Training for the 1500 by Don Talbot, Australian Olympic Coach (1972)



All the world records, at the moment, all the long distance ones, anyway, are held by Americans. My giving this talk is something like the mouse that roared.   Anyway with lies and some half-truths, I may be able to get over this, I remember in 1956 when I was just beginning to coach, I saw George Breen swim 17:52.9 for the 1500 at the Melbourne Olympic Pool. I thought it was the greatest.   I think that was about 1:11’s for each 100. I thought it would be a long time until it would be broken. I guess a lot of other people thought the same thing.

One of the Australian Olympic team’s alternates in 1956 was John Konrads, he had just turned 14, I was determined that we were going to chase after the 17:52 set by Breen, and get the record for Australia.   The next year John went 17:28 which surprised me and everyone else.      This swim brought the 100’s down to 1:09’s.    Today with Kinsella and Burton at 15:57 the splits average out at 1:04’s.

Maybe it was Konrads who started out the race against the clock in world swimming – not only for the 1500 but for the 400 (he held the record for that one also). I think that since that period, we’ve been just racing the clock;   I feel that a subtle change is taking place.    We are getting back to the idea of paced swimming. It will be a much higher pace than it was 15 years ago. For anyone who was at the 1956 Olympics the way Breen, Yamanaka and Rose, lapped the rest of the field, and that was paced swimming.   We were grateful that an Australian won. I believe the trend is returning to that kind of paced swimming.

Today, we are doing as much mileage as we can cover, with the system being what it is and its demands on us.  We’ve got to get back to a little bit of sanity.   Everybody is trying to predict where we are going from here, and I don’t think anybody knows.  I’m sure, I don’t. I think there is a return to paced swimming, and the 1500 at Munich will have to be very well paced.  After the first 400, the pace will get harder, and the winning time will go somewhere around 15:45, That’s what we’re shooting for with Graham Windeatt.

You can assess at an early age what type of swimmer you’re working with. A good 1500 swimmer will show at an early age a fairly high endurance index.     He has to be able to hang on over longer periods. There has to be something in his musculature and his psychological make-up to enable him to sustain a high output of effort over a long period. One of the weaknesses of modern 1500 swimmers is their low speed factor.  In other words, they can’t put out like the sprinters and that is pretty normal.    This has also been a thing that I think, we as coaches, have got to look at and try to improve.

I think you can improve basic speed and the muscle fibers that contribute to speed can be worked upon. This is another aspect that I’ve been working on in my training program. Another characteristic of 1500 swimmers is their low stroke rate. I remember when Rose swam 1500 free and he would swim 37-38 strokes per lap. I was upset with Konrads because I could not get him to swim lower than 42-43 strokes per lap. His time then being 17:11.

A typical characteristic of 1500 swimmers is that they show themselves at an early age. I don’t know about the age group system in the rest of the world but in Australia it is possible for one as young as eight to have competitive swims over 1500. We feel that it is good for them psychologically as improvement over a 50 or a 100 is very hard to come by.  You may get an inch of improvement for 100% effort. Yet in 1500 meters you can get a lot of improvement without having to put out even a 50% effort. So they can say that they like the event or say that they can improve a lot easier.   I also feel that because they are young and innocent as far experience goes, they will be more inclined to hurt themselves.


I feel that today the 1500 is more for the younger swimmer. I know that Mike Burton will not agree with me. You can probably swim a good 1500 for a long, long time, especially if your mental attitude is right as obviously Burton’s must be. I really believe that the best age for the event is about 16-17, I don’t know what the limit for the 1500 is, but it must be a long way from what we’re doing at the moment. It’s probably another 30 sec. off what the record is at the moment. It’s getting damn close to what it should be, maybe around 1:02’s. My workout programs are modeled on what I learned from Sherm Chavoor, and his program for Mike Burton. Sherm came to Australia and gave us a clinic, I don’t think he liked doing it, but he did it. I must say that I copied exactly what he did. When I first heard the workouts Burton was doing, I was staggered, particularly with the taper.

Over the years I’ve had some 1500 swimmers who really helped me to assess the event. In 1964 I coached the Olympic winner, Bob Windle as well as the third place, Allan Wood. The points I feel I learned early were to continually prod and work on the goals and incentives of the swimmers. I believe that 1500 swimmers are apart from the rest of the squad.   They usually get a good bit of ribbing from the rest of them, but usually they are well adapted and able to take anything you or anyone can throw at them. You will no doubt have noticed that whether you work on a high quality level or a low quality – you will get inconsistencies for any number of reasons.    The swimmer may not have slept well that night.     He might have eaten something that disagreed with him. It may be the wrong time of month – only applying to women of course. For a 1500 swimmer you must control much more closely the output of his workouts. It is no good to have him come down on a day he feels great, pull off a series of 100’s at 1:02-3 but the rest of the week he cannot break 1′ 11. This will breed an inconsistent swimmer.  It is very important that the training develop day to day consistency as towards the end of the 1500 race, the swimmer may be relying on memory. I’m not joking.

You’re putting out this: you’re swimming without too much control of your body. I feel if your swimmer will be a great 1500 performer, he will have to learn this. So I go for consistency in workouts. We look at the workouts done early in the week, and compare them with the ones done in the latter part 1 we criticize these as constructively as possible. We graph each week’s work, and aim to better each week’s graph in relation to the previous one, or at least keep it parallel. I think that this is what you’ve got to aim at. So that when he gets into a race, he’s sure that he can do a certain time or a time that he’s been able to repeat in training. Mileage is pretty basic in the 1500. You cannot expect to do a good 1500 if you’re not at least matching with what the rest of the world is doing. Of course you hear all sorts of stories; you hear of one doing 15km a day, if I add a couple of thousand, we should get a bit further. I know, with my tongue in my cheek that coaches stretch the truth a little.      You hope that by doing that those damned Australian’s won’t catch on.        Of course when we come here we add a few half-truths and we hope that you don’t catch on.

Simply put, you’ve got to do the mileage. You also must know what type of swimmer you’re dealing with; more so than all of the other types because he’s got a longer way to go. He has to economize in every aspect of his swimming, stroke wise, mind wise, and in every other way that you can think of to get the best performance out of him, especially in the last 10 yards where you may have to knock someone else off. I know that while training Windeatt, I know at what level he should train, at any point in the season. If anything, I have erred in demanding far too much from my swimmers in workouts.

Specific examples of workouts I have done with Graham would be:    during our summer holidays when he’s able to rest during the day, we may cover 15 km a day.

If we do 8 x 400 @ 5½ min. pace, he’s to hold them around 4:23 or so, and improve upon the series as the week ends. For 800 repeats – the average day he’ll go four around 9:20 and occasionally throw a good one in at 8:55. It’s fairly high quality. I feel that quality is relative to the swimmer and the coach.    What I term as high quality may be completely different for another coach. It’s got to be related to the workouts and the actual program you’re working on. When I was working with Bob Windle, he could never repeat 400’s LC  under 4:45 with 7-S min. pace. So quality is relative.   For Windle that was high, but I thought it was quite poor. Comparing this to Don Watson’s program for John Kinsella who could hold under 33 min. for a 3000 meter swims you can see what level of high quality work is possible. One thing that I run certain of, as the swimmer gets older, he doesn’t seem to be able to put out as much, but the rewards or results seem to be even greater. This could be due to physical changes in musculature, greater body weight.

The mature swimmer will not likely want to hurt himself in training. He saves a bit for the big effort when it is required. An example of a workout for Graham Windeatt.   We train in a nine lane 50 m pool.       We get into the water at 6:00 a.m. and he swims until 7:30 a.m. During his school year, he would only swim about 10,000 m.

The heavy mileage, up to 17 km daily can only be done during school holidays. In Australia our summer is from December 15 – January 29. Our nationals are in February when school is resumed.

Graham is a pretty good I.M. swimmer, so we do a fair amount of stroke work in each workout.    I don’t know what Breen could do for a 100, possibly 1:03,   Konrads at his best ever, could do about 55.9 but by then he couldn’t break 18 min. for the 1500.   So we want to improve speed in order to pick up the pace, Thus the problem with a 15-18 km workout is that it just flattens them out, I think that it is largely a psychological thing. The body is tired and they become mentally less alert, lazy if you will. I am trying to overcome this with Graham. When Windle did his near 17 min. 1500 his best 100 was 56+. Later, when he no longer emphasized the 1500, his 100 dropped to 53:8.  He was probably the best sprinter than ever swam a 1500, that I can remember, Graham’s best to date for the 100 is 55:9, Eventually, I’d like him around 54+-, This will improve his 400 and 1500, simply because he has a certain degree of basic speed. Not everybody has basic speed, but I feel that by training, you can improve it. A typical workout might start with 2 x 1500 every 20 min, that being a long test, I’d ask for 17:40 or under.        We don’t warm-up.               With big squads, all sorts of people would just goof-off, I would be prepared to accept a slower first effort and at least get a controlled swim out of everyone. In effect, the first part of any repeat would be done ridiculously slow. But in the case of Graham, if  he still can get under 17:40, how he does it, is okay. If he went over 18 min. I would ask him to repeat it, We might follow this with 8 x 50@    one min. pace, We used to just do basic kicking, but I found that they were not very effective,    They were virtually doing nothing,

After the kick, we do an 800 back to go under 11:10,

8 x 50 kick some other stroke than the previous kicking followed by an 800 pull free and another one back, having to break 9:45,

8 x 100 some other strokes, often done in the medley order about two min, pace.

To end the workout and to work on the sharpness or speed, 4 x 50 sprints, I usually set standards to break on those sprints which are done on three min. pace. If he can reach the standards I set, he can get out. Initially, he wasn’t too good in reading my standards, and would repeat them quite a few times. But he did improve sufficiently that he can usually do just four, Karen Moras could hardly break 32 for a push 50 free.    After we’d been working on these end of session sprints she was able to break 30 every time.   She improved dramatically in the 100 to a 1:00+ and a 59:9 short course,

The afternoon session would start with 30 x 50 every 40 sec. done at low quality, about 34’s.

Followed by 2 x 400 I.M. @ 6½ pace to be done under 5:08.

Another 30 x 50 in sets of four every 40 sec,

The quality increasing to under 32’s.

Two more 400 reverse order, to be done under 5:08,

8 x 200 pull@ four min. pace, usually four of them free, one back, two breast, one free.


1 x 1500 very hard, he usually can go 16:50, Sometimes he can’t go that fast as the pool is too crowded; we train with the public in the pool!


8 x 100 kick, ending up with the 4 x 50 sprints again, he must break 27 for each of these, When we first started this type of program, he couldn’t do much better than 28.5, recently he’s been able to swim 25+.

This type of workout, we’ll do until we go into our taper phase, I use anything, I believe my mother could coach and get somebody through at this stage, I feel that the problems develop once you’re in the taper part of the season, getting them ready for the right day, not the day after, We work eleven sessions per week, getting into the water every day, So on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we only have one workout. I want to briefly mention paddles. I probably use them more extensively than anyone in Australia, but I think they have more application to middle and distance swimmers.

We may swim as much as 50% of our program with paddles on. I don’t work any stroke with paddles except free and back. During our summer workout when we might cover 15 km, we would only use the paddles for about 30% of the workout, Paddles have the advantage of lengthening the stroke and slowing the movement down, allowing for a greater feel of the water,

The feel is most essential to any great swimmer. I used it specifically for the entry and for pulling. Graham’s stroke was evolved from extensive use of paddles.

With the second group of people I mentioned, not particularly the distance swimmers, but people that might be on still the middle distance program for varying events, Not the 1650, but for anything else. I almost ruined a couple other distance swimmers last year by trying to make everybody stay on the same program that Fassnacht was on and it didn’t work, Nobody could do it but Cindy Plaisted, They would work one or two days with the distance people, one, two or three workouts and then back over in the middle distance group. Usually our middle distance group does a lot more individual medley work, a lot of butterfly work. They do things like a short rest butterfly i:-rork for the ones that can carry it, I agree completely with Don Easterling on not having people go butterfly any further than they can carry the butterfly stroke. As he said, there are better ways to punish them or to get them tired and not do harm to their butterfly.

We have a lot of swimmers that could go such things as 10 – 100’s on 1:30. In fact some of them this summer we set 10 of them on 1:30 for 100 meter butterfly, but this middle group then would do less distance, little more interval, and a lot of work in their own strokes. Then the lighter workout group would do work on a broken series. Everybody works broken series but they would work more broken work trying once again to get better multiples of what they are doing.

In other words, you’ve got somebody like Zorn who you can’t get 10 – 200’s out of, but you might get 8 broken 200 1s by allowing him to rest 10 seconds each 50, They would at least be done at a fast enough pace where he would get a little bit of speed or muscular work out of it, not all just aching pain,

Generally everybody at the end of workout works on 500 to a 1,000 of sprint type work. It all depends upon what part of the season we are talking about and how much it would be and ,mat distance it   would be. We finish a lot of time with 10 – 100’s for our sprints if   have been doing longer distances. Or, we could finish with 20 – 25’s or any varied multiples of sprints.   The same basic pattern as the high school outline that I gave you with the forced warm-up type work first, then our series work, and then the sprint work toward the end.


All workouts start with the weight training exercises on the deck, Our evening workout usually lasts:? hours during the school year. Our morning workout most times is an hour, two days a week two hours, and then we have two hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and two hours on Saturday evenings. We give them Sunday evenings off.

Before someone asks the question, I might just go ahead and work a little bit towards taper workouts as I know this is always a question that is asked. The taper workout sometimes taking longer than regular workout. Maybe you had been going up to 7,000 in a two hour workout and then you’re tapering down   to where they are only going 2,000 or less, Sometimes it takes you the full two hours, In fact, most often it takes the full two hours as you can’t stop to run your squad through a taper workout at 2,000.       Not because you are necessarily trying to give them much rest but because you are giving individuals that much attention.

Also, you’ve got to spend a lot of time warming up and getting ready to do the performance that they are going to do, Maybe they’re only going to do one or two 150’s, or something like this,

Then we make our change from our short interval work to a longer rest interval, one to one or longer whatever it might be, we usually find there is about a four week period of when they are completely annihilated.     They’re going to be worse during that four week period than they are in the rest of the year, I am not sure physiologically what happens. All I know is that it does happen and you’ve got a meet coming up within that four week period that you’re worried about losing. You better be very careful because you are going to get poor performances.


During the early part of the season, of course, the times are pretty good but they’re all split pretty evenly. They try to get out too fast, they tie up and don’t finish well. When you get to that four week period, when you start more quality work, you are going to come into a situation where they can’t get out and they can’t come back. I guess this is the way you explain it.

As you begin to rest more for your taper, and again it comes down to knowing the individuals, and how they are responding to the taper, usually, with an AAU team that is training very hard, I think around 10 days. But at the same time I’ve worked college swimmers that didn’t need more than a four day taper, or less, because they haven’t anything to taper from. If they worked out only 4,000 four days a week, and then a meet on Friday, what are you going to taper for? They have been tapering all season. Better not let them rest three days or they’ll be out of shape.

Brad Cooper dropped from 4:23 to 4:08 in one summer, and I think the paddle did a great deal to help him feel the water and to get his stroke rate under control.

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