This is part 3 of a 5-part series written by MySwimPro Ambassador Siphiwe Baleka: 

Graduating from high school in 1989, I was a 46 second 100-yard freestyler. This became my best event in college. During my sophomore year at Yale University, still known as Anthony “Tony” Blake before my name change to Siphiwe Baleka, I went 44.95 seconds, becoming the first African American on the All-Ivy League Swim Team.
I was the top sprint freestyler at Yale, swimming the 50, 100, and 200 free, but the 100 free was my best event.

Fast forward to the Spring of 2017. Just four months before the FINA Masters World Championships and I was swimming the 100-yard freestyle at the USMS Spring National Championships. This was my final “tune-up” and confidence builder heading to Budapest. A year earlier, at the same meet, I was 47.69.
At the 2017 Championships, I managed to drop my time to 46.63, just 0.42 off the national record set by Nicholas Granger in 2015, and good enough for the 3rd fastest of all time.

Watch My Race

Fast forward to 7:51:25 mark, heat 35, lane 5:

In the back of my mind, I am wondering:

“Is it possible to break 46 seconds at my age?”

Rowdy Gaines holds the US Masters national record for the 50-54 age group at 46.59. At 41 years of age, Olympic Gold Medalist and World Record Holder Josh Davis went a blistering 45.15.
At the 2018 Region VIII Speedo Spring Sectionals, Josh became the first 45-year old to break 21 seconds in the 50 free, clocking in at 20.99. So, it is possible to go this fast at this age.

“As far as goals are concerned, I get excited thinking of the headline, two years from now, “Siphiwe Baleka becomes the first 50-year-old to break 46 seconds in the 100 freestyle!”

To do that, however means, I am going to have to train smarter. After talking with Josh about race pace training (RPT), I decided I needed to give it a try. To do that, I have started using the Swim Viking RPT System.

How MySwimPro Helps Me Train Smarter

One of the things that I love about MySwimPro is that no matter how I am training, I can enter and record my workouts, even when I am using different devices or apps or training systems.
I love using the Apple 2 Watch with MySwimPro and it is great for my normal workouts, whether I am doing the MySwimPro Workout of the Day (WOD) or doing one of the Springfield Aquatics Masters workouts. It automatically syncs my data into MySwimPro.

So now, each week on Tuesday, it is the same set:

  • Warmup: 12×75 on 1:30 choice; at least one 25 of the 75 must be fast.
  • Main Set: 30×25 on :30 at Race Pace Target Time
  • Easy Recovery Swim
  • Main Set: 4×50 on 1:30 – holding back end 50 split of best 100 free = 24.58
  • Easy Recovery Swim
  • Main Set: 100 Free Race Pace

The rules for the main set are to swim each 25 at or below the Race Pace Target Time. If I miss, then I sit out one repeat and continue. At the second fail, sit out another repeat and continue. The set ends after the third fail or two fails in a row.

My August Results:

My best time in college for the 100-yard freestyle was 44.95. My best time in masters swimming was last year, at the age of 46, and I went 46.63. So, my target time is 11.66.
On August 7th, I did the set and failed after four, sat out #5, missed #6. That was two fails in a row, so the set was finished. Shawn Klosterman, of Swim Viking RPT said that because I am new to this kind of training and not quite in shape, it is best to add 1 sec to my target time until I can make all thirty repeats, then lower the target time by three or four tenths until I get down to my goal target time.
On August 14, I did the set at 11.66 + 1 second = 12.6. I made the first 8, missed #9, sat out an interval, then I made #11 and missed #12, sat out an interval, made #14 and #15, missed #16 and the set was over.
As I got tired, my stroke count increased from 13 strokes to 16 strokes and my stroke rate increases from the 45 – 47 range to the 51 – 55 range. My fastest repeats were #1, #5 and #15 – all at 11.9. The stroke counts for those repeats were 14, 13 and 13 while the stroke rates were 51, 49 and 51. So my SWOLF scores are 25.9, 24.9 and 24.9. Meanwhile, my fails were #9 13.3, SC 16, SR 50; #12 13.0 SC 13, SR 43; and #16 13.2, SC 16, SR 51.
Thus, my SWOLF scores on the fails were 29.3, 26 and 29.2.
Related: The Fear of the 200 IM with Siphiwe Baleka

What Does This Mean?

My fastest swims have a SWOLF of about 25 and my fails have a SWOLF mostly of 29.
It is clear – as I get tired and approach failure, my stroke count increases to about 15. When I reach failure, the stroke count, for the most part, goes to about 16, while the stroke rate increases dramatically from the 45 to 47 range to the 50 to 55 range. I start taking more strokes faster and I am losing distance per stroke.  Perhaps my mechanics are breaking down, causing my elbow to drop lower and lower and creating more drag. Maybe as I fatigue I am not able to generate as much power. Maybe my thoughts or neuro-network patterns have trained me to respond to this ‘feeling’ by panicking instead of relaxing.

“Figuring out what I need to do about this is the next step, but I haven’t figured it out yet.”

Read More: What is SWOLF?
Another way to measure my progress is to look at my times on the set of 4×50 and the 100 at race pace.
On August 7th I was a little faster on the 50’s, probably because I only swam 5 x25’s before I failed! LOL! My 50 splits were 25.3, 25.2, 24.3 and 25.5. On August 14th, after swimming three times more 25’s, I was 25.7, 24.7, 25.8 and 26.2 (ouch!).
However, a very positive aspect of August 14th’s training, beyond the 8,1,2 “makes” on the main set, was that my 100 free at the end of the set improved from 54.9 to 52.9! So, I was really happy about that.
I did the set again on August 21st but was not able to record my splits or get any data. I was only able to record may “makes” and my “misses.” It just happened to be worse than the previous week. I made the first 7, missed #8, sat out #9, made #10 and #11, missed #12, sat out #13, then missed #14. The set was over. I had two fails in a row!!! My 4×50 set was a little better than the last time – 25.6,25.3, 25.7 and 25.4. At that point, I gave up and didn’t do the 100 free at race pace.
Finally, today, August 21st, I did the set again. I did much better. I made the first nine repeats, missed and sat out an interval, made two more, missed, sat out another interval, and then made two more and missed my third repeat, ending the set after the 18th repeat. You can see my progress – X is the number of repeats made before the first fail, Y is the number of repeats made before the second fail, and Z is the number of repeats made before the third fail.

I also use a Firebelly device that detects each stroke cycle and measures the time between them. A cycle is a complete stroke revolution e.g. right hand entry to right hand entry for free/back, and is reported in cycles per minute. From the data in this workout, I can see that when I started the set on August 14th, my stroke rate was in the 45-49 range.  On August 21st, my stroke rate was a little lower, in the 44 to 46 range. This means that I was moving my arms slower on the 21st. Because I tend to have a lower stroke count when I am starting the set fresh, this means I am getting greater distance per stroke.
Related: Data-Driven Swimming with Siphiwe Baleka

Analyzing The Data

Clearly, as I start to fatigue, my stroke rate jumps to 50 to 55 cycles/minute. Now, I don’t know exactly what to do with all this data yet because I am still new at it. Therefore, I asked some coaches and friends for advice to see what they have to say.
Dave Sims, a former Joliet Jets YMCA teammate, NCAA All-American, American Record Holder, US Olympian and 24-Time US Masters National Record Holder and all-around swimming legend said this:
Nice recount of what happened.  You’re still very new to this type of training.  You will quickly begin to understand what your splits and repeats mean in terms of making improvement.  If you’re still getting back into shape, it’s going to take several weeks for your body and brain to adapt. Once it does, the repeats will begin to feel automatic and your fails will occur later in the set. Another way to approach the training at this point is to lengthen the interval so that you can hold your desired pace.  Maybe you’ll have to have to try :35 or :45 or :55. At a long enough interval you can hold your desired pace and find your desired stroke rate.  In this way, you start your training macrocycle holding your desired RP and form and gradually decrease the interval. This way you’ll establish the neuro-muscular patterns sooner, but your aerobic fitness will take longer to develop.  Approaching from the opposite (short interval, slower pace) will build your aerobic fitness quicker but it will take longer for you to establish your RP.  I’m pretty certain either approach will get you there.”  

Shawn Klosterman, developer of the Swim Viking Race Pace Training said,
“Be sure to include the 50’s and 100 as well because some of the most interesting things you will learn from this training will be from those.  The improvements in the standard USRPT sometimes moves slowly or inconsistently, but the 50’s and 100 can be significant, even on a day when the 25’s go poorly.  When we first added those, part of the idea we sold the kids was that they could “redeem” a bad set of USRPT by improving in the other sets…  In my (breast stroke) training, I slowly worked down from 15 high on the 25’s to 14 low, but the 50’s dropped from 33 high to 28 hi/29 lo consistently and the 100 dropped from 1:13 to 1:01 by the time I had to stop training.  Those were much more revealing regarding my race readiness than the 25’s would show.”

A New Training Method

With the success of young swimmers like Michael Andrews and older swimmers like Josh Davis, both using race pace training, I believe I have a new training method that can push me to the next level.
This gives me confidence that I can swim faster as I age because I have never trained this way and because I can clearly see progress through-out my training.
When I am able to hit the target race pace in practice, I will know that I can do it when it comes time to race. With swim watches and new devices, I have the tools to become very skillful and strategic with my training.

“With MySwimPro, I am able to track all of it and allow the data to determine my training.”


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.
MySwimPro Stats:

  • 222 Workouts
  • 196.7 Hours
  • 517.9 Kilometers

Changing Lanes: The Siphiwe Baleka Story from Todd Kapostasy on Vimeo.
Want to start training like Siphiwe? Download the MySwimPro app and start your free 7-day trial of MySwimPro ELITE! Take 20% off with his code: SIPHIWE20.



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