[From early November...]
I may have finally pin-pointed the difference from which stems all other comparisons between age-group and masters swimming. Not surprisingly, it's pain.
I've touched previously on how much/different the pain is compared to masters swimming. However it was driven home just how central that difference is during several recent experiences.
1) A few Saturdays ago we did a mile workout, meaning the whole workout was based around finding and holding mile race pace. The kids generally hate swimming anything longer than a 300, at race pace or slower. They dislike distance, full stop. I, by comparison, was in my wheel house. I was banging out these intervals with precision and could have hit them all day long.
Early on the workout was challenging because you had to stick to (slow) pace and repeat and repeat and repeat. Over time, as the workout went on, it eventually got challenging in a more traditional sense: it become physically harder to hold that same pace.
As we started the last round of this massive set, the girl one lane over said "is this when it's supposed to hurt?" And suddenly everything became clear.
They don't dislike distance because it hurts; they dislike distance because it doesn't hurt (like they are used to). Distance confuses them. Most age-group swim practices are just abject pain from start to finish (or maybe that's true just for me) and they know how to handle that (with admirable aplomb if you ask me). Distance doesn't hurt enough (or at all, really, in the beginning) so they don't know what to do.
2) This past weekend I had my third meet ever and the theme started in the first two continues: a completely different meet set-up and line-up brings new and different pain. We all swam nearly every event each day. I only went Sunday and swam five events (200 free, 200 breast, 100 back, 200 fly, and 50 free) between 9 am and 10:36 am. I had maybe 10 minutes between my 200 fly and 50 free and managed to drop a combined 7 seconds between the two events.
Anyway, I didn't go the first day - which for most was 6 events back-to-back. One senior described it only as "today was a little rough."
Uh, yeah, I would imagine so. I know masters who schedule their meet line up to have one event per day, not six in two hours and say it was only a "little rough."
3) At this same meet one freshman guy was preparing to swim the mile. He was nervous because he had no idea how to pace it, not the numbers but the feel.
I told him about the vomit index I use. For race pace distances around a mile, I push until I start to get the acid gut burn that precedes the urge to vomit and then I hold that. (For 400-500 yard distances, the right pace is whatever makes you feel like you are actually going to vomit by 150 yards. That matches muscle failure to finishing the event pretty closely I've found.)
He looked at me like I was nuts (and yeah, it kind of is) but I think more because I wasn't describing a "fast pain". All of their other events get close to or hit all-out pace, but the mile doesn't touch it with a 10-foot-pole. For age-group swimmers there is pain and lack of pain. It doesn't have (m)any gradations.
Of course these anecdotes explain why these kids will walk the first part of an easy 50, until the bottom falls away and they can't touch anymore. It is true relief, some of the only they get in the pool.
And why I spent the first month totally out of my comfort zone. I was having the experience as the kid swimming the mile, but opposite: everything was so much faster than normal instead of slower. Entirely different kind of pain.
PS - The term "shower cry" is used after a particularly nasty workout. Basically, you are crying in the shower due to the workout. Used in a sentence: "Now I'm going to have a good shower cry."