Test Time! - with Coach Samantha

This morning I had a swim test from my coach.

At Evolve, just like with many other coaching groups, we use tests to gauge fitness and track athlete progress as their season unfolds. 

However, tests can  play a much larger role in one’s training. They are scary, they are hard, and they are just one snap-shot in time of who we are as an athlete. Sound familiar? Tests are another great way to work on your mindset for racing.

I started to prep for my test as soon as I saw it appear on my schedule. I began to mentally prepare for the test well before I needed to step foot on the pool deck. On the night before any test, I run through all of my gear and gadgets needed for the test. For a swim test – this is not a lot of work. I just made sure that I had my Garmin charged (nothing worse than not getting data recorded), my bathing suit, cap and two pairs of goggles (I have broken goggles before at the start of races). Once I had all of the gear checking out of the way, I made sure to set aside some time to visualize and mentally prep for the test. I visualize my best swimming – solid body position in the water, strong pull, rotation, and great turns off the wall. I also break down the test into smaller parts. I have done these enough to know where the tough moments will be. This was an 800 time trial. I broke it into four parts: 1. Set the pace 2. Find the Edge 3. Maintain the edge and Focus 4. HAMMER IT. I know from past experience that from 400 to 600 I would need to really focus on riding the edge and not letting my mind wander. For me, these are the doldrums. It took me only about 10 minutes to visualize what I hoped would happen in my test. This is the exact same process that we encourage our athletes to go through with their pre-performance plans before a race. We want them to visualize the best outcomes along with identifying what the hard spots will be and how to deal with them come race day. 

And then came today – the morning of the test. I am one of those athletes who always questions my sanity the morning of a race and this is no different the morning of any test. But I also have been at this long enough to know that the sooner you get to the test, and the faster you go, the sooner it is over. (Here is a little insight into some Sam-insanity – I often chant to myself "the faster you run, the faster you are done" when I am in the late miles of a race). I arrived at the pool, looked at the workout one more time, sat for a second in my car, and wondered why the heck I would pay someone to torture me like this…

And then I made my way to the pool. Here is a tip: make sure you know the pool schedule and make sure you do not get into a lane where you will be asked to move in the middle of your test! I secured my lane. I may have cut a slower walker off at the pass and flung my swim bag at the lane just to make sure that I was not pressed up against the wall or in a lane that would be closed in 30 minutes.

I began the warm-up. My focus on the warm-up was to work on my best form; keep my core tight, my head in alignment, solids turns off the wall, finish my stroke and not extend my right arm too deep on the pull. I intentionally did not look at my watch when I was done with the warm-up or the clock on the wall – the time for the warm-up was irrelevant. After my steady 500, I had to knock out two 50s to get the juices flowing. Here I worked on finding the edge. I know what my breathing and arms feel like when I am riding the line.

30 seconds rest…

One last pep talk…

And then hit it!

For me the first lap sets the tone – find that perfect stroke rate, stay in the moment and let it rip.

200 in – I’M 200 in. Crap – I’m just 200 in. FOCUS.

From 200 to 400 my arms feel like jello. But I know that I can handle the jello. I AM ONE WITH THE JELLO. I just need to relax and let the pain be present.

I hit 400 – Now my mind shifts – I ONLY have 400 left. Only 400 to make up for any slower laps in the first half. PANIC. Then relax - do the work. 

From 400 to 600  I have some moments where I start to think about the outcome of the test. My mind wanders. If I have time to think about the future, I am not working hard enough in the present. I pull it back. I focus on the feeling in my lats. I am working, but I am not done yet. I have more to give.

200 left – I give it my all off of the wall.

Speedo man shows up in the lane next to me. I know if I can match his pace I am golden.

Speedo man gives me a run for my money and he pulls away.


For a split second – I have doubt. NOPE. NO TIME FOR THAT. FOCUS. F Speedo man. I actually adore speedo man, but for right now, I need a little bit of healthy anger to get my edge back.

I have an issue with my head alignment when I swim. I tend to have it too high in the water. So I decide just to focus on perfect head position in the water.

I hit the wall with one lap to go!

And NOW I let loose. I go as hard as I can.

I hit the wall and my watch. I look at the time. I have improved from my last test! I have knocked off a few seconds per 100. VICTORY…

And then, just like at any race I have ever done, I think about what I could have done to be faster… how I will get those 3 seconds off per 100 to get back to my old swim form. I compare this test to my tests of yore. I think about how I KNOW I can work harder. I regret only hitting it as hard as I could the last 50.

And then, I remind myself that this one test does not define me. This test, just like a race, teaches me that I have more to give in this sport - that the limits of what I am capable of are still there for me to reach. I set goals for my next test and realize that if and when I ever have the perfect test or race, then it is probably time to hang up my hat. I AM SO FAR FROM READY FOR THAT!

And just like that I start the SLOOOOWEST cool down of my life knowing that more far more  fun lies ahead for this athlete.