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USMS Spring Nationals 2016 - Swim

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Greensboro, North Carolina
United States
Total Time = 00m
Overall Rank = /
Age Group = M45-49
Age Group Rank = 0/
Pre-race routine:

I first qualified for US Masters Swimming Nationals in March of 2015. I went to Nationals last year for the first time in San Antonio. It was a fantastic experience. My race report from last year is here:

Actually, my story of someone coming to swimming in middle age and making Nationals resonated with a lot of people. I was featured in Swimmer Magazine for the adventure that I had in San Antonio. Its been a great experience and a lot of fun.

And so I come to Greensboro a year older and a year wiser. While everything was brand new a year ago, Things like how to put on a tech suit and how to shave my body. I now had a better idea of what to expect and where I fit in overall.

I learned a lot in the last year. How to race in swimming. Where some of my weaknesses are. More of the details involved in a successful event. How to sprint. How many times to breath in a 50. How to pace a 100. How far to carry the dive and dolphin off the blocks. How many dolphins to take in a 50 versus a 100. I am still refining these details, but I have a much better idea of what to focus on than I had a year ago.

A year ago, I had only made the National Qualifying Time (NQT) in one event prior to going to San Antonio. After last year's Nationals, I was qualified in the 4 events that I participated in there. The 100IM, 50 fly, 50 free, and 50 back. By virtue of being qualified in at least 3 events, I could swim a total of 6 this year. And so, I added the 50 breast and the 100 back. I swam the 100 back in a local meet about 3 weeks prior to Nationals and was able to make the NQT in that event. I had made numerous close but unsuccessful attempts to beat the NQT in the 50 breast. It was a major goal to add this stroke to my NQT list, indicating that I had reached that level in all four strokes.

In the last year, I made some significant changes to my various strokes, particularly fly and breast. While I was most competitive in the 50 fly in San Antonio, no one watching me swim fly would say that I do it well. I am competitive in that event because I can dolphin kick very well. And in the 50 fly, I can dolphin about 2/3 the way down and the same on the return leg. I completely re-worked my stroke, with most of the change occurring about a month prior to Nationals.

Breaststroke, also, is a stroke that I've been working on quite a bit. It does not come naturally to me. I've made a lot of progress in it, but its still not where I want it.

Backstroke is the stroke that I've been most natural in of the four. I've been competitive in it for some time but still whittling down my best times.

Freestyle has seen major improvement as well. In March 2015, I went 26.37 in the 50 free. By November 2015, I was down to 24.80. And about two weeks prior to Nationals this year, I found a tweak that I could tell was faster than I was before.

So I headed to Greensboro excited about what I might be able to do. I flew down in the morning of Thursday, the 28th. I went straight to the pool as the distance events were being held. I cheered on two teammates. One actually won her age group and is now the National Champion. Very cool stuff.

After the days' events, the pool opens for lap swimming. I tried out the competition pool. I also spent a good bit of time testing out the starting blocks. The regular blocks had a back raised fin on it that allows for a stronger start. Also, I was able to use a backstroke ledge for the first time. It ensures a solid base for backstroke starts. Without it, there's a decent risk of a slip which kills a race before it starts. It took a bit of time to learn to use it, but I got the hang of it pretty well.

Things finished up late afternoon and I went to my hotel. I checked in and then went to the grocery store for food for my stay. I try to control my food intake while at an event like this so there's no surprises. Once back at the hotel, I had a nice good early dinner.

Then it was time to shave. I am still learning the best way to do it. But shaving a body takes a good bit of time. Arms. Legs. Chest. I get out a fresh razor and cream and head to the bathroom. What? No tub? Only a shower???? Ummm, this will be interesting trying to shave my legs while in the shower versus in a tub. I do my best. And then my chest. Then my arms. I only cut myself about 5 different places. :)

I get out and try to relax. But as I expected, I find place after place after place that I missed with the razor. It was still daylight and sitting in the good light by the window revealed just how much I missed. So I went to work on all those spots. All in all, I probably spent two hours that evening shaving.

I also got out my race plan. During the preceding week, I had mentally gone through and wrote down a few focus points on every aspect of each race. From the start, to the breakout, to the stroke, to the turn, etc. I had two events the next day, the 100IM and the 50 backstroke. The IM has so very many parts to it with all 4 strokes, 3 different turns, and a start. The 50 back had a different start and different focus elements, even compared to the backstroke leg of the IM.

It was with thoughts of my two races ahead that I lay down to sleep. Tomorrow would be a big day.

Event warmup:

I woke up earlier than I wanted, but whatever. A good solid breakfast. I got over to the pool area about 9:30. There was to be a 30 minute warmup in the competition pool starting at 9:45. My first event would be about 11AM. I felt good and ready to go. I mentally went through every element of the race one last time.
  • 00m
  • 100 yards
  • / 100 yards

My first race was the 100IM. I swam this last year at Nats and went 1:03.61. I thought that this might be a measure of my improvement year over year.

My plan was to hold back on the fly/back so that I had something left for the last 50. Give a strong pullout and fast turnover on the breast, then give it all I had on the freestyle leg home.

Here is a link to the video. At the 3:13:00 time mark I'm in lane 2 on the right in the orange suit.

I had a good start. And I followed my plan cleanly. Good but not all out pace on the fly. A good turn. No aggressive dolphining off the back. Then a strong pace on the back. I measured my progress towards the end of the backstroke by the distance from the flags. I like to touch with my right hand. So I have to measure my strokes so that I am leading with my right when I get to the wall. I remember last year being too far away from the wall and having to kick in. And sure enough, this year, I overcompensate and go too far. I come too close to the wall and hit it with my elbow. Ugh.

Breastroke pullout goes very well. I felt like I had a lot of air after doing it. I tried to pick up the tempo for the breast. Felt good on the turn. In theory, I would pick it up and really hammer the freestyle. But for whatever reason, I had set a pace that wasn't all out and my body didn't want to take it to the next level. I gave it a good effort to close, but had more to give. I touched and looked up. I saw a new PR of 1:03.21, beating my time from a year ago by 0.42 seconds. I finished 33rd out of 46 in my AG

I'm obviously pleased with the PR. But know that I had more to give. And lost some on the execution of the back/breast turn.

I recovered pretty well and had a couple of hours before my next event, the 50 backstroke. In the break, I went up to the stands and laid down for a bit. I mentally went through my next race several times. Every element and how I would feel while doing it.

I would use a starting backstroke ledge for the first time. This is a plate attached to retractable cords that affix to the starting blocks. You pull down the plate to the desired level and then put your feet on it. It is coarse and designed to not slip when pushing off in the backstroke. It allows you to be a lot more aggressive with the start. In watching the replay, I think I put it to good use, getting my body out of the water for the start.

Video at the 5:25:30 mark.

My plan was to dolphin hard to at least the midpoint of the pool, surface and go all out. I did this and had a good turn. Dolphin hard again off the wall and then come home hard. Success. I executed my race plan about exactly as I hoped. I could not see the scoreboard after my race as it was too far away to read. But I learned that my time was 30.15, a 0.04 second improvement over my personal best. It was also a 0.45 second improvement over Nationals last year. I finished 26th of 31 in my AG.

Two for two on setting PRs. While I was hoping for more improvement, it is hard to argue too much with PRs in events. I walked out of the day feeling pretty good.

Saturday, April 30. This would be my big day with three events, the 50 breast, 50 free, and 100 back. The 50 breast and 100 back were my weakest events. I had only swam the 100 back once in the last year. About 3 weeks prior to Nationals where I set a PR of 1:06.74. That time three weeks prior also beat the NQT, giving me five events that I had made the NQT in.

The NQT that I was missing was the 50 breast. I had been attempting for it through multiple tries. I had been close to beating the 33.20 NQT, but had not gotten it. The meet 3 weeks prior to Nationals, I went 33.53. Getting this NQT, which would mean that I qualified for Nationals in all four strokes, was a major goal.

My first event of the day was the 50 breast.
3:44:15 mark. I'm in lane 2, to the far right.

I have a decent start, not a great one. Minimal splash but not a high amount of coverage in the air. I go over half way down the pool on my pullout, which includes a dolphin, then arm stroke, then first kick before I surface. I come up and cycle as quickly as I can. Its a relatively slow stroke, but I go for all I'm worth. Hit the wall and turn. Another good underwater as I dolphin, arm pull, and kick. Half way down the pool. Try to get my turnover as quick as I can. Go all out to the close. Hit the wall and look up.

I see a time of 32.98! I GOT IT!! My 6th NQT and last of the 4 strokes. I pump my fist and get a big smile on my face. A major goal was reached with this one. I was 27th out of 30 in my AG.

Next up was the 50 free. In March 2015, I went 26.37 in a local meet. In last year's Nationals, I went 25.09. In a meet last Fall, I went 24.80. In the meet 3 weeks prior to Nationals, I went 25.22.

About two weeks prior to Nationals, I was playing around a bit while working on my free sprint. I tried pulling through my core, in addition to my arms. I was finding my practice 25 sprint times dropping to record lows for me. The weekend prior, I was having in-pool freestyle sprint times faster than I'd ever seen them before. So to say that I felt like I would put up a good time here in the 50 free was an understatement. I was seeded 10th in my heat (slowest), with my previous PR of 24.80. I almost told one of my teammates prior to the heat that I would win my heat. But I held off.
6:01:30 time mark. I'm closest to the camera and its a good view.

I have a great start, my best of the meet. I was in the lead immediately. A couple of dolphins and I was right at the surface hammering for all I was worth. Now for my revised and updated stroke. I go for all I'm worth. One breath near the far flag. A good quick turn and I'm headed for home. The heat is tight, and I'm at the front. I go all out with 1 breath on the return leg. I can tell that I'm ahead of the people near me on the inside. I hit the wall and look up.

BOOM! 24.17!!!!! I didn't win my heat like I thought I would, but I finished second. Damn close! I beat my previous PR by a whopping 0.63 seconds. It was 0.92 seconds faster than I did it at last year's Nationals. Oh yeah! And I finished in the top half in my AG at 27 of 56. Awesome stuff! I was so very excited about this one. I was beaming afterwards.

I had about an hour before my next event. And like I had with all the previous ones, I mentally went through my upcoming event several times, imagining all the different elements. I did have a touch of an issue in that it was my 3rd stroke of the day. I commented to a teammate that it was a bit of a mental hurdle to sprint race 3 different strokes in one day. But it was what I signed up for and what I wanted to do.

My last event of the day was the 100 backstroke. I swam it three weeks prior and went 1:06.74. I planned on pacing it much like I had then. Keep it moderate for the first 75 and then give it all I had for the final 25. Pickup my kick in the final 25.
6:59:00 time mark. I'm closest to the camera.

I have a really good start, taking advantage of the backstroke ledge. I purposefully don't dolphin kick much, choosing to get to the surface quicker to breath. I go at about 85%-90% effort, as planned.

What was not planned is missing my first turn. I turned too far away from the wall and had minimal pushoff. Thud. Like a dud. Ugh. I dolphin hard to get some speed and resume my marshaled stroke effort. I get down the lane fine and have a good turn on the starting side. Down I go again and have a decent turn on the far end.

The plan was to pick it up and give it all I had on the close. Hit the kick hard the last 25. I do my best. And it hurt. I push as hard as I can to the end. The last few yards just really, really hurt.

I touch and look up. I:06.62. I was 23rd of 24 in my AG. But it was my fifth PR in five events!

It took me awhile to recover from this one. I had to sit for a bit afterwards and breath. I did get to the warmup pool and cool down some. It was good that it was my last event of the day. I was physically spent.

I go to a nice dinner with my team mates. Fun having folks you know there.

Sunday, May 1.
The last day of the event. I wake up very sore in the arms and its tough to get out of bed. I wasn't able to sleep quite as well as I wanted and I definitely felt it I take a long shower to help wake up and loosen up. Shave a few spots for the last time. Drink lots of coffee trying to get myself pumped up and energized.

My event, the 50 fly, is not until early afternoon. I get to the pool mid morning and cheer on my teammates. I also get in the water to try to get moving and loosened up more. Arms are really talking to me and energy is low. But as I get closer to my event, I get myself more and more pumped up.

Its time. I get up on the blocks. My plan is to dive in, dolphin 16 times which puts me just short of the 15 meter mark. Keep my turnover high as I get to the wall. Turn, dolphin 18 times which gets me back to near the 15 meter mark and then do my best to hit home.
5:14:30 mark

I have an OK start. Not as good as my 50 free start. I dolphin hard. Come up and start stroking. In looking at the video, I think that I'm in the lead at this point. But once I start stroking, I am out of rhythm. Get to the wall and turn. Dolphin. I lose a bit of track of my dolphin count and I miscount the lines on the bottom of the pool which I was using to mark the 15 meter line. I know that I need to come up and stroke. So I do. Unfortunately, I am too deep when I start stroking. And my arms and shoulders grab a bunch of water and kill my forward momentum. I feel like I come to almost a dead stop in the water. I'm now in last place in my heat on the video. I do pull hard to the end and try to finish strong. But the damage was done. I touch and look up. 27.20. I missed my PR of 26.93. It was my second best time. But I clearly lost a lot of time with my first stroke on the return leg being too deep. I finish 25th of 34 in my AG. I get out and go cool down. My meet is over.
What would you do differently?:

Given that I had 6 different events, its hard to answer this question well. On the 100IM, I'd pick up my pace and not be so conservative. I felt like I swam the 50 back, 50 free, and 50 breast about as well as I'm currently capable of doing them.. The 100 back, I missed a turn. And the 50 fly, I started stoking too low in the water.

To realistically improve, I need to continue to refine my strokes. I am often thinking of what I can do better. And that is where I can continue to make improvement. I found a tweak in freestyle and it really paid off. I hope to do the same in the other strokes. Also, I can continue to improve my body. Getting fitter and stronger.
Post race
What limited your ability to perform faster:

I had a great meet. PRs in 5 of 6 event. I reached a major goal of beating the NQT in all four strokes. I had a fantastic 50 free, dropping major time and placing in the top half of the participants in my AG.

Being at Nationals is an amazing experience. There are so many fantastic swimmers. It is such a high energy group. Positive, supportive, enthusiastic. It is a high achieving environment.

It is also amazing to see all of the age groups. To see men and women from their 20s to their 90s out there competing is remarkable. Also interesting to see the changes in bodies with age. This is a rather fit group. The inexorable march of time shows but the will and spirit of the people there to fight it is amazing and inspiring.

With this event behind me, I now need to determine where to go next. Nationals next year is in California. A long way to go. Last year, I felt like I would likely make Greensboro, which I did. I don't know about going that far.

I do feel like I still have not finished getting faster. There is clearly upside in my swimming still. The question becomes how best accomplish that.

Event comments:

Greensboro Aquatic Center is a very nice indoor pool It is deep. It is fast. The water temp was very good for racing. The starting blocks were excellent. The backstroke ledge was a very nice addition. Fantastic opportunity for fast times.

The only negatives were the lack of warm up space and locker room space. In warmups, there were often 15 or more people in each lane. Yes, that many. And it was difficult to get into any kind of rhythm with that many bodies around.

The people running the meet and volunteering were fantastic. Extraordinarily well run and organized. Excellent.

Last updated: 2016-03-11 12:00 AM
00:00:00 | 100 yards | / 100yards
Age Group: 0/
Overall: 0/
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 Just right
Organized? Yes
Events on-time? Yes
Lots of volunteers? Yes
Plenty of drinks? Yes
Post race activities: Good
Race evaluation [1-5] 5

2016-05-14 4:23 PM

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Rochester, NY
Subject: USMS Spring Nationals 2016

2016-05-17 8:45 PM
in reply to: #5181773

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Verona WI--Ironman Bike Country!
Subject: RE: USMS Spring Nationals 2016

What a great report!  You have certainly shown me that an adult onset swimmer can be competitive!  A lot of hard work went into these great results.


PS.  I shave my legs in the shower everyday.  It isn't hard!  Do it more than once a year and it'll be a breeze next year.

2016-05-18 9:36 AM
in reply to: SSMinnow

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Austin, Texas
Subject: RE: USMS Spring Nationals 2016

Reading this reminded me of how much I enjoyed your report from last year.  So much excitement and enthusiasm!

Congrats on what can only be described as a fantastic performance.


2016-05-18 2:46 PM
in reply to: mcmanusclan5

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Canandaigua NY
Subject: RE: USMS Spring Nationals 2016

Great RR Rob and congrats on all the PR's!!

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