The body achieves what the mind believes
I’m sure many of you have read or heard this quote before, I will begin by saying this has been my mantra for many years. I come from a NO-SWIMMING background at all. I grew up in very small border town in Mexico with little to no promotion to sports and up to today in 2016 the town doesn’t have a pool that is available for lap swimming. So as you can imagine I spent my entire childhood with no exposure to water sports other than splashing in a family 3 feet pool. I took summer swim classes when I was in my childhood so i don’t drown basically, but I never actually attempted to swim, being that said what you are about to read is merely my own personal experience that took me to the place I am right now.
Where did I Started?
I signed up for my first triathlon in 2012, it was the San Diego olympic ITU, amazing world class event that I wish San Diego would still hold that event, but thats a different story. I signed up 3 months before the actual race with ABSOLUTE NO SWIMMING experience. I was forced to try pool swimming as soon as possible, the first swims were all about swim 1 length without touching the ground, the struggle was REAL! gasping for air I wasn’t even able to swim not even one length (from one side of the pool to the other), forget about doing a 50yd or a 100yd set, it was simply not possible!. How in the world I would swim 1 mile? (yes I signed up for an olympic triathlon, cause sprint was not enough, oh lord!). I created my own “plan”: swim 1 length, then 2 lengths at a time, then 3 lengths and so on… until I was able to swim 10 lengths at a time (250yd), it took me 1.5 months to be able to swim 250yd without stopping. After I was able to swim 10 lengths something triggered in my body, then I was able to swim non stop for 20, 30 and eventually 40 lengths (which was my 1 mile i needed).
My first Real Swim.
I swam once in La Jolla Cove before actually doing the race, I was simply terrified! I could barely breath off all the nerves and body tension I had, it was just TOO MUCH to handle, but the sense of achieving something I haven’t done before always ALWAYS lights my fire, so I did. During my first race, I saw how everybody was moving faster than me, even people swimming backstroke were swimming faster, I remember seeing one person in front of me then I turned back and sadly I saw I was the VERY LAST ONE, it was so demoralizing and embarrassing seeing that, but I always thought that at least I did not drown, later I found out that I wasn’t the last in the water but certainly I was in the last 2-3 :), So every time I get to see or volunteer in a race I make sure the last swimmers get the special support they need at that tough moment.
What was next?
I decided to educate my self about swimming, I mean there has to be a way to train smart and not hard right?, and I remember EATING my first swimming book, literally a whole book in one night about the details of a proper freestyle stroke form (you can find this book Here . Swimming without stopping was not an issue anymore, but it was more about strength, endurance and form now. Learning the theory was one thing and actually practicing was a another story, but at least I know a bit more about what I was suppose to do, so that was my NEXT STEP.
I signed up for more triathlons during that year that included ocean swimming (not bay but Ocean with waves) and introduced me to different unfamiliar and uncomfortable environments, that they all create a sense of mental toughness that make you feel that you can achieve anything.
Next move: Workouts Plans.
Later on in my second season of triathlon, I signed up for my first 70.3 Ironman (2013), and introduced myself into learning to have structured swim workouts at the pool, thats when I got bitten by the bug of one day swim a 10k. My swim workouts where always 1 mile swims with sets of 100s or 200s, always swimming the same pace, and occasionally I would use swim paddles or pull buoy just because I know other people use them, but not actually use them properly, it was more like a way to learn all these swim toys.
My triathlon training was all about finishing, it was never about performance, so swimming was more like, a must do thing before the actual fun part begins (bike and run) during the 2013 season. In 2014 I signup for 70.3 Ironman Puerto Rico and I had another horrible swim, I remember coming out of the water feeling so ashamed about myself, I was so mad about my swim, that mentally took a BIG HIT on the rest of the race. When I came back from Puerto Rico, I decided to really REALLY apply myself into this thing call swimming performance, and I decided to go for 70.3 triathlon plans from Training Peaks and my swim training was SHAKED!, I ramped up from monotonous swim workouts to different swim workouts with different durations and intensities, It was a true revelation of what a swim workout was all about, now my swims where in the range of 2000-2500 yards.
The Holly Grail: a 3k Swim!
I attempted a 3k swim in 2013 (Strava Activity) this was a DEADLY workout for me, I was completely destroyed, I wanted to quit so many times but again what fueled me was the fact that if could swim a 3k once I would be able to swim shorter workouts much easier.
During the winter season of 2014 my biggest goal was to be able to swim normal workouts in the 3000yd range, I remember being so obsessed about it, it was like a mental block I had to conquer, I attempted these twice during the winter training of 2014-2015 off season and I end up exhausted!. Then later on I got into swimming by the clock, meaning I would cover X number of yards in a X amount of time including the rest time. My Goal was to beat swimming at the 1:45/100yd pace, in workouts that will included 50s, 100, 200, 300 and 400s sets, they really pushed my self to the next level, here is an example . Swimming by the clock really made a HUGE difference in my swimming speed, now I was swimming at paces of 1:35-37, something that I could only dream 2 years before.
The Next move: Coaching!
In may 2015 I decided to take my training to the next level and hire for the first time ever a triathlon coach, I no longer had to worry creating my own workout plans, it was a HUGE shift on my training, my workouts all started from 3k and up that included swim strength, swim form drills, ect. The 3k Barrier was finally gone! but I really had this mental goal to swim a 10k one day but I decided to push that goal to some other time, and it was until June 2016 I decided to put a date on it and my birthday was the perfect date for it, so on Jul 2nd I decided to attempt a 10k swim for the first time.
The 10k Swim.
If I could say that there is a pre-requisite for having a successful 10k swim attempt is that you SHOULD be able to swim a 4k, I believe if you are struggling to complete a 4k you should focus on gaining endurance and stamina before attempting a 10k.
There are MANY ways to structure a 10k swim workout, but decided to keep it simple (might be boring for some) but I went and did the following:
- Divided the swim in ~6 parts (Olympic distance triathlon): 1650 * 6 = 9900 (~10000)
- Each Olympic set, I would do 16×100 taking with 5 sec rests. (some of these sets I had to do 17×100 to keep the swims in 100s chunks)
- At the end of each Olympic set I would take a 1 minute break to drink and eat.
- Every 2 olympic sets (about 3300) I took an additional 1 to 1.5 minutes to eat and drink and stretch the arms a bit.
10k Swim Nutrition
You can’t go such long swim without paying attention to nutrition, like I mentioned before I divided the swim in 6 sets of 16-to-17 100’s and stopped for drinking and eating. My nutrition approach was something similar to a long bike ride where I would eat Honey Stingers Waffles, Honey Stinger Energy Chews and GU Energy Drink, I went and followed the following nutrition strategy
Every Olympic set (total 6) have 3 o 4 Honey stinger energy chews
Every 2 Olympic sets (total 3) drink GU Energy Mix and have a Honey Stinger Waffle
The Swim Data
I decided to keep a pace I know I can sustain for a while without dropping it too early, keeping in mind its a LONG SWIM and my goal was to finish without dropping the pace too much so I decided to stick with a “easy/cruise” effort (1:45 min/100yd), here is the pace (watts) chart:
I finished my swim feeling strong and although the last 1/3 of the swim felt tougher, the sense of accomplishment something I have been wanting to do for several years was AMAZING! I would HIGHLY recommend trying this swim as a personal goal or to unlock mental barriers or gain mental toughness.