It is not common for swimmers – elite or regular citizen athletes – to train on both ends of the event spectrum – short sprints (like 50, 100) to long (800, 1500) and really long (3k+). Usually competitive and serious swimmers specialize in certain distances and may not perform well in other distances unless they do event-specific training for those. Yet, this is what makes accomplishments in a wide range of distances, like Katie Ledecky has done, quite phenomenal. She competes in 200, 400, 800 and 1500, and has gold-medalled in all of them. Somehow she has accomplished specialization across the board in the pool (excepting the 50 and 100). Can you imagine training your systems to achieve gold medal swims for 200 to 1500 at the same time?
Example: Estimate 100 Time from 1500 Time
Let’s imagine a hypothetical swimmer who specializes in longer distances and hasn’t done specific sprint distance training for quite a while (maybe a bit like me). His muscles and nervous system are wired conservatively, to make energy spread out over an hour or two. Some might call him a total ‘slow-twitch-muscle’ swimmer. Now he wants to see what he is capable of at sprint distances, if he gave it an genuine, thoughtful effort. But what should he expect himself to be capable of? Is it a total guess or is there some way to estimate what someone swimming at his potential in the 1500 might be able to do in the 100 or 200 (with appropriate training for that distance, of course)?
In bits and pieces over a few years, I have been examining and number crunching over 40 years of US Masters Swimming Meets performance data to look for patterns and other useful insights. I have manipulated some of that data to create my own pace calculator for different age groups. I don’t know what the others are basing their algorithms on, but one can easily find running/swimming/tri pace calculators out there on the web. If you are curious, do a search, pick a few, input your numbers and see if they come up with the same results.
Using mine, let’s examine a hypothetical male swimmer in the 40-44 age group – let’s call him Fabio. Fabio’s is a 1500 distance swimmer in long course meters (LCM). We can take his current 1500 time, apply an algorithm I worked out from the US Masters data, and estimate what his performance might be at shorter distances, if he were to appropriately train for those shorter distances.
In this algorithm I have to make several assumptions about the conditions of the athlete and the setting, but the point is to derive some statistically reasonable way of estimating a swimmer’s performance potential in one event based on some accomplishment he has in another event.
Fabio’s 1500m time is 25 minutes, which is an average pace of 101 second per 100 meters. Now he wants to work on the 100 meter sprint. What might he expect of himself as he starts training for it?
Now, it is understood that when swimming shorter distances the swimmer can afford to burn energy at a faster rate and move at a faster pace because of that. But how much faster in relation to the shorter distance?
In this case, my statistical algorithm estimates that Fabio (in that Male 40-44 category), based on his top performance in the 1500 event, should be able to produce these paces, with appropriate training for each event:
- 50m – 35.5 seconds (71 sec / 100m)
- 100m – 77 seconds / 100m
- 200m – 87 seconds / 100m
- 400m – 93 seconds / 100m
- 800m – 98 seconds / 100m
- 1500m – 101 seconds / 100m (his measured pace)
So Fabio can see that he needs to be working toward SPL x Tempo combinations that produce the 77 seconds per 100m pace he wants. (Look back at the previous post to see my own chart for 25 pace combinations to get an idea of what those may look like). Break that down into 25m lengths and he needs to eventually hit 19 second 25s and faster in order to accomplish 100m at his target time.
With 100m being our reference point, these are the percentages relative to 100m for Male Age Group 40-44 I use to calculate the paces for the other events:
- For 50m, his pace should be ~8% faster than 100m race pace.
- 200m pace should be ~13% slower than 100m race pace.
- 400m pace should be ~21% slower than 100m race pace.
- 800m pace should be ~27% slower than 100m race pace.
- 1500m pace should be ~31 slower than 100m race pace.
With more statistics to digest and another set of assumptions, the graph could be extended further beyond 1500 events. Perhaps at some point (e.g. like for 3000, 5000, 10,000 events, etc) the decrease in pace per 100 may taper off – the swimmer won’t necessarily go at a slower pace, he will just need to refuel to keep it up, as competitive channel swimmers demonstrate. And, for those longer distances the setting most likely shifts from pool to open water, which is quite a different environment to perform in, where measurements are not as precise because conditions are not consistent. And, even when sticking in the pool, there are statistics for races done in short-course yards, short-course meters, long course meters, etc. It could get really complicated. But I hope you see the potential for such an estimation tool.
Of course, this example only examines a swimmer in the Male 40-44 age group. There are male and female categories for 17 different age groups. You are in one of them!
What is this post meant to do for you?
I am hoping that those of you who realize you’ve been swimming the same small range of distances at the same small range of speeds will have your curiosity provoked. What might you be capable of, if you switched your training to work outside your comfortable distance zone for the next 3 or 4 months?
If you swim long, what skills do you need to acquire to swim fast and enjoyably in short distances? And if you swim short, what skills do you need to swim farther and faster, and enjoy it too? And if you develop new skill in new distance events, how might those carry over to benefit you in your original distances?
I think you can find many items for that list on this blog, and elsewhere.
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