Today I went to a Masters Meet . . . and took a Math Test!
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on January 23rd, 2011

In my last blog Don’t Just Learn a Skill, Test It I summarized research which showed that students who take tests learn better and faster than those who only study. Testing reveals gaps in our knowledge, causing us to more critically examine what we think we know.

I suggested that one way to gain the benefits of testing in swimming practice is to make your task a bit more challenging at the end of sets designed to improve your stroke. Another way is to swim a race, time trial or meet.

I swam a Masters meet today, only my second in four years. The experience was so valuable that, within hours, I”d searched on-line for another meet, next weekend, and entered it.  Why was I so eager to do another?  Not because my times were fast, but because they weren’t!

For instance, in 2006, at age 55, I swam the 1000-yard Free in 11 minutes 53 seconds.  My goal is to again break 12 minutes  in April when I’ll be 60. My time today was 13 minutes 29 seconds.  The good news is that I swam 8 seconds faster than the current Adirondack Masters 60-64 age group record.  (Though my times won’t count toward 60-64 records until March 25.) On the other hand, the gap of 90 seconds between where I am today and where I’d like to be in 82 days looks daunting.

But, as I’ve emphasized in recent posts, my greatest fulfillment comes from practicing tasks that provide Arduous Experience and Cognitive Difficulty. That gap will give me limitless opportunity for both.

The Cognitive opportunity starts with viewing my goal time as a straightforward math problem. Today I held 16 strokes per length (SPL) for most of the 40 lengths of the 1000. I feel that’s the optimal stroke length for me at this distance. Thus, to improve my time, since I”ll take the same number of strokes, I need to take them at a higher Stroke Rate. The math is simple:

  • At 16SPL, it takes me 640 strokes to complete the 40 pool lengths in a 1000 Free.
  • 90 seconds divided by 640 strokes = .14 second per stroke. I.E.  I need to improve my Stroke Rate by .14, while maintaining Stroke Length.

Viewed in those terms, the 90-second gap looks far less daunting.

The math is even more specific if I work from goal time of 12 minutes.  Each pool length will involve a turn and pushoff plus 16 strokes.  In practice I allow myself 4 Tempo Trainer beeps per turn, for a total of 20 beeps per lap, or 800 beeps (Stroke Tempo intervals) for 1000 yards.

If I hope to swim 1000 yards in under 720 seconds (12 minutes) my Stroke Tempo will need to be .90 sec/stroke.

In future posts I’ll outline some of the practice sets I’ll use to program my brain and nervous system to complete 25-yard laps in 16 strokes at a rate of .9 sec per stroke. The Cognitive Difficulty will come from planning those sets. The Arduous Experience will come from completing them.

3 Responses to “Today I went to a Masters Meet . . . and took a Math Test!”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by TERRY LAUGHLIN, TERRY LAUGHLIN. TERRY LAUGHLIN said: Swimming in a Masters meet provided a brutally honest measure of my current speed. And because Speed is a product… […]

  2. John says:

    Where was the meet this past weekend? Where is your next meet? Will you still go to the Canadian nationals?

  3. Swam yesterday in Kingston NY. Will swim next Sunday in Westport CT. Still planning to swim Canadian Nats, May 20-22 in Montreal, at least at this time.

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