Swim Story

I moved to Hamilton in 2011 mainly with the goal of improving my swimming. A few days after moving there I went to one of the McMaster varsity swim practices. I was put in the slowest lane and I was the last one to leave. I still couldn’t remotely keep up. I asked the head coach Andrew Cole what he thought I needed to do to be able to swim with the team. He told me that at a bare minimum I needed to be able to swim 1:30/100m continuously. I work well when I have a concrete goal though, so I asked for a set distance that I needed to be able to hold 1:30/100m for. He said he thought 1:30/100m for 1 kilometer would suffice.

I left that practice with the goal of swimming 1:30/100m for a kilometer. It took me about a year to do, but in late 2012 I successfully did it. I was ready to return to the McMaster varsity swim practices. The first few practices went well. It was mainly just easy, technical swimming. I was the last swimmer leaving in the slowest lane, but I was surviving. One day we did some harder, less technical stuff. After about 2000m of swimming we came to the main set.

The coach announced that we were doing 5x400m, glanced at me, and said on 6:00. One of the athletes immediately chimed in and said “Aren’t we going to be waiting around a while coach? Can’t we get a 5:40?” I smiled, and chuckled a little, I thought he was joking. I knew 5x400m on 6:00 would require me to swim a personal best over 2000m, that’s if I just swam continuously. Surely, this guy must be joking. The coach responded, “rest is good, we’re doing them on 6:00.” He then came over to me and said that if the pace time was too challenging, to just swim 350m.

We started swimming and I quickly realized two things. I wasn’t going to be able to complete the set, and the kid who said “can’t we get a 5:40?” wasn’t joking. I made the first one with about 5 seconds to spare. I then missed the send-off on the second one and had to revert to swimming 350m on 6:00…and that was challenging. The kid who made the comment on the other hand was shivering down in lane one because he was swimming about 4:40 for each of the 400s, and so was waiting around for 1:20 to begin swimming again.

Needless to say, that was the last varsity practice I went to. I still wasn’t ready to swim with them. I now knew what the coach meant by being able to hold 1:30/100m continuously. He meant: swimming 100m in 1:30 cannot be taxing whatsoever; thus, you should be able to swim as many of them in a row as I ask. That practice was a bit discouraging because I felt like I had come so far, yet still had such a long way to go. That particular experience was very powerful for me. I couldn’t even remotely make 5x400m on 6:00 and there was a kid asking “can’t we get a 5:40 coach?” I can hear those words in my head like it was yesterday.

Today is a momentous day for me. This is the day where I successfully completed 5x400m on 5:40. The cool part was that it wasn’t that taxing. The next bucket-list set will be 10x400m on 5:40, but that will have to wait for another day.

I thought that was an interesting story that was worth sharing. Best of luck my aquatic friends. Thanks for reading.

6 thoughts on “Swim Story

  1. Impressive Lionel. As someone who has many years of swimming under his belt, I know just how hard it is to improve as a swimmer. What seems effortless to an observer is actually the result of many years hard work and attention to detail. You have done an impressive job of lowering your swim times and we know just how fast you already are in the other two disclipines. Looking forward to seeing your results over the next few years.

    • Great story and thanks for sharing. Can you offer more details on the path to from 5X400 on 6:00 to the comfort of 5:40?

  2. Thanks for the update! I mentioned on here before that my swim is still by far my worst discipline. Obviously as a married father of 2 kids under 3 my available time to improve is minimal – but your posts give me some hope and inspiration, so keep em’ coming 🙂

  3. Thanks Lionel. I appreciate these stories of a pro struggling for speed in the pool, makes my own difficulties there seem more ‘normal’.
    Looking forward to seeing your continued improvement and race results!

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