Masters Swimming WA State Champs: Mission Completed.

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Hi Nicola! You came in second place overall and first in your category at the State Championships. 32’33” is also 4 minutes and 30 seconds less than two weeks ago on the same distance. You smashed it. And after training for just 4 months. What do you think about your performance?

Well I must confess that even if this race was my first seasonal goal, I was the most surprised by my placement and time. I can say I am satisfied, wow!

Can I ask you a few more question about your performance?

Yes, of course. Any question…well, not too personal ehy!

Ok, don’t worry. First question. You just told me that you were surprised, but didn’t you focused your preparation on this event?

Yes, I hoped to win my category, but that was all. I really didn’t expected of coming in second overall, and just behind a masters swim hero. I also didn’t imagine of shaving off more than 4 minutes and 30 second from my Coogee race time. I just thought I was going to do maybe one minute less, or something like that. How did this happen? I have no guess, but it seems that I did my homework well.

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More than 400 participants in 4 different distances

When you say homework I think you mean your training. Tell us how you prepared the race. 

During my preparation I followed just a loose plan, I must confess. The weight training that I did during the last four years built a good conditioning. When I went back to swimming in early August, at the beginning I just added laps and laps doing lots of sets of 1000 freestyle at a medium~low pace. This helped me gaining back some sensibility in the water and building at least a base of endurance. Once I decided to join Masters Swimming in late September I began diversifying my workouts, doing at least one or two medium-low pace long distance days, one medium/fast endurance day, one negative splits day and one sprint day each week. I began in September with three workouts a week of 3~3.5km each, and slowly I builded up weekly volume, arriving at six workout a week of 5~6 km each two weeks before the event. In late October I did a small deload, then programmed a last 5-week training cycle. During these last five weeks I joined for two times a week an informal group of swimmer preparing for the Rotto, and their workouts suited nicely my goal. I also finished my strength training program eight days out and then I didn’t touch more the barbell. One week out I started reducing swimming volume, proggresively decreasing from 4 km to less than 2 km the day before the race. It seems that all worked nicely.

Tell us a bit about your psychological approach.

The week before the race I thought that between me and my goal there were other swimmers. However, on the race day, while having breakfast early in the morning, I realized that between me and my goal…there is just myself. It’s not the others that influence my race, the very first variable is me. I don’t have any control over others swimmers, but I have control over myself, thus I do have power over the most important variable. Thinking this built much more confidence. Nearer to the start I began visualizing myself happy and successful at the presentation ceremony, and I kept this thought with me until I passed the finish line.

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Forced smile for the camera before the warm up

And what strategy did you decide to adopt for this competition? Is it a secret?

No secrets. To tell the truth, I didn’t have a clearly detailed and defined strategy at all. I knew that I was not going to start at a slow pace, but I was not going to sprint and led the group either. My idea was to stay in the first group, and to avoid lefting anybody going away. Of course, the pace of the group was not that fast from the beginning and I could draft behind the first swimmers quite easily. Which means that after just 300 meters three of us already had left the group behind. Then, after the first turning buoy we were just two. I was following easily even if I realized that the leader speeded up the pace little after. I didn’t want to lose him, but just past half the race we began overtaking the last swimmers from the earlier 5 km wave. And that is when I couldn’t see him anymore and was left behind. I swam “alone” until the finish, but I kept myself motivated thinking that somebody could come up from behind.

We also know that you follow a particular nutrition plan. How did  you fueled this time?

I just followed my usual low carb regimen, with a weekly 24 hours carb load, usually the day before a race and on the race day. My carb intake is 50~60 gr of total carbs a day, while weekly carb up is 600~700 gr.  The day before the event, as carb refeed, I had 140 gr of steel-cut oat (with braised beef brisket), two bananas and a mango with honey, and some dried apricots and dates. On the competition day for breakfast, 3 hrs and a half before the race, I had 80 gr of rolled oats with some more dried apricots and dates, and 2 more bananas with mango and honey. I also had one more banana one hour before the competition started and I took with me a bottle of honey water. Other carbs, plenty, came after the race, but this is another story.

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Waiting for the presentation ceremony

Well, thanks for the quite detailed explanation! That was interesting. And now, what is your next goal?

When I started this season I had two goals in mind. One was trying to win at least my category in this Masters State Championships. I though it would have been a goal well within my capabilities, because I knew that my 30~34 years age category is not crowded. The only variable was…me, because I had no guess about my conditions, and times of recent races were just numbers, as I didn’t have any reference from past years. My second goal this season is my category overall tally in the Master Swimming WA Open Water Series. I still have many races to go, but I think I didn’t start that bad. It’s important to think in advance “what to do next”, because it keeps  you motivated and without a goal you cannot plan your training.

Do you want to thanks somebody?

Oh yes. I want to thank my wife more than anybody else. If I am back to swimming, it’s because one Sunday morning in August she suggested to go to HBF Stadium. She has been with me at all the races I competed in, even when it meant for her to wake up very early in the morning. She is always cheering and supporting me, she is amazing. And she also takes most of the wonderful photos that I publish on my blog.

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Guests watching the race
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Training December 13th, 2016

Swimming pool workout, 4.2 km (1h 5′)

(warm up) 1000 fs;
2000 fs paddles;
500 swim (50 fly/50 fs) + 500 (50 kick/50 pull); 200 easy

Notes: for this week I want to keep all workouts volume under 5 km and going light, because I feel like starting a new cycle. From next week I will also start a new cycle of strength training following Hepburn’s program B. For my strength sessions this week I am just warming up to the top weights I will use in this program. However, I felt in my lats while swimming the bent over rows I did in the morning.

Training December 12th, 2016

Swimming pool workout, 4.8 km (1h 20′)

(warm up) 1500 (every 3rd 100 medley);
8 × 300 fs @5’30” (broken 100 timed/100 slow/50 timed/50 slow)
4 × 200 @4′ (50 kick + 150 pull) + 100 easy

Notes: I still felt very well during this workout, the rest day from water I did yesterday maybe helped recoverying. I come in the 100s timed in 1’05″~1’06”, which I think is the fastest by now. I also began thinking of investing in a snorkel soon, to fix that asymmetry in my left/right stroke.

Training December 9th, 2016

Swimming pool workout, 1.6 km (35′)

 

(warm up) 400 fs;
8 x 25 kick @ 45″ + 8 x 25 @30″ (progressively faster from 1 to 4);
5 x 150 fs @2’15” (in 1’45″~1’50”) + 50 easy;
relays game

Notes: I wanted to do a short workout and the people from the informal group that gathers on Fridays really helped me. It was more a warm up than a workout, and the relays game at the end was really funny. I should have took a picture of the banana boat relay! For the records…guys loose two relays out of three against girls. Anyway I didn’t need anything more before tomorrow Masters Swimming Open Water State Championship. Ready to go now!

Training December 8th, 2016

Swimming pool workout, 3.6km (55′)

(warm up) 1000 fs;
3 × 500 fs @7’30″/7’/8′ (in 6’14″/6’08” with paddles/slow) +
4 × 250 fs @3’30″/4’/3’30″/4′ (fast/moderate/fast/slow) + 100 easy

Notes: I felt even better than yesterday. Today pace on the sets of 500s was similar to yesterday in the 400s, but more smooth. I think that my condition is not going to be all that bad for Saturday. I had to cut short the training session with the informal group because I had to go work early, but I already planned to do less than 4 km anyway.

Mental approaches to a meet: a taxonomy of outcomes

Putting on cap and goggles is one of the most important phases in approaching a race: it’s the step separating “almost ready” to “ready”.

When people discuss the psychological aspects of approaching a competition they may mention visualization techniques, or they may talk about the attitude needed to be successful in a race. All this is fine, however I think that the big picture is quite more complex. Winning a race or reaching one’s own competition goal require not only careful consideration of any mental and physical aspects, but also a reflection about the overall meaning that the meet has for you. Everybody is psychologically different as much as our body is different: peoples may share many similarities, but you will never find an “another” yourself: “your mileage may vary” both mentally and physically. In my previous competitive swimmer life, as well as in these first races of my recent masters swimmer life, I arrived at the “take your marks” moment under a bunch of different mental, physical and motivational conditions. Depending on how these variables were mixed, the outcomes have been different. Let’s try to make a taxonomy of how the mental aspects intersected with the physical and the motivational one.

You are physically ready, you want to win at all cost, it’s an important race.  Let’s say that you are in a really  “over the top form”. Not that form that you reach twice a year, but just once in a life. You will realize after some years that on that day you literally where in the best shape of your life. Let’s also say that you are very hungry. I don’t mean that you practiced so much that you would eat alone a whole roasted cow along with two pots of smashed potatoes. I mean hungry for victory. You want to win. And you want it really, really badly. You think that nobody but you deserve to win (this is a quite personal perspective, but if you ever competed in swim races you know what I mean). In the two hours preceding the race you scare the shit out of people around you just with your eyes. Let’s also hypothesize you are competing in the most important race of the season (for my level, the nationals final). Now you have all the ingredients for the perfect storm. Your race is all heart and no reason. You have just one strategy: no strategies and balls out. Outcome: you do the race of your life. The race you will simply remember forever.

You are physically ready, you have no possibilities to win, it’s an important race. You won’t be in that “once in a life” shape, but let’s say your are in a condition that you can reach twice a year, if you do your homework right. This too it’s an important race, maybe (for my previous level, not for an Olympian one) an open national. But you know that even shaving off heaps of seconds from your PB, you would hardly come in more that the 7th~8th place. You give your best…but the point is you are not hungry. Outcome: you swim with the handbrake pulled up and you desire to forget the race.

You are not supposed to be physically ready, you have nothing to lose, it’s an important race. You are not supposed to be physically ready, your coach says you will be in top form within 5 weeks, but not now. You are about to participate in a relatively important race where you have nothing to lose and nothing to win, but it happens to be a race that you had been craved to participate in for years, and eventually you did it (for me, it was an open international meeting, a round of the FINA long course series). So even if you are just 75%~80% ready, even if you know that the position doesn’t count for you, you are super pumped up. You look at yourself and you feel big. So you swim big. Outcome: you don’t know how you did, your coach doesn’t know how you did, but you just did the second best race of your life.

You are not physically ready, you have nothing to lose, it’s not an important race. You are far from being in a good shape, but you don’t mind because you have nothing to lose and the race has little meaning, at least for you. You do it just out of curiosity, as a test. Your are relaxed, you try to do your best, but nevertheless it’s difficult to gave it all. Outcome: not that bad, you made it a day, but you don’t really know what your real potential is.

Is this determination? Or did I just see something wrong?

You are not physically ready, you want to win, it’s not an important race. It can happen that you decide to do another “test” race at a meeting which doesn’t carry all that meaning for you. You know you aren’t in a good shape yet, but you also know that you can nevertheless place well: you could go home with some metal in the pocket, maybe not the brightest one, but still metal. Your race tactic is “wait-and-see”: ready to bite, but just if needed. Outcome: not too bad, you had lots of fun, you enjoyed your nice swim. And at least you know there is still room for improvement.

You are not physically ready at all, you want to win, it’s not an important race but it has meaning for you. This is the scenario when you are in really poor conditions. And you know it, but you don’t mind because you want to win, or at least you want to give all: even if the meet hasn’t any big importance to anybody else, it carries a special meaning to you, and that matters. This is not a test, and you have your good personal reason to do well. So you give it all.You go balls out. Outcomes: even if you go balls out you are in still in a sub-par condition, so you hit the wall soon. It hurts, but you make it through the end grinding your teeth. At least you demonstrated to be around and alive.

Training December 7th, 2016

Swimming pool workout, 4 km (1h)

(warm up) 1000 fs (600 swim + 400 pull);
3 x 400 fs @5’45” (in 5’04″/5’02″/4’55”) +
5 x 200 fs @2’50” paddles (in 2’24″~2’25”) + 100 easy;
500 fs pull + 200 easy (50 bk/50 fs)
 

Notes: another easy and quick workout this week, before the race Saturday. I am feeling every day better, and I was surprised of the time I came in the sets of 400s. I was surprised by the sets of 200s too, but because of the paddles I cannot really estimate my time. Earlier in the morning I did some elastic band exercises for triceps, lats and rotator cuff, as well as some massage with the foam roller.