To run a faster 10k or half marathon or marathon, a person needs to increase their weekly mileage. Full stop. Interval training can help, along with improved nutrition and sleep, and resistance training; but the most important variable by far is increasing one’s weekly mileage.
Same with cycling. To improve one’s average speed, or to ride a faster 40k or century, improved positioning and aerodynamics help, along with training with faster people (aka intervals), and a lighter bicycle especially if climbing; but the most important variable by far is increasing one’s weekly mileage. “Ass time”.
I swim about 6-8 kilometers most weeks. Sometimes, when I can’t run or cycle due to injury or weather, I increase that. For a month or two. And the increase in volume has almost no effect. Instead of swimming 1:32/100 yards, I swim 1:31.
At my age, 59, almost every runner, cyclist, and swimmer is slowing down. The rare exception is the former burner who fell way out of shape and returned to the road or pool in their 40’s or early 50’s. I’m the opposite of that person. I’ve never been a burner, but I compensate for my lack of speed with a very deep cardiovascular base, the result of three decades of consistent training.
Because of my pedestrian starting point, I’m slowing down more slowly than my active peers. But I digress, back to swimming.
I actually defied the aging process a few years ago and got a touch faster in open water. How? By buying a better wetsuit. Free speed. Well, not exactly free, but you get the point.
Fast forward to my March 2021 Miracle of getting faster in the pool. Some context. I usually do 100 yard intervals in 1:29-1:33 depending on whether I’m doing them alone or with others and when in the workout I’m doing them. It literally takes me about 2,000 yards to “warm up” or the majority of my workout. A month ago, without my fast female friends pushing me in Masters, I was churning out sluggish 1:32 after 1:32 on 1:40 or 1:45.
Right now, I’m limited to 45 minutes at my local YMCA because of some sort of virus. I’ve gotten good at jamming as much as I can into the 45 minutes. Here’s today’s workout:
400y—6:15. 200y x 2—3:05, 3:04. 100y x 4—1:30, 1:30, 1:29, 1:28.
Paddles/bouy. 400y—5:50. 200y x 2—2:50, 2:50.
100y x 4 im, 1:41s on 2m.
Then, in the last 5-6 minutes, I did some easy 50’s and one final 100 concentrating on what I’ve been learning from YouTube stroke analysis tutorials. The easy 50’s were 43 on 1:00 and the easy final 100 was 1:26. Yes please, may I have another.
Mid or late workout, I can now do 1:28’s (on 1:40) all day long with the same effort I have been swimming 1:32s the last few years. That, in short, is the March Miracle.
From a running and cycling perspective that sudden improvement makes no sense, but swimming is a different animal. Especially when compared to running and cycling, swimming is super technical, if your stroke is flawed, no amount of volume is going to make much difference. It’s like golf, if your clubface is way open at impact, you’re going to hit a slice no matter how many balls you beat on the range.
Long story short, I’ve been watching a lot of stroke analysis vids on YouTube and finally some of the lessons are taking. Historically, bad muscle memory has blunted coaches’ occasional efforts to improve my stroke.
Somehow, a few stroke improvements have suddenly clicked. Primarily, truly finishing my stroke by gently rubbing my thumbs against my hips, rotating more by lengthening my stroke, and maintaining high elbows through the “catch”. Well, not really the last one. Yet. I’m still a serial elbow dropper. Which is kinda cool because that means there’s still more seconds to be found. And now I have more confidence I can integrate that change too.
In a few years I’ll report back on whether I have higher elbows. Or just tune in to the Olympic Trials in Omaha to see if I’m competing. Your choice.