As the month of June comes to a close, we at SwimSwam wanted to take a look back at one of the more unique and memorable meets the month offered: the Mare Nostrum circuit.
Mare Nostrum is a condensed Grand Prix-type circuit that moves through the Mediterranean in just over one week’s time. The first stop was a Saturday/Sunday in Monaco, the second the following Wednesday/Thursday in Canet, France and the third on Saturday/Sunday in Barcelona, Spain.
One of the interested aspects of a condensed series like this is the ability of swimmers and coaches to race, come up with feedback and improvement plans, and then put those plans into action just a few days later at the next meet. We caught up with three well-known American swimmers to get their thoughts on the Mare Nostrum format.
Tom Shields: professional at California Aquatics, American record-holding butterflyer, former NCAA champion
Josh Prenot: California rising junior, school record-holder, Pac-12 champion
Katie Meili: professional at SwimMAC Carolina, Columbia graduate, former Ivy League champion and All-American
All three cited the circuit’s fast-paced format as an opportunity to implement race changes quickly.
“It’s nice to have the meets back to back because you can make adjustments immediately and see if they work immediately,” says Prenot, “rather than waiting a month for the next Grand Prix to see if whatever adjustment you made worked for you.”
Shields brought us through the specific progression of his 100 flys through all three Mare Nostrum stops and the Santa Clara Grand Prix, which he viewed as the fourth and final meet of his rapid-fire stretch.
“In Monaco I had the problem of not truly pushing the underwater,” Shields says. “Canet was better, Barcelona I accidentally let my stroke rate go through the roof, and in Santa Clara I finally nailed the wall like I want too.
“Instead of taking 4 months to do that kind of racing, we did it in a couple weeks time.”
That Santa Clara race was a big one for Shields, who tied world record-holder Michael Phelps on the strength of a huge turn and underwater kickout.
For Meili, one of the biggest benefits came from the competition – in getting to watch some of the great international stars in attendance at the meet, Meili and coach David Marsh came up with a stroke tweak they started implementing immediately.
“After watching video of my breaststroke races, David and I both noticed how drastically (and successfully) [Denmark’s] Rikke Pedersen throws her head, shoulders, and entire upper body forward and down into a line,” says Meili. “We started working on drills in the 20ft. long diving well to emphasize throwing my head forward and down.”
Getting to compete against some of the best in the world, including athletes, techniques and styles American-based athletes aren’t as familiar with, appeared to be another big benefit of the circuit.
Prenot talked to us about getting to see how swimmers like Chad le Clos, Daiya Seto and Ryosuke Irie “go about their business at meets like these,” calling it “humbling” to watch film of himself swimming backstroke a few lanes down from Irie, one of the world’s best in the discipline right now.
One interesting bonus Shields noted was how a short, fast-paced burst of racing like Mare Nostrum helps clear out an athlete’s schedule for training before and after the series ends.
“Instead of taking half a week to a week of every month to go a meet, we took two and half weeks of one single month to race four,” Shields says. “That gave us a lot more time from Mesa [Grand Prix in April] until Mare Nostrum to have uninterrupted training.“
For now, travel costs and the hassle of international flight will probably keep the majority of American swimmers from making Mare Nostrum a regular part of their training regimen. But the interest appears to exist to support a similar structure in the U.S. or elsewhere, as all three said they’d love to work a Mare Nostrum-style meet circuit into their schedules again.
Prenot said he found the series a good addition to his training, but noted that he’d still spend more time preparing for meets structured like Nationals, NCAAs and Olympic Trials to help prepare for that format.
“In order to prepare for marathon meets like Nats and Trials, you need to do marathon meets,” Prenot said, but added that Mare Nostrum served as a welcome training meet.
Shields called it a “racing camp of sorts,” that moved through the events with a slightly different field at each stop. “Doing multiple repetitions of the same event take away that fear factor for me,” he says, “as well as allow me to try a few different techniques rather than just one.”
For Meili, it came down to a love of racing that caused her to enjoy the Mare Nostrum circuit, essentially a weeklong racing bonanza.
“I love racing, so I would absolutely do more of these back-to-back-to-back two-day meets if the opportunity presented itself,” Meili says. “I think that much race experience in such quick succession is great training, mentally and physically. It’s tough work, but it definitely makes you better.”
Special thanks to Tom Shields, Josh Prenot and Katie Meili for sharing their thoughts and experiences with SwimSwam and its readers.