So Monday was the last big swim of my 2006 RBAC (Rose Bowl Aquatic Center) Swim Camp. Of course, in typical CZone fashion, it was the thunderous “one-line Jonnyo special” — 15 x (400 IM off the blocks, 400 pull, 100 kick ez, 100 backstroke ez). Yes, that is right, 15,000m (approximately 9.3 miles or 16,500 yards for the metrically challenged). This set was attempted only once before, during the big CZ swim camp in Florida back in 2003, before I was a member of the crew. Six people started, two finished – Jonnyo Caron and Natasha Filliol. So on Monday, December 18th, I set out to be the third.
The pre-pre-swim routine consisted of what all pre-pre-epic days must consist of: a large breakfast followed by a trip to the coffee shop (and that means NOT Starbucks) for a double machiatto. It is important not to go to Starbucks for this, because they don’t actually know how to make a machiatto there. The best machiattos to precede a workout come from Flagstaff, AZ’s Late For The Train, but I had high hopes for Glendale, CA’s Just Coffee. For those who don’t know, a machiatto is a pulled shot of espresso insulated with very light milk foam. It is important that they do not mix, as that would be a latte. I am not interested in a latte. I am interested in a machiatto. A double just means a double shot. Anyway, long story short, they made a very good machiatto at Just Coffee. So that was a good omen for the day. A latte-esque machiatto might have spelled doom…
I also made a quick pitstop at the local Ralph’s (it is good karma, I think, to stop at Ralph’s because they once sponsored a major triathlon) for some snickers and RedBull. You need two things when attempting a swim set that will take about five hours — sugar and caffeine. Appropriately prepared, I headed off to the Rose Bowl. It was a cool morning, with air temps of about 58F at 9:30AM PST when I got on the blocks after a long dryland warm-up to get loose. There is no fooling around with this set, as you start right away with a 400IM off the blocks. So you need to be loose for that first 100 fly. My plan was to use the first 2,000 – 3,000 meters as sort of a warm-up, not pushing the pace too hard, but also not cruising.
I feel that it is important to note at this point that I had never, ever done 100 meters (or yards) of butterfly prior to this day. My longest bit of butterfly was 75 meters, which came during a set when I was supposed to do 100 meters of fly, but was unable to since I was already very tired. I tried not to think about what this would mean once I was say, 12,000 meters into this set, when I would also be very tired. I spent a lot of time watching THIS video on YouTube, which shows Michael Phelps executing picture-perfect butterfly form. My second “weapon” was the start off the blocks, since my goal was to go really far underwater at the start, so that I’d never actually have to do 100 meters of actually butterfly swimming. This plan worked well all day, since I consistently got about 15m underwater off the blocks, as opposed to the normal 5m off the wall. That extra 10m was a lifesaver as the day wore on.
Anyway, back to the blocks for the start. The first 50m of fly was really very good. Probably the best fly I’ve swum in a long time. Clearly that meant I had nowhere to go but down. The second 50m coming back during that first 400IM (individual medley is butterfly, back, breast, free is the IM order for those who don’t know) was still pretty good, but it was clear that I am not yet a master of fly. The backstroke and breaststroke I took steady, trying again to focus on my technique (I watched videos of YouTube of Aaron Peirsol doing some backstroke, which was less helpful since he goes really, really, really far underwater then basically swims like a windwill, and Brendan Hansen doing some breaststroke, which was quite helpful in terms of figuring out the rhythm of that stroke) so that I would groove it now and hopefully set a good precedent for the day. I was glad to get to the free, since I actually know how to do that and then, just like that the first 400 was over. I went about 7:00, which I was pretty happy with (for reference, the world record, held by Senor Phelps, is 4:08). Then it was on to 400 pull. I knew this would feel really easy after the 400IM, but Jonnyo warned me to pace myself or I’d pay later on. So I paced myself, but still felt good, coming into the wall in about 6:00 (for reference, the world record in the 400 free is 3:40.8, by Ian Thorpe). So I decided that I’d set pace times after the first three rounds (which I was using as a warm-up) at mui rapido in order to be able to get my shoulders out of the water so that I could actually recover my arms through the air. This meant I had less time to breathe (since my kick was no longer strong enough to get me way out of the water) just when I wanted more O2. Instead, I ended up breathing a lot of H2O.
Rounds 12 and 13 were the hardest, since I really worried that my arms might just give out. I knew that if I could make it to round 14, I’d finish since there was no way I’d give up with only 2km left to go, even if I had to do some sort of ugly worm kick to get from one end to the other. But 12 and 13 were real tests. Round 14 I was pretty much spent, just making my 7:00 and 6:00 cutoffs with some hanging 00’s (which is when you look at the clock and the 00 seems to hang before switching to 01 as opposed to coming in and seeing it change). But I knew I was done. The final round was sort of a cooldown, though I didn’t fall too much off the pace, but I was really done. I would like to commend my backstroke and breaststroke muscles, since they did a great job of picking up the pace as my fly fell off. My freestyle muscles did the lion’s share of the work, but of course they are supposed to. My ability to swim back and breast pretty well in the face of adversity definitely surprised me, as I am by no means proficient in either of those strokes. Amazing what you can do when you have to.
As I touched the wall for the very last time, there was a definite sense of accomplishment. It was a looooooooong day to say the least, but it felt really good. The shower I took afterwards might rank up there in the top five showers of all time. Then came the really hard part. Driving home. I was worried about crashing both because I thought I might pass out and/or because I’d lose control of my arms. Then I went and ate a burrito, which was very hard because I was really too tired to eat. Then I went home and lay on the couch for many hours. And just like that, it was done…
By The Numbers:
People who asked to share the lane: 1
Number I scared off by quickly climbing onto the blocks while announcing that I was swimming butterfly: 1
Meters Fly: 1500
Meters Breast: 1500
Meters Kick: 1500
Meters Back: 3000
Meters Free: 7500
Shots of Espresso: 2
Cans of RedBull: 2
Liters of Gatorade: 1