Early tomorrow morning Gizzy and I will head to the airport to cram aboard a quick flight to Buffalo, NY. From there we’ll join my swim coach Brian for a road trip across the border into Canada, on our way to Toronto. We’re headed for the Can-Am Para-Swimming Championships to be held from March 20-22. This is the first major meet in the 2015 season for me and nearly 200 other eager para-athletes. Excitement is building for World Championships, which will be held in Glasgow, Scotland in July. World Championships will serve as a preview for athletes and spectators as to what we might expect to encounter in Rio for the Paralympic Games in September of 2016. The US Team will be selecting it’s roster for both World Championships and also the para-Pan-American games, which will be hosted in the same Toronto pool later this year. I say all of that to say that for me and the other athletes embarking for Toronto this weekend, this meet feels like the first big step on the Road to Rio.
In actuality, this isn’t really the first step, or the second or third. Many of us finished up the Games in London wondering, dreaming of returning to the Games in 2016. Every step since then has been a deliberate one, with hopes and dreams becoming increasingly more real and intense all along the way. Many of us got a taste of what we expect to see in Rio during our swims at the para-Pan-Pacific championships in pasadena, CA last August. Personally, after a year off to transition out of the Navy, I was thrilled to eclipse and even improve upon my swims from the London Games. But all of that is behind us now, and all of us are looking forward. We are looking at an ever shrinking calendar that ends in Rio.
I am very excited to race this weekend in Canada. While I am proud of what I accomplished in Pasadena last August, my coach and I were able to clearly identify some areas I needed to work on. Specifically, I needed to work on my sprinting. In Pasadena, I swam my second fastest blind 100m freestyle clocking in at 57.3, just .6 off the blind world record. I was happy with that time until I learned that I had negative split my 50s, meaning the second half of my race was faster than the first. If you account for the substantial advantage afforded to a swimmer by diving off the blocks at the beginning of a race, you should never end up negative splitting a two length race! The fact that I did indicates that I should have taken that race out quicker, that I could have shaved a little off that .6 towards the world record, and that I need to improve upon both my initial speed off the block, as well as my overall race strategy.
I’ll excuse myself for this error due to the fact that I grew up a distance swimmer, and I only really started sprinting in the last few years. That being said, I only won the 100m free in London by the slimmest of margins due to one of my competitors suffering a late crash into the lane line. Also, I lost the 50m free by an equally narrow margin. If I want to be victorious in Rio, I can’t rely on luck in the sprints. I obviously need to work on my short game.
In support of this, I have taken to the weight room over the past 6 months. I built a small gym in my basement, and have dedicated about an hour a day to strength training. I currently feel as strong as I’ve ever been, excluding my time in Afghanistan. For me, this meet serves as a proof of concept for my new focus on strength and sprinting.
I won’t be wearing a fancy, high-speed suit, nor am I shaving down, so I don’t expect any top times, but I would like to see some improvement in how I swim my shorter races.
On Friday I’ll be swimming the 400m free, an event I feel very comfortable in. Last year at this meet I think my prelims swim was around 4:55, and my finals swim was around 4:49. Don’t quote me on that, I am recalling that from memory.. in any case, I would like to be right around there, or maybe just a little bit faster at night for that particular race.
On Saturday, I’ll be swimming the 50m free. I can’t remember exactly where I was last year, but I imagine I was around a 26 high, or a 27 low. This event has been like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get… Sometimes I smoke right down the middle and pop up with a 26 low, other times I ping pong better than Forest Gump, and wind up with a 27 high. My goal in Toronto is to work on consistency in the 50, with no more than .3-.5 difference between my morning and night swims. I’d also love it if one of those swims was a 26.5 or faster, though I won’t put much stock in an exact time at this point in the season.
On the final day of competition, Sunday March 22nd, I will swim the 100m free. Given what I discussed above it should go without saying that my goal is to split this race a little smarter. I’m hoping to leverage my newly developed strength to add power and efficiency in this race, and I hope to utilize my legs to govern my pace a little better. I don’t care as much about the difference between the two swims in this case, but I’ll pay close attention to my splits in both the morning swim and evening swim for this event. Again, I don’t recall the exact times from last year, but I think I was a hair over 1:00 in the morning, then a hair below a minute at night. This year, I would love to see a little progress, and come in at 58 anything, maybe even 57 high? Wouldn’t that be great?
Anyway, I am impressed if you have stuck with me this far. That was a little swimmer heavy jargon, but I figured I should start sharing what’s going through my head before meets like this. For each meet over the coming two years, I intend on putting out pre-race thoughts, and then a wrap up post. This exercise will keep you all more involved, and it will hold me accountable for my own goals! As part of my wrap up for this meet, I’ll sketch out some goals for the next meet!
If you want to follow the meet online, information will be available at usparalympics.org. If you want to heckle me or cheer me on, you can comment here on tumblr, on twitter @BradSnyderUSA, instagram @BradSnyderUSA, or on Facebook.
Happy Hump Day,