Wandering Mind — Unanchored to Training

by klassman

When the mind begins to wander, it can go a long way.

I’ve done six HIM races.  My swim splits vary considerably, although I don’t think it is primarily due to training.  Certainly some of the differences must be due to fitness, but mainly I think it is due to the challenge of adequately marking a course when wind, current and even GPS can wreck havoc on organizers’ best laid plans.

My splits have gone from 21:30 all the way up to three of them hovering around the 29 minute mark.  These times are all from lake swims in a wetsuit; none are from the ocean or rivers.

Usually, I have three goals for the swim portion of any race.  Get to the front of the pack for clean water, relax and swim at 85-90 percent effort, enjoy the calm.  The swim really is my favorite part of the day.

Wandering about, I started looking at the finish times from IMLP 2011.  I was thoroughly confused.  The results for men, women, age groups, professionals and probably another category or two are all there.  But sorting them was more than I could handle when I really just wanted to let my mind continue to wander, that is, to daydream.  It didn’t help that for the first time ever Lake Placid was wetsuit optional and results were further segmented.  Too bad they were not in a Excel spreadsheet available for download and easy sorting.  Hey Ironman, are you listening?

Wandering further I began to wonder, just how fast does one have to swim to achieve that first goal?  How fast do you have to go to get to the front of a 3,000 person field?  Forget the front of the pack. How fast do you have to go to clear the great maw of the thrashing, smashing, over-adrenilized wave of hyper-competitive athletes?  1:05?  1:00?  55 minutes?  Is it even possible?  I’ve read there is extensive contact everywhere on the swim course from the race leaders all the way back to the folks who stand still for 2-3 minutes after a cannon announces the start.

Of course, this is probably backward.  It might be much, much better to ask, how fast can I comfortably swim without using vital energy that I will need later in the day.  In fact, that would be the reasonable, thoughtful way to approach the problem.

Still, I wondered.  I looked at results even more though I should know better.  As I understand it, the pros start 10 minutes ahead of the field.  The top pros all finish well under an hour.  Little help there.  The tenth fastest time for age group men was 54:31 and 59:38 for women.  If I read the results correctly, there were 42 age group men who went sans wetsuit and splashed out in less than an hour.

Now for the practical questions, at what cost could I train myself into shape to swim 2.4 miles in open water in approximately 54-57 minutes (with a wetsuit)?  If I did so, would the top 50 swimmers spread out nicely over the course?  Fancy graduate school statistics suggests that they should — assuming they are a random sample.  However, I doubt race leaders, and I’m sure swimmers, are not a random sample.  So if they the top 50 or top 100 times don’t distribute predictably along a bell curve, then they will bunch up into packs too.  Which means I’d get thrashed by 20 of the strongest swimmers instead of by 1,000 at a time in the front third of the main pack.

It is enough to make my head spin.

Should I skip all of this and look for 2010 or 2009 results.  Or maybe, maybe I should stop thinking about the rest of the field and figure out how to incorporate morning swims into my routine because more and better swimming would give me a chance to think thoroughly about the problem.  And, it wouldn’t hurt to anchor my answers in a faster expected swim split.