Friday, July 13, 2012

The Red Mist Set

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Our Wednesday 5:30am squad in Perth are a tough bunch, they are all experienced triathletes and open water swimmers looking to improve their performances. They come to this session expecting a challenging 90 minute swim and last week we gave them a classic training set, one that distance swimming coaches have used through the decades to test their swimmers physically and mentally.

At Swim Smooth we call this session 'The Red Mist Set' and it comes with a warning:


Paul: If you are an intermediate or advanced level swimmer give this set a go and you are guaranteed to learn something about yourself and how you are swimming. It's perfect for anyone racing Ironman or doing a 5km or longer open water race. When I was training with the British Triathlon Team at Bath University we used to swim this set every Monday morning. I make no qualms about it, I hated every last meter of it and used to dread it because it tackled a weakness of mine head on - the ability to stay focused and maintain a strong pace when things get tough. Is this something you struggle with? I think we all do at some level.

The Red Mist Set

This corker of a session is deceptively simple, it's just 10x 400m rolling straight through at a gradually faster pace:
4x 400m at CSS pace + 6 sec /100m
3x 400m at CSS pace + 5 sec /100m
2x 400m at CSS pace + 4 sec /100m
1x 400m at CSS pace + 3 sec /100m
The best way of swimming it is by using a Wetronome or Tempo Trainer Pro in lap interval mode to pace you perfectly through each swim, taking one beep rest between 400s - which for most swimmers will be 20-30 seconds recovery. If you are swimming without a beeper, use a turn around time to give you between 20 and 30 seconds rest.

The Finis Tempo Trainer Pro
- use it to pace out
your training sets perfectly.
You also need to know your CSS pace to tackle this set accurately, use the CSS test and calculator pace here and Steve Casson's Swimulator+ app to help programme your beeper.

The target pace for each swim is referenced from your CSS pace. For instance if your CSS is 1:30 /100m then your target pace for the first 4x 400m is 1:36 /100m and the second 3x 400 at 1:35 /100m etc. In this way, as your fitness and CSS pace improves the session becomes progressively harder to compensate.

Whilst this set might appear to be pure fitness training, it has two very important technique focuses to it: Maintaining your stroke technique at close to threshold pace, as you need to when racing. And developing your pace judgement and pacing skills, which are also essential to reach your potential as a swimmer.

[ Find out how to calculate your CSS pace here and use Steve Casson's Swimulator+ app to help programme your beeper. ]

The Swirling Red Mist

During Wednesday's session, around 80% of the squad became irritable, grumpy or came close to giving up during the set. This is the 'Red Mist' at work, giving you feelings of resentment or perhaps anger for being pushed so relentlessly. If you can come through this set and cope well with the mental and physical challenges it offers then it leaves you perfectly prepared for some great performances in your races.

Squad Board: The Red Mist Set
Paul: In the middle of this set you'll tell yourself that it's pointless 'thrashing around', 'imprinting bad technique' and you'd have been 'better off doing some drills' but this is your head looking for an excuse to stop. Time and experience has taught me that this session really works and if you can get your head around the seeming 'boredom', 'tedium' or 'slog' of this session, you stand to make some massive progress with your swimming. After all, how often in a race have you had these same mental tussles with yourself?

Yes this session puts you under pressure and forces you to maintain focus and push away negative thoughts from your head. To reach your potential as a swimmer it's essential that you put yourself in this pressurised position regularly (perhaps once a week). My old gym teacher at school called it 'Moral Fibre' as he forced us to go cross-country running in sub-zero temperatures in just shorts and a vest!

Every week I swim this session myself with another of our squads (our elite triathlon group) and compared to those years as a junior athlete at Bath, I now really look forward to it. I crave the challenge of taking on the red mist because I know that by getting through this set every week it will give me a real sense of confidence and 'flow' to my swim training. This is a key lesson I learnt from swimming tough sets like this one when training for the Rottnest Channel and English Channel swims.

I've now swum the Rest Mist Set 16 weeks in succession and gone from 1:25 /100m to 1:16/100m, reducing the target time by 1 sec /100m every two weeks. So whilst it's the same session each time, there's progression built in to avoid hitting a plateau.

Give It A Crack

Even if you don't normally swim 4km in training, set yourself the challenge, turn off the negative thoughts in your head and give it a crack. Let us know how you get on!

Swim Smooth!

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