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86 Those Times...or...Convert THIS!

posted September 25, 2006 @ 10:25 PM  |  Technique, Tips, and Drills category

~By Coach Dave Samuelsohn

Editor’s Note: This article was written in the early 1990’s, when the records times were a little slower than they currently are and Dave’s times were a little faster.

Most competitive swimmers I know swim during the short course season. Then long course rolls around and I hear a lot of excellent and deeply meaningful rationalizations why they don't swim long course meets:

Or they'll just seed themselves in a long course meet with short course times, get blown out, and never come back. No one ever steps up and just says, "Long course scares me to death!" But occasionally I'll find someone making a rare appearance at a long course meet. They'll swim their race (seldom the 400 IM - so at least they're intelligent) and inevitably I'll hear the question, "So what does that convert to? Whattaya...take three seconds off?"

The answer is no, you don't subtract anything. You don't add anything. Short course and long courses are two different races, subject to many different variables which change the complexion of how we perform:

(Scare you back into the locker room?)

I consider myself to have pretty good turns for an old guy, strong push-offs, and very good underwater work. But I'm not too long on the endurance thing. So you'd figure I'd be a natural for short course...Only, I'm not. As a flyer and breaststroker, I'm a rhythm swimmer, and it seems to take me a few strokes to settle in and get going. Too many walls break that up and I don't perform as well. So I prefer long course.

The point here again is that long course and short course really are two different animals with many reasons why an individual will perform differently. That is why I say that the two are not meaningfully convertible. We must treat the 100 yard race and the 100 meter race as two different races - as though they were different strokes. Your time for one should stand by itself and not be expected to be related to the other as might be convenient. Two different races - two different performance levels. Got that?

OK, so now I'm going to cave in because inevitably I'm going hear it. I know "Whattaya...subtract 10% and take two seconds off for each turn?" "Whattaya...divide by nine and stop the watch at the backstroke flags?" "Whattaya...wait, I'm coming up with a negative number...is that fast?"

I give up.

So here's my best suggestion for converting:

First of all, you need to have a standard of benchmark for short course and long course that will be constant for comparison purposes. In our business of swimming that means World records and American records. (Ideally you'd like both to be held by the same swimmer but that's not always the case so we'll use what we've got for a rough approximation).

Next, it's a ratio - LC:SC - rather than a subtraction or a straight percentage. What may look like a simple eight second difference for an elite swimmer will get telescoped for the longer time we spend swimming the same race.

So here goes: Think of math (with lots of division and multiplication):

{(Short course American record / Long course world record) = (Your short course time / Your long course time)}

If you've swum a lot of short course and you'd like to know approximately how your long course performance holds up:

Your long course time multiplied by the S.C. Record / L.C. World Record = Your SC time

ex. My L.C. time for 100 meter fly might convert as follows:

1:06.1 [or 66.10 seconds] X (46.26 / 52.84) = 57.84

Now carry this formula through all four strokes and look how consistent it is in producing a usable factor to convert your times (Record times are from 1990):

100 Free: SC American Record :41.80 Biondi / LC World Record :48.42 Biondi = 0.86

100 Fly: SC AR :42.26 Morales / LC WR :52.84 Morales = 0.80

100 Back: SC AR :45.74 Retterer / LC WR :53.86 Rouse = 0.85

100 Breast: SC AR :52.48 Lundquist / LC WR 1:00.95 Guttler = 0.86

The numbers are frightenly close, aren't they? How'd they do that! In any event I'd say it's fair to use the average of 0.86 as our factor.

Multiply your L.C. time (in seconds) by this factor to find your approximate SC time. You'd divide your S.C. time by this factor to find your approximate L.C. time. And if you think this silly article makes me the guy to ask, the answer is still, "You don't convert them. They're two different races." So "86" those questions. Anyway, whatever course you prefer, have a "good time".

(Dave Samuelsohn is lifetime Masters swimmer and coach.)


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