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Need help with re-training an old body.....

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I need help and am hoping all the knowledgeable swimmers and/or coaches will be able to give me some great advice.

I swam in college (with NO prior training!) and for 4 years my times only improved (swimming freestyle 50 and 100 yd). Now jump forward 30 years without any further training or practicing (yikes!).

I am now 54 and in the last 4 years I have had 4 surgeries on my right arm for ulnar nerve entrapment. (I will spare everyone the gory details, but the last surgery this January was supposed to last 2 hours and the surgeon finished 8 1/2 hours later!). Now movement is KEY to keeping my body from scarring down this nerve again.

I started swimming about 6 weeks ago at my local YMCA. The surgeon is thrilled and cannot believe I am swimming over half a mile 3-4 times a week. He says I can now swim as much and as hard as I want (within reason, of course).

So...I now have it in my head that I want to compete again. I have read all the workouts, focusing more on the 'beginner' ones because yardage is still an issue. I am up to 1200 yards and want to soon get up to a mile.

What I am looking for are workouts that perhaps test me within my low yardage ability right now. I feel until my arm is stronger, 1600 yds. will be my limit.

I, of course, have NO idea about repetition times, etc as I have not attempted to time myself yet. I know what I did in college..

If anyone can offer any low yardage, fairly intense workouts, I would REALLY appreciate it. Also, is it unrealistic to think about swimming at the nationals in Indy in August? Are these National meets only for the topnotch swimmers?? Or can everyone come and try to improve their own times? Or would I just be wasting everyone's time since I would not be of 'National' caliber??

Thanks in advance for any help!

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  1. qbrain's Avatar
    I would want to start with some local meets, which you will do just fine at no matter your conditioning. While you are free to swim up to 3 event iirc at Nationals without having qualifying times, most of the times coming out of Nationals are pretty fast. Fast enough that I don't want to swim at Nationals until I can swim some middle of the pack times for my age group.

    Good luck and welcome back to swimming.
  2. tjrpatt's Avatar
    Check this site for local meets in the area. There is one on June 21 at Upper Main Line Y but it is a Long Course Meet. I don't know how interested you are in doing that. Plus, check the New Jersey Masters website as well since you are somewhat close to NJ. There isn't a local Eastern PA Yards meet until November.
  3. jwrightmc's Avatar
    Thanks! I will look into some local meets once I feel somewhat less like a slug!
  4. jim thornton's Avatar
    I would suggest a couple things:

    1. build gradually to let your body get used to incrementally increasing demands. Do not exceed the 10 percent per week rule. You can increase the distance, time, or intensity by 10 percent each week, but only one of these! Swimming really is a life long sport so be patient.
    2. I would recommend building up an aerobic base first, i.e., concentrate on gradually increasing distance till you can swim a mile or 2000 yards. Once this becomes comfortable and your body is used to it, start building in some intervals.
    3. Instead of swimming the whole 2000 at a steady pace, break it into 4 x 500. Swim each of these a little faster than you're used to, then rest a minute or two before tackling the next one.
    4. When this starts feeling good, build in shorter distances at greater speed with more rest. Say you can swim a 500 yard freestyle in 7:30 seconds. This means your average 100 pace in 1:30. See if you can swim 5 x 100 on 2:00 and finish each of the 100s in 1:20. (Adjust the times--this may be way to fast or possibly too slow.)
    5. Build in variety. Always take the time to do a slow warm up and a slow cool down. Eventually, you might want to have some medium distance intervals and some sprints in a practice, plus a kick set and maybe some drills.
    6. By all means, try to join a masters team if you can find one near you. Don't feel you have to be a great swimmer to do this--so many people wait till they think they are "ready" only to discover they could have been benefiting from the camaraderie of teammates and the expertise of the coach long before.
    7. Finally, to reiterate, go slow and don't get hurt. You will build up gradually and do so far beyond your current expectations it will amaze you. But this is predicated on consistency, and premature injury is the enemy of consistency!
    8. As far as Nats go, you can look up the times from last year's meet to get an idea of what this one will be like. There are all kinds of summer meets. I only go to nats when it's close and I can afford it. But I also try to get in one LCM that "counts"--which means driving to DC or Cleveland for me. Check your area for regional meets. You can definitely swim at nats. Just brace yourself for Rowdy Gaines, who is, I think, in your age group!
  5. jwrightmc's Avatar
    Thanks Jim for all the great advice. I just feel so lost right now. I thought swimming shorter sprints was the easier thing to be doing now, but maybe swimming distance to get my endurance back is a better idea. I will try it over the next 2 weeks and see how my arm responds. I think I will forgo the Indy try some local meets for the first year or so.
  6. jim thornton's Avatar
    I had thought you were a guy, not sure why. The 50-54 year old guy division is brutally competitive. However, the 50-54 year old women's division is maybe a little bit less so because this is the last age group before Title IX really took hold. Consider sending a PM to Bobinator, who is somewhere around your age and one of the nicest women on this forum. She could tell you what to expect.

    Don't feel you have to stay waylaid in distance forever. Just take time to build up the aerobic base first, then once this is semi-established, start with some intervals.

    You will do fine. Remember: the ulnar nerve is but one small part of your entirety! Once you can (safely) swim hard enough to make your entire body exhausted and in pain, even the crankiest cacophony of the ulnar nerve will be but a piccolo in the symphony of "feels so good" swimming pain!
  7. knelson's Avatar
    If you can get to Indy I would go for it! There's nothing like Nationals to get you motivated. It tells you exactly where you are with respect to your competition across the country. The first year I went to Nationals (2003) I didn't place top ten in any events. It made me realize I needed to workout harder and more often. Five years later I won an event at Nationals!

    As far as training, I would start out trying to build your aerobic base. This doesn't mean you need to do lots of long, slow distance. Just try to get that heart rate up and keep it there for 30 minutes or more. I would suggest starting out just doing intervals based on rest, not time (e.g., do 10x100 with :10 rest rather than 10x100 on 1:30 or whatever). But keep an eye on your times. When you feel confident start trying intervals and add in some speed work. Also, really focus on your technique. Now is the time to ingrain good technique. A coach can help lots with this, obviously. Sometimes what you think you're doing and what you're actually doing are very different!
  8. jwrightmc's Avatar
    knelson, thanks for the added advice. I have family in Indy so I thought it would be fun to go to this meet. If I don't feel confident yet in my swimming, I guess I could drive out from PA as a spectator...though that seems like a wasted drive. :-)) I am going to try Jim's advice about getting some kind of endurance back, but being only a sprinter, those longer distances kill me, so I will probably add some 100's or 50's with rest intervals like you suggested. Thanks everyone for your help!
  9. jwrightmc's Avatar
    Jim, I LOVE that comment - the crankiest cacophony of the ulnar nerve will be but a piccolo in the symphony of "feels so good" swimming pain. I can't WAIT for that low level of pain!!! As I said, my surgeon is THRILLED that I am swimming...says it is the BEST therapy we could be doing for the arm, nerve, and scar tissue. It's going to take over a year for the nerve to 'calm down' and for us to know what residual pain I will be left with, but in the meantime, I refuse to sit on the couch and wait....swimming hurts, oh, yes,...but it is starting to be the 'good pain' as you stated...the 'I worked out, my body is old and tired, but I feel good about it!' and that feeling is SO much better than the nagging nerve pain. I'm off to the pool to try some distance and a few 100's. Wish me luck!