When training in open-water how do I measure improvement?
The best arrangement is to set up two fixed points (as described in the previous post), and then measure 2 of the 3 variables in the Pace equation:
Pace = SPL x Tempo
More specifically, for calculating Pace at a certain distance:
- 1000m Pace = SPL x Tempo x 1000m
- 100m Pace = SPL x Tempo x 100m
- 25m Pace = SPL x Tempo x 25m
Set or measure any two of those variables:
- Time + Stroke Count
- Time + Tempo
- Stroke Count + Tempo
Then the third value can be calculated by algebra. And it is even easier to calculate for open-water than for the pool because you don’t have to factor in time and distance of the push-off from a wall.
Note: SPL = Stroke Count / Distance of Swim (or DS). The actual distance you swam needs to be known in order for Pace (= time / distance) to be calculated. Use a GPS swim watch, Google Maps, or some method of estimating the distance between your two chosen points.
Of course, in TI practice, we are always using Focal Points to direct attention on and maintain quality control over critical features of the stroke. By picking a few Focal Points, using one or perhaps two for each length (or for each Stroke-Count Interval), you can then feel the impact of that Focal Point upon your objective measurement of Time, SPL, and/or Tempo, and upon your subjective measurement of Perceived Effort and Enjoyment.
You may ask yourself, how did that Focal Point affect Time, SPL and/or Tempo? Did it make that length feel easier? What did that Focal Point do inside my body and in my interaction with the water to cause that easing effect?
When you swim between those points for the first time you may count your strokes. That provides a relative baseline SPL measurement.
Every time you swim between those points and count strokes you can adjust or reinforce your expectations for yourself on that course. Because some days the water is perfectly calm and you should expect to have the same SPL in both directions. In those calm conditions you can test yourself either to hold SPL consistent on every length, or to lower SPL from length to length, or adjust it up/down by some precise number to test how well you can feel and control stroke length.
On other days there may be wind or waves, or a current and you will likely see a difference in SPL between the two directions. You can compare the stroke count in both directions, calculate the difference, then create a game for yourself to see how many times you can hold the same SPL on each length, reduce the difference between the two SPL, or lower SPL on both directions. You can also see how changing Tempo will affect SPL in each direction, or challenge yourself to hold SPL consistent while incrementally increasing Tempo.
If there are rough, or at least less-than-pleasant conditions don’t be upset, and don’t necessarily bail out (unless it is dangerous). Add this into the wonderful mix of your training experience. This is wild water after all, and if you plan to race or spend more time in open-water it is good to take on a wild-water perspective and leave the precise (and tame) expectations back at the pool. You don’t control the weather, and it didn’t mean anything personal by cooking up something you didn’t prefer, so there is no point in being upset about it. And I don’t recommend the attitude of ‘conquering’ the weather or water – no, no one is ever stronger than the power of nature. That is an illusion, or rather, a delusion. Instead, I do recommend that you play to your great human strength – adaptation, in both the physical and mental sense. Accept (mind) and adapt (body) to the new conditions nature surprises you with each day in order to grow in wisdom and skill by it each time.
Open-water swimming is like this – you may need to adjust your expectations every new day, in every change of direction, and sometimes even from minute to minute. I argue that open-water swimming is not about conquering nature, but accepting it and adapting to it. You should recognize and capitalize on the advantages of aligning with it’s forces and avoid the dire consequences of working against them.
Being an aligned part of nature is what I like to think of as the essence of open-water swimming.
Alignment with these natural forces produces peace and power in the body and in the mind, as well as lower turbulence (= lower drag) in the water around you. There is a very real physical benefit as well as a real internal, mental and emotional one. Experiencing those benefits are also important pieces of evidence as to the quality of your training in open-water.