Mike Oram's EC "Benchmark Set"

evmoevmo Admin
edited January 2 in General Discussion
This discussion was created from comments split from: The Animal Set Thread.

Comments

  • Training sets for the Channel by Micheal Oram from a Channel_swimmers_Google_group e-mail
    http://openwaterswimming.eu - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!
  • IronMikeIronMike KyrgyzstanCharter Member
    OK, so the benchmark test is 3050m, if I"m reading it right...
  • Yes and to be done in under 1hour preferably.
    If you do 3050 m/h he recons the Channel crossing will take you 12,5 -14 hours
    http://openwaterswimming.eu - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!
  • I would be intrigued to hear someone (Mr. Oram is not a forum member, so perhaps a friend?) explain why this set is considered a benchmark for EC swimming. Personally I don't get it.
  • I have heard Mike O just pulls stuff out of nowhere (being polite) on a frequent flyer basis?
  • http://openwaterswimming.eu - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!
  • The explanation reads like what @Lynnkub said.
  • IronMikeIronMike KyrgyzstanCharter Member
    OK, so I did 5500m in 90 minutes yday, so I'm good. I have the EC guarantee now, right? ;)
  • @IronMike I had the same thought. With this information I now feel empowered to complete a double crossing! :-j
  • evmoevmo Admin
    edited December 2013
    If you need a swim coach, hire a swim coach.

    If you need a nutrition scientist, hire a nutrition scientist. Or read a book :)

    If you need a boat pilot, hire Mike O. Or one of the many other fine CS&PF gentlemen.
  • If you need sound advice from a former competitive swimmer and a pilot with more than 700 Channel crossings under his belt ask Mike O. for FREE
    http://openwaterswimming.eu - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!
  • evmoevmo Admin
    edited December 2013
    So it might seem, to someone who is not a swimmer or a coach.
  • Can't see why there should suddenly be such excitement and controversy over a set that's been around on the Channel Swimmers Group for 8 years or more. No-one said you had to do it. For the record, when I was doing serious training I did sets of many more metres, but I also did a few of the Benchmark sets. Think of it as a 1nm time-trial with a few extras bolted on. Adds a bit of variety and when you only have one, not three or four, hours its a handy challenge. Each to their own and may the season of goodwill run a little longer!
  • NiekNiek Member
    http://openwaterswimming.eu - Cold, wind, waves, sunburn, currents, jellyfish and flotsam! Hop in and join the fun!
  • I guess it just looks like something most masters swimmers can easily do. When I think of what it must take to do the EC I imagine there should be a bit more challenge for the benchmark.
  • evmoevmo Admin
    For reference and to save unnecessary clicks, here is the set:
    10 lengths warm up plus 2 lengths backstroke (300m)
    4 x 100 metre sprints (400m. Total 700m)
    Rest (4/5 mins max)
    76 lengths timed swim (1900 (about a nautical mile) Total 2600m)
    Rest (4/5 mins max)
    200 metre sprint (200m. Total 2800)
    Rest (4/5 min max)
    10 lengths cool down (250 m. Total 3050 - just over 1.62 nautical miles)
    Mr. Oram further advises:
    If you do it in a less than an hour good.
    If you do it in about the hour you are in the upper bracket.
    If you do it in just over the hour your in the "normal" zone.
    If it takes you more than 1.5 hours you will struggle.
  • david_barradavid_barra Charter Member
    evmo said:

    For reference and to save unnecessary clicks,>

    My understanding is this is just Capt O's assessment of the speed it takes to swim the EC. It does not take into account other factors of conditioning.
    ...and needless to say, many swimmers in the "struggling" category have had successful crossings and many in the upper bracket have not.
    Mike O would be the first to declare that this set is but a small piece of the puzzle.
    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.
  • evmoevmo Admin
    edited January 1
    The purpose of benchmark sets (a.k.a. "test sets") is to measure and track an individual's progress across a training cycle, or toward a specific goal.

    As such it is important that the set, y'know, measure something. What is the focus? What is the point?

    The best test sets are very simple; easily memorized; easily tracked over time.

    For example, a useful test set for mid-distance pool specialists (200-400m) is the "Broken 200" or "Broken 400." 4x50 or 4x100, 10 seconds rest between each 50 or 100. Add up your total time, subtract 30 seconds, and that's your benchmark. The focus is going as fast as possible, and properly pacing oneself. Your "Broken" time will approximate what you might do for the straight 200 or 400 with a taper & shave.

    A useful test set for slightly longer swims might be: 10x100 on the fastest interval possible. The benchmark is the interval itself - very simple, easily tracked over time.

    A useful benchmark for swims in the Ironman--> 5km range might be a T30 or T60 (as far as possible in 30 minutes, or 60 minutes). Simple, easily tracked over time.

    In training for a 15-20 mile swim, I like doing a Broken 10K. 10x1000m reps (preferably LCM), 1 minute rest between each. Add up the total time, subtract 9 minutes, and that's my Broken 10K. I have two goals: (1) fastest total time, and (2) smallest range between slowest 1K and fastest 1K. Boring? Absolutely. So is marathon swimming.

    You don't have to do a Broken swim. Whatever floats your boat - just make sure you're measuring something specific.

    My primary objection to Mr. Oram's set is that I don't know what it measures. It seems a bit... scatterbrained, I guess?

    Benchmark sets should measure something specific, and they should also measure something meaningful. It should be specifically relevant to the target swim. So, a marathon benchmark set should not include "sprints." Should a marathon swimmer do sprints occasionally in their regular workouts? Absolutely. But not on a benchmark set.

    Here's an annotated version of the set:
    10 lengths warm up plus 2 lengths backstroke
    So I can reduce my total time by swimming faster on the warm-up? Warm-up should not be part of a benchmark set.
    4 x 100 metre sprints
    "Sprints"? Does Mr. Oram mean this literally? Like, V02-Max, 100% effort, sprints? When would you ever do this on a channel swim? Ability to swim different speeds - yes. Not sprints.
    Rest (4/5 mins max)
    Why is this not defined more specifically? So I can shave off time by taking 4 minutes instead of 5? What about 30 seconds rest? Why is the maximum defined, but not a minimum?
    76 lengths timed swim
    Many people cannot count reliably to 76 lengths of the pool.
    Rest (4/5 mins max)
    Ditto.
    200 metre sprint
    Ditto.
    Rest (4/5 min max)
    Ditto.
    10 lengths cool down
    So I shave off time by doing a faster cool down? A benchmark set should not incentivize faster cool-downs.
  • evmoevmo Admin
    Also this:
    If you do it in a less than an hour good.
    If you do it in about the hour you are in the upper bracket.
    If you do it in just over the hour your in the "normal" zone.
    If it takes you more than 1.5 hours you will struggle.
    I know a lot of fast pool swimmers who could do this set in 40-45 minutes, and who could not come close to finishing the EC.

    And I'm guessing Jackie Cobell would be close to 2 hours on this set.
  • david_barradavid_barra Charter Member
    evmo said:

    Also this:

    If you do it in a less than an hour good.
    If you do it in about the hour you are in the upper bracket.
    If you do it in just over the hour your in the "normal" zone.
    If it takes you more than 1.5 hours you will struggle.
    I know a lot of fast pool swimmers who could do this set in 40-45 minutes, and who could not come close to finishing the EC.

    And I'm guessing Jackie Cobell would be close to 2 hours on this set.
    Indeed. I think the "test" here is to give Mike O an idea of what to expect from a swimmer as they approach France.... Anyway that's what the good, upper bracket, normal, and struggle designations seem to suggest to me.
    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.
  • evmoevmo Admin
    edited January 1
    I can certainly understand why it's useful for a pilot to understand the swimmer's speed, even moreso in the EC with its tidal movements.

    If benchmarking basic long-distance swim speed is the aim, wouldn't a T-60 (distance swum in one hour) be far more reliable, repeatable, understandable, trackable, than a mish-mash of warm-up, sprints, 1900 straight, & cool-down, with optional rest?

    The good/upper/normal/struggle brackets seem to imply that swim speed is the primary factor in whether a swimmer succeeds or "struggles" in the EC, and that seems false, or at least misleading.
  • david_barradavid_barra Charter Member
    edited January 1
    I must admit I haven’t followed this post from its source, but having read many of Mike Oram’s posts on the CS&PF site, I would guess there is much more to it than implying this is a measure for a successful EC crossing.
    It takes him two double-spaced pages to say good morning.
    (not that its a bad thing)
    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.
  • I would like to point out that Captain Oram didn't even post this himself in the forum. Now his Christmas wish is being picked apart. I personally don't care for it. He has certainly seen his fair share of unprepared swimmers. There are swimmers who don't do animal sets and bench mark swims, and I believe he has this type of aspirant in mind-but what do I know? I just read in here the other day "I will just wear my wet suit until I am acclimatized." This was a serious statement and no joke.

    He's made an important point about swimming hungry, so now I have my valuable take away. @evmo how often do you do a benchmark swim?

    Regards everyone and I wish you all a very successful new year!
    Sisu: a Finnish term meaning strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.
  • evmoevmo Admin
    edited January 2
    If I'm "in training," I'll do a test set once a week. I'll do different test sets depending on what I want to test that day.

    If I want to test my marathon pace, I'll do the Broken 10km (but that set is psychologically draining so I'd probably do it no more than every 5 or 6 weeks.

    If I want to test my threshold speed, I'll do a timed 1500, or the Swim Smooth Critical Swim Speed test (timed 400 followed by timed 200) - that is also an excellent benchmark set.

    The key is having a specific focus (a meaningful "benchmark") for whatever test set you're doing.

    As another example, here is a benchmark set recommended by Dave Salo, one of the most accomplished swim coaches in USA Swimming history. Notice the specific focus, the simplicity, the ease of tracking over time.

    image
    image
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  • Thank you evmo, I find this very helpful and constructive.
    Sisu: a Finnish term meaning strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.
  • Although the question is directed to @evmo, I do a benchmark at least once a month, usually once a week during the winter & spring. (I consider myself an average speed swimmer at 3400m to 3600m per hour in the pool of repeat 200s).

    Either a Monday set of descending 10x400s (Paul Newsome's Red Mist CSS set) which is a CS anaerobic set that @evmo mentions, which doubles as a weekly barometer of my condition and speed and requires monthly testing of 200m & 400m time to calculate the CSS.

    Or a three k time trial on Tuesday which I don't do until I feel like I can make a good attempt of flat-out speed on all three kilometres (this tells me as much about how I am mentally, if I even want to attempt it, since it hurts a lot) ;

    Or 6 to 10x 1ks once per month where my goal is hold the same speed within -10/+10 seconds with a 30 sec break between each. Similar to @Evmo's Broken 10k. I am most concerned with my average 1k speed here.

    I either hate or love each one depending entirely on my current speed & fitness level. Simple & repeatable with no variation other than me. I do love time trials though, and always have, regardless of sport. I have no-one to help measure splits so I have do without that aspect.

    Everything goes into my log because the essence of benchmarking is measurement and repeatability.

  • evmoevmo Admin
    edited January 2
    Look, I apologize if this thread has come off as petty, pedantic, mean, or whatever. I didn't mean to steal anyone's Christmas joy. I am now trying to move this toward a productive discussion of benchmark sets.

    Read @loneswimmer's series on Sylvain Estadieu's EC butterfly swim to understand some of the background motivation here. World-class expertise in marine navigation does not automatically translate to world-class expertise in swim training, or nutrition science, or any of the multitudinous topics @Niek collects in his repository without judgment or discrimination.

    @Niek posted a 3,000-meter set to the 'Animal Set thread.' I am expressing the opinion that it is neither an animal set, nor a particularly useful benchmark set.

    Hopefully some will find this discussion useful in thinking and learning about swim training.
  • IronMikeIronMike KyrgyzstanCharter Member
    I try to do the CSS test about every 4-6 weeks. I'm not always successful in that.

    My benchmark for marathon swimming is if I can do a 10K in the pool, in any form, w/o getting all, you know, melancholy or bored. 200 laps of a SCM pool sucks...
  • What about swimming hungry? Whose practicing this method, and what is your experience? Thank you for your comments!
    Sisu: a Finnish term meaning strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.
  • loneswimmerloneswimmer Admin
    edited January 2
    @Dawn_Treader, I think swimming hungry useful if not overdone. The rational side of me never forgets that for sets less than two hours, it doesn't have any effect except psychological as you have enough energy but that might not stop your stomach grumbling for the entire time. For sets of two to four or even five hours, you will burn all your glycogen and probably end up very tired. Like anything in swimming the more you do that the easier it gets (though never actually easy). I have (very rarely) done sets of three hours or longer with no food beforehand, but some of the SISC marathon members do them fairly regularly, I just don't like that particular discomfort and what it takes out of me. Also, I agree with you about that wetsuit comment, it's ridiculous. One or the other, skin or condom, can't do both and achieve the same results.

    As for the whole thread, like many I've seen Mike's "benchmark" set every year and always disregarded it.

    Benchmark means one or two specific things: It either means an initial measurement of capability (e.g how long it takes you to swim 3k on your first attempt) or it is the way @evmo and I mean it, which is as an ongoing assessment of progression or regression.

    Had Mike O. used any other term the set would be filed with every other set of which there are infinite numbers. (Everyone has sets that others would hate, and visa versa). Mike O. however postulates this specific set for a specific purpose but it fails at that. The long and variable rest periods are essentially useless.

    As @evmo points out, had the set been put into the Lunchtime Set or Average Set threads, it would have caused little or no reaction (though the long rest periods might have). It certainly isn't an animal set.
  • Laflamme02Laflamme02 Member
    edited January 2


    Everything goes into my log because the essence of benchmarking is measurement and repeatability.

    @loneswimmer, would you be able to provide a quick sample of how you log these? Are you using an Excel file, paper, or a commercially available 'swim log' option? I'm looking for ideas that are easy to use and reference. I need to start logging these better than handwritten on my work calendar.

    On a different note, @evmo references T30s and T60s above. I checked Openwaterpedia but didn't see a definition there. Can this be briefly explained?

    Also, thank you to everyone for this thread. I'm finding it immensely helpful to plan and track my progress. As dubious as everyone seems to think this EC benchmark workout is as a viable repeatable test it looks like a good workout.

    @evmo is right on with variable rest times and warm-up and cool-down being part of the test though. That's no good and a good way to hurt yourself in the warm-up or blast through your cool down trying to shave time. Warm-ups and cool-downs should remain sacrosanct and separate from the main set of any timed workout in any athletic activity.
  • IronMikeIronMike KyrgyzstanCharter Member
    @Laflamme02, T30 and T60 are really very simple. Week one, swim the farthest you can in 30 or 60 minutes. The next time you do the T30 or T60, try to swim farther.

    I first read/heard of T30 and T60 swims in Hines' book Fitness Swimming (or something like that).
  • evmoevmo Admin
    edited January 2
    Some of you know - and others may be interested to know - NYC Swim is now using a One Hour Swim (T60) as the most important criterion for seeding MIMS. They have a huge database of swims through swimmer's profile/swim resumes, and after crunching the data they've found that the T-60 is the single best predictor of MIMS placement (assuming a successful finish). Better than any OW swim or set of swims, better than EC time or Catalina time.

    (Morty if you read this, please feel free to clarify, qualify, etc.)
  • evmoevmo Admin
    edited January 2

    What about swimming hungry? Whose practicing this method, and what is your experience?

    I agree with @loneswimmer's views on this. Something to be experimented with occasionally. A couple additional thoughts:

    - There may be some benefit to swimming hungry, IF it helps you better "feel" the transition from burning glycogen (glycolysis) to burning fats (ketosis). Ketosis is what will get you through a channel swim.
    - There may be some benefit IF swimming hungry helps train your metabolism to more readily burn fats.
    - Any benefit from swimming hungry should be weighed against the loss of quality in your workouts. Personally I don't find much benefit (or pleasure) in doing a crappy, lethargic workout.
    - If you have your nutrition/feeding plan properly dialed in, you should not feel hungry during a channel swim.
  • Hey @laflamme, yes it's a spreadsheet that's been tweaked a bit to get it where I want it. Actually I have no post ready for my blog for tomorrow, so I was actually considering doing a post on that if I can find time tonight, and I'll include a blank. If not tomorrow, then mid next week (Monday is planned with a big joint announcement post on @evmo's blog and mine.
  • IronMikeIronMike KyrgyzstanCharter Member
    evmo said:


    - There may be some benefit to swimming hungry, IF it helps you better "feel" the transition from burning glycogen (glycolysis) to burning fats (ketosis). Ketosis is what will get you through a channel swim.

    This is nice to hear, seeing how my wife has put me on this LCHF diet (she calls it "experimenting" on me as if that's supposed to sound better than "diet").
  • tanyatanya Member
    Mike O's Set use it or dont. Like it or dont. We are all different we all work and train differently unfortunately we now have people who book major open water swims and have never done open water swimming. Never swum for a swimming club this gives them something to try and work from in the hope they might realise that it has to be worked for that open water is not for the faint hearted and takes determination and effort. Good swimmer, Average swimmer, struggler, seen them all, some have succeeded some haven't and rarely its been because of the weather!!!
    Have fun training everyone to how you like, Here's to a good swimming year
  • evmoevmo Admin
    This deserves a thread of its own, but if you "have never done open water swimming," you should not be booking the English Channel. Leave the slots for swimmers with a better chance of finishing.

    If a swimmer is truly lost about how to train for the EC, perhaps the more useful advice Mr. Oram could provide would be to engage the services of a professional coach. (Though, preferably not someone employed by the organization itself, like the CSA does, haha).
  • Yup. English Channel is the Gold standard so only a few swimmers will succeed.
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