might also want to track weight lifting sessions
    and in the case of dietary types, the amount of Substance X (whatever the current dietary fad to consume or avoid, be this Hornet Honey or Gluten) one eats or denies oneself the consumption of
    possibly the suit you raced in, though if the ban goes through, this probably won't matter much

    and then, with such data gathered, assess your swimming times over the long term

    My guess: the only things that will appreciably effect your ratings are A) speed suits, which shouldn't be a factor too much longer, and B) actual practice mileage in the pool, and C) possibly, but still debatably in my mind, whatever out-of-the-pool dryland training you do

    But the only way you can truly access the Big Picture of your personal Swimming Performance is to keep the data!
  4. qbrain's Avatar
    My ellipses suggest a dramatic... pause.

    I am sorry if I have mislead you, but I believe that I have stated before, I am one of the legions of CMU drop outs.

    I applaud your rigorous data tracking way Dr. Jimi, and I hope they continue.

    Your p value > 7.07 is most impressive.
  5. jim thornton's Avatar
    If I understand p values--and granted, I am no CMU drop out--p >7.07 means, statistically speaking, that what I am claiming to prove has virtually no chance of being correct.
  6. qbrain's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by jim thornton
    If I understand p values--and granted, I am no CMU drop out--p >7.07 means, statistically speaking, that what I am claiming to prove has virtually no chance of being correct.
    Given that p values have a range from 0 to 1, I am not sure what your p value of 7.07 means, but it is a very impressive value, statistically speaking.
  7. jim thornton's Avatar
    I think, Grasshopper, you are beginning to approach enlightenment!
  8. RustyScupperton's Avatar
    You guys should try swimming nude. See how that would work. Perhaps the rudder unfettered would steer you absolutely in a straight manner!
  9. tjrpatt's Avatar
    Good job on being pretty consistent for the 100 free for the last 12 years. Unfortunately, I see that you had to increase your mileage to keep your times about the time.
  10. quicksilver's Avatar
    May I suggest that you make like the Emporer's New Clothes, in that you imagine yourself wearing a Blue-70 at the next meet, when in fact you are au naturale, except for the jammers.

    The results should be intriguing. I say you should easily get into the :53/54 range without the body glove.
  11. jim thornton's Avatar
    Thanks, Quicksilver. Leslie and my friends Bill and Mark and I did one of your workouts yesterday. If only I could have fin implants, I think I could do some lifetime bests.

    It will be interesting to see the difference in times, not just for me personally, but across the board, once the suits are outlawed. My guess is that somewhere around a 2 second increase per 100 might be fairly typical, but who knows?
  12. Chris Stevenson's Avatar
    I think you'll go faster than 56.5 in jammers; I also think 2 sec/100 is giving the suits way too much credit.

    Your last year seems a little anomalous; plus haven't you added some strength training? Last year you had a rating of 90.7 and 92.2 the year before. If I (more or less) split the difference and plug in a 91.5 for you at age 58, that predicts a time of 53.98. Add one second for the B70 and you have a 55.0, and that assumes the strength training doesn't help you at all.

    I wouldn't be at all surprised if you broke 55 sec, maybe by a lot.
  13. jim thornton's Avatar
    The strength training, alas, has taken a bit of a hiatus. I should probably continue the legs and core stuff, but I did something to my medial epichondile, and now it hurts even to swim (though I haven't given any serious thought to stopping that).

    If I plug in a 91.1, it cranks out a 54.44 for 57 (which I still am). It will be interesting to see if I can break a 56 with jammers.

    I am in very preliminary consultation with a leading sporting goods manufacturing concern about a new kind of FINA legal jammer that I think will obviate some of these concerns.

    I invite my readers to stay tuned to this vlog for a prototype of the Jim suit I am hoping to license to industry soon.

    Thanks, Chris, for your man-god confidence in my waning abilities without the magic shoes on!
  14. quicksilver's Avatar
    I invite my readers to stay tuned to this vlog for a prototype of the Jim suit I am hoping to license to industry soon.

    Viewers beware!
  15. jim thornton's Avatar
    Neither merkins nor gerkins need to fear. The prototype Jim suit, if sold to industry, will conceal all male vanities, including slow swimming!
  16. jim thornton's Avatar
    If by some awful quirk you have somehow missed my prototype suit, you can see it here: