A year has passed since the 2012 Washington Metropolitan Interscholastic Swimming and Diving Championships, but as this year’s competition approaches Saturday, few, if any swimmers, have matched those remarkable times.
Not to worry.
“You have to accept that at certain times of the year, you’re not going to have your best times. At one point in the year you can look at your time, and it looks good, and then later you can think that time is awful,” Our Lady of Good Counsel High School senior Catherine Mulquin said.
Peaking during championship season is a common thread among teams and athletes at all levels, but in swimming, there is a science to ensuring athletes can produce their best results at the right time.
It’s called a taper.
Top-level swimmers log thousands of yards per week. But in the week or weeks leading up to major competitions, they curtail their training regimen to allow their bodies to recover.
“You get a little dinged up (with all that training). You go through a taper, and you’re a little less broken down. You’re a little more rested. You can get more sleep (with less practices). There is more time to recover, and as you start to feel better (you can swim faster,” Bethesda-Chevy Chase coach Jason Blanken said.
The training load consists of three parts: volume, frequency and intensity, according to USA Swimming. Tapers typically last one to two weeks, and during that time athletes will decrease their time in the water, though not by too drastic an amount.
It also is important to maintain some level of intensity during the shortened workouts, according to a report on the USA Swimming website.
The placement of tapers also is extremely important, Good Counsel coach Billy Howard said, so swimmers can work back up to and endure a full training cycle in time for the next taper.
This year’s high school schedule will allow for most of the county’s athletes to taper for Metros and still be ready for Junior Nationals in the spring. It wasn’t the case last year.
Though tapers are the primary factor in swimmers’ top performances, every race is a learning experience and an opportunity to go fast, Blanken said.
Those factor into swimmers’ improvements over the course of a season, as well, he added. Not every swimmer needs to taper in order to achieve a top time.
“Kids can’t just practice the entire time. You train and trai. You have to have a chance to race to see where you’re at physically, and if you’re way off your time, what you can do differently,” Howard said. “It’s hard to find that peak time.”
Blanken and Poolesville coach Johnny Leong also agreed that mental preparedness is another important aspect to racing no matter how rested or fatigued a swimmer might be.
“You’ve got to convince kids that they’re ready to do it. It’s as much a mental game as it is physical. As I’ve been coaching, I realize that if you put a kid in the mindset that they can do something, they’ll run out and give it their best shot,” Blanken said.
Swimmers’ times might fluctuate throughout a given season, but they always seem to be fastest at the right times. This year’s Metros promises to be a historical one.
“(We’ve gone) down in yardage before Metros. You feel a lot more energy, and that definitely helps (your times) a lot,” Mulquin said.