CHLORINE CHRONICLES: Long-course season leaves swimmers wondering ‘Where did the wall go?’

Freshman Rebecca Waterson lives at school and the pool. You will find her catching a nap in the car on the way to practice, staring at the black line at the bottom of the pool for hours every day, being yelled at to go to bed because she has to be up in four hours for morning practice or grabbing a snack in the kitchen. Waterson writes the biweekly blog “Chlorine Chronicles” on her life as a competitive swimmer training with the Davis Arden Racing Team (DART).

It’s the beginning of long-course season, when USA Swimming (the sport’s governing body in the United States) swim meets go from being in 25-yard pools (short course) to the Olympic-sized 50-meter pools (long course).

All across the country, high-school and college competitions are held in 25-yard pools. (Some facilities have a 50-meter pool, but those pools also have bulkheads that configure the pool to the correct length.) National-level and international meets, like the Olympic trials and the Olympics, are held in 50-meter pools, which means elite athletes must train in both 25-yard and 50-meter pools.

Long-course season runs from April until August. Practices and meets are subtly different when they change from short course to long course, and a swimmer’s mentality has to shift gears to adapt to the longer pool.

DART at Sacramento doesn’t have a long-course pool, except on Sundays when we have the chance to swim in the University of California, Davis, pool with our sister team, DART at Davis.

Every time I go to those practices and  see the pool, I always think, “This is too long!” After eight months of strictly short-course swimming, I take some time to get used to the look of a different-sized pool.

The swimming part feels even longer, and the motto “Just keep swimming” works well when I wonder where the wall went. My guess on what goes through everyone’s head is, “It must be around here somewhere! Wait, you’re kidding. I’m still a ‘25’ away?!”

The first couple of times I swam in long course this season I kept thinking in short-course terms, like a 50 yards is two laps and a 100 is four. After two long laps in the long-course pool, I thought I was going to have the worst day ever until I remembered that two laps here meant a 100! The sets went a lot quicker after that!

Rebecca Waterson
The Folsom Aquatics Center was the site of the first long-course meet of the season, the Spring Splash competition, from April 22 to 23.

My friends and I often joke about backstroke long course. Many pools don’t have a halfway marker to show how far you’ve gone, so in both practice and races, I often feel as if I’m swimming blindly. I rely on my legs to tell me when I’ve gotten farther than halfway; it’s a fight to keep my kick speed the same over the 50 meters.

When I train, I try to keep my stroke counts consistent during each length of the pool for each type of stroke. Once we switch seasons, everyone has to adjust and remember new numbers. In short-course freestyle I usually take only five strokes from a dive and 13 when pushing off the wall. I’m still trying to figure out my best number for this season.

Long-course pools are harder for me since my strength is underwater kicking. With fewer turns in races, I’ve started working more on perfecting my stroke and maintaining my stroke rate so that I can be prepared for the distance. I’ve also worked on extending my underwaters to improve my race.

Because meters are longer than yards, times change with the races. For example, there is an approximate four-second difference between a 50-yard free and a 50-meter free time, an eight-second difference in between hundreds and a 16-second difference between two-hundreds. I’ve noticed that the coaches themselves have had a bit of trouble adjusting to the new time difference. There are often times when the set intervals have to be changed so that the swimmers get the most out of the set.

Another fault of mine is that I often have no idea what my times are. This is made more difficult when suddenly everyone has to know their conversion times from short course to long course to make sure they stay on track. After races, I often think I’ve done very well, but it turns out that my times should still be faster.

Swim meets are different with a long-course pool. Most short-course meets have “fly over” starts, in which one person finishes their event, and then the next person starts, after a short pause. In long course, there are usually “chaser” starts, which is when the first person gets to their last lap of their race, the next heat goes from the same side of the pool. This next heat of swimmers chases the people who just turned.

Chaser starts provide for some excitement as the new people sometimes catch up to the ones in front of them. This usually happens when younger kids run out of steam at the end of a race. Long-course meets have odd and even sides of the pool for the odd and even heat numbers that start from their respective ends. At short-course meets everyone stays on the same side of the pool.

The switch from short course to long course is a bit of a challenge, but either way, I still keep swimming – even if I can’t find the wall!

By Rebecca Waterson

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