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This piece comes to us from U.S. Olympian Josh Davis:
I thought about submitting this article on Father’s Day mainly to encourage the swim dads out there, but then I didn’t for a few reasons. But my journey to becoming the Fastest Swim Dad is also about Independence and Freedom. I had the courage to try something different and it worked and thank goodness I had the Freedom to try it. Many swimmers won’t have the Freedom to try different training styles on the “Race Pace-Hybrid-Old School” Spectrum until they become ‘swammers’. In the spirit of our Founding Fathers who wanted the Independence and Freedom to experiment with better practices, I hope you can learn something from my last year’s journey of life, liberty and the pursuit of happy swimming.
In the summer of 2013 I began to read about Michael Andrew and his unique training. On my birthday, Sept 1, 2013, my wife asked me what do I want for my birthday and I told her I wanted to drive up to Lawrence, KS and learn about USRPT and how Michael goes so fast off seemingly so little. So she said, “Go for it.” So I spent the weekend learning about USRPT and had a blast getting to know the Andrew Family. It was so refreshing and exciting to be around them that it got me motivated to want to train and race again. I had been mostly discouraged from 2004 to 2013. For only one meet in 9 years did I feel really strong and fast in the water and that was Masters Nationals in Austin 2008 where we had a brand new body suit.
In January of 2014 I went back to Lawrence, KS for the USRPT conference and learned even more. I decide to fully commit to race pace training and see what happened. So I trained 20 to 30 x 25’s at 100 pace about five times a week. From Jan. 20th to Apr. 20th I swam for 30 minutes, 5 times a week. No weights, no equipment, no drills…just the 25’s for about 20 minutes.
At Masters Nationals in Santa Clara, I broke the 40+ records in the 50 free with :20.8 and the 100 free with a :45.1. I was very pleased with my sprints. I hadn’t felt that strong and crisp in a long time. I couldn’t help but think about how many high school and college guys would love to go :20. and :45 low on 30 minutes a day. But my 200 back was terrible so I knew I needed something else.
I took most of the summer of 2014 off to teach and run camps and clinics but was intrigued by how to develop my favorite event, the 200 free, and prove that race pace could work for the 500 also. I had heard that Masters Champion Glen Gruber had success with race pace training for his mid-distance races so I decided to double my training and go 20 x 50’s on the 1:00, holding 200 pace. (That sounds so impressive doesn’t it? …I doubled my training). So basically from Sept to Dec of 2014 I would alternate between 20 x 50’s on 1:00 and 30 x 25’s on :30. I still only had 30 minutes a day to train but wanted to go fast at the American Energy Pro Am in Edmond, OK, where I live.
On Dec 20th, 2014 in the consolation final of OK ProAm, I broke my own record in the 50 yard free and went :20.6. How much fun did I have when I looked at the 21 year old college guy next to me on the turn and said to myself, “I can beat this guy!” and I did. Talk about the funnest sport, beating college and high school people when you’re 42 is a blast!
Starting in January 2015 I committed to only train 50’s at 200 pace. By the end of January I was really getting good at the 20×50’s on 1:00 averaging :25.0’s. So February I bumped it up to 25×50’s on the 1:00 averaging :25.0’s. Then in March I bumped it up to 30×50’s on the 1:00 averaging :25.0’s. Only once did I ever reach my ultimate goal of going all 30×50’s on the 1:00 averaging :24.9. It was at Men’s NCAA’s in Iowa City in between prelims and finals. With several college coaches watching and getting my splits, I averaged :24.8 on all 30. I am sure being so pumped up for my alma mater, Texas, and being in the fast Iowa pool helped me that day, but I was still wearing my baggy suit and I done a clinic earlier that day with Anthony Ervin and only had a few hours sleep.
In April I tapered down to 20×50’s on the 1:00 averaging :25’s to get ready for Masters Nationals in my hometown of San Antonio. Then 2 days before Master’s Nationals I tapered to 15×50’s on the 1:00. And one day before nationals I did 10×50 on 1:00 averaging :25.0s.
It was now the moment of truth. I would be swimming the 200yd free and 500yd free, two events I avoided for years because I knew I didn’t do the work to get ready for them and I hated the physical and emotional pain they usually brought since I retired in 2004. I remember getting up behind the blocks of the 500yd free and I had the thought, “Holy cow, I haven’t swum more than a 50 in a year and now I’m going to do 10 in a row without stopping!” But then I reminded myself that I have done over a thousand 50s averaging :25.0’s in the last 4 months so surely I can do 10 in a row at say :26 or :27.
I had my amazing streamline start as usual and all I can say is that 500 free was one of the most enjoyable races of my career. I felt amazing in my new BlueSeventy jammer. My body just went into auto-pilot. I wasn’t sure exactly what pace I was holding but I was just doing what I had trained my body to do. I watched the numbers of my counter go by on each turn side….7,9,11,13,15 and yet I wasn’t getting super fatigued and tight like I normally did in the past. Then the craziest thing, on lap 17 I felt fine so on the bell lap I just started kicking like crazy because I felt so fresh. I touched the wall and felt great and instantly realized I could have gone faster. I had a good amount of energy left and immediately got worried that I had missed the record.
I looked at the clock and saw that I had broke the record of the great distance swimmer Alex Kostich by almost 6 seconds! Here are my splits:
- By 50’s : 1) :24.09 2) :27.07 3) :27.89 4) :28.04 5) :28.21 6) :28.43 7) :28.20 8) :28.23 9) :27.72 10) :25.49 = 4.33.36
- By 100’s: 1) :51.16 2) :55.93 3) :56.64 4) :56.43 5) :53.20
My time in the 200yd free was my best in 8 years also. When Missy Franklin went 1:39.1 in March I was so inspired. I thought surely there is a way I can go under 1:40 also even though I hadn’t done it in 6 years.
My 200 splits:
- By 50’s: :22.35, :24.88, :25.87, :25.13 = 1:38.23
- By 100’s: :47.23 and :51.00
100 free was close to last year at :45.3. 50 free was about the same at :20.8
Training only 35 minutes of only 1800 yards consisting of the exact same thing every day for 4 months (300 warm up and 20 or 30×50’s on the 1:00 averaging :25.0’s) I had become the fastest dad with 5 kids in America in the 50, 100, 200 and 500 free! I felt like I had robbed a bank and cheated the swimming system. I had way to much fun, going that fast off so little.
Thoughts, questions and comments I have received about my race pace experiment…
People said…”You see, Josh, you’ve got this base from being an Olympian.” My question is when does a ‘base’ stop being a base? I didn’t do anything significant for almost 10 years! Sure, I had a technique base but their was no physical/endurance base. I had been struggling with my 200 free for years so much so that I never raced it and would never even think about doing a 500. What I found was that doing 30 x 50’s at race pace builds speed and endurance at the same time and I achieved significant results in only a 3 to 4 month cycle.
People often ask “don’t you get bored with that set?” and I respond with, “Does a surfer get bored with surfing 30 waves a day?” Never!! Even though I am not a surfer, I imagine learning the intricacies of a how your board and the wave work together to achieve maximum speed and enjoyment is a something you’re willing to do over and over again every day and never get bored with it. And that’s what I feel like as I look forward to riding my wave every day!
I’m never doing 100’s or 200’s again. I am only going to do race pace, so that means I’m only going to go a distance where I can go that race pace. I have done 75’s here and there and it was ok but I really prefer 50’s going :24’s and :25.’s. Say for example, I go 8×200 free on 2:30 and I average 2:00. Averaging :30 per 50 for that whole set is actually a pretty good set. But I would never want to go :30 per 50 in a race. Nothing is more boring than going a pace you would never do in a meet and getting unnecessarily tired from doing it.
Bottom line is that I don’t have all the answers and each swimmer should do what makes them successful and happy in the sport. All I know is this race pace works for me and I love it. I have now reset my goals and I’m excited to see how fast I can go at the next Masters Nationals in North Carolina next April. Hopefully, I can encourage some swim dads and coach dads to keep swimming however little and however fast without taking time away from your family.
In conclusion, 300 warm up and 30×50’s on the 1:00 is how I became the fastest dad in America. But the main reason I became the fastest swim dad is because of my amazing wife. She’s the real Olympian who gave us 5 kids in 8 years who are now amazing young people at ages 17, 16, 14, 12 and 10. I couldn’t have been a dad without her and I wouldn’t be as fast either. When I do my race pace I always go faster when I thank God for her and our kids. I am grateful for the motivation and unconditional love my family gives me and I am thankful for race pace training that has given me more time to enjoy them. I hope this gives encouragement to all the other ‘Swim Dad’s’ out there who are trying to live healthier lives without compromising time with your family.
I’m glad Will you join the Race Pace Revolution too?
Happy Fourth of July!
Shout out to my other Olympian and USA Team Swim Dads who inspire me…
Gary Hall Sr.
Gary Hall Jr.