Special Sets: A Look At the Training Of Age-Group and Stanford Star David Nolan

David Nolan wins the 200 IM.

Special Sets: A Look At the Training Of Age-Group and Stanford Star David Nolan

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In this age of instant gratification and the next big thing, today’s age groupers may not know the name of David Nolan. But 11 years ago, he WAS the next big thing. After a storied career at Hershey High School in Pennsylvania, Nolan earned a biomechanical engineering degree from Stanford. He also was a 23-time CSCAA All-American.

While competing for Stanford University from 2011-15, David Nolan earned nine Pac-12 titles and three individual NCAA championships in the 100 yard back (44.99) and 200 IM (1:41.21/1:39.38). Six years removed from graduation, he still owns three school records: 100/200 back (44.78/1:39.17) and 200 IM (1:39.38).

But it was in high school that Nolan first made his mark. A 37-time NISCA All-American, in 2011 he led Hershey to its third straight team title while setting four high school national records. To wit: 100 yard free (42.34), 100 back (45.49), 200 IM (1:41.39, which would have won at NCAAs that year) and 200 free relay (1:21.01). A National Junior Team member, Nolan also won two golds at the 2009 Junior Pan Pacs.

A 6-2 strapping lad, Nolan responded well to the training he received from his head coach, Greg Fastrich. In a June 2011 Swimming World article, Fastrich remarked that his protégé was “a gifted athlete, picking up and applying new things very easily. Challenging him in daily workouts is key because he’ll do everything in his power to exceed a challenge. He doesn’t always enjoy training, but if challenged, he steps it up. I’m not sure how we’ve gotten him to where he currently is. It just happened.”

Truth be told, Fastrich didn’t just luck into having a talented swimmer. By Nolan’s senior year, Fastrich’s high school teams had won six men’s and three women’s state titles. He was named PIAA Coach of the Year in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Up to then, he had directed 50 swimmers to 241 All-America swimming recognitions. His women’s squads won the NISCA National Dual Meet championship (public school enrollment 900+) in 2008, 2009 and 2010, while the boys nabbed the crown in 2010 along with being named Swimming World Magazine’s boys’ high school team of the year.

In that article, SW reported: “Nolan began swimming with the Hershey Aquatic Club at age 7. He quickly embraced the ‘fish posture’ espoused by respected coaches Bill Boomer and Milt Nelms and developed a terrific underwater kick while ramping up the yardage as he progressed through the age group ranks. Hershey emphasizes IM training, and Fastrich pronounces Nolan fast in all four strokes.

“When we get down to race-pace sets and there aren’t four rounds or sets of four, we always swim fly, back, then breast. When taper time comes, David knows his goal times and exceeds these times during pace sets. He has a knack of working to the level he wants,” said Fastrich.

Once placed in the senior program year round, Nolan excelled at the higher-level training. In addition to dryland, he began lifting weights twice a week and doing an intense cardio day that included spinning, elliptical and fitness balls. “One bonus is that the HAC senior program interval training has become faster each year as the group has tried to challenge David. Honestly, I have yet to challenge his full potential during a season of workouts,” said Fastrich.

In 2010, coming off six weeks of resting, maintaining and resting again, Nolan went after Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte in a Grand Prix meet in the 100 back. “That meet was probably the first time he felt he could go head-to-head with them and nearly pulled it off (Phelps, 54.15; Lochte, 54.81; Nolan, 55.10). David’s experience in all different levels of competition helped him realize, ‘I can compete with the best and go after an Olympic berth,’” said Fastrich.

A 2012 and 2016 Trials swimmer, Nolan never quite made the Olympic team. However, the following workouts did allow Nolan to become the nation’s premier high school male swimmer in 2011.

Some Amazing Workouts

During the first three cycles of training, Fastrich recorded test sets. Here are some sample Nolan sets:

• Timed 30-minute swim: 3,050 yards
• 3 x 300 @ 6:00: Avg 2:52 (age 14), 2:53 (15), 2:49 (16), 2:44 (17)
• Timed 200 flutter kick: 2:39 (14), 2:28 (15), 2:25 (16), 2:12 (17)
• Best 200 IM at the end of 6 x 200 IM descend @ 3:00: 1:51
• Best 500 free at the end of 3 x 500 free @ 6:00: 4:42
• Best 400 IM at the end of 3 x 400 IM @ 5:00: 3:58
• Recorded 25-yard underwater dolphin kick from push: 10.3

Nolan’s Recollections From Today

“There are a few sets that really stand out from my senior year of high school. The 3 x 300 set is a classic. I remember pushing my first 300 in under 2:40 and thought ‘…I’m so much faster than last year.’ I think that time was a 2:37, but I may be off by a second or two. The other ones felt like sprints, and I don’t think I fell too far off of my mark, but I definitely didn’t average under 2:40.

“Another is 3 x 500 descend with paddles. It was a month or two after our holiday training block, and I just remember not feeling intimidated by 500s anymore. I was cruising 4:45s pretty easily. Greg did a great job making 200s seem like a walk in the park.

“We did a set—I believe 8 x 100—that felt like a day off because of how hard some of our training was. But 8 x 100 builds a ton of lactate. We used to recover by running outside of the pool into the snow and laying down, which was natural temperature regulation, but in retrospect, unknown genius, since we weren’t really doing ice baths in high school. Those became mainstream in college and post-college swimming.

“The last thing I remember is always doing broken swims. Greg had us building confidence by pumping out a ton of broken 100s and 200s. I loved those days because you got to step up and put concatenated times together that would blow your PRs out of the water and build confidence like no other.

“In terms of mentality, I just remember that it seemed like the master plan Greg and his brother, Jeff, put into place was really piecing together. They were so good about being consistent with things—i.e., setting goals every season, checking in on those goals regularly, making sure you were doing what you were supposed to do to achieve them…and visualizing to make sure you could believe in yourself easily. That all just seemed like a reflection going into states that year. Up at Bucknell when all the work was over, and because of how much work it was, we were able to go out and have fun.

“Somehow, as I’ve gotten older, that’s become more difficult. The structure isn’t there—there isn’t a coach for work, life or other. So I’m especially grateful for the experience I had, which showed me how to add structure to things that are ambiguous and difficult….”

Michael J. Stott is an ASCA Level 5 coach, golf and swimming writer. His critically acclaimed coming-of-age golf novel, “Too Much Loft,” was published in June 2021, and is available from store.Bookbaby.com, Amazon, B&N and book distributors worldwide.