Competitive pool swimming as a means to improve marathon swimming
I have noticed the best swimmers in the elite marathon swimming circuit are also the best 1500 m swimmers in the indoor pool, and some of them are also the best in the km race in an 25 m pool dug in the ice.
My local competitive swim clubs don't (currently) do open water swimming, so I'm training in the squad in a small hot pool. Furthermore, due to an incident happened last month I have safety concern about my training and since then have moved all my pool training into heated pools (as I don't have a coach who can coach me in competitive ice swimming - unheated lidos in London are under 5C at the moment - and cold water training isn't needed for both indoor pool swimming and marathon swimming).
Is open water training in a competitive swim club necessary to get a good result in competitive marathon swimming? Or is any pool-based club, combined with triathlon club open water sessions, enough for that?
Most (if not all) FINA 10K racers have elite-level speed in pool swimming, and do most of their training in the pool. This wasn't the case historically in pro marathon swimming, but it certainly is now.
This does not mean that training in the pool will automatically turn you into an elite pool swimmer OR an elite 10K racer. This is quite simply an impossible goal for you, @miklcct - it's never going to happen. Ever. I suggest changing your goals or finding a different activity.
What induced the change in pro marathon swimming? (If I found that out a few years earlier I would have put all my effort in the pool, rather than trying to swim 10+ km in my first year taking up swim training)
Also, why doesn't FINA have age-group amateur marathon swimming races, unlike other sports governing bodies like triathlon and orienteering? As I don't currently have elite ability, I'm looking to race in age groups, improve my performance and get rankings there.
Why are there so many people say that I can never become an elite swimmer? I have never found another sport community being so unsupportive. The only thing I enjoy in swimming is competition - fiercest in pack-style open water swimming.
I think it’s because most elite pool/fina swimmers start at a young age and train long distances, for many hours, many years to build the technique, strength and endurance to achieve the kind of velocity needed in the water to be the very best in the world.
I’ll give some background so hopefully I can add some credibility to my perspective: I was an elite pool swimmer some 25 years ago... well not quite elite by @miklcct standards (I was 6th at US Nationals in 1997, you have to be 1st or 2nd to make the national team and that is the closest I ever got). To achieve this level, I began training at age 7, and gradually increased my training over about five years, where it held steady at between 50-90 km per week for about another five years. I had stroke corrections from an excellent coach every day and I had teammates around me who pushed me to give more than I knew I had. This was normal for other athletes my age at my level. Everyone who becomes fast does this kind of training for many years growing up. But not everyone who trains that much becomes super fast, and I can’t think of anyone who started training that much as an adult and successfully achieved what we think of as elite level 10k speed.
Even with my background, I am currently swimming 50km/week and am still significantly slower than fina 10k standards. I don’t even think I’ll get much faster as I gradually increase my distance over the coming months. My older (41 year old) body just doesn’t respond the same way as it did when I was a kid. But I love swimming, so I really don’t mind at all and don’t miss competing.
I’m not gonna go quite as far as to say it’s impossible for you, but I think you’d have to be willing and able to dedicate four hours/day to swimming for the next 10 years like everyone else who is racing at that level. And even then, there’s no guarantee your body would be able to adapt to the training the same way a kid’s body can adapt. And are you really sure that training that much is what you want to do with the next ten years of your life, especially when success seems highly unlikely and you don’t enjoy the training aspect of swimming at all?
I think that may be why people are hoping to support you in going a different direction with your goals and are therefore being unsupportive of the elite fina goal. In the US, masters swimming hosts a number of very popular and competitive age group open water swimming races. Some of the championships are quite competitive! Mass starts! People elbowing you in the face and swimming over you! Strategic drafting in packs! all the good stuff if you’re into competition! Maybe check out those types of non-fina, age group events... not sure what the equivalent is in The UK, but hopefully you can find something similar that will satisfy and honor your competitive spirit!
I did spend a lot of time writing this and want to clarify it’s my intention to be supportive by providing some realistic information about what it takes to get to an elite level in this particular sport. Wishing you luck in whichever direction you decide to take it.
My friend CK Mak does it in Czechia, racing in summer for 5 - 20 km in age groups.
I don't see such races happening in the UK (correct me if I'm wrong) - there are no long distance races in the masters OW champs. I'll be very happy if I can race 10 / 20 km regularly on weekends and have results counted in ranking.
@miklcct In your opinion, do races only count if they improve some kind of ranking?
The consolidation of pro racing around 10km buoy-circuit courses, at the expense of longer, more interesting/challenging point-to-point courses. This had the effect of rewarding pure speed at the expense of endurance, roughwater skill, and cold tolerance.
In orienteering, I treat all non-ranking races as practices only, with ranking races my main focus.
The existence of ranking enable to me to judge my improvement and progress, and as a motivation for me to seek for long term improvement. In trail orienteering, I don't have a particular desire to race the World Champ compared to other ranking races, as I'm not at a level to win it yet, and it's counted the same way to other races (not the same in other disciplines - which is blamed by the community to make the world ranking list effectively a list of World Champ performances)
Thanks for your explanation. Such change should make marathon swimming more accessible to the public as well which I also like (for example, 10 x 1 km loop in a bay which is beginner friendly).
Personally, I no longer have interest in developing my cold tolerance, after understanding the reason FINA introduced the wetsuit rule which national federations follow, unless I'm fast enough to be competitive at national level ice swimming. Therefore now I'm only doing my training in heated pools in UK winter (I tried once in unheated pool last month but after my usual set people called emergency on me).
Can you also explain the points of endurance and roughwater skill as well? I believe endurance still counts a lot in 25 km races, and I've still seem some rough open water in the pro circuit in recent years as well (like one of the Asian Champ a few years ago with large swells and strong tide).
When I was a young lad, I thought I was a pretty good table tennis player. I beat just about everybody I played. One time I was at a fishing camp and I was playing table tennis with all challengers and I was killing them. Being a young idiot, I was talking trash and enjoying my dominance. Then this older quiet guy asked if he could play me. I agreed and asked him if he wanted to warm up. He said no, we could volley for serve. He won the serve. Then he proceeded to slaughter me. I think I might have scored one or two points.
My point here is that you have swum a couple years as a self taught amateur and you say you want to be an elite swimmer. You have absolutely no idea how good and how fast an elite swimmer is. You are paddling around in the water and age group girls would bury you in a race. An elite swimmer could swim a 10K and paint a house before you finished.
You can be competitive with yourself or with others of your skill level. But to keep going on about how you want to be an elite swimmer is embarrassing to yourself as well as others. It reminds me of my days as an elite table tennis player.
I finished the Swim Around Key West in second place for my age group. Elite swimmer, right? Please. Then I swam the one-mile requirement for the New York City Triathlon. We started TWO GROUPS AHEAD of the elite swimmers. In less than half a mile, the elite swimmers were literally swimming right over the top of me. I felt a hand on my leg, one on the back of my neck, a foot hit me in the face, and he was gone. I train next to elite swimmers in the pool and they zip past me like guppies. You can swim, you can be competitive, you can swim all day. BUT, the chance of you suddenly, as an adult, becoming an ELITE swimmer....not likely. Just enjoy what you CAN be.
THIS THIS and THIS again.
So how are you going to progress from age group to elite?
My goal is to get myself to the regional level in open category first, and I'll decide if I want to continue further.
I love you miklcct! You COMPLETELY missed the jist of my response. LOL.
It is not "unsupportive" to refuse to participate in your delusions. You routinely discard well-intentioned advice from people with more swimming skill and experience than you can even fathom. You are getting a consistent message that you will never be an elite swimmer because it is 100% true. This is harsh, but accepting this is the only way you'll be able to move forward and find either find more realistic fulfillment in this sport, or perhaps take up some other activity like table tennis.
In closing I'm going to copy/paste a comment by your friend and patient supporter Simon Holliday on FB. You trust Simon, right? Please listen to him!
Michael, I just don't understand you. If your only benchmark of success is becoming "elite", you will continue to be disappointed. Big goals are great but setting unattainable goals will not lead you to happiness.
Many many of us love this sport, and it is so tough to see you negate our experiences because we don't meet some standard you are setting. I have swum the EC among many other channel-length challenges and I set goals that are challenging but I am also aware of my limitations. I am a very athletic person but if I showed up at a gym tomorrow determined to become an olympic gymnast, it would just never happen. Maybe I would gain some flexibility and learn to do a cartwheel, but it is simply too late to catch up to people who have been training since they were toddlers.
There are some channels, which were considered unswimmable in the past, have now been swum. Of course there were many failures in such channels before one got across, as people didn't believe in limits (I don't believe too) and keep trying. Just a century ago flying was a novelty, but now people have landed on the Moon. So I actually never believe in never.
I have chatted with Simon and a few other afterwards and got some conclusions about Channel swimming that I don't want to mention here. However, in respect to competitive marathon swimming, the following is my thought now:
So I think it's the whole governance of the swimming sport in general, unlike triathlon where the federation has done a great job in popularising the sport among the general population. This is why marathon swimming now is still a minority sport. I'm sorry that I have to go off-topic here, but I must mention this because I have a triathlete mindset, and the state of the sport right now for me is either to go elite or give up, as I don't have enough chance to enjoy it and seek improvement at the age-group level.
I'm looking to do 10 km buoy-circuit courses as my main form of marathon swimming, hopefully at an amateur level. I only care about how fast I swim compared to the others and open water circuit racing is more fun to pool swimming, and I no longer have any interest in developing roughwater skill and cold tolerance.
The short answer to your question is yes, competitive pool swimming is a means to improve marathon swimming. Competitive pool swimming trains for speed and endurance and requires technique. All of that will apply to marathon swimming.
Might I suggest reading about SMART goals? Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound. This may help you to develop goals that you can work toward without experiencing the frustration that you have shared on this forum for a few years now.
Please stop with the endless angst, set some realistic goals and get on with it. If you can't think of a realistic goal I will suggest the following. For your 500 meter swim, drop 30 seconds off your time by September. To start, go swim a 500 for time, in your pool. Post your time on a new thread called "miklcct is getting SMART" (in the cheering section.) Do all your workouts with the idea of improving technique and speed. Every Wednesday swim a 500 for time and post it on your 500 freestyle thread. First Wednesday in September swim your 500 for time and let us know if you achieved your goal. Do that and everyone on this forum will cheer loudly because it will be quite an accomplishment.
Do not whine that the 500 doesn't have anything to do with marathon swimming. The 500 is one of the toughest freestyle swimming events because it's not a sprint and it's not distance --- it's both! And it beats you to death. It was my favorite event. If you can knock 30 seconds off your time by the end of the summer, you will be a better marathon swimmer.
Thanks @curly .
My current goal is to drop my 1500 SCM time to 23:55.3 (the 2019 qualification for Swim England master championships) in a Masters meet in the coming 1.5 years. My latest time is 28:19.1 which is my first and my only swim meet in life, done in last November.
OK, that is a formidable goal, but it is achievable if you break it down to bite sized chunks. Let's look at it this way. Your 100 meter split is around 1:53 for a 28:19 1500 meter swim. That translates to around a 9:30 in the 500 meter swim. To do a 23:55 and get your qualification time you would need a 100 meter split of 1:35. That translates to around 8:00 in the 500. So you need to drop a minute and a half in your 500 time to have the speed necessary to qualify.
So let's cut that down into little chunks. My goal for you listed above is pretty doable for you. Knocking 30 seconds off your 500 time by September will set you well on your way. After you achieve that goal, knock off another 30 seconds and you only have another 30 seconds to go. But there's one catch to all this. As you get better and faster, those seconds get harder and harder to shave off. So extend the time to achieve the next 30 seconds. You have 1.5 years to knock 1 minute and a half off your 500 time.
This is completely achievable and you have to believe me here when I say that focusing on that 500 time will make you a better 1500 meter swimmer. I know you have the determination to do this. Now you have to learn how to be coachable and follow skilled advice. If you do all that, there is no reason that you can't achieve this.
Good luck and get busy.
Edit: I just thought of another great aspect to this. If you want to drop 30 seconds off your 500 time that means that you need to drop 6 seconds off your 100 time, which is a second and a half off each length. So start working on getting that 1.5 seconds off one length. You could probably do that tomorrow. Now put a couple of those back to back and you are starting to climb your mountain. See, I've taken a massive goal of yours and put it into a perspective that you can do. Nobody eats dinner in one bite.
Offered without comment (except that these are @evmo's words):
"The abiding principle that has motivated my work is that solo, unassisted marathon swimming - in the traditional way, without wetsuits - is its own sport. It's not an unofficial sideshow to open water racing or the disciplines officially recognized by FINA. Solo swimming is an endurance and adventure sport on par with rock climbing, mountaineering, and ultra-running. It's a sport with its own identity, history, ethics, and traditions that are worth preserving and celebrating.
"Raw speed is only one of several measures of swimming skill and achievement. Identifying an interesting, challenging, unswum body of water, imagining a route across it, and then planning and executing a successful attempt - is at least as worthy of respect as rounding a buoy circuit faster than others. And the massive distances swum by Sarah Thomas, the cold-water endurance of Caroline Block, and the age-defying athleticism of Pat Gallant-Charette - are at least as rarefied as the world champions of FINA and the gold medalists at the Olympics.
"Solo marathon swimming is its own sport, deserving of its own dedicated resources - including rigorous and consensus-based rules and standards; independent verification of achievements; and comprehensive and well organized historical data."
We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams
I totally understand this now. My interest is specifically the the latter part of the bolded sentence - open water racing or disciplines officially recognised by FINA, which is now an Olympic sport. I want to improve my performance in this Olympic sport and getting competitive in higher and higher level of competitions. As with all competitive sports, I will need to start at the age-group level, and moving upwards from there.
Solo, unassisted marathon swimming will be something for me to add variety in my sports portfolio but my main interest is in competitive sports. I specifically want to become a competitive open water swimmer in the discipline recognised by FINA.
Also, most Channel record holders have competitive swimming background as well, such as Trent and Chloë. That's an additional reason why I want to train for competitive open water swimming as well. If I don't get to that high level I won't be able to challenge those records.
I have no interest to swim massive distance - it's boring - my enjoyment in swimming only lasts about 8 - 10 hours.
I'm finding myself confused by your recent, frequent references to solo channel swimming as not competitive. I think we had a good discussion about this on a different thread (https://forum.marathonswimmers.org/discussion/2196/), where Evan characterized it as "indirectly competitive", which I found to be a fitting description. In the speech referenced above, I thought he did a really nice job illuminating why it is not only competitive, but also quite distinct from the other open water marathon sport (FINA 10k).
I acknowledge that this is a rather direct request, but I wondered if you could not say so many negative things on here about the preferred sport of many forum participants. I have a feeling you do not mean to insult our sport and maybe didn't realize that you were doing that.
I really agree with Evan, these are two different sports and they both have their place and are both valuable. I feel like it's really wrong to characterize FINA 10k as if it is somehow superior to solo ultraswimming, or that the athletes that dominate FINA 10k are somehow more "elite" than the top ultraswimmers. There as some kick@ss, zippy-fast FINA swimmers and caps off to them! They are the experts at their sport. But, solo swimming is not inferior, it's just a different sport, for all the reasons Evan explained. It makes me sad when people don't get that. I apologize if I've misunderstood you (and please correct me if I have).
Swimming more than 8-10 hours isn't boring, it's hard. Swimming across the English Channel isn't boring, it's hard. Perhaps you are familiar with the expression "sour grapes".
Then I think this is the only part you have understood. You are still getting wrong what "elite at FINA level" swimming is, and what channel swimming is, and how many different type of swimmers there are. I'd even say you are getting wrong what "swimming" is.
In Spain, "regular" teenagers swimmers spend the day in the pool (2 hours in the morning, 2 hours in the afternoon), averaging somewhere from 12 to 20 km every single day, 5 days a week. Some of them get to Nationals, and that's the furthest they'll ever get.
If you ever get to that level of commitment, you might want to change that adjective ("boring") to something more respectful.
And this is the level of commitment you need to get to the lowest elite level. You might find it boring, too. But yes, that's what you need. And that's why you have got so many answers saying, more or less explicitly, that there's no way you are ever getting to elite level. Not unless you stop complaining, asking and writing controversial comments, and spend all of your free time swimming. Get a really good coach and start swimming as long as elite swimmers do, with quality sessions. Then you'll be in the right path. Note, though, that success (as I think you understand it) is not even remotely guaranteed.
I'm sorry about that.
I'll look for a good squad after I complete my relocation next month, and I hope I can find one, train in it, and get improvement in my results.
I really need guarantee though. I don't want to put effort into anything which I can't guarantee a success. My Channel failure last year has already made irrecoverable damage to my mental health and my interpersonal relationships. I hope that I can find a club where most people training there can qualify for the regional championships.
"Also, most Channel record holders have competitive swimming background as well, such as Trent and Chloë."
There are far more normal, regular ol' folks out there who succeed in the channel than there are competitive swimmers, I'd venture. Again, if your main goal is to become a competitive FINA swimmer this late in your life, good luck. As I've said in other forums, just because you're world-class in one sport, doesn't mean you will be in another, especially two very different sports like orienteering and marathon swimming.
"I really need guarantee though. I don't want to put effort into anything which I can't guarantee a success."
Your life must be very interesting if this is true. Wow. Maybe read the "What you learned from your DNF" thread for some context/education/growth-potential.
We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams
Then you're most definitely in the wrong sport. Marathon swimming is about the journey. If you were guaranteed to succeed, what would be the point of even starting?
It must be difficult to go through life demanding guarantees - you must be so perpetually disappointed by everything.
Stop me if you've heard this one...
A grasshopper walks into a bar...
This thread is so perfect! Here we have a group of marathon swimmers demonstrating what they do best. We are still trying to swim against an absolutely indomitable tide of negativity even though after multiple years it continues to pour against us. Clearly our mental makeup is such that we cannot let the complete odds of failure deter us from trying and trying again.
I will admit that there are many times that I've told myself to just not respond. But dammit, I can't help but jump in and push away, trying against all odds to make just a little progress.
I believe we are all crazy...
So I'm going to try to fight negativity with a little negativity of my own. @miklcct I never believed you had a chance of completing your EC attempt. I didn't say that out loud because I wouldn't want to discourage anyone from attempting a truly difficult swim. But you failed as everyone on this site expected you would. I will state that, based on your record, you will never become an elite level swimmer and will soon tire of trying to get a qualifying time in the 1500. No doubt pool swimming will bore you, as will swimming in lakes, rivers, oceans and your bathtub. I get so tired of people who talk a big game but don't put in the work to play in the big game.
I try to swim every race with the intent of winning. At my age, I'm not going to win anything. There are people younger and faster than me and there always will be. (Actually, there are some people older than me who are faster, but they happen to be elite swimmers.) However, I put in the work and the effort and my intent is to win on race day. And I can guarantee that I will do the best I can, without any disappointment.
As @curly says above, I keep telling myself I am not going to respond and then, yet again, I do. I don't understand why you would ever expect a guarantee of success from really any endeavor in life ever. And even if you could, what would be the fun in that?
I guess an alternate perspective is to try to define success differently. For example, I did a swim once where my original definition of success was to finish the swim but I was so so so seasick on the ride over that I decided that just starting the swim at all was a success of its own kind.
If you are determined to only see becoming "the best" at something as the only success, then I fear you will continue to be disappointed (as would most people).
You are still not listening, and still don't understand anything about swimming. You are NEVER going to get there. You will never swim as fast as either Chloe or Trent.
EVER. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever. You will never get there. You don't have the ability, and you never will. You will never acquire the necessary technique. You will never compete with 13 year old female figure skaters. You will never sing opera as a castrato. Some life outcomes are not possible for you. Please, just stop.
Michael, I understand you are cognitively different. But you are delusional.
You are 29 years old? The "fast swimmer" ship sailed 20 years ago. You need to redefine your personal concept of success in marathon swimming, or find a different activity. You may still find fulfillment in this sport, but it will look very different to what you currently understand.
Please stop wasting everyone's time.
I'm not going to argue anymore. Telling me I can never become a competitive swimmer is like telling you you can never swim the Dal Riata Channel.
I'm determined to become the best in my country in doing something, and my enjoyment in swimming comes from pack-style open water racing.
By next month I'll move to a place where it's possible to swim 2 hours daily after work in an unheated pool during the English summer, and also with swimming lakes within easy biking distance. My recent training since I got back to cool water pools has already got me visible improvement so I'll continue.
It's really not. Which is why you still don't understand swimming.
You are more likely to complete the Dal Riata Channel, than to develop elite speed in open water or pool racing.
Swimming is such a beautiful and diverse sport if you are open minded about it. There are so many different ways to succeed in swimming. Elite FINA racing is not one of them, for you. You don't have the necessary technique, and it's impossible for you to develop it at this point in your life.
I could be "determined" to be an elite female gymnast (and I am male) -- that doesn't mean it will ever happen.