Courtesy of Ryan Turner, a swimmer at Columbia and Lancaster Aquatic Club.
You’ve finished up what you thought was the main set. You reach for your drink when a voice calls out, and you stop short. “5 x 100s, at race pace! Leaving on the bottom!” Your heart starts to pound as your head jerks to the left, looking for the clock on the wall. A voice of disbelief radiates through your mind, “There can’t possibly be enough time left to finish this!” Your eyes widen as your realize that there’s exactly the right amount of time left, even enough to have a warm down. Game over.
Challenge sets are used during practice to simulate the intensity of a race. Sometimes, coaches will spring these sets on swimmers without prior notice, making the task that much more difficult. These sets can be as brutal as an all-out set of sprint 100s, or something as mind numbing as a timed 1-hour swim. Regardless of the pace or distance, these challenges are in a league of their own, and can oftentimes be more stressful than a race itself.
Here are five ways to survive a challenge set:
1. Remain Calm
It’s important to remember to remain calm. It’s nearly impossible to always stay on your toes during practice, ready for anything, so the next best thing is to keep your mind calm. It can be your best friend or your worst enemy.
2. The end is always in sight
No set can go on forever. Break the habit of constantly looking over at the clock to see when practice is over. This will allow you to focus on the obstacle in front of you.
3. Keep track of your splits
Keeping a pace is also a great way to push through the pain of a challenge set. If you’re able to, keep tally of your splits. This works especially well in a timed swim where setting a steady pace is essential to success. Seeing the repeated time on a clock allows your body to fall into a rhythm, making the set easier for you.
Allowing yourself to get swept up into the intensity of the set can have benefits for you and your teammates. If you agree with one another beforehand to give it your all, you’ll feel less isolated during the worst of it. Plus, your coach will be happy to see the extra effort from the group.
5. Play a game
Distracting yourself is an excellent way to get through a challenge set. Although slightly ridiculous, trying to catch (or lap) your lane mate can make a challenge set more tolerable. Making a tense situation seem less serious will also allow you to perform better, as your mind will not be focusing on the stress.