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USMS Spring Nationals 2019 - Swim

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Mesa, Arizona
United States
US Masters Swimming
100F / 38C
Total Time = 00m
Overall Rank = /
Age Group = M50-54
Age Group Rank = 0/
Pre-race routine:

I decided in January to compete at Nationals this year. I had turned 50 and would be the youngest in my AG. That began my journey to Mesa, AZ.

It is a commitment, deciding to go to Nationals. A commitment to swim and work out more. A commitment to eating cleaner. While I was swimming and working out before, while I was eating fairly cleanly, it is a commitment to take those things to the next level. I stepped up my working out from 4 days a week to 6. Coupled with the diet changes, I lost about 10 pounds in 2019.

I am an adult onset swimmer. I started swimming in my late 30s to do triathlons. I stopped doing triathlons in 2014 but have continued to swim. My first swim meet was at age 41.

This is my 4th time coming to Nationals. I first qualified in 2015. That race report is here.

I also went to Nationals in 2016 and 2017. Those reports are here.

I have learned over time. While my first foray at Nationals had me dealing with novel things, I have definitely moved forward in my knowledge and understanding. I have gained a much greater understanding of how to train for an event like this and where I fit. At least in general.

I have gotten faster over the last 4 years. At least in areas that I have focused on in my training. I have improved most in the 50 fly. It is the event that I first qualified for Nationals in 2015. I swam a 26.93 at that meet and finished in the top half of competitors there. I have gotten materially faster. In 2017, I went 26.20 at Nationals. After turning 50 last Fall, I set a personal best of 25.82 and set a USMS Regional age group record with that time. That story is here.

When I set that record, I had been training only about 4 days a week. I recall that my 25 yard sprint times were about 14.5 seconds leading up to the event. Leading up to this year's Nationals, I increased my training to 6 days a week. Not surprisingly, I saw my 25 times come down. In the last month leading up to Nationals, I was regularly seeing 25 times around 13.75 seconds, about 0.75 faster per length. Material improvement.

I saw similar drops in 25 free times. Before, about 13.5 seconds. Leading up to Nationals, about 12.75. These were the two strokes that I was actively training, working on every time I got in the water.

So I was best trained for the 50 fly and free. I also signed up for the 50 back and breast, along with the 100 IM.

I had the crazy idea of trying to swim the 100 fly. I had never swum it, much less raced it, prior to signing up to swim it at Nationals.I felt like given my speed at the 50, I had a chance to do well in the 100. Seems logical, right? The challenge is that I have a breathing issue. Exercise and effort leads to breathlessness. I will get dizzy and lightheaded if I push myself too hard. I often have to stop during swim sets to get back in control. After racing the 100 backstroke at Nationals in 2017, I had to spend a couple hours in the med tent because I pushed myself to such a degree, Butterfly is the most demanding stroke. I knew that I would have to train hard for it and be smart in my race.

I did eventually do a 100 fly in training. It wasn't fast but I did it. I did sign up to do a local meet about 3 weeks prior to Nationals to race it there but I had a conflict and could not go. So Nationals would be my first time racing it.

I felt good about my training. I felt like I was in the best shape that I had been in for several years. In practices leading up to Nationals, I was better able to handle the sets and stay on time intervals. Yes, I'd still have to take occasional breaks, but I was feeling strong.

About 3 weeks before Nationals, I was working on my backstroke sprint. I tweaked a hamstring while dolphining aggressively. It never got worse but I was aware of the strain every time I exercised. Because of this, I did not practice my starts or do explosive movements in the last 3 weeks before Nationals. It was something that I had to manage and deal with.

In looking back at my training logs, I cut back volume to about 2000 yards roughly 2 weeks out. I went down to about 1500 in the final lead-up week. I did do regular 25 sprints in both free and fly. Because of the hamstring, I did not work backstroke or breast in the couple weeks leading up to Nationals. I also stopped doing dry land work about 3 weeks out.

I shaved my body the weekend before heading out. To really get it done well takes a couple hours. I did not want to wait to the day before to do that.

I flew out to Phoenix on Thursday. Got in early afternoon. Some delays in getting my car and getting to the hotel but I was able to go to the race site. I also put on shorts before heading out further. It was 99 degrees.

The weather was an issue. Bright sunshine. 100 degrees or more each day. In contrast, at home, we had all of 2 days in 2019 where it has reached 70 degrees. Oh, and the Saturday that I was in Phoenix, it snowed at home. To say that my body was not ready for desert heat and weather would be a dramatic understatement.

I have found that checking in at the race site the day before I compete and understanding the lay of the land is a good thing. On Thursday, I also put on a suit after the days' events were over to get a feel for the competition pool and work off the travel. I also went off the blocks a couple times, testing the hamstring. It did ok.

I left the pool and on the way back to the hotel, went to Walmart to get groceries for the weekend. I was staying at a hotel that has a kitchen in the room so I could make my own food. Not risking restaurant foods is something else that I learned to do while on these trips.

A good dinner. A review of my race note for Friday's events the 100IM and 50 back. A touch up shave and in bed by 8:30 or so. Yes, Phoenix is 3 hours later than home.

Event warmup:

I woke up about 3:30AM, or 6:30AM at home, about my normal wake up time. I did stay in bed and try to go back to sleep. I stayed in bed until about dawn at 5:30. I got a good breakfast of fruit and coffee. Got some scrambled eggs from the hotel breakfast.

I left the hotel a bit after 7. I belong to a national chain gym and they had a facility about a mile from my hotel on the route to the meet site. They also have a 3 lane pool. I was able to get my own lane (each day actually) and get my body going. I swam about 1000 yards total getting warmed up. I drove out to the meet site.

  • 00m
  • 100 yards
  • / 100 yards

My first event on Friday was the 100IM. I had a seed time of 1:05. This would be a good way to test out how well I'm swimming. I realized afterwards that I had not raced a 100 yards event in a couple of years. I decided to take it somewhat conservatively early and see if I could pick it up late.

Here is the video of the event. My heat starts about the 21:45 time mark. I'm in the pink/purple cap, lane 6. I turn at about 30 seconds, relatively slow. A decent breast stroke pullout. Hit the last wall and turn for home. I try to pick up my pace on the free, but I feel stuck in second gear. I only take 3 breaths on the closing length. I touch at 1:05.31. I get out and feel like I had more to give.

My next event was the 50 back. Swimming backstroke outside is very different from swimming it inside. There is no ceiling to help keep on track. Two years ago at Nationals, I lost track of where I was in the 50 back and DQed by crossing the lane line. Staying in the lane is critical and requires attention. I watched many swimmers run into the lane line throughout the meet. And in Mesa, there is a very strong sun. The time of day had the sun angle where it would be really tough on the return leg of the 50.

12:00 time mark, Lane 9 on the far side of the pool.

I decided to ignore my hamstring and try to swim it like I was training to do so, dolphining aggressively off both the start and the turn. That was exactly how I tweaked it 3 weeks earlier. I felt like I swam the opening leg ok. My turn was fine. The return didnt go as well. I wasnt really deep enough to kick most efficiently. The sun was brutal and forced me to turn my head to the side . I closed as best that I could. My time 31.66 was the slowest in several years. To say that I was disappointed would be accurate. Such were my Friday races.

I did go to dinner that evening with a group of other swimmers. It was fun and glad to be social. I got back to the hotel at a decent hour and went to sleep knowing Saturday would be my busiest day. The 50 free, 50 breast and 100 fly.

I woke up around 4AM, again still on Eastern time. I again stayed in bed until dawn around 5:30. A good breakfast of fruit and eggs. Another warmup at the fitness club followed by the drive to the meet site.

I had trained a lot for the 50 free. It was a focus for me and I was looking forward to this event. In my training, I found myself often feeling like I was getting on top of the water when sprinting free and sometimes fly. My times were always very fast when I "hydroplaned". I was mentally trying to see if I could do it in my race.
22:30 mark. I'm in lane 3, near the camera.

One thing that I did for the first time with this event, as well as others here, is before the race, hold my breath for a few times. Holding my breath for 30-60 seconds seemed to get my body ready for being anaerobic. That is critical for a sprint. Its something that I will continue going forward.

I have a good start and I think I'm leading at the halfway of the first length. Very close at the wall. For reasons that I don't quite understand, I am a half body length behind coming off the turn. I do not breath the entire race. I don't feel all that out of breath though and close hard. I touch at 24.58 finishing 3rd in the heat. My second fastest ever behind a 24.17 at Nationals 3 years ago. I felt like I swam it well. A bit surprised the time was not faster. It did put me in the top half of my AG in that event.

I had a couple hours before my next event, the 50 breast. I was not focused on that at all. I almost didnt even swim it as I was not at all focused on it. I decided to do it anyway.
14:40 mark. Lane 5.

I dive in and brain freeze. I forget to pull down. WTF???? Yeah, I'm really into this swim. I do finish the rest of it. My slowest time in several years. Bleh.

45 minutes later is the 100 fly. I was very nervous about this one. Again, I had never raced it and only swum it once in practice. My plan was to be conservative through 75 yards and give it all I had the last 25. I felt like I might be able to set a Niagara District record and put that as my seed time of 1:00.71. Aggressive. The Nationals Qualifying Time was 1:04.58. I thought that I most likely would fall between the 2 times.
27:10 mark. I'm in lane 3 on the far side.

I took it out fairly comfortably. The first 50 went well. I was breathing every other stroke...I touched at 28.08, over 2 seconds slower than my 50 time. The third length seemed to go fine too until I got close to the wall. And then it hit me. I approached the 3rd turn and I was really hurting. I knew the last length would be tough. I was mentally prepared for it. I got about halfway down the last length and I felt like my body shut down. I could not move. I could not kick. I didnt feel like I could get my arms out of the water. The proverbial piano fell on my back. Watching the video does not convey how badly I felt. I was able to stroke a few times to close. I don't know how. I did touch at 1:05.74.

I got out and sat in a folding chair near the blocks and breathed hard for several more heats. It took my body quite a few minutes to recover where I could reasonably get up and walk. My breathing issues really reared their ugly head on this one. I eventually did go over to the warmup pool and swam a few laps to help recover and cool down.

I got back to my hotel and had an early dinner. I fell asleep on the couch. I was physically spent and exhausted.

Sunday I only had 1 event. The 50 fly, my best event. I felt like I had a chance at a top 10 which wins an award. I felt that I'd have to go at least a 25.50 or better. My PR was 25.82. I was in the second fastest heat. the fastest one had 9 people in it, so the winner of my heat would likely get a top 10.

I did my typical warmup at the gym lap pool. I was a bit sore from Saturday but was able to loosen up. I did a 25 fly sprint and came in 13.7 seconds. I felt that I was ready to rock and roll. A smile came on my face when I saw that time.

Over to the meet site. Another warmup to get ready there. It got to be show time.
11:00 mark. Lane 7 towards the other side.

On the start, my left hand came out of streamline. That had happened on a couple occasions in practice. Not a good time for it to happen in a meet. Despite that, I was at the front at the turn. It looks like I did the first 25 in 11.8. I've had stand-alone 25s at 11.3 seconds. Several of us were all at the turn together. I took a deep breath at the turn. My left hand again fell out of streamline on the push off the turn. My actual swimming felt good and strong. I hydroplaned a bit. I closed hard. I estimate my return 25 at about 13 seconds flat. For both the close and the turn, the wall came at a good point in my stroke. I was able to make full strokes into both walls. That's key.

A new PR at 25,74 for me. That lowers my regional record. I finished 4th in my heat and 12th overall in my AG. The guys who finished 2 and 3 in my heat got 9th and 10th overall. The 10th place time of 25.16 was the fastest ever for 10th in my AG. They were about 2 feet ahead of me at the finish.

In looking at my 25 splits, it appears my first length was slower than I've done it before. 11.8 versus 11.3 seconds. Did my hand slipping on the start make that much difference? Perhaps so.
Post race
Warm down:

I left Nationals with mixed emotions.

On one hand, here I am, an adult onset swimmer who is 50 years old. I set a personal best time in an event where I was very close to getting a podium spot at Nationals. It was a performance that lowered my regional record. How rare and remarkable is that?

I also utilized this Nationals as a way to test my limits. The 100 fly was/is onerous for someone with my health issues. I put in a lot of work to try to be successful in it. I was in the best shape in several years. I trained specifically for that event. When it came to it, my body could not overcome my health issues, at least to the degree that I hoped. It was humbling getting through that last 25 on the 100 fly. I found my body's limit. Willpower and mind-over-matter can only take you so far. There are life lessons in my attempt to race the 100 fly.

While the above is positive, I can't help but feel that I did not swim my best. In any event. I feel like I could/should have been a half second faster per 50 in every event. A few takeaways and points to consider on that.

I had focused my training on free and fly. I very clearly performed better in those events.

My health clearly impacts what I am able to do. While I raced the 100 IM and fly, the fact that I had not raced a 100 yard event in 2 years definitely makes it hard if not impossible to swim my best at that distance. You have to learn how to pace an event to do it best.

I was fearful of the 100 fly. That emotion carried over to all my events, particularly those that came before. I think to maximize a sprint, you have to be up. Excited. Pumped. Did my perceived lack of performance come from not being mentally in the right frame of mind?

How much impact was it to be in a desert that is 3 time zones different from my home? It was over 100 degrees every day I was there. At home, we had all of 2 days over 70 degrees. To say that I was unprepared for heat, not to mention blazing hot sun, would be an understatement. Even though I was trying hard to stay in the shade, I still got some mild sunburns. Did that have an impact on my performance? No way to really know.

I did try something new at this meet which was to hold my breath a few times before each race. I did feel like that helped prepare me for the anaerobic races. I did not lack air in the 50 yard races. I believe this helped.

In my training leading up to Nationals, I found myself "hydroplaning" on some free and fly sprints. It was unquestionably faster when I was able to do that. It will be something that I investigate going forward.

I think I should not start my taper quite to early. I stopped dryland stuff 3 weeks out. Too early. I cut back yardage to around 2000 2 weeks out. I think 3000 would have been better. The week before going to 1500 might be light too.

What limited your ability to perform faster:

I walk away from Nationals a better person. It was a good life experience. I am richer from having done it.

Event comments:

USMS Nationals is an incredibly well run event. It is a huge logistical challenge shuffling 2000 swimmers over a course of 4 days. They do it extremely well.

The meet site of the Kino Aquatics center is good, not great. It was very helpful that they had an air-conditioned adjoining gym. Dealing with the heat was a very significant challenge and this was critical. I would rank this location 2/3 of the 4 that I have been to, similar to Greensboro but behind San Antonio. Far better than California 2 years ago.

It is an enormous privilege to be able to compete at USMS Nationals. A true life event.

Last updated: 2019-04-13 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:
Race evaluation [1-5] 5

2019-05-05 8:55 AM

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Rochester, NY
Subject: USMS Spring Nationals 2019

2019-05-05 9:57 PM
in reply to: #5258393

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Subject: RE: USMS Spring Nationals 2019
Nice and awesome report.
2019-05-09 4:59 PM
in reply to: dexter

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Canandaigua NY
Subject: RE: USMS Spring Nationals 2019

Great job Rob!!  Way to lower your record!


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