Author Archives: Mallory Mead

Off Season Swim Training for Triathletes

It is now October, which means most triathletes are done with their competitive season.  Of those athletes, many will stop swimming completely as they back off of their training for the winter. Come spring time, they will surely find that they have lost much of the progress they had made over the course of the season. Instead of quitting swimming cold turkey, try these tips to shake up your swim routine and to keep you motivated throughout the winter months.

  1. Spend some time on your technique. Use the off-season as an opportunity to allow your volume to drop and put some time into improving your technique.  Practice swimming with your goggles off and your eyes closed to test your ability to swim straight. Couple that with some one-arm freestyle (with the other arm at your side), my favorite drill for learning how to balance out your stroke. This is also an impeccable drill to practice the timing of the stroke.  Also try the Faddle drill, where you swim with a paddle on one hand and a fin on the opposite foot, which promotes body awareness and balance while you’re swimming. Put some serious time in on your agility paddles to fix your catch and develop an Early Vertical Forearm – the critical difference between mediocre and elite level swimmers. Spend extra time kicking with your fins to increase your ankle flexibility and endurance. Be sure to focus on making your kick work for you, not against you.
  2. Learn how to not kick. While this may seem contradictory to my recommendation to kick more, you will also need to learn how to swim without kicking.  Oftentimes triathletes swim with fins so much during their workouts that they develop a kick-centric stroke, which isn’t helpful once they take off their fins and put on a wetsuit.  Try mixing in some swimming with a band, with and without a pull buoy, or just cross your feet.  Focus on using your core to rotate, not your kick, and practice swimming with correct form slowly before increasing your stroke rate and trying to go fast.
  3. Next, learn how to swim fast. Improving your top speed will translate to an improvement of your cruising speed. Over the off season spend some time swimming VERY fast in short bursts, ranging from 12.5 to a full 25 yards.  Try the Speed Change drill, where you alternate swimming 5 strokes fast and 4 strokes easy, and focus on reaching top speed by the fifth fast stroke.  Also, consider mixing in the occasional stretch cord set. Swimming down the pool against resistance and swimming back with assistance teaches you how to hold your stroke together as you swim fast (with the band).
  4. Keep up the consistency. Even if you want to reduce the amount of time you spend in the pool over the winter, try to maintain some kind of consistent schedule.  If you swim three times a week for an hour in-season, try reducing the swim time to 45 or 50 minutes, but staying with three times a week.  If you really want to improve your swim leg in your next triathlon, try swimming more often than you do in season, even if the workouts are shorter. Your body will have a chance to recover and the added intensity will be beneficial to your performance.


The key to sticking with swimming over the long winter months is to keep it interesting.  You’ll thank yourself once spring rolls around and you are faster and more efficient than you ended the previous year.



Tracking & Logging in Open Water

In Tracking and Logging Your Training I blogged about the importance of keeping and studying a training log for clues about ways to tweak your training program. Tracking and logging training swims begins to take on a whole new level when considerations unique to the sport of open water swimming are included.


While the unpredictable and imcomparable nature of open water swimming is, for many people, one of the draws of the sport, it is still important to log your open water swims in a way that can be valuable when analyzing and developing a training program or race stragedy. As in pool swimming, distance and time are the two most basic parameters to track in your log, but even this isn’t straight forward. Additionally you should keep track of wind and water conditions, feeding schedule, and of course some “feeling” notations.


Distance can be easy enough to track with a few different methods varying in accuracy.  The most accurate way to track distance is by using a GPS device such as the Hydro Tracker to track the path and record the distance of your open water swim. In addition, many swim spots have established routes that make tracking distance a bit easier.  Lastly, a swimmer can use a mapping program to approximate the path taken and the distance swam.  Estimating the distance one swam would vary in its effectiveness for each individual and be reliant on a variety of factors, such as the swimmer’s navigational competancy and ability to swim straight.


Ultimately, distance only tells a small part of the story, so make sure you track your swim time!  Keep track of overall swim time and the length of feedings or breaks.  If you are swimming a route you are familiar with, start tracking “splits” at distinct landmarks or at the halfway point in an out-and-back type of route. Next its time to take into consideration weather and water conditions. Was it windy and the water choppy?  Was it a wind to your back or were you swimming into a head wind?  Was the water still, or were you swimming with or against a current? By comparing swims on the same route on different days, you get a better idea of patterns in weather conditions and a general idea of how each training session compares to the others.


When it comes to cold water swimming, one of the most important parameters to track is water temperature.  Acclimating to cold water temperatures is a process, and one that involves gradually building your tolerance by increasing the length of exposure or gradually decreasing the temperature (easier said than done, this is best done in the fall when temperatures start to cool and drop off). Keep a pool thermometer in your bag so you can get your own temperature reading.  Many times water temperature readings from a buoy can be found online, however, keep in mind that these water temperatures readings are usually taken from a few feet below the surface, and may not be completely accurate for the surface temperature.  Know the symptoms of hypothermia and log any that occur.  Everyone reacts differently to cold exposure and it is very helpful to have an understanding of how your body and mind reacts.


Since a race day nutrition plan should be crafted after careful trial and error during training swims, it is important to track nutrition consumption and its effects in your log.  NOTHING should be consumed on race day that has not been put to test in training.  Was there a particular flavor of energy gel that you liked? Did a liquid that you usually like during freshwater races taste really bad when your mouth is salty from the ocean?  Did you experience stomach cramps after eating a new food? Did your feeding plan include electrolytes?  How much liquid were you taking in, and was it enough? Were you able comfortably ingest enough liquid in a timely manner?  Use the information you gather over many training swims to identify any needed adjustments your feeding plan, including the amounts, schedule, products, and ratios.


Lastly, you should keep track of any notable feelings or changes in mental state, so that you are better prepared to head these off during future swims.  In addition to tracking the effects of your nutrition consumption and cold exposure as outlined above,  keep track of items such as how long it takes to properly warm up, your percieved effort or pace at different points in your swim, the development of any pain, and any dips in mood.  For those training for channel or marathon swims,  it is important to include at least one very long training swim before the big day to serve as practice. It is very common for swimmers to find that they experience feelings of depression, pain, and low energy at the same benchmark in every long swim (5-6 hours is very common).  By identifying the manifestion of this phenonmon in your training swims and preparing yourself mentally and logistically for it, you are more likely to be able to break through the wall and continue on to success.


Even though open water swims are seemingly incomparable,  keeping a thorough record of your  training swims will help you identify opportunities for improvement and prepare yourself physically, mentally, and logistically for your major swims and races.  While most will not take the time to track and log their training, it is a very simple way to improve your training practices in order to train more effectively, helping you swim faster, longer, and more safely.

See you out in the open!

Mallory Mead


Tracking and Logging Your Training

Congratulations, you just turned out a stellar performance at your last meet or competition.  From the second you entered the water, you were riding high, feeling strong, and confident.  Now its over and you are starting up your training again, and you wonder how you are going to replicate that stellar performance this season. Obviously what you did this last season worked, so why not do it again?

Or maybe, you didn’t do so well.  Maybe you were surpised to find yourself feeling sluggish when just days before you were feeling on top of your game.  Maybe the day of the race you were left with only one gear: moderately fast. This is not how you were supposed to feel!

Both of these scenarios begs the question:  What DID you do this past season?

Sadly most of us don’t know.  We went to practice, followed coach’s orders, or if you swim alone, did whatever felt right at the time.  Weekly training varied based on our life schedule, cramming in the distance when there was time and taking time off when the kids had that week-long soccer tournament.

While most of us cannot train like the pros do (i.e. follow carefully and scientifically designed season training plans which outline parameters like weekly distance, number of workouts, and the percentage of distance done in the specific energy levels), you can at least document and track your workouts.

Minimally, you should keep a training log in which you track your workouts, pace, and a least a few “feeling” notations, such as “Started out feeling very sore, but by second round of the main set I began to loosen up and get fast” or “Slight head cold made it very hard to swim above aerobic pace” or even “Stretched the night before and felt amazing from the start.”  The more information, the better. While this can be very low tech with a pace clock, notebook, and pencil, you can also use a SwimSense Performance Monitor and upload the info to the SwimSense Training Log.

Even before the season is over you can study your training log to look for patterns.  Do you always feel terrible on a specific day?  If so, make that day your recovery day, and save your hardest workouts for days that you generally feel good. Do you find yourself getting slower and slower as the season progresses, even degenerating down to illness, even though you are training hard?  You are probably overtraining.

At the end of the season, you will have a record of every yard or meter you swam.  You will get an idea of your weekly distance, how much and at what rate you were able to build over the season, and when you started resting or tapering for your big meet.  Did you hit your taper just right?  Good, then try and taper the same way next time.  Did you feel your best a week after your big competition?  Next time extend your taper a few days.  Did you feel your best 4 days before your big competition?  Next time start your taper later. Did you find yourself lacking in the speed you need to take it out fast in your 5k?  Take a look back to see if you were doing an adequate amount of speed work. Did you have the speed but lack the endurance/pain acclimation for your 10k race?  Check the log for the frequency and duration of your long open water sessions.

When you find something that works, stick with it, but don’t be afraid to continuously tweak your training!  Everyone is different and responds differently to training and rest. It took me twenty years and forty seasons to figure out that I do best with a drop taper that is longer than a normal drop taper, a fact I only figured out because of a shoulder injury. Even if you train with a team, you can take this information to your coach to discuss how you can personalize your training.  Most coaches will be happy to make recommendations on ways to modify the workout to help you achieve your goals.

Happy Training!

Mallory Mead


Tempo Trainer 3rd Mode: Two Goals, Four Ways

The term “Strokes Per Minute” is familiar amongst open water swimmers.  Advertised course distances can be misleading due to currents, chop, wind, drifting buoys, and navigational errors. As a result, stroke rate measurements have long been used in place of splits to measure pace . Since I wrote about my use of the Tempo Trainer to increase my Cruising Stroke Rate here, the new Tempo Trainer Pro has been released with a new “Third Mode” that beeps to a designated number of strokes per minute.

Here are four ways you can add a whole new dimension to what would otherwise be a rather simple freestyle set.  You can choose to work on increasing your stroke rate or to work on increasing your distance per stroke.  Both have their advantages.

To increase your stroke rate, assuming your target stroke rate is 80 SPM:

-15×100 Descend by Threes

-Holding Target Stroke Rate (80 SPM)


15×100 Holding Even Pace

1-5: Target Stroke Rate of -2 Strokes (78 SPM)

6-10: Target Stroke Rate (80 SPM)

11-15: Target Stroke Rate of +2 Strokes (82 SPM)

To increase your distance per stroke, assuming your cruising stroke rate is 76 SPM:

15×100 Descend by Threes

Holding Cruise Stroke Rate of -10 Strokes (66 SPM)


15×100 Hold an Even Pace

1-5 @ Cruise Stroke Rate (76 SPM)

6-10 @ Cruise Stroke Rate of -4 Strokes (72 SPM)

11-15 @ Cruise Stroke Rate of -8 Strokes (68 SPM)


- Mallory Mead
Open Water Marathon Swimmer
Indianapolis, IN


Keeping Your Training Up While Traveling

I recently spent time in five different states over a three week period.  While the timing of my travel was very poor, as I am currently one month out from one of the longest marathon swims of my career, I was determined to make it work.  Here are some tips on how to keep your training up while you are on the road.

  1. Plan Ahead - Structure your training schedule the week or so before you travel so that your recovery days fall on days you know you won’t be able to make it to the pool.

  1. Do your Research - Spend some time surfing the internet for pools in the area you will be be traveling to, and make a calendar that lists available practice and lap swim times. Gather up as many options as you can for flexibility.  Also, don’t forget to check on admittance requirements (such as fees, guest policy for gyms and universities, etc.

  1. Bring your Tools - For those “less than ideal” situations, it isn’t a bad idea to pack a watch, stationary cords, and some dryland cords. Some pools won’t have pace clocks, so having a watch or Swimsense on hand will help you keep track of intervals. If the only pool you can find is a hotel pool, tether yourself down and you can still get a decent workout in without doing a flip turn every 15 yards.  Also keep in mind that cross training is better than nothing, so pack those running shoes, and strengthen those swimming muscles with stretch cords.

  1. Stay Focused - plan as far ahead as you can as to when you are going to get your swim in, and the earlier the better!  Waiting until the end of the day increases the chances that life (or decreased motivation) will get in the way of your workout.

Happy (mobile) Swimming!

- Mallory Mead
Open Water Marathon Swimmer
Indianapolis, IN


Swimming 101 – Lingo for Newbies

For many people, the idea of swimming with a Master’s team is a bit daunting.  One of the most common excuses for not joining a Master’s team is “Well I’m not a Master Swimmer!”  I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to be an Elite swimmer to do well and enjoy the Master’s swimming experience.  However, there are at least a few items you should learn.

The first barrier is usually understanding swimming lingo. There are a lot of terms thrown around on the pool deck, and coaches tend to take for granted that not everyone is familiar with these common terms.  Here is a quick cheat sheet of terms:

Pull: Swimming with a pull bouy between the legs or paddles on the hands, or both.  The point is to isolate your upper body and core.

Kick:  Swimming using only your legs; no arms.  There are many ways to kick: on your front, back, side, sometimes on a kickboard, sometimes in a streamline, with one arm out, or with your arms at your side. Kick can also be done wearing fins!  If you coach doesn’t specify the type of kick, you can usually ask or choose for yourself.

Descend: To get faster within a set, or to descend the amount of time to complete a repeat.  For example, to descend a set of four 100s you might go 1:50 on the first one, 1:48 on the second, 1:47 on the third, and 1:45 on the fourth.

Build:  To get faster within a repeat.  For example, if you are doing Build 50s you might start off at about 50% effort during the first 10 yards and build your speed until the last 5 yards of the 50 are at 100% effort.  Start the build over again on the next repeat.

Stroke:  When part of a set is designated as stroke, this means non-freestyle (i.e. butterfly, backstroke, or breaststroke.)

Sprint: 100% Effort!

Recovery: Easy effort.

“The Top”: The 00 on a digital clock or the 60 on an analog pace clock.

“The Bottom”: The 30 on both a digital and an analog pace clock.

Intervals: Intervals are a specified amount of time to complete repeats of a set. For example, if you are doing 50s on a 1:00 interval, you would leave for the next 50 every minute.  If you swim your 50s in :45, you would get :15 rest before you leave again.

Base Intervals:  If a coach gives you a set with repeats of varying distances, they may give you a base interval.  For example, a coach may give a set of 50s, 100s, and 200s on a Base Interval of 1:30 per 100.  This would mean that the 50s would be on :45, the 100s on 1:30, and the 200s on 3:00.

Rest Intervals:  Sometimes a coach will specify a rest interval, which means the swimmer will get a consistent amount of rest in between repeats no matter how fast they complete the interval.  For example, you would take 10 seconds rest between all your repeats no matter how fast you went.

Now that you’ve got the basic terminology down, it’s time to learn how to read it!  Take this set for example:

4x50s @ :50

This is read as “four fifties on a fifty second interval.”

Also, take this set of 100s, 50s, and 25s on a Base Interval of 1:20 per 100:

{1×100 Pull @ 1:20

2x           {2×50 Build @ :40

{4×25 Sprint @ :20

1:00 Rest in Between Sets

This is read as “one hundred pull on a minute and twenty second interval, followed by two fifties build on a forty second interval, followed by four twenty-fives sprint on a twenty second interval.  Take one minute rest after you have finished the round and repeat.

If the coach told you to leave on the “top”, here would be your send-offs for the set above:

100-On the 00 or 60

50- On the 20

50-On the 00 or 60

25-On the 40

25-On the 00 or 60

25-On the 20

25-On the 40

If you find yourself confused after your first workout, realize that you aren’t alone!  All of us had to learn at some point, but after a few workouts you’ll start to catch on and can graduate to helping the newer recruits!

Mallory Mead
Open Water Marathon Swimmer
Indianapolis, IN


Measuring Maximum Heart Rate

Since energy levels are based on a percentage of maximum heart rate, knowing your maximum heart rate is important.  In addition, observing sudden drops in your maximum heart rate can indicate over-training. While a basic formula for estimating maximum heart rate exists, it can be far from accurate.  Here is a basic summary of maximum heart rates adapted from Ernest W. Maglischo’s book, Swimming Fastest.

Most of us learned at some point in Junior High gym class that maximum heart rate was equal to 220 bpm minus your age.  Take me for example:

220-25=195 Maximum Heart Rate

However, age alone cannot accurately predict maximum heart rate.  In addition to physiological difference between athletes, maximum heart rate is lower while swimming than during land-based exercises because the horizontal positioning and the cooling effect of exercising in water.  The only truly accurate way to get maximum heart rate readings is to take your heart rate after swims of maximal efforts of at least a minute long.  These heart rate “test sets” should be done several times to establish maximum heart rate, and the results should be averaged to reduce the margin of error. Increasing your fitness should not make much discernible difference on your maximum heart rate.

Here is an example of a recent test set I completed.


1-70% Effort @ 5:00 (4:46)

2-80% Effort @ 5:10 (4:37)

3-90% Effort @ 5:20 (4:30)

4-100% Effort  (4:25)

My heart rate after each 400 was 188, 190, 190, 192, as taken by my AquaPulse, so my average would be 190.  Future testing will insure that the correct maximum heart rate is being used in my calculations.


Season in Brief and Lessons Learned

In January of this year, I packed up only what I needed and headed to the Mecca of open water swimming, Southern California.  I had decided that I was ready to take my career in this sport as far as it would go, and nearly one year later I feel like I’ve only started scratching the surface of my capabilities.

After a slow start to the season with double injuries and logging my first DNF (did not finish), I got back to training and was able to turn in a decent performance at the 3k Dwight Crum Pier-to-Pier race in July. Two months later I won the women’s race at Naples Island 5k Race in Long Beach.  In October, I picked up another trio of wins (Women’s 8k, Women’s 1.2 Mile, and Women’s Grand Slam 8k+1.2 Mile) and set a Women’s Grand Slam record at Slam the Dam in Las Vegas.  A few weeks later I turned out a stellar performance at the 12-Mile Swim Around Charleston that earned me an overall win and a course record.

As I prepare for the 2012 season I’ve been taking a look back to what I learned from the 2011 season. I’m a big believer that goals and training approaches shouldn’t be static, but instead should be evaluated frequently and modified as necessary. Here are a few key lessons that I learned.

  1. Rest and recovery is more important than you think:  I spent the first half of the racing season on the sidelines because of back-to-back injuries due to over-training and exhaustion. What was one of the most frustrating experiences of my competitive career ended up being a godsend; I am much more diligent in ensuring that I get the proper amount of rest and my training and performance has skyrocketed since.
  2. Being self-coached has made me a better athlete AND a better coach: My relocation to a new state left me struggling to find a team or coach that would be a good fit for me.  As a marathon open water swimmer, this is no small task.  What eventually developed looks nothing like a conventional training situation. I mix and match my workouts, and ended up with a schedule that incorporates a handful of Master’s practices, solo pool sessions, unsanctioned group workouts, and open water sessions with swimmers of various speeds.  I researched training programs from various sources, consulted with other athletes and coaches, and really put some thought into what my athletic history says about how I should be training. Every workout has a stated purpose or goal, but that purpose or goal is occasionally modified based on how I feel in the water that day. Ultimately, this set-up offers me the flexibility that I need to maintain a balance of training, work, home, and recovery that I have never obtained before. Consequently, I am swimming faster at 25 than I ever did in college and loving every minute of it. Because I was forced to educate myself beyond what I learned through osmosis as a coached athlete, I am better prepared to help other athletes reach their goals as efficiently and scientifically as possible.
  3. Every race is a learning experience:  While my optimum distance is over 10 miles, I had more opportunity to race short distances (1-3 miles) in one season than I ever have before, and was pleased with how much I learned because of it.
  4. Don’t underestimate the importance of a top-notch crew: Many open water swimmers treat the compilation of support crew like an after-thought. My participation in the Support Paddling for Open Water Swimmers Clinic, taught by David Clark of the Catalina Channel Swimming Federation, and the subsequent pre-race training that I put my support paddlers through, made a noticeable difference on my performance in Las Vegas and Charleston.

It was a season of high highs and low lows, and a season of great learning.  I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to go after what I love, and to share my joy with others.  2011 was an amazing adventure, and I can’t wait to see what 2012 has in store for me.

- Mallory Mead
Open Water Marathon Swimmer


Using the Swimmer’s Snorkel and Cardio Cap

I first started using the Swimmer’s Snorkel during my time on the Western Kentucky University varsity swim team, where we used our snorkels for almost every practice. It serves as a great tool for doing drills and sidekick, as it has allowed for me to be able to focus on the drills and my technique without the distraction of breathing. In addition, it is a great tool to practice better rotation, as it challenges the swimmer to get full rotation without the aid of the body roll that comes from side to side breathing.

During my sophomore year, in preparation for our conference meet in the high-altitude city of Denver, Colorado,  my coach added the Cardio Cap Attachment to our snorkels the first day of’ practice, and later we used athletic tape to tape off about half of the remaining opening to simulate the “out of breath” feeling from swimming in altitude. We arrived in Denver feeling confident about our training; we were unfazed by the home team’s perceived advantage. I swam extremely fast that year, setting personal bests that still stand. I’ve never taken the cap off since (although I must admit the tape came off pretty quickly)!

-Mallory Mead
Open Water Marathon Swimmer
Indianapolis, Indiana


Master’s Swimmers and Triathletes: Should You Be Swimming With Fins?

One of the most common questions I am asked by Master’s Swimming newbies and triathletes is whether or not they should be using fins. It seems as though many of them have been told at some point that “fins” is a dirty word and that they are somehow cheating by using them.  I disagree for three main reasons.

First off, many of the people asking this question have very poor ankle flexibility. They may come from a running or biking background, but they certainly didn’t grow up strapping themselves into “The Rack.” I usually demonstrate this fact by having them sit on the ground next to me with their legs stretched out in front of them and relax.  While my feet naturally flop over towards the floor, their toes tend to point straight up in the air, perpendicular to the floor.  Without ankle flexibility, kicking is extremely inefficient, and sometimes counterproductive.  Swimming with fins will increase ankle flexibility.

Secondly, there are many ranges of abilities in Master’s Swimming, even more so in the slower lanes.  For those who have a hard time keeping up with their lane mates, the addition of fins can make the difference between making and missing the intervals. Not only does this make the lane run more smoothly, it is also more fun and builds camaraderie!  As they begin to improve they can start to reduce the percentage of their workout executed while using fins.

Lastly, many triathletes and beginning Master’s swimmers have a hard time maintaining correct body position while swimming and also while performing drills. The addition of fins helps keep the legs from sinking and allows the swimmer to experience what it is like to glide across the top of the water, instead of plowing through it.  Additionally, most triathletes will be swimming in a wetsuit and/or in salt water come race day.  Fins help simulate the buoyancy effect that a wetsuit or salt water would have on a swimmer.

The bottom line is fins are a tool, not a crutch, and that kicking with fins improves your “naked” kick.  They are a must for every mesh bag.

- Mallory Mead
Open Water Marathon Swimmer
Indianapolis, IN