This weekend the US Masters Swimming’s 2008 Long Course Championship takes place and I’m going to participate. If you ask me how I feel about it I’d have to say I’m ... ambivalent. Last year I was all signed up and ready to go to this very same meet at The Woodlands in Texas when work obligations intervened and I had to cancel at the last minute (not very well as the following Monday evening, when I was back home sitting at my desk, I received a phone call from my airport shuttle bus wondering where I was). The Woodlands was supposed to be the meet where I’d get out and talk to some of the best masters swimmers in the world on how they train and why, all the while gaining some experience for this year’s Championships. That didn’t happen. Now this year rolls around and I find my situation unchanged. Admittedly stagnation was all but decided when I chose the high mileage route and thus concentrated on stroke technique and aerobic conditioning rather than speed in my training to date. Still it’s a little disconcerting to start out slow and after a year and over 700,000 meters in the pool achieve only very modest improvements in times.
This year’s Championships are being held at the Mt. Hood Aquatic Center in Portland, Oregon (technically Gresham, Oregon but judging from the map I might be able to throw my kitbag into Portland from the pool). The pool is outdoor of course, with all the baggage which goes with that. Still, it does look like a marvelous facility and it should be an enjoyable weekend complete with a couple of socials. I entered into the same six events I did last year but only under duress. The schedule has me swimming the 200 back Friday and the 100 back and 50 free on Sunday; but unfortunately also had me trying to swim the 200 IM, the 100 free, and the 50 backstroke in back-to-back events on Saturday. I looked at substituting a 100 fly or 100 breaststroke for one of my non-backstroke events but neither helped much so I grudgingly plunked myself down wondering how I would plan my Saturday races. It turned out my idea to switch events was moot anyways after checking the necessary qualifying times and realizing I didn’t qualify in either one. Though I just miss breaststroke I’m way off the fly qualifying time of 1:12.86 – impressive there are so many 45-49 year olds who can swim a 100 lcm fly that well. But perhaps Americans are natural butterflyers. Ian at my club was marveling at the fact this year’s U.S. Olympic Trials needed fifteen heats for the men’s 200 fly despite a stupefying fast 2:03.99 qualifying time. Fifteen heats! At our own (Canadian) Olympic Trials we managed to fill four by having a qualifying time a smidge above 2:07 flat. Not that I’m knocking my country’s butterflyers, certainly not with my pathetic excuse of a stroke! Anyways it was with some relief I discovered this past week my sixth event, the 200 IM, had been scratched at the discretion of the meet organizers due to the large number of participants. Anytime you can tell teammates that you really wanted to race the 200 IM but those damned meet organizers wouldn’t allow it is a pretty good day in my books. I’d try for an even better impact with the 400 IM but it would be just my luck they'd have happily waved me in and I’d be stuck either actually attempting the event or scratching and knowing I was coward (sane, but a coward nonetheless).
All in all I’m looking forward to the experience before flying off for another week on the road. I’ve always liked Oregon yet have rarely spent more than a weekend in the state and never in Portland itself. On the other hand at The Woodlands, TX a half dozen of the top masters backstrokers in my age group showed up and this year only one appears on the meet’s psyche sheets. That’s regrettable because it would have been fun to watch a bunch of men my age all clustered close to a minute flat in the 100 back. I can only hope for a couple of good races and at least a little improvement.