A Power Meter for Your Swim Sessions CHRIS BAGG
I’ve become a curmudgeon of a swim coach late in my triathlon career, so bear with me as I air a grievance. For example, I give my swimmers something simple but hard, the classic 20x100 on 1:30, aiming to hold 1:25 per repeat. Wanting to ensure that they make the interval, they set off with abandon, swimming the first 50 in :40 (1:20 pace) and the second one in :45 (1:30). At the end of the set they are satisfied, reporting that they “nailed every interval exactly.” It takes a lot of restraint on my part to point out that, actually, they swam exactly zero yards at the goal pace of 1:25/100, starting too hard and then fading in the second half. This “fly and die” attitude is pervasive in endurance sports, born out of a well-meaning (but ill-fated) desire to “put some time in the bank.” Apply this approach to anything longer than, say, a 200, and you’ll quickly discover that you give back that time in the bank quickly, along with interest. The sad reality about athletes like this is that they are actually training to slow down in races, which is probably the opposite of what they’re trying to do in the first place.
Spring/Summer 2018 racecenter.com
The author Chris Bagg guiding workouts at his triathlon camp. PHOTO: Jay Prasuhn
So how to fix the problem? Any triathlete, faced with my criticism above, usually counters with a foreseeable argument, “But all triathlon swims start out fast, right? You’re supposed to race to that first buoy, so I’m just training specifically for my event.” Here’s the thing, those swimmers that race to the first buoy and then settle into a group once they’ve made a gap — they didn’t have to slow down. They chose to slow down. A group established with a gap behind them know that they’ve done the necessary work to whittle down the group to a more manageable size, and they can afford to back it off and save some energy. If you’re utilizing the fly and die method, you might make that group for a few meters before getting unceremoniously dumped out of the group, having exceeded your sustainable pace for that distance to the first buoy. As a triathlete or open-water swimmer, you have three main areas on which you need to focus on, ranked in order of importance: 1. Aerobic Endurance: Basically your swim fitness. Your ability to hold long, steady intervals at a pace that is not easy, but isn’t gaspingly hard. This is a crucial area that I find too many athletes avoid, preferring the sexier, shorter and faster intervals that look good but do little for a