By Ashley Twichell, Open Water Source
MISSION VIEJO, California, April 17. ELITE open water swimmers are accustomed to putting in hours of training day in and day out, often swimming more miles per week than most people would dream of running. Two workouts a day of at least 7,000 meters, combined with dryland training, is usually considered the minimum to build the stamina, strength and speed to compete with world-class athletes.
In order to prepare for a world championship race or elite competition, this high distance volume with sustained aerobic intensity is necessary. For many athletes, the physical demands require their full-time attention. It is nearly impossible to maintain a full-time job when the athletes spends a minimum of 5 hours training, 6 days a week, 50 weeks a year.
Additionally, the time spent not in the water is used for dryland training, resting, rehabilitation or fueling for their next session. This all-consuming pattern of the sport becomes second nature to these athletes, who have made enormous sacrifices in order to strive for their goals.
While athletes may get a recovery session here or there, their twice-daily training sessions are grueling, day after day. One of the few times they may get a break from this demanding and exhausting routine is the week leading up to a big race. In addition to the time required to travel to the competition, athletes will typically give their bodies a rest in the two or three days prior to the race. This involves not only a dramatic decrease in the volume of training, but also a reduction in intensity. This allows broken-down muscles time to repair and rebuild, and their mental outlook to be re-invigorated. These few days are a welcomed reprieve, a pre-race gift from their coach.
Although it is important for athletes to remain focused on the upcoming race, it is also a very important time for them to relax and lay low as they psychologically prepare for the competition. Athletes prepare in a wide variety of ways. Some swimmers may choose to stay in their hotel room, watch movies or read a book. Above all, they are conserving as much energy as possible.
Conversely, others are extroverts and like to spend the time socializing and talking with friends in person or virtually. These personalities go stir-crazy if they just sit in their hotel room alone with a TV, laptop and a book. Those swimmers may choose to venture out and keep themselves busy with stimuli. If the race is in a foreign country, they may be able to sight-see or explore. Since open water swimmers usually stay around their competition venue, some may walk along the seashore or lakeside, taking in the beauty of the area. But not for long; elite athletes make sure to be seated much of the time in order to save their legs.
Regardless of what the athletes choose to do with their free time in the days leading up to their race, it is undeniable that they thoroughly enjoy it. The respite from workout is their reward and a much-appreciated break from their typical grueling routine. But what is saved up during this taper period is more than offset by their level of intensity on race day.
Footnote: It is estimated that a 2-hour world-class 10 km competition is preceded by at least 1,363 hours of training (or 50 weeks of 5 days of two 2-hour workouts per day plus 46 weekends of one 3-hour practice and 50 weeks of three 90-minute dryland sessions).