This weekend I’ve arranged to attend a summer association swim meet with the help of a teammate of mine. I’m swimming all four strokes plus the 200 IM to better gauge where I am in my training and consequently just how fast should I be going out when it comes to the real deal at this year’s USMS Long Course National Championships, now less than one month away. The Woodlands event will also mark the end of my ‘rehabilitation’ phase of training and is an appropriate venue to mark such an august milestone. Beginning September I’ll be training to swim fast rather than just working to return to full physical health. Actually the only change to my program will be limited to a psychological one – the difference coming after the Championships when whatever times I have, both short and long course, will become ‘official’ best times. Up to now as every swim was invariably faster than the last the significance of a new faster time was only how much the target for my next swim needed to be adjusted. From this point on, however, it will become increasingly difficult to routinely chop seconds off every race. In the same spirit the Abby meet will allow me to post new bests in 100 free, breast, and fly short course so I can start this new phase with up-to-date PBs I can work on.
As mentioned earlier I’m concerned about my pacing for Woodlands. Not only have I made advances in my conditioning despite several work induced absences, but I’ve seen considerable technical progress in all my strokes (and turns to a lesser degree) so I’m right back to where my pacing needs are once again a complete mystery. Because summer league doesn’t compete above a hundred meters except in the individual medley I’ll need to extrapolate my results and then be conservative in determining what my pacing should be come the Championships. Going out too fast and bonking at Woodlands would be completely unacceptable. This attitude, however, contrasts sharply with what Michael Phelps recently did at Santa Clara, when he deliberately risked bonking in the 400 free. While the SCAQ blog has reported Phelps’ 400 free pacing as a mistake, with apologies to Tony, even if Phelps characterized it as one his pacing almost certainly was not. His coach Bob Bowman wanted Michael to go out fast in the first 200. You can disregard Bowman’s statement, “I didn’t know it was an order” when questioned about it (access to the LA Times article is free but requires the viewer to sign up). Coaches at that elite level don’t make jokes when giving out race instructions to their charges. The reasons for a coach not misleading a swimmer about his or her pacing should be obvious. It seems clear the reason Bowman and Phelps are being so coy is because they’re actually evaluating going after Ian Thorpe’s monster 3:40.08 world record for the 400 free and don’t want the world to know about their plans. It isn’t a coincidence the ‘joke’ pace was fast enough to match Thorpe's world record if held to throughout the race. A good clue is the fact Phelps having been told to swim the first 200 in 1:50 did it in 1:50.29 – a superlative job of pacing which suggests some preparatory work behind the effort. What impresses me no end is to determine where Phelps stood in relation to Thorpe they decided to just go out at the necessary pace and then find out where he bonked. That shows real courage by Phelps and a brutally efficient approach to coaching by Bowman, who’s handling Phelps as one might a champion thoroughbred. If the attempt is made and Phelps is successful in beating Thorpe’s record he will reach Gretzky-like status in swimming, the undisputed greatest ever, and leave behind the likes of Meagher, Thorpe, Evans, and Spitz. A reward commensurate with the Herculean effort required to relegate Thorpe to the dustbin of history.