Thump-thump goes my heart

I don't claim to have my finger on the pulse of Masters swimming by any stretch of the imagination. I'm too busy using two fingers to keep track of my own pulse.

In 1996, I became a member of the now-defunct USA Swimming Resident Team. We trained in Colorado Springs and had every available technology at our fingertips. But the most-used technology was our own fingers, to take our pulses during and after every set.

Most swimmers are probably aware of the difference between aerobic and anaerobic training. For those who don't, here's a primer:

-- Anaerobic training gets your heart rate up, with a short number of repeats and lots of rest while swimming at an all-out pace. Your heart rate should be at your max capacity (220 minus your age) and should be at or lower than your aerobic heart rate before the next repeat. My favorite anaerobic set is 6x50 on 2:00.

-- Aerobic training tests your ability to swim at a particular pace for at least 15 minutes with a low but steady heart rate. The typical heart rate is about 80 percent of your max heart rate. A typical aerobic set would be a high number of repeats with between 15 and 25 seconds rest per 100 yards or meters. So a set of 8x200 would require at least 30 seconds rest. The stroke is typically freestyle, though you can swim any stroke, as long as the heart rate is at the same level.

Since getting back in the water in early December, my focus has been on building my aerobic capacity to help me prepare for swimming more endurace-based events this season (i.e. 200 back, 200 IM). When I trained with the Resident Team, my aerobic heart rate was 150 for a set of 100s freestyle, holding 1:25 in a 50-meter pool.

That's my current aerobic pace, and I'm not ashamed of it, even though my teammates try to make me feel guilty that I'm downgrading to a slower lane on certain days. There's a saying from Olympic gold medalist Tom Jager that I think applies here:

In order to swim fast, sometimes you have to swim slow.

You don't have to swim at an all-out pace for an entire workout. I doubt the best swimmers in the world do so. Sometimes, you need to give your body a workout or two to condition itself to handle the fast swimming you do. You don't have to call them "recovery workouts" if you don't want to. If you can maintain your aerobic capacity during an entire set, you will feel a little tired. And it won't be a wasted workout. Plus, your heart, not to mention your other vital organs, can't take that abuse.

Since the mid-1990s, I've been dealing with high blood pressure passed on to me by both parents. Until five years ago, I never attributed my difficulty in workout to hypertension. I always thought I was so out of breath from a medium-level set because I was just getting older, or I wasn't in shape. It was preposterous for me to think I had high blood pressure while still in my 20s.

Now that I'm on blood pressure medication, I am able to handle workouts with very little problem, and I think it's helped me gain a new perspective on the sport, which has translated into some of the fastest swimming I've done in many years. My heart rate can get as high as 190 in workout (in fact, it got there today), but I'm able to get my heart rate down quicker. Before I found out about my high blood pressure, it would take me about two minutes for my heart to calm down. Now, it can take less than a minute for it to drop from 180 beats per minute to 150.

I know people who can hold a 1:10 pace for 10x100 freestyle long course on a 1:30 interval, and not be breathing hard at the end of the set. I also know people who don't want to look like losers, and will do whatever it takes to keep up with the 1:10 pace, even if they are seeing stars at the end of the set. Those are the people that scare me.

After witnessing both of Ron Johnson's most recent heart attacks, I know how important it is to listen to your body and not "swim through the pain." The most important numbers to me these days are not the ones I see on a pace clock, but the ones I hear after putting my fingers on my neck for 10 seconds. If it means moving to the back of the pack and swimming a few seconds slower, so be it.

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