My swimming life was easier as a junior swimmer. My coach gave me all my sessions, my swim season was clearly defined and left me with a 1-2 month break in the summertime, which I would spend on local beaches and playing soccer with friends. When I came into masters swimming a similar cycle developed, but not by design. For those first few years, I would miss out on 1-3 months or more at a time as I had to travel for work or did something silly and got injured for a few months.
Then came London. In 2015 I started to change things, I found out about the European Masters Championships in May 2016 and resolved to compete in it. I knew I had no chance of a medal, but I wanted to be able to come away from the competition satisfied that I had done the best I could. So I increased my training, added circuit classes, and while I couldn’t get to the pool quite as much as I can now I was going a lot more than I had in previous years. I went, I competed, and I swam better than I had in years. Then I made my mistake and learned a lesson on recovery, it wouldn’t be the only one, I learned more over the following two years. Here they are:
Within a week of returning from London, I was racing with the local sea swimming club and started doing triathlon training. A month after London I took part in the ring of Kerry cycle, a 175km cycle that goes around part of the Kerry coast and up some mountains. I kept this up all through the summer, and apart from a week in Portugal, I didn’t take any break. As a result, I learned my first lesson in October and November when I struggled to shake off injuries and illness. I was worn down, my speed was gone and nothing was working as expected. I realized I needed a rest and had to take the hit of resting for two weeks mid-season.
I now, as a rule, take a minimum of 2-4 weeks off swimming after I’ve done an intensive training cycle with a taper. Not all 4 weeks are spent on a couch, two of those weeks are spent going on easy cycles, runs, and gymwork. This allows me to take a mental and physical break from the pool.
Between my old swimming days with Kingdom S.C. and my more recent masters training, I suddenly had lots of time and lots of things I wanted to do. I dabbled in several things including martial arts, snowboarding (when I lived in Finland), gymwork, running, cycling and some swimming. I would often go through spells where I would do some form of training or exercise every day. I, of course, thought this was fantastic. What wasn’t obvious at the time was that these spells were often finished because I would have to travel for work, or my commute made training that often impossible, or occasionally an injury stopped them.
When I started to focus purely on my swimming and train seriously for masters competitions, I quickly realized I would need to take rest days each week. It wasn’t long before I figured out that I needed two rest days per week, but it did take a bit longer before I figured out when to rest. I found that swimming 5 days straight was just a bit too much. So now I take a rest day on a Wednesday or Thursday, and another on the weekend. This lines up nicely when I’m doing more than one anaerobic per week or if I have physio or massage appointments. Of course, some weeks I’m really stuck and end up doing 5 or 6 days in a row, or taking 3 days off because of other commitments, but that’s the world of masters swimming for you.
The third lesson is one that I admittedly struggle with, sleep. Sleep is key to recovery, unfortunately, life gets in the way. Before my current job, I worked a regular 9-5 job Monday to Friday which made it hard to get enough sleep because the only public sessions or masters team sessions I could train in were very late in the evening. This combined with early mornings where I am either coaching a swimming squad or dropping my daughter to one, means I end with a bit of a messy sleep schedule. Thankfully my current job is better (I only work 3 days a week), so I can adapt my sleep times on those off days and I can get some lunchtime training in, but it’s still a pretty messy sleep pattern
It also doesn’t help that I find it very hard willingly gone to bed early, I think if it were possible I’d live on a 28 hour day. Despite these things, I do try to get 7-8 hours sleep, and if I can’t get it all in one night I try to squeeze in power naps, which to be honest are not a real substitute. Thankfully my heavy training over the last two years was all during the summer when the clubs I coach and train with are finished and the pool has more public sessions available allowing me to get better training hours in and I don’t have to go coaching in the morning.
So those are three lessons on rest I’ve learned over the last 2-3 years, they’ve helped me train longer and better than I have since I was a junior club swimmer. Hopefully, they help you too.