Having trained with Johhny for a little more than a year, I’ve gotten accustomed to the bike and run performance assessments. Sometimes I dread them, other times I look forward to them. My attitude is pretty much dependent on the discipline and efforts during the weeks leading into the assessments. It’s easy to lie about activity, the tests inevitably reveal the truths. Assessments will reveal deficiencies in my diet, sleep, as well as whether or not I’m following the training plan. I can’t hide.
Today, was a new adventure. A swim test. I was excited and nervous. So nervous that I’d rescheduled the test three times before coming into the facility today. The fear was irrational, but it took me a while to overcome it and show up.
The test, like the others, is done indoors on a machine. This one is called a VASA Swim ergometer (photo & video are below). I’ve never even seen this particular piece of equipment before meeting Johnny. I’ve actually only used it twice, and it feels awkward. It’s a magical thing-a-ma-bob though. As you lay on the bench and perform the arm movements for swimming it gives useful data. For me, it tells me my pace, my stroke rate, and how far I’ve gone.
Pace and stroke rate are the most critical at this stage. Unlike running or riding a bicycle, when swimming we can’t look at a watch or computer to assess our pace or stroke rate. So, developing a feel for those two things are important for an endurance swim.
Another key benefit of the VASA is the ability to very tightly focus on stroke mechanics. Speed in the water is highly dependent on technique. Strength is important, but a brute with no technique will just use up all their energy going nowhere fast. While on the trainer, the coach can assess if the pull is fully extended, how high the elbow is being lifted on recovery, how fast the recovery is occurring, head position, etc.
Today, the goal is to establish pacing zones – similar to what I’ve done with running and cycling. Before beginning, he explained that I’m entering this phase of my swim training more rapidly than most new triathletes. Before setting up pacing, he requires that the trainee be able to demonstrate adequate ability to execute basic technique and form in the water. If not, swimming faster is fairly pointless. I’ve progressed quickly because I am very comfortable swimming. 30 years ago, I was a competitive high school swimmer.
The approach is the same as testing fitness on the bike and running. I begin with a 10-minute warm-up then let him know when I’m ready to begin the test. At that point, he takes a blood lactate measurement and then we begin. He tells me what pace to maintain for 3 minutes. At the 3 minute interval, I stop swimming and he takes another blood lactate sample along with my perceived exertion (scale of 1-20). He then tells me what pace to swim for the next phase (it increased by 10 or 15seconds/100 yards, I think). We repeat the cycle until I am unable to maintain a pace for 3 minutes.
The first 3 phases were easy to moderate and I remember thinking “I can do this all day”, this is easy.
Once I hit the 1 min 55 sec / 100yd pace, things got more difficult and I began questioning just how fast I can go and hold the pace for 3 minutes.
1:40 / 100 yds was hard, my form began to fall apart, but I held it.
1:30/ 100 yds was too difficult. my form was lost and I felt like I was simply flailing my arms barely able to get to 1:30, much less hold it. So that’s when it ended. I felt good but quite tired.
Afterword, he was very happy with my results. I did very well. Swimming is my most comfortable discipline, so it makes sense.
My pacing zones are faster than I expected. I’ll have to push myself harder now, no excuses. I’m able to maintain a 1:57-2:05 / 100 yd pace pretty comfortably. Now, I’ll use the swim erg once a week to learn what the faster pace should feel like and then go to the lake and work on executing at the Zone 1 / Zone 2 interface.
I’m nervous none the less. I don’t like working hard.