Friday, January 2, 2015

A New Year's Challenge - The 100 x 100 swim set

The call went out about a week ago.

Around the triathlon community various groups were challenging each other to complete the famous 100 x 100 swim set as a way to herald in the new year.  A local triathlon facebook group that I'm part of, run by Her Coach-His Coach, decided to join in and sent out the challenge to the group - extend yourself by completing either the full 100 x 100 or a smaller distance, as long as it's longer than you've ever swum before (otherwise where would the challenge be?!).

So what is this mad undertaking?

Basically it's a swim set of 100m, completed 100 times.  So, before you get your calculators out, a total distance of 10km.  Legend has it that it is a favourite set of top coaches, such as Brett Sutton, who gives it to pro athletes to do on their birthday.  It's therefore always been the stuff of legend and not something I had ever seriously contemplated other than to think, "wow - that's insane".  I mean, how tedious (and hard) would it be to swim up and down the pool 100 times?

Anyway, with the new year's challenge coming out and seeing how it would work I had cause to think about it more seriously and before I knew it I was figuring out the logistics of getting it done.  

Yep, irongirl-insanity kicking in here!

The rules we were given were pretty straightforward and the key is to break it down into smaller chunks.  Like any endurance event, we're chunking it down to make it more manageable - psychologically if not physically.  So it turns into 10 sets of 1km and you can use different pool swim gear to also make things a bit more interesting.  So an example of the breakdown that I used was something like this:

Set 1: 10 x 100m freestyle; 15 secs rest (between each 100m)
Set 2: 10 x 100m freestyle; 15 secs rest
Set 3: 10 x 100m freestyle with fins; 20 secs rest
Set 4: 10 x 100m freestyle with pull buoys; 15 secs rest
Set 5: 10 x 100m freestye with pull buoys; 15 secs rest
Set 6: 10 x 100m freestyle; 20 secs rest
Set 7: 10 x 100m freestye; 20 secs rest
Set 8: 10 x 100m freestye with pull buoys and paddles; 15 secs rest
Set 9: 10 x 100m freestyle with pull buoys; 25 secs rest
Set 10: 10 x 100m freestyle with pull buoys; 25 secs rest

Between each set it was suggested we take a good 2-3 minutes rest.  So the idea is not to do this continuously - otherwise it would become a 10km swim rather than 100 x 100.  We were also advised to treat this as we would a marathon.  So pacing becomes really important and it was vital to do each 100m section at a cruising pace.  Time is not a factor here!

The combination of strokes and aids used can be varied and I would imagine every group would have their own formula.  What's important about this is that psychologically you only need to think about the current 1000m set you are doing and so this helps break down the distance into something more manageable.

Anyway, the challenge had been set but logistically I didn't think I could do it over new year's.  We have visitors staying over the holidays and taking a half day out (I had worked out it would take me at least 5 hours to complete) just didn't seem realistic.  My plan, then, was to turn it into an Australia Day challenge and do it sometime over that long weekend.  I figured it was still 6 weeks out from Ironman New Zealand and so plenty of time to recover.

However Coach Dave and St Pete had other ideas.

Coach Dave was a bit concerned that I wouldn't recover for Ironman New Zealand in time to be "sharp" for my 12:xx assault (!) and so with a "pass out" from St Pete we rapidly rescheduled the challenge to today.  No prep, 24 hours notice ... no sweat!  Sh*t!

So at 6.00am this morning I was down at Caringbah pool, ready to take on the longest swim set I had ever attempted.  For no other reason than to have a bit of "fun" and take part in a mad challenge with other triathletes in this facebook group.  Yes, this is what Ironman does to you!!!

The first 5 sets were not too bad although as with most of my swim training the first 50m tends to feel good and then it becomes a bit of a slog until I warm up (or is that fatigue) sufficiently to get into a good rhythm.  After the 2nd set of freestyle it was good to put the fins on and have a change of pace, effectively giving the arms a bit of a rest as most of my propulsion was coming from the legs (remembering of course to keep things conservative - there was still a long way to go!).

Sets 4 and 5, with the pull buoy, were also pretty good and I was still smiling when St Pete called in to the pool mid-run to check on me and take a progress photo.  By the time I got to the end of Set 5 the arms were starting to feel pretty achy and tired and the next two sets of freestyle were my psychological low point.  I wasn't using any swim aids to make things any easier or interesting and there was still a long way to go.  There was a fair bit of self-talk going on and at the end of Set 7 I was grateful to have an excuse to stop and explain what I was doing to a fellow swimmer who had just started sharing my lane.  He was fascinated by it all but of course when he finished his swim set for the day I still had 2km to go.  Sigh...

Ah well, Set 8 was a bit of a highlight - fins again!  I was supposed to add paddles to it but decided against it.  Why risk blowing my shoulders out?  So I stuck to just freestyle with fins and "enjoyed" the relative break the arms were getting.

At the start of Set 9 I knew I would finish it all.  These last two sets were with the pull buoys and while not easy by any stretch of the imagination at that stage it was still a bit easier and more enjoyable than doing freestyle without the added flotation between my legs.

Set 10 was all about patience and methodically counting my way through the laps, ignoring the aching in my arms, and it was with a huge sense of relief and joy that I touched the wall for the 100th time.  100 x 100 DONE!

It felt like I had done a marathon and I guess in swimming terms I have.  My fitness got me through and my arms and shoulders are definitely feeling it.  But I'm sure they'll be better for it in the long run.

And I can understand why it's traditionally been called a birthday set - I can't imagine wanting to do this more than once a year.  But who knows, it might just become a new, New Year's tradition.

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