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USMS 2015 Short Course Nationals - Swim

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San Antonio, Texas
United States
Total Time = 00m
Overall Rank = /
Age Group = 45-49
Age Group Rank = 0/
Pre-race routine:

I came to swimming about 10 years ago. I had started exercising to lose weight and thought it would be cool to do a triathlon. To do a tri, one needed to swim. So I joined a local Masters swim club and started swimming. I could swim, but never swam competitively as a kid. In Masters, I more or less started from scratch. I was decent (for a tri swimmer) fairly quickly. I don't recall ever finishing below the 50% mark in the swim leg of a tri.

After about 3 years, I changed Masters clubs to my current one. A club that is significantly bigger and taught more like a competitive team. Heavy focus on racing technique as well as all 4 strokes. I responded well to this club. I had many, many people to chase. It was a good fit.

I recall that my first swim meet was at age 40. I think I swam the 100 backstroke and came in around 1:13. I was still focused on triathlons at the time and continued to do so for maybe 3 more years. Despite the tri focus, I still enjoyed the various strokes and did a handful of swim meets each year. I continued to improve. In 2013, I pulled away from triathlons and generally from competing. I still went to Masters maybe a couple times a week to stay in some shape.

In early March this year, decided to sign up for a local swim meet. I had not competed in anything in about 18 months. I swam the four 50 yard races. I ended up setting 4 PRs and blowing away my previous times. 4 seconds in breast, 2.5 seconds in fly, 1 second in free, and a few hundreds in back. I could not believe it. When I got home, I looked up the USMS Nationals Qualifying Times, I found that I beat the NQT for the 50 fly. I barely missed the free by about 0.3 seconds, back by 0.5, and breast by 0.8.

Nationals had been on my mind when I was competing. I thought that I had a chance of making it in the 50 back. My times had not improved much in a couple of years, and I had been off the NQT by less than a second for some time. Making it had been a multi year goal.

When I found that I qualified (in fly), I made the decision to go. I decided that 30 years from now that I would prefer to have done it rather than wishing that I had done it. I was able to sign up for 4 events, the one I qualified in (50 fly) plus 3 more. Given my travel schedule of arriving on Friday, I signed up for the 100IM and 50 free on Saturday and the 50 fly and 50 back on Sunday.

Prior to signing up for the local meet, I had been swimming 1 to 3 times per week. In the 2 weeks leading up to the local meet, I picked it up to 6 times per week. When I qualified for Nationals, I kept up the 6x/week volume and added intensity. It was a couple of weeks after the local meet that my arms starting complaining about the increased demands. I ignored them, saying that it was just swimming. Well, another week or so later, the arms gave out. I had to stop.

About the same time, I slipped on some ice and injured my right groin muscle. The combination of the two put me in PT. A month away from Nationals and I was in PT with injuries to both my upper and lower body. In addition to PT, I got several massages. In the first, there were tons and tons of trigger points and hot spots. We worked through them. We ended up having the LMT work the arms and shoulders and the PT work the groin. They both crossed over, but those were the respective foci.

To make matters worse, on the Tuesday 11 days away from my first event, I woke up an old injury in my side. In the past, this injury had cost me months out of the water. It wakes up occasionally. It will probably be with me the rest of my life. And it woke up pretty loudly that day. I could not believe it chose then to do so.

I was not able to breast kick for most of the month leading up to Nats. In fact, I didn't do true breaststroke until a few days prior. The arms forced substantial reductions in swim volume and intensity. Just looking back to my training logs, I had less than 10,000 yards total in the 3 weeks prior to the meet.

But I did spend time working on my dolphining, my starts, and my turns. I went off the blocks when I could. While there were many aspects that I could not do, I could work those things. So I did.

One thing that I did in the 6 week period was really clean up my diet. It wasn't bad to begin with. But I ate very, very cleanly. To my surprise, I lost about 15 pounds. Weight that I needed to lose and put me back close to where I was when I was competing in tris.

I also got the experience of trying to buy a tech racing suit. I had never worn one before. There are so many choices. How on earth to know what's real and what's marketing? And which one are better for thick hips and thighs versus skinny hips and thighs? Ugh! I talked to my coach who suggested that I go with Arena. I was able to find a very good one at a very competitive price. I bought the largest size available, supposedly large enough for my waistline.

These suits are designed primarily for high schoolers. Not middle aged men. When I got it out, I pulled it wide and found that the waistband wasn't as wide as my hip bones. How on earth was I to get this thing on? I watched a few videos and learned a few tricks. Somehow, I was able to get it on. It took about 15 minutes the first time. But I got it on. I was singing soprano afterwards, but it was on.

The weekend prior to the meet, I had serious doubts that I would be healthy enough to compete. I did not swim due to the injuries, other than going off the blocks a few times. But the Monday before, I went on a business trip to Denver. It went all week and I flew to San Antonio on Friday. I think being out of the office all week, away from my desk, and NOT sitting in my chair made a big, big difference. I felt better each day. And I did a little bit more swimming each day in the hotel pool.

About 10 minutes dolphining on Monday. About 15 minutes with some real swimming Tuesday. This included some very light breast stroke. First time in about a month. Wednesday about 15 minutes including some regular speed breast stroke. On Thursday, I went to a local gym with a real pool. I swam for about 30 minutes and did all the strokes including a couple 100IMs at good pace.

I flew to San Antonio on Friday. After landing, I drove straight to the meet site. The place is huge. Large grandstands around the competition pool. Two outside 10-lane competition pools. Another 8 lane outdoor warmup pool. A 20+ lane indoor pool. There were swimmers everywhere.

I decided to get wet. I put on my suit and went to the outdoor warmup pool. Get used to swimming outside after spending all winter inside. But what lane to go in? There are 6-8 people per lane. All really good swimmers. I finally get in a lane and start swimming. There are bodies everywhere. I get overwhelmed after about 100 yards and get out. I just need to calm down and relax. I go inside which was less busy with only 1 or 2 people per lane. I am able to relax and go through all my strokes. I do go over to the competition pool. Watch a few events from the pool deck. After the last event of the day, the competition pool opens for 30 minutes. I swim for another 10-15 minutes there to get a feel for the pool. The sides, the depth, the blocks, etc.

I left there and went to the store to get food for the weekend. Checked into the hotel. Friday evening, I did something for the first time. I shaved my body. Legs, arms, chest, etc. It took a good 30 minutes. And while watching TV afterwards, I kept finding more spots that I missed. All in all, I probably spent 1.5 hours shaving during the evening.

Still, I got into bed at a good hour for a hoped-for good night's sleep.

Once in bed, I mentally went through my first race of the morning, the 100IM. I visualized the start. The dolphining. The fly stroke. The first turn. Back dolphin. Etc. Every element of the race from start to finish. This was something that I had done on many occasions in the last 6 weeks. I drifted off to sleep....
Event warmup:

Saturday morning was game day. Swim meets are more civil than triathlons regarding start times. I got to the meet site about 8:15 or so and had lots of time to get ready. My first event was around 10:30.

I started in the indoor pool. I did most of my warm up here. The competition pool opened for warmups for 30 minutes and I went over to practice my starts. Everything was feeling good.
  • 00m
  • 100 yards
  • / 100 yards

My first race was the 100IM. I was at the start spot well before needed. Several heats early. If you don't get there at the right spot on time, you're SOL. I was there in plenty of time.

Here is a link to the YouTube video of my (and all of Saturday in the "Even" heat pool). My race is at about the 1:01:15 time mark. I'm in the orange suit with black cap.

Despite the crowd and the relative magnitude of the situation, I wasn't all that nervous. Excited, but not over-the-top pumped up. The whistle blew and it was time for me to get on the block. I climb up and wait for the next whistle. "Swimmers take your mark." BEEP!!!!!!

I dive in and have a good start. I dolphin well. I start my fly stroke and it feels good. My first one keeps my head down, something that I learned to do watching Michael Phelps videos over the last month. I get to the wall and have a good turn.

The backstroke leg goes well. Dolphin on my back. I purposefully hold off an all-out sprint but give it a strong effort. As I close on the wall, I have a vague sense that I'm near the front but not first. I have no sense of what my time is at this point. Everything to this point in the race has gone well. Like I have envisioned many times. But I don't like my back finish as I'm too far from the wall and have to kick in before I touch.

One benefit of not all-out sprinting the back is that I have air for the breast pull out. And I flat out nail the pull out. I strongly push off the wall. Dolphin/pull. Kick. I surface almost at the halfway point down the pool, well ahead of my competitors. I start breaststroking for all I'm worth. Its my weakest stroke but much improved in the last year. In watching the replay, this is where I separate from the others. I hit the wall with a very good turn and start the free leg home.

I come off the wall well and have a good dolphin. More separation. I'm struggling for air now. But I try to avoid breathing to slow things down. I want very much to pick up my tempo, but I'm going as fast as I can now. As I get down the pool, my lungs are screaming for air. But I breath 3 times on the last leg and close as hard as I can.

I touch the wall and look up at the scoreboard. I can make out 1:03: and change. I get an enormous smile and surge of pride. I beat my previous PR by 6 seconds. I was astounded at that time. I could not believe it. I could not have been happier.

It turns out that I won my heat. My official time was 1:03.61. I was 35th out of 59 in my AG. The NQT was 1:05.81. I beat it by over 2 seconds.

I had about 4 hours before my next event, the 50 free. I definitely needed a good hour to really recover from the effort. I was glad to have the long recovery.

Knowing that I had so much time, I went and watched some of the later 100IM heats. I got to see Matt Grevers go against Anthony Ervin, 2 London Olympians and likely Rio Olympians. It was one heck of a heat. Grevers got out fast on the fly and back, dolphining each way to close to the 15 meter mark. He extended his lead to a body length coming into the free. Ervin, the free sprinter, did his best to track Grevers down. He did not take a breath on the free leg and closed the gap considerably. Grevers touched in a new record 47.78. Unreal.

I ended up taking off my tech suit and putting on a practice jammer. I also got something to eat. I went through both a cool down as well as a new warm up.

The 50 free was my second race.
the 4:44:30 mark

I had my best start of the meet. A few dolphins and I'm up and swimming hard and fast. I think I breathe once on each leg. I have a good turn. A quick dolphin and I'm sprinting again. I refuse to take a breath before hitting the wall. I try to find another gear to increase turnover, but its not there. I hit the wall and look up to the scoreboard. Its too far away for me to read with wet goggles. After I get out, I ask the timers what it was. They tell me 25.00.

Holy COW! I get another huge smile. I swam the event 6 weeks ago and my time was 26.36. I just knocked off 1.3 second from my PR!!!!!! And I beat the NQT (26.03) by a second!! WOW!!!!!!!!

I learned later that my official time was 25.09, not 25.00. I finished 45 out of 66 in my AG. But I was still incredibly pleased with the result. I could not believe it.

I get out of my tech suit and cool down in a practice jammer. I try to work on tomorrow's strokes, the fly and back. But my arms are telling me that they are done. I change and go out to watch the remainder of the day's heats.

I shave again Saturday night. It goes much easier than the first foray. I call home and talk to the family. They had been watching on the live video feed. I know that I'm doing well as my 13 year old son tells me, "Dad, that was really cool." .

Sunday morning is much like Saturday's. A good breakfast and some coffee. Arms are hurting some and I do take a couple of Advil. The side is annoyed too, but I ignore it. I'm at the pool by 8:30 and get some work in the competition pool. My first event starts a bit later though, around 11AM.

The 50 fly is what I qualified in. My plan is to do much like I did when I qualified. Dolphin off the start to about the 15 meter mark. Turn and dolphin until I run out of air. About the 3:14 mark.

I have a decent start. Not as good as the 50 free start. I dolphin, but I must have miscounted. I surface around the middle of the pool, not the 15 meter mark. I stroke for all I'm worth. But my stroke feels off. Arms aren't right. Timing isn't right. It crosses my mind that my lack of swimming in the preceding month is showing up.

I do have a good turn and then dolphin hard. I go by feel and dolphin until I'm out of air. It turns out that I dolphin very close to the 15 meter mark. I'm a bit lucky that I didn't go over and get DQed. I do probably make a mistake of breathing on my first stroke, but I needed the air. I stroke hard to the end and hit the wall. One breath on the return leg.

I look at the time and see 26.93. How the heck did that happen? My qualifying time 6 weeks ago was 27.64. I just knocked off 0.7 seconds in a race that I felt off and out of synch. I'm 1.3 seconds below the NQT of 28.25. I was amazed. I was very pleased with my time but a bit disappointed with how I swam. The lack of recent swimming showed up. It tells me that I have more time to gain.

My time was 22nd of 48 in the AG. I finished in the top half of competitors. I am amazed by these facts.

I have a shorter turn around to my last event, the 50 back. One thing about swimming outside is that there is no ceiling to help keep on line when swimming backstroke. And with a bright mid-day sun, it can be really hard to see. I get in the outdoor practice pool to test the sun. It is blinding when going in the direction swimming away from the camera. I know that I'll have to look a touch to my left to avoid being blinded when swimming that direction.

Backstroke, though, is the stroke that I've historically had the most success in. Its what I became competent in quickest. I was hopeful that I could go sub 30. But its really hard to say I'm going to swim X time. I have to focus on technique and strategy and let the time be.

My plan is much like my fly plan. On the start, try to get the hips high out of the water. Enter hands first and get the whole body through the same hole. Dolphin hard off the start. Dolphin past the midway point. Technique wise, grab water on my pull, keep my hands tighter towards the hips at the end of my stroke, and keep my hips up and head back.

5:16 mark.

I have a so-so start. Dolphin is ok, but not near long enough. Like the fly, my stroke feels off. My left arm/hand is sliding wide. I have a decent turn. But much like I was worried about in the practice pool, the sun on the return leg is tough. I try to keep my eyes to the left to avoid the sun. And I end up hugging the lane line. I do my best to finish strong. The left arm continues to stroke wide. Not sure if I'm fully able to keep the head back and hips up like I want. I touch the wall and see my time of 30.59.

A new PR by half a second, beating my previous PR from 6 weeks ago of 31.17. Also beating the NQT of 30.66. I finished 19th of 26 in my AG. I am so-so with the result. Very happy to have a 4th PR and a 4th NQT. But a bit disappointed knowing how much time I left in the pool on this one.
Post race
Warm down:

Wow, what a GREAT experience this was. Writing this report days later, I still have a huge smile on my face thinking about how it went. Way exceeded expectations. When I walked into the meet site on Friday, I had serious questions if I belonged. The initial warmup amongst all the bodies in the outdoor pool did not help. There are just so many great swimmers. But after Saturday's results, I fully accepted that I belong on this stage. Sunday was further confirmation. I am proud of how I swam and the results. I know there is still much to improve upon too.

It is such an exciting venue too. It is so cool to line up with both current and former Olympians. It was a major highlight to see Grevers and Ervin up close. And it was so exciting to see several national records fall while being right there to see it. The depth of swim talent is just amazing. So many great swimmers of all ages. It is awesome to see 1900 people of all ages and both sexes who share a passion. The comradarie of the swimmers is strong. It is an environment of such positive energy.

I don't know where I'll be a year from now. But I am starting to plan for next year at Greensboro. I know that I can go faster. Having this experience under my belt, lots of lessons learned, I know that I can (continue to) improve.

What limited your ability to perform faster:

Instead of identifying limiters, I am making this a section of lessons learned or points to remember. In no particular order:

1.A middle-aged body does not respond well to doubling volume and increasing intensity. It might work in your teens and 20s. Not your 40s. I should know better from my tri years. I thought I learned that lesson then. But swimming applies too, not just running and biking.

2. Being the first time that I participated in a multi-day swim meet, the body definitely feels the previous day(s)' racing. This seemed common amongst participants. If you have a choice, do your harder events early.

3. Visualization works. I visualized my 100IM race many times. And I executed it almost exactly right. All of the different skills and elements, and it came off so cleanly.

4. Positive outlook matters. I had to keep upbeat and positive when my body was rebelling. It was tough to do many times. But I tried hard to stay positive and I ended up having a great meet.

5. A black swim cap is not the choice in an outdoor pool with a strong sun. It got hot almost immediately when I stepped into the sun with it on.

6. Wearing pants after shaving your legs feels really weird. Getting into bed between the sheets feels good though.

7.Doing things like going to Nationals is very exciting and a huge personal milestone. I had a lot of family and friends say how excited they were for me and how proud of me they are. When there is so much stress in most people's lives, having some positive things like this makes a big difference. These are the things that make life worth living.

8. I am hopeful that my story can resonate with other people. That I can inspire some people that they can achieve. That you don't have to be a former college swimmer to become a Nationals level swimmer. That sacrifice and overcoming some adversity can be done. I hope that these are lessons that I can teach my children.

Event comments:

The race site, staff, and volunteers were fantastic. Everyone was so friendly. The facilities were outstanding. In talking with other swimmers who'd been to many Nationals, they were saying this was the best facility that they'd been to. I can't compare it to any other large meet, but I can say that I found the facilities to be awesome. And again, the people involved were also fantastic. So friendly, so helpful, so encouraging.

What an amazing experience.

Last updated: 2015-03-12 12:00 AM
00:00:00 | 100 yards | / 100yards
Age Group: 0/
Overall: 0/
Performance: Good
Course: Two 10 lane 25 yard pools. Outside in a stadium. Crowds estimated at a couple thousand.
Start type: Plus:
Water temp: 0F / 0C Current:
200M Perf. Remainder:
Breathing: Drafting:
Waves: Navigation:
Post race
Weight change: %
Mental exertion [1-5]
Physical exertion [1-5]
Good race?
Course challenge
Organized? Yes
Events on-time?
Lots of volunteers? Yes
Plenty of drinks?
Post race activities:
Race evaluation [1-5] 5

2015-05-01 9:06 AM

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Rochester, NY
Subject: USMS 2015 Short Course Nationals

2015-05-01 10:10 AM
in reply to: #5112284

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Subject: RE: USMS 2015 Short Course Nationals

Congrats, that's great.  Looking forward to getting home tonight and watching the video


2015-05-01 10:40 AM
in reply to: #5112284

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Lethbridge, Alberta
Bronze member
Subject: RE: USMS 2015 Short Course Nationals
Congratulations!! Very inspiring, especially for those of us who didn't start out as fish!
2015-05-01 1:50 PM
in reply to: #5112284

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West Chester, Ohio
Subject: RE: USMS 2015 Short Course Nationals

Very cool experience for you.  Swimming at that level and seeing some Olympians compete with some awesome take-away points.  Super race!! Having 4 PR'sout of 4 events is fantastic stuff!  Way to go!!

2015-05-01 2:01 PM
in reply to: #5112284

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Atlanta, Georgia
Bronze member
Subject: RE: USMS 2015 Short Course Nationals
Very cool! You see folks doing tri occasionally become roadies or runners(exclusively) but very seldom see someone bridging from tri to being a fishie.

Congrats on your day and great RR/
2015-05-02 10:00 AM
in reply to: alltom1

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Austin, Texas
Subject: RE: USMS 2015 Short Course Nationals

That is VERY cool!

Terrific RR, taking us with you along the journey.  As has been said, it's not often that hear about people following this path and meeting with such success.

Multiple PRs and NQTs?  Unreal!

Congrats on a great set of races and a terrific experience.  And thanks for sharing it all!


2015-05-04 5:36 AM
in reply to: mcmanusclan5

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Verona WI--Ironman Bike Country!
Subject: RE: USMS 2015 Short Course Nationals

A big HUGE congratulations on a job very well done!  I give you so much credit for taking the step into competitive swimming and coming out with so much good learning (and results) at the end.  Shave on!

2015-05-05 4:55 AM
in reply to: SSMinnow

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Canandaigua NY
Subject: RE: USMS 2015 Short Course Nationals

Great races and a great race report Rob!  Congratulations!


2015-05-14 8:10 AM
in reply to: kenj

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Rochester, NY
Subject: RE: USMS 2015 Short Course Nationals

Thanks for the kind words, all.  It was a great experience that I hope can inspire others.

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