15th FINA World Masters Championships

Montreal-poolsThis was the biggest competitive event in 14 years for me. After the 2000 Olympics I took a 10 year hiatus from swimming and when I finally decided to swim again (just to get in better shape back in 2010) it wasn’t long before I started getting real competitive. What started as just going to the gym to loose weight and get in better shape turned into a more serious endeavor.

The Decision-Making Process

Last year was my first year coaching for the Monocacy Aquatic Club (assistant coach). I had 3 kids all in school and trying to get my work done in-between, so deciding on going to world’s was a big deal. Would I be able to perform my daily obligations as a parent (to 3 young kids), independent business owner and coach? And while juggling that would I be able to train enough to be as competitive as I would like to be?

Another big factor in my decision was my shoulder issues. I had been dealing with shoulder issues since the summer of 2013. The pain would be subtle, not too bad, but it definitely got worse the harder I trained.

So I finally decided I would commit to the World Championships sometime in late March. That gave me 4+ months to really prepare and focus on the task at hand. Actually not a lot of time, so my stress levels rose accordingly.

Training and Double Shoulder Impingement

So I started getting a lot more serious about my training, but as I did that my shoulders started to take a toll. On my worst days I had to kick and could barely raise my arms without significant pain. It was early June when I finally had my yearly physical and within a week I met with an orthopedic doctor thanks to the referral from my M.D. X-rays revealed nothing, but it was the MRI that revealed inflammation of the rotary cuffs.

Within days I started physical therapy (PT). Did tons of exercises and stabilizing drills followed by ultra sound therapy, electrode therapy and deep tissue massages. It really helped. . . a lot. It made a difference. We were balancing my training and the PT so I could hopefully make it to worlds in good shape.

Oh Canada

It was finally time to travel to Montréal, Canada for the 15th FINA World Masters Championships. I was quite excited. I used to love traveling abroad as a pro swimmer 14 years ago, so I missed that. Then there was the competition factor, but I’d say more importantly it was actually having the opportunity to meet some of my old friends and team mates from years past.

After much planning I was going to connect with one of my childhood idols, Daniel Serra Verdaguer. He was a Spanish Olympian who competed in the 1988 Seoul Olympics swimming the 200 and 400 freestyle events. He used to hold many of the Spanish national records and was 5 years my senior. Old enough that as a teenager I really wanted to be like him. So needless to say that after 14 years of being so disconnected from the swimming world, I was looking forward to gaining the friendships I had missed out on for so long.

Organization. . . Not So Good

While the hotel (located adjacent to the Basilique Marie-Reine du Monde) and transportation were superb, and the facilities at Parc Jean Drapeau were outstanding, the organization was a bit of a disaster. It’s not just swimming events, but it’s all the aquatic events crammed into a 10 day program that runs from sunrise to after dark.

I had arrived on a Thursday to adjust to the settings ahead of my Sunday swim in the 800 freestyle. Now on Friday and Saturday both the main competition pool and the temporary competition pool (located a mile away by foot!!) were fully booked with waterpolo matches in progress. The only pool we were able to use was the warm-up pool.

That was a little disappointing and frustrating. I am so meticulous about details so the idea of not once swimming in either competition pool was a bit troubling to me. There are so many competitors that they divide the men and women into separate pools, and in this case you swap days swimming in different pools. So Sunday I would swim the 800 free in the temporary pool located off-site and on Monday I would swim the 200 backstroke at the main competition venue.

Another issue that arose on competition day was that swimmers competing in the temporary pool had no idea as to what event was being held or the heat number. That was a huge deal for those of us competing in the 800 freestyle since that event was so long and with so many participants that the variables were significant.

Finally, during our competition the park was also hosting a techno/rave week-long concert so it was really loud and might I say the air was intoxicating with the fumes of pot and who knows what else. Just another distraction! In fact, the reason the temporary pool was situated so far away was because of this concert. Otherwise the pool would have been built right next to the main aquatic complex. Darn potheads!

Sunday Race Day—800 Freestyle

The 800 freestyle at masters is done as a timed final event, so they go from slowest to fastest by heat. With 532 swimmers entered and 53 heats of the event I would not be swimming my final until 18:20 or so. So even though they would begin swimming heat 1 at 8:00 in the morning, I wouldn’t swim until that evening. All I had was an estimate as to when I would swim.

However, we had no way of confirming what heat they were on. If they were running late or were ahead of schedule. With the pool close to a mile away from the main competition venue you only wanted to make that walk once. They also wanted you in the call room 30 minutes ahead of your scheduled swim.

As luck would have it, Dani and I would be swimming at the end of the day’s session. He’d swim in heat 52 and I would swim in the last heat of the day, heat 53. Nervous about whether we might miss our event we headed over a little early. We got one last warmup and stretch in the warmup pool before walking to the temporary pool.

It was a relatively humid day and at times the sun would come out making it quite hot. So we were on location probably around 17:40, but eventually my heat didn’t dive in until just after 19:15. So for about 90 minutes I sat in a hot tent waiting my turn to swim in a pool I had never swam in. That is a tough notion for me.

At any rate, it was finally time to race and I was quite nervous. Lots of pressure and very decent competition from different age brackets. I hadn’t felt like this in a long time. Actually probably worse than I ever felt as a pro swimmer. Back then at least I was a lot more confident in my training and abilities. Here I am at the Worlds Masters Championships trying to prove to myself that I am still a good swimmer, despite the conditions.

I also forgot to mention that in the 14 years since my 2000 Sydney participation, I had no contact with a long course meters pool. My training is done in an 8-lane, 25 meter pool at a gym. I was able to make a couple of 50 meter workouts ahead of worlds, but no more than a handful.

So diving in to swim an 800m Freestyle in a long course pool was quite daunting and shocking. I was fine through the first 300 meters and under the world record pace, but I was feeling the fatigue and drag of the long day. Past the 400 I was hoping to kick it into 5th gear, but it actually didn’t matter. It was like I was stuck in 4th gear and couldn’t switch gears. I sort of was on cruise control. It was never really painful since I just kind of went through the motions. It was the first time in 14 years I did a big time race on a big stage and it was like I was an amateur.

Regardless, I did win my age bracket and claim the World Championship Gold for which I was relatively happy. But I was a tad disappointed with my final time. It was slower than what I had wanted to swim, but given the many factors kind of working against me, I had to be OK with it. Now my concern shifted to needing to warm down, then walk to the metro stop, ride the 30 minute metro back to the hotel and get dinner before going to bed. My 200 back was the first event the next day. It was 22:45 before I finally settled into the hotel room. I still needed to wind down and fall asleep.

Final 800 Freestyle Results Here

Monday Blues—200 Backstroke

So got up early Monday, around 6:30, to have breakfast and take the metro to the pool. I wanted to do a long warmup to loosen up from the previous night’s race, then spend the rest of the morning stretching and resting in some shaded corner of the aquatics complex listening to my music.

I was scheduled to swim sometime around 10:30 or so, heat 30. I had some fast competition in my heat and some seeded faster than me. During warmups I felt so-so. It’s hard to tell since there was no pace clock in the warmup pool and they won’t allow you to swim with a wrist watch. But my second warmup 20 minutes ahead of my race felt pretty decent. I still had a lot of doubts about the way I felt, but there was no turning back now.

Heading into the waiting call room for the race there was lots of testosterone and high energy. Lots of very focused faces, bodies shaking, twisting and stretching, lots of deep breathing. It can be an intimidating space, but it felt familiar and got me into my game mode. For the next 15 minutes or so I sat with the other 7 competitors who would be swimming the last heat (fastest) of our 40-44 age group. I still had no real sense of how good or bad I felt, but my heart rate was up and I definitely was getting “excited” as I usually say to my swim team when I coach them.

However, for some reason, once I jumped in the pool I really did feel pretty decent. That first jump in, feet first, and the fresh water engulfing me hit a switch. I felt great and the moment hit me. This was the world championships. Time to race!

I usually build into my races, but I had a good start and turned at the 50 in third, but dead even with Rene Saez (Puerto Rico) and Osamu Itoi (Japan). At the 100 I turned first and had a great underwater. When I did come out I could actually see my split and realized I was doing great. At that point I gunned it, knowing I had this race in the bag. I just took off and separated more and more. At the 150 meter turn I was almost a body length ahead. The last 50 was a question of whether I could break that world record set by Dane Mark Vogel in 2010 at 2:12.77.

When I touched the wall I was spent, but needed to swim out past the flags before I could see my final time on the score board. 2:11.56. New World Record!

Very happy! Considered all the uncertainty before the race, the fatigue from the evening before and the lack of comfort with that pool it was a great achievement. It pales to compare with my achievements as a pro swimmer, but still at 40 to be a world champ feels pretty great.

Final 200 Backstroke Results Here

A big thanks to my personal cheering squad of Jeanne Lappin (who had a great meet with multiple medal performances) and Dani Serra, wife and son included.

Conclusion

My trip to Canada was well worth it. I enjoyed it very much. The food was great and meeting up with old Spanish friends (and other nationalities) was awesome. Despite pools being super crowded, the loud music from the week-long concert, and never ever swimming in any of the competition pools until the actual races I was very satisfied.

Until next time. If it’s close to home I’ll be there.

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