Thursday, April 3, 2014

Unethical Test Subject, or Sometimes, More Is More

Last week, the UT pool hosted the NCAA Men's Swimming National Championship meet.  As a result our masters practice schedule was M-F at 5:00 am, significantly different than our usual schedule that allows me to swim M/T/Th/F/Sa at *not* 00:dark:00.

Tuesday night at somewhere around 6:30 pm I made a fateful decision that culminated in an hour's nap in a Target parking lot on Friday morning.  Despite evidence to the contrary, I didn't choose a path to destitution, I chose a test, with myself as the test subject.

See, if I had taken Wednesday off as normal, I would have ended up with less swimming in the week than I normally get.  Instead I decided to swim Wednesday and up the ante far more than just getting in my usual 5 swims.  I was swimming five straight days, all at 5 am.  Which translates into 4:15 am wake-ups.  Which further translates into, ideally, 8:15 pm bed times.


Why, you ask, did I do this?  Because I wanted to see what would happen if I did.  Plenty of people around the world do this every morning, week in, week out, and add an afternoon practice to boot.  I assumed I could but I wrote this still very true blog post a ways back and wanted to walk the walk.  If I want to learn how to support swimming more, I have to...swim more.

Also, one debate of training and coaching is "less is more" vs. "more is more"; what do "less" and "more" actually mean; if you have to follow either of those protocols all the time; and when to switch between them (i.e. diminishing returns from increased training load).  For biking and running, I have found my personal line between more is more and less is more.  I've never even gone looking for that line in swimming.  This week was a first foray in finding that line.

Technically what I did is called "overload" training, of a sort.  It works, and can work fast, if 1) you can support it during the fact (sleep, food) and 2) you can unload the overload appropriately after the fact (recovery, sleep, food).  Hence, all the personal sushi buffets and avocado sandwiches and going to bed at the first hint of dusk.  Any other way would have been either self-sabotage or making the whole process much more painful.

I knew that if I went home and napped after each practice like I would prefer (and usually try to do for 5 am practices), I would never get to bed as early as I needed and then I would be shorting my night-time sleep and relying even more on my post-practice naps.  A vicious and never-ending cycle.  So I decided no post-practice naps and on top of that, no undue amounts of caffeine, as I find it much harder to go to sleep if I've had serious caffeine during the day.

I can guarantee that there was at least one zombie roaming the streets of Austin last week.

It was amazing how quickly two things happened: I started falling dead asleep as soon as I got into bed (my latest was 9 pm, and several on-the-dots 8:15 pms) and I lost feedback loops between mind and body.  So many times I was going to click a link on-line and clicked the entirely wrong link.  Definitely no sudden movements happening 'round here.

But that's the thing: in the pool, I wasn't setting anything on fire, but I wasn't totally shanking it either.  And then I started to set things legitimately on fire (for me).  Monday I went easily my fastest 50 fly ever.  Early on in the test, true, but after only one day with no swimming since my previous 5 swim-day week.  Thursday I descended 200s with a buoy to sub-2:30, territory really never seen with a buoy - and that was after nearly a mile (yes, a mile) of fly in the first 4000 yards of practice.  Friday I went my fastest 100 IM ever by two seconds.

To celebrate I took a nap in Target's parking lot while I waited for the store to open.

Lo and behold, more turned out to be more.  I definitely poked at my swimming line a little bit and still managed to set personal bests.  At some point, I'll devise another experiment - because really, that's all training is - and see if more remains more.  But first I have to get my appetite back. 

Ancillary Observations and Caveats 
  • I already knew I was walking the razor's edge with regard to training stress, but I changed nothing about my normal routine other than giving myself the chance to get as close to 8 hours of sleep as possible despite the ridiculous hour.  The acute application of physical stress is the entire point of overload training.

  • Eight hours of sleep wasn't close to enough.  Twice (I can't even remember what days my mind was so toast) I dozed off for 20 minutes in the middle of the day before I could catch myself.  Otherwise, I was constantly tired.  If it was even remotely possible or socially acceptable, I would have been in bed at 6:15 pm.
  • I realize I didn't layer on herculean amounts of volume.  I overloaded volume for me and that's all overload training should - or ever needs to - be: more for you, not compared to anybody else.  I compressed my usual training load into less time, combined it with a huge dose of situational stress, and used it as chaser to two months of unrelenting training.   Occasionally it felt like I had sand in my eye sockets.
  • I did have an involuntary twitch in my left thumb (like a eye-lid twitch) for the last two days.  Ghost in the machine trying to get me to follow the white rabbit, for sure.
  • 10 am was the first cut-off for uselessness, and even if I made it past that generally intact, I was utterly useless by 2 pm.  Absolutely no sitting still, alone, could occur 2-4 pm, so despite being exhausted, I was productive.
  •  My starving but nauseous symptoms persisted until sometime Thursday afternoon, with additional general loss of appetite.  I was surviving on one massive meal per day of whatever my body said was acceptable, supplemented by whatever I could tolerate otherwise.  One of the only things I could tolerate was avocado on crackers, topped with salt.  I lost three pounds in seven days.
  • I do not recommend this training protocol, except in very particular circumstances.  I chose to push when perhaps it was unwise to do so, but I also knew roughly what to expect and know how to manage the outcomes better than the average person.  PLUS I had two entire days of no training planned immediately after.  It was glorious - but I still missed swimming.

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