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Open Water Training in an Endless Pool

Total Immersion Swimming

Scott "The Yesdoc" Richards, MD, a member of the exclusive Triple Crown Club, trains in an Endless Pool. We asked him why:

10K swimmer: Why do you train in the Endless Pools Swimming Machine when you live in San Diego, a beautiful city that is abundant with open water swimmers and ocean shorelines?

Scott: I train in an Endless Pool due to my personal and professional commitments coupled with the lack of 50 meter pools in the north county of San Diego. I am a single parent and physician (outpatient with a 40 hour work week) and couldn't make the time to drive daily to a pool, do a workout with masters, as I had responsibilities and this would have been exhausting for my lifestyle and take away from my family. I love to go to La Jolla Cove on the weekends, but for weekday training, the Endless Pool was perfect. I did a test swim in one in about 2003 and was impressed. Subsequently, I researched the different types and found a contractor who had experience with them and by 2004 I took the "plunge" (pardon the pun), and invested the money and it has been worth it 100 times over. With being a single parent, it gave to me the ability to get up at 4:00 - 4:15 am, stretch and then begin a workout by 5 am, allowed me to be out by 7:00 - 7:30 am with 5 miles done and still get breakfast for the kids and get them to school. The ability to train on-a-moments notice is a great feature. And the current is adjustable and allowed me to simulate open water much better than an 80°F (26.6°C) degree pool as I keep the temperature in the winter at 62-62°F (16-17°C)and in the summer no warmer than the mid 70's°F (23°C). I'd also swim in the evening while the kids were dong homework and could add an extra 4-5K without too much interference for my family.

10K swimmer: Is it tough to train alone in the Endless Pool?

Scott: One has to be personally motivated as I trained with no coach. The Endless Pool necessitates having a very self-motivated person. I can't stress this enough. I just love to swim and with the use of personal workouts that I began to develop, I just really had fun.

I also have the 45° angle mirror on the front bottom so I would constantly see where I was entering my stroke and my underwater technique.

10K swimmer: Do you have any special methodologies when training in the Endless Pool?

Scott: The use of a pace clock, coupled with the adjustable current, is really good for understanding speeds and stroke-per-minute counts that are used in marathon swims. I began to feel what 62°F (16-17°C), 66°F (18.8°C), 70°F (21°C) and such would feel like. I began to know what rpm's were what stroke counts and as I got more efficient and stronger, I used less strokes at the same speed. John York of the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation said I had one of the most consistent stroke counts for the entire Catalina Channel swim he had seen in years. I really attribute that to training in the Endless Pool.

10K swimmer: What is your swimming background?

Scott: I had been a competitive swimmer from ages 8-22 and then masters swimmer from ages 26-38, but I was really tired of the heavy interpersonal competitiveness that was happening at masters swimming, especially when triathletes would swim and try to beat the old fat guys. The you-against-the-elements was what drew me into the marathon swims. At my age (now 49) the goal is to get to the other side. I know that if I had attempted the swims in my 20's, I would have put so much more pressure to have world-class times.

10K swimmer: Can you tell us how many hours you trained in the Endless Pool?

Scott: When I was in training for the marathon swims, I had a Monday-Wednesday-Thursday-Friday schedule for the Endless Pool and at least one day on the weekend would be in the ocean at least 2-3 times a month. If I didn't make the ocean, I would use the Endless Pool for long swims on Saturday with Sunday being a shorter workout.

Note that the Endless Pool automatically shuts off after 31 minutes and 45 seconds. Therefore, I did sets based on the 30-31 minute length with no more than 1-2 minutes of rest in between. Each morning would start with a warm up that was 31 minutes and 30 seconds long (15:45 at an easy pace, 10:30 on a faster pace and 5:15 at "ocean speed"). Based on what I learned my speed was, this would be about 2,300 yards as I can hold 1:15-1:20 for 100 yards on a regular basis. 1:20 pace for 30 minutes is 2,250 yards. So my yardage is approximate during the workouts between 5-7:30 am. On Monday, I would front load the week with at least 14,000 yards and the most I ever did on a Monday was a 21,000 yard day over three separate workouts.

10K swimmer: What was a typical training week?

Scott: A typical week in the Endless Pool would be as follows:

Monday between 5:00-7:15 am
31:30 Warm up
31:30 Swim at pretty fast pace
3 x 10 minutes descend on 10:30
31:30 swim pace (5-4-3-2-1 set). The 5-4-3-2-1 set is 5 minutes easy, 10 seconds rest, then 4 minutes faster, 10 seconds rest, 3 minutes faster, etc. till the 1-minute swim is all out. I did this to simulate the end of the Channel requiring that extra gear to break through the tide.
10' swim down

Wednesday between 8:30-9:45 am
31:30 warm up
31:30 pad/pull - 10 x 3' on 3:15 pace
4 x 7:30 on 8' pull
10 x 2:30 swim on 3 minutes, descending by 2's with the last 2 at max heart rate
3' easy

Thursday between 5:00-6:50 am
31:30 warm up
31:30 with zoomers
10 x 3 on 3:10 desc
5-4-3-2-1 set
5' easy swim down

Friday between 5:00-7:00 am
31:30 warm up
6 x 5' on 5:15 pull
5-4-3-2-1 set
31:30 pace swim
1' easy

Saturday/Sunday (if not in the ocean)
31:30 warm up
2 x 15' pull on 15:30 - 2nd faster pace than first
3 x 10' swim with zoomers on 10:20 descending each with faster speed on pool 5-4-3-2-1 set

Monday afternoon
15' easy
10 x 6' swim descend on 6:15
5-4-3-2-1 set
5' swim down

Scott Richards - English Channel open water swimming

I usually averaged 14-18K on Monday. Occasionally, I'd add an extra swim on Thursday evening that would be more of a "sprint" or backstroke to give the arms a different feel. This would add an extra 3-4K per week.

Weekday average was about 35-40K yards. Then on Saturday, I would go to La Jolla Cove and swim at least 2-3 hours which would be about 10-12K and on Sunday an easy endless swim of 3-4K.

The total weekly yardage averaged 45,000-60,000 and I would vary this depending on how my shoulders would feel.

I also use my Swimman MP3 player when I train so I can listen to music, books and even medical journals when I train. This allows my training to be another of my multi-task times. I have taken education days and spent 6 hours in La Jolla listen to medical lectures and get home and send in the test answers. It's been neat to learn and train at the same time.

10K swimmer: What were your times and dates for your Manhattan Island, the English Channel and Catalina Channel swims?

Scott: Manhattan was in June 2006 in a time of 8 hours 8 minutes. Catalina was in September 2006 in a time of 10 hours 39 minutes. The English Channel was in 2007; the full story is on my blog.

10K swimmer: What is your medical specialty? What do your patients think of your open water swimming accomplishments?

Scott: I am a board certified psychiatrist with also being clinical/research fellowship trained in mood and Eating Disorders (anorexia/bulimia). Since an article about me in 2007, a number of patient's were amazed and my family has put up my England map course on my wall. I was initially uncomfortable with this, but it has been a big positive as some will say, "You walk the talk of self control and hard work."


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