Masters Athlete: A day to expand your reality

It was my day to call workout today, and the group that I train with is one week into our annual “February Fitness Frolic”. I have been wanting to call what is sometimes referred to as a T-30 — as many lengths as you can complete in 30 minutes. I say I have been wanting to call, maybe that is not quite correct. Let’s say, I have been feeling like it was my duty (to myself at least) to call a T-30. The raison d’etra of our group is to get in shape for long distance open water races, specifically the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim, so, no one can say it’s an inappropriate call. But still, it’s a dicey call, not necessarily a crowd-pleaser. And there are no rules in our group, it’s not like the other swimmers HAVE to do it, just because I called it. It would be a downer if I called it and nobody opted to do it with me. Which brings me to the biggest impediment to this call, if you call it, you gotta DO it, and that’s the really scary part (for me anyhow). It is one thing to think that a certain set or workout would be good for you, quite another to subject yourself to it. For better or for worse, I went for it. Luckily, because my group is a bunch of gamers, I did not have to go it alone.

So, what is the benefit of a T-30? There are many reasons to think that it’s a good idea. In recent history, it has been used as a test set to determine optimal training paces, sometimes called “cruise intervals” or training “Color Zones” (for a good treatment on Color Zones, see // From a less scientific, but training common-sense point of view, it is a good way to build some endurance for a longer race. Setting physiology aside, it is something that can prepare you mentally for the grueling process that is the long distance (multi-mile) race. Also, there is nothing like the groove, if you can get it. I know this, as does most every distance swimmer. When you are able to get right up in there, and “kiss the threshold” where you go just hard enough that if you went any harder you’d cross the line into some anaerobic/lactate accumulating/stiff-as-a-board-gotta-stop-and-stretch place. That is a good place to know. In the end, challenging yourself might be reason enough to do this. Frank Herbert, in Dune, said something to the effect that humans differed from animals because they were willing to prolong pleasure, or subject themselves to pain in order to achieve some abstract future goal.

Anyhow, right before we started, one of my two lane mates, Kurt, asks me how fast I’m going to go, so I step up and say “I’m going to hold 1:12s”. Which convinces him that he should go behind me. Was this what I wanted? Maybe. Really, I wanted to hold 1:12s. I didn’t really know if I could though. So anyhow, we get rolling with me in front, followed by Kurt and Chris.

Because I talked smack about the time I was going to repeat, I started off fast. I figured that if I went out fast enough, I could drop my buddies, and then if I had to slow down below my predicted pace, no one would be the wiser. Wrong. Before I knew it those guys were right up in my wake, and there was nothing I could do to shake them – so I pressed on. Nobody let up. We switched leads a handful of times, with each of us soaking up a little draft, and then getting ambitious and passing the leader. The intensity was silly. I was watching the clock on my flip turns and I knew we were actually ahead of pace. At 2,000 yards, we were 15 seconds under 1:12 per 100 pace, but fading fast. We threw in a couple of 1:15’s, and were now in danger of not hitting the goal (2,500 yards in 30 minutes). I picked up the pace, clocking under a 1:10 for a 100, thinking I could break away and cruise in, but not to happen, that sub-1:10 didn’t open an inch of daylight between me and my lane partners. We passed the 2500 yard mark with about 10 seconds to spare. It felt really horrible by the end, during the last 200, I wanted to barf. But we made it.

The 1:12 time goal is good for me and my training partners, though there are a lot of folks out there that could blow it away, and some that couldn’t go that fast. The actual pace is irrelevant. The really cool part about the set was the intensity of the competition. There was no way I would have put myself through that alone. I started to get bored at about 800 yards, and really feel discomfort at around 1,200 yards, but since my teammates never even gave me a split second to consider slowing down, I cranked through.