This is part 2 of a 5-part series written by MySwimPro Ambassador Siphiwe Baleka:

I started receiving reminders from Facebook and swimming friends from around the world that last year at this time, I was at the FINA Masters Swimming World Championships.

“It was perhaps the most memorable event of my swimming career.”

Several family and friends spent two weeks with me while I attempted to become a World Champion. I had not seen my fiancé for almost 9 months and she was able to make the trip to Budapest, too. So the stage was set for what I thought would be the moment I proved that I was the best in the world.

On the first day of competition, my first race was my best event. The 100 M Freestyle. I was the #1 seed and I was hoping to start the meet with a gold medal, which would also remove all the pressure to become world champion. My best time was 54.43. I was hoping to break the world record at 53.77. Unfortunately, I did not have a good race, tightening up severely at the end, and finished in second place with a 55.09. Valter Kalaus from Hungary did manage to win with a new world record at 53. 66.

My second race was the 100 M Breast. I was the #4 seed and manage to bounce back and move up to #2 with a personal best of 1:07.87. I was happy with that performance and it gave me the confidence that I could swim best times for the rest of the meet, but with two silver medals and no world championship, I was disappointed.

Two days later I swam the 50 Meter freestyle. Again, I was the #1 seed and expected to win. I tied for second place at 24.88, just .11 off my personal best. During the awards ceremony, I called my fiancé on to the stage and re-proposed to her since the first time I proposed she was in China and I had to do it via a text message. Afterwards, we were interviewed by the press and they even showed the proposal on Hungarian tv. We were quite popular walking around Budapest for the next few days.


After the 50 M freestyle was my best chance at a gold medal, the 200 IM. Though I still had the 50 M Breast on the final day, I was only the #4 seed and didn’t expect to win that race. So, the 200 IM was my last shot to become a world champion. I will never forget this race. Turning from breaststroke to freestyle at the 150-meter mark, I had a three-body length lead!!!!!! All I had to do was finish the race and I would become a world champion. I said to myself:

“As long as you don’t do anything stupid, you are going to win.” And that was the moment the wheels came off.  I don’t know what happened, but all of a sudden, I couldn’t move my arms.

The harder I tried, the worse it got. I’ve “died” in races before, even “bonked” during the run at the 2012 Ironman South Africa, but this was different. It felt like I was swimming backwards. I could feel Alberto Montini closing the gap, and I could hear the crowd cheering. I knew what was happening. And I couldn’t stop it from happening.

For the first time in my swimming career, I didn’t think I was going to be able to finish the race. Somehow, I did touch the wall and looked at the scoreboard: 1, Alberto Montini 2:17.88; 2, Siphiwe Baleka 2:18.76. The next closest competitor was four seconds behind….

Comparing my splits from my best time at the 2017 Arena Pro Swim Series and 2017 FINA Masters World Championships, at the 150 meter mark I was a full 3 seconds ahead of my best time.

If I could have finished the race as normally, I was looking at a PR of 2:15 for the LCM 200 IM!!!! My best time in college back in 1992 was just 2:10.

You can watch the race here: 

However, what happened next was, for me horrifying. I couldn’t get out of the pool. I had to be carried out of the pool. For about ten minutes I lay on the side of the pool, unable to move, unable to bring my heart rate down. Eventually, they brought a stretcher and carried me to the medicine tent, where I spent a few hours and went through three IV bags. The race still haunts me, and I refuse to watch the last lap….  

FAST FORWARD TO THE PRESENT…

Right now, one of my goals is to make sure what happened in my 200 IM never happens again. I want to have a lot of confidence when I return to competition and I want to be able to swim very good 200’s. So last month I focused on swimming longer, more moderate efforts where the focus is on training myself to “enjoy” swimming 200s and 400’s instead of fear them.

This is more of a “mental” training goal. Thus, in July I started to increase my training volume and not worry about how fast I swim on longer repeats but concentrate on how I feel and swimming easy on the first half of a repeat so that I feel better on the second half and descending the repeat times. I want to get good yardage and build my endurance.

Related: 10-Week IMX Pro Challenge Training Plan

You can see that when I came back from World Championships, I continued to train for 2018 USMS Spring Nationals. My average monthly volume from December 2017 thru April 2018 was about 55,000 yards. After Nationals, I took some time off and didn’t start swimming regularly until June. July was a solid month of getting some yards in and the goal for August is to get over 60,000 yards which would be my highest monthly training volume in my masters swimming career!!! That would give me some confidence.

Three weeks ago, I started the week with some IM training. I did the Workout of the Day (WOD). After warming up with 900 yards, the screenshot below is was the workout that I did. The goal that I set for myself was to swim the 200 IM’s consistently, to feel strong on the second half, without “suffering”. Here’s what I wrote in MySwimPro comments:

“Focused on just staying relaxed on the IM’s. Without pushing I kept them under 2:30. That’s a start.”

My stroke data showed that I did, for the most part, stay consistent. I wanted to make sure my second lap of backstroke was better than the first lap – that my stroke was better – and I did this on #1 and #3. The second lap backstroke splits are “off” I think because of my increased underwaters and back-to=breast rollover flip turn. Also, my 2nd 25 breast split was better on #1 and #3.

Related: 8-Week Get Fit IM Training Plan

This is how I want to swim my race, so I am using the stroke data to train myself to swim that way. If I can have a smooth backstroke that is technically efficient, and a breast leg where I am feeling stronger on the 2nd 25, I should be able to finish the race swimming well.

So this was a set that wasn’t about “how fast” I am swimming, it was about “how I am feeling” while swimming.

At the end of the week, I continued to focus on yardage and endurance. I did the following back-to-back workouts.

Here’s what I wrote in MySwimPro comments:

“Woke up at 4 am and couldn’t go back to sleep so I went to the early workout. Was pretty excited to swim, actually. Complete opposite of yesterday’s mood. There was a sprint option, but I chose the distance set. Felt pretty good and was happy with my 4:22 400 pull.”

So I had to make a choice. Swim by myself at 11:00 am and miss the live feed of US Nationals or swim with SPA Masters at 5:30 am and watch the live feed. I swam early! LOL. I was pretty surprised after yesterday 3,700 that I felt very good today. Had lots of endurance which was great since we went 4150 today – that’s one of the longest workouts I’ve done in the past two years. Good for building my endurance and mental game. Actually, I enjoyed it. Felt like I could “play” with swimming the 300’s. Crushing everyone in practiced helped, too.

I put in over 15,000 yards that week which is solid for me. Anytime I average 3,000 yards for a workout for the week is a lot for me. I ended that week with a lot of volume and feeling very positive about swimming.

Tracking my training volume in MySwimPro definitely motivates me to train longer and also reminds me of the work that I have put in. Using the stroke data allows me to see if I am really training with purpose and being effective, or if I am just going through the motions.

The difference is that the results are inspiring me to return to competition. I am starting to look forward to swimming the 200 IM again (I didn’t swim it at my last USMS Spring Nationals).

Next week, I will show you what it is I am doing to swim fast and how I am starting to experiment with race pace training (RPT). You can follow my training at MySwimPro and I can follow your training, too!  Don’t forget to “like” my workouts.

ABOUT SIPHIWE:

Join our Missouri-based ambassador, Siphiwe Baleka, on his journey to to become the fastest 50-year old in the world. Follow along every week for this 5-part series, and find out what happens when you swim with a data-driven training plan with MySwimPro

We are proud to welcome Siphiwe as a MySwimPro Ambassador. He has transformed his life through swimming and is passionate about helping others achieve their fitness goals. His story has been featured in Men’s HealthSports IllustratedFox Sports , The Atlantic , The Huffington PostGuidepostsCNNBBCNPR and countless other national and international media and his swimming career has been noted on SwimSwam.com.

MySwimPro Stats:

  • 222 Workouts
  • 196.7 Hours
  • 517.9 Kilometers

Changing Lanes: The Siphiwe Baleka Story from Todd Kapostasy on Vimeo.

 

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