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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Week In Hell Opens Up Possibilities

Competitive swimmers around the world do a variety of very difficult interval sets.

The sets can range from college teams doing 100 x 100s during Christmas training sessions or Ned Denison pushing English Channel aspirants to 100 x 200s in winter or long open water swimming sets like 10 miles of kicking, or 10 miles in the ocean without goggles that Ted Erikson and Greta Andersen used to famously do.

Penny Dean’s triple-a-day workouts leading up to her record-breaking English Channel swims, Petar Stoychev's long workouts and Fran Crippen’s 30,000-yard practices are other examples of the lengths at which athletes are willing to push themselves to realize their potential.

But up in northern California, Coach Mark Wagner pushes his athletes to a level that is not often seen. The set – done during Redding Swim Team's annual Hell Well – literally lives up to its name. The distance swimmers do one five-day period of a set of 100 x 100…twice per day. That is 20,000 yards per day five days in a row or 100 km (62 miles) – enough to get anyone through a marathon swim.

One Catalina Channel aspirant getting ready for the 2011 season, Lexie Kelly (shown above), recalls, "I was so tired [during Hell Week] that I didn't even want to brush my hair. But we all did it and we looked forward to it. I did it year after year with the rest of the team."

While some may advocate training as little as possible to succeed in the open water – perhaps due to a personal philosophy or because of work, school or family obligations – doing 100 km over a 5-day period is certainly one way to become psychologically stronger, a trait desirable in marathon swimmers. When a swimmer inevitably feels down, tired or depressed during a marathon swim, they dig deep - or get out. And the successful swimmers often dig deeper than they ever experienced or even knew possible.

But with a Hell Well of 10 x 100 x 100 under their swim caps, the athletes at the Redding Swim Team have the experience to ride the storm, to weather the obstacles, to overcome the barriers. While many athletes – especially older adults – have the fortitude, character and stubbornness to stay in the water and ignore the physiological and psychological issues that will undoubtedly arise in the open water, preparing for this inevitability can be helpful especially for those young enough to handle the physiological stress.

Coach Wagner explains his philosophy, "It's a test mentally and physically for the athletes. It's seems scary for the rookies, but once they complete it, the sense of accomplishment is unmatched. For the seasoned athletes, it provides a different test: I'm really tough enough mentally to go through this again physically. The surprising results those athletes realize they can handle anything mentally or physically."

Whether marathon swimming is defined as 70% mental, 80% mental or 90% mental, preparing one’s mind is requisite to success in marathon swimming. Some athletes do it through minimal pool training combined with open water swims and visualization. Others do it through old-fashioned high-volume sets in the pool a la Coach Wagner’s Hell Week. Others do it in exclusively long training sessions in the open water. Whatever the chosen route, the key is preparation and an understanding how far your body can safely take you and how strong you can remain mentally en route.

In the open water under the proper supervision, many athletes do realize they can handle much more than they ever thought possible.

Copyright © 2011 by Open Water Source

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