Power of the Get-Out Swim

Posted on November 19, 2010


Well, well, well!  Darn it!  I knew I shouldn’t have opened my big mouth, but I did. 

Our two “first-day” newcomers (Madison Faherty and Grace Giddings) from a lower group were the last two on the block today on sprint day.  So I yell out, “If you both go your best time in the 100 free right now by 1 second, the entire group goes home.”  And then there was the look I was longing for, the scared to death, the ‘I don’t want to let down my new friends’ look.  Sweet!  (You know what those looks bring, don’t you?  Crazy speed, I mean crazy speed!) 

The team started yelling, “Come on, you can do it!” and carrying on like rabid laughing hyenas.

Back when Tracy Caulkins, the United States best female swimmer, would train, she would train so hard and get so tired that her coach Randy Reese’s request seemed a bit extreme.  (And by the way, Reese does not give get-out swims regularly.  Um never!) 

Well, the get-out swim Reese gave her was to swim the 400 IM…and, guess what time he wanted. Not only her best time, but Reese wanted her to break the American Record for the 400 IM.  Right there. Right then.

What?! Break the American Record?

Well, guess what…she did it.  In practice.  Right then.  Wow!  

Yeah, this is the power of the get-out swim. It brings out something special in a swimmer. But just how does it work? Is it that you are so warmed up that the body is ready? Is it peer pressure?  Or is it that your mind has no time to stress over it and your body is just reacting?  The get-out swim is one of the great mysteries of the swim universe, and I have no idea what makes it work, but I do know it gives you rock star and superhero type power. 

One time I gave a similar request to one of my swimmers in the 90s. Katie Gordon was a great distance swimmer and eventually went to swim for the University of Virginia.  I gave her a 500 free in front of everyone on the team. There were two coaches walking the deck, two watches, and one excited young athlete.  As an 8th grader her best time was 5:03 or 5:04 but I knew she was much better than that.  I was hoping a get-out swim challenge would make her see just how good she was. (She had just placed second at Junior Nationals that summer and I knew she was primed for a great one.) 

Scared but meaner than a ticked off rattlesnake, Katie took off with wreckless abandon.  Her teammates were cheering wildly for her, encouraging her, threatening her.  At the 300 mark, she was 2:57 and holding her 59 second pace.  At 400, she was 3:55. Then as she touched the wall, she finished with a 4:54.00 time in the 500.  At practice. Unbelievable! 

To this day, I don’t think she believes it.  But it was power…the power of the get-out swim!  The power of the peer pressured-one-on-one matchup with the clock and it created a very special moment. 

Over the years I have seen multiple “best time” get-out swims and there is just something special in there, something that makes the kids dig deeper than ever before and gives them the extra turbo boost to get the job done.

So anyway, back to today’s get-out swims with Madison, 11, and Grace, 10. (Think deer in the headlights #1 and #2!) They were on the blocks and shivering from the 50+ degree blowing winds.  They took off and looked fast and somewhere I felt a tinge of doubt, because they were new; I didn’t know these two athletes that well yet.  So they flip at the 50 with a :31 and :32 and appeared to be hauling beyond comprehension.  When the watch read :59 half way to the final wall I said to myself, “Geez, we are going home early!” (Darn it!  Really didn’t want to!) 

So Grace touches.  1:08.92.  Bitter sweet—yes it was her best time by 1.5 seconds, but darn, that was half the puzzle piece they needed to get-out early.  Then, closely behind, Madison slides in.  1:09.20. She lowers her time by 2 seconds. (Ugh! If I could show you the vein in my forehead I would! My swimmers were getting out early! The get-out swim strikes again!)

So when you or your athletes cringe about get-out swims or getting on the blocks for some speed…let these stories be a good lesson.  And athletes, take the challenge and get up and surprise yourself.  Do not hold back!

Because maybe the secret power of the get-out swim is discovering that the power lies within you all along… seeing is believing!

I love this sport.