Open Water Swimming, Training and Competition by Jerry Holtrey (1997)


Before I get started I’d like to give you a little bit of a background on myself because I was a swimmer at one time many, many years ago for a team called the Huntington YMCA in Huntington, Indiana and I swam for a coach by the name of Glen Hummer, who I think probably at that particular time was one of the elite coaches in the country. He was one of those straight-laced coaches. He knew a lot about the mechanics of the different strokes, he was phenomenal in terms of getting people in condition and one of his pet projects each summer was getting his team ready for the Jr. or Sr. National four-mile Championship. And I was involved in that particular endeavor for many, many years. We had good success winning the championship for seven or eight years during my swimming career. Later on, I went to the University of Michigan and swam for Gus Steger where I picked up more information on swimming, particularly sets and communication skills. And lastly, I probably went to the number one coach in the world, I think, Doc Counsilman. I transferred to Indiana and went there for three years and swam and studied and got a lot of background information on all the strokes, and starts and turns and he was phenomenal in terms of getting people ready for great swims.

So, with that in mind I’ve always had the idea when I started coaching and I knew right away when I was in College that I wanted to coach that I wanted to coach endurance swimmers. I had been one, all the coaches I’d been associated with believed in endurance training to prepare the swimmers and I thought that that was the best avenue to go.

What I’m going to talk about very quickly is what our organization, the Lake Erie Silver Dolphins are. The organization of our team is divided into seven different groups. We have a White team and a Red team and they are strictly beginning teams. All we’re concerned about with these two groups are the basic mechanics of the four basic strokes, starts, turns and to have a good time. They only go one length at a time. We have a head Age Group coach, and I should even say an Eight & Under coach and his sole job on our team is taking care of those Eight & Unders. He does a great job but that’s his only job. He has an assistant that even helps him. We have the next group the Blue group, they still work on nothing but drills. They are a little bit

older, usually around nine years of age, a few 10-year-olds that are coming in late. And we have a coach called Rick Stacy, and Rick is one of the coaches of the team and he does a lot of drill work with the Blue team. It’s not until they get to the Bronze group that they start doing a little bit of endurance work. They still do drills continually. Every single day we do drills with these four different groups. The next group is our Silver group and this is what we call our transitional group because this is the group where the youngsters have to make a decision of whether they want to get serious about swimming or they want swimming for other reasons. And at this particular level we know for a fact who the better swimmers are going to be, we know the people that are highly motivated, we know the swimmers that have got great endurance, that have great work ethic, and by the time they get to the Silver I usually try to have a little talk with each of them on goal setting for the nextthree, four, five years. This is what we’ve done for the pastsix or eight years.

I’m very fortunate in having a set of coaches that work as coaches on the team that I think are second to none. And I know that probably every head coach will say that and every head coach will be very sincere when they say it, but I say it for a couple of reasons. All my coaches are teachers so they know how to communicate. All my coaches have been head coaches of other teams. They came over to the Silver Dolphins because we have no problems with parents. We have no problems because I own the team and if the kids or parents don’t like it then they leave. We have very, very few ever leaving. Their background in competitive swimming is excellent, they know the drills, they know conditioning and we all sit down at the very start of the year and then usually at the end of the year to evaluate the program but we get on the same page in terms of what we’re trying to accomplish with all the different groups so that when one boy or girl goes from one group to the other and they have a new coach the communications are exactly the same and I think this is important.

Going from the Silver group we have two high groups. We have a Gold group and a High School group. Actually, they are basically the same thing. The High School group is a group made up of my High School team swimmers andnormally I have to keep them together in the Winter time because the school says no one else can practice at that time. The Gold group is made up of our very top Age Groupers, and I’m talking about 12, 13, 14 year olds and then other swimmers from the other High Schools that work out with us throughout the year. These are the groups that put in a great deal of yardage. The intensity level is extremely high and I think probably this is the group that had decided that they really want to try to get to the next level.

We’ve also done something for the last couple years that has drastically changed our program and that is we started working out Long Course in April and May which we’ve never gotten a chance to do and we’ve worked out Long Course in September and October which we’ve never got a chance to do. I owe all this to Wally Morton who is the aquatics director and the head men’s swimming coach at Cleveland State University. I’d tried to get down to Cleve land for years and years and finally we’re down there and it’s been a great, great benefit for us. Because, before this our summer program had entailed about six weeks’ maximum of Long Course training and by the time we got used to the Long Course training the season was over. Now when we get out doors we can put in a great deal of time in terms of the hard sets we want to try to do and the benefits for the last two years have been outstanding at least for us. This leads us to the second thing.

We’ve had some success over the years. I’ve been coaching the Lake Erie Silver Dolphins for thirty years now and in that thirty-year period we’ve had State Champions, State Team Champions, Jr. National Champions, Regional Champions but we haven’t quite got to the level of Senior Outstanding swimmers until about two years ago. And as I said I think it is a result of being able to get in a 50-meter pool early, and getting them used to a 50-meter pool, and getting them to understand what’s expected out of them and setting the goals high enough, and when they’re motivated this way and they understand what you expect out of them then they can respond very well.

This is what we’ve been trying to do. For example, starting with last year -and I’m going to be going back and forth by the way from open swimming to long distance swimming because I think there is a direct correlation between the two and we train one way in our pool for endurance swimming for the 1000, the 1650, the 800 or the 1500 and the open water swim is actually sort of an accident we came upon but it was a nice accident for some of the kids.

Last summer – let me back track just a moment. Last Winter we had one girl that qualified for the Olympic Trials in 1996 and that was Diana Muntz. She had qualified for the Olympic Trials from the Jr. National Championships at Orlando, here. And she’d qualified for the 400 and for the 1500 which they said she’d qualified for the Olympics well obviously, there is no 1500 for women. So later on, the season in December she went to Pittsburgh and qualified for the 800 from her 1000 and she swam those two events, the 800 and the 400 at the Olympic trials, and did her best time. I think she was 4:19 and 8:52 in the 800. And that was the first girl, probably, that started to respond to what we were trying to do. She had been a very fine swimmer since the age of 9 or 10 but now she was – at that time – 13 when she did it. And she was doing it with not a great deal of yardage. Intensity was very, very high. Yardage probably not more than 12-13 thousand at the very most and that was five days a week. Saturdays’, she would work out a couple hours and Sunday once and a while she’d come in for a work out on Sunday.

But last Summer in ‘96 at Fort Lauderdale, she was able to win the 1500 — only because Brooke wasn’t there in the 1500. Thank you, Peter. She did win it and that gave her the boost that I think she needed because from that point on she just went crazy in terms of the workout. That was also the meet that we had another little girl from our team, Erica Rose, who started to show some promise. She’d gone to the Jr. Nationals a couple weeks before and qualified from the Jr. Nationals for the 400, the 800 and the 1500 and also the 400 IM. She ended up going to the Sr. Nationals and qualifying and getting 8th in her first 1500 and in the 800 I think she was in the top 16, 400 IM she made the bonus heat. But these two girls are starting to feed and they were feeding off each other, but what helped them a great deal was a boy we had at that time, and that was Sean Justus.

Sean, to make this story short, I had coached his father in Kentucky 30 some years ago. He’d come up for a meet up in Cleveland, liked our program, asked if Sean could come up to school and I said, “Fine if you’ve got the money.” The school I teach at is a private school, costs $13,000 a year to go.” He said “Fine, I’ll still do it.” And so, Sean came up and was sort of the leader of this endurance group. That summer we also had a surprise given to us that a boy by the name of Nat Lewis from North Carolina came up to visit his aunt and uncle and he called up and said, “Is it all right if I work out with you this summer? I’m living with my aunt and uncle and like to swim endurance.” And I have to admit I had not heard of Nat at all. But he started in the program that summer at Cleveland State and those four probably were the nucleus of the group that really started attracting the other girls and boys on our team. Until at the end of Summer ‘96 we had upwards of 16 doing these workouts. And some of the workouts by the way that they did I thought were outstanding and the only unfortunate thing was Nat in ‘96 didn’t get a chance to go to Sr. Nationals. School was starting early and he felt it was really important to get a good start because he was going to be a Freshman down there. I had told one of the coaches in Kentucky, the Age-Group coach, that I thought they were getting a real diamond in the rough when they got Nat and he said, “Well we’ve heard that he’s going to be pretty good.” And I said, “I think he’s going to be outstanding.” And this year proved it. He ended up getting third in NCAA 1650 going 15 minutes and Sean, I think, ended up getting a seventh going 15:10 or maybe it was 9th.

This is how it got started in terms of what I wanted to try to accomplish in terms of doing a little bit more and the two boys helped us tremendously in doing it. With their background in endurance they kept the girls very honest but the girls all they wanted to do was try to stay up with the boys all the time. And as I said they did extremely well last summer at the Nationals. Sean placed in the 400, 800 and 1500. We found out a little bit later towards the end of the meet that they were going to have a 5K open swim. We had no idea if anybody wanted to do it so Rick Stacy and myself asked if anybody wanted to try to swim it. The only one that really wanted to was Erica Rose. I asked Diana, I said “Diana are you sure, I think this would be great for you to swim this 5K.” And she said “No, I don’t like swimming in water I can’t see the bottom, and I’m afraid of the bugs and the smell, and I’m afraid of the jelly fish.” And that’s true, where they were swimming they had some of those objects and so I said, “Fine, you don’t have to.”

Kristin Micolonus was another girl that had qualified in the 1500, and 800 and I asked her the same thing and she said no. I asked our backstroker, she said no. I asked the boys, we had two boys, an IMer and Sean and they both said no not this time and I said fine. The Sunday after the Nationals we went to the beach and it was 7:30 start time so we got there around 7:00, signed in and Erica started getting nervous and she said, “I’m not sure how to do this.” And I thought I’ll reassure her. I said, “Nothing to it Erica, all you have to do…” And we went up through the course and they had it laid out on a piece of paper and I told her just keep following those big buoys all the time and every seven or eight strokes lift your head to make sure you swim a straight line. I said, “Most the time the best open-water swimmers are not those people that are the fastest, it’s the ones that are the smartest.” And I said, “You’ve got to make sure you swim straight and I said be aggressive and be careful at the start because of roughness.” And she said “OK, where are you going to be?” I said, “I will watch you the whole way.” Well that particular day they had big waves. She got in the water, warmed up 50 yards only, came back and as we were waiting for the start, in walks Sean. And I said, “What are you doing here?” And he said, “I want to try it to.” So, the boys are swimming a little bit later and I said, “Go sign up, pay your entry fee.” And he said “Fine.” I said, “I’m going to stay with Erica because I think she’s very concerned about this.” And he said “OK.”

She got out in the water, they started the race, the waves were about two feet high, and when she got down in the trough I couldn’t see her. In fact, I couldn’t see anybody. Maybe the hands coming up out of the water but other than that, nothing more, and I remembered saying I would keep watching. Obviously, I couldn’t keep watching but I started walking down and as I was walking down I looked up and saw the Twin Arches and I thought, God, she’s not going to know that I’m not watching. So, I went up and had breakfast and I talked to the coaches at the time that I was having breakfast and I was there for about 35-40 minutes and as I was coming out I could see the first group of girls coming back and I thought, “Oh, probably that’s not Erica” and so I thought should I go back in and just relax and I thought no I won’t. So, I walked down a little ways and I had binoculars and so I started watching.

In open-water swimming normally you can pick out your swimmer, at least I thought I could. I thought I saw her a couple times and then I didn’t, then I thought I did, and it wasn’t until the last 15-20 meters that I knew for sure where she was and she was in 2nd place. She ended up getting second in that race and I asked her how she felt and she said, “It wasn’t bad at all.” She said, “A lot of waves.” And I said, “Were you able to maintain your course?” And she said, “No problem, the first half was easy, I was leading and this girl was on my tail, I let her pass and then I just leeched on her.” I said, “That’s pretty smart.” Then a little bit later Sean came in and Sean was maybe eight or nine minutes ahead of Erica and that was about it.

The first experience of open-water swimming for those two was very positive. In fact, Erica qualified for the pre-world 5K down in Australia which is going to be held in January 1997. And we didn’t know at the time that was going to be happening and they asked her if she could go and she said, “Oh yes.” And this girl had just turned 14. She was a young 14 in terms of years, an old woman in terms of maturity. She is a valedictorian of her eighth-grade class and you may say, “That’s a big deal.” Erica is a perfectionist. She wants to be perfect in every single thing she does. She gets perfect grades, she does perfect strokes, her workouts are absolutely phenomenal, she’s there first, she’s the last one to leave the workout, she just does everything right. Because of that I got worried at times because she was working herself so hard that I was afraid she was going to collapse after a while from the hard work.

But she took a little bit of a break after August for a week and a half and then we started again and she asked me “What’s going to happen with me going to Australia for this 5K? Are you going to train me any differently?” And I told her, “The only thing we’re going to be doing different is during the Christmas break we’ll do more yardage like we normally do and we’ll try to do a little more in terms of 400, 800 and maybe 1650’s.” And she said “Fine.” But we really didn’t do anything much out of the ordinary. We did exactly the same workouts that we’ve done for the past two or three years. So, she went down there and the girls and boys swam together at this particular 5K meet and she ended up getting 4th overall beating all the boys except for the three boys in front of her.

At that point, she became extremely confident in the 5K. So much so that this summer when she swam it again, she knew exactly what she wanted to do. And I think she is highly successful in the 5K for a couple reasons. She’s a chance taker. I think you’ve got to be a chance taker if you’re going to be an open-water swimmer. No. 2, she had great endurance and she’s a tough little sucker. I mean she never let up on herself. At the meet after Nashville down in the Lake which was crystal clear and is smooth, she’d gone an hour and 18 minutes at Fort Lauderdale, I think about 68 minutes at Australia and down in Nashville where the water is smooth she went 52:18 with the winner of the boys going 50:40 or something like that. So, she was very, very close to the boys. But she was able to do that kind of time because she was extremely aggressive in the 5K, she knows exactly how to swim it now, and she has the confidence. She’s going to be going to the 5K World Championships in January 1998 again and I really feel like she has a really good chance to win it.

But what I was trying to do is decide whether the open water swimming was for us or whether it was one of those fluky things that maybe once in a while we’ll get somebody that might like to try it. The spring of this year they had a 10K down in Florida here and I had two boys, David Cray and Jimmie Pollen who were interested in going down. They were both on my high school team, one was a Sophomore, Jimmie, and David was a Junior. They were both endurance swimmers, Jimmie in fact had won the 500 as a Sophomore, and went 4:31 in the 500. David as a Junior had gone 4:38 and then they’d gone to the Jr. Nationals and Jimmie had ended up winning the 1000 and 1650 at the Jr. Nationals and qualified for Sr. Nationals with his two times.

After the Jr. Nationals, that’s when they came up and said, “Can we go down?” And I said “Yes, if you’ll do the following.” We have a rule that any time you go to a big Jr. National, Sr. National, any kind of a big championship, you’re not allowed to go on a vacation two to three or four weeks ahead of that. I actually wanted some other girls to participate. They said no because it was in our spring break for our school, the last week in March, that they had to do some training and the race itself was in the first part of April. They said that they would be willing to do that. So, I thought maybe I’m getting really smart in this open water training. We’ve gotten a first place and people are looking to us to maybe lead the way and I thought maybe I can get these two boys to really do something.

So, we went back to the pool at Hawkin School. And some of you have heard of pools that are absolutely ridiculous. Hawkin pool is ridiculous. Hawkin pool is a motel pool that has had a building put around it. We have five lanes, the lanes itself are six and a half feet wide, the shallow end is three feet three inches. That’s the pool, that’s our so-called home pool that the Silver Dolphins work out in. And when we got back from Jr. Nationals, I said to Jimmie and Dave, “Let’s do a couple things different to get you ready for this 10K.” I said, “Number one, let’s drop the level of water,” which we did. “Let’s take out all the lane lines” which we did. I said, “Let’s drop the temperature of the water so that the water is cold.” Because I was under the impression that they would be swimming out in the ocean again and it turned out that they were in a cove inlet and it was very nice and smooth. Water is a little bit chilly but it was smooth. But anyway, they worked out and all the workouts were set so that they could not do any kind of turns. They had to flip before the ends both ways and we worked out that way for one week. The next week, Monday and Tuesday we were still working out that way, then they left. I did not go with them, one of my assistants is the so-called long course or open water chairman and he got his way paid for him to go down so he represented our team for the two boys.

They went down there, swam the race and I told them what to expect, to pick out landmarks and do all this sort of stuff. And so, they did all this and when they finished they called me almost immediately and I said, “Well how do you feel?” And they said, “You know that wasn’t bad at all.” You know we’ve done enough work over the year that it was just a carry over. And the 10,000 which we’ve done once in a while in practice, 10,000 total yards, was an easy swim for them. So, you’re going to reach some conclusions I think on open water swimming on what we have been doing in our practices. But for them the 10K was no problem whatsoever.

Now what are we doing with our program that is going to be producing some endurance swimmers. As I said before all of our coaches follow two or three main ideas. Number one, we have to start individual medley training and Number two you have to do endurance work. Those are the two things we stress from the ages of 8 all the way up through their high school career. I never know and the coaches never know from one year to the other if a boy or girl is going to change their main stroke from fly to back to breast to free. And it happens quite often particularly during the growth period that they lose coordination for one stroke and they pick it up for another stroke. So, we insist on doing IM work every single day. We insist on doing endurance work every day. And when we do endurance work, to me endurance work can be 75’s, 50’s, 100’s. They don’t have to be 400’s or 500’s or 800’s they can be anything that adds up to a couple thousand-yard set. When we do, these sets we do it with very, very short send off and we do it with the highest intensity I can get them to work. Now that may sound very familiar listening to Greg and also to Peter. That’s exactly what they do. They try to get in good yardage in a short period of time, very little rest, high intensity. The one thing perhaps, and I say perhaps because I’m not sure, that we do is that once we get finished with the warm up I don’t want anything easy. Everything has got to be hard the whole way including the kicking. And when they’re doing the kicking they can do it IM style if they’re an IM’er.

Most everybody is an IM’er. So, if we’re going a set of 16 100’s on the 1:30 sendoff (I’m talking about yards right now) they’ll go four of each. If they’re going 20 50’s on the 45 we’ll go four of each. The kicking has to be all out. We don’t use fins a great deal because we do so much kicking most of the boys and girls kick extremely well. We’ve gotten boys and girls to be able to kick on the 1:15 send off and keep them at 1:05 for a set of 10 100’s. Some of you may say, “Big deal, we’ve got kids that do that.” Well I think it’s pretty fast kicking when you can do something like that. We do a great deal of pulling. The pulling sets can be anything from 50’s all the way up. We like to do a lot of set in which we descend the time. For example, we might do a set of 16 75’s pull. The first set will be on the minute, second set, 55, third set on the 50, last set will be on the 45 second send off. And obviously, we want them to make the sendoff and we want every single set hard. If I’m really looking for something extremely good I’ll tell them that the third set, that’s on the 50 second, all they have to do is make it. Once they make it then they can rest one minute and then they go on to the last set.

But basically, what we’re trying to do in our program is that every single workout we start with a warm up of about 800 to a 1000 and we do it anyway and every way that you can think of but I like to have a little bit of back stroke because I think that loosens up the shoulders better than any other stroke. We do the free style. We may do IM after we’ve done 2 or 3 or 400 yards so that it adds up to that 800 or 1000 yards. Once that is finished, then we do a set. The first set is usually about 2000 yards. Then we’ll do a kick set, then we’ll do another set of about 2 or 3000 yards, short send-off, high intensity. And then we usually finish up with something short, still hard.

What we try to do in the wintertime, we do the following: We have an hour and 35 to 40 minutes in the morning, short course. In the afternoon, we have about an hour and 45 minutes. What we try to do is get in at least 4,500 yards an hour and I’m talking about those people that are elite distance group. Those are the ones that can do this kind of set. Everything else is modified down to take care of the other people in the program. We’ll probably do in the wintertime something like 13-14000 a day. But as I said I don’t like to do anything easy and we’ll always do a set of something of IM. Whether it’s 100 IM, 200 IM’s, 300 IM’s, 400 IM’s.

Once in a great while we’ll throw in some novelty thing, we’ve done 4000 IM’s we’ve done 8000 IM’s just for the idea that they can say that they’ve done that. It’s surprising that even the high school boys and girls like to do something that nobody else has done. So, we try to make up sets that we think has never been done before. And consequently, then I can come back and tell them later on in the season when we’re getting ready for the championship part, “Nobody works as hard as you people, no one.” Because of that they believe it and they understand it and I can get more out of them at the very end of the season. As I said in the afternoon they do about 1 hour and 45 minutes of water time every single day in the afternoon we go into the wrestling room after practice and they do two things. They stretch out for about fifteen minutes, every type of stretch that you can think of involving the shoulders, the hips, the ankles and then they do every type of exercise that you can think of. Very similar to what Greg Troy said about sit ups, we do all types, every type you can think of.

Several years ago, we wrote to Stanford, UCLA at that time, Texas, Florida and got all their programs and they sent it to us. Then my assistant coach, Rick, went through all of it and we sat down and decided exactly what we wanted to try to do. And these are the exercises that we do. Even our distance group does this – the stretching and the exercises. In the morning though, only the distance group goes every single morning, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The others come in and they do a modified 20 station circuit in which it could be free weights, it could be surgical tubing, it could be latissimus machine, anything that we can think of that’s going to help them. And it can involve jumping up on the bleachers for the breaststrokers, it can be bending over and simulating the strokes with the surgical tubing and usually it’s about 45 to 15. Forty-five seconds on, 15 off. The 15 seconds gives them a chance to go to the next station. We go through this circuit of 20 in about 25 minutes, total time, and then they’re expected to go in the water, warm up for about 1500 and then we try to do one set of about 1500 yards for this particular group. The distance group are already in their two lanes and they’re beating the water continually. But the others do this other thing that I said.

In the outdoor season, anytime we’re in a 50-meter pool it has to be a two-hour workout. And in those two hours we are expected to get at least 8000 meters in, within the two-hour time. In that two-hour time, I again try to make sure that they do the warm up properly, get the kicking in and then do set after set after set. One thing that we try to do and we just started this actually last year, that is at the very end of practice we try to select one distance. It could be a 50 for the 100 people, it could be a 100 for the 200 people, it could be a 100 even for the 500 people, but we select one distance and at that point, hopefully they’re really dead and what we want them to do is the second half of the race when they’re dead tired.

This year, Jimmie Pollen the sophomore that ended up winning the 500, at the end of every practice he tries to do a push off 52 seconds; and I told Jim we knew of a boy down in Cincinnati that was phenomenal at coming back on the last 100 of a 500 he could come back in 51 we knew and I said if you have at least a second or two ahead of him then the 52 seconds will hold him off. So, every single day we did that 52 seconds. And it got to be not easy but it got to be almost routine for him. At the State Championship in the finals he was leading. But with 100 yards to go we saw the other boy start to make his move and I thought, “Jim I know you can do this, please go.” And he did. And he went 52 seconds in that last 100. Which is a nice thing to do because it meant that he was following directions and he knew what he should be doing at that particular time.

So getting back to the 50 meter training, in the mornings during the summer time, actually starting in April, April-May, we do two hours in the morning and then two hours in the afternoon, and towards the middle part of June we are able to go to an outdoor pool which the kids really enjoy doing so we switch pools and we go to this 50 meter outdoor pool in the morning for two hours, in fact usually two hours and fifteen minutes, and we get in – in summertime we usually have two to three lanes of distance people and they’re able to do between 8 and 9000 meters every day, day in and day out -we don’t let up on them. We’re on them all the time and because of that I think that they can respond better in swimming meets when they’re working that hard.

In the afternoon though, once we get to the outdoor pool, then we come indoors and they work out for two hours and 15 minutes indoors. This year I started adding up and tried to get a little more yardage in and we were going between 9 and 10000 yards in the two hours and 15 minutes, short course in the afternoon. We only did that for about three weeks. I guess I got a little bit afraid because I thought this would just wreck their bodies if I did it any longer. So, at the first part of July I started cutting back and only going about 8000 in the afternoon still maintaining 8000 in the morning. We did this all the way up to two weeks before the Sr. championships down in Nashville. And then I had a talk with each of the boys and girls in what was going to be expected in terms of backing off and they all came to the conclusion that they still wanted to maintain pretty good yardage and I agreed with them that I wanted to maintain pretty good yardage so with two weeks out we started dropping back from 14 or 15000 down to maybe 14, little over 14, then a little over 13, 12, 11. So by the time we got to the week before the Sr. Nationals we were going about 11000.

Most of it was good yardage it was not garbage yardage and I want to emphasize that I don’t like garbage swimming. I think it’s a waste of time. And so, everything that we were still doing was done at a decent pace. And they had to make sure that they did at least 2000 yards of the main set in good form and they had to make sure it was a good set of repeats. In the afternoon, we emphasized a little bit shorter stuff but at least maintained at least 2000 yards. So, we’re going still 4000 yard meters a day of good, really good swimming. The first day of the meet at Sr. Nationals, Diana I think ended up going 8:36 which upset me because I thought she was much faster than that. Erica I think was 8:42 and I think Diana was second and Erica, I don’t know what she was. I think she was in the top six or seven.

Then in the 400 she finally started putting it together a little bit because in the 400 she went a 4:12.6 but she went a 1:02.5 on her last 100. She’s the type of girl that is able to come back the last 100 because she is a real competitor. She hates, hates losing. It’s a passion with her and I told her there is only one way you could possibly beat Brooke and that is if you are right with her we can pray that you can out-sprint her. And I wasn’t sure that she could even do that. Well Brook takes it out strong and just keeps going. She never slows down. She is phenomenal. And she is by far the number one distance girl in the country. But it gives Diana somebody to shoot for and that’s all she does. She shoots for her every single meet. Erica ended up going 4:54 in the IM and qualifying for the bonus in the 1500 and then the last day the two girls went 16:24 and 16:42 in the 1500 for Erica. And again, I was very unsatisfied because I felt like, I felt Brooke got out ahead of them and they had a tendency to let up on themselves. And afterwards I said all this hard work you’ve done, staying up with the boys and then Brooke just took you apart like nobody’s business. And they knew that I was upset even though they had gotten second and third, I just felt that they hadn’t done the time that I felt they were capable of. And when they don’t do a time, I don’t care what place they get I get very upset with them. And so, we sat down and I had some words with them.

Later they both made the team for the Pan Pacs and I was asked to go too thank goodness because I wanted to see what they could do over there. And over there they seemed to respond better. I’m not sure what it was, maybe I didn’t rest them enough. Although over there they were still going probably 8, 9, 10000 meters a day. Erica particularly likes to go a lot of yardage. I tried to get her to let up a little bit and she did a little bit and started feeling a little bit better. Diana, we let up even more, probably about 7000 meters she was going and I think it paid off and maybe she needed another week of rest because she ended up in the 800 going 8:29.06, Diana and Erica ended up going 8:39 and then in the 1500, 16:16 for Diana and Erica went 16:25. So both of them dropped their times substantial after the so-called championship.

Erica likes to keep working hard all the time. In Diana’s case, she likes to back off a little bit more.

The two boys we had down there, Nat Lewis and Sean Justice qualified for the University games in Italy and both of them did very well. I guess Nat was third – 3/10 out of first place in the 1500. Before the season started he had told me his best time in the 1500 had been something like 16:16 and at the end of the season he went 15:21.1 and to me probably he had the most phenomenal swim. And I’ll tell you why. His best time in a 100 free was 58 high. That’s with a dive start. The last seven 100 meters at the University Games he ended up going minute points. Seven 100’s of a minute point. To me that is phenomenal. If anybody can do a second to two seconds on their best time, they’re probably going to be a world record holder. And he did this in a funny way because he never started working out in Cleveland until probably the second week of June. He had come the latter part of May first part of June but he had a cast on his hand, he had surgery on his wrist. He was dead last in our endurance group. For about two weeks he was dead last, very depressed, thought about maybe giving up the whole summer and I said, “Let’s wait to find out when we can get the cast off.” He had been told that when he had the surgery it would be a two-week cast period and then he could take it off. Well it turned out to be seven weeks that he had this cast on and because of that he missed of course five weeks of hard training. I really feel like if he could have had those five weeks of hard training he might have won the University Games 1500 and maybe even qualified for the Pan Pacs but that’s water over the dam now.

I would like to talk a little bit more about what we do in workout. Here are some samples. Pull 20 50’s on the 40 seconds. That’s our warm-up. During the warm up time they are expected to work on their stroke and that’s another thing that I forgot to mention. We have a rule, every swimmer that the coaches are coaching have to be talked to every single workout. If you have 30 people in your group you are expected to talk to all 30 of them at least once preferably two or three times about their stroke. Make corrections. Even the older ones are expected to talk about and to make the corrections on their strokes. We emphasize streamlining a great deal on turns, we emphasize the catch a great deal, the extension a great deal, and good elbows on free style. But on the twenty 50’s on the 40 all they had to do was make send off.

Then eight 200 IM’s on the 2:30. I would expect our best people to go probably between 2:05 and 2:10 on all 8. We’ve gone IM’s, eight IM’s on as short a sendoff as a 2:10. When you’re going on a 2:10 not obviously, everybody can do it so we modify the IM for some of the people in the endurance lane. We may have them fly, back, free, free leaving off the breast stroke. But our very best IM’ers can go on the 2:10 send off for up to 8 IM’s. Then kick 12 x 75’s on the 1:10 where we’d expect them to go under 55 seconds preferably close to 50 seconds on the kicking. Then they go to four 500’s on the 5:30, descended. The last one I expect them to go under 4:50 for the boys. The girls under 5 minutes. Four 400’s, 4:20 send off. Four 100 strokes on the 1:10. If they’re an IM’er they go one of each, including breast stroke. Then the four 100’s on the minute. We throw that in there just to give them something to be challenged by when they’re dead tired. Then that’s all for that particular workout in the afternoon.

Another one, the ten 100 I.M.’s on the 1:30 for warming up and then we do another set where they go one easy one hard on the 1:15, one easy two hard, one easy three hard, one easy four hard. On the hard ones, we want them to go no more – for the boys – than 55 seconds. For the girls, they have to be going 58 seconds. On the easy ones, all they have to do is make it on the 1:15. They rest one minute at the end and then they go back downhill. They kick five 200’s under the three minutes, the fastest kickers will be going 2:30’s the rest of them about 2:40, 2:45’s. Swim thirty-two 50’s, eight each on the 45, this is I.M. — again we go eight of each, and two 800’s on the nine minute. We expect the first one to be no more than 8:30 the second one to be under 8 minutes.

The next workout begins with 2 x 400’s one free one back. Here as I said we emphasize a lot of backstroke on our warm up, three 1650’s on the 18 minutes. I’ll tell you a set, I bring this set up because we did this exact thing with Erica and Diana and there’s a real rivalry between those two in practice and at times they get very snippy with each other and I have to remind them that they are on the same team, they are good friends – they are – except sometimes one will get upset with the other because of what they’re doing in practice. When this particular case, the very first one, Diana went 16:40 on her 1650 and I said all you had to do is go 17:30 on them but she went 16:40. This upset Erica tremendously because she was on 17 minutes. So, I said “Erica, if you want to go faster, go ahead and go faster.” Well she went 16:39 on the second one but Diana went 16:19 on the second one, so that really upset Erica. But I had told Diana by the way, she said “What do I have to do to get out of practice?” And I was thinking, 16:20 I know she can’t do that, I just know she can’t. Well she went to the 16:19 and she started laughing and she said, “I get out, don’t I?” And I said, “If you really want to get out, you can but you probably should stay in” because you need the work. So, she ended up staying in but she got to go backstroke on the last one. But Erica then went 16:23 on the last one because she was upset. After something like this, three 1650’s we usually always do a set of kicks afterwards, and then we go right back to another hard set and then finish up.

I like to do a lot of 25’s short course only because they can maintain great stroke technique during that time and they don’t get much rest when it’s on the 200 seconds, they get maybe 5-6 seconds’ rest, and that’s all they need.

You may say do you ever let up? No, we really don’t. We go after them day after day after day. We never let up on the distance group. But they’re a special group. We treat them special, we do a lot of talking to them because this is a group that I think works harder, longer, are more motivated, are more able to do the work harder than anybody else. I guess maybe that’s why I like this group, I enjoy working with the group of people that are highly motivated, work extremely well all the time. And they know that I try to work extremely hard. I talk to them continually about goals, what they have to do in their sets to get them ready for certain times and they respond extremely well, all of them, not just the two girls and two boys. But we’ve got another couple girls, in fact we have three girls that just turned 13. All three of them made the 1650 cut and the 1000 cut when they were 12. And at the Jr. Nationals when they were 12 one of them went 16:55, one went 17:07 and the third one got food poisoning but still she wanted to swim and she ended up going 17:21. So we have another group of girls coming up that are highly motivated, work extremely well.

We have a boy, a thirteen-year-old boy, well he was thirteen at the time, he’s turned fourteen now. But he went to the Jr. Nationals. He won the Jr. Nationals 1500 and went 16:06 as an 8th grader. He also went 8:28 in an 800. The 800 is probably the most phenomenal swim because before that swim his best time in a 400 was 4:19. And I thought, gosh he’s going to have to go under his best time going out and then try to hold it. But we train this way, we train to go hard all the time. So, what Paul did, he went out in 4:16 plus and I thought “God that’s great, he’s got a chance to make the Jr. National cut.” And then he started coming back and he started looking better and better and he came back in a 4:15.8 and I said to myself, “Is that possible? It probably is, he did it.”

With the type of workouts, we do that happens a great deal of the time because as I said, if you’re working them hard enough they are going to start throwing in some phenomenal times at meets. And as I said we’ve got a lot of kids now that have bought into the program and as I said beforehand, I think, one of the big results was being able to get into that 50-meter pool early and to start training. So now that we’re training about 25 weeks out of the year long course it’s making a great deal of difference.

That brings me up to the point I’m not sure if they’ve decided yet when to have the Olympic trials. I know there’s a big push to have them in March. But I think to have the Olympic trials in March would be a very poor choice for a lot of Northern schools and people who live in the North because they don’t have access to a 50-meter pool. For those in the south, sure. I would rather see it in July, because then that gives everybody a chance to get into a 50-meter pool and that gives everybody a chance to participate and to try to make the Olympic team.

Q: Do you record pulse rates the high intensity sets?

A: We used to do a lot. And now the send-offs are so short we don’t even get a chance. I don’t even want them to start looking because I just want them trying to relax. I remember listening to a couple people. I don’t understand too much about this EN 123 or the SP 12 or 3. All I care about as Greg Troy said, is making sure they have high intensity workouts. For a while a few years ago I was taking a lot of heart rates but it got to the point where I could see who was going the hardest. We usually do it at the very start of the season and then sometimes in the middle part of the season we do it again and then maybe towards the end but other than that we really don’t, not any more.

Q: You’re not monitoring to make sure that they stay in a certain energy system.

A: No, I think, I’ve gotten to the point now where I can look at the times and that’s just about as good as a heart rate. Because I’ve seen the youngsters through three or four or five years and because of that I know when they’re so tired when they get finished that some of them are shaking. I don’t like to see that, but they are, they’re working so hard. And I know the heart rate is way up, no doubt in my mind. But at the same time, I guess maybe Diana’s the one person that I’ve done it probably more than anyone else. Her heart rate at normal I think is something like 50, 52, sometimes even in the high 40’s when she’s in fantastic shape. So, she has a really hard time getting her heart rate up to 140. And I know that she’s working hard, I can see it. Because she can repeat hundreds on the minute and keep them at 57’s and to me that’s really good because her best time is only 53. So when you can go that fast and she can go 12 of them like that. So, to answer your question I don’t do probably enough. I should do more, but I don’t.


Q: How much time between sets and what would the loosen down look like?


A: Between sets I like to have about a minute, not much more and for loosening down purposes, I loosen down after the kicking for sure. We’ll loosen down in Long Course 100 meters and actually I give them a couple minutes to loosen. At the end of workout, we loosen down three, four, five hundred meters or yards when they loosen down. And I think that’s pretty important by the way, that they do loosen down. Yes.


Q: Two questions, Number 1, What will I have to do next year to beat these fellows? In terms of this intensity, how fast you’re training seemingly day by day and I’m sure they have off days and I know I’ve talked to you personally about dryland and you feel that this is not very important. How do you get this steady work out? What do you do in terms of bringing up a 12, 13, 14 Jr. high school program and make it plain to them you’re driving them to gain strength and I’m not talking about your 200 and under swimmers, just your distance kids.

A: With the younger ones, I should have said that the four people that made the international trips were doing some exercises. Diana and Erica were doing sit-ups and push-ups every day. Diana can rip off 50 straight perfect push-ups anytime I ask her. And Erica can do the same thing. They do something like 250 crunches every day. So physically I think they’re pretty strong. The younger ones now are starting to do that. Greg made a good point, probably most people if you tell them to do it by themselves won’t unless they’re highly motivated. This is a group that’s highly motivated. I can tell them to do the push-ups and the sit-ups and they’ll do them at home. No doubt in my mind. This group will do them. And they did do them this summer on their own. Because we just didn’t have the time. Most of them had jobs so as soon as practice was over they were out and going to the pool to lifeguard or teach classes or whatever. The younger ones as I said, I don’t push them unless they’re in this particular group. If they’re in this group then I take them to the side and tell them some things that they can do extra to help them get stronger.

Q: Is there a weight room at all or a medicine ball?

A: No, no we don’t.

Q: It’s all water stuff?

A: It’s all just water stuff and then body stuff. Yes.

Q: Coaching these long-distance swimmers in as many yards as you go do you worry about burning somebody out or do you see that? Some people’s high is around 13 or 14 during the high school years, what would you do to prevent that?

A: We’ve had pretty good success with our distance program over the years and we’ve never had anybody really burn out and I think that probably the main reason is that in distance you keep improving if you’re in the water doing some kind of program and that’s also why we do I.M. If we see them becoming stagnant or plateaued in a particular distance then we will shift over to a stroke for a while just to give their body a chance to relax from all this freestyle or whatever stroke they’re going. I think this is the one reason why it’s good to do I.M. work. When you’re doing I.M. work something is going to be happening that’s good for you if you’re putting in the yardage. It has never failed us yet and we’ve never had anybody come up and say this is terrible it’s just not working for me. Something works for them.

Q: Have you found a difference at all observing the difference between boys and girls especially when the boys get older in their ability to repeat or recover?

A: Boy that’s a good question. Yes, the boys – let’s say we’re going a set of 16 x 400 meters and we’re going four on the 5, four on the 50, four on the 44 and the 4:30. The girls will start immediately at 4:40. Why? I don’t know and I tell them all they have to do is make send off. By the time, we get to the last set of four 400’s if the boys have tried to go harder, and they do because the girls push them and they don’t want to get beat by the girls, so when that happens by the time they get to the last set of four, the girls will beat the boys. I can’t even say why. Maybe they’ve got something inside of them that is a little bit tougher than the boys, but yes, the girls will eventually pass them if it’s a long enough set. We don’t go longer than about 4 to 5000 yard sets or meters. Once in a great while we’ll do a big set. If I want to get in great, great yardage, once and a while we’ll come in, warm up and go 10 1000s for example. We don’t do that very often, it’s boring. What I like to do in every workout is make sure they have a wide variety of activities in the workouts so they don’t get bored. I also make sure that they understand that they have to keep track of every single set that they do, pulling, kicking or swimming in every single stroke. And they have to keep a log of every workout that they do and I ask for them now and then just to see who is doing it correctly all the time. In fact, somebody has got my log book now because I can’t find mine and I always leave it on my desk. But we keep track of all these, all these practices.

Q: And if they don’t have it?

A: Then I ask them why. I tell them then “I guess you’re not really not that serious about your endurance work because if you were you’d keep track of everything you’re doing so you could see the progress that you’re making in the different distances, different strokes.” So, I make them feel like they have to do it and they do. Most of them will always keep the log book up to date. I don’t require that of everybody but the better swimmers, not only the distance swimmers but the other swimmers on the team have to do the same thing.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Sponsorship & Partnerships

Official Sponsors and Partners of the American Swimming Coaches Association

Join Our Mailing List

Subscribe and get the latest Swimming Coach news